Thinking: Taxonomy of shooting ranges

I’ve been overwhelmed by feedback from a side project of mine, rangelistings.com, and am working on upgrading it so that site visitors can make some updates on their own without having to go through me.

It’s great how even seemingly little projects like this raise information architecture questions so promptly.

Wait…what the heck does “access” mean?

When I started this project a while ago, I didn’t question much of the data I was harvesting. I just wanted some data to test a theory about the utility of a geographic perspective on shooting ranges. It was just an experiment, done as a bit of a hobby over the course of some weekends. One piece of data for each shooting range was labeled “access” and the data was primarily either “public” or “private.”

Well, upon actually using this information, I find the public access or private access to be too ambiguous. Does “public” mean state-run, paid for by tax dollars? If a range is in a gun store, which is itself a private enterprise, is the range private or is it public because anyone can use it? And besides, what do we mean by “access” in the first place?

The useful data can be more clearly represented by asking “What sort of requirement is there for access to the shooting facilities?” When I state it that way to represent what I mean instead of simply “access,” then I realize more clearly how “private” and “public” are inadequate words.

Looking over the data and thinking about my own experiences at various types of ranges, this is what I’ve come up with.

  • Membership required (like at many Sportsmen’s or Conservation Clubs)
  • Pay a fee for range time (like at some gun stores or commercial shooting facilities)
  • Free (like at some state-run shooting ranges)
  • Unknown (because right now I only have private/public values)

The exact wording can be tweaked, but the notion is in there and is far more useful than the current private vs public value.

Gah! What a mess of a labeling system.

Meaning and words overlap. Case in point: when I list shooting facilities, many of them resemble shooting sports (like “trap” which can describe a range as well as a shotgun sport).

Which should I list? How do I tell the difference between a sport and facility? How do I prompt the user community to stay with the right taxonomy? (And what do I mean by “right taxonomy?”)

Which words describe the possible shooting/firing ranges themselves at any sportsmen’s club, gun store, or other shooting facility? Those are the words I need.

Why not list the shooting sports themselves as a primary organizational scheme? Here’s why. Because very often people just want to grab their gear and head to a range to shoot. That isn’t organized into a predefined shooting sport, like trap shooting or action pistol. No, that’s just heading to the range to shoot. That’s pretty normal.

However, many shooters also want to know if they can do a specific kind of sport, and a description of the range itself can help answer that question. For instance, I’m a bullseye pistol competitor, so if I see “Outdoor pistol, 15 feet” as a description for a shooting range, I know that won’t do for my sport. If I wanted to practice some defensive pistol shooting, it would be okay. However, if I see “Outdoor pistol, 50 yards,” than I’m going to be pretty confident that I can practice my sport at that range.

The point is, some decent descriptions of the physical ranges themselves should provide an appropriate amount of information to be useful for a wide variety of shooters’ interests.

So, it should be easy to come up with that list of terms, right?

As an initial audit, as of today, Oct 28, 2012, this is what I have in the rangelistings.com website.

  • Airgun
  • Archery
  • Indoor Pistol
  • Indoor Rifle
  • Muzzleloading
  • Outdoor Pistol
  • Outdoor Rifle
  • Pistol Silhouette
  • Rifle Silhouette
  • Skeet
  • Sporting Clays
  • Trap

And any specific range listed can add a note. The most common note indicates the distance and the second most common type of note indicates the number of firing positions. For instance, “Outdoor Rifle (500 yards, 10 firing points).” For someone looking for a place to shoot, that bit of information is quite informative.

But I’m not really settled on that, despite the fact that I have data on close to four thousand ranges already using that taxonomy.

My primary concern with that set of terms is that it may not be complete. For instance, I don’t see Cowboy Action as an option. Nor do I see Five Stand for shotgun. Both of those are, to my knowledge, specialized range designs.

But is that getting too specific?

I’m also concerned that some people may want to check off a bunch of those options with the thought of “Well we have an outdoor rifle range, and a person could set up some silhouette targets on it, so I guess I should check Rifle Silhouette too.” But that isn’t how I’d prefer people to think of it. My thought is that the range should already be set up for silhouette shooting, with metallic silhouettes already set up and/or available, and possibly with a target reset cord.

Perhaps there should be a general purpose outdoor pistol and a general purpose outdoor rifle. Then if a range has more specialized facilities, a person could choose to list those.

I’m a member of the Saginaw Field & Stream Club in Michigan, and we have a pretty cool Cowboy Action range, which is used only for that sport. We also have a standard 50 yard pistol range and a defensive pistol range. Given the current taxonomy, we could list it like “Outdoor Pistol (50 and 25 yard covered firing points, Cowboy Action course, and 15 foot defensive pistol range).” That’s informative and flexible. Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with that.

However, if I go with that notion, doesn’t the same thinking apply to the shotgun sports? If so, then it seems like I might not have separate items for Skeet, Sporting Clays, and Trap like I do now. Instead, I would just say something like “Shotgun (trap, 5-stand, and sporting clays).”

The conundrum here is that there very well may be value in having itemized those types of ranges. The point is that I’d prefer to have a consistent granularity in terms, and it seems to me that right now I have a mixture.

Which level of specificity is the most useful in light of the purpose of this data set?

And now I put my thinking on pause, the taxonomy questions unresolved.

LinkedIn UX groups, data and questions

Doesn’t it seem like there are a lot of user experience groups on LinkedIn? I’ve joined a few of them in hopes of staying up-to-date on topics, but after joining a couple groups, I quickly realized there were many more possible groups, and they all started looking pretty similar to me.

Why would I join this group versus that one?

Some are tied to specific organizations, like the Information Architecture Institute, the Interaction Design Association, or the Usability Professionals Association. Or like the Boxes and Arrows group, related to a specific industry publication. If you are a member of such an organization, joining the matching LinkedIn group probably makes sense in some way.

Some are focused on narrower subjects, like the Agile Experience group or mobileUX. If you have a narrower interest and find a group that fits, perfect.

Some differentiate by being localized. The UPA Israel, for instance, or London User Experience Professionals. Cadius is a group for UX people who speak Spanish. I think that’s fantastic.

But then we have all those other groups that ooze together, subject-wise. I’ll bet each has its own creation story, but at this point, the differentiation is slim.

Don’t these top 5 UX LinkedIn groups sound similar?

  1. User Experience
  2. Interaction Design Association
  3. UX Professionals
  4. UX Professionals Network
  5. User Experience Group

The second item is the group for members of IxDA, but the rest are simply professional groups for UX people. I’ll bet if you mixed together all the content and members of those groups you would first see a lot of repetition in members and topics, and second, I’ll bet you couldn’t separate them back into their original groups without a key. What does that say about these groups?

Some data on these groups

For what it’s worth, I’ll post some data I harvested while trawling LinkedIn this afternoon. (Why did I do this? Am I mad? No, but I’ve been sick all weekend, and in my addled state, cataloging some LinkedIn groups was the most obvious thing to do.)

The following data is merely what I found this afternoon. It is not comprehensive.

Chart showing membership rates of about 40 user experience groups on LinkedIn.

Chart showing membership rates of about 40 user experience groups on LinkedIn as of March 11, 2012.

Want a little more information? You can download an Excel spreadsheet I used while gathering this information. The worksheet includes columns for ID, Title, Membership, Parent Group, Created date, Type (e.g., Professional Group), Owner, Coverage (e.g., Earth, Greater London, UK, etc.), Language (didn’t fill that in), and Organization (e.g., IxDA).

Here’s the Excel file: User Experience (UX) groups on LinkedIn, March 2012 (.xslx)

Too many groups!

In closing, I think it would be easier and less time consuming to stay up-to-date in the field if there weren’t so many overlapping groups. What if some of these groups merged? Would people get too upset about that?

(Now for more tea and expectorants.)

IxDA Lansing kickoff featured speaker Dan Klyn

Last night was the inaugural event for IxDA (Interaction Design Association) Lansing, and information architect Dan Klyn presented “The Nature of Information Architecture.”

Presentation overview

Dan’s presentation was both informative and controversial. He provided some nice background on the naming of the field of information architecture, citing Richard Saul Wurman phrasings at the 1976 AIA convention in Philadelphia and then Wurman’s book “Information Architects.”

Dan also proposed a way of considering what information architecture is through a target diagram, from core to outside as:

  1. Ontology (the study of being)
  2. Taxonomy (the science of order or arrangement)
  3. Choreography (writing/describing circular dance)

I like this description of IA. I do feel it gets to the heart of the work, and I can immediately consider certain areas of my own job in this light. Of course there are plenty of other descriptions of IA from Wurman, Rosenfeld, Morville, and others, but as I bring them to mind, they seem to be more focused on describing IA to outsiders whereas this one speaks to those of us already  in the field.

I wouldn’t, for instance, walk up to a client and say, “I’m concerned with the ontology of your system.” But I can talk with other information architects about questions of ontology, and they will likely bring their own experiences to bear.

After discussing this model for IA and how it circles the concept of understanding, Dan shared two ways to answer the question “How do we know when IA is good?”

  • performance (need to measure change in performance from a benchmark)
  • propriety (how appropriate to the context is the IA solution)

When discussing this question of quality of IA, the point was made that a functional, adequate solution is artless. It is insufficient. We’ve all used a website or service that we end up getting irritated with, and could comment afterward “Well at least it worked.” Good IA goes beyond sheer performance to fulfill propriety as well.

Isn’t naming always controversial?

The controversial part of Dan’s presentation is in the naming of things. The gist of my issue is that I felt Dan was saying that strategic-level IA work—the work that involves not just end-users but is concerned with larger business concerns—is beyond the scope of user experience work. (I really hope I’m not misrepresenting Dan’s meaning.)

My experience as a UX professional (note that I used to refer to myself as an information architect) says that UX begins with understanding both user and business needs, and is best done when exploring the strategic-level in order to frame the tactical work.

That said, I will say that with all the work demanded of UX in my job, I regret that I haven’t had the time to devote to a more traditional strategic IA-based analysis of our systems.

Dan made the point that this strategic work, though done by a smaller group, has greater leverage than choosing which style of form field to use. He is right, of course. I just think that that work is still to be done under the UX umbrella.

Thanks Dan for the talk, and Chris Bachelder for bringing it together

All-in-all, I’m really glad I had this opportunity to take part in Dan Klyn’s presentation. It was well-done and thought-provoking. Dan has shared his slides for “The Nature of Information Architecture.”

IxDA Lansing is the first Michigan group of the Interaction Design Association, and was initiated by Chris Bachelder of Techsmith Corp. I, for one, am grateful to have a Lansing-based group to advance UX events. Thanks Chris!