The role of the TOC in a bottom-up information architecture

Is there still a place for a TOC in a bottom-up information architecture? Yes, but its role is different.

This is another in my series following up on the questions asked in my TC Dojo webinar on bottom-up information architecture.

Q: Is the TOC dead then? I’m used to structuring content based on an analysis of user tasks, presenting the product secondarily. That becomes the structure? Where do you put the topics?

A: In a very real sense, it is top-down architecture that has killed the TOC. Bottom-up architecture might actually save it, but in a different form and playing a different role. read more

You can’t size topics for specific information needs

One of the biggest traps in topic-based writing it the attempt to size topics so that each one meets exactly one user information need. It is tempting to suppose that this is the point of topic-based authoring. If the book is the wrong size because people only use them to look up bits of information, rather than reading them through, isn’t the point of writing topics to make the topic contain just the information the reader needs in the moment (so that they will read it through)? Thus we envision our reader’s needs mapping to our topic sets like this: read more

Search is Not Enough: Why We Need Multimodal Navigation

Last week I wrote about the death of hierarchy as the dominant form of content organization. One of the comments on that post asked me to “comment on the different perspectives between this blog post and “Search is not enough” by the Nielsen Norman Group?”

Let me get the central question out of the way right up front. I agree. Search is not enough. In fact, there are a lot of things wrong with search.

The Nielsen Norman Group article, by Raluca Budiu, decries what she describes as the tendency of websites to minimize navigation and rely on search alone. She lists the limitation of search: read more

Topics, Pages, Articles, and the Nature of Hypertext

What is the right word to describe a node of a hypertext?

What should we call the basic unit of information that we present to readers? Is it a page, a topic, or an article? (I’m going to take it as read that the answer is no longer “a book”. If you disagree, that’s what the comments are for.)

I raise this now because of Tom Johnson’s latest blog post, DITA’s output does not require separation of tasks from concepts in which he makes the distinction between topics as building blocks and articles as finished output:

One reason so many people mistake the architecture of the source files with the architecture of the output files is because the term “topic” tends to get used for both situations. I prefer to call the output files “articles” rather than topics. An article might consist of several topics. Each of those topics might be of several different types: concept, task, or reference. read more

Web Organization is not Like Book Organization

One of the most difficult aspects of moving content to the Web is that webs are not organized like other things — books in particular. And the difference is not small. It is not that web organization is somewhat different from book organization. It is so different that you can’t even look at web organization the way you look at book organization.

And that may be the biggest problem in moving content to the Web. We are used to being able to look at the organization of our content in a particular way, from the top down, and that does not work on the Web. That makes the difference very difficult to get used to. read more