Information architectures: print versus online

The title of the talk I'll be giving next month at ETech is Attention-focusing Strategies. One of those strategies is to exploit a pattern known in the publishing world as heads, decks, and leads. Heads are titles, decks are subtitles, and leads are opening paragraphs.

Writers and editors spend a lot of time thinking about heads, decks, and leads. That's because writers and editors know that readers usually scan first, then dive in when they're hooked by one or more of these devices.

Online publications often fail to exploit this pattern, and the most egregious failure is in the presentation of search results. When search engines decorate URLs with contextual blurbs, those blurbs are almost always the text that surrounds found terms. That's better than nothing, but if you have decks and leads to go along with the heads, why not reuse them here?

Now the InfoWorld power search does just that. Baldwin Louie, one of our developers, supplied me with the raw material in XML (actually RSS) format. (Thanks, Baldwin!) I'm using it to add both static and dynamic features to the search results.

The static feature is a title attribute on the link for each found article. When you hover over the link, the deck pops up. The dynamic feature is a hidden element that's revealed when you click on a details (ยป) link. It contains both the deck and the lead.

Publishers all have this metadata, and yet we rarely deploy it online as effectively as we could. Why is this so? I think it's a cultural thing. Print culture has one style of information architecture, online culture has another, and the two don't necessarily align.

Update: Again, I forgot to check MSIE. It's sad that even in IE7, scripted access to CSS styles requires special treatment. Anyway, fixed now. Here's a quick screencast demo (Flash 8 required):

Further update: It's bogus to require Flash 8. For the time being, I'll go back to using SWF, rather than FLV, for these shorties.

show screencast: heads, decks, and leads in search results

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