Tuesday, 21 September, 2010

Information Architecture 4U

You go to the bar floor and the music on demand is on. You request the DJ to play “Smells like teen spirit” and the lad rocks the floor in no time with this Nirvana’s number. That is Information Architecture for you. If you are able to find the right information at right time, it cannot happen by chance; there has to be a logical and intuitive content structuring behind this. This logical and intuitive content structuring is called Information Architecture (IA). I am not defining the definition of IA; the attempt is to facilitate the perceptive.

Information Architect is not the Designer
The difference between an information architect and a designer is similar to that you think of difference between a apartment architect and an interior designer.
The Architect job is to define structure, ventilation, placement of plumbing and electrical systems etc. The apartment might collapse or fail to meet the needs of the family using or living in the building if it’s not properly architected.
Interior Designer’s job is to take care of coloring, placement, vastu and style of furnishings; textures; surfaces; etc.

The Evolution Theory
Richard Saul Wurman in 1975 termed the concept of “Information Architecture”. Wurman’s initial definition of information architecture was “organising the patterns in data, making the complex clear”.
In 1996 library scientists Lou Rosenfeld and Peter Morville used IA as the term to define the work they were doing while structuring large-scale websites and intranets. In Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites they define information architecture as:
• The combination of organization, labeling, and navigation schemes within an information system.
• The structural design of an information space to facilitate task completion and intuitive access to content.
• The art and science of structuring and classifying web sites and intranets to help people find and manage information.
• An emerging discipline and community of practice focused on bringing principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape

Elements of Information Architecture

The End User
The successful Information Architecture is all about usability. For effective usability you need to involve end users in planning the IA. There are proven games that you can play involving end users:
Card Sorting: Card sorting a definitive guide – Read learn and use it… you are sorted for the aforementioned threat. The same guide has reference to card based classification evolution technique for testing the IA.

Business Value
As an information architect, you need to understand the business context of an organization and identify the value addition you can bring while implementing the Information Architect.
Stakeholders need to be identified and interviewed to understand business objective and issues.

You need to have the right content to interest your target audience. The content needs to be written based on your audience’s expectations and proficiencies.
Keep in mind that content is not a static object: it can change not only in structure and delivery, but from day to day as well. Being mindful of content strategy and alignment with business goals is the key to successful information architecture.
To accomplish these goals, an Architect has to run both top-down and bottom-up discovery sessions. Top-down discovery involves getting a picture of the entire information space and working down into the details. Bottom-up discovery is all about figuring out metadata for each piece of content and working up toward the general.

Information architecture encompasses a wide range of problems. But regardless of the specific context or objectives of a given information architecture project, our concern is always with creating structures to facilitate effective communication. This notion is the core of our discipline. –– Jessie James Garrett

Flickr allows me to upload my pictures and organize them, tag them, however I see fit. There is no central authority telling me what to tag my pictures. This is partly because it’s not going to hurt anybody if I do it wrong … Flickr isn’t a mission-critical system. It’s a playful social platform…if you want a serious photo library, then use a system like the national archive or Corbis has, but not Flickr. There’s a difference between managing information, and designing the infrastructure to let others manage it themselves.

But both approaches are architectural. –– Andrew Hinton in Linkosophy

Thursday, 2 September, 2010

Cloud Computing - ABC

If you only need milk, would you buy a cow? If not, please consider the cloud computing stack for your IT requirements.

There are 3 top flavors of cloud computing (new models are emerging like BpaS, DaaS etc.) – Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and the mother of all Software as a Service (SaaS). Let’s have a geek dive into these flavors.

SaaS is the most enhanced category of cloud services and so far the only segment of cloud computing that has proven useful as a business model. With SaaS, software applications are rented from a provider as opposed to purchased for enterprise installation and deployment. Typically the services are provided in a 'pay-as-you-go' model with payments charged on a monthly basis based on the number of users or services consumed. The key segments within the SaaS segments include messaging, collaboration and Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Salesforce.com is an example of a SAAS where ERP is used as an on demand service. Microsoft BPOS provides SharePoint, Exchange and CRM as a service over internet.

In simple terms, IaaS is selling hardware as a service over the cloud. The hardware includes processing power, firewalls, network load balancing, availability, storage and so on. The IaaS customer is the owner of software that has some SLA’s for end users. To meet these SLA’s (e.g. Availability, Performance, Security etc.) the software needs to be hosted in an environment that is built to provide the failover, compute power and security. The IaaS customer now needs a service provider who shall provide the hosting environment that meets the SLA’s. The IaaS service provider leverages virtualization to provide the computing power. The software owner needs to deploy the software in a virtual environment locally and then upload the Virtual Machine to the hosting environment of the IaaS service provider. From here, based on the SLA’s, the service provider configures and host the software application as per the SLA’s required.
The leading IaaS service providers are Amazon and Rackspace. The billing is generally based on processor usage, storage and data transfer. However, the additional billing items may include- security, compliance, usage reports etc.

PaaS provides an application platform in the cloud that lets you deploy any application you develop, or any application you acquire from another vendor. PaaS offerings generally include facilities for software application design, development, testing, deployment and hosting. PaaS may also include - database integration, security, scalability, storage, persistence, state management, application versioning, application instrumentation and developer community facilitation.
In short, PaaS makes all the required facilities that support the full software life cycle of building or delivering applications through the Web, while assuring the availability of services from the Internet
Windows Azure is an example of Platform as a Service. Azure is a foundation for running Windows applications and storing data in the cloud.
To run an application, a developer accesses the Windows Azure portal through her Web browser, signing in with a Windows Live ID. She then chooses whether to create a hosting account for running applications, a storage account for storing data, or both. Once the developer has a hosting account, she can upload her application, specifying how many instances the application needs. Windows Azure then creates the necessary Virtual Machines and runs the application.

I think it's getting complex now. I’ll take a pause and try to make it simple enough in upcoming posts.