Google Gives Glimpse of Future Gears Goodies

Webware reports that Chris Prince, a lead Gears engineer, provided some insight into what Google plans to do with Gears to advance the web browser’s reach into the desktop. Among the features mentioned are notifications on the desktop of various events, support for location information, better interactions with a computer’s file system, and technology to let large file uploads proceed even when hampered by intermittent network connectivity.

Prince demonstrated the following prototypes:

  • One let a Web page create a shortcut icon on a computer’s desktop so people could launch that Web application with a double-click instead of a more laborious process.
  • A notification process, which like Yahoo’s BrowserPlus feature ties into a computer’s general system notification abilities, is a major missing piece in letting Web applications seize a user’s attention the way desktop apps can. “Web apps have this problem where they can’t tell users about important things happening on their system,” Prince said.
  • His file system demonstration showed a dialog box that let him select a large group of photos for upload rather than the one-file-at-a-time process that today afflicts Web site operations.
  • A “blob”-processing ability could be used, for example, to divide a large file into bite-sized pieces, an approach that makes it easier to restore an upload interrupted by a bad network connection.
  • He used a geolocation-processing ability to process latitude-longitude information to provide a more useful Google map showing bars near Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Small Design Teams Are Better

Here are 2 recent articles that discuss why small teams are more effective than larger ones.

  1. Great Numbers, Not So Great Design, by Khoi Vinh in Subtraction
    This craft, and whatever pretensions to art it can pull off, rests so much on the efficiency of transferring ideas from the brain to the hand. This means that in its ideal form, it works best when practiced by a single person. The perfect design staff is a single designer who can conceive of and execute an idea from start to finish — a straight shot from the right brain to the wrist — maintaining the same coherent creative vision throughout. … The problem is that the structures of most larger design businesses cannot effectively facilitate the the transmittal of ideas. They don’t allow good design to happen, because they are overburdened with the organizational overhead of running a business.
  2. If you’re working in a big group, you’re fighting human nature, by Matt Linderman in 37 Signals
    When you’ve got a small group, you don’t need to constantly formalize things. You communicate and you know what’s going on. If you have a question about something, you ask someone. Formalized rules, deadlines, and documents start to seem silly. … If you’re working in a group bigger than 15 people, you’re fighting human nature.

OK-Cancel or Cancel-OK?

Jakob Nielsen's latest Alertbox recommends that order of OK vs Cancel should be determined by the standard order defined by the platform's interface guidelines. Alas, if you're designing for the web, order becomes problematic because Windows interface guidelines put OK first, whereas Apple guidelines put it last. Nielsen suggests that you base the order on the installed platform of your audience, i.e. if you have predominantly Windows users, you might be best served by putting OK on the left.

The best part of this essay is that he provides persuasive arguments for either side, making it easy to see how user interface designers can pick a side and use the argument to justify a decision. But the main argument here is to use what your users are accustomed to, and when you can, write more meaningful labels than "OK" for your confirmation button.

As web designers we challenge the notion that how we do form interfaces needs to follow interface guidelines strictly. If we're smart, we stay aware of these guidelines and the Human Factors research that has gone into designing interface rules followed by traditional software designers. But, most of the time that we're dealing with buttons, we're not dealing with dialogs with only OK/Cancel buttons. Often we're designing lengthier forms.

So what happens if we look at our user statistics and decide that what our users are accustomed to sucks? We might feel justified to think about form design and how it applies to the web and go against the conventional rules for Windows and Apple interfaces. In the case of dealing with OK/Cancel buttons, for example, many interface designers opt to treat Cancel as a link rather than as a button. This way, we end up minimizing the Cancel button and encouraging the user to gravitate towards the submission button.

If you're interested in how to tackle forms for the web, Luke Wroblewski deals with issues like this and more in his excellent book Web Form Design: Filling in the blanks.

Questions for IA/IM vendors

Lou Rosenfeld shares the questions one should pose when engaging prospective consulting firms for information architecture and information management project work. This list of questions should be very valuable if you are on the customer end of a client-vendor relationship.

It also seems like it would be an interesting list of questions to think about if you're a consultant and have never been on the customer end. As a consultant, you probably already ask many of these questions of prospective clients as well, as part of your first client interview about a new project. If you're on that end, this gives an idea of the kinds of things to be prepared to answer.



TextFlow is a new parallel document editing application and service that allows multiple users to work on a document simultaneously. The service should appeal to people who use the Track Changes feature of Microsoft Word. TextFlow lets users edit documents, and instantly see the changes suggested. One person can review the changes and apply them.

The difference between this service and something like Google Docs or working in a wiki, is that the changes are indicated visually, rather than having to go through the diff displays in revision history. It's simple and should be intuitive for users who use Track Changes in Word.

The service is currently in beta, and you can view a screencast demonstration on the TextFlow site.

Schmap Guides for the iPhone

Schmap provides a local guide service for major cities. Listings are provided with general guide information, reviews, photos, and location on a map.

The iPhone service attempts to maximize the unique features of that device. Listings are simple lists with thumbnails, but if you rotate the phone to landscape orientation, the listings then display alongside a map with markers to show where each place is located. Rotating back returns to the list view. You can click on an item to view the detailed info. The info pages resemble address book entries in the iPhone.

Another different approach they’ve taken to displaying list views can be found in their pagination. The lists contain a footer pinned to the bottom of the window. You can either use Prev/Next buttons to page through, or perform a 2-fingered scroll to move through the list in smaller increments. This seems like a different sort of interaction that I haven’t experienced before. Scrolling in the iPhone can be a bit strange because of the lack of feedback about length of page that a scrollbar provides. This type of interface is trying to provide combined scrolling and pagination.

Schmap is different in that it isn’t just tacking an IUI front end to its service. I’ve tried their client application and their normal web site, and find that the iPhone application is quite a bit more pleasant to use and look at.