Delivering Information: Document vs. Content


This talk aims to problematise the document, asking the following questions: what is a document? How does it impart information to its reader? Can it be replicated on screen? It proposes answers using the arguments of Hughes and King (1993) who contend that the document is a layered social artifact that exists to ‘wrap’ content. This ‘wrapping’ provides the reader with the knowledge they need in order to apply social rules to their reading of the document, and so become able to interpret its content. Some information systems writers argue that the need for social knowledge in a task negates the possibility of its automation. Following the logic of this argument, delivering a document (a container of rule) through the existing set of social rules that govern Web interaction, means that the full function of the electronically reproduced document becomes masked or confused. At best this makes the role of the document superfluous to its content, making the content difficult to interpret. At worst it makes the content incomprehensible to the user. This raises a further question: what purpose is served by reproducing documents online? Following from the above arguments, it is possible to argue that ‘pure’ content, rather than the imitation of printed paper, is likely to be a more successful way of imparting information through the Web.


The slides are available on the Slideshare service.