The Search Box is the New UI
And then the inevitable metaphor ("Everything is a metaphor") of the Browser-as-a-Platform was mentioned, triggering a bunch of thoughts in my head on the Browser-as-a-platform interfacing the Internet-as-Platform, thoughts that made me feel dizzy after a while. Something was wrong and I was having a cognitive Ajax dissonance which I will describe now.
Dissonance#1: The Browser
We're living in this Browser paradigm ever since the Internet (and terminals) was invented. Don't you find it strange that everything else is changing but the Browser is still around?
Browsing is efficient when there's a blueprint, a layout. Think about an application's menus or a site's map: the user navigates according to the site/application explicit structure. And that's efficient because the user is supposed to invoke functions. Most of the sites/applications are created to realize functions, so they make their functional layout explicit, enbaling the user to browse and navigate through the functional tree. Many business sites have the following functional layout: about us; products; services; solutions; events; press room. Commerce sites have this functional layout: books; electronics; your cart; wishlist etc;
Users are required to invoke functions in order to get Information and/or set Information.
Now here is the bare truth: Information is locked behind functional bars; users want to get/set Information, but they can do so only by going through the site/application functions. And for this kind of navigation the Browser is a most suitable user interface.
Only that Web2.0 – the same Web2.0 exalting the Ajax Browser (and see the second paragraph in Dion Hinchcliffe's article) – has turned the functional paradigm on its head. With RSS, the site/application Information is unlocked and published to the Global Information River. People can get the Information they want without going through the functional sites/applications. And with Microsoft's SSE and Google's Gdata they can also update the Information River, again without necessarily visiting the site/application.
Now, the Global Information River has no functional layout, so browsing the River will get you nowhere. The Information River mandates another kind of UI, and I think we all know what this interface is: it is search.
The Search Box is the new UI!
This formidable phrase was coined by Adam Gross, Salesforce.com VP of Developer Marketing, while describing the cooperation between his company and Google's Enterprise Search 2.0 – an appliance that indexes not only unstructured data like documents and mails, but also databases of major application vendors, such as Salesforce.com. So if a sales person wants to know details about the customer he's about to meet, he only has to search for it, and…
Strange. Salesforce.com just acquired Sendia, a company specializing in rendering Browsers into all sort of devices. But if we stick to Adam Gross' logic, Sendia shouldn't have been acquired at all. Instead a Voice interface to a Google Search Box which, in its turn, is mapped to Salesforce.com database would've been a better choice for Salesforce's mobile strategy. After all, what the user at the end of the device really wants is not a foxy Nokia interface but real-time Information. If she can get it by talking to the device, she'd be much more productive.
So Google's in this game. What about Yahoo!? Read & listen to Jeff Bonforte, Senior Director of Voice Product Management at Yahoo! about their plans.
Dissonance#2: APIs vs. UIs
Another Browser-based dissonance has to do with mash-ups. Web 2.0 is all about mashing up the site/application APIs. In other words, it's all about a site/application providing access to its functions/Information through APIs. If no APIs are offered the site is practically out of the game. I will redraw your attention to an excellent article in SkypeJournal.com, where the dilemma of whether to develop API or UI is well described. The conclusion is that in a Web2.0 reality, APIs should have precedence over UI.
I enjoy Ajax UI very much and the Browser-as-a-Platform metaphor is absolutely cool. Only that the Browser is a limited and not that efficient way of interfacing with Information. The more people will become Information Junkies, the less they will find the Browser suitable for their needs. I'm having a dilemma here, so I'm going to take an aspirin.