Explain IA and win a thousand bucks!

Peter Morville and the IA Institute have joined forces with some excellent sponsors to host a contest. To wit:

In this contest, you are invited to explain information architecture. What is it? Why is it important? What does it mean to you? Some folks may offer a definition in 140 characters or less, while others will use this opportunity to tell a story (using text, pictures, audio, and/or video) about their relationship to IA.

Be sure to note the fine print lower on the Flickr page (where there’s also a link to a free prize!):

Our goals are to engage the information architecture community (by fostering creativity and discussion) and advance the field (by evolving our definitions and sharing our stories). We believe this can be a positive, productive community activity, and a whole lot of fun. We hope you do too!

I’m glad to see most of the chatter around this has been positive. But there are, of course, some nay-sayers — and the nays tend to ask a question along the lines of this: “Why is the IA Institute having to pay people to tell it what Information Architecture is?”

I suspect the contest would come across that way only if you’re already predisposed to think negatively of IA as a practice or the Institute as an organization — or people who self-identify as “Information Architects” in general. This post isn’t addressed to those folks, because I’m not interested in trying to sway their opinions — they’re going to think what they want to think.

But just in case others may be wondering what’s up, here’s the deal.

Information architecture is a relatively new community of practice. As technology and the community evolve, so does the understanding of this term of art.

For some people, IA is old hat — a relic of the days when websites were mere collections of linked text files. For others, IA represents an archaic, even oppressive worldview, where only experts are allowed to organize and label human knowledge. Again, I think these views of IA say more about the people who hold them than the practice of IA itself.

But for the rest of us, this contest is just an opportunity to celebrate the energetic conversations that are already happening anyway — and that happen within any vibrant, growing community of practice. It’s a way to spotlight how much IA has evolved, and bring others into those conversations as well.

Of course, the Institute is interested in these expressions as raw material for how it continues to evolve itself. But why wouldn’t any practitice-based organization be interested in what the community has to say about the central concern of the practice?

I’m looking forward to what everyone comes up with. I’m especially excited to learn things I don’t know yet, and discover people I hadn’t met before.

So, go for it! Explain that sucker!

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