This week had a lot of information in it so I'm afraid it is quite long,
but also informative.

Week 2

As pointed out in the class lecture Wurman (1996) provides a definition of an information architect – one who organized the patterns in data and creates the structure (map) of information that allows users to find their own individual path to the knowledge they seek.

According to Miller (2001), there are 3 types of architecture which combined make up information architecture:

  • Technical architecture-detailed specifications for individual systems including protocols, and various components. This type of architecture does not always fully consider the purpose of the system or the manner in which it will be used.
  • Functional architecture-focuses on the processes and functions that a system is supposed to fulfill and on functions that users would like the system to perform.
  • Landscape architecture-defines the boundaries of the system (what is in or out) and the relationships between the users and technical systems. It is not clear to what extent these relationships can be realized at this level.

These are all combined in the field of information architecture. The complete information architecture combining all of the above architectures is an ideal and is not often found in the real world. Content management (CM) is the discipline of collecting, managing, and publishing content often using specialized software. While CM is often found along with information architecture, they are not the same thing. Information architecture implies that there is content management of some sort but CM is not IA and IA is not CM.

Information Arch. Ch. 3 &4:

IA Chapter 3:”User need and behaviors”-it is important to determine the needs and information seeking behaviors of the users of a website or information “system”. Searching for a known factor such a phone number on a company intranet is quite different from learning about a new topic. Some may prefer tutorials while others like browsing on their own.

The “too-simple” information searching model is the most common but so simplistic as to be quite unsatisfactory:

  1. User states query.
  2. Something happens (searching or browsing etc.).
  3. User gets answer.

This is a way too simplistic and mechanical model of information seeking. It takes the human variable out of the task. It is rare that a real search follows the “too-simple” model. One needs to have a question with a correct answer (factual); one needs to know how to state or phrase the question and where to find the answer. In actuality most information seekers end their search only partially satisfied or completely frustrated. The “too-simple” model is really a big misconception. It is based on the idea that the search for information is a simple prospect which can be solved by simple algorithms. Lots of money and time have been wasted by implementing search engine software which is based on this model. It is a big mistake to assume that the search for information can be measured in a quantifiable way-it just isn’t that simple.

Morville and Rosenfeld (2006) use the analogy of fishing to describe 4 types of searching behaviors:

  • The perfect catch (known-item seeking)-a user looking for a known item with a right answer; a search for a known fact. This is the search for a colleague’s phone number.
  • Lobster trapping (exploratory seeking)-a user looking for a few useful items but not sure exactly what they are looking for. This is usually an open ended search with no expectation of a right answer. Usually a few good items are satisfactory. An example is a search for Inns in Camden, ME -one explores and a few good leads are sufficient.
  • Indiscriminate drift-netting (exhaustive research)-here a user is looking for everything possible on a particular subject. This user will often have more patience and will try multiple queries and phrases in their search.
  • “I’ve seen you before…”(re-finding)-users will often find something which they want to recall at a later time. Sometimes there isn’t time to explore the find at the time and it must be found again later. Lots of social bookmarking services such as del.icio.us have aided in this type of search. One can tag or bookmark a website and easily retrieve it at a later date.

Information seekers use multiple methods to find what they are looking for. They enter their queries in search boxes, browse from link to link, and turn to fellow humans for help (email, chat, phone, etc.).

The berry-picking model takes these various methods into account. In this model, developed by Univ. of Southern California’s Dr. Bates, users have an information need and form a query. They then move through the information system along various paths picking up packets of information and modifying their original query as they learn more. Users following this model need an easy way to go from browsing to searching and back.

The pearl growing model is another useful view of searching. In this model the user has a good document which is what they need and then wants to find more like it. Search engines such as Google have met this need through functions like the “similar pages” function. Other systems allow the user to find other items which are indexed with the same keywords as the “good” document.

There are a couple of methods for information architects to learn about the information needs of their users: search analytics and contextual inquiry.

Search analytics: review the most common search queries used in the information system (website, library, etc.). For computer queries these can be found in search engine logfiles. Reviewing these, one can diagnose issues with navigation, content, and search performance.

Contextual inquiry: allows one to observe how the information seekers are interacting with the information-one can ask why they are doing what they are doing and they can explain what they really want.

IA Chapter 4:”Anatomy of an information architecture”-Information architecture is quite abstract and is often difficult to completely understand until it is seen in action.

Some things to look for on a website to see its information architecture:

Organization systems: these show the site’s information in multiple ways such as content categories for everyone, or targeting specific audiences (students, staff, guests, etc.).

Navigation systems: these help the user to move among the various sections of the site and can be directories or “go quickly to” options.

Search systems: these allow users to put in terms to search for either on the website alone, in a section of the website, or sometimes the whole internet.

Labeling systems: these describe the categories, options, and links so that they are meaningful and useful to users. On a college website these can be the familiar terms: academics, athletics, admission, etc.

When information architects design a system to answer the most common questions users have, this is top-down information architecture. They answer common top-down questions including:

  1. Where am I?
  2. How do I search for what I want?
  3. How do I navigate this site?
  4. What is important/unique about this organization?
  5. What is available on this site?
  6. Is it possible to contact a human?
  7. What is their address or contact information?

Bottom-up information architecture is often embedded in the content. It is the content structure and sequencing. This can be seen easily in a recipe. Often a recipe has a bold or larger title first, then a list of ingredients, and then specific directions. Sometimes these sections are labeled, but often that isn’t necessary. Tagging, sequencing and structure help answer the user questions: Where am I?, What’s here?, and Where can I go from here? Often users will skip the top-down information architecture and thus bottom-up information architecture is vital. Google is often used to retrieve information, but this usually places the user on a specific page within a site and thus they have bypassed the main page with top-down information architecture.

There is a navigation stress test designed by Instone to evaluate bottom-up information architecture – http://user-experience.org/uefiles/navstress/.

Components of IA:

Organization systems: How is the information categorized -subject, chronology, etc.

Navigation systems: How do we move through the information -clicking on hierarchy, sub-categories, etc.

Search systems: How is information searched for-enter a term which is compared to an index, etc.

Labeling systems: How is information represented – scientific terms, lay terms, slang, etc.

Browsing Aids:

  • Organization systems-also called taxonomies or hierarchies, the main way to group content.
  • Site-wide navigation systems-primary navigation such as bread crumbs, tells users where they are and where they can go.
  • Local navigation systems
  • Sitemaps/ tables of contents-provide overview of site and links to major components.
  • Site indices-alphabetical list of links to content.
  • Site guides-specialized information on specific topic.
  • Site wizards-lead user through sequential steps.
  • Contextual navigation systems-consistent links to related areas often embedded in text.

Search Aids:

  • Search interface-how a search query is entered and revised, often with ways to improve the query.
  • Query language-grammar of search (Boolean logic, proximity operators, search field specifications).
  • Query builders-how to enhance search performance (spell checker, stemming, concept searching).
  • Retrieval algorithms-part of search engine which decides which results match query (Google’s page rank).
  • Search zones-subsets of main content that have separate indexing for narrower searches (searching tech support on a software company’s website).
  • Search results-percent of content which matches query (how many results should be displayed, how they should be ranked, grouped, sorted, what kinds of content should be included, etc.)

Content and tasks:

  • Headings-labels for content
  • Embedded links-links inside text bodies, they represent the content they link to.
  • Embedded metadata-information which can be used as metadata, but first must be retrieved and indexed.
  • Chunks-units of content (sections, chapters, etc.).
  • Lists-groups of chunks or links to chunks (grouped together because they have a common trait).
  • Sequential aids-hints to tell user where they are in the process (step 5 of 6).
  • Identifiers-hints to tell user where they are in the information system (logo or banner stating what the site is, breadcrumbs indicating what level in the site the user is).

Invisible components:

  • Controlled vocabulary/ thesauri-predetermined vocabularies, preferred terms, often list variant terms. Thesauri include links to broader or narrower terms.
  • Retrieval algorithms-rank results by relevance, reflect the programmer’s judgment on how relevance is determined.
  • Best bets-preferred results combined with a query. Subject experts and editors decide which queries should get best bets and which items should be listed as best bets.

Websites reviewed:

IA Institute http://iainstitute.org/ – The IA Institute is an international organization that provides IA education and services. Their digital library is a great resource.
IA Summit http://www.iasummit.org/2008/ – This is the annual conference on IA.

Semantic Studios http://www.semanticstudios.com/ – Peter Morville’s IA consulting firm. There are many excellent IA related articles on his website.
2Advanced Studios http://2advanced.com/ – This is an example of a state-of-the-art Web Design firm that utilizes IA concepts and strategies

IA Institute http://iainstitute.org/:

The IA Institute site aims to educate people about information architecture. It is a professional site which sponsors conferences and has a membership much like the America Library Association and its website. The IA institute makes it easy to search the site or browse the site map. There are clear divisions for the types of users who may come to the site: new to IA, practicing IA, hiring an IA. These easy to spot categories make it easier for a new user to find what they want amongst the tons of information available. There are also tabs for member services, IA network, learning IA, and about us.

The Learning IA option provides research, resources and education options for those interested in the field. They provide a definition of IA as: “the art and science of organizing and labeling websites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability” (What is IA, 2008). This is a fairly concise definition of a complex field, but it seems to focus mostly on the web or computer based aspect of information architecture. Good labeling is essential for people to be able to find things. This is not limited to website. Signage in buildings and public areas is important. In the library setting, the physical signs in the physical library could be considered in the realm of an information architect. If the help desk is always getting questions about where the copiers are, perhaps there needs to be a sign.

IA Summit http://www.iasummit.org/2008/:

This is the website for the annual information architecture conference. It uses a “CrowdVine” network so conference goers can chat about the upcoming conference or continue to explore ideas and contacts that they discovered at the conference.

A wonderful feature is the slideshare presentations which are available for most of the sessions. I viewed the one called How to be a user experience team of one by Leah Buley. Through slides of cartoon characters she demonstrated the whole process of working out a design for a website including the types of labels and organizational layout that is part of IA. Peter Morville’s Search patterns (http://www.iasummit.org/proceedings/2008/search_patterns) is also a very interesting slide presentation.

Semantic Studios http://www.semanticstudios.com/:

This is the website of Peter Morville’s consulting firm specializing in IA and user experience. The company’s goal is to help their clients create better websites, intranets, and interactive products and services (Semantic Studios, 2008). Moreville has a listing of essays and articles on IA and findability. Books on IA and ambient findability are also shown.

The main navigation provides access to different sections for consulting, presentations, and publications. Under publications there are several categories including: columns, books, articles, interviews and resources. Under “articles, interviews & resources” is an item titled A crazy librarian. This turns out to be a 2007 podcast from Michigan innovators (http://michiganinnovators.org/interviews/people/peter-morville) of an interview with Morville. He describes himself as a crazy librarian and discusses how the Internet has transformed libraries. He feels that 1993 was when he realized that the Internet was really going to transform libraries. One result is that library traffic is up and more people are using libraries than before. However library users of today are not using the libraries in the same way and previous measures of library wellbeing are down. One example is that book circulation has dropped. I have seen this in the statistics of the community college library where I work, and one reason is that we have so many electronic books that students can use. These are not counted in the circulation statistics. Morville says that libraries are trying to improve their role as a major access point or portal / gateway to the global information / knowledge network. Much of this innovation and reworking of traditional roles comes in the form of library 2.0 (Gibson, 2008).

2Advanced Studios http://2advanced.com/:

This is an example of a state of the art website using the latest design and information architecture techniques. The first look of this site is very minimalistic and focuses on the futuristic image which can also be downloaded as wallpaper. All of the navigation options are expandable so they don’t clutter the main page with columns and lists of text.

The expanded navigation array uses a semi-transparent background so the text floats above the website main image (like desktop wallpaper). This company designs “high-impact experiences” using “progressive design technology”. They are all about new vision and creative potential for creating websites for their clients. The portfolio section allows you to see some of the designs they have done for clients and view case studies also. The services section lists the numerous services they offer, from design (graphic arts) to branding to promotion.

Week 2 references:

Gibson, B. (2008). Peter Morville –A crazy librarian. In Michigan Innovators. Retrieved September 5, 2008, from Michigan Innovators Web site: http://michiganinnovators.org/interviews/people/peter-morville/

Miller, P. (2001, October 2). Architects of the information age. Ariadne, 29. Retrieved September 2, 2008, from http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue29/miller

Morville, P., & Rosenfeld, L. (2006). Information architecture for the world wide web (3rd ed.). Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly.

Semantic Studios. (2008). Retrieved September 5, 2008, from Semantic Studios Web site: http://www.semanticstudios.com

What is IA? (2008). The Information Architecture Institute. Retrieved September 4, 2008, from Information Architecture Institues (IAI) Web site: http://iainstitute.org/en/learn/resources/what_is_ia.php

Wurman, R. S., & Bradford, P. (Eds.). (1996). Information architects. Zurich, Switzerland: Graphis Press.

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