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iaslash Information Architecture (IA)

Information Architecture (IA)

BBC home page design process

Sweet. Matt Jones has published a document detailing the design process undergone by BBCi to redesign the BBC home page.

Slogans for IA's

James Spahr offers some sassy slogans for IA's. He doesn't actually call them sassy, but the alliteration gives it some added sass. The last one would make a nice punchy tagline for an IA action/adventure sitcom.

What's Your problem?

Tom pointed to What's Your problem?, in which Mark Bernstein observes that a lot of IAs say that most web sites suck and that "Trying to establish a profession on the foundation of a myth is, I think, a tactical error."

    I've been reading a lot of Information Architecture lately, and one idea is weirdly pervasive -- the notion that most Web sites are bad. Everywhere you look in the literature, you see warnings about unusable sites, idiotic sites, disorganized and chaotic sites. Sites that suck.
ZING Initiative at LOC: v1.0 SRW & CQL

The ZING Initiative (Z39.50 International Next Generation), under the auspices of the Z39.50 Maintenance Agency at the Library of Congress, is pleased to announce Version 1.0 of SRW and CQL.

SRW ("Search/Retrieve for the Web") is a web-service-based protocol which aims to integrate access across networked resources, and to promote interoperability between distributed databases by providing a common platform. The underpinnings of the protocol are formed by bringing together more than 20 years experience from the collective implementers of the Z39.50 protocol with recent developments in the web-technologies arena. SRW features both SOAP and URL-based access mechanisms (SRW and SRU respectively) to provide for a wide range of possible clients. It uses CQL, the Common Query Language, which provides a powerful yet intuitive means of formulating searches. The protocol mandates the use of open and industry-supported standards XML and XML Schema, and where appropriate, Xpath and SOAP.

The SRW Initiative recognizes the importance of Z39.50 (as currently defined and deployed) for business communication, and focuses on getting information to the user. SRW provides semantics for searching databases containing metadata and objects, both text and non-text. Building on Z39.50 semantics enables the creation of gateways to existing Z39.50 systems while reducing the barriers to new information providers, allowing them to make their resources available via a standard search and retrieve service.

SRW, SRU, and CQL have been developed by an international team, minimizing cross-language pitfalls and other potential internationalization problems.

The ZING, SRW, and CQL home pages are at:
http://www.loc.gov/zing,
http://www.loc.gov/srw, and
http://www.loc.gov/cql
The Z39.50 Maintenance Agency home page is at
http://www.loc.gov/z3950/agency.

The SRW and CQL version 1.0 specifications will remain stable for a six- to nine-month implementation-experience period. During this period developers are encouraged to implement the specification (see the implementors page at http://www.loc.gov/srw/implementors.html), join the list of implementors, participate in interoperability testing, and help develop the next version, 1.1. Please direct questions, comments, and suggestions to z3950@loc.gov.

IA should get under the UX tent

That's what Sean Coon is saying at apperceptive's uxDesign. I agree with his contention that vocal IA's should be spending effort cross pollenating and talking big IA. Lou has been doing a lot of that lately as do some Adaptive Path who do IA as one component of their work. But even with the fiery debates that have been going on, I still feel there is a need for something like AIfIA, if only to support IA's that don't have a steady and constant lifeline of IA peers -- I suspect that isolated IA's, like those that have moved into in-house positions with small IA groups will feel this. I also feel that evangelism can make the people holding the purse strings see the light and spend money on IA where it's needed.

Apparently some people also believe that IA needs an egomaniacal figurehead. I agree with Thomas Alison on that one. I've said that a few times in the past few weeks to people I've spoken to about getting business decision makers to understand IA. When I say business decision makers, I mean in the big and maybe boring brick and mortar corporations who need in house IA's to work on stuff like enterprise IA.

Don't know where Sean's rockstar theory comes from. I never wanted to be a rockstar and I never really worked in a traditional library.

Lou on enterprise IA and search log analysis

Lou posted two presentations on his site for speaking engagements he had at the London AIGA-ED group and at ASIS&T 2002 in Philadelphia. The first is on enterprise IA presentation and the second on search log analysis. Ann Light summarizes the enterprise IA presentation at usabilitynews.com.

Nathan Shedroff: The V-2 Interview 1/2
    If IAs (and others) want to be taken seriously and gain back some of the stature they've lost in the last three years, they should start with turning down the volume on the entitlement and righteous indignation, and opening their eyes to a lot of other people who know a piece of the evolving puzzle that is called the customer marketplace.
Adam Greenfield interviews Nathan Shedroff to talk very candidly about Experience Design and Information Architecture. It's part 1 in a 2 part series that's turned out to be a lively debate with significant clashes occurring between the concepts of experience design and information architecture. Shedroff offers some succinct definitions that characterize ED as an umbrella encompassing a lot of smaller roles. I've tended to accept this classification to some extent, but found Shedroff's perceptions of the smaller roles (and the people who inhabit those roles) to be rather unclear at times (IA is not Information Design in my opinion) and condescending at others. It is interesting to read his perceptions of IA, however, particularly with regard to the growth of the field, the ability of IA's to view projects within a broader context. I disagree with those opinions as well.

At one point Shedroff also mentions Information Theory, stating that more IAs should be conversant in it. I found that amusing. I know that many of us come from LIS backgrounds, so there is no doubt that many IAs have some knowledge of that literature, but am wondering how they factor that into the work they do. For me, the experience of studying and working on Information Retrieval is informed by a lot of IR literature, but as a generalist, I rarely point to specific theories in order to make decisions. Shedroff also mentions Wurman, but I have no idea what Wurman has to do with Information Theory. Maybe this has to do with the fact that he lumps information architecture with information design.

In any case, it was a very open conversation -- with opinions that should be aired in the public in this manner. Looking forward to part 2.

Information Architecture is not Usability

Jeff Lash tells us why Usability is not IA in the November, 2002 IAnthything goes column of Digital Web.

    The distinction between information architecture and usability may seem like semantics, but there are significant differences between the two disciplines. Though they are often discussed interchangeably, and practitioners are often well-versed in both, information architecture and usability differ in their scope and areas of focus.
The Definition of Information Architecture

Peter discusses why there is a need for the Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture.

    If nothing else, AIfIA presents an opportunity for us to join forces and speak out. We must focus our message. We must carefully select our target audiences. And then we must speak loudly and clearly.

    But we hope to go much further than that. If we listen carefully to people's reactions, if we involve outsiders in the discussion, if we make connections to other communities and disciplines, then we can learn how to improve the practice of information architecture.

I wholeheartedly agree with what Peter has to say and am not surprised by the amount of feedback along the lines of "what the hell is IA?". In my mind, there is a great need to evangelize the value that IA brings to businesses. I see business decision makers -- the people who pay for IA -- as a very important target for this organization. For a lot of people out there, there is a great need to establish the IA meme in the heads of the people holding the purse strings in corporations. If we can collectively educate these kinds of people, we may help to sustain and develop the growing body of IA knowledge.

IA has not garnered the attention of the business world as Usability has. We have not had a provocative figure head that instill fear in business decision makers that if you don't consider IA, you will lose money -- not that I think this is a good idea. We do have some provocative people out there, but they haven't had as long a history as Jakob and haven't been as prolific in the mainstream business/management rags. This is where we have to make some great inroads. We generally tend not to be as loud individually (unless your name is Zia) so the collective voice of the AIfIA will hopefully help to get our message out there better.

Information Architecture: From Craft to Profession

An excerpt from the first chapter of Earl Morrogh's text book Information Architecture: An Emerging 21st Century Profession appears on B&A in the article, Information Architecture: From Craft to Profession.

I liked his succint definition of IA.

    Information architecture is primarily about the design of information environments and the management of an information environment design process.
Morrogh is a professor at Florida State, Information Studies. The book he has writtin presents IA in an historical context and uses the history of architecture to illustrate the growth of our profession. He discusses the appropriateness of the architecture analogy and how the tradition of craftsmanship may be fitting at some level. However, he adds, our movement away from narrow specialization and towards profession reflects a greater need for a broader scope of knowledge. Based on the table of contents, this looks like an excellent read. Most of the book focusses on the development of information and communication technology innovations, with the final part devoted to the development of our profession. It's nice to see a few books that consider how IA fits into the grand scheme of things.

I've been neglecting the main sources for IA info lately. Thanks, Lou, for reminding me to look. :)

The iceberg diagram

Peter Morville's iceberg diagram -- a model for IA -- on Peterme.

The Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture

After about 7 1/2 months in the making, the Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture offcially launches today. The AIfIA was formed as a non-profit organization with the goals of advancing and promoting information architecture. For more information on why the AIfIA was started and what the AIfIA will be doing, please check out the aifia.org site or view the press release. Lou gives a little background on the name:

    Asilomar is a conference center near Monterey, California; an incredibly stunning (and reasonably priced) place for a weekend retreat to hash over what it means for information architects to organize. And yes, we're calling it an institute rather than a society or association; "institute" seems to carry less baggage.
The phrase "asilo mar" also means something like "refuge by the sea" in Spanish. The conference center was orginally formed as a women's retreat center in a peaceful spot on the Pacific coast -- a place to take refuge by the sea. As we went over the details about why we need to organize our efforts to bring awareness to the value of IA and to promote IA for practitioners, it became obvious that the venue for our first discussions in Asilomar was appropriate. IA offers refuge from the sea of information chaos to bring order and balance, to promote sense making and information use. If you believe this to be true and are interested in getting on board, please get involved if you can.

IA book bonanza

Well, I thought, why not just list all three of these great IA books. Christina and Jesse currently hold the spotlight. And as Jeff points out, the polar bear is still relatively new. Seeing these great recent publications in one place just underscores for me the growth of this craft.

Christina's book
[Buy it] [Read about it]

Jesse's book
[Buy it] [Read about it]

Peter's and Lou's
[Buy it] [Read about it]

P.S. My copy of Blueprints arrived today and I'm itching to start reading it. Looks excellent. I'm going to enjoy it thoroughly. :) Have a lookie at the persona collage in Christina's book. I'm the one above Madonnalisa with the glasses!

Information architecture: Five things information managers need

I just read Chris Farnum's article in Information Management Journal (not online I don't think), which describes IA for the benefit of traditional information managers. He did a very good summary of the typical IA role and methodology. Here's the abstract:

    Records and information management is a much more mature and established field than IA. However, both share a connection to the information sciences (e.g., -representation of information, thesaurus design, and information retrieval). Information architects and information management professionals share a passion for organizing information, creating effective content management strategies, and providing efficient access to that content for users.
The citation: Information Management Journal, v36n5, Sep/Oct 2002, p33-40.

Fire one!

Provoked, to say the least, by Jeff's new column in Digital Web.

"User-centered information architecture is a myth"; attention to user requirements has "overshadowed the fact that there are business needs that need to be addressed."

The article continues in a more conventional tone, but clearly, there's a lot here that I just flat out disagree with - especially in the context of this discussion.

What say you?

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