Information transfer (or the information 'system') can be considered as the dynamic interaction among three components: the user; the knowledge resource; and the intermediary mechanism between the first two components. The knowledge resource contains texts (in the semiotic sense), represented and organized in some way. The user initiates the system because of some problem, goals, intentions, etc., whose management or realization s/he believes might be furthered by information obtained from the knowledge resource. The intermediary mechanism mediates between the user's desires, requirements, knowledge, etc., and the knowledge resource's contents, representation and organization, so that if texts appropriate to the user's situation are in the knowledge resource, they (or aspects of them) are brought to the user's attention. Here we concentrate upon the intermediary function: why it is necessary; why it is problematic; what its important features are; how it might be improved. The overall approach is based on the idea of cognitive models or images that the components of the system have of one another and of themselves. Specifically we will be concerned with the intermediary's role in building up its own model of the user in interaction with the user, in order both to help the user in clarifying the problem and to develop a representation of that problem which it judges likely to obtain useful responses from the knowledge resource. There will be some theoretical discussion, based on the ASK hypothesis and related work, but the primary method will be analysis of real human/human information-related dialogues. The foci of attention will be the functions carried out in such dialogues and how they are carried out, and the central role of interaction between user and intermediary in cognitive model construction which leads to successful system performance.
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