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The Future of Information Architecture : Conceiving a Better Way to Understand Taxonomy, Network and Intelligence

Macgregor, George (2010) The Future of Information Architecture : Conceiving a Better Way to Understand Taxonomy, Network and Intelligence. [Review]

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Information Architecture (IA) has been a well established sub-discipline of the information, computer and library sciences since the late 1990s. Recent contributions from Gilchrist (2004), Batley (2007a), but particularly Morville and Rosenfeld’s (2007) seminal work (originally published in 1998), have thoroughly delineated the core principles of IA. Although minor differences will always be found between IA definitions depending on which you hold dearest, most emphasise the role of user centred design, navigation tools (e.g. taxonomies, information retrieval thesauri, etc.), indexing and metadata in delivering information and making it discoverable by users on the Web (Batley, 2007b). Although incorporating ‘Information Architecture’ in its title, The Future of Information Architecture by Peter Baofu is peculiar in that it does not cover these themes; at least, not explicitly. The Future of Information Architecture is a philosophical excursion into the issues which pervade current approaches to information processing, storage, use and dissemination. This excursion - which the author labels as his “synthetic theory of information architecture” – suggests that taxonomies and networks, when analysed from the perspectives of mind, nature, society and culture, suffer from several contradictions. In particular, Baofu’s analysis suggests that they suffer from a series of inherent tensions which he summarises in his six principles: simpleness-complicadeness, exactness-vagueness, slowness-quickness, order-chaos, symmetry-asymmetry, and the post human stage. To derive these principles and aid his philosophical exposition, Baofu uses the ideas and logic of existential dialectics. So, for example, where a taxonomy (in its various permutations) may deliver specificity, it will simultaneously deliver vagueness because the more precise a taxonomy becomes the less conducive it is to the addition of new concepts (i.e. exactness-vagueness principle). Similarly the reverse is true; a taxonomy which is less exact (i.e. vague) and which is consequently more conducive to the addition of new concepts will immediately fail to deliver accuracy and exactness. Baofu therefore teases out the various ambiguities of how information is organised and communicated; but he stops short of providing alternatives and instead notes the inevitable logic of existential dialectics as pervading our information future.