Euro IA 2007 – Navigating the Long Tail

I’d like to post some thoughts about presentations I saw at the Euro IA 2007 Conference. Already mentioned Are’s presentation.

Here’s a summary of mine, which is essentially the last slide in my presentation (available on SlideShare) that sums everything up:

  • The cost of adding more information is noise. Don’t forget this when people talk about “unlimited shelf space” online.
  • There are different types of sources of metadata to consider: user-generated metadata (e.g., tagging), technically generated metadata (e.g., entity extraction), and owner-created metadata (e.g., controlled vocabularies).
  • There are also different types of structures of organization to give meaning and context to the metadata when you represent it: user-created structures (e.g., filtering tags for special interest groups), technically created structure (e.g., Google News page), and owner-created structures (e.g., a thesaurus).
  • In the Long Tail, any and all types of metadata and types of structure are needed. Forget about the silly arguments that one will replace the other. Think of it as matrix with the types of metadata on the side and the types of structures on the top.
  • Further, since niche markets fit the description of a bounded domain, and since traditional taxonomies and classification are often good strategies for organizing information in bounded domains, as Clay Shirky points out, AND as we move to a culture of niche markets, as Chris Anderson predicts, traditional IA and taxonomy will become more important.
  • Additionally, niche markets are defined by the categories you create. Online, a “pile of information”–as David Weinberger says in Everything is Miscellaneous--begins and ends with the IA and organization you develop.
  • IA in the Long Tail will be about second order design. You may not be able to customize each page or local navigation scheme. Instead, you need to provide people with the tools they need to make sense of information.
  • This means a shift for IA to look at abstract, broader patterns of human information behavior and of information structures in a domain. Card sorting is great, but we need to go well beyond this. We need to look at users much more closely, as well as the inherent patterns of information in a domain.

Not the most practical talk I’ve given, but many people thanked for the talk and said it got them thinking. So it seemed to have been well-received.

About Jim Kalbach

Head of Customer Experience at MURAL


  1. Pingback: - Gadgets on the web » Euro IA 2007 - Navigating the Long Tail

  2. I think your talk was one of the best at the summit this year James so thanks again. Not surprisingly I totally agree with your observation that in a long tail world, IA becomes a 2nd order design problem. n this light I was wondering how this can be united with your statement that within niche markets, traditional IA is readily applicable. I am reminded of your Etsy example – do you really think an IA sat down and came up with the category gothic candle holders? Isn’t it more likely this category emerged from observed user behaviour?

  3. James Kalbach

    Thanks, Kars.

    To answer your questions: yes to both of them. Not sure if there is an IA per se on the Etsy team, but someone noticed that people were selling and buying gothic candle holders and came up with the category. Doesn’t matter why they did. The point is that the navigation defines the market in this case.

  4. I expected that was going to be your answer. ;-) I’m just not sure wether that model scales to the long tail economy you discuss in your talk. I mean – don’t you think it’s more effective and efficient to generate categories like ‘gothic candle holders’ based on user behaviour? Maybe have a two-step process where there is ad-hoc administration on the generated categories?

  5. James Kalbach

    Two-step process, one-step process, three-step process: it’s all going to be needed. So, yes again to your question. That’s not a cop out either. Taxonomy, tagging, algorithms: the navigation layer of the long tail will require it all.

    Maybe there wasn’t a single person at Etsy that came up with the category. Maybe some machine created it. But there was someone who came up with the algorithms and the tools to create it, as well as the rules when a category becomes a category.

    But I still believe that as niche markets grow, people become intensely interested in them and want more definition and refinement, and traditional information structure often are a good way to provide that.

    There was a poster at the poster session at Euro IA called Faceted Search and Navigation for E-commerce, A Case Study of, by Ingrid Tofte and Karl Johan Sæth. They had a few general facets for “normal” visitors. But then there were extra, deeper categories just for wine aficianados. So as the people in that market became specialists and experts in the field, they demanded more structure to the information.

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