Understanding Information Architecture


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Presented at DocTrain East 2007 by Joe Gelb, Suite Solutions -- Designing, building and maintaining a coherent information architecture is critical to proper planning, creation, management and delivery of documentation and training content. This is especially true when your content is based on a modular or topic-based model such as DITA and SCORM or if you are migrating to such a model.

But where to start? Terms such as taxonomy, semantics, and ontology can be intimidating, and recognized standards like RDF, OWL, Topic Maps (XTM) and SKOS seem so abstract. This pragmatic workshop will provide an overview of the standards and concepts, and a chance to use them hands-on to turn the abstract into tangible skills. We will demonstrate how a well-designed information architecture facilitates reuse and how the information model is integrally connected to conditional and multi-purpose publishing.

We will introduce an innovative, comprehensive methodology for information modeling and content development called SOTA Solution Oriented Topic Architecture. SOTA does not aim to be yet another new standard, but rather a concrete methodology backed up with open-source and accessible tools for using existing standards. We will demonstrate ֖and practice—hands-on—how this powerful methodology can help you organize and express information, determine which content actually needs to be created or updated, and build documentation and training deliverables from your content based on the rules you define.

This workshop is essential for successfully implementing topic models like DITA and SCORM, multi-purpose conditional publishing, and successfully facilitating content reuse.

Published in: Business, Education

Understanding Information Architecture

  1. 1. Understanding Information Architecture Doctrain East, October 2007 Joe Gelb President, Suite Solutions
  2. 2. Main Training Topics Introductions: Who is this guy? What is information architecture? Why is it important? Introduction to key concepts and standards Methodology for developing information architecture for techdocs and training Let’s try it
  3. 3. Who is this guy? Background in Mechanical Engineering CAD/CAM Production process planning CTO for a leading techdoc provider and technology vendor Built and managed professional services group Responsible for design, development and implementation of DB and publishing applications for tech and reference publications, including CMS Left to form independent consulting and implementation group
  4. 4. Main Training Topics Introductions: Who is this guy? What is information architecture? Why is it important? Introduction to key concepts and standards Methodology for developing information architecture for techdocs and training Let’s try it
  5. 5. What is Information Architecture The science of expressing a model or concept for information Used for activities that require expressions of complex systems Consists of: Structural design of shared information environments Organizing and labeling information to support usability and findability From Wikipedia
  6. 6. What is IA for us? Method for organizing documentation and training resources – text, media – into an overarching knowledge model The knowledge model is created and maintained separate from the actual content – like creating a global index Allows us to provide access to the information based on the model of the knowledge it contains Steve Newcombe Simple level: Organization of content by hierarchy, relationships Next level: Organization of subjects, and relate content to those subjects
  7. 7. Why it is it important for us? Best practices for technical content development based on topic-oriented content architecture Topic-oriented content = modular = component- based documentation Instead of creating deliverables, we create discrete topics of information Need better methodologies to plan, create, manage, localize, publish, deliver and find content Why? Sheer volume of individual resources Allows us to reap the benefits
  8. 8. Topic-Based Content Topics Each topic answers a single question Only enough information to understand one concept, perform one procedure or provide one set of reference information Maps Assemble topics into deliverables Define relationships between topics Standards being adopted DITA SCORM S1000D
  9. 9. Business Advantages of Topic-based Content More efficient authoring Reuse content in multiple deliverables Easier to maintain content Topic architecture and DTD promotes minimalization Easier to customize deliverables: Conditionalization on the map level, topic level, and element level Automated publishing
  10. 10. Business Advantages of Topic-based Content Reduce review time Review topics as they are ready SMEs focus on single topics instead of entire deliverables Review topics once, even if they appear multiple times in multiple deliverables Reduce localization costs Only send new and updated topics for translation Translate topics as they are ready: no need to wait for entire deliverable to be completed Reduce time to market: Quicker authoring, review, translation, publishing
  11. 11. Overview of DITA Darwin Information Typing Architecture OASIS standard Open Source: DTDs, schemas, DITA-OT are free Not just a DTD: an architecture for designing, authoring, managing and publishing content
  12. 12. Overview of DITA Facility for customization within the standard: specialization (thus Darwin) Facilitates documentation minimalization with semantic tagging Open Source Toolkit (DITA-OT) for producing outputs Active user and development community: reaching critical mass
  13. 13. DITA Facilitates Reuse Assemble topics into deliverables Reference topic elements within other topics: conrefs (content references) Conditionalize content within topics using conditional attributes Filter content based on conditions to get multi-purpose outputs (conditional processing) Manage links separately from the content using relationship tables
  14. 14. DITA Maps: Assembling Topics into Deliverables Assemble any number of topics into sequences for print or online delivery Organize topics into a hierarchy Based on context and position, not the topics themselves Use sub-maps within maps Allows you to create building blocks Topics can occur in more than one position in the same map
  15. 15. DITA Maps: Assembling Topics into Deliverables Can create different types of maps: Solution-oriented How products and procedures work together Task-oriented How to accomplish a specific goal Feature-oriented What does a product or component do
  16. 16. Where Does IA Fit Into This Hierarchical and sequential organization of topics into deliverables: DITA Maps, SCORM manifests Definition of relationships between topics: DITA relationship tables, related links Overarching knowledge model: XTM, SKOS, DITA Taxonomy specialization Helps organize creation and sharing of content Determines valid use of conditionalization in the content – topics and maps Allows usage of standard tools for navigating and searching content: semantic web
  17. 17. Main Training Topics Introductions: Who is this guy? What is information architecture? Why is it important? Introduction to key concepts and standards Methodology for developing information architecture for techdocs and training Let’s try it
  18. 18. What is Semantic Web? Semantics: the study of meaning Semantic technologies: help separate meaning from the documentation content itself based on open standards Allows computers to interpret and process the meaning of a document Semantic Web: framework that allows information to be identified and reused across application, organization and community boundaries Meaning is represented using ontologies and provide reasoning through relationships, rules, logic and conditions expressed in the ontologies
  19. 19. What’s an Ontology? - Dr. Leo Obrst, MITRE Information Semantics Group Terms used to describe and represent an area of knowledge – subject matter Model for the meaning of those terms Vocabulary and the meaning of that vocabulary For us, that means standardized index, glossary, conditional tags/conditional attribute values Used by people, databases and applications to navigate, identify and share information in a specific domain (specific area of knowledge) For us, that means better planning and content reuse on the authoring side and better delivery on the production side
  20. 20. What are Semantic Technologies Global naming schemes: URI (identifier) Standard syntax to describe data and properties of the data: RDF Standard way to describe relationships between data: Ontologies defined with: OWL Web Ontology Language XML Topic Maps (XTM) SKOS – Simple Knowledge Organization System
  21. 21. Spectrum of Ontology
  22. 22. RDF: Resource Description Framework Standard model for representing information Standard syntax to describe and exchange data Defines a graph of relations represented by object-attribute-value triples That is: Object O has an attribute A with value V
  23. 23. Sample RDF XML Object type: Component Object identifier: C89722A8-…-68F01FCD2ADE Attributes Title Release date Part Number, Part Name
  24. 24. RDF Graphical Representation
  25. 25. OWL: Ontology Working Language Describes relations between classes of information Based on classes, individuals and properties Class: a concept or subject in a domain; can be organized hierarchically Individual: instance of a class
  26. 26. OWL: Ontology Working Language Properties: Object: relate individuals to other individuals Datatype: relate individuals to data values (numbers, strings, etc.) Functional: property takes only one value (e.g. age) Inverse Functional: Two individuals cannot have the same value (e.g. social security number) Symmetric: If A links to B, then infer that B links to A (e.g. siblings) Transitive: If A links to B and B links to C, then infer that A links to C
  27. 27. OWL: Ontology Working Language “The Future of the Web is Semantic,” Naveen Balani, 18 Oct 2005
  28. 28. Topic Maps (XTM) Semantic knowledge model to express an ontology ISO standard; can also be expressed as XML Topic Represents a subject or concept Categorized by Type Map Associations: relationships between topics Occurrences: link between information resources and the subjects that they express something about
  29. 29. Graphical Representation of a Topic Map “The TAO of Topic Maps,” Steve Pepper
  30. 30. SKOS: Simple Knowledge Organization System Standard for modeling an ontology Similar to Topic Maps, however it is expressed using RDF, the accepted syntax of expression for the semantic web Thus, SKOS bridges the gap between traditional indexing and formal ontologies for the semantic web Define subjects and if desired, organize them into a taxonomy (i.e. hierarchy) Classify content to indicate its subject DITA Taxonomy specialization allows you to maintain the ontology in DITA and transform it into SKOS RDF for processing and use with standard tools
  31. 31. SKOS: Simple Knowledge Organization System “Subject Classification with DITA and SKOS,” Hennum, Anderson and Bird, October 2005
  32. 32. SKOS: Simple Knowledge Organization System Assembling a deliverable from the subject and content maps “Subject Classification with DITA and SKOS,” Hennum, Anderson and Bird, October 2005
  33. 33. SKOS: Simple Knowledge Organization System RDF expression of a SKOS ontology “Connecting the Dots: Relationship and Relevance with DITA Maps,” Hennum
  34. 34. Main Training Topics Introductions: Who is this guy? What is information architecture? Why is it important? Introduction to key concepts and standards Methodology for developing information architecture for techdocs and training Let’s try it
  35. 35. Solution Oriented Content Development Develop a High Level Information Architecture Create a knowledge model of subjects encompassing: All products, features, system components All life-cycle stages From that model, compile lists of content to be created to express the knowledge model Compile content to form maps representing documentation deliverables DITA Maps SCORM Manifests
  36. 36. Examples of Subjects Type Subjects Products Servers: S1, S2, S3 Endpoints: E1, E2, E3 Peripherals: P1, P2, P3 Platforms Windows, Unix, Linux, Macintosh Supported Assemblies Assy1, Assy2, Assy3 Parts P101, P102, P103 Life Cycle Design Sell: Demos, Positioning, Related Products, Related Services, Strategy, Target Market Implement: Initialize, Install, Configuration, Training Use: End Use, Administer Maintain: Troubleshoot, Optimize, Service, Maintenance Other Subject Types: Features, Tasks, Interfaces, Screens, Use Cases, User Roles, Legal Info
  37. 37. Subject Associations Define relationships between subject types to help compile the full list of subjects to be documented Solution System Component Product Platform Supported Product Feature Feature Task Task Interface Task Life Cycle Task User Role Product Assembly Assembly Part
  38. 38. Build Your Own Ontology List Solutions your company offers For each Solution: list System Components For each Product: Associate with System Components Associate with Platforms Supported List Features For each Feature: Associate with Platforms Supported Associate with User Roles List Tasks For each Task: List Screens Associate with Life Cycle Stage Associate with User Roles
  39. 39. Content Resources Different types of content resources are used to express information about the subjects DITA Task DITA Reference DITA Concept Illustration Drawing Flash Video Presentation
  40. 40. Generate List of Content to be Created Set rules: Topics needed to express each subject For Each: Create Content Topic: Product Overview (DITA Concept), Legal license / liability / warrantee Feature Description, Use Case Task Procedure (DITA Task), safety instruction Screen List of buttons and fields (DITA Reference) Assembly Installation Task, Maintenance Task, List of Parts Part Description, Supplier, Replacement Part, Diagram
  41. 41. Author Content For each content instance, author knows the topic to be described and the characteristics Example: Procedure: Configuring Server Ports (DITA Task) Characteristics: Product: Server S1 Task: Configure Server Ports User Roles: Administrator, Implementer Interface: Admin Screen: Port Configuration Life Cycle Stage: Installation, Configuration Platform: Windows, Unix, Linux Related Content: Screen element reference, Screen capture
  42. 42. Generate Deliverables Set rules for each type of deliverable to create maps Deliverable Contents Installation Product Overview, Legal References, Installation and Guide Configuration Procedures associated with User Role=Implementer Admin Guide Product Overview, Legal References For each interface associated with Admin, Implementer, Technician For each screen, include screen reference For each Task associated with life cycle stage: Installation, Configuration, Administer, Troubleshoot Include Procedures (DITA Task)
  43. 43. Generate Deliverables Set rules for each type of deliverable to create maps Deliverable Contents User Guide Product Overview, Legal References Getting Started For each Task associated with User Role: End User, Life Cycle: Installation, Configuration, include all procedures Features For each Feature Include Feature Description For each Task associated with Life Cycle: Use, User Role: End User include Procedure
  44. 44. Main Training Topics Introductions: Who is this guy? What is information architecture? Why is it important? Introduction to key concepts and standards Methodology for developing information architecture for techdocs and training Let’s try it
  45. 45. Let’s Give it a Try 1. Create a list of subject types: Solutions, products, components, features, procedures … 2. What kinds of relationships are there between the different kinds of subjects? 3. Note the relationships between the different subjects 4. Compile your list of content to create 5. Develop rules for how to build a deliverable
  46. 46. Good Luck !
  47. 47. End of Understanding Information Architecture