IA SUMMIT 2006 [Fringe Festival*]

Between Cathedrals and Bazaars: Complementary Architectures for Control and Freedom of Information

Presentation Proposal for an Intermediate Level Audience of Information Architects, Information Designers, Web Designers, Content Managers, Online Community Managers, and IT Product Managers

by Jay Fienberg


This presentation will focus on concepts and practices by which information architectures may be developed to reconcile the sometimes conflicting requirements for control and freedom of information. The presentation will focus on cases where strict and/or centralized controls coexist and work in concert with uncontrolled systems and/or decentralized controls.


At present, the World Wide Web and the office environment—and, more and more, the home (and personal sphere), share a common condition: the expectation that we, individually and collectively, should be able to interact with digital information in a variety of ways, many of which embody very different ideas about freedom and control of information.

This common condition reflects the collisions of many different ideas about the design and even the purpose of computers, computer-based devices, information networks, and information systems. As devices and systems move from office to the web, or home to the office, or desktop to the pocket, etc., the ideas of control and freedom of information that seem to make sense in one context can seem to make little or no sense in another.

Given the conflicts that can arise out of these collisions and broken translations between contexts, differing ideas about information sometimes find themselves pitted against one and other as emblems of people's political and/or philosophical battles over requirements (e.g., centralized information vs. decentralized information in the enterprise, or taxonomies vs. folksonomies in web systems).

We, as information architects and system designers can sometimes resolve these battles through the authority of our design. We sometimes can, or have to, "take sides" and design so that one point of view "wins" and others do not.

However, in many cases, we do not have—or, even, should not have, this authority. Likewise, sometimes, it is up to us to choose to simultaneously account for multiple points of view. In these cases, we must find ways to reconcile differing interests in and requirements for the control and freedom of information.

About the Presentation Format:

This presentation will look at how information architectures can reconcile conflicting requirements for control and freedom of information.

Examples from both the World Wide Web and enterprise intranet / extranet systems will be used to compare different concepts of control and freedom. Contemporary systems examined will include: Flickr, del.icio.us, Wikipedia, and the presenter's own work on enterprise collaboration portals and intranet / extranet communities.

Some historical perspective will be provided in comparing these contemporary systems with traditional library cataloging practices, hierarchical enterprise organization, E. F. Codd's theories of relational data, and Ted Nelson's theories of hypertext.

The presentation will offer an "ecumenical" approach towards potentially conflicting information ideas, such as:

Architectural techniques and processes examined will include:

This presentation will introduce a pattern for producing "fabrics" that represent the control and freedom of information as interconnected layers of information architectures.

* Wikipedia entry on Fringe Festival

See also the 2007 entry:

Design for Death and Accidental Dismemberment


© 2006 Jay Fienberg