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Applications as Digital Document Genres

A convergence of some thoughts here at peterme.

First off, there’s document genres. Genres are “a distinctive type of communicative action, characterized by a socially recognized communicative purpose and common aspects of form.”* One way to think about documents is that they are tools for managing information and communication. We use our understanding of genre to help us identify documents that will aid us in addressing a task we’re trying to accomplish. If I’m trying to figure out how to get from where I live to where I want to go, I’ll utilize a “map” genre, and look for documents whose form suggests I’ll find cartographic content.

Then there’s Jotspot, a service for cobbling together simple applications, which I recently discussed. If you look in their application gallery, you’ll see applications which have a genre-like feel, where you know what to expect before you even use it: RSS Feed Aggregator, Company Directory, Bug Tracker, Blog tool, such as Simple Poll.

And then Jess over a ia/ wrote about Microsoft’s development of “application archetypes” in an effort to help developers put together software that people will get.

It’s interesting to think of the evolution of digital document genres involving software, and it only makes sense. Physical document genres help me understand information, and, in the case of things like ledgers or forms, even manipulate information in rudimentary ways. The first digital document genres have largely been electronic versions of the old paper-based ones, but some, like the spreadsheet, demonstrated what happens when you add interactivity. If tools like blogs, wiki, and things like Jotspot succeed, they’ll put in ever-increasing hands the ability to manipulate information to accomplish tasks… and with that, new genres will emerge as responses to those purposes.

* Yates, J., & Orlikowski, W. J. (1992). Genres of organizational communication: Astructurational approach to studying communications and media. Academy of Management Review, 17(2), 299-326.

  1. Genres, types, whatever. We need one, ONE word to define, designate, classify these IA/CM piece parts…and then we need to move on.

    I haven’t read through your presentation…yet. (And I SO wish I had gotten to Montreal!)
    And my comment’s coming late to the game.

    But “we” (IA community, CM community, etc.) need to solidify, quickly, how we refer to things. It’s difficult to establish credibility within the business community when an internal professional refers to “something” as X, an external consultant refers to the same thing as Y and a software vendor calls it Z.

    And it’s the sniglets that get us bogged down! I refer to “genres” as “content types” and refer to the things that make up a content type a “content element”. (Almost used “objects” for the latter but “object” has a particular meaning in my CM SW world.)

    No rocket surgery; I borrowed and munged concepts and boiled them down to something that sounded solid. When someone within my enterprise refers to these things differently I correct them.

    I MUST establish a core vocab to exterminate the minutia discussions so we can move on to the substantive discussions like “who is responsible for this content (information)?” or “is this content effective?”

    I think this IA and CM stuff is important…really. It means business empowerment as opposed to IT directionalization. (WHOLE other discussion.)

    Appreciate the vent.

  2. Nice blog. I just got mine started today. I hope it will look like this someday. Its just hard to keep finding fresh content

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