Information Architecture – Ethics

While Chapter 14 is the shortest chapter to date, there is a great deal of weight when it comes to Ethics. So what’s the deal with the Spidey pic? To quote:

Did they ever explain that Spiderman symbolizes the virtuous hypertextual power of the web?

Other than Spidey spinning a web I don’t see the virtuous hypertextual power of the web. At first, I did not see the connection of ethics when it comes to information architecture. Rather, I am reminded of the famous, “With great power..comes great responsibility” comic book quote. In the context of ethics and the spidey quote, there is a correlation in 6 different areas.

1. Intellectual Access – there was an example were Amazon was accused of giving “skewed” results. The complaint was from an abortion rights organization was how the word abortion yielded the did you mean adoption response. While Amazon claims that the fault lied with the algorithm being used. It is one thing to suggest a similar word or phrase but it is clear that regardless of the algorithm someone had to create the program as well as the response to search inquires.

Some time ago, I used my library’s metasearch option called webfeat. Just to see what happened, I entered the word fanboys. I am to a degree a fanboy and I understand the meaning. However, just like the Amazon example, I was given this result. Should I be insulted or could I blame this algorithm?

2. Labeling – Going back to the tagging and categories versus controlled vocabulary is something I struggle with as a librarian at work as well as a patron. There needs to be some type of happy middle ground where the controlled vocabulary has some flexibility like a created personal tag. My library will be going live with Aquabrowser which has a function to not only create a personal list of found a patron can create but also all them to add their own tags. This will allow patrons to be able to sort and categorize their own findings on their lists. However, this functions stays with the patron and not to the general public. I would love to see this be added to OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog) as an ongoing basis that will increase the ease of usability for the patron. This being said, the area this be of greater use would be the online databases the library subscribes to. Since these databases use controlled vocabulary, one way to increase their value is to allow these personal tags to occur and in turn, use them to find item more easily. While one person may think of feline as a subject to look up another can think of tabby or just cat. In the end, it’s the same thing.

3. Categories and Classification – a perfect example of categories and classification would be the dewey decimal system. While this is not the same as a website the example would mirror how information is found. For example, graphic novel and manga are listed in 741. Dewey has two classifications – fiction and nonfiction – 741 is nonfiction. While not all graphic novels and mangas are fiction but to keep all of them in the nonfiction section does not make sense. Many bookstores have more user friendly categories and classification, the design process of a web site should be logical and make sense to the user to find information and not just the designer/architect.

4. Granularity – I’m still not clear about how this relates to a library. Since granularity breaks down information. I take it on this point if I am looking for books on nursing, I should be able to find other related items such as careers, test preparations, etc. Should we have information about the everything about nursing? Perhaps, but is this the wisest of moves since there are many, many other subjects that deserve the same treatment. This begs the question, how do we treat each subject and sub subjects?

5. Physical Access – With this portion of the chapter, much like a physical barrier that prevents wheelchair from entering a building, a poorly designed website can hamper the user much in the same way. Since I am more than a novice when it comes to computers, there are many patrons who are not even way how to use a mouse let alone know how to navigate a website. This is not to say that all websites have to be created for the lowest denominator. Rather, there should be some thought when it comes to how different users operate and then create the same ease of use as for an expert to a beginner.

6. Persistence – in a word – legacy. As much as we think of the future and users needs when it comes to finding information the solutions of today may be locked tomorrow. A great example the text brings up was the Y2K bug. Since the world did not get plunged into total darkness, there is an element of worry and concern. The aquabrowser is an overlay application which uses the same information but sorts items by relevance. This program using a tag cloud to find related items to whatever the term or phrase is being requested. Looking forward, will this aquabrowser become this generation’s legacy? Only time will tell.

There is a great number of issues to consider and as an information architect, one has a great deal of power to wield with information. Hopefully, if nothing else, that architect will remember their great responsibility to all of us.


~ by The Monster on April 18, 2010.

One Response to “Information Architecture – Ethics”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ben Shoemate. Ben Shoemate said: Information Architecture – Ethics « Page 49 […]


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