May 09, 2005

Less Eye Candy, More Useful Features

Recently, I've installed the latest version of Microsoft's Instant Messenger. The two main additions seem to be "Winks" and "Nudges". "Winks" are little animations you can send, and are quite amusing, although part of me thinks they're just a way of introducing another market to sell low-value baubles for much more than they're worth, like the whole ringtones/emoticons/wallpaper market.

"Nudges" sound a much more promising idea though. My biggest bugbear with instant messaging is that there's no useful way to manage my presence and work state information. There is the "busy" status, but that's far too coarse-grained and has to be set by hand - when I find myself engrossed in some work, I don't want to interrupt myself just to warn others that they shouldn't interrupt me; nor do I want to remember to clear my "busy" status when I decide to have a break for a few minutes and catch up on email and blogs, or whatever.

So, some way to discreetly enquire whether the other person is there and can be interrupted would be ideal. Which sounds like what a nudge would be - an unobtrusive, easily ignored query to see if someone is available to talk to you.

It's a shame then that the Messenger team chose the name "nudge" because it's snappier sounding than "grab the other person and shake some sense into them!" In Messenger, a nudge is more intrusive than talking to someone! The window pops to the front, shakes from side to side, and makes a noise. Of all the expressions and gestures that are missing from electronic communication, jumping up and down and screaming wouldn't be top of my list of ones to add.

Luckily, I'm not the only person thinking of things like this. Matt Webb has even been experimenting with improvements in his Glancing project. For example, looking to see who is online also causes a "glance" to be sent to all your buddies, which doesn't do anything other than subtly change the icon for their IM client. Whoever notices the glance, and glances back, then becomes available to chat to. Perfect - glancing is a byproduct of using the IM client, and ignoring a glance is the expected result and so doesn't appear rude.

Later on in the presentation I've linked to, after discussing Glancing, Matt touches on a number of other very interesting ideas: why we should improve the visibility to others of what communication is happening; how software should degrade rather than failing; thoughts on cyberethics... All accompanied by pointers to further reading.

I'll have to see if I can find time to dig into some of material he references.

Posted by Adrian at May 9, 2005 12:01 PM | TrackBack

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