War Stories

Cindy Alvarez (calvarez@kokopelli.teamsphere.com) writes:

As one of the projects underway at info-arch.org, I'm trying to do some brainstorming about a "Pragmatic IA/Experience Discussion" area.

This is not the same thing as the deliverables archive; the idea comes more from the IA cocktail hours I've been to. Basically, the most valuable resource I've gotten from the IA community are the "war stories" - real, practical, get-the-job-done discussion.

The main question that arises is: Why should this area be different from a mailing list thread?

A few of my thoughts:
- Sub-topic threading would allow people to read by train-of-thought rather than just chronology
- How can we encourage perpetuity? (add to original questions rather than
re-visiting the same one over and over)
- Do we want author/experience categorization? (for example, as an in-house IA my views are often quite different from consultant IAs)
- Area would probably be most useful to people who are just beginning with IA, expanding their duties, or facing a particular political, resource, or relationship-building challenge
- Is there another audience we need to serve with this area?

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Tools

David Heller writes:

I have noticed that the bulk of Information Architects, Interaction Designers, and Experience Designers of all sorts feel that the existing tools fall short. There are people who have created fixes privately, but nothing that can really be used ubiquitously throughout the industry.

Certain tools not directly intended for use as information architecture and interaction design tools, have become standards for development such as Dreamweaver and Visio. These tools for example also have APIs which allow for custom components to be added to enhance existing useful tools.

My personal preference is to work to make Visio what we need it to be. Visio is the more extensible of the tools and unlike Dreamweaver is good for both charting & storyboarding. It utilizes the MS Visual Basic interfaces of office applications so we can program interconnected stenciled object, templates for backgrounds, output to XML structures, build flowchart shapes based on properties of represented objects, Connectors between various object types (sitemap vs. wireframe),
Component architecture structures, zooming from sitemap object to represented wireframe, etc.

What I propose is that a team use this site to post revised specifications for UI Designs, and allow the public to comment, and the team iterate off of comments. Then the site is used to present prototypes of sections, and finally to distribute a version to IAs at conferences and summits and from the site. This should be a controlled open source project so that people contributing code are screened, but people contributing ideas are completely open.

Again, this same idea could be used also for Dreamweaver or other extensible core applications.

Besides the goal of getting real tools for our needs, it will also be a means for the site and group to gain exposure and be taken seriously by the Microsofts, Adobes, and Macromedias of the world.

Let's make it happen.

-- David Heller
david.heller@documentum.com
UI Designer

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FAQ

Like any community, we encounter the same questions over and over again. Is it time to start an FAQ?

Well, just that has happened on the IAwiki, courtesy of John Paul Fullerton. Is this the place to do it? I'm wondering if we can tie the FAQ to the SIGIA-L discussion a little more closely. What else would an IA FAQ be? And how would you like to be involved?

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Deliverables Exchange

Another great idea from Jess McMullin. Jess says:

"I'd like to see a place where everyone can work to create IA deliverables
and then upload them and critique each other's work. Something I'd personally like to do is reverse-engineer some existing site(s) or webapps using Jesse's visual vocabulary. It would be interesting to have everyone do the same site or app and then discuss why one chose things one way or another..."

This seems like it wouldn't be that hard to develop, and rumor has it that Jess is working on a blog to do just that. Rumor also has it that Michael Angeles of IA Slash fame might also be involved. ;-)

Of course, if it's going to happen, we need your help. And it looks like there are already some really smart people involved, so you won't be alone.

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Site Network

Jess McMullin has a very interesting idea: develop a network of IA-related sites, not unlike what the OSDN (Open Source Development Network) has done.

Here are Jess' words:

"Something I've been kicking around offlist is creating an IA site network.
This is a much less ambitious task than a new professional organization,
that's why I've been thinking about it as much as I have. It's a feasible
project with distinct benefits that naturally complements much of what we've
been discussing.

OK, so why pursue an IA site network? [more on site networks in general
below]

1. Good ROI
2. It leverages existing efforts
3. It can start small, launch quickly, and grow incrementally
4. Developing the network helps define the scope of our efforts (bottom up
approach).

Lou asked me if we wouldn't need some kind of resolution on scope for the
network. Eventually, but in the beginning we'd be dealing with known
quantities - info-arch.org, yes or no. iaslash, yes or no. boxes and arrows,
yes or no. iawiki, yes or no.

Of course those sites would have to *want* to be involved. But assuming they
did, for me it would be easy to say "yes" for those four. And the scope of
the sites involved can provide feedback for the larger questions of
organizational scope."

Any reactions? Would this help you? Want to get involved?

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Mailing List Archive: Leveraging What's Been Said

The SIGIA-L mailing list, sponsored by ASIS&T, is a valuable resource to the community. However ASIS&T doesn't have the ability to effectively support the list's ongoing maintenance of SIGIA-L. A new archive could be created that could initially address basic problems we're currently encountering.

A more ambitious approach could then be taken to create new value in two ways:

  1. go beyond the basic functionality provided by such common archive tools as Hypermail and MHoNarc by providing improved access to both individual entries and whole threads, thus allowing users to compare current and past threads; and
  2. archive a broader collection of related mailing lists in the same way, thereby enabling the combined browsing and searching of entries and threads from such lists as:
    • CHI-Web
    • UTest
    • AIGA-Advance
    • InfoDesign
    • InfoDesign-Cafe
    • DigLib
    • others?

Creating archives for these lists could draw much interest from those not currently focused on IA but who work in related fields. Of course, a potentially thorny intellectual property issue could arise here: would we have the right to host this content?

A possible related project would be the creation of an FAQ directed toward new members of the SIGIA-L mailing list.


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Directory of Professionals: Connecting Us to Each Other

Community functions could be enhanced by a well-designed and well-populated directory of IA professionals, supporting access by geography, skill set, and other attributes. A good information architecture, combined with ideas from such related fields as social network design and economics (a la Slashdot), might result in a high-value resource that showcases our field's skills.

This directory probably should be integrated with a resume postings area, and could be expanded to cover professional associations, local chapters, and companies and other organizations involved in IA.

Questions:

Where to start? There doesn't seem to be an ASP out there to support this. Seems like we might need some volunteers who know a thing or two about data modeling and programming to take the lead; any volunteers?

Should content addition and maintenance be self-serve? Or perhaps to have your entry added, you should be required to classify and/or QC one other person's entry already in a queue?

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Employment Area: Resumes and Job Postings

Job postings and resumes could be posted for information architecture and (possibly) related positions. This could be a huge improvement over such services as Monster.com, which have different definitions of information architecture, and which don't distinguish types of information architecture.

The resumes could potentially be tied to the Directory of Professionals. Some database technology, not to mention classification scheme design and content maintenance procedures, would be need to be implemented to support such a system. Also, some decisions would need to be made regarding whether or not to charge (and whom) for such a service.

Additional content could include:

  • sample job postings
  • advice on how to get a job in IA
  • advice on how to hire an information architect

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Promoting the Field: Creating and Getting the Word Out

Information architects need, as a group, to make a better case that their services are valuable and necessary to the operations of just about every complex organization in existence. To do so, two things must happen:

  1. the basic case needs to be created through such means as ROI analysis, business case creation, and case study documentation; then
  2. the case needs to be made to members of the media

Each of these areas could ultimately be developed as specialized content areas in and of themselves.

Perhaps an argument for a more formalized IA association is that such an entity might be necessary to list as the contact for any press releases we might send out...

Anyone out there with PR experience willing to contribute?

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The Library: Building a Resource Collection for the

A few efforts, such as the ACIA's IA Guide and Jesse James Garrett's IA resources, have attempted to collect resources of relevance to IA theory and practice.

These efforts are often doomed due to issues of scalability. Could the IA community be enlisted to identify, evaluate, and classify IA resources? The solution might lie in using an active "economic" model, like Slashdot's, or a passive one, similar to Amazon.com's reader-reviewers, to channel volunteer effort into maintaining such an ambitious collection.

This might also be an opportunity to create a model content development policy for use by a distributed community. Which would be cool.

So, the $64,000 question: is there a scalable model for a distributed library of IA resources?

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The News: Pushing "What's New" Out to the Field

Working hand-in-hand with The Library, this tool could aggregate news and events information from IA-related blogs that use RSS to support content syndication. The goal would not be to replace those blogs, but to aggregate them to allow users to access those blogs' content in one place.

Isn't someone doing this already?

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Other Stuff?

What other services could help us as a field?

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