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by Jay Fienberg

Turn it on and drive vs the richer interface

posted: Nov 5, 2003 5:28:20 PM

Tim Bray's recent post, The "Richer" Interface, notes something that I have also observed: all kinds of people seem to prefer the so-called "boring" old web browser to so-called "richer" interfaces. I think one very basic thing about the browser that is continuing to jam past rich UIs is hypertext navigation.

I think it is comparable to a car in that the key thing that web browsers are letting people do is something akin to driving. And, if you think about driving a car, the actual driving-the-car interface is like: forward, back, fast, slow, and turn. And, making those interface features richer, i.e., making it more complicated to go back or forward, is not that appealing.

Add to this the additional feature that a web browser can browse multiple sites. At this point, so-called richer UIs might be compared with very complicated cars to drive, that only go to a single destination—if you want to travel to more than one, you need more than one car (and each will likely have its own idiosyncratically too-complex format for simple maneuvering).

It is fair to call this browser interface a lowest common denominator and boring interface—the same way it is fair to say the same about a car's steering wheel! (And, yes, those little things you can add to a steering wheel, which perhaps are like right-click menus in the browser, can be nice and handy accessories.)

Yesterday, I was again studying Jesse James Garrett's seminal The Elements Of User Experience diagram (pdf), and admiring the distinction the diagram makes between the web as software interface and the web as hypertext system. I think a viable future for richer UIs will need to better understand the hypertext aspects of the UI, and be less rooted in the software UI paradigm. (And, in agreement with what Tim notes, this is with the exception of things like content creation interfaces that are more definitively task oriented.)

The deal is that a lot of application use is about navigating information, and being able to drive through information all the ways one can with a hypertext browser is incredibly useful.

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