The future of browsing

Recently two student groups at the U of Michigan School of Information (Social Computing at the School of Information and the Student Organization for Computer-Human Interaction) held a browser ‘design jam.’  The point is to redesign, rethink, and envision the browser of the future.  The jam is a 3-part series, and the results will be submitted to Mozilla Labs’ Concept Series.  Mozilla says, “The Concept Series aims to provoke thought, facilitate discussion, and inspire future design directions for Firefox, the Mozilla project, and the Web as a whole.”

Some really interesting ideas and questions came out of the first session: will the browser of the future know all my browsing habits and anticipate my usual actions?  Will we do away with tabs?  How can concepts of space and time help us locate a website?

The Information Architecture Institute (IAI)’s IDEA08 conference, which was held a few weeks ago in Chicago, addressed both the future of browsing and the larger concept of ubiquitous computing.  The conference was to explore “issues of design for an always-on, always-connected world.”

As I observed and absorbed the conference, I realized that many of the challenges, solutions, issues, and thoughts that were put forth were directly related to our design jam.  I’ll outline some of the few ideas and themes that I found relevant (on a scale from noteworthy to egads), but check out boxes and arrows’ article for full audio of each talk.

NoteworthyDave Gray introduced the idea of a browser notifying you if you were ‘near’ a site you like – as in within a certain number of clicks from that site.

Holy Moly: Dave Gray also thinks we should track relationships between tabs (or whatever our ‘tabs’ of today may someday become).  So let’s say I open three tabs from my first tab.  The first tab is sort of a parent tab, and the other three tabs are child tabs.  Can we track this and save the information?  Can we download a ‘table of contents’ based on our browsing trail?

Gadzooks: Aradhana Goel of IDEO and David Armano talked about microtransactions & the way twitter, facebook status, and even microlending are causing us to redefine our fundamental roles – consumer, advertiser, customer service representative, lender, philanthropist, etcetera.

So Freaking True: Dave Gray also said that we need creative and imaginative capabilities in browsers.  Right now, according to DG, the www is effectively a giant filing cabinet; we have unprecedented amounts of information at our fingertips, but we can’t ‘be with it’ (my words) in the way we really want.  We can’t yet easily and effectively annotate digital media (or at least the ability has not gone mainstream), and we can’t really use browsers to create (beyond blogs and other rigid formats).  DG envisions a world in which we can view content from multiple websites side-by-side, in which we can drag browser text or components to a palette and manipulate it, and in which we could really use browsers effectively for more natural creative/imaginative processes.  I think (and maybe he also said this) that this also would extend the ability of browsers to become a more effective collaboration medium.

Egads: Jesse James Garrett, from Adaptive Path, said that applications like Facebook will become redundant, because in the future all of that functionality will exist within your browser.  You wouldn’t have to log in to see your contacts – they would just be in your browser.  Neat.

By the end of the conference, not surprisingly, I had busy swarms of idea insects bumping against one another in my skull.  I hope I have the chance to go again next year.

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One thought on “The future of browsing

  1. Pingback: IDEA 08 | Chris Hanrath

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