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Apr 13, 2003: Data Geeks Come Home

Through UX hub Paula Thornton, I recently came into contact with Bob Seiner, publisher of TDAN.com: The Data Administration Newsletter.

For the past few years, I've been wondering when I'd bump into folks from the data management/data warehousing world. Or when they'd bump into information architects. Maybe it's starting to happen? Bob's latest article, "A Conceptual Meta-Model for Unstructured Data," discusses some of the differences between structured data (the stuff that TDAN's readers typically work with) and unstructured data (the stuff that makes up most web sites, and is dealt with by most IAs, librarians, and technical writers). Have a read and you'll see that Bob covers some familiar ground (including defining metadata) with a fresh and definitely different perspective.

While structured and unstructured data are definitely not the same thing, practitioners can learn a lot from each other. For example, end users don't seem to figure much in the (precious little) data management literature that I've read. Perhaps user-centered design techniques would go a long way in that world? Conversely, information architects are just beginning to wade into serious, granular content modeling. I'm sure that hard-core data modelers could teach us quite a bit.

So, if I can safely assume that UX is going to grow as an umbrella concept for all sorts of design work, will data management eventually find its way under the Big Tent? My money is on 2005; anyone else want to join the pool?

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Comment: Madonnalisa (Apr 14, 2003)

I've also been thinking about hard-core content modeling and trying to learn more about data modeling. In a few weeks I'm going to the Wilshire Conference on Metadata(http://www.wilshireconferences.com/MD2003/) and a couple of folks from Dublin Core will be giving a talk on the cross roads of content and data modeling. I'm totally excited to see the overlaps. I also spoke to Paula to find out what kind of reception the data folks would have if IA/UX folks started to show up. There's some promise if we start off slowly and start talking to those who will listen ;)

Comment: Lou (Apr 14, 2003)

ML, I hope you'll make a trip report available. I've been getting Wilshire's conference brochures for years, and sometimes they look right up my alley (and sometimes not!). But haven't made it to any of them yet, so I'm eager to know how it goes.

Comment: Paula Thornton (Apr 14, 2003)

Wouldn't it be great if something actually moved forward from this point? My life would be fulfilled!

Actually I stumbled up the path immersed in this world looking for justification for interaction design and am working my way back again (with a divergence to home/living spaces design).

Most of us data-types interested in more humane topics either ended up in managing metadata (to make the ability to access/interact with data more reasonable) or in business intelligence tools.

I did a piece on Rob's newsletter to introduce the two 'side' to each other last year:
http://www.tdan.com/pubpers0110.htm

Comment: John O'Donovan (Apr 16, 2003)

It is really great to get this synergy as I have received some very blank stares when talking about it to IAs. It can be a sure fire way to stop a discussion. Except with Paula T whereby it is a certain way to start a discussion.

Being not as easily pleased as Paula :) I would also like to see IAs talking more to Systems Analysts. I think both data modellers and systems analysts perform roles that IAs cross over with.

There certainly is a lot that the world of data modelling has to offer IAs and likewise many data modellers would benefit from thinking about the softer issues that IAs consider. Better synergies here will also save IAs from reinventing the wheel as there is tried and tested knowledge in these fields of practice. Many of the techniques they use provide very powerful tools to model complex problems.

One thing to consider is that one of the reasons why there is little in the way of UCD mentioned in data modelling is that traditionally this is a field that deals with abstract and logical concepts of data. This is what gives the approach so much power, because a normalised data model is very flexible.

The application of that data in the user context was done by the processes identified by the systems analyst, who is the link between the data and the functional requirements. Data modelling really has far more synergies with library science and Big IA than navigation issues, for example.

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