I have been forced to defend a lot of decisions made as of late regarding the experiences of print versus interactive media. Not in some strange Orwellian way, more like a five-year-old asks the same question, over and over just…well, just because.
Specifically I am thinking of a recent conversation I had regarding a subject matter taxonomy for an online article archive. The questions kept coming up – Why should we do this? Isn’t this what our homepage is supposed to do? This means we have to do this with our print editions as well??!!!
The purpose of the subject based categorization of articles is to facilitate browsing through large bodies of information in a way that will make sense to people. This means people outside of your core audience also.
Putting together a subject based taxonomy for articles does not necessarily need to be carried over into print. Print media is a well established experience and finite in it’s lifecycle. When you create a web experience you essentially have to create your structure from scratch. We are approaching a point where there are some conventions, but every site is different. When you design a site you are very literally designing the medium as well as the message. You don’t necessarily need to make this subject scheme totally transparent to visitors, it can also serve as the hidden spine of your content. I this case we were suggesting a landing page for each subject matter that would display articles within a given subject matter. People can jump straight to the newest content, or step back to one of the category landing pages to find similar stories if needed.
Whatever scheme is chosen, it does not need to be the final all-encompassing solution. Nor should it be. You should expect your information schema to evolve over time. Ideally this is something a given organization would drive as needs change – but sometimes that isn’t realistic. The idea is that the information scheme should be comprehensive, but not so much that it means a lack of flexibility.