Monday, March 21, 2005

Deliverables mania

I've been looking through a bunch of Information Architect job roles recently, and noticed that a number of the ads are placing a great deal of stress on the production of deliverables, and specifying experience in specific "IA" tools like Visio and Omnigraffle.

I know that job ads can be reductive, but I do worry about the emphasis being placed on deliverables rather than skillsets: some of this might be because the jobs are mostly for digital agencies, and there's an element of client seduction in there. Good deliverables do make a difference - a bad wireframe can add to client confusion rather than solve it, but these are not the end products of an IA's work: end product delivery is. It's a bit like the emphasis on MS Project skills for Project Managers, I suppose: confusing nice Gantt charts and PERT charts (just intermediary products on the path to successful project delivery) for decent project management.

Maybe it's when wireframes and site maps begin to look too smart, too professional, that designers begin to get annoyed at turf wars - maybe there should be a return to quick and dirty iterations of deliverables... long live the back of the envelope?

Friday, March 11, 2005

IA summit and Folksomomies

From a write-up of comments on Folksonomy from IA luminaries at the IA Summit. I agree with many of the reservations, but I reckon that in a controlled, corporate environment tagging could pay dividends:
1) it connects personal concepts with more social concepts (including organisational);
2) it offers a path for emergent terminology to be added to a more controlled vocabulary set;
3) it makes sure that some context is given to assets rather than leaving them free of metadata.
There are a number of other benefits, but I'm fairly sure that with a bit of work in extending folksonomies (such as mapping key tags to taxonomies, weighting of tag value by popularity for search, combining tags with boolean logic for context [like facetious's faceted approach] etc ...) they could offer a deal of value.
Aah! the IA Summit was clearly fertile ground - wish I could have been there, I've always fancied going to Montreal. Via the Community Engine Blog, news that IBM's taxonomy group is going to be doing pretty much what I'm talking about above. Although I don't see "folksonomies" as a silver bullet, I'm sure that they will have some impact on emerging terms and also on the ability of a company to keep tabs on the impact of its internal communication. For instance, assume that a company has launched an initiative called "BOB", tracking the emergence over time of the use of a BOB tag (and the items associated with it) could show the penetration of communication efforts as well as give an early warning of a waning in interest. All very interesting stuff - and let's hope IBM are successful.

Structured Searching with Mark Logic

Via Jon Udell, I have come across the very cool looking Mark Logic Content Interaction Server (CIS). From what I've gathered so far - without reading the white paper yet, so this might be not 100% on the ball - this acts as a repository for content of different formats, which it stores as XML and then, using a mix of XML querying and search logic, is able to deliver more targeted and granular search results and content for re-use (as this is now structured rather than unstructured information). Jon Udell has a screencast demo showing some of the functionality, which is very nice looking indeed, with the engine pulling out the most relevant paragraphs and chapters in a searched document rather than just pointing to the document itself. The rest of the demo is about outputting to XHTML/pdf via XSL/XSL-formatting objects transformations.

I really like the delivery of more granular content objects for search results in this fashion - for too long we have got too hooked up on the concept of "search": the information retrieval cycle is one of moving from a requirement, finding (or "discovering" as Donna Maurer would put it) information fitting that requirement, and then - critically - making use of that information.
I'm sure I've not even got close to understanding what the CIS can deliver, but I like what I've seen so far...It fits nicely into the equation that I came across in Oracle Magazine (Zen and the Art of Information, George Demarest, p79-80 March/April 2005):

"Information=quality (data + metadata)"

I quite like this neat equation which expresses the idea that information is data with applied quality and context. Structured access to document sections certainly hits the context side of this equation on the head...