“The meaning of life is trying to find a place for your stuff”

In 1986 George Carlin, an American comedian of some note, said; “The meaning of life is trying to find a place for your stuff”. The words echoed around my head throughout a new portal planning meeting with one of my clients. My brain didn’t stop there and during the next coffee break, it went through the whole routine for me.

I found the sketch on YouTube for those who are not familiar with Mr Carlin’s unique style:

As an organisation, the whole purpose of an Intranet seems to be finding a place for your stuff. If we’re lucky we can not only find a place for our stuff, but also find our stuff when we need it again. Maybe we want a perfect Intranet where can find other peoples stuff that help us do our job (often collecting more stuff) more easily. So we need to build not just a pile of stuff but a pile that we can structure, categorise, search and explore.

But there’s more to it than that… we keep collecting stuff, we ALL keep collecting stuff and the great bard George had words to say about that too. He said “Have you ever noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff? “. Of course their shit may also be in piles, but probably doesn’t have the same structure as my pile of stuff, because that would be helpful.

Was George a secret information architect in his spare time? If not, how was he summing up the principles of relevance based content presentation so eloquently?

Organising stuff into piles and making sure we see our stuff, stuff we like, stuff we want and if I may use his language, nobody else’s shit, is exactly what we’re trying to do as information architects.

In an ideal world we would be able to organise everyone’s stuff neatly ourselves but when we look at larger enterprises that already have many intranets, then we face a whole new range of problems when it comes to finding things in piles of stuff.

During the course of my posts I want to explore this in some detail and will be looking at questions such as:

  • How can you strike the balance between different types of communication?
  • How can you encourage a migration from decentralised to centralised systems?
  • How can you use relevance based targeting without an approved global taxonomy?
  • How do you detach information architecture from design when talking about a new portal?

Of course when it comes to Intranet design George had another real humdinger; “It isn’t fair: the caterpillar does all the work, and the butterfly gets all the glory.” Designers 1, architects 0. It’s time to explain what the caterpillar actually does!

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