6 Nov 2006
Web 2.0: Is Converging Towards the Desktop Good?
I recently had the pleasure of talking at the Ajax Experience in Boston. You can view my power-point-free slides here.
This conference was particularly exciting for Humanized because it was the first time we’ve let Enso outside the office. I think it’s fair to say that the floor required some jaw-scraping after I demonstrated Enso.
But while I met some amazing people at the Ajax Experience and had a exhilarating time, I also discovered a worrying trend: interface design on the web is slowly migrating back towards inhumane desktop paradigms. More and more, people are reimplementing windows, dialog boxes, and tree-list controls instead of brainstorming more humane solutions.
I’m going to make an odd claim: interface toolkits on the web are starting to discourage innovation. In harnessing underlying web technologies in (admittedly) ingenious ways, these toolkits make it too convenient for us to fall back onto the desktop paradigms we know, simply because we aren’t prompted by technical constraints to think of something different.
Marissa Mayer, the Google VP for User Experience, said it well:
“When people think about creativity, they think about artistic work — unbridled, unguided effort that leads to beautiful effect. But if you look deeper, you’ll find that some of the most inspiring art forms, such as haikus, sonatas, and religious paintings, are fraught with constraints. They are beautiful because creativity triumphed over the ‘rules.’ Constraints shape and focus problems and provide clear challenges to overcome. Creativity thrives best when constrained.”
In 2004, Google chose to use one nascent technology, Ajax, to create an e-mail service: since there didn’t exist any Ajax toolkits that allowed them to reduplicate the desktop on the web, they were constrained to think simply, “how can we work with Ajax and the web to make email humane?”
Their answer was something that was actually more humane than any desktop e-mail client already in existence. What’s even more interesting is that traditional desktop developers had long been able to create an email client as humane as Gmail–but they never did, because UI toolkits made it so easy to create something that was familiar, that was the same, that was inhumane.
You cannot be better without being different.
The desktop-like web toolkits being developed today endanger innovation by entrenching us in familiarity of the past. We need to remember that there is something better than the desktop in many of today’s web applications, and we need to carry this innovation with us as we move forward to create new tools and new interfaces.
by Aza Raskin