Webscapes in the works

One thing is for sure about the Web: the way we use it will change.

Microsoft, for one, has a think tank studying future Web interfaces that the software kingpin may someday adopt. Researchers shared some of their studies at the recent Web99 Design and Development conference in the US.

"You need multiple options for searching the Web," says Mary Czerwinski, a Microsoft researcher. "Some people like linear text and some like moving around in 3D; we need to support both."

Microsoft's research effort covers both original interface design and analysis of offerings, which the team tests on users.

Scaling the data mountain

One of Microsoft's alternative interfaces uses the "Data Mountain" metaphor. The interface presents Web pages as icons that you drag onto a data map. You can group pages in any way.

The Data Mountain provides a graphical landscape with distinct landmarks, to help you remember where you store your documents. Audio feedback reinforces the sensation and the direction of your movement, by coming from either the left or right speaker as appropriate, coming toward you as you move to the bottom, and away as you move up. When you drag a new page onto the mountain, other pages automatically move out of the way.

The research team studied a similar approach used in a 3D Web browser called Perspecta, developed by former researchers at the MIT Media Lab, Czerwinski says. Perspecta was designed to make it easier to access Web-based data, and offers "a nice global overview," she says.

Czerwinski demonstrated a Perspecta application used by a video rental company, which organised its titles graphically. On the site, when you click the "Suspense" category, a list of suspense movies pops up.

"But some of the headings were unclear, with movies listed under multiple categories," Czerwinski says. "It was really nice be able to click and quickly see an abstract of a movie, but some users also got so deep (into the database) they got lost." Web developers have yet to strike the right balance of global and local anchor points that give users a reference frame as they navigate a site, she says.

Considering cultures

Content categories are also a problem for many Web sites, notes Kirsten Risden, a Web-usability engineer at Microsoft. Using examples from an earlier version of the Microsoft Network site, Risden showed that categories like Interests and Lifestyle are too generic because "it means everything and nothing."

Cultural issues must also be considered, Czerwinski notes. The Nintendo generation is much more apt to want to use a 3D interface, she says. "In fact, they feel very restricted by the common 'click back and forth' interfaces. They want to spin around and fly through," Czerwinski says.

While some users like being able to move a mouse and "fly through" 3D databases, they are in danger of developing repetitive stress injury from all the arm movement. "Users like new Web visualisations, and at Microsoft we are moving to them," Czerwinski says. "We just have to be careful we aren't throwing too much at them and make sure we are addressing problems users really have."

Researchers are also concerned with keeping software lightweight and easy to use, she says. That means they must study spatial abilities across gender and age, and address accessibility issues, including ease of use for the handicapped.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

David Needle

PC World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?