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Information Quality - Some Definitions

Edited by Dr T.Matthew Ciolek

[Est.: 19 Apr 1996. Last revised: 5 May 1999.
Please note that this document is no longer maintained or updated.]

This page gathers in a single place current attempts at a definition of the quality (or the lack of it) of an online information resource


By tapping your expertise and thoughts on the issue and by publishing these notes we hope to learn more about good practices in the resource building. Please mail Dr T.Matthew Ciolek if you would like to add extra information to this page.
all excerpts and quotes are published verbatim, including occasional typing errors
What is Quality Information?
Usefulness - 1
Usefulness - 2
Usefulness - 3
Getting Message Across
Data, Noise & Information
Enjoyment of Exploration
Direct & Accessable Link to Real Information
Information Filtering
Operational & Management Procedures

"What is Quality Information?

Most really good discussions I have participated in don't just jump right into discussing the applications and deficiencies of what currently exists, but starts with a definition so that everyone knows what is being discussed. Right now we could all be talking about different things when we refer to 'Quality Information'.

Quality to me is not only finding material pertaining to the topic you are looking for, but finding material of the reading level you wish to read at, and in the technical terms you are familiar with (possibly even in the language you prefer to read). Quality information also has a high signal to noise ratio. Quality information depends on who the audience is. What would be quality information to a six year old would be noise to a college student or technical researcher. The terms that would be in a quality page for a researcher would be noise to the younger audiences unless they are linked to a definition. Since all these levels of expertise are present on the web, this must be considered. A way to prune out those pages targeted to a different audience would improve the information quality you receive (as perceived by you).

For an example of this one might look to 'WOW!' a new ISP from America On-line. 'WOW!' has two (or more) user interfaces. One for non-technical adults, and one for children. They are targeting their interface to the needs of their audience."

William Shaw (, Info-Quality-L 1996, "Re: Web data accessibility & ADMINISTRIVIA", 18 Apr,

"We need to define whether we are looking at the problem from the perspective of an information provider or an in. formation consumer.

As a provider, I have a quantity of information which I feel should be accessible online. How well I structure access to my information directly relates to how useful my online site is.

When I say 'useful' I'm not just talking about how useful my site is to my audience. I'm talking about how useful it is to anyone who happens to come across my site.

If I have structured my site well, someone who has no interest in the information I am providing should be able to skip past, happy in the knowledge that my site is completely irrelevant to them. People interested in some of the information on my site should be able to navigate to that information fast, and people who are interested in everything on my site should be able to browse."

Sam Hinton (, Info-Quality-L 1996, "RE: When do you judge quality and by whom? was - Introduction", 03 Apr,

"[...] the usefulness of my site to any reader is directly proportional to how fast a consumer can determine what I'm offering, and secondly, if my site contains something of interest, how fast they can retrieve an document they consider to be a quality document."

Sam Hinton (, Info-Quality-L 1996, "RE: When do you judge quality and by whom? was - Introduction", 03 Apr,

"I think that quality isn't simply about adherence to standards, or standing out for that matter. To me, it's about getting the information/message across in the best and clearest way. Note that this says nothing about how many pictures, graphics, colour etc... Those elements are in the next stage - where you have already worked out the audience and the intent of the publication material."

[...] [An information resource - tmc] has stages of introduction, growth, maturity, decline and ...death. How quickly this process goes depends entirely on the nature of the product and how good it is - the currency of the information, the relevance of the information and the type of information. Compare an edition of the Daily Telegraph with an issue of National Geographic. The former has currency for one day, the latter, for possibly years.

There is nothing to stop you keeping the *basic underlying structure* and simply alter the appearance, content and features of a product to *extend* its life. Look at products like magazines and motor vehicles or even Gravox gravy powder. The frequency of change relates to the currency of information, and its usefulness.

Once you're on a good thing (says the ad), stick to it.

Chris Nicholls (, Info-Quality-L 1996, "RE: Purpose of Info-Quality mailing list?", 17 Apr,

"If I could, I'd like to point out that like truth, information is relative to the individual. What we consider "quality", a more "informed" person may consider rubbish. What we consider rubbish, another may consider golden.

I'd also like to point out that there are three components of communication delivery: data, noise and information. Data are raw facts that are not biased by interpretation or miscommunication. Noise are errors introduced either through interpretation, miscommunication or deliberate misinformation. Finally, information is data that has been sufficiently refined such that it is immediately useful to the individual receiving it. If it isn't immediately useful, then it isn't informative. Moreover, individuals aren't in a state of information overload, rather they are in a state of data and noise overload.

Some concepts are covered on my web site,

George Spafford (, Info-Quality-L 1996, "Information and a General Hello", 03 Apr,

"I think the most useful piece of information is an intelligent answer to an intelligent question. Perhaps the problem of "pruning" should be addressed by a Webmaster to an info-quality list in a different way: how to organize in an efficient and still easy way a big mass of documents? For instance, in my Journals I do not want any outdated info to be deleted (such as on Congresses, etc.)."

Enrica Garzilli (, Info-Quality-L 1996, "Re: Purpose of Info-Quality mailing list? + Introduction", 10 Apr,

"I think that there is also an enjoyment to be had exploring information - particularly when (most of the time) you don't know to what extent the information might be of interest. A Web site isn't necessarily quality or good, simply because you can get in and out quickly - with or without information. The process of information gathering is also important, beacuse you can learn that there is more to something than you think... its not just known content.

A good or quality Web site is one which allows this, and empowers the user with the ability to discover new dimensions of the data."

Chris Nicholls (, Info-Quality-L 1996, "RE: Purpose of Info-Quality mailing list?", 17 Apr,

"My interest in quality on the internet is related to a system that I have built for this organization called the Information Navigation System or INS ( This system has two functions. The first is to separate our scientists and engineers from the enormous mass of information available on the Internet by concentrating on just our fields of interest and the second is to find good sources for them and make it very easy for them to get there, sort of an institutional bookmark.

I have pretty much met those goals but must confess that my standards for quality have pretty much been limited to determining whether or not a source actually provides information or is merely an advertisement for the physical site (Journals are perhaps the best example of this problem) or if we can connect to a site a reasonable percentage of the time."

Bob Skinder (, Info-Quality-L 1996, "Quality Group- an introduction", 04 Apr,

"In the world of paper the judgment of quality is bound to economic decisions, to publish or to include in a library collection. On the net the reduced cost of publishing unties this relationship and allows such decisions to be decoupled from publishing.

The site that consists just of pointers can be a site which is giving quality judgments on the material to which it points. Far from providing nothing new to the network it could be providing a value added service such as that provided by a selective, and even better, an annotated bibliography.

Potentially the functions of the selective judgment of the publisher, the journal referee and the collection development librarian begin to merge. The act of selection of quality material can provide a bibliography, a page, a viewpoint into it. They become the same. [...]

Quality can be a question of how can you determine it, how can you find it, how can you tell what it is as well as who judges.

The central problem on the net will be finding quality in the sea of lesser material that the net will allow to bloom. It will be finding, rather than controlling, which was the case under the print paradigm. The key problem for those giving access to information, like libraries, will move from retrieval to filtering."

Tony Barry (, Info-Quality-L 1996, "When do you judge quality and by whom? was - Introduction", 02 Apr,

"If quality filters to the web are going to work - if my site is to be useful ie. rich in quality content - then every step of the work I do needs quality input.

What I am up to:

Anne Hugo (, Info-Quality-L 1996, "Intro:Anne Hugo; journal publishing; sgml; e-doc management", 11 Apr,

A template for Electronic Resource Reference Format
Author, Info-Quality-L YYYY, "subject", DD Mmm,

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