Monday, November 28, 2011
I've written two different course modules on Information Architecture. The first time was for Microsoft's 10232 (Designing and Developing Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 Applications) course and the second for the ECM Implementers Course. Each had a specific slant to IA to match the audience of the course. Honestly I wasn't really all that happy with them because I felt like they were adaquate for their courses, they weren't big enough to cover the entire IA problem. They were more of a survey of a few of the best practices you should consider.
Thus far I've done three web casts on Information Architecture which felt better. They weren't long enough but the slant to match the rest of the content was removed and I had a chance to "stretch out" and talk about some of the framing issues. The most recent web cast was for Lightning Tools which is available from their webcast page. If you find that the session wasn't enough to quench your thurst for knowledge about Information Architecture, I also did two web casts for Idera earlier in the year, Fundamentals of Information Architecture and SharePoint Information Architecture which are available for download as well.
[Update 2012-06-13: My Metaglogix Information Architecture Considerations for Upgrade web cast has posted.]
If you've gone to a conference with SharePoint coverage in the past year or two you may also be able to find a different Information Architecture presentation available for download from the conference web site. I've been talking about Information Architecture in the conference circuit for a few years now. (At least this time around.)
I've also read and reviewed several books:
For the record, I'm not done yet. I've got a reasonably long reading queue still and I've still got a ton of work to do before I'm done with what will become one of the next "The SharePoint Shepherd Presents" DVDs. I could, however, use your help. I'm looking for anything that you've found valuable in helping you how to create an effective information architecture and comments about the materials you've looked at which just weren't helpful to you – and why.
As I've said a few times, I'm absolutely committed to making "The SharePoint Shepherd Presents" the best materials possible for SharePoint that are available. To that end I want to know what's working and what's not working for you. I want to know what you're struggling with. Please email me with your comments about the IA materials you've seen – including mine. Thanks in advance.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Book Review, Professional
I'm still preparing for the Information Architecture DVD that is forthcoming and I stumbled across a reference to the book The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More by Barry Schwartz. Honestly, it felt like a reach when it came to preparing for Information Architecture. I didn't know what to expect I'd learn, however, I was pleasntly surprised at the collection of research and conclusions that seemed to be both counter to general culture and equally aligned with previous reading.
Before I get too far I want to acknowledge that there are tones of Stumbling on Happiness in this book. In much of what The Paradox of Choice is talking about is our overall happiness with choice – and control.
I also wanted to relate a story for which the relevance will become apparent in a moment. Back in 1991, I was very early on in my career. I was going to probably my second conference ever. It was in Boston across the river charles from MIT. It was day three and I was not interested in what was being presented so I wandered for a short walk around the city. I hadn't ever been to Boston so I figured I could look around, get some exercise, some fresh air, and return to the confernece. I started my walk and it wasn't too long before I stumbled across a young woman with a clipboard. She asked if I would be willing to take a survey. As my mind was focused on MIT across the water, I thought sure. I'll help out some college student, no problem. Once I agreed she walked me back about a half a block to the Church of Scientology building where they gave me a survey/test. This was at a relative high point in the amount of technical editing I was doing and I had a live-in girlfriend whom I was supporting while she was attending college. During the test I was actually noticing the bias in the questions. I would answer truthfully but I knew that the answers would send the wrong message. They were things like "Do you often criticize, or correct others?" being a technical editor that was part of my work. So I completed the survey in what they said was record time. They scanned in the results and led me to a little room to talk about the results.
One of the first questions was "Do you have any regrets?" The funny thing was, I didn't and for the most part I don't today. The thinking which I laid out for the interviewer was that I like who I am. If I like who I am and every experience positive and negative, every choice right or wrong, has made me the way I am. Regret means I would change something but I wouldn't risk becoming someone I didn't like to be. You could tell instantly that this put the interviewer off his game. To me at that time it seemed like the only conclusion to be reached but I've realized as I've grown older that this response is positively uncharacteristic of most people.
What's the relevance of the story? Well much of the book speaks of our regrets – the opportunity costs of the decisions we make and the psychological impacts of those decisions. There are numerous factors that seem to be at play but how much we regret seems to be an indicator of how happy we'll be – or not. Less regret = happier people, at least in the over simplified version of the story.
The key premise is built around maximizers and satisficers. Maximizers have to have the "best." Satisficers have to have "good enough." We're all maximizers at times and satisficiers at times. We'll lament for weeks over the purchase of a car but walk in and buy a computer in the matter of an hour – or vice versa. The key difference is that people who tend to be maximizers more often seem to be less happy – to the point of depression. Schwartz suggests that the opportunity costs – the costs for the decisions not taken – accumulate in our mind and become a burden that must be carried. Please don't misunderstand. Satisficiers are not without standards it's just that once those standards are met they make their choice and move on. They don't have to have the "best" only what meets their standards.
The freedom to chose is also explorer in the book including the fact that most of us want a freedom to choose – that is until we're actually in the situation. We want to choose as long as we don't have to live with the consequences of those decisions – and particularly with the wonder about what might have happened if we had chosen the other path. In a world where we have more choice than any other time in history we're also less happy. Choices can be a good thing – and they're necessary – but only when they're constrained in a certain bounds. Consider a post-it note. It has to be sticky enough to stick to the page (enough choices to feel like there are choices) but not so sticky that when removed it will rip off the page (so many choices that you feel burdened).
Choice is necessary so that we can feel some measure of control. If we don't feel like we have control we may develop a learned helplessness. In the language of the book The Time Paradox this would be a fatalistic view of the world – one that's learned by events. If we believe that we're helpless we'll stop taking responsibility for ourselves – and more importantly for making our condition better. The feeling of helplessness can not exist together with happiness.
I want to end by recounting the 10 steps at the end of the book intended to help you get more happiness out of your life. The parenthetical statements are mine:
- Choose when to Choose
- Be a Chooser, Not a Picker
- Satisfice More and Maximize Less
- Think About the Opportunity Costs of Opportunity Costs (realize you can't have it all)
- Make Your Decisions Nonreversable (to limit regret)
- Practice an "Attitude of Grattitude"
- Anticipate Adaptation (a thing will provide less value as you get more of it)
- Control Expectations (the less you expect the better the experience will be)
- Curtail Social Comparison (spend time with other people, don't spend your time wanting to be other people)
- Learn to Love Constraints (embrace the ability to not have to choose from everything all the time)
The Paradox of Choice is a great book – particularly if you want to figure out how to be happier in life. It's also useful in understanding how to lay out choices for others as in the case of an information architecture.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Professional, Book Review
There have been times when I saw down with a topic and I just couldn't get the words and the ideas to align. There were other times when the idea was so powerful that the words seemed insufficient. This is the case with Ambient Findability. Peter Morville is speaking of the changes in thinking that are happening all around us and how we acquire information. There's research to support the fundamental premise that we acquire much of what we know based on passive and indirect access to information. In other words, we're not looking and we don't know what we'd be looking for even if we were. Marcia Brown believes that 80% of the information we learn is gathered this way.
Certainly, this information superhighway we call the Internet has changed things. For instance, I read this book on a Kindle, an iPhone, and my computer – in different parts. As I transitioned from one device to another Amazon.com brought me up to my last read page and I continued as if I hadn't left. When I was done with the reading I went to http://kindle.amazon.com and copied the highlights into OneNote. Now, I can access my notes from anywhere – search them – and generally access them in ways I couldn't in the past. I used to do my highlights, dog earing, and marking and then ask an assistant to transcribe them into an electronic form so I could access them – that is when the assistant had time. This has changed just a small part of the way that I do my research – and in a way that makes it easier for me to find information that I've culled out of larger works.
OneNote and my Lenovo x200 tablet changed things too. I'm reading with the Kindle software and I transition to hand write my notes which are recognized (some of the time) and converted into searchable text.
My son, who is 9, will never really understand the idea of scheduling his time around when a TV program is being broadcast. He's lived his entire memorable life with a DVR. At one point it was a ReplayTV, another time Tivo, and now we're using AT&T U-Verse service with a DVR included as a part of the package. There's no longer the concept of Thursday night TV.
Working from the perspective of findability and trying to figure out how users in this new and changing sea of information will access information in the future is a challenge to be sure. That's why I cut Peter Morville some extra slack for his book seeming to wander with less of a focused solution and more of the cow's path to the end. I'll admit the book reads more like a blog post than a book. In that I'm saying that it's more about his thoughts and less about an organized journey to a specific location.
However, along the way, the book plays connect the dots with stops to point out how we've found our way as humans, how other animals find their ways, and the components of these processes that we may need to learn to be able to move forward. There's plenty of useful thoughts about how our environments shape us – after we've shaped them. I'm personally identifying with this as I'm sitting in my office a few dozen feet from my home on a Thanksgiving morning. I've got some separation of thought between family and work – and the ability to transition between the two at will. I've shaped my environment to allow me to be quite comfortable "working." As a result when my family needs their space or is sleeping (as they are now), I'm free to come to "work" and play.
The shifts that are changing are subtle and all around us. Simple things like the wrist watch are becoming extinct as people don their cellphones which can tell them the time. I still wear a watch but I don't expect my son will wear a watch when he's older.
Perhaps the thing to leave with – as it pertains to the book – is one of my favorite bits. In the aboriginal language Dyirbal there's a category called Balan that includes women, fire, and dangerous things. This reminds me that the way that we structure our information architecture, the way that we frame the problem will probably have far reaching effects into the future. In this case, I think that women are like a fire burning bright – and that's dangerous.
If you're willing to walk the cows path to understand the information world you walk in, check out Ambient Findability.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Professional, Book Review
Sometimes the obvious isn't obvious. The "Polar Bear" book is a classic work for Information Architecture. Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites by Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld was written in 2006 but is often cited at the book to read for Information Architecture. Be sure it's a good book and -- to counter an argument raised for another review I did – it's still mostly relevant today. Sure some sections are long in the tooth in terms of the examples used or the perspective on search, however, you have to look at the book for what is does cover well – which is quite a bit.
One of the things that this book does well is it anchors understanding in relationship to other topics. There's a ton of questions about information architecture. What is user experience design? Where does visual design fit in? How does it compare to knowledge management? While I won't say that the book has definitive answers to these questions, it does well to acknowledge the fact that other topics do exist and are related. There are some striking moments of precision such as the assertion that knowledge management is about getting information out of the heads of the people who have it and how information architecture is about managing that information (and knowledge) in its electronic form.
The fundamentals of IA are well covered including the use of search as a tool to manage the findability problem. Navigation gets its fair coverage too including contextual navigation and the idea that these sorts of links are more about contributors making connections and less about IA itself.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the book for me was the extensive coverage of thesauri and the connection of preferred terms, variant terms (alternate), broader terms (bt), narrower terms (nt), and related terms (rt). This is unique coverage to this book – in my experience thus far. I've not seen other IA classes, books, presentations, etc., talk about thesauri thus far.
The book also contains guidance on a step-by-step approach for creating an IA – although it's admittedly iterative so it's less step-by-step and more concept by concept. If you've never done an IA – or you're looking to be able to track with a outside IA it will help you understand the fundamental processes.
One of the other resounding things about the book was the fact that it's very practical. It will explain what is believed to be the state of the art – and what to do when that doesn't work for you. For instance, when there's no budget, you've become involved late, etc. In its practicality it avoids the potential to be preachy.
The book frequently talks about how users make decisions, IA make decisions when it does, it's aligned with the research and reading in Sources of Power.
The book ends with some help for selling IA to the organization – which is necessary since many organizations don't think about information architecture until it's too late. You'll get some basic help in how to approach the process of selling IA to the organization.
If you're looking for a good start at what IA is and why it's important, Information Architecture for the World Wide Web is a good start.
Monday, November 21, 2011
One of the things I hear from folks from time-to-time is they wonder how we came up with the idea for the cover to The SharePoint Shepherd's Guide for End Users: 2010. I wanted to explain that – and unwind our latest photo – or Christmas gift of humor to the market. (If you want to get a copy of the full message subscribe to our mailing list and we'll send you a copy.)
The 2010 Cover
One of the problems that happened when we were creating the 2010 cover was we were trying to find good stock photography featuring sheep. As strange as it is to say, finding good stock photography of sheep is difficult. So we were joking about getting a puppet and using a sheep puppet – like Lamb Chop – to use on the cover. And then we weren't kidding. It was a way to convey our sense of fun with the SharePoint market. I found a sheep puppet I liked – and named it Lamb Shank – since it was going to have my larger arm in it.
Through the concept development process we decided that it wasn't the sheep's guide to SharePoint – it was the Shepherd's guide. As a result we need to convey the shepherd – but how? Well, enter the Shepherd's Crook. Of course, Wal-Mart doesn't sell Shepherd's Crooks (at least not the Wal-Mart stores near me). That meant a search on the Internet – and I'll warn you not to do a search for this on your own without the Safe Search filter on. With it in hand we went off to do a photo shoot. You'll be happy to know it's my hand in Lamb Shank on the cover of the book with my son supporting the crook.
As we were finalizing the book we decided that Lamb Shank (and the book) were blue ribbon – first class. So we tried to figure out how to convey that. We couldn't exactly pin a ribbon on such a small lamb. And thus is the story of how the cover was born.
The Holiday Greeting
One of my pet peeves was that people started to advertise for Christmas before Thanksgiving. I have already got my inbox full of "Black Friday" and "Cyber Week" deals. The initial concept was that Santa was still on the beach on vacation and that when the advertising started he had to come back. We wanted it to be intentionally fun, corney, and a bit crazy. That's why we decided to add the blow up palm trees and the blow up pink flamingo. It was sort of my homage to all things corney and overdone. The shot was actually done in my studio. We shot it in front of a white screen and added the image later. The reason for white is because the green screen causes a green halo on the objects being traced when doing photos.
That sort of morphed a bit into Santa being the SharePoint Shepherd. (i.e. it's me in the Santa suit.) It was really a last minute thing to have Santa capturing the pink flamingo with the shepherd's crook. The shot was originally planned as Santa with some money – signifying both what we spend on Christmas and the remaining budget that an organization may have in its training budget. However, the crook won out becauase it was funner.
Create Your Own Story
As we've got a series of DVDs coming out and of course more marketing campaigns coming out, I'd love to hear what you're thinking of fun and interesting things that we can do with a sheep puppet, a shepherd's crook, and a video studio. Coming up with these visual stories is one of the funnest parts of my world.