Saturday, February 1, 2003

Interfaces that change shape

Stewart Butterfield points to Idea: Socially constructed interfaces:

Imagine (if you would) starting off with some kind of application which did one thing - send email perhaps or have instant messaging. The ui would be extremely plain - but you would have the intrinsic ability to 1) connect to friends somehow; 2) be able to construct your own "widgets" which could range from simple tree menus, to throbbers, or even useless animated icons; and 3) have the ability to send these "widgets" to others - which in turn gives you the increased capacity to make more widgets or accept more complicated widgets of your own.

In this way, UI elements and features "evolve" from social interactions. Really cool widgets get shared widely and advance the tool as a whole. Other features which are useless never get shared, or rarely do and would fall by the wayside. The user is constantly incentivised to continue to revise and create new features and GUI's because they gain what I can only describe as whuffie or egoboo - but there would also be some real world benefit.


This further articulates something I started to get at in my Ubicomp paper - the ability of an interface to "change shape" - to *become* what we want or need it to be, in context, and perhaps despite the initial design parameters. I later folded these ideas into the notion of designing for hackability, where the ability to hack a device or application is considered an integral part of designing for adaptability.

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