How many stories does your architecture have?

I’ve been reading bits and pieces of storytelling in business-storytelling in organizations, an archived set of materials from a symposium on the subject, hosted at Xerox-PARC.
I’m intrigued by what narrative and story have to do with IA. It isn’t addressed directly as such in this seminar, but there’s plenty that’s applicable.
If you think of an information architecture as a three-dimensional experience of storied language, where some stories are predetermined, some are created by the user, and some are created collaboratively between users, it becomes an Escher-like hall ideas and expression.
The Internet is a huge hall like this, with very little predetermined structure, but an information architect can create structural occasions and opportunities for others to follow. It could be a linear narrative (anything from an ecommerce workflow to a case study walkthrough) or on the other end of the spectrum, a wiki.
If we think of stories in the truly contemporary way, as socially constructed narratives that have as many dimensions and facets as reality itself, and we strip away the atoms and much of the baggage of conventional time and space, is what we are left with something very much like the Internet, or its more popular manifestation, the Web?

Dropping magnets on the moral compass

CNET has a story today on the latest obsession of our esteemed Representatives in DC: House passes ban on “morphed” erotica.

An excerpt explains: In their April ruling, a 6-3 majority of the justices wrote that Congress’ first try at banning "morphed" porn was akin to prohibiting dirty thoughts. "First Amendment freedoms are most in danger when the government seeks to control thought or to justify its laws for that impermissible end," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. "The right to think is the beginning of freedom, and speech must be protected from the government because speech is the beginning of thought." Prosecutors argue that the COPPA bill is needed, since otherwise it is too difficult to prove that an actual child was involved in the production of an electronic image on, say, a seized hard drive. .

Here’s another example of how weird the world is getting due to technology, and how morality itself is often shaped by the medium.
Anybody who thinks this is an easy question is missing the big picture (so to speak).
If a picture is worth a thousand words, and the picture is not of something “real,” then what do the words say?
We used to not have to worry about this problem. It was obvious in an analog world, or at least provable with the help of experts, that a photograph had been doctored, or that a film had been edited and lit to fool the eye.
Not so with CG creations. They’re getting better and better. When they show someone doing the physically impossible (like Spiderman) no big deal, because 1) what he’s doing is obviously a trick and 2) it’s not especially illegal or harmful to anyone except street thugs and supervillains.
But take a few minutes to deftly edit the image of 21 year old woman engaged in sexual activity to look like a 16 year old youngster, and even though what you’ve done is somewhat disgusting, it didn’t hurt anyone physically. Yet you could end up in prison. That seems absurd, right?
But how about this… you’re trying to find and prosecute members of a child porn ring. The only physical evidence you have is a bunch of jpegs on a computer showing pictures like the one described above, along with other scenes. The technology has made it so that we cannot assume these pictures are showing the real thing, although in this case based on testimony of others involved you pretty much know it’s really going on.
If you can’t grab this sicko with the evidence in hand, because it’s possible that it’s “morphed”– now what do you do?
I’ve certainly oversimplified this, but the bottom line is that what we have taken as ‘reality’ over the last couple of centuries is being dissolved before our eyes. Even eyewitness testimony and fingerprinting are known now to be much less conclusive than we could previously, comfortably assume.
So, now, how are we going to sort the baddies from the virtual baddies? If only technology could give us a way to see into one another’s hearts?

Dawkins Interview in '95

Wired had an article in 1995 that, bless their enterprising little hearts, is still available lo these many years later online, about Richard Dawkins, Mr. Meme-Coiner himself. Here’s a quote: Dawkins’s revolutionary evolutionary rhetoric has particularly inspired researchers of artificial life. Indeed, Dawkins’s work has created new contexts for exploring genetic algorithms and has sensitized the growing community of artificial-life researchers to the evolutionary dynamics of their software creations. Much as Herbert Simon and Marvin Minsky framed the agenda for artificial intelligence, Richard Dawkins has effectively defined the evolutionary agendas for artificial life. If you want to understand the future of natural and synthetic evolution, you have to read Richard Dawkins.

Now what?

I’ve been using a blog for a couple of years now at drewspace, but it’s pretty limited to the few things Blogger is good at. So I went whole-hog on this here Movable Type extravaganza. But now it almost feels like too much tool for me. Blogger was simple… once I had it figured out, I only had one thing to worry about: posting something now and then to my page. Now with all these other tools available, it’s a little intimidating. MT itself doesn’t come with that much more power on the surface, but it’s much more extensible. Gets me thinking about what it must feel like to companies and departments who spend upwards of a million bucks on a huge new IT tool, only to end up using a fraction of it. (Like getting a Cuisinart, only to end up using it the same way you used your old blender.
For example, I have a category field sitting above the little box I’m typing this into. I haven’t set up any categories yet. Why? Well, I guess I just have no idea what the heck I’m going to categorize and how. I don’t have time for that. I just want to rant on about something and hit a button.
Well, I’m not taking the old blog down for a while, if ever, but I don’t have time to do two of them, so for now I’ll just continue to tweak this memekitchen thing until something clicks for me and I figure out how I’m going to use it. Until then, anybody who stumbled up on this thing is going to have to put up with more of this kind of useless rambling. But heck, that’s what blogs are for, right?


I hereby coin the term “gurule” — and announce that I’m tired of gurules.

By “gurule” I mean overly simplistic rules made up by design gurus, mostly for the purpose of sounding smart and making a name for themselves.

“The Back Button is Always Bad”

“Redundancy is Bad”

“Frames are Bad”

Hm, usually they seem to be about things that are bad.

Not long ago I posted a comment on IA Slash about this.

Yes some things are usually a sign of flawed design, and some things are typically hallmarks of good design, but sticking these insights into categorical pronouncements is just one more step in the slippery slope to hell that is the powerpointification of America.

What the heck is 'look and feel' anyway?

In this NYT story on usability testing (registration may be required), we get the following quotation that shows how much education is still needed in the public sphere:

One HFI client, the TD Bank Financial Group, encountered some negative feedback when it began its usability testing, said Steve Gesner, the company’s chief technology officer. "Customers said they couldn’t find things on the Web site and they asked us why things weren’t more intuitive," Mr. Gesner said. "We weren’t sending a consistent look and feel across the site."

The client, Gesner, refers to what they are doing as “sending” (i.e. broadcasting) a “consistent look and feel across the site.” Not only does this quotation not especially make sense, but it has very little to do with customers’ being able to find what they need. He’s still talking one-way brand and visual style, when the problems rests with ‘findability’ (part of information architecture) and interaction design.

I’m not dumping on this individual, but quoting him to point out how difficult it still is for people to get their heads around the problems their shared information environments face. The fact that he struggles to make a logical sentence is a powerful indicator of being stuck between paradigms.

And the fact that this article puts eyeball-tracking and taxonomies in the same bucket further highlights how much of a mish-mash this must all seem to be to those outside our disciplines (or even to many of us inside them).