By Glenda: First published in Online Currents – Vol.19 Issue 1, January/February 2004
Information architecture (IA) is a natural extension of the traditional roles of librarians and indexers. For many years I have been keeping up with developments in this expanding field. This article describes Web sites about Information Architecture that I have found useful.
Information architecture is the structuring of information for access, primarily by navigation through browse categories. In many ways it is an extension of traditional library approaches, using categorisation (classification), indexing, cataloguing (metadata creation) and thesaurus (or taxonomy) creation skills. Many librarians and library technicians now have roles in the management of library Web sites or intranets, and therefore need to know about information architecture.
A collaborative definition of IA in IAwiki (http://iawiki.net/DefiningTheDamnThing ) is: “Information Architecture is inherent, practical or theoretical knowledge having to do with the presentation of written, spoken, graphical or other information.”, while another definition on the same page is “the cyclical process of defining, implementing and reviewing systems that mediate information to and from users.”
The sites below are listed in alphabetical order.
Argus Centre for Information Architecture
The Argus Centre for Information Architecture (http://argus-acia.com ) is a valuable source of earlier articles but has not been updated since 2001. The ia guide lists online articles organised by author, title, or broad subject. Of particular interest are the Information Architecture Glossary by Kat Hagedorn (http://argus-acia.com/white_papers/iaglossary.html ), Software for information architects, and Big Architect, Little Architect both of which are in Strange connections (http://argus-acia.com/strange_connections/ ) by Peter Morville.
Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture
The Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture (AIfIA, http://aifia.org) is a non-profit volunteer organisation dedicated to advancing and promoting information architecture. The site is relatively new and doesnt have a lot of content for the general user, although there is a page of tools including design checksheets and project templates (http://aifia.org/tools/ ) that are useful for practitioners.
ASIS, (American Society for Information Science) hosts 29 mailing lists including SIGIA-L and SIGCR-L. SIGIA-L (http://mail.asis.org/mailman/listinfo/sigia-l ) deals with information architecture. It averages over 20 messages each day, and often includes bickering, rambling posts that debate issues ad infinitum. That said, it is a good place to keep up with developments in IA, and is a source of useful references to other sites.
SIGCR-L deals with classification research. It has very little traffic and is used mainly for announcements.
The ASIS site also provides the free PDF version of the Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science, which has excellent information, but can be slow to load.
Im not a great fan of blogs maybe because Ive not yet found the right ones for me. Louis Rosenfeld was an early writer in the field of IA and his blog (http://louisrosenfeld.com/home/bloug_archive/ ) has interesting segments.
Boxes and Arrows
Boxes and Arrows offers excellent articles on a range of issues in IA, including indexing, controlled vocabularies, site maps and design. The new issue appears on the home page, and older issues can be accessed using the tab Previously. Articles are also sorted by category (e.g. Big Ideas and Case Studies) and by author. Some of the articles available are:
Digital Web Magazine includes the IAnything Goes column, with articles such as Soft skills for information architecture and Persuasive navigation by Jeff Lash (http://www.digital-web.com/columns/ianythinggoes/ianythinggoes_2003-09.shtml ).
The Dublin Core site (http://dublincore.org ) provides background information on this metadata standard. It includes the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative recommendations, events, news and publications, as well as the DC Element Set (http://dublincore.org/documents/dces/ ) and a bibliography with references up to 2002 (http://dublincore.org/resources/bibliography/ ).
Elegant Hack includes a blog (http://eleganthack.com/blog/ ), which has archives organised by categories, including information architecture and user centered design. Christina Wodtke also provides a brief list of IA organisations, 2 case studies and an annotated list of places to get browser status (no longer maintained). She also lists other IA blogs (http://eleganthack.com/articles/index.html ).
The IAwiki (http://www.iawiki.net ) contains information and links provided by anyone who wants to contribute or modify content. There is little formal control, and yet it works well as a fairly structured grouping of information. On the wiki pages a coloured term indicates a link to a topic with that name. A coloured question mark next to a capitalised term indicates a topic that someone thinks should be included. Click on the question mark if you would like to write the entry. Topics are often fairly brief, but can give a good introduction. IAwiki is also a good place to look for information about people who have made contributions in the field of information architecture.
One starting point is the index where you can look for specific terms, or just browse until you find items of interest. The terms starting with Category provide broader entry points. Because of the way wiki topics are labelled, this doesnt work like a well-structured index, and browsing is often the best approach. For instance, there is a topic called InformationArchitecture, but there is also one called BasicIAArticles (http://www.iawiki.net/BasicIAArticles ), which you will miss if you rely on alphabetic lookup. There are also specific topics such as Information Architecture Really Is a Creative Pursuit.
The Information Today site is one of the best resources for librarians about information architecture and related issues, particularly because it provides certain articles from its journals free in each issue. Journals include Intranet Professional (http://www.infotoday.com/IP/default.shtml ) andInformation Today.
jjg.net: Information Architecture Resources
Jesse James Garrett, from Adaptive Path, maintains a list of IA resources (http://www.jjg.net/ia/ ), including introductory and more advanced materials, community resources, weblogs, and mailing lists. This includes The Elements of User Experience (http://www.jjg.net/ia/elements.pdf), a one page PDF that attempts to impose order upon the chaotic array of terms and concepts currently being used to describe user experience development. The introductory materials are grouped in a learning order, so you can start with getting into the field and progress to the basics, then on to questions, definitions and courses.
Montague Institute Review
The Montague Institute Review is published by the Society of Knowledge Base Publishers and membership is required to access much of the full-text material. Free articles (http://www.montague.com/free.html ) include Dublin Core corporate circles of interest, Ten taxonomy myths, and an annotated sampler of A Z indexes on the Web. The site has an alphabetical keyword-based index, which is stored in a database and dynamically generated.
Search Tools Consulting
Search Tools Consulting (http://www.searchtools.com) is my first port of call for much of my research. It provides annotated links to other Web sites, with brief, but useful, commentary at the beginning. The Information Architecture section (http://www.searchtools.com/info/info-architecture.html ) defines terms such as directory, ontology and Information Architecture, which they say is the art and science of organizing information. Large Web sites and intranets need to practice this discipline, or their data will become unmanageable. Well-organized information with good metadata and labels makes a search engine significantly more useful. While search engines provide basic access to badly-organized data, they also expose the architectural problems to user view.
The Semantic Studios site provides articles by Peter Morville on a range of Web-related topics (http://semanticstudios.com/publications/semantics/ ). Articles include Trust by design and The definition of information architecture. The site also provides a list of related blogs.
SIGIA-L, see ASIS
James Robertsons Column Two: News and Opinion on All Things KM & CM(http://steptwo.com.au/columntwo/ ) provides links to current information relating to knowledge and content management issues. The archives are categorised so you can home in on information architecture, intranets, XML and other specific topics. One recent paper is Escaping the organisation chart on your intranet by Donna Maurer (http://www.steptwo.com.au/papers/kmc_orgchart/index.html ).
Jakob Nielsens Web site (http://www.useit.com ) is focused on useable information technology. He writes a regular newsletter called Alertbox, which has recently covered the topics The ten best intranets of 2003 and Usability misconceptions. You can subscribe to an alerting service for the newsletter. Of particular interest to me was a paper on Heuristic evaluation (http://www.useit.com/papers/heuristic/ ).
User Interface Engineering
User Interface Engineering provides a free weekly newsletter (http://www.uie.com/uietips.htm ), white papers, and articles (http://www.uie.com/moreart.htm ). The articles are organised by date, popularity (e.g. Why on-site searching stinks) and general subject categories including Search, Online branding and Emerging technologies. You can also purchase in-depth research reports on the site.
John Shiple has written an information architecture tutorial for beginners (http://hotwired.lycos.com/webmonkey/98/28/index0a.html).
All sites were current in November 2003.