Week 7

Information Arch. Ch. 14 ,15 & 16:

IA Chapter 14: “Ethics”-Morville and Rosenfeld (2006) point out the politics and ethical considerations that information architects must deal with. Intellectual access is very important. Information architects try to make knowledge accessible to everyone. Technology, however, can skew information results in ways that can deny access. An example is Amazon’s autosuggest feature. When users put in the term “abortion” the auto suggest asked “did you mean adoption?”. This resulted in blocking easy access to books on abortion and directing users to anti-abortion books. An organization complained and Amazon fixed the problem.

Information architects must face the fact that if they design a good system they can help a researcher find the missing link that leads to the cure for a disease, or they can help someone find directions for making a bomb which kills innocent people. Whenever the information architect takes on a project they should consider the ethical context.

Labeling is very powerful. Often labels are only visible to those who are hurt by them. AIDS used to be called GRID for Gay Related Immune Deficiency. This label was extremely harmful for gays and lesbians and it took time and a great deal of effort to fight for the change.  Homosexuality was considered a disease by the American Psychological Association and again it took many years to fight that categorization.  Books about gays and lesbians were cataloged under homosexuality until again a fight was made that pointed out how hurtful the label was and that users (gays and lesbians) would prefer the terms gay and lesbian over homosexual. Libraries changed the catalog labels. Sanford Berman was instrumental in this. His work Prejudices and Antipathies called for the see also terms “sexual perversion” to be removed from the subjects homosexuality and lesbianism (Knowlton, 2005). This also anticipated the change by the APA to de-categorize homosexuality as a perversion. Labels are very powerful.

The information architect only has so much control especially on very large projects. It is still important to think about the ethics of intellectual access, labels, categories, and physical access. The IA structures built are often designed to be around a while and must work well or they will need to be redone.

IA Chapter 15: “Building an information architecture team”-information architects can be insiders permanently hired by a company, or consultants called in for a project. There are positives to both and companies must have a balance.

Destructive acts of creation: unfortunately many companies decide to redesign a website and completely dump the old version. This gets rid of and destroys a lot of good information and structure.  There are different layers which change at different rates. In our society we have slow layers such as nature and culture and fast changing layers such as commerce and fashion. Information architecture also has fast and slow layers.


  • Content, services, interface
  • Adaptive finding tools
  • Controlled vocabulary
  • Enabling technologies
  • Embedded navigation system
  • Faceted classification schemes


If a site needs updating, hopefully it is just the content, services, or interface, and maybe the adaptive finding tools which need to be adjusted. You shouldn’t need to get rid of the faceted classification scheme just to redesign the interface.

Morville and Rosenfeld (2006) list a dream team of information architects consisting of:

  • Strategy architect
  • Thesaurus designer
  • Controlled vocabulary manager
  • Indexing specialist
  • Interaction designer
  • IA software analyst
  • IA usability engineer
  • Cartographer
  • Search analyst

IA Chapter 16: “Tools and software”-Morville and Rosenfeld (2006) cover useful tools for information architects, diagramming products, prototyping tools, content management systems, and tools for analytics and user research.

Software tools specifically designed for information architects are crude and just beginning to be developed. No one (including information architects themselves) is quite sure what is needed.

Automated classification: There are software tools available to automatically assign controlled vocabulary to documents using pattern matching algorithms or human defined rules. Some examples include:

  • Metatagger by Interwoven
  • Semio Tagger by Entrieva
  • Clustering Engine by Vivisimo
  • Autonomy IDOL Server

There is great potential in this type of software but it can’t index images, can’t be adjusted for user needs, can’t understand meaning and works best on full text document collections. This may be okay for some applications, but will not be very effective for others.

Search engines: This type of software helps with full-text indexing and searching capabilities. Some examples include:

Search becomes more important as the amount of content grows and grows. Morville and Rosenfeld (2006) claim that the problem isn’t so much a technical one (there are a variety of search engines available). The problem is getting IT people, who already own search engines within most companies, to share that technology with the rest of the folks.

Thesaurus management: these tools are designed to help the information architect develop and manage (maintenance is crucial) controlled vocabulary. Some examples follow:

These programs are only beginning to be developed. Most people using them have been the early adopters who needed custom development to make them work.

Portal/ enterprise knowledge platform: supposedly these tools focus on the whole system or integrated enterprise portal.

These programs claim to do everything and to do it seamlessly (intuitive access to all enterprise and 3rd party content). Be aware of what each of these tools is supposed to do well.

Content management systems: these tools help manage workflow from the authoring of content through editing and finally publishing.

The first two on the list are enterprise level tools and are called immature by Forrester Research (Morville & Rosenfeld, 2006). Most of the time products will have to be customized a lot and that can be expensive. The rest of the items are personal level tools and are fairly quick and easy. These tools are what have helped power the bloggers of the world.

Analytics: These tools are designed to help analyze web site usage and statistical performance. The data retrieved is valuable in determining user behavior and needs.

There is a lot of interest in this type of tool because user tracking and behavior studies are extremely valuable to marketing departments. Advertising and marketing are depending on this information to determine what will sell and whom to sell it to.

Diagramming software: These tools help information architects design visual representation in the form of diagrams, charts, wireframes, and blueprints.

Prototyping tools: these are mainly web development tools which can be used to design wireframes which are interactive and prototypes which one can click on to simulate what a final product may feel like.

Many of these create products which blur the line between a website and a software application. A prototype can create a powerful example of how navigation or other interactions by users should work.

User Research: these tools aid information architects in conducting user research such as card sorting and remote usability testing.

Some of these can save time and money in the user research stage of work but there is no substitute for sitting with a user while they navigate a site.

Websites reviewed:

TextMap http://www.textmap.com/ try the new “entities” concept in search from TextMap search. Analyze the interface and search results from an IA perspective.

Google Sets http://labs.google.com/sets try the new “sets” concept in search from Google. Analyze the interface and search results from an IA perspective.

TextMap http://www.textmap.com/

The Entities option seems to list all “entities” in alphabetical order. The same menu categories are there (person, city, university, company, disease, etc.) but all are followed by hypertext letters. Under university I clicked M for Mount Holyoke College and found it quickly. What I got was a relational network with three names: Laura Spelman, Peter Viereck, and Wendy Wasserstein. The Laura Spelman link was broken. Peter Viereck worked but gave me a link back to Mount Holyoke College. It also gave a link titled Coref./Ref. Apparently this leads to articles which reference both Viereck and Mount Holyoke College. This could be interesting but there is nothing listed. Wendy Wasserstein lists more connections, but still I am not sure what the point is. It barely mentions that Wasserstein is a playwright and doesn’t explain the connection with Mount Holyoke College. Viereck is given no information at all; when he was a professor at the school (this is not mentioned).  At least Wasserstein generates several articles which reference her and Mount Holyoke College.

The point of Text Map is unclear. The menu seems straight forward and I was able to find my first subject (Mount Holyoke College) very quickly. However from that point it is just confusing. One has to continually go to the help section to see what is meant by various terms and options and even then it isn’t always clear.

Google Sets http://labs.google.com/sets

The instructions ask the user to enter items from a set and the system will try to predict other items in the set. The example given is: BMW, Honda, and Mercedes Benz. The system returns a list of more types of cars. I put in Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Vassar, in the hopes that it would return a “set” of the Seven Sister Colleges. It didn’t but it did produce a list of colleges. However when I put in cedar, spruce, and pine, hoping for a list of conifers or at least more trees I got nothing! Listing pine, maple, and oak, gave me a list of more trees, but it also listed glass, mahogany, metal, set, bedroom, steel, traditional, wood, wicker, and office. This list implies that it is based on commerce, for I didn’t see any terms for carving, sculpture, cabin, forest, etc. I guess this makes sense as Google is a massive search engine which crawls the Internet and most of the internet appears to be commerce or entertainment related.

Week 7 references:

Knowlton, S. A. (2005). Three decades since “prejudices and antipathies”: A study of changes in the Library of Congress Subject Headings. Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 40(2), 123-45. Retrieved October 6, 2008, from Haworth Press database.

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