Many years ago in my previous career as a teacher, I was introduced to concept mapping and card sorting. These were techniques that I could use to help me get a better understanding of how my students constructed knowledge and were able to make meaning about the things I was teaching them and how they related to things they had learned in the past.
In the classroom, I used to prepare card sorts that included different types of matter in various states (solid, liquid, gas), or various living things in preparation of basic biological taxonomies. I would also include some other more mysterious items like “fire” or “virus” to see where students would categorize them. Similarly, I used concepts maps to see how students viewed the relationships between concepts to help unearth their current understandings and possible misconceptions.
I found that when using these methods, it wasn’t the end categories of the card sort, or the final concept map that was most important. Similar to using card sorting in Information Architecture work, a significant benefit came through listening to individuals and groups grapple with/discuss where things should fit and why. As a teacher this helped me uncover areas that I obviously hadn’t covered adequately in my class activities, enabling me to adress them in future lessons.
When I began the transition to becoming a web professional, I was immediately taken with the field of IA. I believe this was at least partly because of these overlapping techniques and the interaction that each path requires with people and their mental models of how things fit together.
Card Sorts and the Progression of a Blog
I’m very interested in how readers see my blog — how do they categorize it? Where does it fit into their “big picture”? Mostly, I see it as part of understanding my readers better – the more I learn about them and how they see things, the more I can strike the right balance for my blog. I know I could always just write a post asking some questions (basically a user/reader interview of some sort), but I wanted something a little more spontaneous — something akin to being a fly on the wall.
What I’m finding particularly fascinating as this blog grows is those that subscribe through the online service provided by Bloglines. Most feedreaders support the creation of feed categories – the difference with Bloglines is that those categories are available through the public profiles of Bloglines users. As I view the “public profiles” of the subscribers to my feeds I try to see which where I “fit” within their folders. Some subscribers leave their list of feeds unsorted, while most seem to have their feeds categorized into folders. I look in folders for “Web Standards”, “Web Design/Development”, and the general category “Blogs” and find my site listed. Sometimes, though, I am surprised to find them in a folder named “Firefox”.
Progression and Moving Forward
It was not my intention to make Firefox the focus of my blog. Given that two of my last 4 posts have been on Firefox, I can see how anyone could easily put this blog there as it makes perfect sense. I probably should have A Good About Page – currently I have only one “about” paragraph, and I’m not sure it does enough. Learn a few things about how people see your blog, and it can prompt changes… (Yes, I have a list, and yes, I’m making some changes here…)
Perceptions of a blog are formed the first time you start reading it. Your categorization of that blog (if you categorize it at all) is based on the posts you read. Read one post, and you only have one card to sort. Read more and you have more to sort through and more information upon which to base your categorization. I don’t want to extend the analogy of Bloglines to a card sort too far, as I’m sure it breaks down – and I don’t get the advantage of actually interacting with subscribers.
When you have limited opportunity to collect data, any data is better than no data at all. I’m really finding it interesting to see where others think I fit and I’ll keep watching to see how (if at all) that categorization might change over time.