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Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, Second Edition by Peter Morville, Louis Rosenfeld

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Chapter 14. Ethics

You’ve almost finished the book. You understand the concepts. You’re familiar with the methods. But before you move onwards and upwards, we ask you to consider the following questions:

  • Are you aware that the practice of information architecture is riddled with powerful moral dilemmas?

  • Do you realize that decisions about labeling and granularity can save or destroy lives?

  • Will you be designing ethical information architectures?[41]

If you’ve never considered these questions, don’t worry. It’s not your fault. Blame your parents. Did they ever take the time when you were a small child to clarify that the story of Hansel and Gretel is really a metaphor for the horrors of ineffective breadcrumb navigation? Did they ever explain that Spiderman symbolizes the virtuous hypertextual power of the Web? Without information architect superheroes and archvillains to serve as role models, how you could be expected to recognize your own potential for good or evil?

Ethical Considerations

The truth is that ethics is one of the many hidden dimensions of information architecture. As Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Star state in Sorting Things Out:[42]

Good, usable systems disappear almost by definition. The easier they are to use, the harder they are to see.

Large information systems such as the Internet or global databases carry with them a politics of voice and value that is often invisible, embedded in layers of infrastructure.

Through the course of the book, Bowker and Star uncover the ...

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