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Off the top
Signal vs. Noise
David Weinberger gets interviewed at spirituality.com (don't look too closely at the name of that site or you'll turn into an oxy-moron) about how the Web is a spiritual thing. One of the more interesting bits quoted here:
That's a powerful idea hidden in there: that Trust is in essence the greatest "search technology" we have.
Too much information is simply noise. But with 20 billion pages on line, we are waaaay past "too much." Fortunately, we are evolving ways of finding what we need, either through brute force searching, or, most efficiently, by relying on the judgment of people we trust.
In its latest issue, Wired magazine has a great article about Korea and how they use the Internet as groups. It draws some interesting conclusions, but I wish it would go further in discussing how the US isn't really that different: we're just going at it from a different angle.
For information architects, this is an important issue: if the Internet is at its heart a place for people to interact with one another, perhaps we need to consider that in our discipline. Maybe it's not mainly about data retrieval and shopping? Maybe those things are peripheral, red herrings for our fiercely individualistic culture?
Rather than spamming iaslash, if you want to see my other thoughts about it, check it out at memekitchen.
Harvard Business Review has an article in their June issue about Social Network Analysis and how to tap into the power of informal knowledge & action creation in a company. This is an important field of study for us to keep up with, because it provides a new context for us to consider how we structure shared information spaces -- according to the 'official networks' or to support the informal ones?
The article costs $, but here's a quote from the Abstract:
Specifically, senior executives need to focus their attention on four key role-players in informal networks: Central connectors link most employees in an informal network with one another; they provide the critical information or expertise that the entire network draws on to get work done. Boundary spanners connect an informal network with other parts of the company or with similar networks in other organizations. Information brokers link different subgroups in an informal network; if they didn't, the network would splinter into smaller, less effective segments. And finally, there are peripheral specialists, who anyone in an informal network can turn to for specialized expertise but who work apart from most people in the network. The authors describe the four roles in detail, discuss the use of a well-established tool called social network analysis for determining who these role-players are in the network, and suggest ways that executives can transform ineffective informal networks into productive ones.
Apparently the weblogs paradigm is making its way even further into the mainstream. In order to allow its columnists to establish even more immediate relationships & communication with readers, MSNBC is setting up weblogs for them.
This is encouraging. I hope they'll use the blog opportunity to do some real communicating, from real personalities, rather than some kind of PR pump. This move also goes even further toward establishing acceptance for enterprise-based blog communities of practice, which my company is trying to encourage with some of our clients.
This may seem a big reach for some. But if you read Seymour Hersch's article in this week's New Yorker, and you actually DO information architecture for enough people to see the connections, it starts being pretty clear that the US government intelligence and law enforcement communities suffer from pretty much the same thing as any very-large corporation, only on a much bigger and more tragic scale.
Here are two telling quotations:
"These guys are buried under a mountain of paper, and the odds of this"—a report about suspicious passengers—"coming up to a higher level are very low." Even today, eight months after the hijacking, Onstad said, the question "Where would you effectively report something like this so that it would get attention?" has no practical answer.
And this one...
The F.B.I.'s computer systems have been in disarray for more than a decade, making it difficult, if not impossible, for analysts and agents to correlate and interpret intelligence. The F.B.I.'s technological weakness also hinders its ability to solve crimes. In March, for example, Leahy's committee was told that photographs of the nineteen suspected hijackers could not be sent electronically in the days immediately after September 11th to the F.B.I. office in Tampa, Florida, because the F.B.I.'s computer systems weren't compatible.
You might think that what this points to is a lack of needed technology. But I think we all know that throwing a big CMS portal at a problem isn't effective in and of itself ... it takes intelligently researched and designed information architectures to create the connective tissue between a behemoth IT solution and the actual people who use it. Obviously, the problem isn't that they don't have ENOUGH intelligence & information. They just don't know what to do with it. Isn't fixing exactly this kind of problem our calling?
At Apple, they're announcing some improvements to Mac OS X, many of which sound quite wonderful. But this iChat client looks ridiculous. Apple is having trouble distinguishing between "user friendly" and "user stupid."
On their Jaguar info page (Jaguar being the codename of the new version of OS X) you can see a screenshot of iChat, a new IM client that is compatible with AIM. Beyond the fact that it's kind of amazing they got AOL to even agree to this, you'd think that they would take advantage of it with a usable interface.
This is supposedly "user friendly"... a stack of photographs with cartoon bubbles popping out of their mouths.
I really want to be able to use this thing, because I want a non-AIM client for OS X that I can also transfer files with, but this thing is hideous. I hope we can just turn all that stuff off and have a nice, clean, lean interface like Adium.
Found this study, Architecture as Metaphor done through Bell Labs some time back. They investigate how legitimate Architecture is as a metaphor for what software "architects" do.
The article sheds a lot of light on the current discussion IA's are having about just what their role really is.
Keep in mind that the study is NOT including "designers" of software or web environments, and certainly doesn't include usability engineers or information architects. These are straight-out software developers (programmers, etc.). So, when they say aesthetics and GUI aren't part of their job, it's a very realistic reflection on the typical programmer point of view.
If you take this study and map out the differences or gaps between "built" architecture and "software" architecture, it's pretty clear that the few strong differences between them are rendered moot by the advent of more public shared information environments; i.e. the Web, where so many structures have to be considered aesthetically, for example. This is very different from the prior realm of the software engineer: database number crunchers and call-center-info screens, etc. The paradigm is shifting now because of interconnected, interdependent systems rather than standalone applications.
One shock for me was seeing that Context was not an issue the software architects even considered. I'm so firmly entrenched in Contextual Design that this really surprised me.
Though not strictly ia-related, this is a pretty important concept that successful IA can't do without. Strategy+Business magazine has an article explaining in depth the principles behind consumer-created value, and how the Internet has rendered obsolete the old corporate mentality of not having to deal with the consumer. The walls between user and creator are dissolving further, and user-experience is becoming indistinguishable from product experience. "Consumers appreciate and expect efficiency when it improves their experience with a product or service. But most of the time, managers are so preoccupied with operating efficiently that they don’t even think about value in terms of the consumer’s experience." (Article may require free registration.)
"Usability flaws in enterprise apps -- like CRM and content management packages -- erode benefits. To reclaim ROI, firms must learn how to support user goals when buying and implementing software."
If you don't have a Forrester account, you can still view the overview page and see experience the "multimedia"... (including this mp3).
One salient point from the interior (emphasis mine):
"Usable apps are hard to build. Enterprise applications comprise tens of thousands of lines of code that must support a swelling range of platforms, standards, data models, and browser versions.5 In an environment of such rapid technology churn, it’s hard enough to develop a stable app, much less a usable information architecture that supports multiple types of interactions."
Interestingly, this is the sole mention of information architecture in the article. Once again, a kind of afterthought, a mere footnote in the "usability" concern.
Article is to be found here: http://www.forrester.com/ER/Research/Report/Summary/0,1338,14195,00.html
Again, with little fanfare, Google does more cool stuff. Extremely useful headlines search, targeted at news and not everything else. Nice addition to complement their main search, which is by nature not centered on "newest" content but "most authoritative." Seems they're still trying to live up to the expectations people seemed to have of them in September.
Microsoft is gutting its OS to be more like a huge SQL database of data & documents, so eventually someone can (for example) search for all interactions with a client across email, receipts, timesheets and Word files, and get relevant results. Who said search is dead?
This is an ambitious quest. But I wonder how useful it really is? I think "Search" for retrieval is always going to be with us as a necessity, but I generally can find things I need within a couple of minutes because I've organized them with some care already. Seems to me this is partly an attempt by Microsoft to circumvent people's individual and collective poor organization skills, or at least a general lack of explicit, purposeful choices about where to put and how to label information resources. We need more Information Architecture, not more half-witted search engines pumping out random keyword-associated results.
I really appreciated this other article -- The Power of One: Personal Knowledge Management -- for explaining that a new technology is not a panacea for what is essentially a very organic, human problem, and that KM is only as good as the skills and efforts of the individuals who practice it.
A thorough, personable, honest account of how a person in an ia-like role at HP took on a straightforward task that turned into a daunting project, namely creating a knowledge-management system for the entire corporation. For the file to read all about it, go here: [PDF].
I especially like how forthcoming she is about her experiences; it keeps this from reading like another PR-filtered whitepaper.
This was written up in September 2001, and will be published (or already has been) in an industry journal.
Thanks to the Montague Institute for their Digest page that provided this link.