Report from the Information Architecture summit (day 1)

During the past weekend near Trento there were many interesting events: a conference about new media and communication “Creativita’ in video” in Rovereto, the South Tyrol Free Software conference 2007 with speakers from Google, Gnome, Samba, MIT, OpenOffice, in Merano and the second Italian summit on Information Architecture in Trento.
I decided to attend the latest and I was satisfied with the choice.

On Saturday we were more than 200 people, some of the speakers were from abroad and the summit was really worth, I really enjoyed it.

What follows is a short summary of the talks I found more interesting and, at the end, about the summit overall.

The summit was opened by Gianluca Salvatori, local minister for Research and Innovation of the Autonomous Province of Trento. I asked some people how they found his talk and many were surprised by it (“Wow, it was not the typical talk of a politician!”). In fact Salvadori knows a lot about innovation and research trend and research management (I suggest you to follow his very interesting blog, in Italian). Actually I was a bit disappointed, I think he could have been much more insightful and provocative but maybe he didn’t want to.

The opening keynote was given by Eric Reiss and was titled “Invention, Innovation, and the Future of IA”. It wanted to be a show and it largely was. I didn’t get entirely its points (is X innovation or invention?) but I got some laughs and this is already something.

“Confusi e felici: il Web 2.0 e le nuove sfide cognitive di Internet” by Cristina Lavazza – Andrea Fiacchi reported a small experiment (only 10 people) about how young and not-young people browse and find Web2.0 sites. The results were somehow as expected but the talk was very well given.

I liked a lot the talk by Luca Mascaro “UI per applicazioni Web 2.0: FaceTag”. He spoke about a small, but real case of participative redesign. The main interesting point is that he really did something and shared the process with us. Coming from academy, I’m really more willing to listen to people who did things and share their experience instead of people who instructs on how things should be done!

After the first part of the first day, I was asking myself: “what is the worst feature of Trentino research? Well, it is too much top-down. Maybe it would be much better to just finance lots of very small groups of young people like the ones we have seen presenting, without asking 200 pages of possible project in order to decide if it is worth financing it. Being more bottom-up and more fast in assigning (small amounts of) funds to many different small groups. Maybe this is another possible path, trying to reproduce the venture capital dynamism of Silicon Valley with public funds, I don’t know, it is not an easy task.

The afternoon was opened by Alessandra Cornero and her talk “Architettare per trovare: la documentazione della Pubblica Amministrazione in Rete” about how to make accessible documents created by the public sector. The current situation is too fragmented, every administration builds from scratch and independently its information portals and architectures, sometimes well, sometimes not that well. People often resort to search engines but they cannot be used for reliable information (“is this the last applicable law?”). She was suggesting that investing in human-edited catalogs should not be seen as a cost but as an investment, because they let citizens save time and find “reliable” information. I asked her “what about one of the mantra of Web2.0, participation, in this case involving citizens in the loop? Are you thinking about this? For example public sector sites could display on every page a widget by which citizens could “report as inaccurate” a certain information. Or on the other extreme the public sector could reverse all its (already electronic) documents on a wiki, with a big disclaimer on top such as “this information is not necessarily accurate”, and let citizens integrate it, comment on it, build on it…” Well, the answer told me that there is still a lot of work to do. And this of course is an opportunity.

Jess McMullin, with “The Business of Experience”, gave as another fancy presentation. By fancy I mean “lots of cool full screen images and lots of single word slides and black background”. I don’t have much experience with this kind of presentations. I’m more used to see boring, very textual, white background, academic presentation. I’m not sure I get a lot from these fancy presentations, at the end I’m often left wondering “wow, that was cool, but what I remember of his points?”. I’m also a bit curious about how you learn creating presentations like these. Just by viewing a lot of similar presentations? And how long does it take to create such a presentation (more or less than boring, textual ones)?

Alberto Mucignat, one of the organizer, tried a fancy presentation about “SEO & IA”. I didn’t follow it too much but he got an applause when suggesting we should move, after Web2.0 and Web3.0, to Web5.0, as an homage to Fibonacci. This is the picture that opens this post in fact.

Franco Carcillo and Vincenzo Mania presented “Tag per i cittadini: il caso TaggaTO”. TaggaTO is a very very interesting service provided by the city of Torino, which is really become an hub of innovation in Italy, see for example TorinoValley and the fact Sterling moved to Torino for 6 or 8 months). The service TaggaTO is a service of social bookmarking by which Torino citizens can tag resources provided by the local administration, in a way very similar to del.icio.us. Some of the questions they raised were: can classification of public services be an object of sharing? Is there a conflict between burocratic/law terms and popular jargon for tags? Which kind of monitoring is needed on tags? Also very interesting the fact they didn’t ask to Torino already web2.0 savvy citizens to switch over TaggaTO but they let them use their social bookmarking services (such as del.icio.us) and just tag resources there with “for:taggato” so that TaggaTO can fetch the tagged resources. I wonder if they were already the target of some tag spam attack.
The talk was very interesting, but not fancy style, which I actually preferred because there were a lot of interesting content in it.

Peter Van Dijck gave us the concluding talk for the first day “Global IA: How to Organize Global Websites”. It was very interesting and very fancy, but I was too tired. Some concepts I might want to search on his blog later on were: in Craiglist Dubai (women seeking women?!?), Google Korea and animations, Dewey vs the Maori, …

And then there was the summit dinner which is something people always look for when they come to conferences in Italy. It was good. ;-)

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7 Responses to this post.

  1. Andrea Resmini's Gravatar

    Posted by Andrea Resmini on 19.11.07 at 3:22 pm

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    I’m glad you found the Summit interesting and enthralling.
    I just wanted to add my two cents re the ‘fancy slides – boring slides’ dilemma. I do agree that sometimes entertainment seems to stand in the way of understanding, but I have enough stand-up comedi…I meant conference speaking experience to tell you that it’s the only way to have your audience retain something, *without* relying on any handouts or proceedings.
    IMHO presentations are not for the fine details, but for the rough slap-in-the-face kind of thing that makes you say ‘hey, that’s interesting. I have to look into that’. Fine details: let’s have them in the papers (as we effectively required from our speakers: we will have slides on the Summit web site (and on Slideshare), and proper papers on CEUR-WS), so anybody can print out and read at their pace.

    Moreover, human beings get tired, and their attention capabilities vanish quickly, so what could possibly work at 9.00am wouldn’t work at 3.00pm, and that would produce uneven programmes.
    Plus, having people deciding either if they want to read your text or listen to you on every single slide is *bad* (TM). They either loose your thread, or loose the text. And the ‘Let’s have all the boring stuff in the morning and the fun parts in the afternoon’ doesn’t work: I don’t think I would want to attend such a conference. We decidet to have key moments with international, proven speakers, and draw a sinus wave of theory -> case-study all through the two days of the event. I’m not sure it’s revolutionary, but it worked allright.

    And no, it’s not so hard to do slides like that, but you need an open mind, the idea that you have to be visually captivating, a certain degree of graphic savvy and above all enough self-discipline to force your text into a strict diet. The latter can be a huge problem for Italians: and if they are academic people, the problems only get worse. ;)

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