Jeffrey Zeldman’s guest is Abby Covert, Information Architect; curator of IA Summit; co-founder of World IA Day; president of IA Institute; teacher in the Products of Design MFA program at New York’s School of Visual Arts; and author of How To Make Sense
Tagged with “information architecture” (6)
As usual, microbes led the way. Bacteria have swarmed in intense networks for 3.5 billion years. Then a hierarchical form emerged with the first nucleated cells that were made up of an enclosed society of formerly independent organisms.
That’s the pattern for the evolution of information, Alex Wright said. Networks coalesce into hierarchies, which then form a new level of networks, which coalesce again, and so on. Thus an unending series of information explosions is finessed.
In humans, classification schemes emerged everywhere, defining how things are connected in larger contexts. Researchers into “folk taxonomies” have found that all cultures universally describe things they care about in hierarchical layers, and those hierarchies are usually five layers deep.
Family tree hierarchies were accorded to the gods, who were human-like personalities but also represented various natural forces.
Starting 30,000 years ago the “ice age information explosion” brought the transition to collaborative big game hunting, cave paintings, and elaborate decorative jewelry that carried status information. It was the beginning of information’s “release from social proximity.”
5,000 years ago in Sumer, accountants began the process toward writing, beginning with numbers, then labels and lists, which enabled bureaucracy. Scribes were just below kings in prestige. Finally came written narratives such as Gilgamesh.
The move from oral culture to literate culture is profound. Oral is additive, aggregative, participatory, and situational, where literate is subordinate, analytic, objective, and abstract. (One phenomenon of current Net culture is re-emergence of oral forms in email, twittering, YouTube, etc.)
Wright honored the sequence of information-ordering visionaries who brought us to our present state. In 1883 Charles Cutter devised a classification scheme that led in part to the Library of Congress system and devised an apparatus of keyboard and wires that would fetch the desired book. H.G. Wells proposed a “world brain” of data and imagined that it would one day wake up. Teilhard de Chardin anticipated an “etherization of human consciousness” into a global noosphere.
The greatest unknown revolutionary was the Belgian Paul Otlet. In 1895 he set about freeing the information in books from their bindings. He built a universal decimal classification and then figured out how that organized data could be explored, via “links” and a “web.” In 1910 Otlet created a “radiated library” called the Mundameum in Brussels that managed search queries in a massive way until the Nazis destroyed the service. Alex Wright showed an astonishing video of how Otlet’s distributed telephone-plus-screen system worked.
Wright concluded with the contributions of Vannevar Bush (”associative trails” in his Memex system), Eugene Garfield’s Science Citation Index, the predecessor of page ranking. Doug Engelbart’s working hypertext system in the “mother of all demos.” And Ted Nelson who helped inspire Engelbart and Berners-Lee and who Wright considers “directly responsible for the generation of the World Wide Web.”
The IA Summit closing plenary tradition started in 2005 as a way to bring the Summit to an end withan inquisitive session looking to the future of our practice and practitioners. The selection criteria for the closing plenary speaker is simple but important: an interesting voice from within our community with something meaningful to say about the direction of the practice.
With the majority of the earth’s population now living in cities, Richard Saul Wurman realized there was a yawning information gap about the urban super centers that are increasingly driving modern culture.
In this keynote presentation from the 2010 IA Summit, Mr. Wurman discusses his 19.20.21 initiative: an attempt to standardize a methodology to understand comparative data on 19 cities that will have 20 million or more inhabitants in the 21st century. He encourages the design community to take initiative and solve big problems rather than make small changes incrementally.
Jesse James Garrett is a noted figure in the IA community, not only for his ground breaking book Elements of User Experience, but for the essay that galvanized the community in 2002, IA Recon .
In this IA Summit Closing Plenary, given without slides while wandering amidst the audience, Jesse examines what he has learned at the conference, he thoughts on the nature of the discipline and the practitioner, and gives bold, perhaps even shocking advice for the future direction of information architecture.
Without planning, web apps have no where to go. Planning documents for web app projects are often overlooked, despite their importance in the success of the product. As a designer, no matter how great your research is, or how amazing your programmers are, if your planning documents do not develop well, your project will fail.
One of the great user experience success stories in the U.K. is the Brighton-based agency Clearleft. They’ve developed successful, sophisticated methods of planning for their projects. James Box (UX) and Richard Rutter (Co-founder and Production Director) have been working on ways to plan highly interactive web apps that make the process more efficient.