Dump your information architecture

Paul Boag

Do you run a website made up of thousands of pages? If so, then you may want to consider listening to an excellent presentation by Russ Weakley. He proposes an interesting new approach to the information architecture of large sites.

I have written before about the unique challenges of coming up with navigational approaches for large sites. It is a subject particularly close to my heart as many of the sites I work on have huge numbers of pages. Sites of this size do not sit comfortably under traditional navigational models with information architectures that become very deep and convoluted.

The approach suggested by Russ in his presentation at Webstock is a radical departure and I can imagine a lot of hesitancy within larger organisations, however despite that, I still find it a fascinating concept.

Russ is proposing that website owners stop imposing navigational approaches on users of a site. Rather than creating an information architecture for a site, website owners should "let go control" and allow users to create their own paths to the information they require.

This is achieved through tagging. Instead of pages being grouped together in sections within a site’s architecture, each page is essentially standalone. Visitors navigate to a page using tags inserted by the author of a page and via the search mechanism. By not imposing an artificial site architecture onto the site you avoid problems like cross linking between sections and navigational problems associated with deep sites.

It is a very hard concept to explain and so I suggest that if you are running a large site you take the time to download Russ’ presentation.

Listen to Russ’ presentation

The approach is not without its problems but it is something to seriously consider if the information architecture of your site is causing you problems.

I have to confess that although I find the concept very exciting I cannot see many websites adopting it. The concept of isolated pages not organised into a predefined architecture will simply seem too alien to many website owners. However, in a world where users "information forge" by dipping in and out of sites via search engines, it makes perfect sense to organise website pages in a non-hierarchal way.

I do see real potential in this approach, which is why I am intending to implement a similar approach on the upcoming relaunch of the boagworld website.