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Just One Question for Lou Rosenfeld
Jan 07, 1998 :: Michael Sippey

User-generated content -- whether it's on the Internet or the intranet -- can be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because Web technologies have created an enormous canvas for personal or corporate communication. A curse because actually making that communication navigable can be an impossible task.

Lou Rosenfeld, president and co-founder of Argus Associates, is a pioneer in the field of information architecture. He's the coauthor of Information Architecture for the World-Wide Web, which is coming soon to a bookstore near you from O'Reilly & Associates.

I had just one question for Lou...

MS: It seems to me that the challenge of information architecture on the Web is dealing with the vagaries of user-generated content. As an information architect, what would you do to help structure the morass of sites on GeoCities?

ROSENFELD: So, thanks to your question, I finally have a reason to check out GeoCities and its information architecture.


Now I see why you describe it as a "morass".

From an information architecture perspective, there are some really, really Bad Things (let's start with the brain-dead searching interface), as well as some not-so-terrible things (browsing ain't half bad, considering the scale and heterogeneous scope of the site). I could probably come up with a laundry list of what GeoCities could do to improve its architecture and help people actually find information in its neighborhoods.

But you know what? I wouldn't change a thing.

The point of GeoCities is to allow its 1.1 million users to express themselves. GeoCities is about talking, not listening, about trying out HTML and Photoshop, not conveying useful information. In most cases it's unlikely that anyone would visit an individual GeoCities site for a reason other than curiousity. So why would anyone consider treating the collective whole of GeoCities as a source of useful information?

Strong information architectures benefit the "listeners": users who want to hear a message, to learn, or find useful information. GeoCities is about 1.1 million voices talking at once. GeoCities is not about conveying a particular message, or helping users find the information they need to do their jobs or improve their lives. So it really doesn't make much sense to rearchitect GeoCities. Anyway, it's good to have a morass around to do one's virtual slumming in; I say leave it be.



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