Information Architecture

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According to the Yale Web Style Guide, information architecture concerns the conceptual model and the general structure, plan, and assembly of a website. In a website that has proper information architecture in place, users may not even notice its usage. However, users are bound to notice if poor information architecture is not in place. Its absence can be a glaring error from the user's perspective.

When looking at the Prelaw Handbook website, some aspects of the information architecture are clearly missing. It doesn't take long for users to recognize this while looking at the home page. The information presented on the page, and throughout the site, is poorly organized. For instance, the home page should place information about the site together with important questions that users may ask when they first arrive at the site. Specifically, users may want to know what prelaw means. This would be good information to place with an explanation of the website. This could dictate whether or not users stay on the website or not.

We can also see a lack of information architecture by just looking at the link names. Here, we see overlapping. The links could be more concise and the list could easily be condensed. When looking at the information presented under each link, there is very little information given, which also leads me to believe that using less links would be more efficient.

Overall, the website needs some work, which I am confident can be successfully implemented with some additional work.

Small Town Commerce

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After some thinking (and not to mention my instructor commenting on the exact issue I was concerned with), I have decided to use avoid using thomasedison.org for my final project. While it truly needs some work, its does not have extensive content for me to work with. Therefore, I have decided I will use prelawhandbook.com.

When looking at the website, there are multiple issues that must be addressed. This website is slightly unique in its use of headings. The website over uses headings where new pages should be created or sections could be combined to provide more meaningful headings.

The text is not broken by any visual aids or other design choices, which makes the headings and bullet points even more overwhelming. Redish suggests using photos and graphics in order to evoke an emotion. This website is encouraging readers to pursue law, which it makes clear is a difficult field. A professional picture may encourage uses to remember their goals, not just the difficulties ahead of them.

When we look at the website links, they seem to be easily understood to users, but the order is interesting. The "appendix" page is presented in the middle of all the webpages. One would assume this would be somewhere at the end of the choices. May of these links to webpages could also be combined, such as "When and Where to Apply to Law School" and "Applying to Law School." When we look at the in-text links, they are overwhelmingly frequent. Therefore, it seems as if some links are repetitive.

The Thomas Ed.son Organization Website

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On of the worst websites I have used has been the website dedicated to Thomas Edison by the Thomas Edison Organization. The website is full of exciting and frequent animations, but the layout and format of the text suffers as a cost of the graphic overuse. While I am still contemplating whether or not the website supports poor enough web-writing to use it as a final project it, I am considering it. If I do use this website, I will focus on the home page, the foundation overview page, and the introduction to why Edison is important today page.

First, as I have already mentioned, the graphics on this site are overwhelming. The user confronts a huge issue when they use the home page. There are "links" in a swirling pattern, which also gets smaller in font size as it continues to swirl. Some links are even upside down! However, the links cannot be clicked on. This causes much confusion for the user. The way information is presented to the users in the text is poorly communicated. Because of the typography, the user may have a difficult time understanding what this site is about, who it created it, and why they should use it. From reading the Web Style Guide, it is determined that fonts and the overall presentation of the text plays an important role. The home page makes it very clear that this is not a "grab and go" website. Users must take a significant amount of time to discover the information they need.

Secondly, the foundation overview page presents an issue similar the the UMN Writing Studies website. The user is presented with a letter, which is clearly not a conversational use of the site. The text is shown in a small section of the page with small font size. Users must also scroll although there is a whole page of empty space.

Thirdly, I will consider working with the introduction to why Edison is important. The information on this page is presented awkwardly. Over half the page is taken up by links that are in a swirling and shrinking link pattern. The page gives very little information to the user, and the information that is presented is in a single paragraph. If this information would be broken up, the user may find it more effective.

As I have already mentioned, I am not sure if I will use this for my final project or not. It seems to be quite an interesting website, but it may take some additional exploring to fully determine whether this is the best choice for a final project.

YouTube and Podcasts

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At first glance, youtube and podcasts may not seem to be related to writing at all. After thinking about it for a little while, I realized that their impact on writing, and communication in general, is quite extensive. I would argue that apps such as these are causing less of a need for written communication, on the web or otherwise. While both writing and podcasts or YouTube have their pros and cons, they work best while used together. Writing tends to be a longer process, but it allows for optimal editing and thought. Making a podcast or youtube video seems to be a quicker option, but it lacks the ability to edit every word that is said. Putting together the ease of YouTube and podcasts with a written script can be a very influential and useful tool.

So, how has all of this changed our understanding of writing on the web? It has shifted our attention from text based information to a broader understanding of writing and communication. In some ways, I think we are more likely to consider smaller sections of text as "writing" when we would have previously never categorized it as writing. In addition, we can now pair writing with visual presentation, such as here. In essence, we can present information with a powerpoint visual element without ever being there. This is particularly helpful with "how to" videos.

Overall, I think the YouTube and podcasts are a important part of communication and have minimized the need for extensive and overly descriptive writing (especially when giving instructions). There is a formality to writing though that YouTube and podcasts cannot live up to, which is why these kinds of communication can only go so far. While they are a popular way to communicate, I highly doubt they will be as integrated in our communications as email or other writing technologies.

Health and Human Services Case Study

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The case study presented by Ginny Redish of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's website displayed important and core issues with websites. One of the first things visitors want to do when they get to a website is complete the task they have set out to do. Users do not want to shuffle around a website attempting to find the link that will answer their questions or help them find the information they seek.

Redish proposes five functions a website should accomplish:

1. Identify the site and establish the brand
2. Setting the tone and personality of the site
3. Help people get a sense of what the site is all about
4. Let people start key tasks immediately
5. Send each person on the right way, effectively and efficiently

One example of a website that does not meet this criteria is thomasedison.org. When going to the website, there is no identification of what this website is or who is providing it. The tone of the home webpage is extremely difficult to navigate, which creates confusion. The tone of the website is hard to define due to its difficult navigation, and the by reading the texts, users get the feeling that they should know more before they click. These are only a few of the core issues, but it only takes a few issues to make a website un-user friendly.

Web Reading

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One of the things I love the most about web-reading is the ease of nonlinear reading. According to Nielson, websites should use about half the word count online as in other contexts. Fortunately, most websites seem to follow this general rule - or, the information is broken into smaller sections. Information in this format is easier to skim and quickly read. Additionally, most websites incorporate bolding and easy to read text choices. While I am not always a nonlinear reader, I find that is most convenient.

I usually use nonlinear and linear reading in a combined fashion. Usually, while I am online, I am researching specific information. Before I truly read the text, I skim to find out if the website actually has the information I need. If I find this information, I will use a more focused linear method. I think this is a practice that many people enlist. It would be difficult to use only linear or only nonlinear reading for everyday online use.

Is the book here to stay?

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I have to admit that I am very biased about "the book." Growing up, I always had a book in my hands. Today, I feel quite passionately about traditional books. My library consists of first edition, leather bound books. There is something that is picturesque and homey to the book. As long as there are people who share a similar idea about books, they will remain in print.

Bolter wrote that, "printed books are portrayed as closer to nature" (43). This statement leads to other questions, such as: Why do we mean by nature? In this context, it seems safe to say his point is that we do not view electronics as part of the natural order of things. Of course, we could say this about almost any form of remediated text. None of it seemed natural at first, but we eventually embraced the new methods. The full remediation of books will not as easily be embraced or accomplished though. Books through electronic means is more isolated to certain situations, which is exactly why it will be difficult to live in a society with no printed materials. Bolter reinforces the ability for printed books to be used in places where computers are not available and uses the example of the great out doors (43). Printed books do not run out of batteries or need to recharge. They do not get a glare from the sunlight. There is a sense of accomplishment when you can see the place of the bookmark. Overall, there are two parts to the story of why books will not be completely replaced with electronic formats: (1) we hold an emotional attachment to the image of the book and (2) technology isn't always the more convenient choice.

For a comical and dramatic take of how avid book lovers may feel about this issue watch the Book. vs. the Kindle.

Impacts

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I am quickly realizing that the question of technology's impact on communication is never going to go away; the conversation will sound the same. Of course, the specifics must change according to the newest technologies, but overall, I believe this question will be indefinitely here to stay. What is the impact of technology?

Technology has truly done great things for our communication. we have all heard at one point the expression "What a small world!", but now, it is a small world. China, Ireland, Austria...they are all at our fingertips. In this way, technology has changed and determined how we think and communicate. We go throughout our day knowing that we are not isolated to those we see in person, but we can communicate with literally a whole world of people. This has clearly changed how we think about our boundaries and abilities.

If the question of technology's relation to communication ended there, I could say that I believe technology does drive the way we think, read, and communication, but the question continues.

So often when this matter is discussed, we hear lots of speculation and personal experiences. I do not discount what others have experienced, but I do believe that their beliefs may be misguided. When reading the article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?",
I found the perfect example of the misguided concept that the many are beginning to believe.
When discussing the impact the internet has had on his reading, Bruce Friedman claimed, "I can't read War and Peace anymore...I've lost the ability to do that." I have read similar responses in other interviews concerning this topic, which makes me worry about this issue even more. The idea of "Digital Natives" losing the ability to read a book is very sad and does not reflect well on how technology has impacted us, but I am not fully convinced that we have "lost" our abilities. This is where I think this conversation often goes wrong. Early on in Carr's article, the idea is presented that we read differently due to the internet. We have become "skimmers." While there are aspects of this that may be true, the argument seems to be far to dramatic for me. How could we have lost the ability to read a book? How have we lost the ability to read three paragraphs? Clearly, the ability has not diminished. From the time that we learn to read, we are able. I think that we may be focusing our questions in the wrong direction, because the issues that I see are related to patience, diligence, and a hunger for knowledge.

Hypertext and Linking

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When I first read Bolter, Wikipedia was the first thing that came to mind. I must admit that I am an avid user of Wikipedia. It is my preferred method of learning about new topics and finding answers to questions that I may have. Why have I, among many others, found Wikipedia to be such a great source of information? Why is it so easy to use? The answer: hypertext.

Hypertext links information together in an organized and logical manner. While I have always considered hypertext to purely be a thing of the World Wide Web, it was interesting to discover that the precursors to hypertext -- as we know it -- were not digital at all. For instance, dictionaries and encyclopedias are both examples of a pre-digital forms of hypertext. Whether digital or not, hypertext disrupts the linear tradition (Bolter, 32). While reading an encyclopedia, one does not read it front to back. In fact, this traditional print form of communication mirrors what we see in today's Wikipedia.

According to David Bolter, "hypertext has become an integral feature of our culture's reading and writing" (40). Since so much of our communication is now done online, it is not shocking that all the medium that easily allow hypertext are increasingly popular. For instance, blogs have quickly become popular -- 30% of the world population blogs. Digital hypertext has allowed us to create an expansive "information web," which could have never taken place in print.

Digital hypertext has expanded our ability to communicate.

Digital Generations


Marc Prensky's article Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants discusses the growing rift between users of digital technology. According to Prensky, there are two types of digital users: Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. Natives are the generation that have grown up using technology; Immigrants are those that have adapted to technology. I am the former.

What is the opinion of a Digital Native then? How do we view ourselves? If we defined ourselves according to Prensky, I believe that we would be doing a whole generation a grave injustice. Prensky does make truthful claims, but his attempt to sum up the Digital Generation is too simplified. At times, it is insulting. When discussing Digital Natives, Pensky described them as "thriv[ing] on instant gratification and frequent rewards. They prefer games to "serious" work." While the purpose of the article is to push Digital Immigrants to better understand and work with Natives, I can't help but feel that the author lacks personal understanding.

As a Digital Native, I use technology on a daily basis. I use it for school, work, and entertainment. Literally, I have the world at my fingertips almost 24/7. As a generation, we were not born with an innate sense of technology; instead, it was learned. Fortunately, this experience occurred early in our childhoods, which has made us by nature digital wiz-kids. Our search to find a way to do things quickly and effectively does not reflect on our ability to learn traditional information. Our ability to learn the "old fashion" way was not stunted due to our digital knowledge, but we have adopted a new motto though. "Work smarter, not harder." Prensky seems to have misunderstood our new found motto as seeking instant gratification. Learning is difficult and time consuming, which is all the more reason for reform.

Deducting from appearance that "work smarter, not harder" creates, Prensky presents the idea that the topic of education needs reform. From a Digital Native perspective, I believe that we still need the traditional education. The idea that "reading, writing, arithmetic, logical thinking, understanding the writings and ideas of the past, etc" are educational cores of the past is -- quite frankly -- unreasonable. We are not seeking to rid ourselves of these core stepping stones of education. As a generation, we are seeking a way to do it more effectively.

Overall, Prensky's motive seems to be driven in the right direction. He has grasped that we need to change the way we teach, but he seems to have misunderstood the Digital Natives pleas. We do not need an extreme overhaul of education; we only need to tweak the way we do it. Simply, we need to "work smarter, not harder."

For additional information on how this reform may look, click here.

Recent Comments

  • Lee-Ann Breuch: Yes! This site really needs help with "chunking" and grouping read more
  • Lee-Ann Breuch: Hi Amy, I think this site will work great for read more
  • Lee-Ann Breuch: Hi Amy, Many other students have made a similar comment read more
  • Lee-Ann Breuch: Hi Amy, I think the Edison web site is definitely read more
  • Lee-Ann Breuch: Wow, the Edison site is a bit crazy! Where to read more
  • Lee-Ann Breuch: You make a good point about Internet reading in particular: read more
  • Lee-Ann Breuch: That video is very funny. Talk about the idea of read more
  • Lee-Ann Breuch: I like how you take a stand here on the read more
  • Lee-Ann Breuch: Hi Amy, Great observation about hypertext expanding our ability to read more

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