AI & SOCIETY

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 110–122

Informational humidity model: explanation of dual modes of community for social intelligence design

Authors

    • School of Business AdministrationAsahi University
Applications in Online Communities

DOI: 10.1007/s00146-004-0304-3

Cite this article as:
Azechi, S. AI & Soc (2005) 19: 110. doi:10.1007/s00146-004-0304-3

Abstract

The informational humidity model (IHM) classifies a message into two modes, and describes communication and community in a novel aspect. At first, a flame message, dry information vs. wet information, is introduced. Dry information is the message content itself, whereas wet information is the attributes of the message sender. Second, the characteristics of communities are defined by two factors: the message sender’s personal specifications, and personal identification. These factors affect the humidity of the community, which corresponds to two phases of knowledge creation. In a rather wet community, members easily specify other members. This is effective for managing memberships and changing knowledge from tacit to formal. In a rather dry community, members barely identify with other members at all. This method is suitable for the formal-to-tacit phase of knowledge creation. Finally, it is discussed how social intelligence should be designed and what features are needed to support knowledge-creating communities.

1 Introduction

There are various types of communities in existence, and one type of community is suitable for solving only one type of task, but not for another. For the purpose of social intelligence design (SID), it is important to determine what type of community is suitable for what type of knowledge-creation activity. It also helps to understand what features are needed for community supporting or mediating systems to create knowledge. This article focuses on exploring what differentiates one community from another, and the different types of communication and information within them.

There is no set definition of SID, but there does seem to be different aspects within the scope of SID (Table 1).
Table 1

Aspects of SID

What is social intelligence?

  Intelligence that is constructed by society?

  Intelligent entities that communicate with each other?

  Intelligent entities that act like social beings?

  Something that pretends to work intelligently and socially?

What do we design?

  Design communications or communities that create social intelligence?

  Design entities that have intelligence and communicate socially?

  Design entities that pretend to act intelligently and socially?

In this article, SID is defined as a design that clarifies what features are needed for systems that mediate communities and improve their knowledge-creating activities. This “socially (community)-oriented” definition matches Fujihara’s (2001) definition of SID, “social intelligence design (SID) can be defined as the design of mechanisms of communities which are related to intellectual activities by the communities and their members”. The definition clarifies that the type of communities and factors that determine the type are important in designing system features that support intellectual activities of communities.

The Informational humidity model (IHM) is one model that can address these points of view. It presents new aspects to understand the nature of a community, what factors affect it, and how those factors can be controlled by features of the community-mediating system. It also contributes to making a better knowledge-creating community, a system that realizes it, and SID.

2 Informational humidity model

An informational humidity model classifies messages exchanged in a community into either dry information or wet information. It serves as an available framework for understanding various communities and their activities (Azechi 2000). This model shows that the anonymity of a community, which is measured by personal specification and identification, determines the importance of dry or wet information in the community. The degree of anonymity is indicated as the informational humidity of the community.

In order to create knowledge, it is important to circulate the mode of knowledge (Nonaka and Takeuchi 1995). There are two phases in knowledge creation: tacit-to-formal knowledge, and formal-to-tacit knowledge. The former corresponds to a wetter community, whereas the latter corresponds to a drier community. A wetter community features a strong group management function, in which members can exchange tacit knowledge into formal knowledge and share each other’s background knowledge. On the other hand, a drier community has a strong group performance function, wherein members can exchange formal knowledge and internalize vast amounts of information into their background knowledge.

Finally, controlling a community’s informational humidity with a mediating system can change the type of exchanged knowledge, thus improving knowledge creation.

2.1 Wet vs. dry information

A message exchanged in communication has a structure. It contains a core part (dry information) and a peripheral part (wet information) (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1

The structure of a message: core “dry information” and peripheral “wet information” parts

The dry information is the core part of the message, which contains the topic being discussed. It contains facts (cf. “A whale is not a fish but a mammal‘’), opinions (cf. “Whales should not be caught”), and questions (cf. “Why shouldn’t whales be caught?”).

On the other hand, wet information contains attributes of the message sender. It can be regarded as information about the message sender’s self, and is peripheral to the main message. It includes the message sender’s condition (cf. “I’m an e-mail-holic”), emotion (cf. “I’m displeased”), affiliation or social position or authority (cf. “I’m a professor at a private university”) and impression (cf. “I like this movie”). That is, wet information includes non-verbal communication cues (cf. gestures) and awareness of existences.

2.2 Theoretical background

According to the social interaction model built by Newcomb (1953), messages exchanged in a communication are classified into two types. One is the information about the topic under discussion, and the other is information about the participants (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2

Newcomb’s model: the structure of communication and classification of information

The former can be regarded as dry information and the latter as wet information. According to Newcomb’s (1953) model, the message receiver’s attitude is influenced principally by the topic itself. However, the message receiver also receives some special information about the message sender (positive or negative impression, s/he has authority or special knowledge and so on), and her or his attitude is affected by the information about the sender. In a situation where a decision must be made, information about the topic (dry information) is crucial and plays a core part. Sometimes, however, the peripheral part of a message strongly affects the final decision.

This dual structure of a message and its role in a persuasive situation is supported by cognitive psychological evidence. The elaboration likelihood model (ELM) constructed by Cacioppo and Petty (1982) predicts dual informational processing systems in the human mind with algorithms and heuristics. The algorithm system is the rational part of the mind, and mainly processes message content (dry information) in communication. On the other hand, the heuristic system is emotional and mainly processes the message sender’s attributes (wet information). Cacioppo and Petty (1982) and their proponents find that people can use the algorithm system only when cognitive resources are plentiful. People can decide upon their attitude through the use of message contents (dry information) and consider it further. In situations where there are few cognitive resources, such as with time pressures or strong stressors, people can use only the heuristic system. In these situations, people barely use message contents (dry information); instead, their attitudes are strongly influenced by the message sender’s attributes (wet information) such as the sender’s appearance or authority.

In addition to Newcomb’s (1953) model and ELM, the definition of dry and wet information, the division of a message into two parts, corresponds to both the process of communication and the dual information processing system in the human mind. The next section introduces how the division appears in actual communication situations.

2.3 Message classification with IHM

Project H (1993) has researched and analyzed messages exchanged in online communities. They present 46 variables that can be used to categorize messages. Table 2 shows some of the variables used to classify information into the wet or dry category.
Table 2

Categorization online messages by Project H (1993) (part)

No.

Variables label

Variables description

10

FIRSTPER

Does the message contain any verbal self-disclosure, introduction, admission, or any other “personalizing” content?

11

OPINION

Does this message state (or contain a statement of) an opinion by the author? To be an OPINION, the statement must indicate first person, directly or indirectly.

12

FACT

Does this message state (or contain a statement of) a fact? If there is a reference to a first person, then code as an OPINION.

13

APOLOGY

Does the message contain any form of apology?

14

QUESTION

Does the message contain a question or request?

15

ACTION

Does this message call for action on the part of readers?

16

CHALLENGE

Does the message contain a challenge, dare, bet, or some such?

17

HUMOUR

Does the message contain (even if only an attempt at) humor (do not judge success)?

18

METACOMM

Does the message contain metacommunication, i.e., is its content about how, when, where, what, who or why one should or could communicate?

The main difference between dry and wet information is whether the message is self-referential or not. A self-referential message, which means information related to the message sender’s self, is regarded as wet information. Messages that transfer some of their contents are regarded as dry information. Using this method, in Table 2 only three variables contain dry information: 11 Opinion, 12 Fact, and 14 Question. The other messages are self-referential, corresponding to the message sender’s self and attributions. Opinion seems to be self-referential, although it is not an argument about the message sender’s condition but for evaluation of the topic. Consequently, opinion is classified as dry information. Finally, it is clarified here that communication is made up of a few key components: a core part, dry information, various peripheral parts, and wet information. Fundamentally, a message requires dry information in order for it to be communicated; however, wet information, the peripheral part of the message, also plays an important role in communication.

What factor determines the amount and importance of the wet information? It is the anonymous condition of the community, which is determined by the two factors, personal specification and personal identification. Therefore, it can be said that these factors also determine the humidity of the community.

3 Community definitions with IHM

Community humidity is determined by two factors, personal specification and personal identification (Joinson 2001). When both specification and identification are strong, the amount and importance of wet information in a community increases. When neither specification nor identification exists, the importance and amount of wet information in the community decreases and the informational humidity tends to dryness (Table 3).
Table 3

Community classifications with IHM

 

Wet community

Dry community

Personal identification

Strong

Weak

Personal specification

Strong

Weak

Communicate mainly with...

Wet information

Dry information

Phase of knowledge creation

Tacit to formal knowledge

Formal to tacit knowledge

Characteristic

Human relationship oriented

Task oriented

Goal

Making relationships

Information exchanging

Communicate for...

Satisfying one’s affiliation

Satisfying one’s interests

Group function (Cartwright and Zander 1968)

Maintenance

Performance

Continual term

Rather long

Rather short

Group size

Small (less than 150 persons) (Dumber 1998)

Large (more than 1,000 persons?)

Personal specification is defined as when the message sender’s personality is specified. In a community with personal specification, message receivers can know the message sender’s attributes, i.e., wet information. This includes the sender’s name, affiliation, address and social position. Actually, message receivers can always know who sent the message; when such personal specifications exist, personal identification is always provided.

Personal identification is consistently defined as information that can identify who sent the message. Even if a personal specification is missing, meaning the sender is anonymous, the community can still view some type of identification. For example, in an online community, people can be identified by a handle or a temporary ID. In this case, a message sender can hide her or his identity (anonymous, lacking personal specification), though s/he can still show up as a certain person who sent a series of messages. In other words, personal identification may be understood as an indicator of the relationship between one message and another.

If there is a total lack of personal identification, the community is defined as dry. In a dry community, the amount of wet information becomes very low because it holds no importance. In a dry community, where members cannot identify which message comes from whom, there is no significance attached to the sender’s attributes.

This classification in Table 3 shows an ideal framework of a wet vs. dry community. Actual communities exist on a place between the ideal cases corresponding to its specification and identification (see Sect. 4).

3.1 Characteristics of wet- vs. dry-community

There are many different characteristics between wet and dry communities, but the most important difference is how the informational humidity contributes to knowledge creation. This is discussed in Sect. 3.2.

When a community’s informational humidity is rather high, in a wet community, the goal of communication is to know each other’s personality well. In other words, it is a human relationship-oriented community. The goal of this type of community is forming good relationships, and members shape it through their motivation to satisfy their affiliation with others. In such a community, the superior group function (Cartwright and Zander 1968) represents how to maintain good relationships over the long term. Thus, the community generally lasts a long time. These communities are rather small, at most 150 persons, because of the limit to human cognitive resources that can analyze and memorize other personalities (Dumber 1998).

On the other hand, when the informational humidity of the community is rather low, in a dry community, the goal of communication is to gain information or knowledge. This is a task-oriented community. It is considered to include people connected by subjects under discussion at that time. There are no direct human relationships that are mediated with wet information; communications and relationships are built only with dry information. In such a community, each member’s goal is to gain interesting or target information easily. This is a performance group function. The dry community is temporal because members leave there after they have exchanged information, knowledge or opinions. Dry communities can become very large, containing more than 1,000 people, because members do not have to waste cognitive resources to retain other member’s personal information.

3.2 Knowledge creation and wet- vs. dry-community

Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) pointed out that knowledge creation is one circulative intellectual activity that changes the knowledge mode. Tacit knowledge is implicit, experiential knowledge that is difficult to explain linguistically (Polanyi 1966). In contrast, formal knowledge is explicit, linguistic knowledge, which is easier to communicate and share within a group. Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) considered that a large amount of tacit knowledge in a group should be changed to formal knowledge so that group members can share other members’ knowledge and experiences in order to create knowledge. Moreover, formal knowledge should be changed to tacit when any new knowledge has been created, because the tacit knowledge becomes the seed for the next step of knowledge creation. Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) concluded the circulation of tacit and formal knowledge in a group makes the group intellectual, creating new knowledge or ideas. This collaborative knowledge creation model is suitable from the perspective of SID in this article.

Informational humidity model focuses on the two phases of Nonaka and Takeuchi’s (1995) collective knowledge-creation cycle. One is that the phase knowledge changes from tacit to formal. The other is that the phase knowledge changes from formal to tacit. From the view-point of IHM, the former corresponds to the function of a wet community and the latter corresponds to the function of a dry community.

In a wet community, members can know other members’ personal attributes (wet information) satisfactorily and can infer who has what tacit knowledge in a particular situation, thus the likelihood of finding tacit knowledge increases. Finally, implicit tacit knowledge is exposed through communication with other members in the form of linguistic, explicit formal knowledge.

On the other hand, in a dry community, members can use all their cognitive resources to exchange linguistic, formal knowledge, without keeping to human relationships. In this situation, when knowledge exchange is over, members leave the community. The exchanged formal knowledge is changed to members’ personal tacit knowledge and it is stored for the next chance to be used, exchanged as formal knowledge.

If the informational humidity of the community is moderate, i.e., neither very high nor very low, the community barely contributes at all to knowledge creation. In such a community, it is considered that not enough wet information prevents the exchange of dry information. It is the result of limited human cognitive resources being wasted in both processing wet and dry information. This situation does not contribute to any phase of knowledge creation. To contribute to the knowledge creation, it is necessary to either increase or lower the informational humidity in the community.

4 Actual communities on IHM

Of course, there are many types of communities, but IHM can map them to its degree of informational humidity. IHM also shows the characteristics of the community and how the community contributes to the circulation of knowledge creation. In the following sections, six actual (online and offline) communities that have different degrees of informational humidity are introduced (Fig. 3) and discussions focus on how each community or system contributes to the dual phases of knowledge creation.
Fig. 3

Maps the characteristics of communities into the IHM

4.1 Real community (face-to-face)

A real community is almost always wet. For example, the threshold of communication in a face-to-face situation is generally a self-introduction because this includes strong personal specification. Wet information has strong meaning in real communication because the relationship becomes a part of a whole life; without wet information, human relationships in real communities cannot be kept.

Because of the limit of human cognitive resources, the processing of the message content itself, dry information, is often prevented by the processing of wet information. In a real community, the formal-to-tacit phase of knowledge creation is weak because the volume of formal knowledge exchanged prevents the exchange of wet information. To enhance the formal-to-tacit knowledge phase, some media, like a pencil and paper, are needed to support, keep and memorize (change to tacit) formal knowledge.

On the other hand, tacit-to-formal knowledge is strong in face-to-face situations. Rich cues of wet information in communication support the activities that lead to gaining tacit knowledge from one’s mind and converting it to formal knowledge in order to express it linguistically.

4.2 Video system/awareness supporting

The video system is defined as a trial to mediate wet information. Visual and audio media can be used to build a rather wet community that contains personal specifications. If the system works well, the humidity of community may become as high as in a real community. In this case, the characteristics of the community also resemble those of a real community.

An awareness-supporting system is another type of trial for supplying mediated wet information. Awareness is the sense of the condition of other community members. It includes emotional conditions, working conditions (busy or free), and so on. People who are aware can obtain cues to communicate with other members. An awareness-supporting system highlights the awareness information component of wet information, and increases the community’s informational humidity.

These systems contribute to the tacit-to-formal knowledge phase. Plentiful wet information supports the activity; however, these systems are not suitable for the formal-to-tacit knowledge phase. Another “dry” system is needed for such a purpose.

4.3 Weblog community

A weblog is a website in which people write everyday events and thoughts, or make links and comments to other websites. Articles are generally added almost everyday, and recently, a variety of weblog tools have made creating a weblog very easy to do. The tools also have communication functions. When a reader is interested in an article, s/he can write a comment about it or make a reactive article on her or his own weblog and trackback (notify) it to the original article. The forming of weblog communities has become a major trend on the Internet.

Weblog communities include personal identification, but do not often include specifications. Most weblog writers use handles in order to remain anonymous. However, they are still rather wet because the large number of everyday articles supply wet information on the people who write the weblogs. By reading a weblog, community members can understand the writer’s style of thinking, background knowledge and personality. It suits the tacit-to-formal phase of knowledge creation.

4.4 BBS, chat, etc.

This category contains the bulletin board system (BBS), chat systems (for example, ICQ, IRC and so on) or another character-based system, such as usenet and so on. It has been a mainstream technology that realizes online communities. However, in relation to SID, this function is not satisfactory. Communities built by BBS or chat systems often feature personal identification without specifications, because most systems or communities permit members to use handles. This means the community is neither wet nor dry. This characteristic of a community does not contribute to knowledge creation.

To support knowledge creation with these tools, a function that makes the mediated community wetter or drier is needed. To enhance the tacit-to-formal knowledge phase, it is necessary to increase the community’s humidity. This can be done using video or voice chat to provide data that discloses one’s personal information, or with an off-line meeting. On the other hand, for the formal-to-tacit phase, low humidity is necessary. Thus, the system or community should forbid the use of handles and maintain complete anonymity, removing personal identification.

4.5 Anonymous BBS

Anonymous BBS is the system that allows communication in complete anonymous situations, without personal identification. Users can express information or opinion freely on this system. Users also can obtain information freely from it.

A community mediated with anonymous BBS has strong characteristics of a dry community. For example, “2-channel (http://www.2ch.net/),” which is an enormous, anonymous BBS community in Japan has more than 60 billion views per day, and it is estimated that the actual number of everyday users is more than 3 billion. In this huge community, members cannot know who is the message sender but can exchange formal knowledge. Because there is no human (wet) relationship, the community is temporal; at the end of a series of communications, the community is over. People who join to the community do so only to share information, not to form relationships.

This system contributes to the formal-to-tacit knowledge phase. Community members can read and search formal knowledge related to their interests from an enormous amount of logs. It can make it easy to keep or memorize (change to tacit) the knowledge in one’s mind.

4.6 Public opinion channel community

Public opinion channel (POC) (Nishida et al. 1999) is an interactive broadcasting system that was originally designed to realize a dry community (Fukuhara et al. 2002). With the experimental system “POC communicator”, community members can make a series of virtual cards, POC stories, which contain photographs and articles (Fukuhara et al. 2003). The POC story is posted on the system and broadcast to community members. The broadcasting is asynchronous, enabling community members to watch the story at any time. This posting and broadcasting cycle is achieved anonymously, without personal identification. The result is that a community mediated with POC is dry.

Public opinion channel contributes to the formal-to-tacit phase of knowledge creation. Members of POC communities can obtain and post formal knowledge to the system at any time. In other words, POC acts like an externalized collective mind. Owing to the exposed continual broadcasting of formal knowledge, members of a POC community can internalize it into their tacit knowledge spontaneously.

5 Perspectives

How does the approach to explaining and classifying a community and its characteristics with IHM contribute to SID? It can supply ideas to design features that should be implemented onto a system that mediates a knowledge-creating community. The features should be different, depending on whether the system targets the knowledge-creation phase, tacit-to-formal knowledge, or formal-to-tacit knowledge.

5.1 Wet-type systems

A wet-type system focuses on the tacit-to-formal phase. It supports knowledge creation from the aspect of seeking and gathering tacit knowledge within a community, and it should be designed to increase the informational humidity of a mediated community. For this purpose, the system should supply personal specifications to the community members in addition to plentiful wet information.

For example, a wet-type system contains a video system and an awareness-supporting system. It might also include an anthropomorphic agent to support the wet-type knowledge-creating community in increasing its informational humidity.

It is necessary for wet-type systems to solve communication problems that exist in real communities. Rich wet information sometimes causes communication troubles. For example, people easily obey authority or persons who have high social positions. In such situations, free knowledge-creation activity is prevented. As a result, some features to equalize the chance of presenting one’s opinion are needed in this type of system.

5.2 Dry-type systems

A dry-type system focuses on the formal-to-tacit phase. It supports knowledge creation from the aspect of how to easily obtain formal knowledge from the community and lets users convert it to personal tacit knowledge. For this purpose, the community system needs to remain dry, reducing personal identification.

For example, a dry-type system contains anonymous BBS or POC, which reduces personal identification in the community. These systems make a dry community. The result of a pilot study shows that the dry community enhances the motivation of community members to present and obtain information (Azechi and Matsumura 2001).

It is needed for dry-type systems to correspond to the cognitive bias of its members. Because of the lack of wet information, there is the possibility that message receivers miss inferring the distribution of attitude in the community (Azechi and Matsumura 2002). This is caused by confirmation bias, which is a general tendency for people to want to know favorable information. It strengthens one’s attitude and one comes to persist with the original attitude. This tendency sometimes causes hostility toward outgroups, in which members have opposite attitudes. In such situations, free knowledge-creation activity is prevented. At a result, dry-type systems should include some features such as indicators of actual distributions of attitude in the community.

6 Conclusions

The IHM approach is convenient for understanding how SID is achieved. The classification of wet- vs. dry-community using IHM contributes to the double phase of knowledge creation.

The IHM approach is also considered able to prevent communication problems for knowledge creation in a community, for example, flaming (Lea et al. 1994). Flaming is defined as repeated, insignificant verbal attacks that make communication inefficient. According to IHM, flaming occurs as a result of medium-level informational humidity in a community. In such a community, wet information prevents the functioning of dry information in transferring the formal knowledge. The fact is that many flames are reported in the CMC community mediated with BBS or chat systems (Kiesler et al. 1984) in which social identification exists but specification does not. A medium level of informational humidity supports this hypothesis. Solving the flaming problem by applying the IHM framework contributes to the trial of SID, supporting knowledge creation by a community.

Although the definition of the SID concept has not yet been confirmed, IHM proves that the community-centered approach is available. IHM presents the characteristics of knowledge-creating communities, and how they are controlled. Moreover, IHM clarifies informational humidity that is determined by personal specifications and identification that influences the phase of knowledge creation in a community. In the future, it is expected to contribute to SID in designing a supporting system for knowledge-creating communities with the help of the view-point of IHM. The SID concept will also assist in the understanding of the available methods of designing better social intelligence.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2004