Apr 26, 2010

E-Print: Stop Putting Old Words On A Screen

Yes, every design firm and their mother are making interactive magazine/iPad demo videos, but until I make one myself, I'll post and comment because I still think they're awesome (yes, I'm both tired and thrilled with these things; I've been wanting to do gestural-interface videos for years).

I initially dismissed this video in the first few seconds, but then saw it was uploaded 6 months ago, so though it's not the most well-made of these demos, it did create some interesting notes ahead of the curve. Therefore, the video really focuses more on the idea of a gestural e-mag than the real design of a gestural e-mag, meaning "this is what could be" instead of "this is what should be." Scott Liao also creates a brand new device from scratch, instead of designing off of a flat, pad-sized machine, so this is a very conceptual example: foldable electronic devices exist in labs, not yet in the real world.

What Liao adds, which is amazing, is having the device sit upright on a desk and project down an extended surface for gestures, so the device becomes a screen and the desk and your fingers becomes the mouse (Intel Future Technologies Research demonstrated this actual technology in their "Bonfire" example in February, which can read gestures on the side of the device, as well as do quick scans of objects, like magazines or photographs). The iPad has no onboard camera and only one port, so it may take a few generations for a stand to be built with cameras and projectors onboard that can do this, but I don't think this is impossible for a future iPad.

I mentioned in the first paragraph how this was more about the hardware than design, but that's the biggest problem I have with this video. The device is a newspaper on a screen. The gestures are really cool, but that's essentially scrolling/mouse gestures on the website. All over the pages are 2-3 paragraphs of intro text that link to the rest of the article, just like you'd find on a newspaper. It's a waste of space, which is why websites don't do this for a reason. Sometimes 200 characters beside the headline, and that's it.

But it's not necessarily the e-newspaper design that I dismiss. Again, at the time of the video, that would have made sense, but if you look into what Facebook's accomplishing after last week's announcement, the content of the publishing will change based on your personal preferences. Facebook's Open Graph is doing what Digg should have done years ago: outbound their algorithms. All social news sites (Propeller, StumbleUpon, Current) have taken links and tried to cobble an algorithm that emphasizes the stories you would like based on what people of similar interests have liked (the more you use it, the better it gets). But to my knowledge, this data hasn't been shared out, so Huffington Post can't lay out their articles based on your interests: it's still managed by an editor.

Major news sites will probably never go for this, because on the front it appears to lose them control (if not the newspapers, than no doubt the sponsors). However to me it feels odd that the big shift is toward "sponsored posts" with Digg and Twitter. Digg debuted this a year ago with their 3rd story being sponsored, and no one really objected. Twitter's doing the same thing, and people are being really skeptic now, but will probably accept it within a few weeks. And of course it's up for the publishers to decide how much the algorithm works: 50% algorithm, 50% edited? 70/30? Imagine the left-hand vertical are Facebook friend groups you designate for certain news (they really need to mature their friend-grouping, which I think they will soon); Group A are local, city-based stories and events (the people/businesses who know all of the indie movie screenings, local band performances, restaurant specials, etc.), Group B are your political news junkies, Group C are your funny story editors, etc.

Unfortunately, despite how badly I really, really, really want to make a video like this (or like the Popsci series or Wired), it may be a while for me to find an excuse/reason to do it. I doubt I can find a reason to do it for work, it'll probably just be a passion piece. A passion piece that hopefully will find me some side funds (it won't. Again, these videos are now a dime a dozen).