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Enter the Information Architect

By 1995, however, a generation had grown up with the personal computer. Adapting to the quirks of another Windows application was no big deal. A new kind of specialist, the information architect, emerged. IAs tried to create an overall logic for the design of a site. But as the Web grew, the IA guys formed a kind of priesthood, with its own mysteries. Some proceeded as if information architecture should be separate from design.

By 1999, with the dot-com boom in full roar, Web development teams had broken into mutually uncomprehending groups: software developers, information architects, search experts, and even usability experts.

Amid the pandemonium, a lot of people got rich, and understandably, they got a little cocky. The “netizens” and “digerati” dismissed the old print guys as wood-pulp fetishists, deservedly headed for oblivion.

The Web grew, and users got used to the conventions of the Web interface. But for all its powers, the browser is trapped in a world of pull-down menus and dialogue boxes. This is not an easy world to move around in. Because the Web is based on HTML, we should have guessed that users would end up moving from link to link. Google understood this. Search became the preferred way to move around because the Web had gotten so big and sites so confusing that the easiest thing to do was to enter a keyword.

At the very instant that search seemed dominant, the nature of the Web began to change. While it has always been relatively easy to put stuff on a site, it became much easier with tools like Blogger and Movable Type, and simple blogs proliferated. With Friendster, and then MySpace, Web pages no longer came just from corporations, universities, and government; they came from everywhere.

But democratization did little to improve design. ­WordPress offered people templates for designed Web pages, but few bothered to modify them. Most blogs looked like blandly conventional websites. Although some creative folks put richer stories and picture scrapbooks on sites like LiveJournal, millions more just grabbed Web cameras and posted their videos to YouTube.

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Credit: Nathaniel Welch

Tagged: Communications

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