Information organization

Card Sorting

The InformIT article on card sorting Blueprints for the Web: Organization for the Masses (free registration required) is an excerpt from Christina's "Blueprints" book.

Web-based Card Sorting for Information Architecture

Lou pointed to this paper about WebSort, a web-based application developed at Brigham Young University for card-sorting like IBM's EZSort.

We have devloped a web-based interface which allows designers to do electronic "card sort" studies. With it, designers can provide descriptions of features for which they'd like users to provide labels and to "sort" into categories. The results can be used to organize information and services access for "interface" design.

Sex in politics

The visual design of the navigation in Salon implies that sex is a sub-category of politics. Perhaps it was designed in the good old days when American presidents proved their manhood in other ways than bombing infidels -- which seems to be all the rage these days.

Cognitive Models for Web Design

Tanya Rabourn discusses information foraging, a theory that attempts to explain human information seeking behavior based on the food foraging theory from biology and anthropology. According to Pirolli and Card, "Information foraging theory analyzes trade-offs in the value of information gained against the costs of performing activity in human-computer interaction tasks." The advantage in using this theory as the basis for modeling information seeking behavior comes in the form of understanding users' cognitive mapping of knowledge and knowledge relationships and understanding attributes of information navigation such as scent. Tanya discusses 3 new tools which would benefit this area of study: 1) ACT-R, which uses network modeling of knowledge to model interaction, 2) analyzing user paths from web server log data and creating user profiles from that analysis, and 3) collaborative filtering or foraging for information groups.

Tanya's essay gives a concise summary of the literature and discusses some new methods for applying the theory. My eureka moment came last night when I saw James demonstrate his latest OmniGraffle experiments, which use web server logs to to create what he calls self-organizing site maps -- diagrams that show paths traveled between nodes/pages on a site to reveal real users' information seeking behavior. In a sense the relationships that emerge reveal the collective user base's cognitive map. It can be used to show where information scent was weak or strong and where content structure doesn't map to user peceptions.

I've been wanting a better way to test the information architecture of sites based on actual information use, and it's not until I read Tanya's essay and saw the visualization that James came up with that my brain was able to churn on this concept. It's nice to know smart and creative people.

Indexer organizations

List of indexer organizations and freelance indexers compiled by Songbird Indexing Services.

Way finding/losing in a digital library

I am in a discussion with a programmer about ways to offer navigation using a poly-hierarchical arrangement of nodes. He brought up the concept of directed acyclic graphs (DAG), which is from Mathematics. I learned from the Free Online Dictionary of Computing that the idea is that a directed graph would contain no cycles, i.e. if there is a route from node A to node B then there is no way to cycle or loop back. I can see some applications benefitting from this algorithm, such as in forward citation searching. I think I may not understand the concept entirely, but I am guessing that in an information environment, this means that you'd lose context the deeper you find yourself in a directed path. Or perhaps it simply means you navigate forward to point A from point B and has nothing to do with providing backward movement.

The problem we're experiencing is that we have been dealing with a legacy of organizing by collections/products/services, which is reinforced in our site navigation. Oddly, we don't have problems post-coordinately displaying term combinations in database search results. Rather, in search results we display other terms from the subject taxonomy to narrow results by subject. The problem we have is with the legacy of hierarchical arrangements of access points organized by: collections, services, topics (this uses slices of the subject taxonomy). It's a very library-centric view that we've been dealing with changing, and if you ever worked in a library (corporate, private, special or public) you might know how difficult it is create this type of change.

I've pointed out that the concept of surfacing more facets of index terms would be helpful for browsing. Jim Anderson at Rutgers helped me to buy into this idea while I was in library school, and before I knew much about the web, I advocated this idea in an image index I proposed in 1997. That naive and over-ambitious Filemaker Pro screen shows how I envisioned it. It's funny. Today, I'm wondering how we can support the display of polyhierachical classifications such as our subject taxonomy and other database fields. We have some ideas floating around, but I feel like a toddler trying to topple an elephant.

...

Some follow-up. We're kicking around the idea of a) showing multiple breadcrumbs, and b) showing local navigation for one of the hierarches where the node exists. With the local navigation, we're going to check where the user came from in order to determine which tree to show. If they came from a bookmark or an email (most of our pages are also lined to from email alerts) we will show nothing, unless the node only has one parent, then we will show that tree. This is the theory. We need to test, but interested in opinions. Have you done something like this in a better way?

Conceptual Metaphor Home Page

MeFi pointed to George Lakoff's Conceptual Metaphor Home Page, which is mentioned on Matt Webb's Interconnected and Adam Greenfield's v-2 Here's what Matt had to say:

Superb. This is proper deep-level stuff, how we live and relate to the universe and each other. Playing with how a counterfactual metaphor could come to be would be an interesting exercise. Although at the moment I'm more interested in coherency, the idea that disparate metaphors align. You can see this in our industrial world, individuals living their lives coherent with the concept that they're a self-contained step, that they should follow the letter of their explicit instructions and let everything else go because someone higher up must be looking after that.

Music Information Retrieval

Anyone interested in music information retrieval? If yes, here's a relevant conference proceeding:

    The proceedings (a book of 327 pages) and tutorial handouts of the ISMIR 2002 3rd International conference on Music Information Retrieval, which was organized by the IRCAM Multimedia Library, can now be ordered online (PDF)
Ontology Building: A Survey of Editing Tools

This article on ontology tools appeared on XML.com.

    Ontologies, structured depictions or models of known facts, are being built today to make a number of applications more capable of handling complex and disparate information. Michael Denny surveys the tools available for creating and editing ontologies...
A few NYC IA's I know are very interested in ontologies and the semantic web. I've personally kept my reading to a minimum, waiting to be on the middle end of the curve, when applications hit critical mass. It's interesting, because the brother of a friend of mine works with T. Berners Lee on this stuff so I've been hearing a lot about the developer discussions. People involved with these discussions apparently spend a lot of time on philosophical issues and poring over minutiae, which has made development slow, apparently. I guess when you propose something as big as this, you can't expect it to happen overnight. :)

Story Telling

The CDS looks very interesting. The organization is concerned with using digital media to enable people to tell their stories. They provide some case studies for work they've done. Inspired by Victor's recent thoughts on story telling, I wonder if anyone has approached the CDS to discuss the intersection of digital story telling and IA? Seems like an opportunity for some knowledge sharing. I'm mainly interested in story telling at the moment becausing I'm working on personas.

Related to this topic is Richard Toscan's Visual vs. Verbal Storytelling, which compares the story telling approaches in Antonioni's film The Passenger with Ariel Dorfman's play Death and the Maiden. I am not familiar with either. Is interesting to see the breakdown of opening sequences for each of these stories described in terms of sensory media. I actually minored in cinema studies, but tended to shy away from analysis of story telling, especially with regard to textuality, but I've always been interested in how messages are communicated. I guess that last comment seems contradictory :). I wonder, are people who are into this story telling stuff also into Barthes and textuality? I recall the discomfort of actually having to read that literature.

[Thanks infodesign and xblog]

Woo hoo! New IA books hitting the streets!

Jesse's long awaited Elements of User Experience was published this week. You can check out a fantastic sample chapter Meet the Elements (200 kb pdf). I've been using the elements to explain the different layers of UX to clients for several months now - and they get it - Jesse's done a great job. Congratulations!

No less newsworthy is the outstanding effort from Christina. Her practical IA book Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web strives for that "Don't Make Me Think" simplicity, and may be the modern introductory IA text we've been waiting for. I have yet to read the whole thing, but the First Principles sample chapter (2.6 MB pdf) is smoothalicious. Thanks Christina, and congratulations.

While Elements is available immediately on the New Riders site, it seems that Blueprints is still waiting for some last minute things before launching. Hope to see it next week. Update: Well, Blueprints is now officially available at New Riders too! Fantastic.

ps: buying through the amazon links will give the authors a well deserved extra kickback

Scent of a webpage

I found Jared Spool's 9/18/2002 presentation "Scent of a Web Page (PDF accesible only to NYC-CHI members)" to be very useful, even without the context of his speaking notes. There are some great suggestions about how to layout and describe page objects to ensure good scent. Also some interesting conclusions that good layout and good scent support findability better than pogosticking and search.

Story telling in web design

Victor and Joshua are both talking about story telling as a method for communicating possible actions or paths when interacting with web sites. Victor mentioned an IBM seminar he attended about story telling. Haven't done much reading in this area and would cetainly like to learn more if I can find the most salient literature. I did find Curt Cloninger's A List Apart article, a Case for Story Telling to be interesting as well. Cloninger makes the case for considering the narrative possibilities when designing for the web as a communications medium. He's right, web sites are often not just databases and the design should consider aspects of human experiences with sites not merely as transactional database interactions as such. I like Victor's process of mapping actions or attributes of the narrative to interactions with the site. Interesting. More obvious I guess is the development of the characters, plot, setting, etc. and flowing that into elements of design process -- personas/characters, scenarios.

Persuasive Architecture

That cute little feller over at grokdotcom.com is talking about “Persuasive Architecture,” which he defines as:

Persuasive Architecture ... [is] the aesthetically appealing and functional structure you create to marry the organization of the buying and selling processes with the organization of information. Its the only way your Web site is actively going to influence, the only way you will pull (never push!) your visitors along the paths they need to walk to accomplish their goals and yours.

Basically, good IA and good design combined with a sensible business approach will lead you to success. No big news there. They're talking about it over at clickz, too. It's nice to see IA mentioned in the business/marketing press, and, well, especially in a good light.

EII (Enterprise Information Integration)

InfoWorld has an interesting article about the EII space which is all about aggregating information from disparate systems serving data as XML. The Information Aggregation article talks about EII as the middleware that can cull data from multiple systems and repackage as XML for consumption, for instance in consumer facing applications. The article talks about the key players who are trying to establish a presence in this space.

Lou's presentations (and we'll respect the deal, Lou)

Lou Rosenfeld has a deal for you - he'll post his presentations on his site, so long as you listen to a plug for his upcoming IA tutorials on the NNGroup tour - one basic, one more advanced. Whether or not you're able to attend, Lou's presentations are a treasure trove of IA goodies.

Standards for distributed information architecture

The articles in this month's iteration of Digital Web Magazine all focus on standards, and their importance to the present and future of the web. In addition to markup standards like HTML and XML, and presentation standards like CSS, there are formats like SOAP and XML-RPC, which use existing web standards as a basis for communication and transactions between web sites.

However, there is currently no standard for allowing web sites to share data with respect to their categorization, organization, and labeling. Creating standards for distributed information architecture would allow for easier and more effective combination of content, resources, and metadata across sites.

What's in the middle of top-down and bottom-up?

Lou riffs on Pareto's 80/20 rule, and most intestingly talks about what happens between "topdown" and "bottom-up" IA.

ia-cms list

Peter pointed to this new discussion group for IA's concerned with content management systems.

    This discussion forum is a place where Information Architects, User Experience Designers, Library Scientists and other interested parties can talk about the building and using of Content Management Systems to create application for their audience's needs.
Information architecture: learning how to classify

You won't really learn anything about how to classify content by reading this Gerry McGovern article. I will disagree with this point:

    2. Design classification like it will be 'written in stone.'
    You don't want to be changing your classification every
    six months. This will mean a lot of work and will create
    confusion.
You can attempt to do that, but when times change, terms will change. The term "Primitive art" was once accepted by the art community as a major rubric for referring to arts of Africa, Oceania, etc. Now that term is considered by some to be patently offensive. The Library of Congress Subject Headings are constantly becoming outdated as the English language changes and as new concepts arrive and older concepts evolve. The organization of knowledge also shifts with time. Change is inevitable. You just have to allow for it in terms of time and resources.

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