The brilliant Alex Wright has just published his first book, Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages.
In Alex’s words:
The book is about, roughly, the history of information: exploring the ways people have collected, organized and shared their intellectual capital [over] the years. It delves into, among other things, early oral traditions, the invention of writing, classical libraries, medieval alchemy, Victorian bibliography and early computer networks. Ultimately, the book is about the relationship between information technology and social change.
From the early draft I read, I recommend the book very highly. Anyone working in or around information (i.e. you) will undoubtedly learn something new and valuable. Congratulations, Alex!
What are the possible ways to organize things?
For information, there are 7. For interfaces, there are at least 4, identified on a mailing list: Things, Tasks, Tools, and Time. Can you think of others?
Peter Morville has your Information Architecture summer reading list. Get cracking!
This has been written about to death, but I really think email clients need to be organized around faceted classification. It’s actually surprising given how data and context rich emails are that email clients have lagged behind photo and audio file browsers in the sophistication of their classification schemes.
Search (across and within mail folders) is a major improvement, but it sure would be helpful to assign keywords to individual messages and then be able to filter by keyword or date or author etc (and the distinction between filter and sort is an important one). Mike’s slider idea and interfaces like this make so much sense for email. I assume someone will email me a link to Lifestreams, but I’ve always been turned off by the way Lifestreams privileges Date over other organizing principles (although it probably makes more sense for email than other types of documents). There are other projects, but still I’m using folders within folders to manage most of my documents.
This is not to say that I see this as a lost cause; it’s easy to see that metadata-organized file browsing is around the corner. I think I’m just surprised how far behind the major email clients are.
Update: Thanks to Andrew for the link to Remail, a next-gen email project out of IBM. While many of the ideas (e.g. threads) have surfaced elsewhere, I haven’t seen anything like Remail’s Thread Arcs feature. I also like that it can incorporate RSS feeds. And, as expected, there’s a faceted classification mechanism called Collections.
Alex Wright’s The Sociobiology of Information Architecture is well worth reading. Alex examines the evolutionary history of knowledge exchange and memory, and distills useful guidance for current IAs:
Today’s information architects are the heirs of yesterday’s scribes, clerks, and clerics: laboring to acquire, store, and disseminate knowledge for the sake of humanity, but ultimately in the service of institutions….And he talks about ants, too!
What evolution teaches us is this: in order to understand the deeper roots of our need to generate and manage information, we need to look beyond the individual organism [or institution -ns], towards the social groups that drive the mechanisms of evolution and adaptation for all species.
Making Cents from Information Architecture… Why is it so hard to define ROI for Information Architecture? How many articles have you seen like this that set out to cost-justify IA, but end up just kinda saying that IA is a good thing?
In Bottoms Up: Designing complex, adaptive systems, Peter Morville offers an (ironically top-down) approach to designing from the bottom up. I seem to remember Peter Merholz making a lot of the same points under the phrase the “tyranny of hierarchy” (no permalink, but you can search for “tyranny” on that page). The basic idea is that monolithic hierarchies do violence to any more-than-a-little complex information space, which reminds me of my favorite classical mythology phrase: the Procrustean Bed.
Anyone interested in Information Architecture (in its many forms and levels of practice) will want to take a look at the newly-launched Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture…
The Asilomar Institute for Information Architecture (�AIfIA�) serves to advance the design of shared information environments. We support a global community infrastructure that connects people, ideas, content, and tools. Through research, education, advocacy and community service, we promote excellence within our field and build bridges to related disciplines and organizations.These are smart, involved people, making a serious attempt to establish IA as a serious discipline. Gosh, Web design is all growed up!