25 July 2011

LIKE 26: Information Architects

Our guide for the evening was Martin Belam who explained how he became and Information Architect and what that meant to him.

His first experience, as with most of us, was with cataloguing his own collection of music which he organised by band and then year with the singles next to the albums that they were taken from.

He then had the opportunity to do this for real when working for a record shop. There he organised albums by genre but, unlike some stores (and last.fm), recognised that not albums by a band are in the same genre. So, for example, Nirvana's first album, Bleach, is Indie but the second, Nevermind, is Rock.

Moving on to the BBC, Martin described his approach as trying to meet the needs of "Mandy from Bromsgrove". One approach used here was a careful analysis of the search terms used on the BBC website to understand what people were looking for and then making sure that the appropriate content could be found easily.

Back end processes were changed to feed data directly on to the website through tags. For example, a news story or programme tagged with "Leeds United" would appear automatically on the Leeds United page.

Finally moving on to The Guardian, Martin continued his love affair with tags and has built a taxonomy containing around 9,000 key words.

The selection of key words remains an issue of editorial policy and can lead to some idiosyncrasies. An example here is The Guardian's use of the term "climate change" when most readers search for "global warming".

The taxonomy has some simple rules built in to it so that other tags can be generated automatically. The system knows that Paris is in France and that France is in Europe.

Management of the taxonomy is important in making all this work and so they employ a "tag manager".

For me, the message of the evening was that tags are the way to organise large amount of disparate information, they should be kept simple and they need to be managed. I think that I knew that beforehand but it was useful to hear it from the horse's mouth and to get real examples of how they are used.

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