Here’s a philosophical topic to start the week. Information Aesthetics, a blog about design and data visualization, posted two videos from Maya Design. The first discusses the term information, the second architecture. As a software developer, these are terms I use all the time, but I often have a hard time defining precisely what they mean.
It’s a bit of a challenge for our marketing and communications strategy. The core API for Infovark, our product, is fundamentally nothing more than an information architecture. We use this core to create solutions that help knowledge workers get stuff done. But if information and architecture are tricky to define, you can imagine the confusion involved in combining the two! But where was I?
The two videos do a great job describing the terms information and architecture from the classical point of view.
These definitions are classical in the sense that they rely on Plato’s concept of an idea being separate from a particular physical representation. There are other approaches. For example, Marshall McLuhan believed that “the medium is the message” — that you can’t separate the meaning from the representation that conveys it.
Did I mention this was going to be a philosophical post? I did warn you…
Even though the topic is a bit academic, there are real-world debates going on about representations and forms right now.
How many differrent representations of you can be found on the web? There’s your LinkedIn profile, your Facebook page, your StackOverflow account…
Much of the buzz surrounding the open stack technologies is due to there being a way to finally associate a person with all the stuff about that person on the web. Wikipedians talk about having “canonical URIs” — a web page address that points to the master record for an article, rather than a particular translation of an article. And if you support or build software that uses the REST pattern, you’ll face this issue. What is the base address for this web page? How do I get to the HTML version, the XML version, the PDF version, or the MP3 audio version of the page?
There’s not a “right” answer to any of these questions, but we usually adopt certain conventions for dealing with them. Libraries had to figure out whether to keep Braille editions of books together with the print editions, for example. After all, they’re the same book — they contain the same message — but the format is different.
We’re working out those same conventions on the Internet right now with regard to privacy, data portability, text translations, podcasts vs. screencasts vs. print, etc.