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Feb 02, 2004: New Book: IA With XML

Spotted Peter Brown's Information Architecture With XML: A Management Strategy in the latest Rockley Bulletin. Rockley provides a review that makes the book sound like a non-technical take on XML, which certainly is welcome: tools like XML are essentially worthless unless the "whys" are addressed sufficiently for management's benefit.

But is or isn't this an IA book? Some interesting discussion to that effect on the AIfIA-members (only) discussion list. Jesse James Garrett, for one, isn't too keen on this as an IA title: "The book seems to be about technical details of enterprise information management with an eye toward systems interoperability. Issues of structural design appear to be, at best, only touched upon."

Not so sure I agree with Jesse, but then again, neither of us has read it. So I'm casting about to see if any Bloug readers are familiar with Brown's book. If so, care to contribute a book report?

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Comment: Gunnar Langemark (Feb 2, 2004)

While I'm not familiar with above book, it looks like it falls into the same category as Melissa A. Cooks book: "Building Enterprise Information Architectures" from Prentice Hall 1996.
Enterprise wide database structures.

Comment: Lou (Feb 2, 2004)

Just visited CMSWatch and stumbled on a talk of the same name by Brown (http://www.idealliance.org/papers/dx_xml03/papers/03-05-01/03-05-01.html ) as well as some limited information on the book from the Wiley site (http://www.xmlbystealth.net/ ).

Comment: jjg (Feb 3, 2004)

Now that you've seen those links, are you closer to concluding whether this is "our IA" -- i.e., within the scope of issues defined as Institute territory (http://www.aifia.org/pg/about_aifia.php) -- or not?

Comment: ML (Feb 3, 2004)

This reminds me of that time when I did a search on Amazon for metadata repository and I ended up with a book by Adrienne Tannenbaum...and it was more the data modeling/data warehousing type of metadata...but you know the book still was relevant since it provided user/customer-centered design process/methods for developing metadata for an enterprise. Likewise this book is in that same category.

Comment: Peter Boersma (Feb 3, 2004)

I'm afraid this is just the tip of the iceberg...

Last year I participated in an online discussion with a representative of "SCIA", a Dutch foundation for the certification of information architects(!).
On their website they have a dazzling definition of IA that, as far as I can tell, was made by translating the, already confusing, Dutch definition word by word with the help of a Dutch-Chinese and Chinese-English dictionary:

http://www.stichting-cia.nl/architecture/architecture.htm

They make it sound like a mixture of enterprise IA (hey Lou!), IT architecture, organizational/change management, and business analysis.

There must be many more groups like this one that all have defined IA for their purpose (although hopefully more clearly than this one!).

Comment: Livia Labate (Feb 3, 2004)

I haven't read the book but I have read Peter Brown's articles on XML through Rockley's newsletters and I was quite happy with what I read*. However, I wouldn't classify them as IA as "we" talk about it because of how technical it gets. Maybe we are too abstract for XML :P

I don't know if the book goes in a different direction though. Regardless, there is a thin line between XML structural concerns and information architecture in the sense that both shape information retrieval and storage.

Recently I was working with a educational environment which was supposed to benefit from XML's structure (alongside some education standards like SCORM and IMS sequencing) and was pleasantly surprised at how much of my work as content architect for this particular project was impacted by decisions on XML structure and built.

I think JJG's point is valid, but hopefully others will pursue more of the structural design aspects of XML soon...

* I can't seem to find the links to the articles now -- does anybody know? It's a six-part essay on XML and structure.

Comment: Lou (Feb 3, 2004)

Jesse, et al: it's a tough call, isn't it? Structuring content using whatever tools are available (including XML) seems like IA to me--it hits the "content" circle of the "content/users/context" Venn diagram (see http://louisrosenfeld.com/home/bloug_archive/000024.html ). The enterprise focus seems to square with the "context" circle. Sounds like IA to me, but how about those pesky users? Can it be IA without addressing that third circle?

Then there is the issue of there being another field that also uses the term "Information Architecture." Best typified by the Zachman Framework (http://zifa.com/ ), and, I believe, including the book by Melissa Cook that Peter referred to, this type of IA is both broader than our Asilomar flavor, and more technical. Go to Monster, search for "information architect," and in fact most of the postings you'll retrieve many are for this sort of technical architect.

Where does this leave us? Well, the Brown book is probably not Asilomar-style IA, but it clearly can claim to be about IA, as neither variety can claim ownership of the term "IA" just yet. More importantly, this discussion is probably moot, as both varieties of IA are converging, as they increasingly share enterprise settings and structured approaches to handling text, like XML.

Wow, quite a to-do over a book that none of us have even read! ;-)

Comment: Lou (Feb 3, 2004)

Hmmm... Turning this whole issue around: if an Asilomar-style information architect was writing a book titled "Information Architecture with XML," what would it be about? Anyone care to suggest a hypothetical table of contents?

Comment: ML (Feb 3, 2004)

I have to apologize first that I'm not going to be at the Summit to debate this further. I have to admit this is the same topic I wanted to address in the would-be presentation I was going to make at the Summit on metadata standards and enterprise IA. It's the biggest thing I learned from going to the Wilshire Metadata Conference, IA Summit, and Dublin Core last year. Yes we're using the same lexicon and maybe they don't mean the same thing but the bottomline is information management. How can we better serve the enterprise with better practices of information management. There are so many opportunities right now to "break new ground" and share our understanding, learn from each other, find tangible/practical ways of working better together. I'm facing that right now in my org. Each of the organizations/conferences have recognized that there will be convergence...the next step is to start talking/sharing stories with each other.

TOC suggestion
XML is just a delivery mechanism. I would first start with Information Management across an enterprise(content management, records management, database management, web content management, knowledge management, etc.) and then move into an overview of the systems and what common parts exist among them (data storage, authentication/authorization, integrated enterprise applications, search, taxonomies) and then finish it off with the various practices of information management(metadata, database schemas, content structures, business process)...I guess I could go on and on about this...all of this is what I deal with at work...gets really politically charged but exciting as well.

Comment: Lou (Feb 3, 2004)

Durn it, ML, wish you could make it and present on this at the Summit!

Comment: Livia Labate (Feb 4, 2004)

"...if an Asilomar-style information architect was writing a book titled "Information Architecture with XML," what would it be about?"

Would an IA dedicate an entire book to one technology? But then it doesn't *depend* as much! ;)

ML, that sounded really great -- why don't you turn it into a B&A article? I'm sure many would like to read it (I know I would!).

And for those going to the IA Summit:

Saturday, 3:45 - 4:30
Metadata Standards & the Enterprise IA
http://www.iasummit.org/confdescrip.htm#go17

Comment: victor (Feb 4, 2004)

Madonnalisa: "XML is just a delivery mechanism."

Amen.

Comment: Mags (Feb 4, 2004)

My main role as an IA at the Beeb is to create content models that are translated directly into XML or database tables. Funnily enough I seem to be one of the only people in the organisation who is doing this and I TOTALLY consider this to be an IA role. I am the person defining the difference between a strand and a series. How they are instantiated within XML or tables I don't really care (much), but I do care about the data models that will impact how I link this content together within the interface or the resultant web pages.

On another note, ML won't be doing the session at the conference (our loss). I definitely want to see a Boxes and Arrows article.

Comment: ML (Feb 5, 2004)

I have most of the material together...I'll write the editors and ck my schedule.

Comment: Livia Labate (Feb 5, 2004)

Btw, my mistake about those articles, it was a different person:

http://www.arbortext.com/html/xpn_oct__03.html

Comment: Bob Doyle (Feb 6, 2004)

Lou,

I have skimmed the Peter Brown book, and find the term Information Architecture is used in just two places, in his preface on p.xiv and in his conclusions on p.292.

Elsewhere the main terms he uses are Information Management, Information Storage and Retrieval, Information Organization and Access, and Information Typology.

I think he has put IA in the title and preface to establish the metaphor that we are building something, and that builders need standards.

Of course the standard he has in mind is XML.

So he does nothing with the IA concept as we see it, and nowhere in the book does IA appear as describing the four points of your Polar Bear book definition of IA (p.4).

As you say there, "as designers of web sites, we should not become trapped by the metaphor of building architecture" (p.4). It appears Peter Brown is content to be so trapped.

His book is shelved in our lab with our XML books, not IA.

Comment: Livia Labate (Feb 9, 2004)

I saw this job posting for "Senior Interface Architect" and thought of this thread:
http://www.ezgov.com/jobs_category.jsp?category=technology

"...plus three or more years experience split between (and with comparable experience in) Information Architecture and Interface Coding project work. Strong knowledge of HTML, JSP, JavaScript, CSS, XML, XSL, and DHTML."

Sounds like the kind of IA this book is about

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