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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Richness: The Web in 3D

What is Richness?

Richness in terms of a user interface means that the application provides a rich interaction model, a rich visual model and richness in the data and logic it provides. This is in fact a good way to think about richness—in three dimensions: the visual dimension, the interaction dimension and the data dimension. These three dimensions provide ways for communication to happen between the user and the system. They allow the user to visualize the system, interact with it and change or find information it contains.

Axiom of Richness: An interface is only as rich as its ability to communicate in all three dimensions.

Visual Richness

First, a user interface must visually communicate with the user. We often call this the presentation or the view of an interface. It is communication that moves outward from the software to the user. Along the visual dimension we find techniques like affordances, feedback, visual styles and graphical visualization. These techniques help an application create visual richness. But the key to richness is whether there is communication happening along the visual channel. Providing cinematic effects, blinking, flashing and other bells and whistles when abused can actually reduce the richness of an application. It is the finesse along this channel that creates a rich visual experience

It is interesting to note that the web has always had the potential for some level of visual richness. Free from the more stylized approach of desktop applications and with an open visual palette, web sites and applications have tended to be more visually stunning. The visual dimension though has often been on the static side. With the introduction of cinematic effects (visual effects that are more akin to those used in the world of cinema for transitional effects), the web now has the tools for expressing visual richness along a time continuum.

(Note: for simplicity I focus on the visual dimension. In reality it can include audible clues or in the case of those visually or audibly handicapped feedback along other tools like site readers.)

Interaction Richness

Second, a user interface must allow the user to interact freely with its interface. The user must feel freedom of movement, freedom to change their mind, the ability to interact directly with objects in the interface and the capability to make small changes and see the resulting impact. These interactions combine user events with feedback in the visual dimension. Previously on the web the main events included: submitting a form or clicking a hyperlink. With DHTML and Ajax support, the granularity of events has become finer in detail. User interaction can be as minute as the motion of the mouse or as coarse as submitting a form.

But again, richness in interaction is only as good as the communication it affords. Drag and drop and hover events do not necessarily make an interface rich. It is the proper uses of interaction communication tools (events) that make a rich interaction possible.

The desktop has long provided the capacity for rich interaction. It is the advent of Ajax + DHTML that opens up the door for the same level of interaction for the web. (Of course, this also includes the world of Flash as an alternative RIA model.)

Data Richness
But the final ingredient to rich communication is what the user can do with the world of information available on the web. And more specifically how tailored the information and state is to the user. If the application can remember the user’s previous state, allow the user to perform rapid lookups in place and do validation inline (all without a page refresh) then the potential for richness is even greater. Without the ability to change and find information rapidly, visual and interaction richness are severely limited. It is like owning a sports car but not being able to drive it.

If the information is relevant and lively then the interface will have the feel of richness. This is an essential ingredient to the experience that makes the Web 2.0 a platform for the come-to-me web.

Three Degrees of Freedom

Being able to move data freely in and out of the user’s space is a key to creating a rich experience in all three dimensions. In the classic web model we had a lot of freedom along the visual dimension (sometime to our own injury :-) We had a lot of freedom along the interaction dimension... but it was limited since the sandbox was the page. Ajax broke down the wall of the data dimension-- enhancing the other dimensions along with it.

This is one way to think about richness. In 3D.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Cell Phone Usability: Too Much Feedback

Growing up, my family had one of those boat-anchor black Ma-bell telephones that had the metallic bell. There was no voice mail back then. And generally it could ring 25 or 30 times before the circuit was released. Back then the phone was in another room. You needed the ring to let you know they were still calling and it was worthing running to answer it.

But I don't use my cell phone that way. And most folks don't use their cell phone that way.

1) It is hooked to their anatomy
2) They make a decision to either answer it quickly or ignore the call for later (or never)
3) The phone is now in public space

Given this different usage pattern, why do cell phones follow this old model... that of the ring, ring, ring? Why can't I set my phone to do abbreviated ring? I mean I use vibrate when in meetings, but at my desk I don't mind a simple one-time ring to let me know someone is calling.

Take my normal ring (say the first ring is 1.5 seconds long) and cut it in half. And that's it. No other rings. You know I am not stupid. I don't need the phone to keep ringing while I scramble to get it out of my pocket.

One argument against would be: I won't know if they are still calling if it doesn't keep ringing.
Answer: 1) I have a mental model of how long I have to answer the phone, I don't need the annoying auditory feedback, 2) The phone has lights that whirl and dance telling me the phone is ringing.

Maybe my phone is ancient. But I only have vibrate & annoying as my two options.

Oh and while I am ranting... this Samsung has a light that flashes every 5 or 10 seconds that I swear will blind you if you look at it. In fact I have to cover it up or turn it over just to sleep at night-- I thought it was a lightning flash at first... do these people use these phones?

Anybody have a better phone?

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

The Come To Me Web

Tonight I attended the BayCHI event, Are You Ready for Web 2.0? The panelist were David Sifry, Technorati; Stewart Butterfield, Flickr/Yahoo!; Paul Rademacher, HousingMaps; Thomas Vander Wal,

Wikipedia defines Web 2.0 as:
Web 2.0 defines a newer incarnation of the World Wide Web typified by the transition from the typical website hosting HTML/XHTML pages, to a platform that provides a point of presence (sometimes known as a Web portal), from which any of the following interactions may occur: syndication, aggregation, publishing, etc.

My previous blog struggles with what to call the narrower slice of this platform that centers around rich in-page user experience vs. the old page-based model. But on to the broader topic... the Web 2.0 platform.

Here is what I heard tonight.

Stewart reminded us of Web 0.1, the days of gopher and the wonder of discovering a site. Web 1.0 moved us into browsing and consuming pages. Web 2.0 has brought about the addressability of smaller chunks or services. Meaning it or not, these became public APIs. Of course Flickr and others have formalized their APIs and allow others to create new and novel tools and services around their content. He used the quote from Tim O'Reilly, that this is an "Architecture of Participation."

Stewart also showed some of the new tools in Flickr. Things like the best photos rising to the top, a feature called interestingness. Of real interest was the concept of clustering or the ability to infer semantic meaning to a group of tags and cluster them. One example is the tag Turkey clustering around the country, the holiday and the food.

David (Technorati) showed some fascinating graphs on the blogosphere. They are tracking 15 million blogs! It has been doubling every 5.5 months over the last 30 months! There are 80,000 new blogs a day (almost one a second). And tagging is growing. Almost a third of blogs use tags with 10,000 new tags a day.

I like the phrase he used-- The attention economy.

Paul created He called it a mashup of google and craigslist. The reference for mashup comes from remixing music by overlaying two songs with the hope that the result is somewhat pleasing. The new Web 2.0 and its open platform means mashups are possible.

Paul did a nice job with his interface for HousingMaps, but there was an interesting discussion that as some had tried to mashup his mashup the results were not so good.

But the ability to take rich services and put them together in a way the originators did not think about is an awesome power of Web 2.0.

Thomas (InfoCloud) is a fascinating guy. He has been thinking on the concept of personal information clouds that follow us around for quite some time. I especially liked his simple explanation of Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0. The former was the I GO GET web and the latter is the COME TO ME web.

The I GO GET was about reading, consuming, printing, findability, etc.

The COME TO ME is about what we have found that we like, categories, reuse of information, re-findability, and about attraction.

The attraction part is really something to contemplate. Attraction is the ability to cause that information cloud to form around me in the websphere so that I can be hooked into relevant information. It is about preserving my time so that I spend less time finding and more time using what I have attracted. Or re-finding something.

Pulling the thoughts together, Web 2.0 is the Web on Demand. Across all of the medias the move is for deep personalization of content. RSS syndication is become more approachable to the average consumer.

But most folks have not entered into the world of Web 2.0 (outside the Bay Area-- I know I just moved from Dallas and it is a smaller community that is savvy to these concepts). So the challenge to the designer is how do we make mashups, remixes, RSS subscriptions easier to use?

One answer is providing subtle invitations to the broader Web 2.0 platform of possibilities along the a line of discovery as the user moves through his normal Web 1.0 style of navigation. Inferring what the user is interested in, offering to package similar content, helping them customize their pages with content are all important parts of this experience. It will be along the path of normal consumption that most user's will dip their toe into the Web 2.0 waters and hopefully they will be hooked.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

PIAs vs RIAs

Ok, so I have been struggling with what to call the non-rich internet application approach. You know the web that we have known and loved for all these years. In writing about and discussing it I have noticed what a pain it is to succintly point out the differences between the old model and the new.

So what really is the difference between the old and the new?

Well, the traditional web has this model:

  • The user enters information at the page level or clicks on a link to go to another page
  • The page refreshes to show the result of the user’s request
  • Everything is framed in the context of a page or document that has content
And the new web (I know its really not new) has this model:
  • The user interacts with items on the page and the feedback is immediate.
  • The page does not have to refresh to complete the user’s interaction
  • The page can be more like a canvas or desktop with content being objects the user interacts with

Most of the time I just call this new web model RIAs (Rich Internet Applications). Its both short and long (ah! the beauty of an acronym!)

But what do we call this traditional, previous, older thingy?

Well it really is a page-based interaction model. Applications built with this page-based approach are really Paged Internet Applications, or PIAs. Or perhaps, they could be called Page-Based Applications (PBAs). But for symmetry (and maybe subtle confusion :-) we could talk about PIAs vs. RIAs.

What do you think? Certainly someone has to have a better idea?

BTW, I am aware of Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0. I kind of like that but the term Web 2.0 was being used to describe web companies that started up after the dot-bomb and are thriving (like Flickr).