The Architecture of Participation

Back from the IA Summit, and my brain is full… brimming and spilling over.

One thing that I came away with was a newly energized zeal to preach the wisdom of Information Architecture as a practice of creating digital spaces for people to collaborate, live, work and play in. The focus being not on the individual-to-interface interaction (or individual-to-retrieved-information interaction), but between the individual and other individuals or groups.

Focusing on tags or taxonomies or even “organization” itself is focusing on the particular raw materials we use to get the social-engineering result. A city planner’s job isn’t defined by “deciding where to put streets and sewers.” But knowing where those go is central to their job of making urban spaces conducive to particular kinds of living — commerce, residence, play, etc.

That is, an urban planner’s real focus is human systems. But the materials used to affect human systems are concrete, steel, electricity, signage, roads and the rest. Lots of specialties are required, and knowledge of many of them is necessary.

Anyway, I ran across this today: Here’s an Idea: Let Everyone Have Ideas – New York Times

The concept is maybe a little cheesy, but evidently it works. This software is essentially “an internal market where any employee can propose [an idea]. These proposals become stocks, complete with ticker symbols, discussion lists and e-mail alerts. Employees buy or sell the stocks, and prices change to reflect the sentiments of the company’s engineers, computer scientists and project managers — as well as its marketers, accountants and even the receptionist.”

It seems to me an excellent example of information architecture — creating this application to enable, encourage and refine the collective idea-making wisdom of a whole organization. Getting the labeling right in such an application isn’t the focus of “IA” anymore to me. That’s taxonomy or c.v. or interaction design work that is essential to the success of the architecture, of course.

But the Information Architecture is the larger issue of understanding what structures are made out of those materials (vocabularies, search tools, labels) to enable and encourage the human system inhabiting that structured environment.

Author: Andrew Hinton

I use information to architect better places for humans. More at

One thought on “The Architecture of Participation”

  1. So, it seems that your presentation at the Summit was “the best presentation of the entire conference” from several reports.
    Wow, Andrew!

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