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How Information Architecture Works

Putting Information Architecture into Action

Software used in information architecture falls into two categories. One is the modeling software described earlier. The other category is information system software used to put together the system in accordance with an architect's plans.

Information system software makes it easy to implement some of the most common features of an IA. Content management system (CMS) software, for example, combines the features of a file system and a library. CMS users can check out, update and check in information while tracking revisions of the information over time and accessing older revisions as needed. In addition, the CMS itself or some other piece of software can retrieve that information as needed, such as to add to a document or display on a Web page.

Two popular CMSes that both organize and present Web content are Drupal and Alfresco. Drupal is a free, open source CMS written mostly in Hypertext Preprocessor Language (PHP). Drupal is known for being very flexible, but its major attractions are its out-of-the-box features and free extensions, which are often needed to implement a Web site's IA [source: Feiler]. Alfresco, a subscription-based CMS, implements an IA that goes beyond just the Web content, including features for managing an organization's in-house documents and records.

Besides CMSes, other software can be used to implement some or all of an IA. For example, some blog software like WordPress and wiki software like MediaWiki behave as CMSes, though they have more limited options for storing, categorizing and presenting information. A document management system (DMS) is similar to a CMS, but limited to certain types of information. A DMS like KnowledgeTree can preserve a document's format while continuing to track the author and timestamp of each revision. Also, when it comes to searching information, a DMS will rely on tags rather than searching the contents of the document itself.

Information grows and changes over time in response to the needs of users. For the information architect, this means determining when the amount or types of information no longer fit the existing IA or when there's a shift in the context or users of that information. When an IA has to change, the architect must consider not only how to update the model, but also whether to update the software used to manage the information system.