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Tuesday 26 June 2007

Interaction Design and Web 2.0

A lot of my friends ask me about Web 2.0 and talk of it as if its the next big thing. But is it really? Or rather what is that makes it the next big thing?

IMHO, the most comprehensive understanding of it is available at:
http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/oreilly/tim/news/2005/09/30/what-is-web-20.html?page=1

A reading of the above tells me that the implications for a designer are large or small based on how she has been doing design. As a core discipline, in design, to question the existing and innovate is not a new concept. Hence, to re-invent the way the web is used is not a big thing. To make the interface or user experience richer is not a new thing.

What then is new?
1. Technology - Its a big shift for the techies to think that the web itself can be thought of as a platform. And then to use technologies based on this platform to design scalable, robust applications that handle loads of data is a big mind-shift. Once the techies "get the idea", the designer now has available to her the tools and the implementation inclination that will help her convert the designs into reality.

So now, the designer can try out the effects and transitions that rival a real life simulation and be positive that technologies exist that will help implement those interactions. The techie on the other hand is now willing to try out hyped up AJAX technologies and frameworks, besides a host of proprietary as well as open-source stuff like Flex and OpenLaszlo.

The only problem though is that in India some of the good programmers still consider these technologies as UI stuff as against "core" programming languages like Java and C++. The flip-side is that stuff like Flex and Laszlo require good programming skills and a highly creative problem solving mind.

2. User participation - This is a shift for all. The differentiation between a content provider and a content consumer is now blurred. The design now allows the user (the erstwhile "content consumer") to generate and use the content. The benefits are of transparency and a more realistic context. The disadvantage is that it requires a "long tail" to filter out junk that comes with open participation.

The concept of participatory design though is great news in terms of bringing user experience to a new level providing more engagement and greater transparency. This concept has the potential to alter the user engagement models in many a domain and make it more dynamic and realistic.

Infact the best way to beat Google in the search domain is to move away from algorithmic refinement of search to user refinement. And believe me there are a bunch of mavericks out there who are doing that already.

Frankly, besides these 2 points worth noting, I guess the other concepts are an endeavor that every designer would anyway be called me make. Hence, for the interaction designer, Web 2.0 should mean the technology that affords richer interactions, but more so, the motivation to provide direct and transparent user involvement in the application, by design.

There is one simple thing though - the next version of the web, Web 2.0 if you call it, will be driven by the designer and her imagination.

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