Information Modeling for Context Aware Systems
Jan van Til
Human beings are context aware – by nature. How about our modern information systems? They really should be, but they are not! Truly context aware systems require contextually modeled information. Did you know that? We need contextual information modeling capabilities in order to be able to produce context aware solutions that optimally support context aware people in modern businesses as well as our networked society.
Human beings are context aware – by nature
We all know  that human beings assign meaning to information based on its ever accompanying context. Information, so to speak, never travels on its own; it always shows up together with a certain context. And it’s that very context that inescapably helps to ‘shape’ information into its situational meaning.
We all know  that human behavior springs forth from personally assigned meaning to individually sensed information – information being sensed and processed over time.
In day to day life human beings aren’t consciously aware of their (generally speaking) fine grained context awareness capabilities. Most of the time they ‘simply’ sense, interpret and act. Actions which, in turn, result in new signs/information that also can be sensed. Etc. etc.
Modern information systems should all be context aware – but they are not
So… to human beings the meaning of information is not at all fixed, but always depends on its accompanying context – represented, of course, by contextual information .
All of our contemporary systems, however, still work with information of fixed and predefined meaning. This meaning of information usually is determined during design. As a consequence the resulting information system is highly inflexible with respect to changes in meaning – changes that inevitably will occur over time. Situations change…. Our interests change…. We all know that.
Because of ever increasing dynamics – in our modern businesses as well as in our information society/network society – fewer and fewer things remain the same for very long anymore. We all know that.
Context aware systems require contextually modeled information
In order to solve this wicked problem , we need context aware systems. We need information systems that can handle change-of-meaning of information because of change-in-context. Why? Because we need to be able to quickly and optimally support human beings in the way they are naturally ‘wired’: sensing, interpreting, acting, sensing, ….
We all know that information systems are all about… information . It is for that reason that context aware systems are most naturally built around contextually modeled information . Contextually modeled information is suitable to be processed by context aware systems in order to be situationally applicable by human beings.
Needed: contextual information modeling
Contextual information modeling, also called systematic information modeling , qualitatively differs from traditional information modeling. Contextual information modeling requires systems thinking.
Traditional information modeling  needs a specific problem for which a specific information model annex software is created that specifically matches that specific problem in a specific way. Also read: the system is designed to works for one specific context – solving precisely (and only) that specific problem.
In case of systematic information modeling  – from the perspective of the designer – there is no specific problem to create a model for. The resulting model will be systematic in nature and will therefore cover a wide range of problems – one of them, of course, being the specific problem at hand.
Compared with a traditional information model a systematic information model shows quite a bit of an upside down experience to the traditional modeler/designer. Elements that appear to be of key interest in traditional models, show up at quite other positions in systematic ones.
Yielding context aware solutions
As said: the resulting systematic information model is fit to match a wide range of problems – including the specific problem at hand. Because of its systematic nature, i.e. the systematic organization of information in the model, the software aligns around it in a contextual fashion – yielding a context aware information system .
Supporting context aware people
Context aware systems provide true support to contextually operating human beings that need to quickly, confidently and accurately find their ways in the ever increasing dynamics of our modern businesses/society .
1. We all know that from social psychology (wiki).
2. Indeed, meaning is situational, always and 100% of the time: Situational Meaning. In case you need some extra theoretical background, please read Semiotic Ennead.
3. It’s a wicked problem because we, human beings, ‘naturally’ look for far too long for faster horses; we seem to hate to thoroughly solve our problems.
4. Explained in more detail in The Core of Information Oriented Architecture.
5. For more details, please view infOrmation Orchestration (on slideshare).
6. A profound method for systematic information modeling is Metapattern – a surprisingly elegant as well as powerful method. As a method metapattern comes with a strong philosophy: Subjective Situationism. Metapattern is supported with a tool-set/operational platform, called Knitbits.
7. For more details, please study Systematic Organization of Information.
8. For more details, please view Human Interoperability (on slideshare – via information roundabout).
February 2013, 2013 © Jan van Til