WebReference.com - Chapter 4 from Content Management for Dynamic Web Delivery. (5/5) | WebReference

WebReference.com - Chapter 4 from Content Management for Dynamic Web Delivery. (5/5)

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Content Management for Dynamic Web Delivery

Even familiar models are challenging for newcomers

Unfortunately, Information Models that are quite understandable by experienced individuals are often equally obscure to newcomers. The vocational rehabilitation department could create an organization for their information resources that would be easily accessible to trained personnel working on the inside. But would the same organization of information work for the outsiders, the people with the questions? Most likely, the answer would be "no."

The problem is that the content-management system that is useful for the authors of the information is not usable by users of the information who do not understand the underlying Information Model.

Take the case of the library. The typical catalog makes information available in several ways, typically by the name of the author, the title of the work, and keywords and descriptions associated with its subject matter. If you know the author's name or the title of the work, the search can be reasonably quick and easy. But lacking that critical information, the opportunities for frustration abound. How do you find information when you have no title and no author? How do you, for example, find out about the insect that bit you in the jungle of Guatemala and is causing you excruciating pain? Is it listed in a guide to Central American entomology? What about a book on tropical diseases? Just where do you begin? If you were an expert on insects or tropical diseases, you would know where to look. But without an expert's knowledge of the underlying Information Model, the solution would probably be too long in coming. If you were on a Web site, you would be tempted to click out before you wasted any more time becoming frustrated.

To be usable by a wide range of individuals with different experiences and expectations, an Information Model must be designed by those who take the time to study and understand the prospective users. By organizing information resources through our analysis of the users and envisioning the user experience you expect for the future, you have a chance at being successful in helping your users reach their goals quickly.

Information Models based on static categories can be difficult to learn

The problem with the libraries is that to gain familiarity with their Information Models, you need help and experience. In fact, you even need to have some training in school about how to find things in the library. The libraries employ quite sophisticated help systems, often in the person of reference librarians, to help naïve users find what they need. The reference librarians are taught methods of asking the right questions of the users in order to point them in the right direction. Unfortunately, when your customers visit your Web sites, there are no helpful librarians—so all the assistance has to be immediately obvious to them. The Information Model you design provides the framework for that assistance.

An Information Model is based upon the categories you select to label and organize your information resources. These categories must emerge organically from your analysis of user requirements. Otherwise, your users will experience some of the same problems that occur in the library—a set of formal categories that is based more on the categorizer's view of the nature of the information resources than upon the users' needs.

The information architects of the public and university libraries made decisions based on a formal categorization of the material in the collections. The primary organization follows academic, classical subjects—history, art, music, literature, science, and so on. The secondary and tertiary organizations are based on author's name or time period (centuries) or geographic locations and a host of other possibilities, depending on the nature of the subject. The organization appears to mirror the organization of the academies, especially in the university libraries. The people in the History Department are sure to find much of the information they need in the history category. For novices to become experts, they have to learn the system. The system doesn't change in response to the users' needs.

The more the Information Model reflects the way that users think and work, the more effective it will be in delivering the right information to them.

Just think—what if the library could be rearranged depending upon the users' profiles? I will consider this possibility when I demonstrate what a dynamic Information Model can do for you—and your customers.

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Created: February 6, 2002
Revised: February 6, 2002

URL: http://webreference.com/programming/authoring/languages/html/dynamic/chap4/5.html