Section 16.2. Categories in Chaos

16.2. Categories in Chaos

It's ironic that one of the toughest challenges in understanding software for information architects involves trying to define meaningful categories for the darned stuff. There are huge overlaps between products, exaggerated by overzealous marketing efforts that claim the software can create taxonomies, manage content, fix dinner, and tie your shoes. And, of course, the vendors and their products are multiplying, merging, and mutating at a terrific pace. Given this fluid, ambiguous context, this chapter is an early attempt to define a few of the product categories relevant to information architects.[] They include:

] To draw upon the insights of the wider community, we conducted an online survey. The complete results are available at

  • Automated Categorization (16.2%)[]

    [] Survey participants were asked about the categories of software with which they had direct experience.

  • Thesaurus Management Tools (19.7%)

  • Portal or Enterprise Knowledge Platform (37.6%)

  • Content Management Systems (65.8%)

  • Web Analytics / Tracking (62.4%)

  • Diagramming Software (79.5%)

  • Prototyping Tools (70.9%)

  • User Research and Testing (not included in survey)

Within each category, we list the most popular tools (according to our survey results), and in some cases we list additional tools worth mentioning. Our lists of product examples are by no means comprehensive. We hope only to provide a framework and a starting point.

Automated Categorization

Software that uses human-defined rules or pattern-matching algorithms to automatically assign controlled vocabulary metadata to documents. This is equivalent to assigning documents to categories within a taxonomy.


Automated classification, automated indexing, automated tagging, clustering


  • Interwoven's Metatagger,

  • Entrieva's SemioTagger,

  • Vivisimo's Clustering Engine,

  • Autonomy IDOL Server,


We see great potential to integrate human expertise in designing taxonomies with software that populates those taxonomies quickly, consistently, and inexpensively. However, note that this software:

  • Works best on full-text document collections

  • Can't index images, applications, or other multimedia

  • Does not adjust for user needs or business goals

  • Does not understand meaning

And, we believe that attempts to automatically generate the taxonomy itself, as Vivisimo and Autonomy attempt to do, will generally fail to produce categories and labels of sufficient quality for most applications.


  • "Extracting Value from Automated Classification Tools" by Kat Hagedorn,

  • "Tools for Creating Categories and Browsable Directories" from Search Tools,

  • "Little Blue Folders" by Peter Morville,

Search Engines

Software that provides full-text indexing and searching capabilities.


  • Endeca Information Access Platform,

  • Google Enterprise Solutions,

  • Fast,

  • Autonomy,


As content volume grows, search will become the heart of most web sites and intranets. Yet few vendors admit they're selling a search engine; they all have "solutions." Meanwhile, the true challenge involves getting the IT people, who currently own the search engines within most corporations, to share their toys with people who understand how and why to connect users and content. The current difficulties in this category are not due to technology. It's a people problem! However, there are some interesting developments in the technology area. Multi-algorithmic solutions like Google and guided-navigation solutions like Endeca are gaining popularity, forcing the other vendors to play catch-up.


  • "Search Tools for Web Sites and Intranets" by Avi Rappoport,

  • "Search Engine Software for Your Web Site" by Danny Sullivan,

  • Enterprise Search Report,

  • "In Defense of Search" by Peter Morville,

Thesaurus Management Tools

Tools that provide support for the development and management of controlled vocabularies and thesauri.


  • MultiTes,

  • Factiva Synaptica,

  • Lexico,

  • WebChoir,

  • Term Tree,

  • DataHarmony,


The bleeding edge! Most early adopters have had to rely on custom development and integration. The hard part is supporting controlled vocabulary management in today's decentralized publishing environments.


  • "Thesaurus Management Software" from the American Society of Indexers,

  • "Software for Building and Editing Thesauri" from Willpower Information,

Portal or Enterprise Knowledge Platform

Tools that provide "completely integrated enterprise portal solutions."


  • Microsoft SharePoint Portal Server,

  • Bea's AquaLogic,

  • Oracle Portal,

  • IBM's WebSphere Portal,


The vision of seamless, intuitive access to all enterprise and third-party content independent of geography, ownership, and format is compelling and completely unrealized. These tools claim to do everything. Make sure you know what they do well.


  • "Portal Software" by Janus Boye,

  • "Pandora's Portal" by Peter Morville,

Content Management Systems

Software that manages workflow from content authoring to editing to publishing.

Examples (Enterprise)

  • Interwoven,

  • Vignette,

  • Microsoft Content Management Server,

  • Stellent,

Examples (Personal and Workgroup)

  • WordPress,

  • Movable Type,

  • Drupal,

  • Plone,

  • SocialText,


At the enterprise level, Forrester Research calls these product offerings "immature." The problems stem from the fact that content management is very complex and very context-sensitive. Inevitably, you'll need to buy and then customize extensively. This is a headache that few large organizations will be able to avoid. At the personal and workgroup level, the products are relatively quick and easy to set up. They've powered the blogging revolution and are now having a positive impact in corporate environments.


  • CMSWatch,

  • CM Professionals,


Software that analyzes the usage and statistical performance of web sites, providing valuable metrics about user behavior and characteristics.


  • WebTrends,

  • Google Analytics,

  • Omniture,

  • CoreMetrics,

  • Mint,


This is a fast-growing category that's generated tremendous interest in recent years due to the advertising and marketing value derived from tracking and understanding user behavior.


  • Wikipedia on Web Analytics,

  • "Search Analytics for Your Site" by Louis Rosenfeld and Richard Wiggins,

Diagramming Software

Visual communication software that information architects use to create diagrams, charts, wireframes, and blueprints.


  • Microsoft Visio,

  • OmniGraffle,

  • Illustrator,

  • PowerPoint,

  • Intuitect,


These are the visual communication tools that information architects use to create work products and deliverables, particularly blueprints and wireframes.


  • "Diagramming Tools" on IAwiki,

  • "Where the Wireframes Are" by Dan Brown,

Prototyping Tools

Web development software that enables you to create interactive wireframes and clickable prototypes.


  • Dreamweaver,

  • Visio,

  • Flash,

  • Serena Composer,

  • iRise,

  • Axure,


As Rich Internet Applications (RIA) further blur the lines between web sites and software applications, prototyping tools provide a powerful way to show navigation, interaction, and other functionality during the design process.


  • "HTML Wireframes and Prototypes" by Julie Stanford,

  • "A Designer's Guide to Prototyping Ajax" by Kevin Hale,

User Research

Software that supports user research, including online card sorting and remote usability testing.


  • MindCanvas,

  • Morae,

  • Macromedia Captivate,

  • Ethnio,

  • xSort,


These products can reduce the time and cost associated with user research, and may provide you with new ideas about how best to study user behavior and preferences. However, when it comes to developing empathy for the user, remember that there's no substitute for being in the same room. It's often best to combine in-person and remote testing methods, so you don't miss out on the human element.


  • "Remote Online Usability Testing" by Dabney Gough and Holly Phillips,

  • Remote Usability Testing Wiki,

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web
Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites
ISBN: 0596527349
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 194

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