Information Architectures

Models for presenting information over the internet have often been driven by their ‘shiny front ends’. The user-facing website is all important and the supporting data is somehow squeezed into this.

Thinking has moved on over recent years with a developing understanding of the importance of separating data from its presentation. If nothing else, this allows for simpler changes to the presentation layer as, for example, websites are redesigned.

We can take up this thinking in the Task Force and consider the architectures that are needed for public sector data to advance the Power of Information goals.

The following model is presented as an initial contribution to this discussion:

PRESENTATION LAYER – the public-facing front end, typically a set of web pages

ANALYSIS LAYER – any form of interpretation of the raw data, typically for summary presentation

ACCESS LAYER – all the information needed to access the data, including technical, legal and commercial aspects

DATA LAYER - the raw data sets

This sketch will be fleshed out over coming weeks into a more comprehensive model against which sources of public sector information can be tested.

This will allow us to understand and work on overcoming any barriers in the data and access layers that prevent innovation in the analysis and presentation layers.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Information Architectures

  1. In fact, in my own experience, the presentation layer is the last to receive any attention on such complex projects. And I think that’s a mistake.

    At least as important as any other consideration, the end product has to be usable. It has to meet the needs and desires of the customers who will be using it, day in and day out. If that means the data has to be ‘squeezed’ somehow, or if the staff have to change their ways of working, tough luck.

    You seem to be condemning the attitude that ‘The user-facing website is all important.’ Personally, I have zero problem with that statement. Your data, analysis and access layers might be perfect, but if they render in a meaningless fashion, it’s totally wasted.

  2. Doesn’t that rather depend on the data the site presents?

    Usability is important, I agree, but there is a lot of information held by government that could be really useful if they just got it out.

    Personally, I’d rather see lots of data sets made available for reuse with crappy UIs, than just a couple with brilliant ones. The good UIs and end products will appear in time — from inside and outside government — if the data is there.

  3. Pingback: Interaction Layer « Power of Information Task Force

  4. A fair point, Harry… indeed, I wrote 18 months ago: ‘I’m wondering if e-government should throw in the towel, and shift its focus from producing websites to producing web services. In other words, create databases visible to the outside world, and let others do the presentation.’ ( http://is.gd/AcS )

    And indeed, there’s a very good analysis of this approach on the Public Strategy blog this week ( http://is.gd/Ad4 ) which reaches a similar conclusion.

    But I don’t think that’s necessarily against my argument that we need to think about front-end presentation. The best APIs work because they think ‘what is a developer likely to want to do?’ That’s a ‘presentation layer’, just as much as the web design would be. (Richard?)

  5. There’s certainly some truth to that. I designed the TellThemWhatYouThink API that way — the site uses its own API — to make sure that it would do all the necessary things. I suppose that’s a presentation layer of sorts!

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