in information architecture

everyone’s an IA these days…

i’ve been looking at my RSS feeds and my Delicious links today, trying to get them cleaned up so that they’ll look presentable in some kind of format on my blog, and its made me think some more about the information architecture in the wild.

much has been written about how tagging and feed subscription and blogging and the like gives power to the people to create and find and organise their content however they like – and yay to that. Has anyone done any thinking about the implications of this for users in terms of the skills required to actually organise this stuff effectively?

organising content and naming things in ways that are relatively clear, descriptive and helpful is something that i’ve done for work for quite a few years now, yet – seriously, you should have seen the state of my Bloglines feeds. Or is this just a case of the plumbers leaky tap?

I’ve been using Bloglines for a year or two now (can it be that long?) and had subscribed to about 150 feeds. I use the one account for work and personal. I’ve added folders as I’ve gone along, when my original ones stopped being sufficient, I don’t think I’ve ever deleted a folder before today. In fact, come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever deleted a feed! Bloglines isn’t very friendly to renaming folders – I suspect if this were easy I would have done this once or twice, but I managed this my simply knowing my ‘code’ for what went into each folder (in particular, the rather vaguely named ‘general’ folder. Fact is, I had no idea what kind of folders I’d need when I got started with Bloglines. I thought I might have had a better idea by now.

Not true though, because in the meanwhile I’ve been spoiled by tags, which means that I don’t have to define a category and associate something to that one category. And given that people who write blogs quite frequently cover a range of topics… this makes categorisation all the more difficult. I’m a little happier with my categories now than I was before, but this should be seen as an indication of how crap my folder names were before. They’re still far from right.

What I have found though, is that there was an overwhelming tendency for me to ignore feeds which were not categorised – those ones just hanging loose at the ‘top level’. By and large this is because I’d forgotten what they were about (which might say something about the value of picking a pretty obvious blog name… something I may wish I’d learned just a few days earlier!). This is a shame because it means that in my clean up I found some absolute gems that I wished I’d been reading more regularly over the past months.

This leads me to the next lesson I’ve learned – subscribing to feeds is a commitment. If you’re not willing to give your feeds time on a regular basis they will grow and grow to such a point that you’ll never really read them. Some of my feeds had upwards of 200 unread posts. Now, in the past I’ve set aside time to skim through ‘overgrown’ feeds and give them some love… but seriously, 200 posts. No can do.

One may assume that the reason there are 200 unread posts is because I’m not really interested in the feed and I should really just unsubscribe. But no. Mostly they were just really badly filed. I didn’t know what I was missing.

Another thing I wondered, as I came up with my new and improved categories for Bloglines – do I use different kinds of tags when I know that you’ll be looking at them? At the moment, my Bloglines is all my own and I can use whatever dorky names I like, and I don’t have to defend or explain why your blog is in a category you probably woudn’t have chosen for it. When categories are private, they’re like little personal reminders – I don’t have to fully articulate what’s in that category, I know the kinds of things that are in there. When they’re public, I’m almost making a statement about what I think that blog is about. (That’s something I find a bit scary, but I’ll save that for a later post when I’ll talk about why I think the whole idea of blogging is completely scary, and why that’s a dead giveaway for my age).
I haven’t got to my Delicious tags yet – although I know they too are getting unweildy and will need attention in order to remain useful (question: do I cull or do I cluster?!). All of this is leading me to think about the transfer of labour from the ‘professional’ to the people. Tags and feeds in particular require people to use information architecture techniques in order for these tools to remain valuable and efficient. On top of that, they require regular maintenance from users to ensure ongoing value and efficiency.

Food for thought, I think, as I recommend the use of tags to a client, what will be the impact of that in 12 months time? And I wonder, if users are doing all this IA work, does this mean there’ll be less for me to do? Or just different?

Thought for the day: Bloglines Clippings – is this a good way for me to keep track of all the things that other people are saying that I might want to talk about here? (I only discovered them today, so I’m trialling it). Where else can I keep this particular list and associated links? (or is the answer, obviously, delicious? If so, how do I group them?)