Monday, 10 December 2007

Software solution lies in user interface design

Imagine, autumn is upon us and we are looking at a garden landscape. Our task is to pickup leaves scattered on the ground and put them together to form a landscape scene of spring. NotJustBrowsing is designed to help users transform autumn landscape of web browsing into a scenic spring of their wishes.

User interface design of a software should always be a dominant part of solution of the problem. If user interface is not part of solution of a problem then it will be part of the problem. For example a spread sheet user interface element is used where a text area element was required or tabs user interface element is used where linear scroll panel was needed.

User interface of NotJustBrowsing is designed to solve following web browsing problems that I foresaw. So, the discussion should be about how good or bad I solved those problems in terms of solution user interface and what are alternatives if any. Merely criticizing a user interface is not enough when an alternative is not proposed and argued to be better.

The issues that I addressed are

1. A huge number of web pages, scattered all around in the world wide web space like tree leaves scattered on the ground in autumn.
Can a huge number of web pages be referenced wisely?

2. Web contents are always grouped (possibly uniquely) together by every www user to obtain favorable result from the combination of contents. All possible combinations of available web contents is any body's guess.
Can the contents of www be kept and shared in user made groups?

Issues 1&2 are resolved into Study Place and Shelf structures in NotJustBrowsing. Study Place is a user interface area where www links are kept together in an organized way. When a suitable group of web links are gathered, it can be binded and placed in the Shelf like a book or one of a few other forms. Is this not logical? We are using this system of organization of information for centuries. How many books a person can make out of his collected web links can be countably unlimited. Sharing of grouped information is selectively used in NotJustBrowsing at the moment but it will be expanded to be utilized in public domain in web 2.0 scenario soon.

3. Size & type of contents available on the Internet are not what they used to be at the beginning of web browsing era. A picture of size 32x32 pixels is different from a picture of size 640x480 and is also different from 4 paragraphs of text or a live web TV broadcast or a song.
Can every different size & type of contents be dealt with in a suitable way according to their type & size?
Issue partially resolved into Multiple Browsing and is under further development for completion according to its design. Viewing multiple live feed is made possible using Multiple Browsing which can not be achieved using Tabs.

4. Tab structure in Graphical User Interface (GUI) design is an OR (exclusive) structure and is always get used where exclusion is needed. Whereas web browsing is an AND (inclusive) activity, most of the time a user is interested in many linked contents at the same time.
Do we really need tabbed browsing?
In my opinion, no we don't need tabbed browsing but we need Linear Browsing which will further be developed into mind mapped browsing in near future.

5. Not all contents on a web page are of every user's interest.
Can selective parts from a web page be taken apart and combined with other similar parts from other web pages by users?
Issue resolved into Tailored Browsing and Very Simple Syndication (VSS).

6. Common application user interface is different than the web application interface,
Soft menus are integrated into NotJustBrowsing application.

Can something useful be done with menu icons?
Issue resolved into Verbial Icons and I hope it will lead to further improvements in the representation of the action of menu item. Verbial (derived from verb) Icon means an icon demonstrating functionality expected from a menu item.

NotJustBrowsing is an attempt equivalent to cataloging stars (public information) in the sky (www) but differently according to each user's own choice.

One should compare passionately how the very same issues are addressed by other web browser producers in last 10 years of their dominance.