Stuck in old Metaphors – better times coming

Do you know what (search, connect, wait, wait, open, login, wait, select, accept, check) means? Why, it’s uploading your best photos from the phone to a public place like a web album. Sounds pretty complicated though, and that’s exactly what is currently is. We often don’t do things because the steps are taking too much time. It’s like having to brush your teeth when you were kid. It was inevitable, yet you lingered until it was forced.

In the example you first search for the USB cable (Bluetooth isn’t reliable enough, anyway). Then you connect your phone to a Windows-based host, which takes ages. Then you open the management software for your phone, which enables picture uploading. You login into a site, where you will be publishing the pics. You wait for the site to respond. Then you select the pictures for uploading, and accept the transport. You finally check that everthing went as was expected.

We’re stuck in old metaphors. Old ways of thinking what bits represent and how they should be transformed into new meanings and places. But there’s constant change, and I think we’re headed for much smoother waters. Since cellphones start to be quite mature in hardware, there’s a craving for better user interfaces. We might soon forget the times that functions were deeply buried in layers and layers of menus. Context-sensitive menus and buttons will probably be increasing. There’s always the balancing between limiting what a user can do, and trying not to make the user interface too confusing by including all possibilities.

A central tenet to user interfaces has been the direct manipulation of objects. Instead of burying things into hierarchical systems, the designer presents instantly graspable objects which users can alter, move, resize, etc. In phones, wouldn’t it be nice to just tap on the pictures, and send them instantly into a shared place?

I’m slightly inclined to Apple attitude in these. Nokias kind of have the old world scent in exactly that things are hierarchical and a bit out of date. It’s still very interesting to see how the competition turns out. I don’t know about Apple’s production strategy or platform strengths, but Nokia has a history of producing a lot of things on its own, so I think it has a key strength in here. And both parties are learning from each other just like in the operating system wars.

In the web world (see, we gotta still separate mobile from the web, for practical reasons), the channels are split. If you’re on Facebook, it takes some effort to get content into some other system. But there are pipes which let people share their most interesting experiences into other social networking platforms and data drains.

The familiar phenomena is this: You hear about a new medium; let’s say Twitter. You take a couple of moments to think about whether to join. You Google some arguments
about the service, ask friends, look up the traditional media, and then make up your mind. Eventually, you’ll probably at least take a test ride. Registration is usually quite light.

The first steps in the new medium are crucial. If the experience is good, and you find it useful or fun, you’ll probably stick to it. For example, I started using Twitter, but then there was a pause. It was barren. There was no relevant content, no friends. Later on I found this great client called TweetDeck. The tool instantly boosted my twitter usage. I started to see a lot more of it, and could stay in power by adjusting the windows, and having a constant and quick access to
the control buttons.

The interesting question is, whether these technologies will come together, or stay as islands of their own. The typical setting is that I sit down at my computer. It takes me some 5-10 minutes to get all necessary apps and services running and logged into. At the end of the day, logout takes some time and I have to think about what apps I can leave running, which I should turn down. I’d like to transport this desktop into my phone, as-is. Currently that’s not possible. I have to make decisions and a lot of manual work to carry some of the services in different gadgets.

The IT department faces a lot of decisions, too. They have to be updated about what’s available on the markets. Often there’s a slight overflow of information. And the new systems planning is not the only chore running. Basically keeping old systems up and running and secure is taking its share. So for all of these reasons the decisions are usually very conservative: Let’s stick to the old and known. And keep things simple. That’s a good decision, in a way. But it also limits the company(=employees) from gaining true benefits from new technology.

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