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Information Architecture for the World Wide Web (Third Edition)

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In: Reviews > Book Reviews

By Walker Hamilton

Published on January 29, 2007

The first edition of Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, by Louis Rosenfeld and Peter Morville, was regarded as a groundbreaking book on the relatively new field of information architecture. Also known as the polar bear book (for the animal that O’Reilly Publishing featured on the cover), it has been the go-to resource for students, teachers, and professionals looking for an education in website design and construction. The original 226-page tome has grown into the more-than-500-page behemoth that is this newly released third edition.

What will I learn?

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web gives an overview of an information architecture (IA) system before quickly getting down and dirty with organization, labeling, navigation, search, and browsing (including advanced browsing). It will help you make websites that are easy to use, and do not frustrate users who attempt to navigate and interact with the site.

The authors guide us through an introduction to IA, why it is necessary, and how it is practiced in the real world. The end of the first section of the book contains lessons on the effects of good IA on user behavior, and on the usability of a website.

Part Two of the book covers the principles of IA, and includes organization systems, labeling systems (and how to design them), navigation systems, search systems, thesauri, controlled vocabularies, and metadata.

For those interested in the real world application of information architecture, the case studies, report excerpts, and other examples of deliverables will provide groundwork for your own reports. These sorts of real world examples and stories make up the second half of the book. Unfortunately, many of them were not updated for this edition, and one is sometimes left wondering if the knowledge gleaned from the travails of the information architects on those projects is still completely applicable.

What’s new?

With this new edition, Rosenfeld and Morville have improved and updated a wonderful resource. Despite a buzzword-laden pitch: “In this post-Ajaxian Web 2.0 world of wikis, folksonomies, and mash-ups, well-planned information architecture has never been more essential,” this book comprehensively covers the fundamentals and attempts to touch on every nook and cranny of the information architecture world as it relates to the web.

The selling points of the publisher’s description feel rather overstated when the tagging mentioned is tacked on the end of Chapter 7—and takes up little more than two pages—but Chapter 8 comes as quite a nice payoff. It’s devoted to searching, it’s the longest chapter in the book, and it comprises an amazing discussion on methods and types of searching, which can help with the project or content you are working on right now.

Throughout the book, updated examples and screenshots prevent the content from feeling dated, and the authors updated the book by incorporating information on new navigational and information systems that have appeared recently, such as tag clouds and folksonomies. Unfortunately, they shy away from making any judgments or teaching proper or improper use of these new methods and techniques.

Should I get it?

Though this volume is an excellent primer on information architecture and its practice, it can also serve as a reference. As the lines between information architecture, usability, and other practices blur, this is also an excellent book for allowing experts in usability, design, development, and other specialties to jump the fence and peer around.

If you work on a company website, even strictly as a content contributor, you need this book (although perhaps if you already have the second edition, you could get by without it). While this book caters to people working on larger websites and large groupings of data, it can also be useful to professionals working on small and mid-size websites, as much of the emphasis is on real world use and implementation of information architecture for websites.

If you’re looking to sell information architecture to the decision-makers in a company, Part One of the book will offer you compelling arguments and some nicely convincing stories. If you need to gain some knowledge of information architecture yourself, Part Two will provide a launching pad. It introduces principles that can help you recognize when a project you are currently working on might benefit from the eye of someone acting as an information architect.

Summary

This new edition brings a valuable resource up to date and offers helpful thoughts and lessons along the way. It also emphatically proves that information architecture, both as a profession and as a field, is far from mature and still has much to achieve.

As the critical mass of information produced by humans grows by exabytes each year, so does the need to be able to find things within that information, making this book an essential addition to your tech bookshelf.

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Walker Hamilton runs a web development and consulting firm and is working towards a master's degree in Information Architectecture at IIT. He rides a fixie around Chicago, the city that loves him back. He has a knack for finding the best places for beers and spirits and enjoys them greatly.

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