4 May 2006
No More More Pages? Part 2
I recently posted an article called “No More More Pages?“. It argued that the “more” pages used everywhere from Google to Slashdot are a possibly aging technology that might be given a face lift with the new tools available to Web 2.0. In short, it argued, “Don’t force the user to ask for more content: just give it to them“. A number of people wrote some thought provoking comments. This is a response.
First, Google is great. I’m not being facetious: at the very least, Google has transformed the way I search, the way I read email, and the way I look up geographic information online. The people at Google do a great job all while keeping the user experience first in their mind. I singled Google out because they’re a well-known company that often offers unique solutions to interface problems, but even Google uses page-chunking to present extended search results.
Many people have since pointed out that web searches are different than chronological RSS feeds. With information that falls onto a timeline, the benefits of the Humanized History over traditional methods are clear. Slashdot is a case-in-point: try to browse your way through the most recent week’s worth of Slashdot posts. Then try browsing the last week’s worth of posts on the Humanized Reader. You’ll notice how much easier it is right away.
As Alex pointed out, some web-based services already offer dynamically extending lists, such as the Google Reader. But with Google Reader, fetching older posts makes you think about getting more posts, whereas with Humanized Reader it just happens. You have to learn, explore, and figure out the Google Reader–not so with Humanized History, because scrolling down already has the semantic meaning of going back in time. You never have to ask Humanized Reader for more content–it just gives it to you.
But even with search results, I believe that Humanized History could make browsing a lot nicer. Search results have the same fundamental property of “navigating backwards through a sorted list, starting at the beginning”–only here the results are sorted by relevance, rather than chronologically. Finding a result that I clicked past just minutes before ought to be much easier with the Humanized History, because there is no notion of isolated pages to navigate: if the result I’m looking for exists, then it’s somewhere on the page, and I can just start at the top and scroll down or I can perform a text search using my browser’s “Find” command. Odds are, though, that we probably won’t resolve this argument by discussion; we’ll have to wait until someone builds it and gives it a try.
There are definitely some major unsolved problems with Humanized Reader. As Ted pointed out in the comments on the previous post, the Reader does not provide any mechanism for keeping track of interesting posts. A global search and a really long history doesn’t help you when the only thing you remember about the post you’re looking for is that (1) it was on Slashdot a couple weeks ago, and (2) you thought it looked cool. Perhaps what the Humanized Reader needs is some kind of favorites mechanism, like Gmail’s concept of starred items.
And then there’s the problem of landmarks. Many of the people who posted comments about page-chunking indicated that they use the page numbers on Google and other result lists as landmarks. Humanized Reader did have landmarks, in the form of “page breaks”–horizontal lines where the “more results” button would be on normal result lists. Some people who use Humanized Reader may have noticed that these page breaks have disappeared. That’s because after reading and rereading the many insightful comments, and trying it both ways, we’ve come to the conclusion that they don’t work very well.
People have a great ability to navigate by landmark. This can be used to great effect in the design of web pages and other browsing interfaces, such as zooming user interfaces. In order for a user to find content by browsing, the interface they are using should satisfy two criteria. Firstly, navigation should be as effortless as possible: you should be able to see where you want to go, and simply go there, without having to think about how. And secondly, there should be recognizable landmarks that tell the user where they are: you see a landmark, and you know where you are. We think that the Humanized Reader accomplishes the first with flying colors, but it doesn’t do so well on the second–as many of you pointed out.
So, the Humanized Reader needs landmarks of some sort. Exactly what those landmarks are, though, we’re still thinking about; suggestions, anyone?
Humanized Reader is in its beta infancy and we have quite a few more features to add before it lives up to the dream of “no more more pages.” But based on the feedback you’ve given us, our first priority is to get it to the point where the rest of you can set up your own accounts and use it as your own personal RSS aggregator. Don’t worry, Mike–we’ll let you in as soon as we can!
So please bear with us and keep posting the great comments.
by Aza Raskin