Headshift :: smarter, simpler, social: “Headshift is a specialist Internet consulting firm with a strong technical capability and a deep understanding of the social impact of information and communication technologies.” In other words, they get companies to try social software, bottom-up metadata and such.

Is this too specialized for a consultancy?

Ahhhhhhh. They finally installed cable internet in the new appartment today which means no more stealing of the neighbours’ extremely spotty wireless. Good.

Seth’s Blog: Small is the new big: “Small is the new big because small gives you the flexibility to change the business model when your competition changes theirs.

Small means you can tell the truth on your blog.

Small means that you can answer email from your customers.”

I find Godin’s writing to be a bit too much of the all-American-self-help-book style, but hey, it beats my writing any day. And he hits some nails on the head in this post. Good to hear that staying small is ok :) A client told me I could make a lot of money by hiring a bunch of IA’s and starting an IA consultancy. Probably. But I don’t really want that responsibility, that need to be billable, to hit certain sales figures every month just to stay alive. I like the flexibility of staying small.

DonnaM: A beginning means an end: Donna is starting a life as an independent IA consultant. I’ve followed her work and spoken with her on various occasions, and I can highly recommend her if you’re looking for an information architect, especially in Australia (where she works). Good luck Donna!

Camping in NY state without car?

I am trying to plan some camping trips this summer in NY state (or NJ), starting from Manhattan. We don’t have a car though, and I find renting one always ends up costing something like $150/weekend, which is steep enough to keep me from doing it.

So this is a call for help. Where can I find information about camping? Is it possible without a car? I was thinking I might take a train upstate and take it from there. Recommended spots? Tips?

Comments might take a day or so to be approved, but I do check and approve them!

In the spirit of “look for the right question, not the right answer”, what are the big questions around global IA? Here are a few to get started.

  • Which locales should we use?
  • What content/functionality should we translate?
  • What should be the balance between local control over content, presentation and structure, and central control?
  • How can we find out if just translating a site into language X will be acceptable?
  • What aspects of the IA should be different for local sites?
  • Can we just translate a taxonomy?
  • When should a taxonomy not just be translated, but adjusted to local circumstances?
  • What are useful concepts to understand cultural differences between locales that matter for IA?
  • Do different cultures have different information needs?
  • Is IT the great cultural equalizer?
  • Does work culture override local (national) culture in regards to information use?
  • Do different cultures have different information preferences?
  • How is information usage evolving worldwide? Are poorer countries “behind”, and going through evolution in internet/information use that’s simply a few years behind of richer countries?
  • Are Hofstede’s dimensions useful for global IA?
  • What do we know about multilingual information needs and preferences? Do people prefer access to the original, for example? In what cases?
  • Culture is a subtle thing, often invisible. What are some good ways to research cultural differences related to IA?
  • Apart from differences in information needs and preferences, what other cultural aspects might influence IA?
  • Do we know enough about IA tout court to start worrying about global IA? In what areas don’t we?
  • How does search behaviour differ between cultures, if at all?
  • What are the big questions, and what are the small questions?
  • Apart from their nationality, what other aspects determine someone’s culture in regards to global IA?
  • What are cost-effective ways to do research, and what research should be done?
  • What kind of local involvement in your IA research should you get?

And so on. Lou has more.

How to combine tags with facets

Information architects (like me) tend to say we should combine different methods of increasing findability. In this post I’ll explain one way of combining user generated metadata with editorial metadata, and more specifically, tags with facets. I’m not gonna do definitions and such (ok, I heard that collective sigh of relief!).

The big advantage of adding metadata in the form of facets is that we know how to make an easy to use interface for facets. Check Flamenco. We could try adding ontology-like metadata, but we don’t know yet how to create good interfaces with those.

Let’s look at your standard tagcloud page:

If we added a few facets to this it could look something like this (quick and nasty mockup):

Notice that the facets I came up with are relatively techie, reflecting delicious’ userbase. If we dig deeper into the data, we’ll probably find more facets like event, time and such. Other tagclouds might need different facets.

Also notice that this new arrangement makes it much easier for users to find something if they’re looking for a specific item. It makes the tagcloud more browsable. And something I just noticed myself: we can bring up less popular items in less popular facets to the homepage.

The big difference in browsability (arg!) happens when a user moves into the tagcloud. When looking at a tag, they can refine their search by the various other facets (as is standard in faceted browsing systems). Check epinions.com for a nice example – if I had all day I’d mock it up. This makes it easy for a user to refine a search in a really large tagcloud.

How do we scale the assigning of tags to facets?

Simple: editors create facets (it takes some consideration to create a useful and valid facet), and users assign tags to facets. We can let users assign tags because facets are mutually exclusive, that is, tags can only logically be classified in 1 facet, not in multiple ones. So there should be little confusion as to what facet a tag should belong to (apart from the expected tags with more than 1 meaning). The mutual exclusivity comes from the editorial selection of facets: we choose our facets so that they are (at least pretty much) mutually exclusive. I expect a small number of facets (between 5 and 10) to be quite useful.

Asking users to assign tags to facets shouldn’t be too hard. You can do it when they add a tag, or when they’re browsing a tag that hasn’t been assigned yet. The question can look something like this:

Again, because of the mutual exclusivity requirement for facets, disagreement on what facet a tag belongs to should be limited. So I would just let the system assume that each tag belongs to one facet.

So what do we know so far?

  • We can let editors come up with a few useful facets, and let users assign tags to facets. This should work because of the mutual exclusivity requirement of facets: the hard work (creating facets) is done by editors, the easier work (assigning facets) is distributed (it is easy but a lot MORE work) amongst our users. This should work, and should scale.
  • Once we have facets for some of our tags, browsing is made a lot easier for our users. The browsing interface is well known and tested, and should just work.
  • This is good because we have now found a way to combine the strenghts of editors (ie., spend a whole afternoon considering what a certain facet should be) with the strength of user generated metadata (ie., you get lots of it if the decision is easy).

And what don’t we know?

  • Will users indeed find it easy to classify tags in facets without much disagreement? (They should if we create our facets following the exclusivity requirement.)


I’m spending a week in Belgium, at my moms house, lazing about. French fries, mmm. With mayo. Slowly gearing up to work on my global IA research.

IA as a competitive advantage

Wired News: The Beeb Shall Inherit the Earth: “America’s entertainment industry is committing slow, spectacular suicide, while one of Europe’s biggest broadcasters — the BBC — is rushing headlong to the future, embracing innovation rather than fighting it.”

The BBC is indeed quietly getting waay ahead of most other media companies.

I often talk about IA as a competitive advantage: the BBC gets that. (I shouldn’t define IA this broadly, but hey). They have consistent URI’s for every program ever made (working on it at least), they have API’s in the new BBC Backstage, they embrace RSS and let users play with their data. In other words: they architect their information with an eye towards the future. Long term metadata. Good URI’s. Open to users.

What will happen (and this is where the “IA as a competitive advantage” comes in), is that its competition (CNN, …) will wake up one day and see the advantage they have built. The CEO will proclaim: “Let’s build the same”. They’ll try to find vendors. The CEO will assume she can buy this.

But the way the beeb is architecting its information is as much a cultural achievement as a technical one. It takes dedication, love and years of time to make a company open up its information, even if it’s in the statutes that the company is there to serve the public, as in the beebs’ case. IA is hard work.

The big advantage the BBC has had is that it’s attitude towards information hasn’t been lead by vendor pitches, but by passionate and talented people for years. You can’t just buy that, or expect to catch up with that in a year or two. That’s IA as a competitive advantage.