Week 5: Readings and Comments

by Zach Tomaszewski

for LIS 699-2, Fall 2001, supervised by Dr. Luz Quiroga

This week saw me through the end of IA for the WWW--a good read. It turns out that I broke up the chapters quite well. This week was mostly focused on taking all these IA principles and actually building a site with it.

Chapter seven was about research. This is the pre-planning phase of determining what the organization mission is, and so what the site mission should be. This is where to determine the intended audiences, the content, and start grouping things into recognizable chunks, possibly with index cards. It's amazing how much communicating all this involves. IA is definitely not done in a vacuum! This chapter brings up the need for face-to-face communication and building a rapport with the people in the organization. I do wonder though who usually really gets the final say in these things. That's great to conduct a web critique session and get input from all the different departments, but if the CEO vetoes the idea? Yes, I see that politics is definitely an issue in all this. Perhaps we should add political science, management, and business majors to our list of possible IA disciplines. :)

Chapter eight involved the conceptual design. The suggestion of using a white board as a constructive, free-flowing, collaborative interface seems like a good one. Eventually, after all this opinion collecting, it does seem that the IA needs to sit down and have one mind try to synthesize all of it into some sort of coherent whole. Also, he needs to meet with the programming team and the graphic designers to see how the architecture will relate to other aspects of the site. From the basic blueprint comes rough mockup pages to show how this translates to page design at key pages. Also, the use of story scenarios of specific users adds a nice personal touch and helps make things more concrete. This whole "selling" of the architecture back to the organization must be where those publicist and marketing IAs do well.

Chapter nine is when the production really gets started. By this point, the IA has worked from the top down based on input from various departments and from the mission statement, but he has also worked from the bottom up based on the content and chunking exercises. So, hopefully, it's all downhill from here. Though of course there are still daily small decisions to make. There needs to be a detailed blueprint including basically every page. The idea of a web page inventory is a good one, so progress on each page can be marked off. Also, to document the main decisions along the way in some sort of IA Style Guide for later maintainers is a good idea, to try to maintain the order we went through all this trouble to create. Also, once the site is up, there needs to be some feedback from users to see if it really works. There may well need to be some tweaking here.

Chapter ten was a nice close out by giving a case study. The way the subsites were incorporated into a cohesive umbrella site was quite interesting. I was particularly impressed by the use of the subsite records, both for the search index and as browsing placeholders. It was like a browser's logical document model! I wasn't real crazy about the final main page, but the principles and techniques were excellent.

(I did check out this site. It is no longer as designed by Argus. It is much more unified and codified; I couldn't find any evidence of subsites, though they are still using some sort of database system. The major disease areas -- cancer, heart disease, orthopaedics, and neuroscience -- are on the home page now. But maybe that just reflects user interest... It's hard to judge a site properly without a few good information needs.)

"In other news," I read the entirety of the little book The Classification of Animals by W.T. Calman. Some interesting points of note:

I find this reading fascinating because it deals with the difficulties of actual application of a system. It is impacted by the people and politics of those who work on it. It attempts to be well-defined and based on objective, abstracted characteristics, and yet uses "typical" and prototypical items to maintain the consistency during changes. And it shows that different areas of study or knowledge likely need a different structure.

Post-discussion Issues:

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