Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The web is in renaissance, your industry needs you…

Perhaps ‘Web 2.0’ is a buzz-word, but it represents a seismic shift in the area of interaction design, after all it will dramatically affect the way that consumers interact with websites. ‘Web 2.0’ is undefined within the designer community, the only thing that is certain about this new technology/ philosophy is that you are not the only creative to be puzzled by the concept. Whatever it actually is, it seems to be gaining momentum pretty rapidly and the lack of definition is probably a good thing, who needs creative boundaries anyway?

“Web 2.0 is often considered a name in search of a technology”
Andrew Betts, Assanka

Thousands of column inches have been crammed with the opportunities that ‘Web 2.0’ presents but 99% of this content is aimed at developers, reminiscent of the early days of ‘Web 1.0’; it feels like the ‘techies’ are having a party and everybody else is on the outside looking in. After the orgy of money thrown at the birth of the internet and the following dotcom crash, perhaps a more conservative approach isn’t so unrealistic.

I have had the privilege of working closely with technology companies including Microsoft and will be writing some project specific articles and ‘how-to’ documents once these developments are released to the public. The murmurs escaping the developer-occupied ‘Web 2.0’ festival have a familiar ring: “It’s not just about data; it’s about interacting with it”.

So, the revolution is about websites interacting with each other as well as the consumer, a ‘social web’ where websites are created by more than one editor? A fantastic example of this is ‘Flickr’, a leading ‘Web 2.0’ site which clearly illustrates how a community can build functionality. Another, more familiar example of the ‘social web’ is Amazon who utilises passive features such as: “People who bought this book also bought…”

Perhaps the most exciting emerging technology is APIs (Application Programming Interface), a frame of reference that allows third-party developers to produce sites or applications that draw on data presented by the other site. An example of this is the Microsoft local.live.com API which lets you embed maps on your own site and overlay your own data, almost as if the maps were stored on your own local server. To see a number of examples of this visit the gallery at ViaVirtualEarth.com.

APIs allow application-style functionality to move from the ‘desktop’ to the ‘WebTop’ and so a richer internet experience is born. There are obvious implications for companies who rely on license upgrades to desktop applications so we can expect some action there; Microsoft is radically overhauling office, what’s next? From personal experience and contrary to popular belief I expect that they will embrace the ‘WebTop’, a quick look at ideas.live.com will give you some insight into Microsoft’s plans, especially when you consider that the official name for these services is Windows Live.

The reanimation of Explorer is another indication of Microsoft’s intentions, it is understandable that they will protect the Windows platform but at the same time they are well positioned to compete in the ‘WebTop’ arena. They have even moved into new markets with their ‘Expression’ suite of applications, clearly aimed at designers and specifically interaction designers. Each of the three products are clearly positioned to steal market share from Adobe, ‘Graphic Designer’ takes on Photoshop and Illustrator (a more than impressive objective), ‘Interactive Designer’ takes on Flash, although it exports to XAML rather than an executable format and Web Designer goes head-on with the formidable Dreamweaver. All of the above are available as Beta versions except Web Designer which is expected to be the ‘cream of the crop’.

The largest opportunity for Microsoft and other leading technology companies is to embrace the design community, most designers will not be aware of these products, they were launched in Vegas at Microsoft’s Mix ’06 conference which also failed to embrace or invite the design community.

Google are firing on all cylinders with their own set of Web 2.0 services that include: Talk, Sidebar, Mail, Local and Desktop. With ‘Desktop’ they could be just a few steps from a Google OS. They are definitely riding high and cannot seem to do wrong in the eyes of the investors.

The battle-lines are drawn in an exciting new arena and the wealth of choice can only be a fantastic opportunity for interaction designers, after all we will be the ones interfacing directly with the clients and their advertising agencies, seeking out the developers that are not only interested in open-source developments. The sooner these Web 2.0 services can be monetised the sooner a Win, Win, Win solution can be realised.

For the interaction designer, the only limits will be our imagination, even with new technologies or technology combos such as AJAX, the visual real estate is familiar. Providing the idea is good enough and the developers are interested, the opportunities are endless, hold on – it’s going to be one hell of a ride!



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