The user interface is dead – long live the user interface
How far back shall we go – I’ve been around long enough to have experiences what could be described as “physical interfaces” like punched cards and paper tape and waited 24 hours to receive a fan fold print out of the results. In those days you had to try and get the program right first time as the time penalties for mistakes were severe. I remember the command driven interfaces of mainframe terminals, personal computers and applications like Wordstar – if you wanted to control the machine back then you had to do it on the machine’s terms and learn its language. I remember the menu driven screens of applications like Multiplan and Word and the relief of having the computer start to interact with me by offering some appropriate choices instead of me having to enter a command, worry about syntax and spelling and get some strange numbered error code to look up.
I remember the Apple Lisa, the Mouse and using Hypercard (unfortunately I didn’t get to use the Xerox Star). What a “tipping” point this was – a complete intuitive package where the computer interface was more on our terms. I remember the various Macs and versions of Windows through the years and have tried speech input and tablets.
However, the user interface is going to get shaken up again – in the way that the earliest interface s were rooted deeply on the computer side the next interfaces will be rooted deeply on the user side.
Personalisation is one of the hot topics on the web and is the key to the coming shake up in the user interface. Once a major element of a system was the user interface design, in the next generation this could be much less significant or nonexistent. Instead the focus will be on your information interfaces (APIs) the user, their personal environment or tools can connect to.
This is part of Web 2. If your system provides RSS feeds and API’s then the user can get information from your site without looking at your site – the user can take an RSS feed for a summary of updates, the user can mashup your content with other information and create something new. It is now increasingly popular to provide systems interfaces for social networking environments so a user could access your site via an application written by you or a third party via Facebook for example.
The Facebook programming interfaces have created quite a revolution on the web. This is one area where Google are behind and the response and developments of Google over the next 6 months will be interesting. Currently Google are working on a common social networking programming interface called opensocial that will work with most of the social networking sites apart from the big names of Facebook and Myspace it seems.
The development and spread of public APIs leads to the “programmable web” and the start of the evolution to Web 3 and what I call paradigm 3 where software agents interact automatically and exchange information. More on this later.
The traditional system user interface is disappearing – user’s will choose how to view your system – long live the user interface.
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