When I was principally an urban planner, we liked to talk about Kevin Lynch - but seldom did we do anything about him. This was because the hands of urban planners are largely tied by zoning rules and politics. It's hard to do a good job. Urban planning is a very frustrating field.
On the flight today, I was reading Peter Morville's Ambient Findability. It's a short book.
Once Vivian and I went to Belle Epicurienne, a chocolate / pastry place in Seattle that has very rich food. We spyed a little chocolate torte that looked really good. It was very small. We couldn't even get half way through it - it was so rich. That's what Ambient Findability was like.
I have lots of notes for blog posts. But first I want to talk about wayfinding. It comes up often in conversations with information architects, site designers, and tech heads.
A year or so ago, I was hiking through the Marin hills with Howard Rheingold. We were talking about using Geographic Information Systems techniques to map information. What that might look like, how useful it would be. We got all worked up about it.
We continued the conversation off and on for a few months, but I was stumbling. I knew that there was something there and I knew something else: our relationships with information were personal.
So that's been riding around in my head for a while.
So, Kevin Lynch, right. He was an urban planner theorist in the 60s that came up with such concepts as mental maps and wayfinding. Morville quotes his precepts for a "legible city". A legible city, as quoted in the book, includes paths, edges, nodes, districts and landmarks - in essence the building blocks of meaningful design.
Morville then says that Paris is a good city because it's landmarks and paths form a cohesive network by which people can coherently navigate the city. Boston, on the other hand, has no such things and is hard to navigate.
I'm not sure I agree. Washington DC was designed specifically to have these view corridors and it's a bitch to drive around. Washington DC is only well navigated by subway. Tokyo, likewise, is completely navigable because of its subway. I tried hard to get lost in Tokyo, but you are never far from a subway. Landmarks though ... not many are visible from far away and most are transit stations.
What this shows is that what gives meaning to an environment is not necessarily a complete collection of building blocks, but any fabric of coherence that overlays it. Something that the brain can grasp. This may be any of the list or some of the list. In this case, the subways are the paths, nodes and landmarks - though you may be surprised at what landmark you find yourself at.
With appropriate coherence or context, the most mangled urban form (like Tokyo) can be easy to grasp.
But what of our friend the Internet? More information than we can shake a stick at, and we are tool users so stick shaking is what we're all about.
Morville talks about "Desire Lines" in our searching and internet navigation. In a city, our physical beings force us to laboriously go from place to place. On the net, we can seemlessly zip from one node to another with no transportation costs other than a click of the index finger.
On the Internet, our movements, characterized by desire lines or search / browser histories, defy our conventional thoughts of mapping. We see maps as solid, identifiable, and relatively permanent. Unless something bizarre happens, Seattle will be north of Los Angeles.
But information space is malleable. We can move it around. Pepsi is next to Coke, but it might also be next to fattening or Taco Bell or Seattle Mariners. This depending on your story.
This was what I was talking to Howard about. Maps of information tell stories. Information wayfinding isn't leading us to a known location like the Louvre. It's leading us via a preset path to a conclusion. And that path is chosen by the story teller. That path travels the back alleys of information.
We say that stories Transport us - another spatial metaphor that implies that the information in the story is a journey. Stories, therefore, have a geography of their own - a personal, conceptual, and meaningful geography.
This means that the shape of the internet that we so badly want to map is highly contextual and subjective. The shape of the net is personal. It changes with us as we grow, as we think, as we need.
So it really resonated with me when Peter Morville said:
localization requires classification as well as translation
What he's saying here is the without context - without a story - information is formless. It's just data. But a storyteller sets the boundaries and defined the goals - the provide classification (the means of wayfinding) and the translation (the map). Localization is the punch line - the climax.
So we have:
Storytelling Urban Navigation
Story Elements | Classification | Wayfinding Elements
Plot | Translation | Maps
So Classification gives a story its Lynch-like view corridors (the legible elements) and the translation give it the view's beauty (relevance).
Blogging can easily make use of these concepts. The Attention Trust folk touch on this. The issue is control over the story. How can you tell a coherent story with hyperlinks allowing people to bounce around like hyper children on Sugar Crisp?
I personally deal with this by clicking on links on firefox and opening them in a new tab without leaving the blog post until I'm done with it. When I'm done, I have a full selection of sources from the post.
But even this doesn't work well because blog posters aren't really thinking of these issues. So they will put a link in as soon as a keyword arises to highlight. That's often not good story telling. And these stories are a new medium. Thought needs to take into account how they are structured and if links are appropriate.
What I'm going to try with this post is an entire post with no links, but then a map at the end of the post that has links as well as a map of the thoughts in the post itself. This is pretty rudimentary. But I think it will illustrate the concept.
((Rats, I don't have enough time for the map this afternoon. My flight is about to leave. I will make the map on the plane and upload in the morning.))
Written with Windows Live Writer at Northwest WorldClub - Narita Japan.