I’m a true extravert – often I don’t know what I’m thinking until it comes out of my mouth or I see it on the screen in front of me.
So today when I was trying to write a blurb for a conference I’m speaking at, I had a really brilliant insight (Oh, did I tell you that I’m a modest extravert)
We talk lots about creating information architectures, making hierarchies & taxonomies and figuring out how to group content in ways that are easy for people to find information. I hear many of the same things over and over again when talking with people, reading SIGIA-L etc.
One thing I never hear is how the information architecture of a site links up with the authoring of content. I suspect sometimes we create great sites without ever really thinking about how the content is going to get into the site.
But these two things (authoring and structure) can’t really be separated. Say you create a great architecture, where you have a fantastic overall hierarchy and brilliant cross linking, where you have tested the whole thing and users can find stuff easily. What if the concepts behind this are too complex for authors to understand, or what if the metadata load is too much, particularly if your authors are non-technical and your indexing resources are limited. All of that great work in creating a brilliant architecture may be completely wasted.
Here’s an example. On the site I’m working on, I have a newsletter about looking after your safety when flying. In card sorting & testing, users thought this information could be in three places – with the travel stuff, with the newsletters and with the health information. All quite sensible places. And much of the content is like this – it could be located in a number of very sensible places. So, the obvious answer is to allow it to be displayed in all of these places. No problem.
But (and there has to be a but) – for ease of authoring the system needed to allow authors to create a page and have it appear in the appropriate place automatically, rather than having them edit three different pages to create links. At first I figured that authors could identify in metadata where the content should appear. Then I thought again – with a bunch of distributed, non-technical authors, it would be hard enough getting the content placed in one sensible place, and certainly not three. So, I eventually made a decision to store the content in one primary place, and have an administrator create some sensible cross linking. This of course compromised some of the clever things that I had designed in the information architecture. But there is no point having the clever things if the content is never going to be authored well.
To make these type of sensible decisions, I needed to know my users well, know their skills, and be thinking deeply about the link between authoring and presentation. And I wonder how many of us are doing that.