The Topological Thinness of Summer Daisies: A Call for Volunteers

I have a policy to prioritize tasks by opportunity. That is, if you can have a useful artifact by the end of the day, then that is what you work on. I've found it more advantageous to work this way rather than the conventional, prescriptive form of task prioritization in the face of unknown unknowns, because I believe it is better to have an asset today than a particular asset at some unknowable point in the future. Working this way also yields interesting, serendipitous finds, which inform and help shape the acquisition of those future, particular assets. Serendipitious finds like this:

This image represents the set of concepts by which the resource library of the IA Institute is organized. Pretty, isn't it? Well, it shouldn't be.

The software I use to render these graphs does so according to their topological shape. More connections between the concepts pull them closer to one another in proportion to sparser connections, while the concepts themselves are trying to fly apart. The only way you can get that flower shape is if the concepts are organized in a strict hierarchy. The problem, of course, is that our language and shared conceptual structure is much more complex than that.

Now, I'm not trying to knock the hard work of the person who made this structure—quite the contrary—I feel great empathy for the agony associated with trying to figure out what should go where in a strict tree. My position here, however, is why suffer if you don't have to?

One of the perennial problems of the Institute, as a volunteer organization, is not so much finding volunteers, but defining clear objectives for them to achieve, and parceling out tasks conducive to the tenuous profile of volunteer work. Filling out this graph is exactly the kind of work an interested and capable volunteer can reasonably do.

As for the importance of this concept map, I intend for the IAI website to use it as a significant part of its backbone. The idea is eventually to get it to encompass the entire relevant set of concepts with which information architecture is concerned, and the semantic relations between them. By connecting information resources across the entire site to this concept map and similar structures, we can discover a much richer set of means to connect people with the information they're looking for than a conventional site hierarchy. I firmly believe that the use of complex semantic networks represents the future of information architecture, so it follows that the Information Architecture Institute practices it.

This brings me to my final point: we should be exporting this stuff. If we are supposed to be the authority on the practice of information architecture, then we should also be the authority on the set of concepts that comprise it. But we can't do this by force. We have to make it the easiest and most obvious choice. And that, is the essence of information architecture that I believe the Institute should stand for.


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