Monday, August 18, 2008

Encyclopedia Organization

While reading a book over the weekend (Everything Is Miscellaneous, since you asked), I got to thinking about the best way to organize the Disneyland encyclopedia. (Recall that the encyclopedia is the first volume of the Disneyland Compendium, which will have other types of reference material.) Now, you may wonder why this is even a concern at all. Encyclopedias have only one order--alphabetical. Start with A Ticket, continue through Festival Mexico and Ralke Company, and end with Zorro Day. Nothing simpler, right?

Alphabetical ordering is essentially random. Sometimes things are grouped together that make sense, but just as often these proximate relationships don't mean anything. To take a few sequential terms from the thesaurus:

Chessir, Leeds
Chester Drawer's
Chevron Hospitality Room
Chicago Railroad Fair
chicken (food)

For the past couple of days I have contemplated organizing the encyclopedia conceptually, just as the thesaurus is. That is, you might find a linear organization pattern like this (very rough):

Disneyland Resort
- Disneyland Park
-- Main Street, U.S.A.
--- Town Square
---- Opera House
-- Tomorrowland
--- Tomorrowland Entrance
--- Cicarama, U.S.A.
--- Circle-Vision 360
--- World Premiere Circle-Vision
--- Rocket Rods
--- Buzz Lightyear Astro-Blasters

There are a number of things to consider here, and paramount must be useability. I think if we do go a conceptual route (like that above or something else), we'd also have an alphabetical index of terms. We would need clear headers on each page, so you know where you are in the structure; together with that, we would need to provide conceptual outlines at the beginning of each chapter or section. The geographic section would be the longest, but there would be sections for other entities, like the organizational structure of the Resort, or types of entertainment events (and, of course, entries for the events themselves, like individual parades and shows).

We wouldn't necessarily escape alphabetization entirely. We would have to decide how to sort within each category. With a small land like Adventureland, is it worthwhile to try to group entries next to each other (like entries for the Tahitian Terrace and Aladdin's Oasis, then terms related to the Jungle Cruise, then the Indiana Jones Adventure, then the Swiss Family Treehouse and Tarzan's Treehouse) or would it look effectively random? (We would not be lumping Tahitian Terrace and Aladdin's Oasis together, just placing the entries next to each other.) Whatever we do, we want to make sure that readers can find what they're looking for. If we try out a conceptual structure and it hides the information, we may stick with alphabetization.

What do all of you think? I realize you may not be able to answer the question without a sample, but do you see any problems off the bat with such an organization? Do you love the alphabet so much that you wouldn't purchase a book which scorned it? What sort of encyclopedia organization would work best for you?


Unknown said...

I vote for conceptual organization with a strong alphabetical index (or even several different sorts of indicies). This is not just a reference book one would want to look something up in, but a "compendium" of fun knowledge that one would want to dip into to read continuously. If I want to read about Tomorrowland, I don't want to have to look up the page numbers for every ride or space separately - I'd give up after about three entries. Rather, I want to find "Tomorrowland" in the hierarchy and plunge in for an extended reading session.

All this said, the book really ought to be available online (I say this although I do want you to get paid for your labor, and those two are not often compatible!), since real search has made alphabetical organization rather obsolete altogether.

Westcot2000 said...

Non-alpha Encyclopedias can be useful and more readable. The Encyclopedia of Disney Animated Characters (EODAC) strikes me as well organized despite its chronological sorting within type (short characters by release date are in a separate section from television characters by air date, etc.) Perhaps this is because it has a well structured index and the text itself has hypertext indexing that give page numbers of related terms. The EODAC term is bolded along with a page number (e.g., "Eleanor Audley also performed the voice of Lady Tremain>154.") There is also an index entry for Audley, Eleanor referring readers to Maleficent and Lady Tremain. Hypertext indexing is more convenient than having to refer back to the index as you would with the typical "see Audley, Eleanor", yet uses the same amount of text.

It also makes sense to group Jasmine with Aladdin rather than Jasper.

The dilemma for you is does Eleanor Audley warrent a full entry or just an index term referring readers to the entries for Fantasmic! and Haunted Mansion? From a readability perspective she probably should only merit an index entry.

The EODAC had an advantage of being two-dimensional; since there were only entries for characters, the only connections were between two different characters. Glen Keane and Jodi Benson don't have an entry, but they are covered in:

Animated Features
-Little Mermaid
--Princess Ariel

The advantage of sorting by geography is that an entry for the Swiss Family Treehouse does naturally lead into one about Tarzan's Treehouse.

The problem with geographical sorting is that you can't be consistent with it throughout the book. Geography would obviously have limitations for many special events, people, and terms; Herman, Code V, and Seafood Injector can't be sorted geographically.

I second the motion for geographical sorting of locations. The problem is that other sections (such as people, terms, and events) are less easy to sort in such a manner and in the big picture it might make more sense to use alpha just to be consistent for all sections.

So here's my recommendation:

Whatever method you use, please also use hypertext indexing.

Daveland said...

I have seen a number of books (especially film reference material) that have 2 indexes; you could do one index that is entirely alphabetical, and another that is listed by land with corresponding attractions/restaurants listed below. This way you have it covered both ways. Sure, it's more work, but already this sounds like a rivet-counting volume, so I can't imagine you'd mind!

Unknown said...

Metadata is the key here. Having built a similar thesaurus in the past I found geography and chronology to be very important. Ensuring there is a relationship between, say, Journey through Inner Space and Star Tours is important. The richer your metadata for each entry the more options you have for slicing and dicing.
Alphabetical is key for known-item reference, but categorization is better for exploration and browsing.
Are you planning to provide a map key, perhaps with coordinates as well? With the technology we have these days, I can already envision a Google Maps mashup where an entry has a GPS value associated with it and pinpoints it's location for you right on the map. If you really wanted to get fancy, you could also provide a chronological slider to allow you to move the map through time showing current attractions shops and restaurants.
But if we're only talking about a book here, then my vote would be to organize it geographically and let the index provide the alphabetical listing.

Will Robison said...

I think any way you go about it would be fine. Your book will serve the larger fan community by just being such a rich source of information. However, that said, if I were organizing it, I would organize the information into broader categories - like Main Street, U.S.A. or Adventureland. Then I'd cram in all the information that directly relates to those broad categories but that isn't related to other broad categories like, Restaurants or Events. In the cases of restaurants or events, I might list all of the related terms under Adventureland and then point them to the related section in restaurants, so that under Adventureland you would have a sub-category for restaurants that would point the reader to that section, and in Restaurants you would not only list all of the restaurants in Adventureland, but point them back to that section for further information about the land.

You know, this is really confusing stuff - bringing order out of chaos. Good luck.