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3.3. Creating Cohesive Organization Systems

As you've seen in this chapter, organization systems are fairly complex. You need to consider a variety of exact and ambiguous organization schemes. Should you organize by topic, by task, or by audience? How about a chronological or geographical scheme? What about using multiple organization schemes?

You also need to think about the organization structures that influence how users can navigate through these schemes. Should you use a hierarchy or would a more structured database-model work best? Perhaps a loose hypertextual web would allow the most flexibility? Taken together, in the context of a large web site development project, these questions can be overwhelming. That's why it's important to break down the site into its components, so you can tackle one question at a time. Also, keep in mind that all information retrieval systems work best when applied to narrow domains of homogeneous content. By decomposing the content collection into these narrow domains, you can identify opportunities for highly effective organization systems.

However, it's also important not to lose sight of the big picture. As with cooking, you need to mix the right ingredients in the right way to get the desired results. Just because you like mushrooms and pancakes doesn't mean they will go well together. The recipe for cohesive organization systems varies from site to site. However, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

In considering which organization schemes to use, remember the distinction between exact and ambiguous schemes. Exact schemes are best for known-item searching, when users know precisely what they are looking for. Ambiguous schemes are best for browsing and associative learning, when users have a vaguely defined information need. Whenever possible, use both types of schemes. Also, be aware of the challenges of organizing information on the Web. Language is ambiguous, content is heterogeneous, people have different perspectives, and politics can rear its ugly head. Providing multiple ways to access the same information can help to deal with all of these challenges.

When thinking about which organization structures to use, keep in mind that large web sites and intranets typically require all three types of structure. The top-level, umbrella architecture for the site will almost certainly be hierarchical. As you are designing this hierarchy, keep a lookout for collections of structured, homogeneous information. These potential subsites are excellent candidates for the database model. Finally, remember that less structured, creative relationships between content items can be handled through hypertext. In this way, all three organization structures together can create a cohesive organization system.

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