Culture

Information Architecture Summit

I will remember IA Summit 2014 as my favorite conference ever. The content and conversations were brilliant. The activities (first-timer dinner, polar bear run, book signing, yoga) were a ton of fun. The setting in sunny San Diego was lovely. And I had the honor of delivering the closing plenary.

Grand Canyon

If you missed it, you can check out the slides, tweets, and photos. But the only way to understand what makes this community special is to be part of it. So, reach out to Abby to help build the IA Institute. And, reach out to next year's conference chairs (Veronica, Jessica, Mike) and volunteer to help make next year in Minneapolis awesome (April 22-26). Thanks for the wonderful memories. Now let's get back to work. I'll see you at the summit.

Strange Connections

Water Hill Music Fest is an awesome community-driven event in Ann Arbor.

I met Devaki at the IA Summit. She's an expert at connecting the dots.

Thanks to Lara Federoff for volunteering to organize the next World IA Day.

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Intertwingled: The Book

Whether it's a marathon, a mountain, or a massive IA challenge, I'm always at my best while on a quest. So, I've decided to write a book. Again.

This book -- Intertwingled -- is about designing information systems, and understanding the nature of information in systems. It's about strange loops and invisible links at the crossroads of information architecture and systems thinking. It's about the complex relationship between strategy and structure.

In my work, conversations about a new feature or better interface offer rich lessons in connectedness. How will it work on mobile? Will this fly in our CMS? What about SEO? Who is responsible? How do we measure success?

When Ted Nelson wrote in 1974 that "everything is deeply intertwingled" he was inspired by hypertext and the non-sequential structure of ideas. I hope to build from there by following the links all the way from code to culture.

Everything is Deeply Intertwingled

Writing about the intertwingling of pace layers will not be easy, and to make things even harder, I've decided to self-publish this book. I have nothing but good things to say about O'Reilly Media. I simply want to try something new.

The book will be published in print and digital formats in 2014. I make this public commitment trusting that you will hold my feet to the fire. Writing is a lonely quest, but I know I won't be alone. On the journey, I will seek out my collaborators. Eventually, hopefully, happily, I will find my readers.

Until then, I must rely upon my passion and perseverance, and upon your engagement and encouragement. So, if you have a question or a suggestion or a kind word, now would be a great time to let me know. Thanks!

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The Gift of Writing Back

In myriad ways, writing is a gift. It's a gift to have the education and talent necessary to write well. It's a gift that's invaluable in social, scholarly, and professional pursuits. And, writing creates a gift you can give. When you write an article, a book, or simply a tweet, you send a bit of yourself out into the world, where it might inform or inspire someone you've never met.

Mostly, you never know who is touched by your words. But once in a while, someone writes back. For example, I wrote Architects of Learning and soon after received this response:

Dear Peter,

I received your article the very hour I was pondering if/how to incorporate "after-school programming" into my daughter's Montessori school using the curriculum provided by codecademy.com. The point that propelled me is "We can't wait to be invited. We must crash the party." I'm meeting with my daughter's school today and expect the program will be approved. If it isn't, I'll keep trying. Thank you for the thought-provoking and inspirational article.

Sincerely, Jennifer Michaels

Later that same day, I received this follow-up:

Good news! I got approval to offer the program at the Montessori school. I'll probably start with programs like Scratch and Alice for the younger kids (I didn't even know about them until the kind people at Codecademy suggested them as options).

I also spend time with kids in foster care group homes and plan to introduce programming at a basic, fun level. Maybe one or more kids will feel inspired and confident enough to pursue technology as an area of study or profession. Foster kids need all the inspiration and chances they can get.

Sincerely, Jennifer Michaels

These messages made my day. So, thank you Jennifer, for teaching, and for telling me that my words made a difference. And, thanks to everyone who pays it forward by giving the gift of writing back. As I writer, I can tell you with absolute conviction that your words make a difference too!

Strange Connections

A glimpse of what it's like to be a teacher. Claudia, our 11 year old daughter, can quote this word for word, and she gets the voices just right.

Thanks to everyone who's working to make the second annual World IA Day a big success. I look forward to seeing some of you in Ann Arbor.

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Information Architecture Stories

A wonderful thing began to happen about a year after publication of the polar bear book. A complete stranger would approach me at a conference, introduce themselves, and then tell a story about how our book changed their life by inspiring them to become an information architect.

Some of the stories were intensely personal. In one, a man told me about reading the polar bear book while watching over his mom on her deathbed. Some folks were thankful we'd given a name to what they'd been doing all along, while others were ecstatic that we'd opened their eyes to a whole new way of seeing. I feel incredibly fortunate to have heard these stories.

I don't hear them so much anymore, which is why I'm hoping folks will step up and share their IA Stories. We're leaving behind (and forgetting) an era. It's not just about the polar bear book or information architecture more broadly. It's about the exhilaration of being present for and participating in the birth of something new in the world. That doesn't happen every lifetime.

AltaVista

To get things going, I'll share a few of my own, beginning with a short story about a big query that changed my life. I hope you'll join me. It's an opportunity to capture memories that are fading fast while simultaneously celebrating the first-ever World IA Day. So, what's your IA Story?

Strange Connections

Design for Cross-Channel Experiences may sell out soon. Sign up now!

Don't miss The System of Information Architecture in The Journal of IA.

Please join us on February 11 to celebrate World IA Day in Ann Arbor!

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5 Minute Madness

I had an inkling that Eleven might be the last IA Summit. In part, that's why I organized Explain IA. It's why I supported the effort and expense of bringing the original information architect to Phoenix, knowing full well that he would make us angry even as he made us think. And, it's why I refused to let being an introvert get in the way of my full participation.

Despite a wonderful opening keynote, the first day was a rough start. During sessions, we could hear the speaker in the next room, and there was no visible AV support. It was hard not to compare this unpolished staging with the fit and finish of competing events. Then, the conversation got messy. We debated and vented about format and grammar, and some of us began to believe that the only correct punctuation was a full stop.

But in the forking paths between middle and end, something changed. And, it wasn't only about the content, although there were some brilliant talks. It was about gifts, trust, hope, humor, family, courage, conversation, and community. At some point, I remembered a passage in The Last Lecture:

Once, about a dozen years ago, when Chris was seven years old and Laura was nine, I picked them up in my brand-new Volkswagen Cabrio convertible. “Be careful in Uncle Randy's new car,” my sister told them. “Wipe your feet before you get in it. Don't mess anything up. Don't get it dirty.”

I listened to her, and thought, as only a bachelor uncle can: “That's just the sort of admonition that sets kids up for failure. Of course they'd eventually get my car dirty. Kids can't help it.” So I made things easy. While my sister was outlining the rules, I slowly and deliberately opened a can of soda, turned it over, and poured it on the cloth seats in the back of the convertible. My message: People are more important than things. A car, even a pristine gem like my new convertible, was just a thing.

As I poured out that Coke, I watched Chris and Laura, mouths open, eyes widening. Here was crazy Uncle Randy completely rejecting adult rules. I ended up being so glad I'd spilled that soda. Because later in the weekend, little Chris got the flu and threw up all over the backseat. He didn't feel guilty. He was relieved; he had already watched me christen the car. He knew it would be OK.

If you haven't been to the summit, this madness may not make sense. For those who have, it's worth thinking about what Jared said, that as a community like this matures, it's natural (but not inevitable) that the pioneers leave, and the new folks carry on without them.

As a veteran myself, I have to say that I draw tremendous inspiration from the first and second timers, young and old. And each year, while I learn a lot about IA and UX, the most important thing I learn is why I am here. This year, for me, the summit began on the back of a napkin and ended with the burning of a crumpled note.

But not really. Because the message isn't bound by the medium, and neither are we. So, I'll see you in Denver, and let's plan the next summit as if it's our last, because it might be. And, let's remember that while it's good to fix what's broken, we should avoid applying too much polish, because there's nothing more engaging than a story that remains...

unfinished

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iPad First Impressions

We had fun with the iPad this weekend, especially since our family was featured in the Detroit Free Press. Of course, I had to run out and buy several print copies, because those are the only ones that really count.

Claudia with the iPad

The iPad is a beautiful device that's perfect for sharing content and media with family members. It's much better than a laptop for show and tell.

But is it worth the investment? Well, I'm honestly not sure that first impressions count for much. What matters is how this tablet fits into our daily lives (or not) a month or two after arrival. We'll have to wait to see.

In the meantime, you can check out reviews from Consumer Reports and please feel free to fire a few questions my way. Also, if you're going to the IA Summit this week, just ask and I'll let you take it for a test drive.

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Journal of Information Architecture

I'm very excited to see that Issue 1, Volume 1 of the international scholarly peer-reviewed Journal of Information Architecture has been published.

Journal of Information Architecture

Table of Contents

Please spread the word about this inaugural issue and the call for papers.

Strange Connections

Will you help Vegard Sandvold design a Topology of Search Concepts?

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Information Architecture Practice & Research

The 10th Annual IA Summit presents a good opportunity to revisit the relationship between practice and research, especially given the launch of the Journal of IA, and so I'm hoping to organize a flex track session (most likely on Saturday morning) to discuss challenges and to brainstorm ideas and initiatives.

Topics may include:

  • What is the real/ideal relationship between research and practice?
  • Where can practitioners and researchers collaborate?
  • When do students fit in the picture?
  • Why should we care about this topic?
  • How can ASIS&T, EuroIA, and the IA Institute contribute?
  • Who is missing from this conversation?

If you're interested in participating, let me know, and I'll ping you once we have a time and venue. And, if you have suggestions, please sound off here or there.

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Quest

In reading Stephen Denning's latest book, I was most engaged by the preface in which he tells his own personal story about undertaking an ambitious quest to transform knowledge management at the World Bank.

Sailing

In 1996, as part of a politicized reorganization, Stephen was stripped of his responsibilities and told to "look into information" which at the World Bank had "all the prestige of the garage or the cafeteria - a wasteland from which no traveler had ever returned."

After some investigation and reflection, he was struck by the immense potential to share the knowledge of the bank's world-class experts beyond the boundaries of the organization. This vision of "the knowledge bank" was received with strong enthusiasm and even stronger resistance. Several managing directors saw the idea as a serious threat to their power and authority.

Ultimately, Stephen gained the support of the bank's president, and was able to pursue his vision. What struck me most was his conception of this modern corporate experience as an against-the-odds quest:

I opted to set aside any idea of career advancement and commit myself wholeheartedly to making change happen, accepting whatever indignities I might have to suffer. I would do whatever it took, even if the effort were to take a decade.

This reminds me of Lawrence Lessig's mission to Change Congress (his recent keynote is well worth watching). Whether or not you agree with his politics, it's hard to deny he's on an ambitious, inspiring, terrifying quest.

As Denning notes, questioning oneself is a natural prerequisite to the quest:

Most of the great heroes of history have hesitated when faced with the issue of whether to proceed with leadership or not. Homer's Odysseus hesitated for seven years before leaving the island of Ogygia, where he was living with the nymph Calypso. Hamlet spent forever agonizing over whether to act or not.

So, if you're agonizing, perhaps you can draw inspiration from Denning and Lessig. But, if you're in the Northern Hemisphere, I recommend waiting, and enjoying the final few weeks of summer. Then, you can begin your quest.

Strange Connections

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea. - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I stumbled upon this great quote in Designing for the Social Web.

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The Informavore's Dilemma

The Omnivore's Dilemma is among the most provocative books I've read. It's fascinating to follow Michael Pollan on his quest to discover the origins of our food, and disturbing to witness the chemistry and cruelty of industrial farming.

An extended visit to Polyface Farm serves as the high point, providing an inspiring glimpse into the genius of Joel Salatin's information intensive approach to perennial polyculture. Here's an excerpt:

When a livestock farmer is willing to "practice complexity" - to choreograph the symbiosis of several different animals, each of which has been allowed to behave and eat as it evolved to - he will find he has little need for machinery, fertilizer, and, most strikingly, chemicals. He finds he has no sanitation problem or any of the diseases that result from raising a single animal in a crowded monoculture and then feeding it things it wasn't designed to eat. This is perhaps the greatest efficiency of a farm treated as a biological system: health.

To learn more, you can read No Bar Code or buy the book. And, you can find nearby farms using LocalHarvest or a Slow Food source in your community. That is, if you really want to know, because this topic often invokes the Informavore's Dilemma, also known as Mooers' Law:

An information retrieval system will tend not to be used whenever it is more painful and troublesome for a customer to have information than for him not to have it.

Michael Pollan offers us a simple choice between ignorance and information, and to select the latter leads us to a difficult choice between action, guilt, and denial. No wonder people don't read books anymore!

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Amazing Grace and Sicko

Last night I watched Sicko, Michael Moore's funny, disturbing, sad, important movie about the corrupt US healthcare system.

The facts which even CNN agrees are mostly accurate include:

  • There are nearly 50 million Americans without health insurance.
  • 18,000 Americans will die this year simply because they're uninsured.
  • The US spends a higher portion of its gross domestic product on healthcare than any other country (nearly $7,000 per person).
  • The US is ranked #37 as a health system by the WHO.
  • The British, Canadians, and French all live longer than we do.
  • There are four times as many health care lobbyists as there are members of Congress.

It's that final fact that makes hope hard. How do the people and their leaders find and trust the right information in such an environment? I'm not sure, but I'm glad Larry Lessig will be actively seeking a solution despite knowing the odds:

I do this with no illusions. I am 99.9% confident that the problem I turn to will continue to exist when this 10 year term is over. But the certainty of failure is sometimes a reason to try. That's true in this case.

I find that inspiring. I'm reminded of remembering Amazing Grace and Chuck after the fall of the wall. As grace reminds us, sometimes the lost are found.

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Remix the Polar Bear

During my visit to Barcelona, I invited my workshop participants to define a strategy or approach to information architecture that is uniquely Spanish.

Picasso

Jordi Sánchez rose to the challenge with a couple of covers, one of which I've selected for the remixpolarbear collection on Flickr (for now, try here).

This all started with the infamous cow talk in which Peter Bogaards, the man behind InfoDesign, described a European information architecture strategy.

Jorge Arango picked up the torch during our retreat in Chile with his ant cover, a symbol for social information architecture and the value(s) of deep context.

Which brings us back to Barcelona with questions. What is the meaning of the Picasso polar bear? What is the Spanish strategy? Is it the art of branding? And, which country will be next?

Feel free to upload your version to Flickr, tag it with remixpolarbear (for now, see here) and explain your country's unique contribution to information architecture strategy and practice. Just don't tell the folks at O'Reilly. Thanks!

Strange Connections

My amazing translator, Noriyo Asano, informed me today that the Japanese edition of Ambient Findability is headed into its fifth printing in just over a year.

Library Camp NYC looks like a great unconference.

According to Brad, John Wilson is running a guerilla campaign to find himself. Seth thinks it's silly. Easy for him to say.

Remix the O'Reilly animals with QOOP. We love our polar bear mugs!

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Asian Lemurs

Yesterday, I received a copy of the Chinese edition of Ambient Findability, along with a beautiful Happy New Year card from my editor at O'Reilly Taiwan.

Asian Lemurs

The lemur book is now available in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese.

Since "Ambient Findability" doesn't translate well, its Korean title is Search 2.0. If only I'd used that title in the first place, we'd have sold twice as many lemurs.

Strange Connections

The search engines are killing SEO, but that's okay according to the author, since the SEO firms can simply reposition themselves as IA firms.

Lou and I were interviewed by Computerworld, plus there's a polar bear excerpt about organizing web sites and intranets.

Excellent article from LibraryThing about when tags work and when they don't.

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The Hyperlinked Society

I'm looking forward to participating in The Hyperlinked Society. I'm inspired (and awed) by my fellow panelists, and the program looks delicious:

Most internet users know hyperlinks as highlighted words on a web page that take them to certain other sites. But hyperlinks today are quite complex forms of instant connection: for example, tags, API mashups, and RSS feeds. Moreover, media convergence has led to increased instant linking among desktop computers, cell phones, PDAs, MP3 players, digital video recorders, and even billboards.

Through these activities and far more, links are becoming the basic forces that relate creative works to one another. Links nominate what ideas and actors have the right to be heard and with what priority. Various stakeholders in society recognize the political and economic value of these connections. Governments, corporations, non-profits and individual media users often work to digitally privilege certain ideas over others.

Do links encourage people to see beyond their personal situations and know the broad world in diverse ways? Or, instead, do links encourage people to drill into their own territories and not learn about social concerns that seem irrelevant to their personal interests? What roles do economic and political considerations play in creating links that nudge people in one or the other direction?

We need cross-disciplinary thinking to address these contentious questions, and so our panels include renowned news, entertainment and marketing executives, information architects, bloggers, cartographers, audience analysts, and communication researchers. Audience participation will be enthusiastically encouraged.

Unfortunately, I have no clue what I'm going to say. That's where you come in. How would you address these topics? What questions aren't being asked? Who isn't being included? And what should I read to get ready? Thanks!

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BlogPulse

Bruce Sterling has begun a Web Semantics Watch.

BlogPulse

And thanks to BlogPulse, all of us can play along.

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Japanese Lemurs

Noriyo Asano has a difficult job. She's translating Ambient Findability into Japanese, a task made particularly tricky by the way I play with the English language. Here are some of the phrases Noriyo has questioned:

Technology has entered the shadow lands of Lost and Found, and we ain't seen nothin' yet.
One man's paradise is another man's oblivion.
I'll bet it's easy and fun, in a disturbing sort of way, like shooting fish in a barrel.
Documents enable us to stand on the shoulders of giants. Information is heady stuff indeed.

Translation is inevitably a lossy process, but hopefully by collaborating we can do better than Google's automagic translation of Noriyo's blog. You've gotta love the Rosenfeld Media post!

Anyway, I'll soon find out what got lost in translation, because thanks to Toshikazu Shinohara of Sociomedia, I'm headed to Tokyo in April for the 2006 Design IT conference and the Spring of the Japanese lemur.

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European Information Architecture

It sounds like the first European IA Summit was a big success. Though I'm still waiting to hear back on the symbolic meaning of the cow, I enjoyed reading Peter Bogaards' articulation of an IA Strategy for Europe. Here's an excerpt:

A second important strength of European IAs relates to the vivid and mixed multilingual and multicultural landscape they live in. European IAs understand more than others that language and culture significantly determine the perception of the world and how perceptions are based upon vast belief and value systems. For example, IAs from Europe know that whatever classification system is used - from simple to complex, from controlled vocabularies through taxonomies/thesauri to ontologies - underneath there are many biases. What George Lakoff has proven in his classic 'Women, Fire and Dangerous Things', many European IAs understand by nature.
Especially for globally branded companies, their deep understanding of the meaning and value of language and culture can contribute to a successful internationalization and globalization of an online presence. And not in the last place, a sensitivity to the multilingual and multicultural aspects makes European IAs important players and leaders of multidisciplinary teams.

Whenever clients ask me for advice about internationalization and globalization, this is basically what I tell them. Hire a European!

Strange Connections

For those of us who value the ability to choose our news, it's worth checking out The Tower from Consumers Union (Disclosure: CU is a former client).

The Interaction Design Association recently incorporated as a member-supported, non-profit organization. Congrats!

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You Are Here

Welcome to findability.org: the next generation. In case you haven't noticed, it's a borg. I mean, it's a blog. Yes, after years of quiet resistance, I've succumbed to the call of the blogosphere. I've been assimilated.

In blogging, my most transparent and prosaic goal is to promote my new book, Ambient Findability. I've poured blood, sweat, and tears into this strange text, so I won't be shy about inviting folks to read it.

That said, I'm hoping this blog will go beyond the book. As my classification scheme hints, I'll be writing about authority, business, culture, design, search, ubicomp, etc. And let's not forget the oft-maligned category of miscellaneous. I very much reserve the right to write about seemingly random topics.

So, if you want the original findability, it's there but not here. And if you like this new place, please come again, or better yet, leave a piece of yourself behind.

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