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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Interface Ideas ("Intrinisic Flexibility")

I have a fairly small laptop screen but know how much I like to be able to use up the full screen real estate when I'm using a larger monitor (and despite the fixed layout aficionados out there, I believe many others feel similarly--ok, maybe fixed layouts can be potentially made resizable too, but...).

Anyhoo, one great widget of the future (the kind a self-learning robot might invent for its purposes--great motivator, by the way, to compete against such eventualities) is to be able to turn portions of a layout (e.g., HTML fieldset, a XUL groupbox, etc.) into a separate tab, and convert tabs (tabs such as created by the latter, as well as those already in use, e.g., Firefox browser tabs) into unified screens.

This kind of widget would really relieve a lot of the headaches of programmers trying to provide an adequate interface, as they could rest assured that their users will have some flexibility in customizing it to their own needs.

(Unlike in XUL, it'd be great to have flex attributes be inheritable to avoid needing to place them everywhere.)

One should have the ability to turn a multiple select box into a series of checkboxes (and vice versa), or a single select box into a series of radio buttons (and vice versa). One should have the option to turn a condensed (XUL-style menuitem) into an HTML optgroup-style integrated view and vice versa.

I'd even like to be able to auto-convert fixed layouts into fluid ones and vice versa.

Although one can do this with overlays, it'd be nice to have more "intrinsically flexible" features to convert any sidebar into a dialog (extensions exist to do this), a dialog into a sidebar, etc.

I really hope more interface languages (or their parsers) will become more intrinsically flexible.

Oh, and the ability to turn displays of one type into another (richlistbox into a tree, etc., a wrapping table into a list, and vice versa, etc., or any of these into flashcards, etc.; also, trees into column browsers and vice versa). Yes, one can program this to occur in individual cases, but one does not have the flexibility within the Firefox interface at present to do this at will (and it is unrealistic to expect that all extension developers or even Firefox developers will have the foresight (or skills) to make things as flexible as others might want).

Two Future Inventions

One future invention (not too far down the road) which I believe will have an enormous impact on learning: The ability to wear goggles (or some other device over or in the eye) which use pattern recognition to identify features in one's environment and then query databases, such as Wikipedia (or search engines) which are wirelessly connected to grab live information from the web. You could be strolling in the park and see some animal that you'd like to know more about (or to generate sounds back at it!) or wish to identify some material, etc. Yes, films like the Terminator have popularized this kind of item from a militaristic angle, but the learning potential is far greater (and more important).

One socially interesting invention of the future I see is to be able to use the "telepathic" devices that detect tiny vibrations in one's vocal cords (or perhaps brain-related ones) to transmit one's thoughts (willingly!) to those in one's immediate environment, including even strangers--anyone who has such a device. Of course, there is a potential for auto-translation, even customized to the listener (though I still believe that an official world auxiliary language is even more important). Imagine walking down the street and being able to 'hear' others thoughts to those who have chosen to broadcast them, whether they are targeted to specific person(s) or just to anyone willing to listen. The thoughts could thus be ignored or responded to (even anonymously). Could make walking among strangers a more interesting and even instructive experience (not to mention socially engaging)...

No doubt others have thought of these, and if I cared to search the net, I probably could find something, but I'll leave that for now to any would-be commenters... :)

One idea I still can't believe no one's implemented are "real" chat rooms. Places like a coffee house where you can go and where people set up tables to discuss specific topics. Yes, there are book clubs, etc., but I'm talking about a more exact analogue for online chat rooms--where people have an excuse to talk to and meet others, around some subject rather than from a frequently physical angle...

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