jess mcmullin's blog

IA and Analytics

On the IA Institute's member mailing list Jeff Lash pointed out three interesting articles from Hurol Inan:

Interesting intersection of IA with analytics - though I'm not sure about where Inan is coming from practicing IA.

Thanks Jeff.

IA Summit Registration Hiccups

If you've registered for the IA Summit in the last couple weeks, your registration may not have been completed.

>From Dick Hill, ASIS&T Executive Director:
We have had some corruption in the PGP keys which allow receiving secure registrations. A fix is in the works, but not yet complete.

If you registered this week or last, please send an e-mail to chaynes [at] asis [dot] org confirming who registered, for what. (We need a count on the pre-cons.)

Please include a phone number. If we have no record of the transaction, we will give you a call for details, payment information, etc. If we do have a record, we will confirm via e-mail.

Again, only the last week or two are affected by this, we believe.

Also note, there is no security risk with the registration hiccup - as far as I know, the issue is just that some registrations stay encrypted instead of decrypting in the ASIS&T offices.

If you haven't registered, and are thinking about it, it will be a great, educational, high value. You can go register now. Hope to see you in Montreal.

AIfIA Preconference at IA Summit

The early registration deadline for the AIfIA Leadership Seminar is January 28th. Sign up now to get a significant discount for this awesome star-studded event! The 1 ½ day Seminar “Advanced IA: Topics for 2005 and Beyond” will be on March 3rd and 4th, prior to the 2005 Information Architecture Summit in Montreal. This highly interactive forum will connect leaders and provide an invaluable way to learn from others across a variety of disciplines. The sessions and speakers include:

  • “Managing Up: The Business Strategy of Information Architecture”
    Christina Wodtke and Scott Hirsch
  • “The Enterprise IA Roadmap”
    Louis Rosenfeld
  • ”Homeland Security and IA”
    Lee S. Strickland, JD
  • “Practical Application of the Semantic Web”
    Paul Ford
  • “The State of Global IA”
    Livia Labate, Peter Van Dijck, Jorge Arango
  • “Hands-On Scenario Planning: Looking to the Future to Shape Decisions Today”
    Jess McMullin

For more information about the seminar, please check the AIfIA website at or to register for both the Seminar and the IA Summit, go to

User research on folksonomy use: a mini-ethnography

This is the first study I know of where the author actually observed and interviewed folksonomy users (a good reminder that most of the conversation to date has been by folks who don't actually build social categorization tools).

UX Salary Survey

2004 UX professionals salary survey has interesting data , though since most respondents were from the US, information on other countries is limited.

Google Suggest does type-ahead for Google Index in near real-time

Go try Google Suggest now, if you haven't. Google Suggest shows the feasibility of using type ahead with very large collections of terms, like tags in a folksonomy.

Now, one of the drawbacks of using ad hoc tags in social classification is the lack of vocabulary control - people use different tags to mean the same thing. This is fine for organizing personal information architectures, but the lack of consistency, while reducing the cognitive cost of classification, actually increases effort in finding information.

To deal with the issue, there needs to be a feedback loop. Flickr has the most popular tags float to the top, 43 Things and others use type size to show more popular tags. There's an argument for that kind of subtle feedback. However, to really bridge between levels of classification, to move from a distributed folksonomy to a controlled vocabulary and then to a formal thesaurus, we need more than implicit incentive in using a particular tag. Using type ahead to show other tags is one way of doing that, as James Spahr illustrates so well. But I've always wondered about how scalable this approach would be with a massive tagset. With Google Suggest, instead of wondering how type ahead would scale, I'm wondering how we can implement a similar scale system for tags...

Speaking of Cross-Training - Free online book Evolutionary Architecture

John Frazer's Evolutionary Architecture examines architecture as evolution, and architects as shaping the process. Interesting lessons for information architects abound in the brief look through that I've had. Frazer's site at Autotectonica shows an ambition to generalize his thinking into general systems design and design education, but is sadly just an under construction placeholder.

Thanks Caterina

Products that interaction design and information architecture methods address

I like Dan Saffer's diagram looking at interaction design and information architecture (PDF) through the lens of what kind of products each practice addresses. It's concrete, instead of the hand-waving turf war some people enjoy. It reminds me of Marti Hearst's quadrant from CHI2001 panel on measuring IA (requires IE, see slide #2 'A Simple Taxonomy'). The axes for the quadrant were complexity of content and complexity of applications...

A research agenda for Information Architecture

Peter van Dijck expresses frustration with the slow pace of new thinking in his information architecture research agenda. Lots of good response on SIGIA and the aifia-members lists that Peter sums up on his blog.

In particular, the question of whether we need more research, or whether we need more innovation is important. While basic research is valuable, many of Peter's points revolve around cross-training with other disciplines like business management or ethnography...often a quicker win for practitioners.

The problem of a slower flow of new ideas is also from maturing practice - our current tools are good enough to get by, so we aren't as motivated to find new tools, even though they might be better.

Personal Information Architectures

Gene has an interesting post about personal information architectures, something he spoke about at the recent Future of IA Retreat. While the recent interest in social classification and folksonomy is a large reason to talk about personal info. architecture, I think that Thomas Vanderwal has also been talking about the issue for a few years as the Personal Info Cloud.

Personas drive business strategy at Best Buy (or vice versa)

Earlier in the spring I blogged about Best Buy using personas. It’s interesting to me to see how those personas have started to permeate Best Buy culture - with customers being labeled with the name of the persona, as discussed in this Wall Street Journal article.

Store clerks receive hours of training in identifying desirable customers according to their shopping preferences and behavior. High-income men, referred to internally as Barrys, tend to be enthusiasts of action movies and cameras. Suburban moms, called Jills, are busy but usually willing to talk about helping their families. Male technology enthusiasts, nicknamed Buzzes, are early adopters, interested in buying and showing off the latest gadgets.

Opensource Rich Internet App server

Laszlo Systems provides a platform to develop Rich Internet Applications, and announced at Web 2.0 that they have open sourced their basic server. That means that there’s an open platform for developing RIAs that doesn’t require any knowledge of Flash itself - just a new markup language similar to XHTML, XUL, etc.

Google Desktop Search

Google has launched their integrated desktop search in public beta. The most interesting thing is that rather than being a desktop application, it simply adds another tab to Google’s search results, and displays indexed desktop content from email, Office documents, etc.

Collection of IA related research

Peter Morville spent some time in the library this summer looking for research related to information architecture. He just published a list of freely available papers, categorized by broad topics like navigation and search. Useful stuff, but heavy reading at times.

More IA Heuristics - Search

Lou Rosenfeld shares some more IA heuristics, this time focused on search.

Human-information interaction

Donna Maurer has an insightful post comparing the task-orientation of HCI to the iterative information seeking behaviors we see on the web. Trying to apply a task-centric perspective to the problems of looking for unknown information seems to cause a lot of the friction between "old skool" human factors types and more web savvy newcomers.

Social classification - adding users to bottom-up IA

A while ago on the aifia-members list, Gene Smith asked about social classification generated by the informal user tagging in Flickr,, etc. In his reply on the list, Thomas coined the term folksonomy to describe these informal classifications, and Gene’s folksonomy blog post sparked a lot of conversation around the community.

One thing that really strikes me about social classification is that it’s user-centered bottom up classification. Most bottom up classification is document or collection centric. Social classification provides insight not just into content, but into users and context as well.

How much does ROI matter?

UIDesigner points to The Tao of ROI, a must-read article for UX types looking to communicate business value. The key take away for me, something I’ve had a gut feeling for, but never articulated, is that the value of an ROI exercise is in the process, not the result.

This underscores some of the lessons in Adaptive Path’s recent ROI report, where the process and discipline of measurement and accountability are what distinguish one organization from another, rather than simply projected outcomes.

Questions about card sorting effectiveness

UIDesigner has an interesting post questioning the usefulness of cardsorts in developing information architectures.

I’ve asked before: what are alternatives to card sorting that let us go beyond the superficial? I still haven’t heard any definitive answers though.

Enterprise IA Presentations

Gene Smith has collected quite a few presentations on Enterprise Information Architecture. If you can’t get to one of Lou’s EIA seminars, or if you’re wondering if you should go, this is a great place to wrap your head around EIA.

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