Information architecture – the words themselves are enough to cause the eyes of most executives to glaze over. It’s abstract, likely to be complicated and expensive and unlikely to produce near-term revenue, much less profit, impact. “Ambient Findability” – these words won’t help the average executive much either. Even my Microsoft Word application doesn’t like findability – it keeps suggesting that I change it to fundability (there’s a certain perverse logic here because, as I will suggest below, findability will lead to fundability).
So I hesitate to say it – Ambient Findability is a great new book about an increasingly important aspect of information architecture. Wait! Stop! Before executives tune me out, hear me out.
Companies today realize that push approaches to marketing are less and less effective. As I have written about elsewhere, we are entering the era of reverse markets. Ask business executives to define a market and they will likely say that it is a place where vendors can find customers and sell them more and more stuff. Instead, we need to view markets through the reverse lens of customers who are trying to find appropriate vendors at relevant times and get the most value they can out of the their vendor. Powerful forces are re-shaping markets to make this reverse market lens much more helpful in determining how to create value.
If businesses are going to succeed in the future, they need to master pull approaches to marketing – how do you get potential customers to seek you out and how do you pull complementary resources together to become ever more helpful to customers? These pull approaches hinge upon the ability to improve findability. So, what does that mean? Peter Morville, the author of Ambient Findability (and, incidentally, one of the founding fathers of the discipline of information architecture), helps the reader with a dictionary-style definition:
a. The quality of being locatable or navigable
b. The degree to which a particular object is easy to discover or locate
c. The degree to which a system or environment supports navigation and retrieval
For those who are interested, Morville posted a fascinating blog entry preceding his book by a few years where he explores the relationship between findability and information architecture.
Later in the book, Morville sums up why executives need to pay attention: “. . . . findability will be a key source of competitive advantage. Finders, keepers; losers, weepers.” Blunt, but accurate. In a world of increasing choice, findability becomes an essential dimension of competition. Of course, it’s always been important – it’s the wisdom behind the maxim in retailing that there are only three things that matter: location, location, and location.
But now the traffic is not just flowing down well-defined city streets - it is working its way through the global web from link to link in highly idiosyncratic ways. And it’s not just the local retailers that are competing for the customer’s attention and wallet – it is every vendor and information producer around the world. In this environment, becoming findable makes the difference between life and death.
Morville believes that push and pull will continue to co-exist, but he suggests that
. . . in today’s attention economy, fitness requires a new balance between push and pull. The playing field has shifted, and yet few companies understand the new rules. In their bias towards push, marketing is missing opportunities to make products more findable.
Morville comments that a lot of businesses worry about usability of their products or their web sites, but they fail to recognize that “findability precedes usability.” If a potential customer can’t find you, usability doesn’t really matter.
Findability is not just about new design or marketing techniques. Morville observes that “findability is at the center of a quiet revolution in how we define authority, allocate trust, and make decisions.” Its implications are profound not just for those who want to be found, but for those who are doing the finding. As the dust jacket of the book maintains, “what we find changes who we become.” This is a thoughtful meditation on the implications for both finder and findee in a world where finding becomes increasingly important and challenging.
Morville provides us with a very well-written, even eloquent, book, drawing much needed attention to a key dimension of competition going forward. Business executives of all types will profit from reading this provocative book. At the very least, it will put squarely on the table some key questions:
- How findable are your products and services?
- How findable is your business?
- How findable are you personally?
- What can you do to improve your findability for those who matter?
For those who want to find Morville, he has begun a blog findability.org