About this site
















Web User Interfaces

Friday, April 5, 1996 by Dave Winer.

Here's a radical idea!

Bet that caught your attention...



Remember back in the 1980s when standardized user interfaces were the big thing in the software business?

Here's the pitch.

Come use our computer. On this machine all the apps work the same. Learn one app and you've learned them all.

Scrollbars and icons. A mouse. Windows. Icons. Pulldown menus. Desk accessories. The trashcan. These concepts are here to stay. You can safely put them in the history books.

Having a mouse and graphics really changed things. It paid to rethink apps and try to take the art of user interface to the next level. So that's what happened. And computers got easier. And they also got much more powerful.

A win.

And a win.

Now we have the web. A new surface to play with. It adds three new elements, pictures, links and a worldwide network.

If it was such a good idea to rethink user interfaces when graphics and mice came along, maybe it's a good idea to rethink UIs now that browsers and webs exist? Of course it is!

Actually it's always a good idea to rethink user interfaces. But you don't always have the opportunity to do it. Things are more fluid now. Opportunities exist.

So where are we at? The web is a chaotic hodgepodge. There are no standard graphics. Everyone is all over the map on UI. You have to learn how to use a website. They don't all work the same way.


On the other hand, I like rock and roll. Without a chance for chaos, you don't get a chance to explore the issues. If you lock things down too quickly you lose the opportunity to take big leaps. But we've innovated enough to see some common threads.


Websites have structural links. There usually is a hierarchy imposed. A way to pop out a level, or to go deeper. There's a sequential ordering to most big websites, a Next and a Prev. Go thru the chain and you'll see everything.

There's the concept of a Home, the very topmost page. High flow home pages are very valuble. Check it out. Lycos just went public for $300 million based on the flow of its home, http://www.lycos.com/. Coool!

Search engines make a big difference. If you don't use Alta Vista, check it out. A new WebCrawler is coming. Distributed search engine software is starting to appear.

The art of searching makes the art of structuring possible. Can't find it by navigating? Try searching. They support each other beautifully.

Categorizing, sorting and allowing for randomness; that's the software technology of the web, circa spring 1996.

And pictures.

In the world of graphics we had folders and stop signs and pictures of disks and pages. New elements have been added -- Under Contruction. New! Works with Netscape. Blue ribbons.

Familiar logos, no need to read the text, I already know what they're saying.

In this world pictures are content too. Check out for examples. CNN is a software developer. Ain't that peculiar? Yes!

We still need the icons of the desktop world, because the world of the web and my local world meet in the web browser. Look at what Microsoft is doing with Internet Explorer on Windows for a clue.

So -- the conclusion -- we still have more knowhow to transfer from the world of the desktop to the world of the web.

And we get a chance to invent more knowhow.


Dig we must.


Dave Winer

PS: We're not quite done with desktop UIs either. More tweaks are possible. How about adding an option to Save As that automatically puts a serial number, MyDoc.1, MyDoc.2, at the end of a filename; so I can quickly save off new versions of a document without overwriting previous versions?

© Copyright 1994-2004 Dave Winer. Last update: 2/5/07; 10:50:05 AM Pacific. "There's no time like now."