Monday, January 11, 2010

My future can beat up your present

In the great rush to take advantage of all the new possibilities the web offers, we often fail to reach beyond the familiar. Our "strategic thinking" looks more replicative than revolutionary. Consider how many of these failed technologies you've seen:

  • A "virtual counter person" greeting visitors of a retail site.
    Web visitors do not want the same experience as they have in store. At least, not in that way. That helpful avatar either isn't or is dipping into the uncanny valley. And it's not that "the technology just isn't there yet". It's that people don't want to interact with your site that way.

  • Online magazine forces you to "turn pages" just like an offline magazine.
    Do you know why we turn pages of physical magazines? Because we have to. Not because we want to. You'd be better off putting a screen and a keyboard on a magazine. Oh wait.

  • Business card-shaped CDs.
    Granted, it's been almost a decade since I've seen these. Maybe they're all dead now. The concept was silly, but they sold like hotcakes. Now if we can just kill off physical business cards all together.


The best inventions are transformative. They make use of new technological advances to advance something, often times convenience. There's that pesky arrow again.

There are good reasons why:
  • printers aren't powered by armies of miniaturized scribes hyped-up on coffee,
  • planes don't flap their wings,
  • submarines don't swim like whales, and
  • robots WON'T (trust me on this) walk like humans in the future.


But sometimes silly is good. The current implementation of virtual worlds are pretty terrible. They'll stay terrible as long as avatars are controlled by mouse and keyboard strokes. But some good stuff can -- and does -- come out. But for now, silly.

Augmented reality is also rather whimsical. Putting virtual furniture around your living room is a lark. It's also a far cry from how your room will really look when pixels are replaced by upholstery. But the exploration of the technology will certainly lead to some breakthroughs. It's just got to get out of my webcam and into my life.

But I'm not giving up on these new ideas. You shouldn't either. Nor should you be afraid to play with emerging technologies. But be skeptical of those gizmos that promise to make the digital space "just like the real world". To steal a line from a squirrel, that trick never works.

2 comments:

  1. Right on.

    All too often I hear that "there's nothing new under the sun". Right. Was the Internet around 200 years ago? How about airplanes? How about cars? How about digital clocks?

    Transformative innovations do occur. Folks that don't believe they'll occur are just blinded by scotoma's.

    Dig your article, and design simplicity.

    All the best -- Glenn

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  2. Thanks, Glenn. I had to go look up scotoma. Happy to say I correctly inferred its meaning.

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