Where Do I File This?

Information architecture is hard.

February 19, 2017Filed under blog#writingMarkdown source

I want to write more. Blogging does me good. I say this often, but I’m finally coming to a point where it might be a bit more doable. Finishing my M. Div. is giving me more time, and that’s really wonderful. The trick now is deciding which of the many things I want to do will get my attention. I can split my focus a thousand ways, or I can pick a few tasks and zero in on them and aim to be good at them.

In the case of blogging, I have no doubt it’s something I want to continue. But I need to think about how and why I want to use it, and this relates closely to some of my goals for an information architecture-level restructuring of the site I want to do when I finish building lightning-rs. Blogging, at its best, isn’t long-form articles (though there is certainly room for those on my website as a whole), but short, cogent pieces which pack a punch and move on, or thinking out loud. Even in my own experience, the best blog posts I have written are quite different from the best essays I have written. Embracing that seems like a helpful first step.

I have more than a few large project-style blog posts I have not finished—most regrettably, at present, one about podcasting which I told a friend I was working on some weeks ago—in part because I have tried to treat them like blog posts and essays or projects at the same time.

What I think I’d like to end up with is something like this, in terms of structure in the new site:

  • Journal—something like a “commonplace journal”, but shared publicly. This would include several kinds of content:
    • blog posts—things like this little piece, of course, but also the vast majority of the content I put on the site
    • links to other blog posts
  • Projects & Series—the home for more substantive chunks of content
    • long-running series like my Rust and Swift posts, which are not particularly bloggy (for lack of a better word)
    • things like my 2016 in Review series
    • some projects more like some of the things Craig Mod has done over the years: curated collections of materials that complement each other
  • Articles—call this aspirational; if or when I have things published in a more formal way, I’d like them to have a home on my website as well

This structure has some challenges of its own, of course. Where does a poem go? Is it part of my “journal” or is it more of a one-off “project”? And within those, I shall want both overlapping “categories” as well as cross-cutting “subjects”: it is impossible to cleanly separate all of my Tech and Theology writing from each other, yet having some high-level categories grows increasingly important for navigating the site as its content grows. (This becomes a problem even just for me as I look for old posts to link them—much less for any other reader of my site!)

Part of the problem with all such taxonomies is that they are arbitrary and constrictive so far as they cannot overlap. Perhaps something goes in both Projects and Journal—but then that makes it far harder for a user of the site to navigate. And here, as I hinted in my parenthetical above, there is another of these tensions: how I think of something and use it for organization of my materials is broadly orthogonal to the needs or interests of potential readers, and both of us use the site!

Of course, these are problems for all sufficiently complex collections of data. It is equally as hard to manage these questions of organization for large, focused writing projects (like a thesis or a novel) as for a varied collection of materials like this site, though the details differ. It is much harder when dealing with an operating system and its collection of myriad kinds of data. We muddle on with our self-imposed limitations, because the alternative tends to be chaos. Unconstrained tagging systems quickly devolve to madness.

And this is not merely a digital problem: filing cabinets have the same constraints. Yet perhaps the apparent freedom offered by the digital world exacerbates it; the sense that perhaps we could escape the constraint that a note can only go in one place—because it can go in more than one virtual place—makes us reach for solutions which may only increase our frustration in the end. Perhaps just being forced to put something in a place (even if not a perfect one) is a good discipline. But perhaps not; perhaps that freedom is a gift if we use it wisely. I think there is room for further work here in any case.

So: more to come as I continue to chew on these problems of information architecture and user interface. Links to others’ thoughts and more detailed comments of your own most welcome.