Taxonomy Won’t Save Us

One of the great hopes of content management is that taxonomy will save us. Developing a consistent and rigorous taxonomy, it is hoped, will remove inconsistencies from how describe and label things, enabling us to find and reuse content much more easily. It is a lovely vision, and it is doomed to failure.

The underlying assumption of this confidence in taxonomy is that differences in terminology are accidental and that if we simply assign clear and well defined meanings to the terms we use, we can all use the same vocabulary and communicate more clearly and with less ambiguity. read more

Structured vs Unstructured Hypertexts

One of the questions I am often asked about Every Page is Page One is whether it simply means write articles instead of books. But while articles are certainly much closer to the EPPO model than books, there is something more to EPPO than simply writing articles. EPPO is also about the relationships between articles/topics/pages (or whatever else we decide to call them).

A single article is seldom sufficient to cover a large subject. You often need to create a much larger content set, consisting of many articles/topics/pages, to cover a subject adequately and to meet your audience’s varied needs. In the age of the Web, however, in the age of Google and information foraging, a linear or hierarchical organization of content is no longer adequate, and does not match how modern readers approach content. We need another way to approach the organization of content — one I have termed bottom-up information architecture. read more

Search ranking and bottom-up architecture

Does a bottom-up information architecture improve search ranking? This is another in a series responding to questions from my TC Dojo series on Bottom-up Information Architecture. I have several questions from the second session on writing, but I’m still working off the backlog of questions from the first session on organization. (Because we are moving and renovating is why.)

Q: How does Mr. Baker contend to navigate Google’s “filter bubble” and the highly competitive market for search result display order? read more

Good Enough Solutions Fast and Easy

It is easy to set an ideal for technical communication that it should deliver the best solution — the ideal solution — to every problem. Many critiques of Web search as a tool for finding technical solutions focus on the many less than perfect solutions that any search query returns.

How is the user to find the ideal solutions in the midst of so much dreck? Wouldn’t they clearly be better off confining their search to the official product manual?

No, and here’s why:

The manual does not always have the best solution

First, it would be a stretch — an outrageous stretch — to suggest that a stand-alone manual always contains the ideal solutions to every question. read more

The Role of the Manual and the End of Civilization

An interesting article in Popular Science charts the rise and laments the fall of the manual. Instructions Not Included: What the Disappearance of the Common Manual Says About Us, traces the origins of the manual as a form of technical communication, and notes how many products now come with no manual. It draws from this dire fears of human decline.

By dispensing with [manuals], we could, consciously or no, be setting the stage for something few would relish: a society divided.

This is accomplished by a parlor trick in two parts. The first is to build up the civilization changing role of the manual: read more

Any technology you use should be “Googlable”

‘Any technology you use should be “Googlable”‘. These are the words of Bill Scott,  VP Engineering, Merchant | Retail | Online Payments at PayPal, as reported by the amazing Sarah Maddox. (I say amazing because Sarah manages to lucidly and intelligently blog just about every conference session she attends. Having just helped cover the LavaCon conference, and not achieving anything like Sarah’s level of productivity or swiftness, I can only marvel at her ability.) read more

Getting Past the Linear/Hypertext Hybrid

A lot of the information design being done in technical communications today is what I think we can fairly call a linear/hypertext hybrid. Perhaps this is a necessary stage in our evolution from static linear paper manuals to dynamic hypertext information sets, but if so we have lingered in it far too long, and we are still producing and using tools and systems that are designed for the linear/hypertext hybrid rather than for true hypertext.

This thought occurred to me when reading Tom Johnson’s post on collapsing sections. As I commented there, collapsing sections are a symptom of the linear/hypertext hybrid. They are hypertext in the sense that you have to click a link to open the section, but still linear in the sense that they are written and organized as part of a single consecutive narrative. As such they have some pretty significant problems, as I noted in my comment on Tom’s post. read more

The Nature of Hypertext

Hypertext means more than just text with a bunch of links in it

Hypertext is something of a neglected subject these days. Everyone is talking about the Web, but nobody is talking about the class of thing the Web is: a hypertext environment. But to neglect this essential fact about the nature of the Web is to risk getting your approach to the Web seriously wrong.

Perhaps people associate the term hypertext purely with linking. But I would suggest that there is much more to hypertext than links. Hypertext is about the non-linear traversal of information spaces, and while links were the first tool created for this, there are now four key drivers of hypertext: read more

The Web Leaves You Smarter, But Feeling Dumber

Is the Web making us smarter or dumber? Kath McNiff sums up the dilemma beautifully:

I fear that the web is not making me smarter. It’s distressing my synapses and dumbing me down. Not because the content is junk but because there is too much good stuff. Amazing material at my finger tips – TED talks, zeitgeisty blogs, beautiful pins and seriously meaty journal articles.

It’s the “too much good stuff” that is the problem. (The emphasis is Kath’s, not mine.) Feeling smart is not so much about having knowledge, as it is about feeling like you are in command of a subject. Read a book and you can really feel like you understand the subject matter. You feel smart. read more

The Key to Organizing Web Content is Stickiness

Sticky bun.

The stickiest content rises to the top. Image courtesy of Maggie Smith / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The most important thing you can do to organize your Web content so that people can find it is to make it sticky. Making it sticky is more important than categorizing it or placing it in a hierarchy or taxonomy. It is even more important than linking your content set effectively. In fact, if you don’t make it sticky, neither of those other things are likely to matter much.

It is easy to think of the Web as simply a vast ocean of content. But if it were that, it would not work at all. What the Web actually is is a vast index of content. It is not a fixed index, like in a book, but a complex, dynamic, volatile, multi-stream index. For purposes of findability, how your content is organized on the Web comes down to how it appears in that index. And while you can definitely contribute to how it is indexed in small ways, its indexing is largely controlled by others. The Web organizes itself communally. read more