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Category: interaction design

Virtual Affordances: from earth to aether

As the network is unbound from metal wires and begins to diffuse into the air around us, the number of access points expand enormously. This signals the beginning of the end of the KVM (Keyboard/Video/Mouse) interface. These interaction methods owe their existence to the typewriter — they exist because of tradition, not efficacy. The typewriter is not mobile — it lives on a desk. The laptop has introduced an new mobility — but there is an opening for a new device that reveals how truly painful it is to lug a laptop everywhere. The joystick and other game controller devices point the way for the Web. Binding actions to these new devices will need to become part of our coding standards.

The other approach is one taken by Palm and now by Apple: a touch screen that can simulate multiple interfaces. A keyboard and mouse can have true differences in feel and design — but the modes of interaction are well established. A blank touchpad interface that can be visually designed and programmed presents new interaction opportunities for a small form factor device.

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Web 4.0

It’s easy to add one to a number. But do you really get a paradigm shift by adding a number to Web 2.0? The more you know about the history of the Web and interactive computing, the more meaningless names like “Web 2.0” or “Web 3.0” or “Web 4.0” are. Certainly a guy like John Markoff should know better. He wrote a book about Doug Engelbart — he must know that none of this is new. And certainly the idea of a semantic Web isn’t new.

We’ve finally reached the point where the phrase “Web 2.0” does more damage than good. It’s no longer meaningful, if it ever was. The next time you hear someone say “Web 2.0” cover your ears and start shreiking “loo loo loo loo loo loo.”

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Is Television A Solitary Activity?

Steve Gillmor writes that “TV is Dead.” Clearly the concept of broadcast television as an event-based, time-anchored schedule is dead. The VCR, DVD Player and the DVR took care of that. YouTube ends up being a TiVo that just records everything and you find your programs through search. But I’d contend that Television is a social activity, many people to one viewport. The computer tends to be one person to one viewport.

Television isn’t dead, centralized broadcast schedule programming is dead. The user now decides today’s line up of shows, and does it fresh everyday. The business of televsion is aggregating audiences around popular shows and attaching advertising for a fee. When a clip becomes a big hit on YouTube, it’s potentially a powerful advertising vehicle. But will an advertiser want to attach its message to the 2 million viewers of LonelyGirl15?

As the number of content modules explodes, the individual’s capacity to consume such content remains the same. There are still 24 hours in the day, we can talk multi-tasking all we want, but we aren’t going to be watching 10 Web videos at once. With the cost of production going down, it’s possible for niche audiences to support the creation and distribution of digital media products.

The interesting economics emerging out of this have to do with scale. Spending tens of millions of dollars to produce a media product and then selling it to the masses has been a fine business model. But it requires the product be sold to large audiences, preferably audiences that will buy more than one viewing and the attendant merchandise. It’s a business with normal margins. But what happens when a cheaply produced digital media product becomes a hit with a mass audience? If it has the business model and monitization schema in place it becomes an incredibly high margin business.

Oddly enough, that’s the way the software business works. Once the software has been produced — if you can get everyone to use it, the margins are incredible. See Microsoft.

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Designing Serial Consumption of Infinite Content Modules

The television remote and the metaphor of “surfing” to find desirable broadcast streams will undergo a change. With the exception of live news, sports and performance — recorded content will become untethered from specific time slots. Time shifting will become the norm. (A revolution started by Bing Crosby). Replacing the tv remote will be a scheduling tool to create a river of content modules. Organizing, finding, discovering, berry-gathering — and then booking into a serial stream, that’s the new interaction. In some ways, we’re already used to it: it’s the Netflix Queue. The ambient findability of content becomes critical.

The economics of this interaction have yet to emerge. At the moment, it seems to resemble simple gluttony. It’s as though a hungry person is sitting in front of a free smorgasbord — what will be eaten and in what order?

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