Review by Peter Morville (June 1, 2000)

Information Ecology

The traditional approach to information management — invest in new technologies and cross your fingers — just doesn't work.

We need to take a human-centered approach to designing and managing information environments that encompasses:

  • Information strategy
  • Information politics, behavior, and culture
  • Information staff and management processes
  • And information architecture
The authors (both long-standing gurus in the field of knowledge management) dedicate a chapter to tearing apart traditional "top-down" approaches to information architecture design, in favor of "emergent" or "bottom-up" architectures that share much in common with biological ecologies, including integration of diverse types of information (species diversity) and recognition of evolutionary change.

They go on to define the following success factors for information management:

  • Senior management awareness, support, and participation
  • Linking of information ecology to firm economics
  • Absence of empire-building managers
  • Clarity in what is being managed (e.g., information and knowledge rather than data or transactions)
  • Avoidance of excessive structure and misplaced precision
While this book doesn't provide much in the way of practical advice you can immediately put to use, it does introduce high-level concepts, challenges, and solutions in a manner that is highly thought-provoking. I strongly recommend this book to all information architects.

Quotes from the Text

The soft stuff is the hard stuff. (p.83)

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Managers spend 17% of their time (6 weeks a year) searching for information. (p.157)

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Despite twenty years of attempts to control information by creating an "architecture" of what is needed by whom and how they might receive it, the centralized engineering approaches employed have often neither informed nor improved our discussions about information needs. (p.6)

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Information architecture, in the broadest sense, is simply a set of aids that match information needs with information resources. A well implemented architectural design structures information in an organization through specific formats, categories, and relationships. (p.156)

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From an ecological perspective, identifying what information is available today and where it can be found (information mapping) is a much better use of architectural design than attempting to model the future. (p.163)