Drinking from the fire hose
I love the web, and I wonder how I was ever able to function without having such easy access to information as we do now. Although I love the web, I often feel completely overwhelmed by the amount of information available while at the same time being unable to find what I’m looking for. This feeling is summarised perfectly in this quote attributed to Mitchell Kapor that has also inspired the name of this blog:
Getting information off the Internet is like taking a drink from a fire hydrant.
You may not have ever tried to drink from a fire hydrant or a fire hose, but I’m sure you can imagine what doing this would be like. You would end up soaked by the pressure of the water – and possibly also a bit battered and bruised – and at the same time you wouldn’t have been able to swallow much water. Improving the information architecture of a site is one way in which we can improve the experience of getting information off the web. Good information architecture can help users feel less like they are drowning in information and more like they are taking a pleasant dip in a lake of information.
But what is information architecture? The Information Architecture Institute defines information architecture as:
- The structural design of shared information environments.
- The art and science of organizing and labeling web sites, intranets, online communities and software to support usability and findability.
- An emerging community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.
Probably most important to emphasise is that information architecture has the users of information in mind and aims to match users with the information that they need. By organising the way in which information is displayed and how it can be navigated by users, good information architecture can help people find what they are looking for more easily. To create a good information architecture you need to think about the people who will be using a site, the content of a site and the context in which the site exists. With these three things in mind I thought about how best to structure this blog.
Information architecture of this blog
This blog and its information architecture will be a constant work-in-progress. At the moment I’ve made some decisions about the information architecture based on my understanding of the audience of this blog, its content (both current and future content) and its context. The intended audience for this blog is my fellow classmates studying the ‘Digital Information Technologies and Architectures’ (DITA) module at City University, London. The content will include articles relating to my thoughts, ideas and questions relating to information science as I learn about this field. The context is that this blog forms part of the DITA module and is intended to supplement our learning in class.
I’ve chosen a template design from the free templates available on WordPress that I felt was very simple and had no hidden navigation. This choice was based mostly on personal preference. Browsing the many blogs I currently read, I noticed that the ones that I find most appealing are those with a very simple design focuses the readers on the content of the articles. The template chosen also allows readers to view articles without needing to scroll down past a large header and also is optimised to read on tablets and mobile devices, which many of my fellow classmates use to access the internet. In terms of the structure of the blog, I have used quite a simple structure, including four pages:
- Articles – this is – obviously – the page where articles will be published. I changed the name of this page from the default ‘Home’ to ‘Articles’ as I felt this better described the content included in this page.
- About Ali – I’ve included some information about me on this page. I thought that my classmates would be interested to learn a little more about me, just as I am interested in getting to know them better.
- About this blog – this page includes a brief overview about the content of the blog and its aims.
- Other DITA blogs – this page links to the blogs of my classmates in the DITA module which will help me and my classmates read other related blogs and learn from each other.
Currently I have used only a few widgets on this blog, including:
- ‘Recent Articles’ – this displays links to the five most recent articles published on this blog.
- ‘Subscribe’ – listing links to RSS – Posts and RSS – Comments feeds. I’ve included this as I assumed that at least some of my classmates – like me – use an RSS reader to manage and read blogs that they follow.
- a Twitter feed – displaying recent tweets. I included this as the vast majority of my classmates use Twitter regularly.
Once I have published more articles I also plan to add more widgets to this blog, including a list of categories and a tag cloud. I feel that at the moment there are too few posts for this to be useful to readers, but this will become a helpful way to navigate through this blog once there is more content. After posting articles for more than a month, I will also likely include an archive which will allow readers to view blogs by their date of publication. Again, at the moment, this way of navigating through the content is not very useful.
I’ve read quite a bit about information architecture over the past week, and found the following websites, articles and books very useful in getting a basic understanding of information architecture: