Monday, October 26, 2009

Virtual Worlds and Information Architecture

The Second House of Sweden: a virtual embassy for Sweden in Second Life and an excellent example of information architecture in a 3D virtual world.

The juncture of information architecture and virtual worlds creates a unification of the concepts that brings together the structural conditions of a 3D virtual space and the design of it in terms of information. Every built environment has values assigned to it in the process of its construction. These values can be interpretive or they can be instructional, in terms of having to perform closely according to specific instructions. Interpretive environments are more open ended, where multiple paths can be taken through the information system that has been assigned to the build environment. We can equate an interpretive information environment with the virtual world as a field for experiences. The virtual world as a tool expands the concept of reality. Instructional environments emphasis the simulative potentials of the virtual world where situations and relationships from the social and physical worlds are translated into the dimensions of the virtual. Realism remains a constant in both the instructional and the interpretive.

"In ancient Peru, Incan messengers used to travel across the Andes carrying a bundle of woven thread known as a Quipu, or "talking strings." When the messenger arrived at his destination, he would deliver his news while reeling off knots in the string like a rosary. For the Incas, a people with no written language, the Quipu served as their core information technology. It was a communications medium, a counting tool, even a method for recording laws. A skilled Quipucamayu ("keeper of the Quipus") could use the device to tell complex stories by weaving the colored threads together. Each thread represented a different facet of the narrative: a black string marked the passage of time, while other colored strings symbolized different characters or themes in a story: rulers, neighboring tribes, gods. By juxtaposing the multicolored strings of the story along the black-stringed axis of time, the Quipucamayu could "write" almost any kind of tale. Despite a total lack of writing as we would understand it, the Incas managed to keep track of enormous stores of information by manipulating these symbolic objects." (Alex Wright)

Information architecture (IA) is the art of expressing a model or concept of information used in activities that require explicit details of complex systems. Among these activities are library systems, Content Management Systems, web development, user interactions, database development, programming, technical writing, enterprise architecture, and critical system software design. Information architecture has somewhat different meanings in these different branches of IS or IT architecture. Most definitions have common qualities: a structural design of shared environments, methods of organizing and labeling websites, intranets, and online communities, and ways of bringing the principles of design and architecture to the digital landscape.

Historically the term "information architect" is attributed to Richard Saul Wurman. Wurman sees architecture as "used in the words architect of foreign policy. I mean architect as in the creating of systemic, structural, and orderly principles to make something work--the thoughtful making of either artifact, or idea, or policy that informs because it is clear."
Information architecture offers a versatile and inclusive concept for working with different project in the contexts of virtual worlds. Multimedia, synchronized and unsynchronized communication, built environments, and collaborative authorship are some examples of actions that suit the frame of information architecture.