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The Web's Hippie Period Is Over

  |  March 19, 2003   |  Comments

It was good to experiment and explore, but that wild ride is over. Time to organize your content.

Much of what was believed to be new about the new economy didn't last the distance: Information wants to be free. An Internet month is like a normal year. The long boom.

The Web was marketed as very complicated. It's not. It's about publishing. It's about communication. The Web is made up of content, and information architecture (IA) is the discipline of organizing that content.

Consultants try to make content and IA complicated. They them feel special and charge more. I hear talk that because IA is so difficult, it's almost an art form. One view is no two information architects can have the same opinion on any given problem.

Some believe IA cannot -- and should not -- be defined. Excuse me? An information architect who refuses to define is like a dentist who refuses to pull teeth.

IA is defining and organizing content. There isn't a commonly agreed-upon definition because the discipline is immature. If IA is to solve problems cost-effectively, it must be rigorously defined. As is the case with most other professionals, information architects will require accreditation.

Do hippies and pioneers run your Web site? Are the same people who got things going in the mid-'90s still in charge today? Probably not a good idea. A very interesting bunch of people was attracted to the Web in the early days. They loved its lawless nature; it allowed them to experiment and express themselves.

These people tended to be techies and graphic designers. What you need today are writers and editors. The technical elements of a Web site are largely solved. The graphic design elements are relatively minor. The day-to-day job of the average site is writing and editing.

Let me tell you about writers and editors. They are generally technophobes and couldn't care less about HTML or Java. They care about words and communication. They are a very different breed from those who built the Web.

Did you know IBM used to have 7,000 intranets? Now there's one. I see this trend for consolidation and standardization globally. Some think that's a bad thing. They believe standardized Web sites take away freedom of expression.

That business is about freedom of expression is a real '90s idea. Business, we now know, is about making money. Organizations look at chaotic intranets and say, "enough is enough." Time to get serious or close the thing down. A chaotic intranet is a productivity drain.

It was good to experiment and explore. But that big, wild ride is truly over. It's time for the metrics and definitions. For the standards and thorough publishing processes that are rigorously policed. It's time to organize your content in a professional manner.

After all, what's an organization, if not organized?


Gerry McGovern Gerry McGovern is a Web consultant and author. His most recent books are Content Critical and The Web Content Style Guide, published by Financial Times Prentice Hall.

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