I'm not really what you would call a conventional information architect. I don't think there even is such a thing as a conventional content strategist yet. I just apply what I know, where I know it.

In Consideration of a Medium

One item that has puzzled me about the liturgies of information architecture and content strategy for the Web is that they seem intensely preoccupied with sections and pages. While this bias is understandable—if not expected—for printed material, it should be clear after two decades that a narrative thread on the Web is as likely to cut across sections as it is to evade the boundaries of a single page. The decomposition of sites into collections of resources, however, is a topic I have yet to translate successfully from its native mathematics into human language, so I for now I'm just going to concentrate on content.

When we write for the Web into pages, themselves destined for predefined sections, (at least) two kinds of failure modes get baked in:

  1. The information either straddles multiple resources in funny ways which may or may not be linked together in a useful way, or
  2. Pairs of resources fall out of sync with one another, producing an inchoate, silly or ultimately mendacious narrative.

The first problem is actually genuinely hard. The second is not.

Solution: Show Both Sides of a Given Link

It's pretty simple, actually. Get an enormous monitor and hack together a tool that splits the screen in two, like this:

Then, make it so that when you load a URI, it loads into the left side, like this:

It's also handy to put that little strip down the middle to work by making it show a digest of all the links on the page for quick access.

Finally, make it so when you click on a link on the left-hand side, it opens up on the right:

To create a nice, tidy finish to the behaviour, make links clicked on the right side shift everything left. That's all there is to it. In less than a day's work, our grievous editorial transgressions instantly and forever become embarrassingly transparent. Now to actually act on them.

Footnote: Expedient Desirable Product

This little excursion is a perfect example of what I have come to term an expedient, desirable product. I made it in a day (actually, an evening and a morning) and it is more or less fit to analyze any normal (i.e. non-AJAX) site. It could probably use a tune-up and a polish, but as a proof of concept it actually fares pretty decently.

What makes the acquisition of artifacts such as these successful is one condition above all others: conceptual integrity. I knew why I was doing it, what the result ought to look like and how to achieve it. There was no deliberation—nobody to convince of its value—especially myself.

So I want to take this opportunity to proselytize: innovation is anathema to cost accounting. Every attempt at one is a speculative bet. My recent inclination has been to choose the bets with the best odds, regardless of the size of the payout. That way I can at the very least feel good about what I do in a given day. Though one thing is abundantly clear: these kinds of results don't come about when commissioned, scheduled or otherwise budgeted. You can't tell what they're worth up front any more than you can tell how long (and by induction, how much) they're going to take to produce. Given that, might as well do what's clearest in your head. You can evaluate it once it's done.

And done this tool is, at least for now. However, if there is anybody in the information architecture or content strategy (or for that matter, any other) business who is interested in expanding or augmenting it, of if you just want to try it out (thus spurring me to install it somewhere public), I'm all ears.