What is your information supply chain?
Last month I gave a talk at the IA Summit in which I drew parallels between the jobs of Data Journalists, eg. Nate Silver and fivethirtyeight.com, to that of Information Architects in organizations. I wanted to take a moment to summarize what I see as the business lesson to be learned from the plight of data journalists.
What is an information supply chain?
An Information Supply Chain recognizes what information is available, how it is generated, how reliable the source is, and what commonalities exist across the information streams so that data can be compared and combined in meaningful ways. Just like it’s getting harder for Data Journalists to validate their data before crafting analysis, Information Architects now need to consider the information supply chain as an input to crafting quality, authoritative, trustworthy experiences for users. Your users, just like you, are bombarded with information of wildly varying quality, and they rely on experts to help guide them as they sift through the chaos.
An important part of what we do at Factor is to help organizations understand what their own information supply chains look like. Without doing this, organizations have no way of gaining control over their information assets to construct systems of meaning with which their constituents can engage.
The new terrain
Way back when, in the early days of IA, our job was creating self-contained navigation systems with internal coherence and consistency.
Nowadays, most users arrive on your website through a side door, and disorientation is to be expected. Instead of building a self-contained navigation system, we need to structure information in a permeable way that helps people establish context when they parachute into the middle of our world. The job of the Information Architect is to help that bleary-eyed traveler shake off the clutter and get reoriented as quickly as possible.
Signal to noise
In this attention economy, with our heavily mediated experiences and the continuous partial attention demanded of all of us, it’s difficult to get a message across, because there’s so much entropy in the channel. It’s our responsibility to give users the ability to determine what is quality and to sift through the volumes of information we provide to find what’s valuable to them.
We need to understand how the broader information environment is affected by everything we put into it. It is on us to help users get on top of the signal to noise ratio. No matter how much we try to create highly effective self-contained systems of understanding, the broader information environment is going to increasingly dictate how these systems are used and how effective they are.
Yes, you should have a beautiful main nav, and no, it is not the only thing we need to work on.
What is your aboutness?
No matter what your organizational charter is, your organization is inescapably about something. There is an aboutness to how your information assets are organized and instrumented that communicates the goals, values, and priorities of your organization.
To elevate your signal above the noise, you need to reduce the entropy in the channels you create so you’re not obscuring this aboutness. You need to give the people and the machines who are interpreting the information you are providing the semantic handles to be able to use it effectively. This is the job of a quality Information Model.
Fortunately this is in alignment with the way Google ranks things these days. In reaction to content farming, Google is trying to teach Page Rank how to distinguish authentic content from crap. So how great is this? The best way to optimize content for search is to make sure it fails to suck!
You can read the full transcript of my IA Summit talk here: http://factorfirm.com/posts/transcript-was-nate-silver-wrong/