ARCHIVE: May, 2005

Peterme on the Dark Side of Design

I love the fact that blog comments and resulting discussion are often as illuminating as the post they reference. Take Peter Merholz’s reaction to the exact same comment by Dirk Knemeyer on Digital Web that I mentioned in my recent post: Give up Control or You’ll Lose it Forever: Experience Designers Beware – Web 2.0 Interfaces Change Everything.

I think Peter makes some interesting points here, and I’m glad that he’s talking frank about design. He picks up the “control of content” thread that I talked about as well as talking about what he calls “designer arrogance” and a “weakness for styling”. I agree with his comment that this stuff is dealt with by all of us, and I think that without regular introspection we all fall victim to these things now and again. His post reminded me of a call-to-action I made recently concerning articulating and discussing design: The Difficulty with Articulating Design.

What’s the Ideal Interface?

Every now and again, when I’m in the middle of creating an interface or writing about them, I wonder: what is the end goal? What is the ultimate reason why we’re creating these things and what would be the ideal interface? Where is all this going, and how will we know when we get there?

The answer, I think, revolves around communication. Obviously, interfaces are used to communicate with. Right now, we’re seeing the transition to Web 2.0, where interfaces are becoming remix hotspots, places where content from multiple stores of information are combined into something new and more useful. But we also have a bunch of personal interfaces such as email, chat, and the telephone.

Taking a bird’s eye view of all this, I think we’ll eventually be just like those aliens in AI, where they communicate by brain power only. In other words, interfaces will be so small and smart that we’ll actually build them right on top of our brains, or around our brains in such a way that we don’t need anything else for input or output but the thoughts that we have. That, I think, is the end goal.

Another movie that shows a glimpse of the evolution toward this is Minority Report. In it, the detectives use this amazing interface that relies on gestures and speech commands for input, and I didn’t really think much of it until I realized that that’s what my touchpad is. No moving parts, just gestures.

And the clincher for me was this article about a paralyzed man who actually sent an email by simply thinking about it.

Give up Control or You’ll Lose it Forever: Experience Designers Beware – Web 2.0 Interfaces Change Everything

For the most part, designers can’t control experiences because experiences are subject to the user. Just as we can’t know the mind of another, we can’t truly know what they’re experiencing. We can, however, create tools with which users can have experiences. Sure, these tools (otherwise known as interfaces) can help tremendously, but more and more we’re seeing that users will use them or bypass them in ways that we cannot control. So don’t be surprised or dismayed at your lack of control. With Web 2.0 (the web as platform), we’re giving permission for all this to happen. And it’s happening at the speed of the API.

Continue Reading: Give up Control or You’ll Lose it Forever: Experience Designers Beware – Web 2.0 Interfaces Change Everything

Popularity vs. Quality: Is the Long Tail Full of Crap?

When Chris Anderson wrote the original Long Tail article I immediately emailed him and told him that I thought it was excellent. My email was probably one sentence long: I just wanted him to know that I dug it. (I don’t think there are enough pats on the back in this world).

Ironically, the Long Tail meme, though popular, is feeling quite a bit of pushback from folks who didn’t glom onto the idea like I did. The complaints usually include a resistance to the quality-popularity relationship. Nobody wants to admit that most popular things are of higher quality.

In his latest post entitled Isn’t the Long Tail Full of Crap? Anderson addresses this concern excellently. He points out that yes, there is a whole bunch of junk out there on the long tail, but there are also a few diamonds in the rough. He also points out that popular things usually are of higher quality, but not necessarily the best quality. This was the light bulb for me, and the first thing that came into my head was Albert Einstein. If we look at the popularity of his papers, they are minimal. The vast majority of people on Earth have never read them, not even one of them. They are so far down on the long tail that I wonder if the number of people who actually read them each year is in the thousands (as opposed to the tens of thousands or millions). In fact, we don’t really even care about them anymore. We only care about the implications of them. The ideas in them, though, have wrought his place in history next to only a few other individuals. But talk about high quality!

Read Anderson’s full post, especially if you’re hesitant about the whole quality/popularity thing. I highly recommend it.

Sifry’s Elevator Pitch for Tagging

I talked about elevator pitches the other day because it’s important to be able to articulate quickly and convincingly about what you’re doing. Dave Sifry of Technorati gives an elevator pitch for tagging in a recent post:

“So what’s a tag? Simple. It is a simple user-generated category for something. Technorati wasn’t the first to catch onto the idea of tagging – sites like, Flickr, and Furl were already doing it when we jumped in. Simply put, tags make it easier to self-organize the web.”

I’ve only recently thought about the relationship of tags and categories. If the only difference is that tags are user-generated, then I’m all for it. Makes it easy talk about, at least. I think it is important to note, however, that tagging is done over time, not once in the beginning like many other categorizations are. Read Sifry’s full post.

Interesting Feedback on Boring Site

An interesting thing happened on Cameron Moll’s Authentic Boredom site the other day: readers clamored for more. After writing an good Photoshop how-to article on a technique that he used in one of his projects, Cameron received a level of feedback that you don’t see much of on design blogs. His readers wanted more than just a “how-to”, they wanted to know “why”.

Continue reading…

Continue Reading: Interesting Feedback on Boring Site

Fundable’s Elevator Pitch is a Nice Interface

Via Seth Godin: Fundable is a neat idea, and the best part about their web site is that 10 seconds is long enough to figure out what they do: long enough to know whether or not it’s something you could be interested in.

How many business web sites can claim that? 10 seconds, and people know what we do.

This, to me, is what is lacking on many a web site (even my own). A clear as day description about what you’ll find there.

Folksonomies and Google Maps?

Add another one to the earlier post: FoundCity. Foundcity lets folks “tag” physical objects in a database and displays the locations of the objects on a Map so that others can find them. Like the others, uses Google Maps.

The number of applications for Google Maps must be astoundingly high. And, since these interfaces are being created by individuals and at such an amazing rate, it must be pretty easy to tie into the API.

Google Maps Spawns Many Web 2.0 Interfaces

First it was Paul Rademacher’s HousingMaps, powered by two APIs from popular sites you may have heard of: Google Maps and Craigslist. When I first saw this interface, I knew that everything had changed…Web 2.0 interfaces were here and getting interesting. (that’s why I was so excited)

Examples of Google Maps Hacks

What I find interesting about these sites is that they are very practical (maybe not the crime one). People are using these open APIs to do really useful things. It’s only a matter of time before someone tries to leverage this type of thing into new business.

How to Hack the Google API

There are several kind folks putting out information about how to do this:

More Google AJAX Tools

Also, a nice overview by Daniel Turdiman of Wired can be found here: Hey Google: Map This!. One thing I don’t like about his article is that he keeps referring to these interfaces as “hacks”. They are certainly not hacks (OK, maybe they are)…they’re what APIs are there for, and we’re witnessing the next great stage of interface design happening right now.

Update: [06-03-2005] Marc Hedlund over on O’Reilly Radar adds to this discussion: he was there during a recent Google Factory Tour and the issue of hack/API was brought up. He says that the Google guys “insinuated” that they might be working on an official API.

Update: [06-12-2005] Google Map hacking has hit the mainstream press: Google tinkerers make data come alive

Usable Ajax by Thomas Baekdal

I forgot to post this one when I first read it. (It’s good): Thomas Baekdal has written a couple articles on usability and XMLHTTPRequest (the technology currently known as Ajax). The one I learned the most from is Usable XMLHTTPRequest in Practice.

Also, Thomas has one of the best taglines out there: “The Goal is Pretty Simple”. Check him out.

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