In the last post I kicked off a series on why SharePoint needs information architecture (IA). Many of the failed or failing SharePoint implementations I see at clients could have been avoided (or at least mitigated) by taking the time to build out an effective IA for SharePoint.
Before I turn to discuss some specific ways you can improve your SharePoint IA, I want to level set a bit and provide a quick overview of what IA is, because while folks out there may have heard of IA, many may be at a loss for what exactly IA is.
So let’s dive in and get an quick overview of IA in the rest of this post before turning in the next one to the specifics of SharePoint IA.
Richard Saul Wurman is widely considered to have coined the term information architecture in the mid-1970s. In his more recent work, he describes the information architect as one who
- organizes the patterns inherent in data, making the complex clear
- creates the structure or map of information which allows others to find their personal paths to knowledge
- addresses the needs of the age focused upon clarity, human understanding, and the science of the organization of information
So much for the academic definition of IA. In the simplest terms, IA helps you organize your information so you can use it more effectively and efficiently.
One of the best visualizations of IA is from Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld, who define IA as the intersection of the three “circles” of users, their content, and the context of their usage.
Figure 1 – Morville and Resenfeld’s Three “Circles” of Information Architecture
IA practitioners use a range of tools to make information more usable, from metadata and file naming, to taxonomy and thesauri, to folder hierarchy and page structure. And if they do their jobs well, you shouldn’t even notice the IA—you should be focused on getting done whatever job you need to get done.
But if they do their jobs poorly, it’ll be hard to think about anything else…
OK, so much for the background on IA. In the next post, I’ll turn to how the tools of IA can be applied to SharePoint to improve user experience and the overall quality of the environment. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from folks out there…so jump in and get the conversation started!
Joe Shepley, PMP is the Vice President and Practice Leader at Doculabs in the Greater Chicago Area. He specializes in several areas including SDLC (software development life cycle) methodolorgies, ITIL (V3 Foundation), Project Management, and most importantly Microsoft SharePoint. You can connect with Joe via Twitter by following @joeshepley or on LinkedIn.
 Wurman, Richard Saul; Bradford, Peter; eds. Information Architects. Zurich, Switzerland: Graphis Press; 1996