The good people over at Adaptive Path have spent some time imagining a near-future web browser called Aurora. The core concepts—structured data replacing monolithic pages, algorithmic grouping of related items, minimized chrome, screen-sharing, etc—are all fairly familiar (to people working on this stuff), but it’s always good to have someone pull the elements together into a coherent vision. I’m looking forward to the rest of the videos.

One aesthetic complaint, however: compared to its inspiration (Starfire), the Aurora video is conspicuously (and unrealistically) pleasant. The people in Starfire are dealing with problems. Granted, they are overcoming them via technology, but at least the situations are tense to begin with. Here, the people seem not to have any problems (not even the weather!). I guess I prefer a bit more angst in my fake future.

Admittedly, Sun’s Project Looking Glass is more of a platform (er, a prototype of a platform) than a finished product, but they’re still going to have to do better than letting you rotate flat windows and write on the back to get people excited about a “3D Desktop.”

Plumb Design has updated their Visual Thesaurus. Version 2.0 offers a much-expanded UI. Perhaps most interestingly, meanings are given entries along with the words themselves, so that links between words can be seen more explicitly.

For example, one of the meanings associated with the word “explicit” is given as “precisely and clearly expressed” which is in turn linked with the meaning “describing nudity or sexual activity in graphic detail” which is associated with the word “graphic.” So, rather than just showing that “explicit” is related to “graphic”, we see fairly clearly how they are related.

On the other hand, the original Visual Thesaurus had a certain elegant simplicity that the new version lacks.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Lifestreams, but the idea of moving beyond the folder/file metaphor for organizing digital information seems inevitable. And with Apple’s iTunes (and iPhoto), that evolution has begun in earnest. I’m sure there are lots of other examples, but these apps are widely used and sure to be influential. They treat files (either mp3’s or photos) as data objects and then organize around metadata (artist, album, membership on a playlist, etc). This freaked me out at first and I spent a lot of time making sure that the underlying file system more or less matched what was in iTunes (just in case I needed to access the files independently of iTunes). But as of version 3, iTunes is willing and capable of managing the files for me. I don’t want to make too much of this, but I think this is an important, and welcome, transitional moment in operating system development history.

CHI-Web: Summary: Designing for VoiceXML (and telephone interfaces in general)

Whenever I’m feeling boxed in by some product manager telling me that Jakob Nielsen says blah blah blah, I find a few minutes on clears my head. Not that I think ecommerce sites should all be using way new experimental interfaces, but just that there bloody well need to be experimental interfaces around. And the more the better.

YA thinkmappy navigation device: the Navihedron. I think this idea has its uses (artandculture makes excellent use, for example). I’d say, though, that it really only makes sense for associational applications rather than for anything more goal-oriented. (via vizbang)

Microsoft “task gallery”. I dunno. It smacks of tillers on early automobiles to me. And, of course, it begs for a better hardware interface (see below).

Um, about UrbanPixel, which Tog praises so highly… well, I just don’t get it. I certainly understand the appeal of virtual space (I did read Neuromancer). And I, too, lament the loneliness of the web, the lack of a sense that there are other humans in the world. But, shee-it, Tog is just describing making really, really HUGE web pages that scroll (which we all hate) and then combining them with a years-old avatar-based chat system. Everything’s “below the fold”, but if a customer-service avatar happens to wander by, you can ask them where the help link is.

It’s one thing to play Ultima Online (which I actually got bored of pretty quickly, but which is undeniably rad) and another altogether to think that’s a good model for picking out linens.

All that said, I think there are interesting things there: I like the idea of moving away from pages (although we’ll need to solve the bookmarking problem and the multiple views on the same data problem) and I like the idea of allowing serendipitous interactions with other visitors to a site. Plus I just noticed that their CTO is Derek Chung, who I know and who is a very smart dude, so now I’m gonna go email him and try and get a demo before I run my mouth any more. (link to Tog via xblog)

There’s something to Powers of Ten Thousand ( which presents the idea of “The macroscope: translucent zooming and panning”), but I think they too easily dismiss the visual clutter/confusion problem. My guess is something about halfway between this and standard pan and zoom might work better (oh, and I want the relative translucency of the layers to be controlled by my eye’s depth of focus).

One particularly telling quote: “We have not yet performed any formal user testing.” (via xblog)

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