Peter Van Dijck

Information architecture and intranet development: real-life stories from the trenches

Lecture date: 16 November 2004

What do deformed frogs in Minnesota have to do with information architecture?

A lot, according to Peter Van Dijck. He cited a website that is devoted solely to this specialised topic. Actually, it is a website within a website, or as Peter calls it a “topic page” or “mini-portal”. A topic page groups and situates the available information and is typically maintained by a subject matter expert. According to Van Dijck, it is an example of information architecture (IA) that is relatively easy to implement.

Another example of easy-to-implement IA is “best bets”. Van Dijck noted that search query distributions follow the power law. Queries are clustered around a relatively small number of topics and terms, and the frequency of search terms and topics rapidly drops off. So by manually optimising say the top 20 percent of all queries a company might improve search efficiency for 80 percent of all searches. Such simple, yet highly-effective strategies are already being used by Microsoft and others, Van Dijck noted.

In a wide-ranging, interactive discussion, Van Dijck also talked about portal IA (tip: structure your portal to reflect the user’s information needs and not the company’s organisational structure) and enterprise search (tip: cluster results). One of his most startling statements, however, was the simple observation that many people lack basic information management skills. Creators of information need skills in versioning, naming and classifying whilst users need library and search skills. Presenting in a casual style complemented by his perfect New York accent, this Belgian information architect’s main point was that a company can embark on simple solutions rather than spending millions on major IA projects or complex technologies. Indeed, he began his talk by stating: “All companies have an information problem, not a technical problem.”

About the speaker

Peter Van Dijck

Peter Van Dijck is a Belgian information architect specialising in metadata and in cultural and language issues on the web. He is the author of Information Architecture For Designers, developed the XFML specification, and founded the AIFIA translations group to make information architecture better known outside of the English speaking world.