Curations in space and time

30 June, 2014    

Information architecture is preoccupied with space. I work hard to understand the shape and nature of the information spaces I create online. I work even harder to try to imbue these spaces with meaning, making sense of the content individually and considering what will happen when these pieces are combined into a whole. I want to create the right kind of ‘wholes’.

Because I learnt something when Alice fell down the rabbit hole. Events connected themselves together into an adventure. In isolation, take one of the elements of the story and what would it mean? Could you decode it? But sit a Cheshire Cat next to a Mad Hatter in the right context and a pattern of meaning starts to emerge. This is the skill of the storyteller, to combine narrative elements to build a compelling experience. I suspect that it is also the skill of information architecture.

original_alice-in-wonderland-tea-time-print

Information architecture isn’t just the construction of meaningful spaces. We should really be striving to help users create meaningful experiences. And experiences don’t just happen in space, they also happen in time.

The creative organisation

There’s still plenty of challenge to be had in creating great content. Whether you’re the BBC, an individual blogger or something in-between, content is the stuff that is consumed by our audiences. But content consumption behaviours are changing, content is changing and maybe it isn’t enough anymore to think about content as these self-contained, discreet blocks. While we may sit down and create a piece of content as a self-contained whole, content is consumed in a sequence. Content is consumed in parts. Content is part of a journey.

Richard Saul Wurman told us that the creative organisation of information creates new information. I think we need to be extending our tools to take into account the creative potential within curation and architecting information. The way ‘pages’ connect on the internet is just as important as the way that paragraphs connect in a body of text. Get it wrong and you lose the audience – but get it right and you imply an inevitability to the ‘onward journey’.

On the left, an optical image from the Digitized Sky Survey shows Cygnus X-1, outlined in a red box.  Cygnus X-1 is located near large active regions of star formation in the Milky Way, as seen in this image that spans some 700 light years across. An artist's illustration on the right depicts what astronomers think is happening within the Cygnus X-1 system.  Cygnus X-1 is a so-called stellar-mass black hole, a class of black holes that comes from the collapse of a massive star.  New studies with data from Chandra and several other telescopes have determined the black hole's spin, mass, and distance with unprecedented accuracy.

Cygnus X-1 is a so-called stellar-mass black hole, a class of black holes that comes from the collapse of a massive star. New studies with data from Chandra and several other telescopes have determined the black hole’s spin, mass, and distance with unprecedented accuracy.

For the second half of 2014 I’m going to be thinking about content syndication. But in particular I’m considering ways to enable storytelling and experience design across different content objects. I want to build ‘time’ into the curations that we create when we syndicate and promote content.

Often information architecture considers the spaces that related content can appear in. We choose the related links at the end of a page, draw up some rough rules for a right-hand-side column. But this kind of thinking can focus solely on the context of the content, rather than the context of the user. I’ll be thinking about how we can build curations with a sense of their place in a sequence, rather than just their place in a space. If you’re interested in these challenges too, please get in touch.

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