Information Architecture Summit Roundup

I attended the Information Architecture Summit in Vancouver this past march, and it was a truly excellent experience.

I went to several seminars during the conference as well as Peter Morville’s day long section on Information Architecture during the pre-conference. Vancouver is an amazingly beautiful city, and I loved being there.

David Weinberger from the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society was the keynote speaker. He talked a lot about the new trends in managing content, taxonomies, and folksonomies.

If you go on a web site like or delicious (see below), users have the ability to tag or group their own content with keywords. This is an example of a folksonomy.

For example:

Users, in this way, are developing their own cataloging system. This is pretty revolutionary. As each user tags a given piece of content that content is automatically grouped into that tag/subject area. It becomes immenently easier to find content related to that tag/subject area.

Folksonomies are taxonomies created by users and they are revolutionizing the field of information science. There are certain drawbacks to folksonomies.

In the past, businesses have hired professional taxonomists with degrees in library science to categorize information and create hierarchies and pathways to navigate it.

In a sense, these taxonomists built a tree of information that was easy to follow. You could see various branches of information and the pathway to get there because they are all related.

With folksonomies, you have a collection of leaves from this tree, and not anywhere near the whole tree. Trees last and piles of leaves decay and are temporary. And there you have the problem with folksonomies.

Overall, people are trying to find balance between taxonomies and folksonomies. Folksonomies have a tendency to grow and also not all information ends up in the right categories, while taxonomies are not flexible enough to accomodate each individual users taste.

One other thing to note about David’s talk is that it was an outstanding presentation with innovative use of powerpoint. He used pictures with simple one line statements to tell us engaging stories. There were few bullet points.

It reminded my of a book I had checked out about powerpoint and moving beyond bullet points.

I was lucky enought to attend Peter Morville’s day long seminar on Information Architecture and Findability. I am really glad I did, because it was a highly interactive session and I had a chance to learn a lot from my peers in the field about what they are doing. 

This seminar showed me how to approach information architecture as a science, and I had a sense that there is a definite system and process one can follow when doing I/A for web sites.

While I have been doing I/A since I started making web sites in 1999, Peter showed me how to back up my designs and wireframe mockups with research and usability testing.

There was a fair amount of talk about tagging which echoed David Weinberger’s talk.

Here are some key practices mentioned that were helpful to me:

  1. Sit down and talk with your users whenever possible. Get to know them.
  2. Use icons that make sense–do usability testing to make sure.
  3. Add best bets to your search engine.
  4. Users prefer navigation to be on the left.
  5. Design your web site to work on multiple platforms.
  6. Organizational politics are an integral part of the I/A process so you want to have as much research and user testing as possible to back up your assumptions in order to get a green light from key decision makers.

There was a lot more, which he covers in his new book, “Ambient Findability”.

The whole idea behind I/A is to make it as easy as possible for users to find the information they need and perform the functions they want on your web site or in any other medium.

The overwhelming themes of the conference were managing folksonomies, selling I/A to decision makers, and rapid prototyping with wireframe mockups. 

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