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At its core, information architecture is quite simple: it’s about organizing stuff to make it easier to find and understand. Organizing stuff is something we do all the time; IA just asks that we do it for other people.
Before I started work on Duly Noted, I’d assumed this was a key difference between IA and personal knowledge management: IA is organizing stuff for other people, but PKM is about organizing our own stuff.
This assessment is wrong. In PKM, you’re also organizing stuff for another person — it just happens to be a future version of you.
Of course, that argument won’t fly with the tax authorities. Technically, you’re the same person you were five years ago. But you underwent many changes over that time. You likely have a different job and focus on other projects. You deal with different people. The context is different.
Your needs and focus will be different five years from now. You’ll have forgotten some things that are important to you now and learned new ones.
You can count on two things remaining the same: future you will still have too much information to deal with, and future you will still need to get things done. So, how do you organize stuff so this other person can find and understand it?
There are two aspects to this question. The first is deciding what’s worth keeping and organizing. Not everything will be relevant, and the more you include, the harder it’ll be to find the stuff you need. It’s a classic signal-to-noise problem.
The second aspect is categorizing the stuff that’s worth keeping. This entails understanding the user’s mental models so you can establish sets and distinctions that map to how they see the world.
While you can’t know exactly how you’ll see things five years from now, you have a better shot of predicting it for yourself than you do for other people.
In this sense, PKM is easier than IA. In IA, we must establish categories that work for lots of people. But in PKM, we’re only concerned with organizing things for one person. It’s okay — and perhaps preferable — to use tags and folder names that only make sense to you.
The question is, will they stand the test of time? Will these categories allow you to find stuff now and five years from now? Will you easily sift the relevant stuff from the noise?
From personal experience, there’s much that IA can teach us to help us manage our personal information better. I’m excited to share what I’m learning with you.
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