Leisa Reichelt has a blog post on Why you shouldn’t start IA with a Content Inventory
I totally disagree with this. But I work on really big, content rich sites, and they are usually in a *very* poor state, so that may differ from her experience.
I could not start a project without an inventory. I cannot imagine how I would reorganise a site if I didn’t know what’s there to be organised. A content survey is useful to get a quick feel for what’s there, but I know I’d miss some of the most interesting, most buried information. Without an inventory, I don’t really have an idea of whether I’m working with 1000 or 8000 pages and what the intricacies are within the inherent structure. It is impossible to do proper content analysis without detail to analyse.
She says that “It is also the best way to ensure that you’re *not* taking a fresh approach to how the content might be structured and related. When you’re doing a content inventory, you’re unavoidably indoctrinating yourself into the way that things are currently done”
That’s ridiculous. If that is happening, the person who is doing the IA work is just not good at what they are doing. A good IA can take the current structure, analyse it, determine what’s important, and can absolutely divorce themselves from the current structure. Even a poor site has some good chunks and it is important to know why someone has done what they have done. For me this is particularly important as I’m usually working in quite technical domains and never completely understand the domain at the beginning. I’ll just look stupid if I try to break apart something that absolutely belongs together.
Leisa’s alternative approach leads to pure top-down IA. And my experience is that pure top-down IA is just as bad as pure bottom-up IA. A blended approach is essential – where you look at ways of approaching the content, balanced by a detailed understanding of what you have to fit in.
I think the only time they are not useful is if you intend on ditching everything you have and starting from scratch.
Note: I wrote this initially as a comment, but it was so big I decided to blog it and trackback to it