Understanding Information Architecture

October 20, 2018
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Information Architecture (IA) is the structure of shared content across the entire web that includes text, photos, and videos. It’s a concept said to be first recognized by Richard Saul Wurman in the 1970’s.

IA works as a solution to the problem of searching through incredible amounts of information on the internet and find what you are actually looking for. Its primary function is to organize, tag, label, or ID websites so that they would be found by people who are searching for them.

photo credit: theuxreview

There are many tools to help us understand and review our Informational Architecture. Pictured above is an example of a sitemap anyone can recreate using Post-it Notes — illustrating the relationships of content, and more importantly how the user might flow through this information. This document guides and helps an entire team understand the otherwise invisible connections. It helps us put ourselves in the shoes of the user and ask:

  • What is this?
  • Where am I now?
  • Where can I go from here?
  • How do I get there?

The three working components of that makes IA is Ontology (the product’s elements), Taxonomy (arrangement of its parts), and the Choreography(the interaction between its parts). The most efficient IA is when these three parts are working together.

If you require something more digital for your team, then there is a useful tool called a wireframe. They vary in quality, and normally a low-fidelity grayscale or two-tone wireframe will get the job done. They are a great way to show if your site is created for a pleasant user flow before worrying about the visual design. How useful is design if your user is lost? The IA informs the UI.

image credit: shutterstock

What Is Folksonomy?

In the 2000’s we saw the implementation of the use of tags. This tagging system helped one website to become one of the top bookmarking tools. Del.icio.us offered users the chance to categorize their bookmarks under whatever category name that was made sense to them. We are currently spoiled today with websites that already use a pinboard system (Pinterest) and hashtagging social networks (Twitter) that have already been using this system for some time.

As soon as everyone witnessed the power of the tagging system, we would start seeing the trend in other industries. The photographers who shared their content on Flickr would then experience the chance to tag all of their own uploaded photographs with whatever definitions and labels they felt best described their work.

The collection of all these categories, tags, and user-organization was, in fact, the creation of folksonomy. The individual credited with inventing the term was Thomas Vander Wal, which he explained was a combination of the words “taxonomy” and the word “folks” to put emphasis on who makes this structure possible. The Users.

Future of Folksonomy

Today, we currently have meta-tagging websites for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and geolocation tracking hashtags on Instagram. We have seen many companies benefit from the exposure as a marketing tool, and we have seen how effective hashtags can be in organizing for political awareness. It was a way to tap into the mindset of the masses — like reading the virtual graffiti on the web-wall.

The future of folksonomy is unclear in my opinion. While it is an excellent system, it is also a very messy one. There’s tons of room for human error, such as misspelling a bride’s name in a wedding tweet. For a short time, it was not possible to begin a hashtag with a number. Some tagging system allows more than a single word, while others allow spaces for wider definitions. I think the future is more a question is how we continue to implement folksonomy in our new trends; like voice-navigated devices.

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