10 Responses to Handling Large and Complex Subjects in Every Page is Page One

  1. Rob Echlin 2014/03/19 at 12:26 #

    In contrast to your global transportation example, the North American air traffic system is tightly coupled.
    A snow storm in one place will cause planes to be late all over the continent!
    And of course that will not affect buses in other parts of the continent, as they are loosely coupled, to each other and even more loosely to air travel.

    • Mark Baker 2014/03/19 at 13:36 #

      Indeed. The United flight between Ottawa and Chicago is often delayed because of weather in Grand Rapids Michigan. On the other hand, the air traffic system is not so tightly coupled that when one plane crashes they all crash, as Harford argues was the case for the global financial system before the great recession.

  2. Jack DeLand 2014/03/26 at 12:45 #

    Got the book and find myself nodding my head and going “Yes!” every couple of pages. This should be required reading for tech pubs managers as well as writers.

    • Mark Baker 2014/03/27 at 14:22 #

      Thanks Jack. May I quote you on that?

      • Jack DeLand 2014/04/03 at 17:18 #

        Absolutely – I gave copies to my upper management folk and they were quite positive about it.

  3. Debbie M 2014/03/26 at 16:35 #

    A book is a tightly coupled information set. It lays out a single route for every reader to follow. Each part of it depends on what comes before and what follows after. But if any reader becomes blocked on that route, the book offers them no way to detour around the blockade

    Because due to the invention of the Web, paper books “know” that you haven’t finished reading a chapter and thus physically prevent you from turning pages until you have?

    I suspect that when people tell you that EPPO “won’t work for large and complex subjects” it is because they are thinking of things like building complex systems where prerequisites abound and order of operation is critical. Even in beloved Wikipedia, you will find yourself reading a topic and become acutely aware that you need to read a different topic first in order to fully understand the one you’re on.

    Each has its place. There is room for both.

    • Mark Baker 2014/03/27 at 14:43 #

      Thanks for the comment Debbie.

      Absolutely there is room for both. After all, I wrote a book about Every Page is Page One!

      No, books don’t prevent you from turning the page. But people do not get stuck because they can’t turn the page, but because what is on the next page does not make sense to them, or does not seem trustworthy to them, or does not make them confident that they have interpreted it correctly, either because they lack prerequisite knowledge or because they have a conflicting mental model in their heads.

      Keeping on reading in linear sequence is not a fruitful option in these circumstances. Readers either have to go off to find other content to read, or go get some hands on experience to resolve their mental model. The structure and organization of a book does not facilitate either of these things. EPPO topics are designed to facilitate both, by stating context and providing links, and by allowing the reader to step back into the content at a new place after experience has reset their mental model.

      I’m not arguing that the book makes it impossible to detour around the blockade, simply that it provides no help in doing so. It is written on the assumption that linear reading along the path the writer has chosen is the best and only route.

      Of course, I am using “book” here in a particular sense — to imply the construction of a single linear narrative, as opposed to an EPPO topic, which implies the construction of a web of small, self-contained narratives that are designed to be read in any order. There are, of course, many shades of greater and lesser linearity between these two poles.

      An yes, what you describe is indeed the basis of much of the criticism of EPPO. But I argue that the situation you describe is one for which the book approach works particularly badly. The book approach is essentially brittle. One false move in that complex sequence and the book model falls down. (This is the difference between a map and a set of directions. With a map you can recover from a wrong turn. With directions, one turn and you are lost.)

      The book approach also assumes that every reader will recognize that the thing they want to do is part of a complex sequence where order of operations is critical. In many cases, that is not the case. The reader often assumes that what they want to do is simple, and they jump right to the information on how to do that one thing. If that lands them in the middle of a complex order-critical sequence in a book narrative, they may not recognize this fact and may try to execute the particular procedure out of order.

      EPPO recognizes the basic fact the reader go straight to the immediate bit of information they think they want. It sets context so that if the immediate procedure cannot be implemented without prerequisites, the reader is told that right away.

      Also, EPPO provides for high-level workflow or pathfinder topics that put the complex process in perspective for the reader — something often omitted in the book model.

  4. Roy MacLean 2014/03/31 at 12:59 #

    Agree totally: I find it very hard these days to read a traditional (non-fiction) book – except possibly where the narrative structure is known up-front, and ‘bought into’ (for example, a tutorial).

    The set of directions (narrative) versus map (declarative) analogy is something I used to use long ago when explaining object-oriented design/programming: each object has clear role, but collaborates in well-defined ways with other objects. This points up an interesting point about EPPO: it’s not just splitting thing up into small chunks; it’s about how those chunks interrelate (for purposes of navigation) *in well-defined ways*. The Wikipedia page illustrates this: navigation is by object category, location, date, background information, definitions of terms, etc, etc.In other words, there’s a semantic model underlying the navigation, and the richness of the model allows a rich set of navigation opportunities – whether by linking, search or formal query.

    • Mark Baker 2014/03/31 at 18:09 #

      Roy,

      Absolutely, that is what an bottom-up information architecture is all about. First designing the units of content to work as separate nodes that readers can access in any order, and then designing the connections (links) between them systematically. Linking is not something that should be done at random or ad hoc, but should be managed consistently. In fact, taxonomy drives bottom up IA just as much as it drives top-down IA. Even though the links between topics in a bottom up IA are local, they follow the significant subjects and terminology of the overall content set, which is what a taxonomy defines. This is what allows you to generate links from metadata rather than creating them by hand, as I describe here: http://everypageispageone.com/2011/08/01/more-links-less-time/.

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