Some of these sessions I missed include Kevin Cheng and Jan Jao’s “Communicating Concepts Through Comics,” James Refell’s “Design Patterns in the Real World,” and Thomas Vander Wal’s “IA for Efficient Use and Reuse of Information.”
Here’s an interesting IA problem: How could the conference organizers schedule sessions in such a way that attendees wouldn’t experience conflicts? What do sessions or attendees have in common? What are their differences? Who would want to learn about what topics or participate in certain types of sessions? What are the boundaries of people’s interests? If someone’s core area of interest is a certain topic, what other topics would they likely find of interest? Figure 1 shows a view from the Hyatt®.
On the other hand, the absence of absolutely compelling sessions led me to explore some rewarding sessions I might have missed altogether if they had been scheduled against those of big names in IA. In fact, I wish I’d stumbled onto the international IA track earlier in the day than I did.
Tagging and Beyond: Personal, Social, and Collaborative IA
In the morning, I attended the session “Tagging and Beyond: Personal, Social, and Collaborative IA.” This panel comprised a set of disconnected mini-talks rather than an interactive discussion. What should have been a very interesting topic was rendered dull by the superficiality and dryness of most panelists remarks—the exception being those of Rashmi Sinha, who is always engaging. Rashmi spoke about the progression of tagging from the personal to the social stream of consciousness. She described the four conditions of tagging:
- cognitive diversity—and the dynamics of group decision-making
- independence—about which Rashmi said, “What’s really interesting about tagging is that it’s a social situation. You’re talking to each other. It harnesses your independent opinion.”
- decentralization—and decisions happening at the edges
- easy aggregation of conceptual information
Social formations that tags support include ad hoc groups, many weak social ties, conceptually mediated ties, and crowds. Rashmi gave these tips for tagging:
- “Tags should serve both the individual’s motive and the relationship between the individual and society, which must be symbiotic. People should do things for the greater good.”
- “It shouldn’t be too easy to mimic the tags of others.”
- “Don’t make finding the most popular too easy.”
- “Natural interactions ensure good findability.”
A while after Rashmi had finished her presentation, I must admit to leaving this session early, out of boredom. In fairness, perhaps I was suffering a bit of burnout.
I attended two sessions on the international IA track. With their international focus and personal touch, the presentations of Isabelle Peyrichoux and Jason Hobbs were both very enjoyable. They got me out of my usual world and into the broader world of which I want to feel a part. After these sessions, we continued our discussion of international issues at lunch.
Montreal, Paris, Dakar: Conducting an International Intranet Needs Analysis
In her presentation “Montreal, Paris, Dakar: Conducting an International Intranet Needs Analysis,”PDF Isabelle Peyrichoux gave some good tips on conducting user interviews:
- “Be transparent. Introduce yourself.
- Be non-judgmental [and] empathetic.
- Be flexible. Follow the person’s flow. Let the person guide the interview.
- Be confident in the process and take risks. Follow your intuition.
- Shut up! Let the person speak. Don’t influence the interview.
- Listen carefully and remember. Go back to what was previously said.
- Take notes. This makes the person feel “what I’m saying is important to you.”
- Reformulate versus asking direct questions.
- Start from what the [person] says.
- Don’t ask [people] to design … for you.
- Ensure [you] have all necessary data for each … task.”
Jason Hobbs’s presentation “How Can Information Architecture Address Challenges to the Web in Third-World and Developing Contexts?” provided interesting social commentary. Companies in South Africa find lots of reasons not to invest in Web sites:
- “The bandwidth is too low.”
- “We can’t design like they do overseas.”
- “There aren’t enough users to make it worthwhile.”
- “We’ll wait for broadband. We can start to design properly then.”
“We have a bit of an inferiority complex.” They also have misconceptions about where the value of the Web lies for them. It’s in marketing, not e-commerce and Web applications. “Ten percent of the population is on the Web.”
Jason gave us a tour of the community in which he lives and works—Johannesburg. It’s very different from those most of us know. Then, he described how IAs in the developing world need to initiate change:
- “Answer customer needs.
- Build channel trust throughout the relationship.
- Design for our context—design light.
- Work small user bases.
- Educate, guide, and create awareness.
- Drive [people] to the Web.
- Use integrated communications.”
In conclusion, Jason said, “The opportunity for developing contexts is to create an environment of needs-based solutions manifested leanly across the full duration of the relationship. The needs-based approach, coupled with relationship-based journeys across the full lifecycle of engagement, promises to create trust and increase use.”
Sorting in an Age of Tagging: How IAs Can Use Sorting to Address Just About Any Research Question
Rashmi Sinha, shown in Figure 2, brings great energy and passion to everything she does, and her presentation on “Sorting in an Age of Tagging: How IAs Can Use Sorting to Address Just About Any Research Question,” was no exception.
She contrasted categorization—which has a higher cognitive cost, provides richer data, and is harder to aggregate socially—with tagging—which has the opposite characteristics. Better interaction design and perhaps flat organizational schemes or non-exclusive categories—“so items don’t hide”—might reduce the cognitive cost of categorization. Rashmi suggested trying a hybrid approach: “tag sorting”—doing a card sort on “user-generated tags” from del.icio.us. Why tagging?
- “The Web has become social!
- People hang out on the Web just for fun!
- Tags make the Web a shared experience.”
- Tags allow the “social transmission of information.”
Rashmi made an interesting observation about the social Web: “Tagging is consensus-based categorization. Designers like control. Design of social systems means letting go.” Then, she compared menus—which are structured, stable over time, and comprehensive—and tag clouds—which have the opposite characteristics and “let current stuff bubble to the top.” Finally, she provided some guidelines and posed some questions about the “design of social systems”:
- “Serve the individual’s selfish goals.
- Create a symbiotic relationship between the individual and social.
- When should individuals feel alone; when part of a group?
- How to encourage social sharing?
- How much mimicry to encourage?
- How to accommodate local groups?
- How to encourage expression of alternative viewpoints?
- When to introduce social networks?
- How to encourage wise crowds?
- How to augment navigation with tags?”