Kasperian Moving Parts

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3d Desktop : Does it make sense?


Okay, first off, the ScribeFire Firefox extension is pretty cool.  It would be a good thing for some Open Usability folks to help out, but the extension itself seems pretty functional.  One large thing, though, is that there is no “New” button for Posts.  This functionality seems to be accomplished via the “Clear Content” button, which is very non-intuitive.  “Clear Content” is typically associated with a destructive operation which removes something.  “New” is a creative operation, which will also technically “clear the content” in the editing fields, but the mindset is a very different one.  An interesting usability issue, to be sure.  =:)

Secondly, this YouTube – 3d desktop video prompted an impromptu debate in #kde4-devel with zorg_the_false, which was the original impetus for this post (the “hey, dangit, I should be able to click a ‘blog this’ button somewhere was what caused the ScribeFire extension download…). 

Don’t get me wrong, I think the video is really cool and for eye-candy alone, it is slicker than hot butter on a bald monkey.  But I think this comment says what I was thinking:

This does look fairly cool and imaginative…but its just useless. The whole point of a computer desktop is that its efficent and easy to use. They don’t even have the file names on the files. This is just imitating the unwanted qualities of an actual desktop.

And, I might add, that most similar concepts will suffer from one problem: you simply do not have the real-estate that a physical desktop will have on an electronic desktop.  While you might have a pile of papers and books on your physical desk, you can easily see each physical thing that you have there.  An electronic desktop (unless we get to the point of having 30″ x 50″ electronic desktops, in which case we’ll have a new set of issues…) simply can’t afford that.  So we have to shrink things down in our electronic world and then zoom in when needed to make things recognizable again.

But this particular attempt at a 3d desktop strikes me as taking the advantages that computers provide and throwing them away in an attempt at trying to represent the cluttered world of a desk.   If I could organize my physical desk the way that I can organize my computer desktop or filesystem, I would much prefer to.  The organizational concepts that this video speaks to are things that people have done to get around the limitations of the physical space in their environment.  And it’s only a pretty small subset of people who do some of the things they talk about too (do you turn magazines in different directions on the stack on your desktop??).  Computers have allowed people to think differently about how their information is stored, presented, and organized.  It is indeed a new paradigm.  Trying to make a computer environment mimic a cluttered desk of yester-year seems extraordinarily backwards. 

Think back 100 years… this is analogous to the guys who made the typewriter trying to figure a way out to make it look and feel like a quill pen, just so people don’t have to learn how to use a new thing.  There are times when paradigm shifts are extremely good and evolutionary and should not always necessarily be viewed as bad just because they force people to learn how to do similar things in a new way.   This kind of desktop might have been revolutionary 20 years ago–before we had a different model to use for organization and information.  But to step back 20 years and say that we now want the computer to try to model a cluttered desk before there were computers is a tad silly. 

And to clarify:  I am definitely not saying we shouldn’t keep trying to make computer systems usable and intuitive.  I am also not saying that this video in particular is bad.  But I do think that this is a good thing to keep in mind as we shape user interfaces and try to make them as user-friendly as we can.  There’s a common misconception that says that we shouldn’t try to get people to learn new things just because there’s a learning curve.  I don’t always agree with that sentiment.

Anyway, the triune purpose of this post has been accomplished:

  1. Find a “blog this” Firefox extension
  2. Try out said “blog this” (ScribeFire) Firefox extension
  3. Capture an impromptu (yet still very relevant) friendly debate on irc.


Author: Jason 'vanRijn' Kasper

My name is Jason 'vanRijn' Kasper. I am the ring leader of the amazing Kasper family. I am unashamedly a Christian Nerd. These are our stories....


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