Sunday, March 23, 2008

Using Search to Run Your Metadata Through the Wash Cycle

When we are getting our houses of information architecture in order it doesn't hurt to include the search tool in your walking tour. While not an afterthought search engine tuning is sometimes forsaken to the crash test of an overly formal BETA assessment. Your BETA testers can smell wet paint but they can't sense the color scheme. They step around loose nails. But any student of Google's Innovation Machine [see "Reading Google's Mind in HBR's April issue by Bala Iyer and Tom Davenport] knows that the line between testing and marketing has disappeared. When your users hit your new homepage they might not have a shopping list in hand. They might not know exactly what they're looking for. But even if...

1. Your KM store does not stock coffee mugs and t-shirts
2. You are a service provider with intangible assets
3. The text in your documents is not up to building code (READ: metadata structure)

... they might expect KM to help them decide (or at least spark their curiosity!)

What if they want all the white papers detached from the rest of the marketing archive? What if it would be easier to search according to subject experts than actual subjects? How much play do you have in your design choices when the walls and fixtures are already in?

Has this happened to you?

* The site map is a missing item on the search menu
* The site structure is incidental to the results page
* You need to browse one database at a time to get your bearings

The best laid KM plans can't hide the disconnects when we don't hook search up to our metadata schemas, taxonomic mappings, and navigational paths. Reading metadata is not something search tools do in their spare time. They must be customized to render all the pre-BETA code you can cram into the interface. Only then can you flush out the ROT that will ooze to the top of your results pages.

Remember search tools can help you find what you need. But they can be easily trained to help you prevent what your users need least: noise instead of signal.

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About attentionSpin

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attentionSpin is a consulting practice formed in 1990 to create, automate and apply a universal scoring system (“The Biggest Picture”) to brands, celebrities, events and policy issues in the public eye. In the Biggest Picture, attentionSpin applies the principles of market research to the process of media analytics to score the volume and nature of media coverage. The explanatory power of this research model: 1. Allows practitioners to understand the requirements for managing the quality of attention they receive 2. Shows influencers the level of authority they hold in forums where companies, office-seekers, celebrities and experts sell their visions, opinions and skills 3. Creates meaningful standards for measuring the success and failure of campaigns and their connection to marketable assets.