Articles, essays, editorials, white papers

What's Info Got to Do With It?

David Weinberg is wondering what information has to do with the web. His essay in Darwin says,

    The information that shows up on the Web is part of the Web's world. But you could never get to the world of the Web if you started only with information.
In short, I guess he's saying that it has everything and nothing to do with the web. He ponders the definition of information and offers some answers. Not sure I agree with his contention that you don't get information when you view search results. Even when you are viewing meta-information in a pointer (e.g. search result descriptions, abstracts of articles) you are still using information in my opinion. I think of the roots of the term inform, which means to me, "revealing the shape within". Surrogates that stand in for an object are information for me because they they reveal something of the nature of the thing I am interested in. For example, if I look at a picture of a painting in a text book, or a description of a painting in an index, I may be sufficiently informed or some information need I had may be fulfilled by just viewing that surrogate without having to come close to the real object. By this definition, almost every bit of data with some context becomes information for me.

What I do begin to agree with is the notion that the Internet does not only have to do with information. There is experience. He says at one point that "it's more about connection than the transfer of facts," and that it's about doing things using different kinds of media. I think he's on the mark there.

Court: Disability law doesn't apply to Web

Anitra Pavka pointed to the follow up article in ComputerWorld on the SouthWest Airlines web site accessiblity case. This is the case that tries to argue that web sites should fall under the aegis of ADA laws. Courts rejected the suit and the plaintiffs plan to appeal. The usual quotes from PR spinners and experts are interesting.

The statement below is most likely true, companies have not focussed on accesiblity. Planning for accessiblity is just cost-effective.

    [B]uilding in accessibility during a Web site's design costs only a quarter of the amount needed to retrofit a site later, said Jennifer Vollmer, a research analyst at Meta Group Inc. Accessibility ... has not just been a priority for companies."
Anitra weighs in on Gerry Santoro's contention that,

    "In general, programmers write for themselves" and are interested in only designing a system that works. "The same is true of Web designers; they tend to design for themselves".
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)
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. :)

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. :)

Context-Aware Computing: The Return of Ranganathan?

Peterme, musing on how we'll make sense of information offered in context-aware mobile devices, discusses facet-based description as a solution. I logged some thoughts of my own on his site because he makes sense to me.

    Our devices will know where we are, and be able to augment our experience in that area in various ways--the ability to write and read notes that others have placed; read the history of the spot you're standing on; find out about any activities of interest occurring nearby, etc. etc. ... I can pretty much guarantee that frustration will be the norm if we develop context-aware computing in the same fashion as we have most of our information-rich internet technologies.
I'm glad there's a Peterme RSS feed now. It's aggregated here. Now we just need a blackbeltjones feed.

Content, KM tools collaborate

Article in InfoWorld about vendor efforts to capture content at point of creation.

    In an effort to strengthen control over collaborative content inside enterprises, content and knowledge management tools are fortifying integration with e-mail and business applications to capture content at its point of creation.
Controlled Vocabularies in the Trenches

Victor jots down some thoughts about creating controlled vocabularies within the context of the design of a project he's working on. He discusses some real considerations and dependencies related to the development of a controlled vocabulary and implications for systems design. Here's some of my own thoughts/reactions, based on experience.

I've watched the controlled vocabularies of subject headings and company information grow within my organization (a corporate library services org.) over the last four years. The approach we've taken is sort of like a web services model or much like a vendor service, such as those where data aggregators provide indexed content with their own proprietary controlled vocabulary (e.g. Factiva). This seems to me to be a good model because it centralizes semantic tagging and creation of indexing terms in one place, while enterprise use at different levels of granularity. When following this model, you're still confronted with the issues of knowledge representation when developing your terminology, but the system considerations are separated. The design of IR systems using indexes benefit from documenting scope, domain, documentary units, indexable matter, etc. prior to implementation. I have this great unpublished text by Jim Anderson that serves as a framework for such documentation.

Here's a short description of our approach, which has been top down and bottom up. Our people created our CVs starting with close relationships with business units to develop a set of subject headings and a company authority list. They iterated through these lists using the top down approach, informing the list with their subject area expertise. Then they take the bottom-up approach and add/modify terms that reflect subject headings identified while doing the daily work of indexing (knowledge representation). For my org., this is a daily process since a team of indexers sifts through machine filtered data and applies more granular indexing or alters machine-applied terms. As the telecom landscape changes or as our indexing needs require, terms are added to the vocab's. We have one person who manages/develops them, and a few additonal subject area experts who work on development of new terms in new subject areas. User feedback informs changes along the way. The controlled vocabularies are offered up for use by disparate systems within our company to represent that corpus of indexed data, or slices of it, as desired.

As an IA, I generally work with our taxonomy specialists to create page inventories -- sort of like microscopic content inventories on steroids -- that specify combinations of index terms used to build content modules. As an example, I show a small piece of one of these inventories on my old and dated portfolio. This use of the term content inventory is not typical in our field, I know. What this really is, is a design document showing such things as rubrics of content modules with their associated labels, and database searches that use terms from a controlled vocabulary. Maybe I should present something on this process some day. It's really a hybrid IA and technical document, but it's a format my entire team uses on all data-dense sections of our site.

Incidentally, the taxonomy guys I'm talking about are presenting on this topic at an ARK seminar in NYC in November in case you're interested. They're really smart. Hopefully they will get to network a bit at this thing, because everyone in our group could get pink slips if the cost-cutting winds decide to blow in our direction.

Wireframing on Clickz

Bryan Eisenberg (of FutureNow and GrokDotCom) has a good article in today's edition of ClickZ called Framing the Problem. It's a good, simple introduction to the “why wireframe?” question, and considering ClickZ's audience (marketers, advertisers), it's good to see IA mentioned there, though not explicitly.

At the end, Bryan adds in an Einstein quote (“If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.”), which reminded me a lot of a similar discussion of wireframes and other deliverables — John Zapolski's Zen and the Art of Deliverables (PDF) presentation at the 2002 IA Summit. To paraphrase John's comments, if someone asks you how long it takes to make a sitemap, tell them it takes five days, even if actually takes two hours. The four and a half days you spend thinking about the information architecture problems make it possible for you to create the sitemap in two hours.

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!

Knowledge work as craft work

I just got around to reading Jim McGee's article "Knowledge work as craft work" which is an excellent discussion of visibility in the knowledge management process. McGee gives a great example of how visibility of knowledge has gone away since the arrival of desktop computing. In the pre-PC age, paper documents and deliverables (and the knowledge embedded within them) were passed between many people within an organization in the iterative process of knowledge conception/production. With computers, often the traces of this process are lost -- note taking and modification, for example. Because KM is concerned with the dynamic processes of knowledge creation, communication/transfer, and storage, this visibility is essential. He argues that the use of blogs/klogs in this process helps bring back some of that visibility, but the focus he says has to remain with this dynamic process.

I don't doubt that this fundamental aspect of visibility is really lost in most enterprises. Version control and sophisticated KM solutions that capture annotations and recording of other ephemera support the capture of aspects of the knowledge management process, but I'll bet that technology becomes a barrier for most people when it comes to capturing ephemera. The issue of visibility is very interesting to me as an information professional and must have some implications in doing IA, although I haven't quite made the right connections yet. [Damn you, synapses. Fire already!] I'm going to have to read The Social Life of Paper again.

Important Works for Web Navigation

Chad and Tanya pointed to Important Works for Web Navigation, David Danielson's annotated bibliography of essential, foundational literature for the study of web navigation. Danielson has published some other HCI work related to web navigation behavior and design completed during his Masters program at Stanford.

Measuring the Return on Knowledge Management

Andrew brought to my attention the LLRX article by Kingsley Martin, Justifying knowledge management ROI in law firms. James says on Column Two, that it's a "comprehensive article on measuring the return on KM" and is "serves as a model for other industries".

I gotta start paying closer attention to what appears in the news feeds. Marking this one for later reading.

Eye Tracking in Web Search Tasks: Design Implications

This is an interesting 9-page PDF from Stanford (and Oracle?) that gives the results of an small eye tracking study that was run. It's rather technical, but useful, and there's a good list of references at the bottom, so this might best filed in the “save this because it might be very useful later” file.

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.

Judge: Disabilities Act doesn't cover Web

Mark , Christina and Adam are discussing this troubling US court ruling affecting accessibility of web sites. This article in news.com covers the ruling.

    A federal judge ruled Friday that Southwest Airlines does not have to revamp its Web site to make it more accessible to the blind.

    In the first case of its kind, U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz said the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies only to physical spaces, such as restaurants and movie theaters, and not to the Internet.

Apparently the ADA laws only apply to meatspace. It's a shame, because the Internet should make mobility more possible for people with disabilities, but far too often the barriers of legacy web design and poorly executed information architectures keep people from using the web efficiently. You'd think a large airline would want to make it easier for this population to buy tickets online.

    Gumson, who said he had a screen reader with a voice synthesizer on his computer, asked the judge to order Southwest to provide text that could serve as an alternative to the graphics on its site and to redesign the site's navigation bar to make it easier for him to understand.
Sounds like the fixes could be minor and relatively inexpensive. Better labelling and standards compliant markup might help in this instance. More companies should just work with users on these fixable problems. In the end the benefit will outweigh the cost of bad publicity. All it really takes is getting the right people in the discussion. No doubt lawyers and PR people were the main players, but what do they know about accessible design?

Consolidated Assessment

Seth Gordon combines scenario design, card sorting, and participatory design into one user-centered lovefest in his article for Boxes and Arrows.

Search engine optomization consultants

Never heard that term before reading James Allison's Understanding the New Role of SEO Consultants in Traffick. Here's a badly written excerpt.

    [0]ne of the main focus of SEO techniques has been site content, and in this regard, the SEO consultant's role overlaps more and more with the "Information Architect". Just as many members of the SEO community come from an advertising and copywriting background, the IA community is populated by a large number of people with a background in Library and Information Sciences.
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