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Chrome: Mapping The Metaphor of Browsing

The discussion around Chrome, Google’s new web browser, was kicked into a different dimension for me while listening to some comments by Marc Canter. Canter was excited about the idea of the browser serving as an orchestration point for a market of web services. And he was speaking of services consumed by regular users: a search engine, a mapping service, an rss reader, a social bookmarking service, etc. As a developer, Canter is interested in competing in an open marketplace for services supplied through and to the browser.

There’s an underlying shift in the role of the web browser, and a more telling shift at the level of naming and metaphor. Think about the common names for web browsers:

  • Navigator
  • Explorer
  • Safari
  • Camino

Metaphorically these names describe the process of traversing the terrain of the Network. It’s a world-wide web out there — you’ll need a compass and a map to find the place you’re looking for. Originally the Network of web sites had to be traversed on foot, link by link. Portal sites like Yahoo created maps in the form of a tables of contents, locations on the Network thought of as reference points in a big book. Librarians were employed to create a sensible taxonomy, a dewey decimal system for the Network. Effective web search effectively changed that playing field.

Think about the name “Chrome” and the way it relates to the web-based application container that Canter envisions. For those who don’t know, the word chrome is often used to describe the UI/presentation layer of an application. It’s the thing that surrounds the feature/function set making it pretty and usable — from an engineering perspective, it’s the shiny bits that are added around the edges. Does the name chrome extend the metaphor of navigation and exploration for the browser?

For most users, the internet is located in Google’s big database. Your only, or let’s say primary, access to the Network is through querying Google. (Micro-communities are changing this model as a primary source of links) The “browser” is now a frame around the services that Google, and other providers bring to you. No need to get off the couch, no need to don a pith helmet, no need to keep that passport up to date. The browsing you’ll be doing is flipping through the selections delivered to your door.

Published in hci network zettel