January 18, 2003

Model of Attraction moves forward

The upcoming IA Summit in Portland, Oregon is providing me the opportunity to offer the Model of Attraction live and in person. In the coming weeks I will be posting background to this presentation in digestible chunks. You are free to peruse the initial draft of Model of Attraction from March 2002, the Model of Attraction outline from December 2002, and the attraction category here in Off the Top.

Navigation is Broken

Part of the need for developing the Model of Attraction revolves around the broken metaphor of navigation that many IA's put much trust in. Metaphors use a concept that is understood (often not related to the topic at hand) to describe the hard to understand or the new. All metaphors limit understanding as they do not accurately describe the actions and relationships, they only provide a framework that helps understand bits of the whole. The navigation metaphor has been stretched beyond its limits and has limited the possibilities of information structures. We as IAs are worse off by leaning on navigation beyond its narrow boundaries and the users of the sites and the information bound in the sites are worse off by the over reliance on the navigation metaphor.

To see where this discovery began, go to this discussion on IA, navigation, and information space. Pay attention to Stewart Butterfield's comments. In addition navigation does not permit us to think about understanding visual attraction, reuse of information, information access methods outside the PC based Web, mobile access, personalization, content management, or the ability to have a rough cloud of information that follows the user (access to information where and when one needs it). In the Peterme discussion I stated I would sleep on a solution. I repeatedly slept and woke thinking about this problem and fell into the Model of Attraction early last March and have been working with the MoA since then.

I have used the MoA with clients and when mentoring IAs and Web developers. The comprehension is much better when describing the same approach than when using the navigation metaphor. Clients quickly understand the need for controlled vocabularies based on the user's common language and understanding. MoA helps easily explain the need for grouping of information around categories and facets. Card sorting tasks become easy to understand for the clients and helps them assist in the process. Most of the IAs took kit (persona, taxonomy, wireframes, metadata, etc.) are more usable as their need is easily understood by all in the context of attraction.

Scent not Strong

You may be thinking this rough explaination you are getting sounds like Information Scent. You would be right, to some degree. But information scent, like navigation, is a metaphor. Yes, scent breaks too and is quite difficult to use with clients as some things get very confusing for them. Scent helps IAs understand what is going on a little better and there is great research that has come out of the Information Scent community. But when you get down to it scent is a subset of attraction. Scent is one method of attracting or repelling the user toward information they are seeking and keeping extraneous information out of the mix. Scent also has its limits. The scent metaphor works with getting the user to information, but it gets very murky when the information needs metadata (to help augment the attraction between the user and the information they are seeking). Scent and odors have distinct understandings and altering the scents for understanding (metadata) raises many questions from clients as the client tries to understand. Scent does not work well when trying to build information structures for mobile access to information, nor for setting the ability to have the information follow the user (What you want to use a blueberry muffin as a perfume? Don't think so).

More to Come

This only defines MoA by showing the limits of navigation and scent. More understanding is on its way in upcoming weeks and will be put in a presentation format for the IA Summit. Those that are worried, we are not throwing out navigation or scent. We are keeping navigation in its small usable space where it works well. Scent has provided great research and has similar properties to attraction as it is a subset. The Model of Attraction will provide a broader foundation that allows us to move into the future as we build information structures that include possibilities for mobile access, social networks, and true access to information as the user needs it by keeping the information close at hand. The MoA does not solve these problems, but provides a framework that does not break when we work to solve these issues.



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