the anti-search engine tirade

Jakob Nielsen has written a sort of tirade against internet search engines (like Google and Yahoo.)
In his words:

There's no doubt that search engines provide a valuable service to users. The issue here is what search engines do to the companies they feed on -- the companies that fund the creation of original information. Search engines mainly build their business on other websites' content. The traditional analysis has been that search engines amply return the favor by directing traffic to these sites. While there's still some truth to that, the scenario is changing.

He does have a point: search engines have gotten a sort of free ride as the internet has improved. As more and more websites spring up for Google to index, more and more people will come to Google. Just like as more people get telephones, the yellow pages will become more popular and important. It's inherent in the nature of their business.

It's the recommendations Jakob gives at the end that really reveal the true nature of his argument. He recommends email newsletters, "request marketing," and affiliate programs. Blech. These are exactly the sorts of things that I hate. I know this whole "world wide web" thing isn't free, but it sure does have a strange way of paying for itself sometimes.


Human-Computer interaction stuff

I was reading some interesting stuff about human-computer interaction the other day.

First-- someone came up with the idea of creating an "interface synthesizer" called VIS. The idea behind VIS is that programmers should write their applications in a generic way, and then use an external library to generate the user interface. This way, the user could theoretically use whatever kind of user interface he wanted to communicate with the application-- a command-line interface, or a point-and-click window interface, or even a web site.

As always, there are some practical objections to this idea, which the author goes through. Some applications are so interactive that they would have little use for this library. For example, Quake III would probably not find this library very useful. Other programmers might be unhappy about losing precise control over the user interface that was generated. It wouldn't be possible to specify exactly where each button should go, for example.

Still, it's a very interesting idea which has the potential to make certain kinds of development easier. It's a shame the guy who wrote the paper is so lazy. He feels that implementing the necessary libraries for windows would be "a tremendous amount of work" and "the author has no desire to become knowledgeable enough in such toolkits to do that part of the work."

There's a lot of interesting discussions down at the Gnome3.0 discussion area. For those not familiar, Gnome is a Desktop manager for Linux and some other operating systems. These guys spend time dealing with windows, buttons, and user-interface stuff like that.

The most interesting idea posted seems to be the idea of rethinking the whole desktop in an object-oriented way. According to "HP," one poster there, objects such as "email," "conversations," "documents," and "contacts" could be turned into "first-class objects" shared between applications. Under this model, the window manager would essentially be managing objects instead of windows and buttons.

I guess desktop environments have already taken some steps in this direction by including the "open with..." dialog box, which allows users to easily double-click on a document and have it opened in a (hopefully useful) program. But for the desktop to become fully object-oriented would require a lot of work. A lot of components would have to become integrated-- something that is next-to-impossible in the world of proprietary software, and very difficult in the world of open source as well.

Well, it's an interesting idea.