EuroIA: The Information Architecture of Culture

by September 25, 2011

In his The Information Architecture of Culture presentation at EuroIA in Prague, Martin Belam talked frankly about what worked and what didn't in a recent project at the Guardian.

  • The Guardian has 1,373,297 articles on the Internet. 50M users online, which is much bigger than its print audience(~250k). The Guardian has a pretty active community (150k comments a day) and wanted to further engage this audience by allowing them to participate in its art coverage. How can you open up opinions to everyone attending art exhibitions?
  • The review/release/consume cycle is out of synch. Previews and reviews come to media outlets before general consumers have had a chance to see/experience things.
  • Up front, the team did not get their API model right. They tried to use ISBNS for books and did not heed advice that ISBNs are “evil”. They are a physical system not a digital system. They don’t identify a unique work but a specific edition. They don’t cover anthologies, they are added to CDs, calendars and even card displays.
  • Used an Objects/Properties/Actions Map. This helped with mobile first strategy.
  • The team created a number of pages that don’t contain original content and ultimately had to de-index them in order to adjust for Google indexing changes that punish sites for non-original content. The Guardian’s reading also thought the automatically created pages were not up to the usual quality standard of the paper.
  • When people are arguing about design details, chances are you’ve got agreement on the bigger pictures. Got obsessed with design details (45 minute discussions about start rating details!)
  • Make sure there are enough development resources on your team. Lot of people can discuss things but only developers can build. Give developers a chance to be creative. Allow them to hack around your ideas to get more involved.
  • The Guardian is now trying two different commenting systems in parallel: one in-house and one Facebook. They suspect the types of comments they receive will be different in the two systems.

Lessons Learned

  • Know what is important: what goal are you trying to achieve?
  • Trust good developers. Engaged developers can be the most valuable assets on a project.
  • Listen to all of the team. Job titles and age don’t matter if they have the right knowledge.
  • Get the model right: lists have been easier than pages and fronts as the model was right.