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Semantic CMS

Victor Lombardi, of Noise Between Stations fame, gives us “Smarter Content Publishing: Building a semantic website to increase the efficiency and usability of publishing systems” in this month's IA-themed Digital Web Magazine.

Victor makes two great points. (Actually, he makes more than two, but there were two main ones that rung true with me.) What I got out of the article -- in my words, not Victor's:

  1. Content management / publishing systems should be efficient and usable. Working on several roll-your-own CMSs, I've tried to focus just as much on having the public-facing design be usable as I have on making the publishing interface/process be usable. The easier it is to publish content, the more likely it is that the content will grow and be up-to-date and accurate.
  2. Content management is as much a process issue as it is a technology issue. So often we see CMS focus on the technology and assorted wiz-bang features, but really, without an appropriate and accepted publishing and approval process, even the best CMS will fail. Usually it's the case where the process is made to conform to the technology, rather than the existing business process being examined and then an appropriate solution being chosen which will require as little change in the business process as possible.
IA and urban design

Lately I've been interested in the connection between information architecture and urban planning, city culture and design, and related areas. Not the connection between IA and (traditional) architecture, but city structures and urban development. (“Information architecture is to the Web what urban planning is to cities.”) I'm obviously not the first one to make this connection, what with things like How Buildings Learn and A Pattern Language popping up on mailing lists and IA book surveys. I recently came across a handful of new (to me) links and thought I'd share:

  • An Information Architecture Approach to Understanding Cities: “Cities are systems of information architecture. Here, "architecture" refers not to the design of buildings, but to how the components of a complex system interact. ... This paper argues that a city works less like a commercial electronic system, and more like the human brain. ... An effective city will be one with a system architecture that can respond to changing conditions. This analysis shifts the focus of understanding cities from their physical structure to the flow of information.”
  • Legibility Enhancement for Information Visualisation (PDF): “Navigation in computer generated information spaces may be difficult, resulting in users getting ‘lost in hyperspace.’ This work aims to build on research from the area of city planning to try to solve this problem.” (1995)
  • Enterprise Architecture: Infrastructure and Integration: “Enterprise Architecture in large organizations is more like City Planning than constructing a building.” (Link is to a page with an abstract and a downloadable ZIPped PPT.) This talks more about enterprise (read: IT) architecture than IA as we know it, but it touches on IA and information management as well. There are some interesting urban design metaphors and correlations.
Know of any more?

Royksopp infographics eyecandy

You've probably already seen the link to the Royksopp video "You remind me" (Real Video) from Matt's site. I just got the Real Player for OS X so I could finally see it and all I can say is "Holy shit!" It's an infographics bonanza that fans of Wurman* will salivate over. Really. If you're so inclined, you won't be disappointed by it.

* I originally incorrectly said Tufte here, but Christina called me on it, because I should have said Wurman.

Time Pressure and Creativity: Why Time is Not on Your Side

HBS Working Knowledge interviewed Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School who has been researching the effect of time pressure on creativity in project work. Amabile has been studying the effect of various environmental and internal pressures on the ability to be creative. Her research subjects in the past have included artists and writers. At Harvard her subjects have been organizational employees -- 238 individuals on 26 project teams in 7 companies in 3 industries -- who have been filling out project journals.

Amabile's research has been consistently finding that time pressure does not help creativity, but research subjects have consistenly believed that they have been more creative when faced with pressures including time pressure. In fact, subjects have often been producing less creative work. This is fascinating to me. I'm sure the majority of IA's who read this blog are consultants who are faced with constraints of time on an everyday basis. I have heard that designers in some agencies (perhaps more in the web heyday) sometimes take time off away from a design problem in order to allow other solutions to manifest. In the last place I worked, I heard of a case where a few designers took a long drive when they got a particularly interesting project in order to get away from their desks and talk about the design problem a while before considering solutions. Amabile suggests that this is one very good way to develop creative thinking. After working on a problem for some time, take a break and put that work aside for a few days to allow your original ideas and problems to incubate. She suggests that solutions or ideas often appear during this period. While giving yourself some buffer time for creative work may not seem allowable in your present situation, it seems very worthwhile to allow for this incubation period. Surely you can track your time creatively to allow for it :)

OWL Web Ontology Language Working Drafts Published

From W3C news releases:

    The Web Ontology Working Group has released three first Working Drafts. The Feature Synopsis, Abstract Syntax and Language Reference describe the OWL Web Ontology Language 1.0 and its subset OWL Lite. Automated tools can use common sets of terms called ontologies to power services such as more accurate Web search, intelligent software agents, and knowledge management. OWL is used to publish and share ontologies on the Web. Read about the W3C Semantic Web Activity.
Was Jakob an IA?

Speaking of books, I stumbled upon this book cover. (It's a bit small, but if you look close it says Designing Exceptional Web Sites: Secrets of an Information Architect.)

A google search on the title attribltes it to one Mr. Jakob Nielsen, and following the Amazon link takes you to the page for Designing Web Usability.

Was I the only one who didn't know about this? Could Jakob have made IA a household name rather than usability? Things to think about this weekend...

Mysterious book titles revealed!

OK, maybe the rest of the world knows already - but I just found out that Christina's new book will be called Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web. Way to go Christina!

Also on the mysterious side: Mike Kuniavsky's preorder page exists too, kind of (you can't order the book). Practical User Testing for the World Wide Web (previously known as "Mike's user research book") is something I've been hoping to add to my collection for a long time - hope O'Reilly publishes it soon.

Not so mysterious, Jesse's Amazon preorder page is also up for Elements of User Experience, as is the page for Polar Bear 2

Stu-Stu-Studio

Peter Morville's Semantic Studios announces the launch of a redesigned version 2.0 web site. Most interesting (to me, at least) are the quotes about the 2nd edition of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, including John Rhodes' recommendation: “If you own nothing but the shirt on your back, sell your shirt and get this book.”

Net culture in Korea, and how the real killer app is people.

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.

Can log files help fix your IA?

The issue of using log files to assess the success of the information architecture and usability of a web site came up on a mailing list recently, and two great white papers were uncovered:

Know of any others?

Chris Farum takes over Boxes and Arrows... sort of

Former Argonaut Chris Farnum has two great articles in this week's edition of Boxes & Arrows:

The Egreetings article is a case study of a project Chris worked on while at Argus Inc., wonderfully written from a very personal perspective, which talks about problems faced during and after the project was completed. Many of the lessons learned are detailed in the User Testing article, which, among other things, tackles the low fidelity vs. high fidelity prototyping arguement head on.

Jef Raskin setting up open source project

So the author of The Humane Interface, who pedantically claims "there is no such thing as information design"* has set up an open source project that will demonstrate his ideas.

Thanks Slashdot
ps - Jef's site is being slashdotted right now, Tues. July 30, but should recover tomorrow.

*(he's right, for a certain technical definition of information. The linked essay is a chapter from the book Information Design)

Some polar bear goodness

So while I'm impatiently awaiting the release of Information Architecture for the WWW, 2nd ed., I was wandering around O'Reilly's book site and found five sample chapters to whet the appetite. With this, and Christina's, and Jesse's books all coming out over the next few months, I'd better start saving those pennies....

UPA Site Redesign

The Usability Professional's Association is currently redesigning their website. The interesting thing is that they have a redesign journal of sorts that documents the process and many of the deliverables. What interests me most is how "usability professionals" are engaging in IA (not a bad thing)...and it underscores for me how little of the information architecture in the world is actually created by information architects.

Breadcrumbs -- Good or bad?

InfoDesign points us to Website Structural Navigation, a test of the usefulness of breadcrumb navigation. To spoil the ending:

“The impact is clear—navigation bars are good, but more so for advanced users than novice ones. For large websites, they are invaluable.”

While I'm encouraged with the results, something about this study rubs me the wrong way. Maybe it's the problems mentioned at the bottom of this page that seem like they could skew the results. Maybe it's the fact that users are probably more likely to navigate within a small section (i.e. from Fishing > Trout Fishing to Fishing > Carp Fishing to Fishing > Magazines) than jump from one section to something totally different (i.e. High School Cross Country to Fishing). Maybe it's the fact that breadcrumbs never stand alone, and work best in conjunction with other links. (In the Yahoo example, the bolded Yahoo! Sports link is much more prominent than the breadcrumbs, and I'd be willing to wager that, even when the breadcrumbs appeared, more people would select the Yahoo! Sports link than the Home > Recreation > Sports link.)

So, though the results will provide “proof” for those who seek to back up their belief that breadcrumbs are useful, there are enough flaws for the anti-breadcrumb lobby to jump on.

Serving suggestion: With grain of salt.

SURL Usability News, July 2002

From Wichita (Kansas, USA) State University comes the newest edition of Usability News, a publication of the Software Usability Research Laboratory.

There are a number of good articles (here's the list of all of them), but the two most IA-related are:

Also, buried in their easy-print version is a link to Optimal Web Design, which is FAQ of sorts, listing the questions most commonly asked about designing usable websites along with answers that draw on their body of research. It's like a power shake made with a dash of Jakob, a pinch of the Yale Style Guide, and several heaping scoops of SURL research and common knowledge, useful for short but thorough answers to major questions.

Facet analytical theory (FAT)

From SIGCR-L (last one before I leave):

A new research project at University College London (U.K.) - 'Facet Analytical Theory for Knowledge Structure in Humanities'

Facet analytical theory (FAT) is a novel method of indexing which deals with individual simple terms. It builds up a map of subjects "bottom-up" by clustering terms in a systematic way, rather than as a linear sequence. This research project will investigate the potential role of FAT in the development of the knowledge structure of multi-dimensional networks of subject terms for use with digital collections.

The project goal is to explore the use of a faceted vocabulary in a
joint humanities portal between two U.K. humanities gateways: AHDS and Humbul.

The source for building this vocabulary will be classifications such as BC2, BSO and UDC, and thesauri (e.g. AAT, HASSET etc.). The vocabulary will be maintained as a standalone authority file with entirely machine processable data and will be integrated into the portal architecture. It will support both browsing and retrieval across heterogeneous AHDS and Humbul resources.

Endeca

This has been mentioned on peterme, but not here, so I thought I'd say a little something about it.

I got a card in the mail yesterday extolling the benefits of Endeca and their “Guided Navigation (SM).” Sounded like another company coming up with a proprietary term for a common technique. And, well, basically, it is.

“Guided Navigation (SM)” is faceted classification. They clean it up a bit, expose the facets in an intelligent way, and have an integrated search, but don't let their service marked slogan make you think they've invented something new.

What they do have, however, is probably the best explanation of faceted classification I've seen, and since many have mentioned the need for a simple FC example/tutorial (CrocoLyle, Parallax), I thought it was relevant. If you already understand FC and can explain it well to others, well, this is probably old news to you.

Their Flash demo with narration (also available without narration) is an easy-to-understand description of FC, applicable for developers, IAs, and business people, and it'd probably even pass the mom test too. (It's also a great example of a good use of Flash.)

I'll probably use the demo because it explains faceted classification at a high level better than I can, but I'll make sure to mention that the idea certainly is not proprietary, and there are other technologies and systems (i.e. FacetMap, Flamenco) that can do the same thing.

Search:

Look Before You Ask by David Wertheimer talks search on Digital Web Magazine:

    "Let search remain to maximize your site's usability, but tone down its presentation just enough to encourage a click or two. The goal is not to eliminate search as an option, but to expose the audience to an alternate, and possibly superior, mode of site navigation."
Sad state of online car- and mortgage-buying services

According to this article The Disintermediation Blues On the sad state of online car- and mortgage-buying services "Back when the dot-com boom was peaking, there was a lot of talk about how online services would blow away their anachronistic bricks-and-mortar competitors. Some of that has happened. Amazon.com, for example, has played a key role in forcing many local bookstores to close up shop. But many other targeted lines of business have been far less successful. The missing ingredients in many of those areas are top executives who understand the human, rather than the technical, factors required for success."

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