Info Mapping Tirade

Subject: Info Mapping Tirade
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Wed, 26 Jun 1996 18:10:00 EST

Every so often I see postings about Info Mapping, or see it applied at a
client, and the hair stands up on the back of my arms. It's not that I don't
like it. It's more that I resent it.

I think it's the lofty and mercenary arrogance that gets to me. Dr. Horn
would tell us that thanks to modern analytical techniques and commercial
success, he has trumped and made worthless the rhetorical styles of Thomas
Jefferson, Shakespeare, the Roosevelts, Churchill, Ovid, Plato, St.
Augustine, Red Barber, Machiavelli, and a countless host of other writers,
all of whom were obviously doing it all wrong. Dr. Horn pitches that Info
Mapping has been proven to increase readability when it's tested alongside
"other styles." But although I've pressed instructors and staff, I can never
find out what sort of styles were used as baselines. They could have been
Sanskrit scratched onto cave walls for all I know.

Further, I half suspect that Dr. Horn's bunch had to invent a way to present
information, even if the data didn't demand it. Many people are convinced
that the "block-line-block" marching order is ordained, owned and controlled
by Information Mapping, Inc. We've actually gotten the "you can't use that's too close to Info Mapping" routine from a client. In
actuality, of course, no layout is owned by anyone. We can steal layouts at
will and no one can prevent us. And in point of fact, Info Mapping Inc. owns
nothing but its trademarks and its copyrighted materials. Period. And even
the "block-line-block" layout isn't mandated by Info Mapping, which merely
states that a "visual divider" must be placed between blocks. It could be
clown icons and still be in accordance with Info Mapping requirements. But
instructors and materials have always left the impression that horizontal
rule lines are required by the methodology and it rebounds to Info Mapping's
benefit because it's recognizable, albeit difficult to place with some tools.

All in all, I tend to think that while Info Mapping's precepts are
interesting and often valid in theory, it ignores too many realities to be
universally applicable. For one thing, it's boring, repetitious and sterile.
It's too hard to interest a reader while using it, a fact that Info Mapping
Inc. has turned into a virtue, saying that we shouldn't even think about
"entertaining the reader." I read that to say "don't bother about making the
reader interested in what you have to say." That's a classically arrogant
writer's statement from someone who doesn't have to read the stuff.

The Info Mapping style is useful for short spurts of information, for
look-up type documents, and as a way of organizing SGML or hypertext. It can
turn a dismal writer into a minimally acceptable one. It can't, though, turn
a good writer into anything but a drudge. Those writers who, like me, began
our careers in letters (as I did in journalism) will find Information
Mapping laughably simplistic with its one-methodology-fits-all approach. I
wouldn't mind it so much if it was billed as just another crass commercial
methodology, but it's not. It's hawked as the last word in readable text,
and I know both instinctively and academically that it's not. And when I'm
in the company of True Believers who spout the Info Mapping Inc. party line,
my hackles rise. After all, somebody has to defend the honor of the ancients.

Tim Altom
Vice President, Simply Written, Inc.
317.899.5882 (voice) 317.899.5987 (fax)
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