Pondering the MyStuff problematic sytem information architecture

August 15th, 2007


I’d like a little feedback on the following critical issue, if you have time.

The ‘breadcrumb’ navigation is all over the place. That’s because MyStuff is by nature ‘all over the place’. It’s all about creating something that can be reused in multiple places. As a result, strict hierarchy is difficult to define. And users who like things in strict,easily navigable hierarchicial order will struggle. Trust me, im designing this thing and I really struggle with it!

There is no ‘sitemap’ in existence for the system. I’ve had a go at creating one. In doing so, I’ve identified that it is difficult to locate certain things within hierarchy.

The most glaring issue is the nature of difference between ‘spaces’, ‘compilations’, ‘forms’ and ‘items’.

‘Spaces’ enable users to go to their course and fill in ‘forms’ for a course defined purpose. These forms might be from the general pool of forms created by Erica or from course defined forms. Most data entered in a ‘space’ will be useful for a final ‘compilation’. The data entered in the forms in a ‘space’ context’ will also be available to view in the general ‘items’ area.

When considering the breadcrumb hierarchy for the data ‘item’ there are a few breadcrumbs that could exist that take the user to the same ‘item’:

1. MyStuff / spaces / about me / personal photos / photo.jpg

2. MyStuff / items / files / images / photo.jpg

3. MyStuff / compilations / web / photos / photo.jpg

It may be that we define that ‘items’ don’t have a breadcrumb at all. Or maybe they have multiple breadcrumbs. Maybe breadcrumbs only exist for the system itself, not the items or compilations stored within it.

However, not having a breadcrumb for the items or compilations is troublesome. It means users either have to click the ‘back button’ to get to previous pages (if they didn’t direct-link to the item itself!) or go back to the MyStuff homepage or global navigation elements and move forwards till they find the item they want. This is little inconvenient though. Multiple breadcrumbs could prove useful. Consider the example above. Depending on what the user wants to do, she can click items in one of three potential paths.

1. is the item’s location within the ‘spaces’ hierarchy

2. is the item’s location within the ‘items’ hierarchy

3. is the item’s location within the ‘compilation’ hierarchy

But are there more potential places the item could live?


An item can belong to many compilations:

MyStuff / compilations / web / me / photo.jpg
MyStuff / compilations / bu130 / evidence1 / photo.jpg
MyStuff / compilations / h808 / evidence / photo.jpg
MyStuff / compilations / web / likeness / photo.jpg
(..and on and on..)

As long as ‘about me’ is a space, an item can belong to multiple spaces:

MyStuff / spaces / about me / photos / photo.jpg
MyStuff / spaces / bu130 / photos / photo.jpg
MyStuff / spaces / h808 / photos / photo.jpg

This problem is not unique to MyStuff though. Consider that a photo uploaded to Flickr can live in the photostream, a set, a tag and a collection. Flickr deals with the issue by essentially placing the ‘parents’ of the photo in the right-hand column (photostream, this photo also belongs to, tags). This is a good way of dealing with the hierarchy without using breadcrumb trails as such.

So we could adopt this method. But this raises the question of ‘spaces’. Does an item ‘belong’ to a ‘space’ or is it merely created within one? If spaces are the means to group forms in a usable context then the forms need a hierarchy too. So we’d have a category called ‘personal’ where users would go to add addresses, work history and stuff like that. They’d go to a course space, say BU130 to enter data specifically relating to that course. They wouldn’t add personal info in this space as they would do that in the ‘personal space’. Therefore forms are not reused in different spaces, they are unique to them.

But what about ‘file uploads’ and ‘new notes’? What space do these belong to? Yet again, my mind is in knots.

If we redefine the nature of a ‘space’ so that it can only be used to input data, not select data (a compilation feature) then there is no space for ‘About me’ as a space as it is currently designed. In this design, the user can select items to use in the space. This is what compilations do! So should spaces do the same thing? I don’t think so. ‘About me’ shoul be the means to add items using the ‘Personal’ forms. But crucially, not select a favourite one.

Where does this leave the ‘personal profile (about me)’ then? Well I’d suggest moving it to ‘settings’. Here it would behave similarly to a compilation but with no downloadable output.

So, here are my wireframes for the ‘About me’ space.


Tags: , , ,

One Response to “Pondering the MyStuff problematic sytem information architecture”

  1. Anthony Forth

    I think a form is a content creation tool in the creation of an item. A form is not an artefact, at least as far the MyStuff user is concerned, it is a tool. I think an item’s breadcrumb trail must be dynamic to reflect its current context, so if it is being navigated to from ‘items’ this should be reflected, if it is being navigated to from a workspace this should be reflected.

    I don’t agree with the idea that a workspace should not have the functionality of a compilation (there might be instances where it would be redundant, so obviously it must be optional). A workspace should allow the user to produce a package of work (i.e. producing evidence of e-learning competency, research skills, etc, etc) from inception to completion. This should include being able to generate and/or select the relevant items, organise them in a way that is guided by the course team or other stakeholder, output the end result and/or submit a TMA.

    Really, to my mind, a workspace is just a brand of compilation that is context specific (a course, About Me, etc) rather than generic (web compilation).