Future Present

Serendipity vs Apps

Monday Note has a great post by Frédéric Filloux on Reconciling efficiency with serendipity. He starts with, what should be for us designers, an encouraging quote: “For digital media publishers, Design is the biggest challenge.”

He then talks about how trapped we remain by traditional notions of publishing:

After more than fifteen years of internet presence, many online publications are still having trouble moving past the newspaper metaphor. Columns, pages, sections, vertical scrolling…, the old-world graphical newspaper attributes still rule the web and contribute to a quasi-failure…


The fundamental fracture between print and digital media lies exactly here: paper is a fantastic vector for a reading experience driven by curiosity; the web is a cold medium utterly efficient for a search-based, focus-driven reading.

(It’s an extension of an earlier post of his, The web’s design problems, where he discusses some of the deep rooted flaws in the web, and how they’ve become obstacles for so many sites.)

We all have our own, personal, ways of managing the content we get from the web. We use RSS feeds, we have bookmarks on various sites, we connect with all sorts of other blogging and microblogging sites. But it’s awkward and there’s no way to seamlessly access it all.

The iPad has been a great move towards making content more accessible anywhere, and giving a kind of touchable, direct manipulation, access to it all. But it’s app-driven nature still keeps content and functionality constrained… we’re still using a web browser, or individual apps, for accessing sites, services, and feeds. What we need is a less narrow, more fluid, way to browse, search and explore content. Something that encourages the serendipity we value so much in old media and offline experiences.

As we move towards a semantic web we’ll be able to pull content from anywhere. The challenge is to design a solution that mashes it all together into something messy, organic, and human. Large-screen UIs from companies like Perceptive Pixel offer a tantalizing hint at the opportunities offered from big display surfaces — where we can arrange, group, pile, and accumulate lots of content. Unfortunately, no matter how large the desktop, it’ll never be big enough for the infinity of content available to us. And… the real trend is towards smaller screens and mobile devices.

Frédéric’s post is a good reminder that we need to push for more revolutionary changes in how we want the web to develop. It’s up to us to design how we will create, use, and explore this new web. And every project we work on can be a step forward.