April 16, 2007

A Brave New World

"The future will be context-sensitive. The future will not be interactive.

Magic Ink: Information Software and the Graphical Interface is a long but intriguing take on how software (and in particular how we use software) should evolve.

The paper splits software into three categories: informational (which people use to gain knowledge of something); creative (used to create the information); and communicative (which allows people to communicate with each other).

Bret Victor, the author, suggests that informational software is nearer to graphic design than engineering, given that both are trying to convey information to the user. He goes on to explain how such software could behave differently to today's programs if it were more aware of the context in which it is invoked.

The software would provide its best-guess at what the user wanted, based on factors such as location, the user's current task, the time, and the user's previous behaviour. The user would only have to interact with the program if it had chosen wrongly, but even then the correct choice would be nearer than if the user had to navigate to it from scratch.

It's on the brink of being too revolutionary, but manages to provides just enough examples and references that it might work. It's definitely proposing a paradigm-shift from current practices, which is why it's proving hard to get my head round. It'll take a while for the concepts to sink in, but has already given me a number of avenues to explore for more information and a few ideas of how I can modify the software I work with.

It seems too big a change to work on the desktop, because there's so much existing software to displace. I wonder whether ubiquitous computing could provide its route into the mainstream, providing contextually-aware smart devices?

Posted by Adrian at April 16, 2007 01:21 PM | TrackBack

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