August 07, 2006


A question: When you think about the word "interface", do you think about it as being a way to interact with information, or as a way to interact with a device or program?

Posted by Abe at August 7, 2006 06:40 PM


I find myself thinking more in terms of interacting with information than interacting with a device. However, I still use the word "interface." I think there is some refocusing power in using "infoface" as a more general term and reserving "interface" for device- or program-specific infofaces. For example, does a bag of coffee beans have an interface (besides, maybe, the opening in the bag)?

I got a new cell phone this weekend, and, while the device itself is elegantly designed, the software interface (infoface) is about par for the course. It seems an enormous amount of time, money, and energy goes into the design of the physical artifact but the software is sort of slapped on (or, worse, focused entirely on "features").

Perhaps, then, an infoface is an intersection between interfaces, a nodal configuration of the physical and informational. All of the interfaces have to be in harmony for an infoface to really work.

that's really interesting JD, not quite what I expected the interpretation would be, but in line with where I was going nonetheless.

When I asked about interacting with information I was really going for a broad abstract sense of the term. Really it is about trying to makes sense with the way Steven Johnson uses the term "interface" versus the way I personally understand it. When he talks about Google being an interface to the web, he is not just talking about the interface that they put on the screen, but about the way it changes your interactions with the web completely.

I happen to agree with his arguement, but somehow I just can't map it into the word interface, which to me is something very concrete and actionable. So when I think about Google as interface, I think the stripped down search box page, and then the simple list of results. It was mildly revolutionary in it's pared down nature, but in many ways it's just a command line on a website. But for Johnson Google as interface is something much bigger, something that really changes how we interact with information. And it's true, I'm just having trouble calling it an interface...

I agree. I picture when I think of interface.

Perhaps the word I was looking for is "gestalt." Not quite as pithy as "infoface" (or "interface to the web"), but that really seems to be what we're talking about. Google's interface (the command line and search results) are what most people think of, but the algorithms behind it all absolutely alter what content people can access via Google. If someone can't find your site via Google (or within the first, say, two pages of the results), does your site exist in any meaningful way within the Google gestalt?

Does Google (or anyone) have any obligation to make users aware of the screening (ranking) inherent in its results?

I remember something about a redesign of Google that, through its interface, revealed more of the complexity of Google and its screening nature. Can't remember the name or I would link it.

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