Information Architecture Summit 2008

This year your peers and industry experts will speak about how topics such as social networking, gaming, patterns, tagging, taxonomies, and a wide range of IA tools and techniques can help as users ‘experience information’.

– April 10-14, 2008 (Miami, Florida USA)” – (About the Summit)

I went to last year’s summit and found it very informative. You might consider checking it out – it’s in Miami!

(hat tip: InfoDesign)

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What I Learned at Usability Conferences 2007

Yesterday, the local UPA DC chapter hosted,”What I Learned at the Usability Conferences – 2007.” I was part of a panel that represented the following conferences:

Here are some of the notes I had prepared:

What I Learned at the IA Summit – 2007

Resources:

Opening Keynote: Joshua Prince-Ramus

http://www.iasummit.org/proceedings/2007/prince_ramus_joshua

Joshua is best known as the architect of the Seattle Central Library. In his keynote, Joshua outlined issues surrounding limitations of space, resources and differing business goals and provided a glimpse into how his firm pushes for the best solution given these constraints. He had presented a similar talk to TED in February 2006:

http://www.ted.com/index.php/speakers/view/id/49

Closing Plenary: Rashmi Sinha

http://www.iasummit.org/proceedings/2007/sinha_rashmi

Rashmi is the creator of SlideShare. She discussed how her team bucked traditional usability methods to rapidly deploy a social web site product in beta mode. Her slides can be accessed from SlideShare:

http://www.slideshare.net/rashmi/ia-summit-closing-plenery/

Creating the Adaptive Interface: Stephen Anderson

http://www.iasummit.org/proceedings/2007/the_conversation_gets_interest

Stephen offered an inspiring presentation by arguing that the desirability of an application can be related to the adaptability of the interface. “More than removing unused menu options or collaborative filtering, this would include functionality that is revealed over time as well as interface elements that change based on usage.” His slides can be accessed from SlideShare:

http://www.slideshare.net/stephenpa/the-conversation-gets-interesting-creating-the-adaptive-interface/

Best Practices for Form Design: Luke Wroblewski

http://www.iasummit.org/proceedings/2007/best_practices_for_form_design

Luke takes the seemingly insignificant “form” and argues that clearly presented information, interaction, and feedback can make all the difference when a user needs to communicate with a company (i.e., commerce, access, engagement). His slides can be accessed from SlideShare:

http://www.slideshare.net/psykoreactor/best-practices-for-form-design/

Rich mapping and soft systems: new tools for creating conceptual models: Gene Smith and Matthew Milan

http://www.iasummit.org/proceedings/2007/rich_mapping_and_soft_systems

Gene and Matthew explain that Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) is a holistic problem solving framework that can be used to design and model interactions between organizations, people, environments, products and services. Identifying the CATWOE (Customers, Actors, Transformative Process, Worldview, Owners, Environmental Constraints) helps to add context to any project by articulating the “root definitions” of the problem. Their slides can be accessed from SlideShare:

http://www.slideshare.net/gsmith/systems-thinking-rich-mapping-and-conceptual-models/

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IA Summit 2007 Redux: Rashmi Sinha

A closing plenary from Rashmi Sinha.

Rashmi is the creator of SlideShare.

[Runtime: 49 slides | Please make sure you have the latest version of Adobe Flash installed on your computer to watch this slideshow. To download it, please visit: http://www.adobe.com/ ]

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IA Summit 2007 Redux: Joshua Prince-Ramus

It’s been over a month since the IA Summit, and I’m only now getting a chance to write about the experience. I took notes from many of the sessions I attended, but I’ll try to link to available videos or slides when possible.

An opening keynote: Joshua Prince-Ramus.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn how much commonality there is between “brick and mortar” architecture and information architecture. Joshua outlined issues surrounding limitations of space, resources and differing business goals and provided a glimpse into how his firm pushes for the best solution given these constraints. He had presented a similar talk to TED in February 2006, so seems best to just show you his related talk.

[Runtime: 20:09 | Please make sure you have the latest version of Adobe Flash installed on your computer to watch this video. To download it, please visit: http://www.adobe.com/ ]

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Web 2.0 the Enterprise

Digg Logo

I’ve been thinking a lot about the voting mechanism in Digg, Netscape beta and others that allows users to rate content as helpful or worthwhile. Think of Amazon’s “Was this rating helpful?” mechanism but with the power to literally elevate content to higher visibility.

I think there are some wonderful uses for this type of social voting for the enterprise, and Kevin and others might consider teaming with CMS providers to include this functionality into corporate intranets and KM solutions. Here’s one idea:

In traditional organizations, innovation and idea generation is a top-down exercise. That is, business leaders drive the services and products based on their own analysis of market needs. In addition, corporate policy is determined by the leaders of the organization.

On the other hand, some organizations allow for the bottom-up vetting of ideas. Why not use a voting mechanism like that employed by Digg to allows employees to participate in a “suggestion box” approach – suggestions to better the company – both in terms of corporate policy/culture and the products and services they offer to the customer? Fellow employees can then rate these ideas and the best ideas are vetted to the top. These suggestions then get on the radar of corporate leaders.

Implementing this functionality on corporate intranets seems like a no-brainer to me. Unfortunately, in my experience, only the large organizations really focus on harnessing the potential of their intranets. The new social technologies of blogs, wikis, feeds and the like have a slow mainstream adoption process, but the need for sharing knowledge in the enterprise is great and these tools are inexpensive solutions for building an innovative knowledge-sharing organization.

Update

After doing a little digging (horrible pun), it seems as though the folks at Digg will be releasing a Digg API around the time of the version 3.0 release next Monday:

“We also plan on launching an API after the next major release of digg (v3). The API will provide users with access to digg DB data in which you can build your own digg tools/research projects around.”

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IA Summit Redux: DC-Style

dc-ia

On Saturday May 20, the local chapter of DC information architects got together to recap topics that were addressed and discussed at the 2006 IA Summit. This was a long time coming for me. I’ve been meaning to attend these local meetings, but life has, of course, gotten in the way.

Livia Labate has provided a wealth of useful material, including MP3 recordings of the local DC event, as well as links to material that was presented at the Summit.

Anyway, the following is a brief summary of my notes. Certainly these notes do not codify the entirety of the redux – just my own brain dump based on notes taken at the event. The topics to be addressed are listed below (those in bold are the ones we had time to discuss):

Overview

  1. Summit Overview#
  2. Tagging#
  3. Wireframes#
  4. New Technology#
  5. Content Management
  6. Business and IA
  7. Theory#
  8. International

Summit Overview

Dan Brown facilitated the DC-IA redux, and one of the things he discussed centered around the format of the Summit. He mentioned that in the past, there was a greater selection of things to attend and a greater variety of topics. On the other hand, he mentioned that there were better opportunities to connect with people outside of sessions this past year. He asked for input on how to create a culture that would both maximize connections outside of sessions and make good use in-session time.

Tagging

James Melzer addressed the topic of tagging, focusing primarily on using the bookmark tool del.icio.us.

Some discussion revolved around making a distinction between a group versus a crowd. A group, James indicated, is intentional, known, and planned. In contrast, a crowd is unknown and not planned. Del.icio.us embraces both, and James noted that sometimes crowds become groups in Del.icio.us because is sometimes ends up being the same people who are the forefront of tagging, and their aggregate work sets trends for other users.

Tagging::Kinds of Tags

  • Description (Singular)
  • Categorization (plural)
  • Opinion
  • Action (temporary, personal)
  • Relation (for userid)
  • Insider Reference (e.g., “enterprise_ia”)

Wireframes

Nathan Curtis discussed wireframes. Apparently, Nathan worked at K12 for a few months just before I arrived. I’ve heard very good things about him – in particular, how he shared some of his wireframing techniques with current K12 IAs.

Wireframes::Techniques

Nathan explained that there was a discussion of using different wireframing techniques/tools, including:

Wireframes::Challenges

Nathan mentioned that IAs need to struggle with representing interactions over time. With the advent of RIAs such as Flash and Ajax, IAs need to be able to communicate how information is to be presented, but how user behaviors will affect the feedback and visual representation of a web application. Nathan mentioned Bill Scott at Yahoo! and how he uses interaction storyboards, complete with interaction matrices to document all behavior changes for a given interaction type.

One technique Nathan mentioned was to segment the “modules” that comprise a wireframe. In other words, reusable widgets can be saved as components to be used over and over again. In addition, Nathan commented on Kevin Cheng’s use of comics to communicate HCI usability issues with stakeholders.

New Technology

Nathan briefly discussed how new technologies are affecting the profession. For instance, Laszlo and Adobe Flex make it easier to move from a rapid prototype to a working solution. The web metaphor is moving away from “pages” to “mashups,” so IAs need to be able to embrace change and add new skill sets to accomodate for this change.

The group also discussed game design and the use of incentives as a way to interact with the user.

Theory

Olga Howard took some more time to cover the distinction of “crowd” versus “group.” With regard to tagging in Del.icio.us, the group discussed how there may be a flurry of different tags used to classify objects, but over time, the number of tags flattens to an accepted assortment.

Next, the discussion turned to Morville’s championing of “findability.” The basic questions to ask include:

  • Is it useful?
  • Is it desirable?
  • Is it valuable?
  • Is it credible?

Conclusion

Since I have not been able to attend the IA Summit yet, I found this redux to be pretty informative. In addition to getting useful information, I enjoyed spending time with other like-minded individuals who have a passion for creating usable intuitive products.

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Rethinking EIA: Becoming Information Ecologists

Summary

Enterprise Information Architecture (EIA) refers to the process of making information easy to access throughout a discrete entity – in this case, an organization. According to Wikipedia, Information Architecture is, in part, defined simply as “the practice of structuring information (knowledge or data).” Note that this simplified definition makes no reference to the Web or information systems of any kind, a la Richard Saul Wurman.

This post attempts to rethink EIA and argues that information architecture need not be constrained to designing structures and managing content as it relates to the Web or for any electronic system for that matter. Instead, I argue that an enterprise information architect might also be called, as Thomas Davenport coins it, an “Information Ecologist.” In addition to the commonly defined responsibilities of the iA (little ‘i’), the EIA or IE adds the following skillsets/responsibilies to his or her repertoire:

  • Information Audit/Mapping
  • Business Process Engineering

The end result is that not all information finds its way into a web-based system. Some information may be best kept in other formats. However, an IE‘s responsibility is to structure information so that it is valued as a resource on par with human capital, physical capital, and the like. Although information systems are best suited for information management and information findability, the IE must map all information in order to have a comprehensive inventory.

Background

I’ve been at my new job for close to three weeks now and during the first week I was inserted into a project. Without getting into specifics, K12 develops both digital (online) and “hardcopy” products for specific educational market segments. Their current CMS is the backbone of their production efforts.

I am enjoying taking this on as my first project, in part because it forces me to understand the business of K12 and its workflows. I’ve been able to interview different stakeholders and users, thereby forcing myself out of seclusion and getting to know my colleagues. In the process, however, I’ve been faced with the dilemma: What exactly is a CMS and what is the hand-off between system processes and people processes?

Defining a CMS Means Analyzing an Organization’s Information Assets

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the Information Architecture (IA) Summit (As an aside, I hope to attend next year – although it’s hard to be participatory now that I’m a relatively new parent), and subsequently, two of the many sessions that interested me: in this case, the session on Enterprise Information Architecture, along with Dan Brown’s [slides], really got me thinking about the definition of who and what information architecture is.

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Egocentrically Altruistic Web 2.0

John Battelle recently asked readers to come up with a tagline for the next Web 2.0 conference. This will be the third such conference.

Year One included the tagline “The Web Is a Platform” to which Battelle remarks,

“That felt spot on, because the idea of the web as a place you could build on the work of others was a pretty new idea.”

Year Two included the tagline “Revving the Web” to which Battelle remarks,

“…because it was all about the services and businesses and opportunities that arose from the Web – all of which taken together made the web more robust and more exciting.”

For November’s conference, Battelle suggests the tagline “Disruption” by indicating,

“…the year the Web – in all its forms – really flexes its muscle and begins to seriously turn the soil of the global economy in deep and permanent ways. Think of the disruptions in the media and entertainment industries – probably the deepest disruptions so far. But we’re only in the first inning or so of the disruptions in the mobile and communications space (how excited do YOU think AT&T is about Google offering free Wifi, for example? Or eBay buying Skype?). And the disruptions of search and clickstreams on commerce is only now beginning, and the same is true for the massive IT industry (Microsoft Live, anyone?). And the disruption on our cultural life – in government, for example (can you say warrantless wiretaps meets the Database of Intentions?) – is only beginning to dawn on all of us.”

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You Gada.Be Kiddin’ Me

Gada.Be Logo

Well, I may have found a search tool that makes up for some of the limitations of my last post regarding Rollyo. It seems Chris Pirillo of G4TechTV’s Call for Help fame created gada.be, a search tool that allows for unique easy-to-remember urls along with capabilities for RSS search feeds. I look forward to the development of this tool. If I had two nickles to rub together, I’d even consider investing.

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“The Anti-Google”

On Tuesday, Thomas Vander Wal, the person who coined the concept “folksonomy,” came by my summer grad school class with a talk entitled “Designing for the Personal InfoCloud.”

Thomas talked about a variety of topics, but some of the things that struck me revolved around his discussion of folksonomy. Thomas says that he does not like the definition included in Wikipedia because the site allows users to constantly add or remove content to define the concept. He provided us with the following descriptors:

Folksonomy:

  • Actual vocabulary used for objects in a community and across communities;
  • Network-based selfish bookmarking;
  • Free-tagging;
  • Socially shared; and
  • Externally structuring content

There were a few concepts that clicked in place and resonated with me. First, something clicked when Thomas explained that folksonomy is the “anti-Google.” Essentially, Thomas argued that search tools build algorithms to help you “find what you want.” However, the concept of folksonomies, manifested in collaborative bookmarking tools (such as Flickr, Del.icio.us, etc.), help you “find what you don’t know you want.” He explained that while a majority of people might want results that are in the mainstream, folksonomies let users find information that might be in the long-tail:

The Long Tail Effect in Music

Secondly, I really got hung up on the idea that folksonomies involved “selfish bookmarking.” For instance, when my wife bookmarks an article about Apple’s iPod, she might only use the term “ipod” to tag her bookmark, because she only cares about classifying her article so she can find it later. On the other hand, even though I know I can later find the article by searching for “iPod,” I might try to use multiple tags to help others locate my article. I might additionally use the terms “Apple,” “mp3,” “music,” and so on. However, Thomas cuts through this by explaining that if you choose to assist others this way, then this is really your selfish method of bookmarking.

Thomas’ concept really involves no moral, ethical, or “responsibility of the user” argument when it comes to practicing folksonomies. However, as I’ve argued before, for some reason I am stuck on the responsibility of the social tagger. My ideal would be that taggers use multiple tags to describe the content that they choose to bookmark. That way, it becomes easier for other persons to find their content. This does not negate the concept of folksonomies. The social component to this phenomenon is such that we learn to trust others and the tags they use to describe content. Therefore, I still propose that other services that incorporate folksonomies into their systems provide a mechanism for rating taggers on a “trustworthy” scale.

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Search, Folders, and the Need For Automated “Smart” Tagging

The End of Folders? Nope.

I recently read related posts on Dan Brown’s Green Onions and Brad Hill’s Unofficial Google Weblog regarding the buzz about the supposed demise of “folders” on personal computers. Dan discusses this buzz – that people may be moving away from classifying electronic information based on a hierarchical “folder” framework, instead complementing this habit by applying the concept of attributing “labels” (often more than one) to this information. Dan appears not to buy into this theory, instead arguing that the the concept of folders (or a hierarchical structure of organization on personal computers) may not become obsolete because the “human mind loves part-whole organization.” I agree.

I cannot imagine a world without folders. Folders make my world a bit smaller and more manageable – a starting point, if you will. If I had to rely solely on a search mechanism I might very well be in trouble because sometimes I just cannot think of the correct meta-information to locate what I’m looking for. Since I am a visual person, I often need a visual cue to get me started on my quest. I can often define my specific search strategy only after I have seen the top one of two tiers of folders on my computer’s file system. Unfortunately, while search tools are doing a better job locating information based on meta-information, there is still a gap. Let me explain…

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Matt Drudge, PIM Portal Pioneer

me text

As an American, I am profoundly aware that I am living in a “me” culture, one that took off during Generation X. Here are a few examples of cultural/technical changes, partially influenced by this “me” philosophy:

Television

There used to be 4 main television channels – ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC. From these sources, consumers were entertained, informed, and marketed to. Today, it is not uncommon for the typical consumer to have hundreds of cable or satellite choices to satisfy their specific interests for entertainment or information. Consumers with these advanced pay services can also choose to see selected movies, sporting events, music events, etc. with on-demand-like features.

Music

Services like iTunes and Napster allow consumers to pick and choose the individual songs they would like to purchase (or “rent”). Even radio formats such as Jack tries to broaden its appeal to many people, so at least they can hear some tunes off the beaten path.

Web Services

I made the mistake a few years ago when my contracting company planned to implement the portal concept to its web applications. I thought, “Why waste all this time and energy collapsing customized information for people when they can go to individual sites on their own?” I made the mistake of forgetting where I was (America – the “me” culture) and two other critical variables. (more…)

Branding, Marketing, and Blogging (Part 2)

When most of us do a search for whatever interests us using our favorite search engine, we typically do not look further than the results on the first page or two. Personally, if I do not find what I need on the first results page from Google, then I will refine my search criteria and try again.

A recent article discusses how blogging and the use of trackbacks can raise your site to page 1 of the search results.

In my previous post, I discussed how my wife could use blogging as way to brand and market herself. In addition, I would argue that her credentials as an expert in her field will be further emphasized if she used a blogging tool to discuss topics of interest to her and a loyal following then began to link to her thoughts. If she came up on page 1 of a search for marriage and family issues, would this help establish her credibility? You bet. Certainly she may not get the collegial respect she might deserve if she frequently had articled published in professional journals, but her practice is for her clients, not for respect among peers.

My wife is an avid writer on paper…let’s see if she will begin to blog her thoughts on marriage and family issues…stay tuned.

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Branding, Marketing, and Blogging

For the last few months I have been telling my wife how useful blogging can be from a professional point of view. You see, my wife runs a small business, her own psychotherapy practice. She primarily focuses on marriage and family therapy.

Last week she received an email from a Psychology Today listserv on the importance of blogging. The author provided some interesting statistics:

  • 87% of 12 to 17 year-olds are considered internet savvy
  • whereas 66% of the rest of us are considered internet savvy

Since part of my wife’s attention is focused on families with teenagers, it seems that she might be able to draw in more of these clients, or at least find alternative ways of providing counseling services to these clients.

With services such as Technorati and FeedBurner that, in part, track blogs and blog traffic, my wife might also brand her site and be seen as more of an “expert” in the field the more she decides to post her own thoughts and articles on the web.

I think she became a bit interested in the importance of blogging, but it was Psychology Today that influenced her, not me…

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The Collaborative Filter

What is the benefit of folksonomy? I believe there are two important elements to this relatively new phenomenon:

  1. The “social” aspect of collaborative tagging allows users to find other users with potentially similar interests. On the surface, for example, this may seem no different than finding like-minded people at a sports-related bb or finding a romantic connection at Match.com. However, this form of collaboration is about sharing information, not making a love connection.
  2. More importantly, leveraging this collaborative culture provides personal information managers with exponential power to filter the information universe and make better sense of their own personal infocloud.

I liken this to a professor with multiple research assistants. This professor must divide his or her time wearing many hats: teacher, researcher, and presenter (and parent, spouse, etc.). The research assistants save this professor valuable time by doing a lot of the gruntwork – thereby giving the professor more time to easily assimilate this information and focus on pioneering new research initiatives.

For instance, Mark Woodman describes how users can leverage others’ del.icio.us bookmarks as a way to better manage your own personal infocloud.

Social software such as flickr, del.icio.us, and more are powerful because, not only do they let people collaboratively categorize information, but they allow users to bookmark these categories, either directly or through RSS / Atom feeds.

Collaborative filtering certainly makes my life a whole lot easier.

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Rating Taggers – “Thumbing”

The tagging phenomenon that exists for purveyors of information has many promising advantages for people. Unfortunately, by handing the power of creating personal taxonomies and classification to the end user, will we be better off?

Certainly one of the beautiful things about tagging is that it now allows users to disseminate, locate, and share information in an efficient manner. Moreover, we tend to rely on the classification of information by persons we learn to trust.

Therefore, if it does not already exist, I suggest that as the social software [flickr, del.icio.us, etc.] scene grows and grows, there should be a rating system that each of these social software services enables so that the information consumer can rate the taxonomist. For example, use Amazon as a model. They use a rating system so customers can assign a “was it helpful” ranking to layperson reviews of products and services. Then as a consumer [in this case of products and services] I can decide whether or not to trust this review based on the feedback this person has received. Why can’t we use a similar system to help consumers of information?

I liken the tagging phenomenon to a filter of sorts. Why scan the entire Internet when I can apply a filter and search for information that has already been classified for me? However, since now all laypersons using social software wield this power, could this filter become distorted? You bet. However, if we can rate this growing group of taxonomists (myself included), then we are provided with an even richer piece of metadata that will aid us in our quest for information retrieval. I propose we introduce a new term and feature set to social software – “Thumbing” – a term that describes a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” approach to rating these social taxonomists.

UPDATED 04/14/2005 – Not sure if I like the “Thumbing” term. Perhaps in a nod to folksonomy – combining folk and taxonomy, the term “Ragging” – combining rating and tagging, might be a better term…although the term is already a colloquialism for teasing…

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