Fringe IA (InfoCamp Seattle 2013)


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Presented at InfoCamp Seattle on October 12, 2013.

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  • In my session we'll take a look at experimentation, tool building, and discovery in IA and some related examples from my own work.
  • This is the 2nd time I’ve done this – the first was at the IA Summit in Baltimore this year. But you guys have the added benefit of Veronica Erb’s awesome sketchnotes from that earlier session!
  • First I need to set some context. What do I mean when I say “IA”? I’m going to borrow from some IA thinkers here...Wurman quotes from Dan Klyn’s Information Architecture course:
  • Jorge’s complete post: Dan Klyn’s presentation at UXPA 2013 – Understanding Information Architecture
  • From Dan Klyn’s presentation at UXPA 2013 – Understanding Information Architecture
  • Organized by Andrea Resmini and friends – a book is in the works!Information: http://reframe-ia.orgSlides:
  • I stumbled onto this incredible book recently, published in 1957, and I think it relates as much to IA as to science.
  • WhileBeveridge was attempting to get people to recognize the (necessary) art in science, I think we should probably consider the reverse in the IA world – the (necessary) science in IA!
  • I’m not talking about the generally accepted notion of information science. I’m talking about applying some of the concepts of scientific discovery to information architecture. I’ve tried to be mindful of these ideas in my own work, and I encourage you to read and ponder this book. Plus, it’s completely free to download online!
  • I feel like we’re lacking a bit in the “tools” area. I don’t mean things like Omnigraffle, Axure, or the Adobe products. Those are more general purpose tools. I mean the kind of tools we make while we’re figuring things out. They might be temporary, or maybe they grow into something more generally useful. Scientific discovery relied on all sorts of homemade apparatus, and I think we could benefit from something like that too. An example might be Dan Klyn’s performance continuums.(
  • While working on it, I felt like we needed a better way to discuss parts of it. Email didn’t seem good enough.
  • Found an HTML 5 example, hacked it a little, and used it to annotate the mashup and share my feedback.
  • Titus was thrilled. But something to note: I didn’t tell him what I was going to do before I did it. I wasn’t even sure if I could get something together quickly and with minimal effort. When it was nearly done, I pointed him to it.
  • Also, though I didn’t have it in mind at the start, this turned out to be a nice presentation tool, after I removed the comments.
  • In Fremont, actually.
  • Open positions:
  • The configuration info defined how to pull real-time availability information from each library’s catalog system. That’s lets us show whether the book (or other resource) is checked out or not. Also, I chose INFORMATION (and not data) here for a reason that you’ll see later…
  • We needed to understand relationships among the configurations, estimate how long the work would take, track progress, and so on… Can’t get that by manually reading/editing thousands of files!
  • I was familiar with Tiddlywiki technology since I used it to create a simple thesaurus (or taxonomy) creation tool back in grad school. It’s like a database…
  • Used a Perl script to place the data into the Tiddlywiki. It provided summary info; timeline at right; links across top that slice and dice the configuration in different ways; ALL DATA DRIVEN and dynamic.
  • Since I had all the GIT repository information, were the configurations were stored, I used the information about changes to show recent churn.
  • Tables (sortable) and graphs were already available to tiddlywiki via plugins. As long as I put the data in the right format, this stuff just magically worked. And it helped me play with the configurations to better understand and group them.
  • The code to make it happen as pretty simple. This is how the pie chart was defined – most of the code there is the data itself.
  • There was a view into each client too. With links to the related config files. Similar config files that had already been migrated were listed, and I added a simple process with some checks that I could run through to do the migration.
  • Again, through a plugin (with some minor tweaks), I added visual diffs between the files, all inside the tiddlywiki.
  • Tiddywikis also offer fast and powerful search, which can be expanded further with a plugin. I didn’t have to do anything to enable it except put the configuration information into the Tiddlywiki.
  • The last thing I added was a color coding mechanism. As I learned more about the similarities between config files, I added some code to identify and group the configs based on certain properties. Then I could given each group a unique hash (ID) and assign a color. Made it easier to work through them in similar chunks.
  • Google Refine is a great tool for cleaning up information in spreadsheets, and for finding patterns in that information. It can generate facets in data on a given column, and support lots of useful discovery and cleanup options.
  • All you need is a simple spreadsheet (CSV file) in a certain format (nodes, edges) and you can generate visualizations like this.
  • It also makes really pretty things. 
  • Gource was created to visualize changes to source control systems over time. But it just takes a certain format of CSV or spreadsheet. If you can get your data in the right format, you can see changes over time in just about anything.
  • Lots of galleries with useful examples that can be adapted (with some Javascript coding). Don’t have to make your own from scratch.
  • “…it is a sketch tool, useful for quick and preliminary data explorations as well as for generating editable visualizations.”
  • Fringe IA (InfoCamp Seattle 2013)

    1. 1. InfoCamp Seattle 2013 Michael Adcock @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    2. 2. Sketchnotes! @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    3. 3. Understanding IA @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    4. 4. Understanding IA @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    5. 5. Understanding IA @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    6. 6. #ReframeIA at the 2013 IA Summit “Architect” vs. “Builder” “Meaning” (Do we discover it, create it, or both?) @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    7. 7. IA as Scientific Discovery “Discovery should come as an adventure rather than as the result of a logical process of thought.” - Theobald Smith @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    8. 8. IA as Scientific Discovery "...intuitions always appear at the fringe of consciousness, not at the focus.“ "...the great scientist must be regarded as a creative artist and it is quite false to think of the scientist as a man who merely follows rules of logic and experiment." @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    9. 9. IA as Scientific Discovery “…the most difficult mental act of all is to rearrange a familiar bundle of data, to look at it differently and escape from the prevailing doctrine.” - Professor H. Butterfield @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    10. 10. Tools and Structures Tools for discovering Meaning yet Structures to create Context @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    11. 11. A quick example… As some of you may know, I’m a mashup fanboy. I commissioned Titus Jones to produce a mashup for this “Fringe IA” session. @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    12. 12. A quick example: feedback @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    13. 13. A quick example: feedback “This was awesome... I love when you do shit like this... something I would have never thought of. That's a very powerful tool for audio collaboration. It would be cool if different people/users could add comments (almost like soundcloud lets you select a time in the track, and add your comment?) Regardless though... I really liked being able to read your feedback at each point in the song. Very cool. ” - Titus Jones @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    14. 14. A quick example: presentation @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    15. 15. Ok, but what do I do at work? @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    16. 16. I’m here: @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    17. 17. Company Background • SaaS solutions for libraries • Electronic Resource Management • Bibliographic & publisher metadata @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    18. 18. Our Goals • Relationship Management • • • • Advise and Assist • • • • • • Advocate for clients Advocate for internal departments/groups Advocate for a solution Offer historical perspective Treat problems as a means of discovery, not a way to impose a solution Connect people to subject matter experts / tools / information Research and provide answers Facilitate understanding Be Proactive • • • Make it easier to handle similar problems in future Anticipate and solve before clients even ask, escalations occur, or a crisis happens Ask/answer better questions of the data/information we already have @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    19. 19. Our Backgrounds Nancy Michael • • Joined Serials Solutions about a year and a half ago • Was a software engineer for 10 years doing all sorts of stuff using all sorts of programming languages • Earned an MLIS degree from UW in 2008 • Has held project management roles and UX designer roles • Currently identifies as an information architect, is very active in the IA community, and sometimes speaks at conferences Has been at the company “forever”, and built up the Support group • Worked directly with folks all over the company, and mentored several people • Knows about a lot of the weird issues that our products and services have (historical knowledge) • • Knows who knows what – if she doesn’t have the answer she can often point you to someone who does (connector) Seasoned in customer support and management @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    20. 20. Fine, but what do I do at work? Here’s an example: Given nearly 1000 client configurations stored in multiple XML and JSON files, “migrate” the information over from an old technology to a new implementation. @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    21. 21. RTA Migration Oh, and by the way: Some files are for legacy/inactive clients. @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    22. 22. RTA Migration Oh, and by the way: Some files are for legacy/inactive clients. Some files are for trial/demo clients. @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    23. 23. RTA Migration Oh, and by the way: Some files are for legacy/inactive clients. Some files are for trial/demo clients. Not sure how many clients must be migrated. @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    24. 24. RTA Migration Oh, and by the way: Some files are for legacy/inactive clients. Some files are for trial/demo clients. Not sure how many clients must be migrated. It’s NOT a matter of “mapping” or “copying”. @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    25. 25. RTA Migration So, um… yeah. Can we do that? @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    26. 26. RTA Migration: Approach We needed a tool to help us understand. Something that could put all this stuff in a meaningful context. I decided to use a TiddlyWiki, and build onto it. @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    27. 27. RTA Migration: Resulting Tool @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    28. 28. RTA Migration: Resulting Tool @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    29. 29. RTA Migration: Resulting Tool @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    30. 30. RTA Migration: Resulting Tool Under the hood: @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    31. 31. RTA Migration: Resulting Tool @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    32. 32. RTA Migration: Resulting Tool @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    33. 33. RTA Migration: Resulting Tool @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    34. 34. RTA Migration: Resulting Tool @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    35. 35. Other tools: Google Refine @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    36. 36. Other tools: Gephi @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    37. 37. Other tools: Gephi @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    38. 38. Other tools: Gource @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    39. 39. Other tools: D3 @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    40. 40. Other tools: RAW @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    41. 41. Final Thoughts Freedom to experiment and play is needed. Sometimes we need to be tool builders to solve certain problems. We could learn some things from the realm of scientific discovery. @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA
    42. 42. Thanks! "What you must understand, is that as scientists we must embrace every possibility. No limitations, no boundaries, there is no reason for them.“ - Walter Bishop U.S. Army Research Headquarters, 1986 @adcockm #FringeIA #infocampSEA