March 11, 2005

Pissing Off Librarians: My Talk on Document Genres

I plan, some day, to discuss my thoughts/research/practice involving document genre in great detail.

For now, I'm offering for download the PDF of my presentation at the IA Summit 2005.

Document Genres: The Hidden Workhorse of Information Architecture.

I just wrote a little thing to a mailing list which might provide some context:

For those who missed my talk at the IA Summit, I spoke (at some length, and awfully rapidly) about document genres as an overlooked element in the standard practice of information architecture.

By genre, I'm referring to things like
- press release
- map
- home page
- weblog
- feature list

Any type of document that has been developed to serve some specific purpose (usually the accomplishing of a task) and for which has emerged a fairly stable form.

So, in this case, even though all that PDF says is "chicken," when you look at it, you know it's utilizing our understanding of the "academic paper" genre. The genre has such a well-developed form that it's obvious in the blink of an eye.

In my talk, I discuss how genre is woefully underused in an explicit fashion. Genre is essential in helping people set expectations for 1) information and 2) use of that document, and while we have very many explicit affordances for such things in "the real world," online all we usually have is a link... So those links need to be explicit, and often explicit about the genre of what is to come, so people can make reasonable predictions of what to expect when clicked.

One thing I've heard since I've returned to SF is that I "pissed off librarians" with my talk, because I am only just repackaging what they've known all along, so what's the big deal? And who am I to take credit?

The big deal is--why aren't they talking about this with information architects? Why is genre never discussed on any website project I'm working on?

I'd be more than happy to make a career out of taking the wisdom from library and information science, and bringing it to the web design masses... Whether its faceted classifications or genres, someone's got to spread the word.

If you're interested in pursuing digital document genres further, in ways that seem to me highly relevant to information architecture, the single best resource is Prof. Kevin Crowston's papers.

Posted by peterme at 02:28 AM | Comments (7)


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