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Aug 20, 2004: IA and Information Management

Jochen Fassbender writes:

Last week there was a meeting of three AIfIA members in Hamburg: Britta Glatten, Jim Kalbach, and me. We talked about strategic approaches of how to spread IA in Germany.

When dealing with the ever-challenging question of what IA is (when asked by non-IAs), we couldn't come up with a satisfying answer of what the difference is between IA and information management. The latter term is more common in Germany as opposed to the unknown IA.

Do you think it is overlapping in many respects? I think IM is quite a vague term but difficult to pinpoint. In Polar Bear 2 you list CM and KM as related fields. But how do we explain the difference between IA and IM?

Great question; it's one that I haven't heard before, which is surprising, as IM has been around for quite a while, and at least us library science types were exposed to IM concepts back in grad school.

My gut is that IM is inclusive of IA in the sense that it addresses findability. But IM is probably broader in scope, with additional focus on information capture and storage. Maybe a bit closer to the kind of information architecture popularized by the Zachman school.

Google seems to have handled the search "information management" definition quite well, pulling up fifteen or twenty different definitions. Only two mention "users" and three mention some version of "retrieval". None mention "find". This unscientifically confirms my gut. IM is kind of broader than IA, but may be more focused on one class of users--those who manage information systems--and not so much on the other kind of users, namely those who actually use the information.

Don't know if this helps our pals in Germany. I'd suggest they start by translating Krug, Shneiderman, Nielsen, and Spool into Deutsche ASAP. Maybe show their managers some user testing highlight film bloopers. That might prepare the soil for IA acceptance.

Then again, maybe they shouldn't bother pushing "information architecture;" whatever term works, run with it...

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Comment: Karl Nelson (Aug 21, 2004)

My take on the IA-IM question: http://www.karlnelson.net/weblog/000837.html

Comment: Kit Seeborg (Aug 21, 2004)

Hi - I hate to say it, but where I live IM is used as a verb to indicate Instant Messaging.

"IM me when you get back from your meeting."

It's hard to break the vernacular of the Commonfolk.

Comment: Chris Farnum (Aug 22, 2004)

I agree that there's a great deal of overlap between IA and IM, particularly in the area of KM, though perhaps different areas of focus. By the way, the professional society for info managment is ARMA (http://www.arma.org). The "RM" is for records management, a fairly traditional branch of information science practioners. I think that in IM there's a growing interest in IA. In fact, a couple of years ago I was asked to to write an article that was an intro to IA for the IM Journal (published by ARMA).

Farnum, Chris. "Information Architecture: Five Things Information Managers Need to Know." Information Management Journal, v36n5, Sep/Oct 2002, p33-40.

Though it's not available for free, I believe that you can order it from the ARMA site.

If you have access to ProQuest databases (for example ABI Inform Global or ProQuest Research Library) through a nearby college or public library you can access it at:


Comment: Britta Glatten (Aug 23, 2004)

Thank you for your interesting and inspiring comments - and to you Lou, for *blouging* the question in the first place!

I also agree that there is a great deal of overlap between IA and IM. The saying *You can't manage what you don't know* to me rings especially true when dealing with the somewhat almost intrinsically fuzzy concept of information and knowledge. Enterprise-IA, as defined by Lou and Peter (Morville), in my mind also wonderfully accounts for the strategic component and the needs of all user groups when developing information spaces.
In that respect IA is broader than IM, yet then again... overlapping... different focus and history...

When making the case for IA, however, I opt for the more pragmatic approach of putting an emphasis on communicating its benefits and business value. Explaining the process behind it all along the way also comfortably puts to rest the ever-looming question of defining and classifying the damn thing - at least when talking to clients.

Speaking of defining terms and concepts across *language-borders*:
Personally, I've also fallen in love with the umbrella-term *User Experience Design*. In English, I find that it communicates exceptionally well, try to translate it into German, well - there you go, or rather don't go.
That's also one of the reasons why I prefer and stick to the term *IA*, regardless of related questions of a more or less philosophical nature...

Comment: ML (Aug 27, 2004)

Where I was previously, information management was a broader form of information architecture. What I was tasked to do was bridge the gap of information management systems and other un/semi-structured information(file systems, web sites, digital libraries,non database information). I was always conscious of not only managers of these systems, but the end users. One example of the impact of IM principles across the board is information retrieval (how is the information structured or not, how can it be retrieved, what can be displayed, how relevant can the system be tweaked to make it useful for the end-user, how can we make the end-to-end system supportable and useful and of course at an efficient cost).

I still think it's important that we all stay up with the areas that touch information (from business needs, information systems, websites, km systems). I'm hoping that as I pursue my consulting in information management that I could somehow bring all that I have learned into a framework of best practices. Maybe with all my upcoming free time I can complete my article on the cross roads of Information Management (database management, digital libraries/km, web/content/document management).

This all comes back to my little acronym iOMAR (Information Organization, Management, Access, Retrieval)it's a way to remind me of how to approach information (in addition to the nice IA venn diagram).

Comment: Vaibhav (Apr 2, 2005)

Hi folks......

I want to know the difference between Master of Information Management program and the program MS/Management Information Systems.....What jobs can one look out for when completing these programs???
Really want a clear answer abt this one.....

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