Ever worked on the information architecture of a library site or section?
Labels like “information services”, “electronic resources” and “online databases” will send you mad. They describe their contents adequately to librarians, but to anyone else?
I had the good fortune recently to meet Sarah Houghton-Jan, the Librarian in Black and Assistant Director for the San Rafael Public Library.
In her previous role as Digital Futures Manager of San Jose Public Library, Sarah developed – fought for – the best information architecture I’ve come across on a library website.
Here is a snapshot of the top level sections:
In her blog post on the redeveloped website she says:
We don’t use the words “database” or “OPAC.” We chose words that our users actually told us they wanted us to use.
Yes, they did user testing and Sarah has stats.
I’ve now forgotten the precise numbers she quoted, but from memory “Downloads” tested over 80%, more than double the recognition for “online databases”. The choice of labels may surprise you, but they are based on user vocabularies.
Dig through the site. There is lots to learn, and borrow.
The information architecture of council websites continues to be a challenge. Yet hierarchical structures remain the orthodoxy.
I very much like the Guardian‘s approach. They maintain the distinction between reporting and comment but don’t let it impede the reader’s path through the content. I think there are lessons to be learnt from their sophisticated approach.
So it’s ironic that – for me – the most interesting idea of late comes from the company synonymous with search.
With the exception of ‘books’ perhaps, all make sense on a council website. You’re either after authoritative information on a process or product (facets could be ‘services’ and ‘facilities’) or you’re interested in date or place-based information, community interactions or media formats.
I like these distinctions.
I especially like Google’s categorisations ‘Realtime’ and ‘Discussions’.
Why participate on the web? Web metrics give you some of the story – visitor numbers, content accessed – but how do you quantify trust? And how do you explain to senior staff the benefits of participating online in the first place?
I’ve used this graphic many times to help get the point across.
Last year I knocked up a tweeps map ahead of the 2009 LG Web Network conference. The aim was to link via Twitter ahead of the event – and to muck about with Google’s maps and spreadsheets. Here’s one for this year.
I had intended to use Google Fusion Tables, a tool purpose-built to import and visualize table data online. (It made light work of this visualisation of RTA speed camera locations, ripped from an RTA PDF.) But from the get-go I couldn’t import my spreadsheet from Google Docs. Maybe the service is too beta.
Here then are the steps taken to create the #LGWN tweeps app:
=ARRAYFORMULA(Sheet1!A:E)then run a function in the neighbouring columns to return latitude and longitude (with some randomisation to prevent markers stacking directly on top of each other if two tweeps are in the same location)
I chose to geocode within the spreadsheet because I was too timid to tackle the new Geocoder class in the Google Maps API.
I used the CONCATENATE function to construct a URL from the stem
http://maps.google.com/maps/geo?output=csv&q= and the user’s location (suburb, town/city, country). For example, copy this URL into your address bar:
The ImportData function runs this URL and adds the result to neighbouring columns. Note the limit of 50 ImportData functions per spreadsheet.
When building the markers on the map, it was easy to grab the user’s profile picture and description from Twitter via their API. Try this URL with your screen name:
I hope this project shows that anyone with HTML, a search engine and some patience can build tools for fun and on the cheap. It’s a monkey see, monkey do approach. Not very efficient, often frustrating, but you have to get your hands dirty.
And if you’re coming to LGWN10, add yourself to the map.
Last year Craig Thomler alerted us to the fact that Youtube offers free branded channels to government departments globally. I can confirm that this offer is open to local government as the organisation I work for has taken advantage of it.
What do you get?
Custom banners and profile images, longer videos, autoplay on your featured video, no ads on your uploaded videos and Google Analytics integration.
I still can’t find public information on the offer (I searched with Google) but Craig Thomler’s post has a copy of the form email from Google. It has the contact address.