Wireless Wonders

No news, just comment about mobile phones and services, from a veteran practitioner...3G, GPRS, WAP, Bluetooth, WiFi, etc...

Monday, May 09, 2005

People-centric interfaces

Back in 98, I led a project, called Zingo, to program a wireless portal for Lucent Technologies. This was a demonstration vehicle for wireless data. One of its features was a context-sensitive interface, or "tab-driven" interface.

There were, as I recall, three "tabs" - "home", "office" and "mobile" (i.e. "3rd space"). The idea was that the available portal features were arranged for the context. For example, in "home" mode, only personal contacts were visible in the address book. Quicklinks were also adjusted to include access to TV listings and other home-orientated content.

A key part of the concept was people-centric design. One view of the information space was via people. Instead of an inbox, there was a "people-box" and associated icons suggested messages, tasks and information available on a per-person basis. In each tab mode, the relevant people would bubble to the top of the people-box, such as family and friends.

Returning to my recent posting on merged web interfaces, the people-box would be connected with a networked resource so that I am guaranteed the most up-to-date contact information for each person, a la Plaxo. To that end, although Plaxo offers a mobile access service (with WAP presentation), they should seriously think about offering an XML ("web services") interface for other services to build on their offering. Going forward, I am convinced that this type of open-API (see Flickr) model will bring a lot of benefit to users and service providers in the future. In other words, users can plug into service providers, but via an interface/presentation of their choice. Of course, they would have to pay for the service provision, but for reliable useful services, this is not unreasonable.

It is unforgiveable that mobile operators have taken this long to figure out that people are what drive usage and to design accordingly. Mobile is a person-to-person business and will remain so for a long time to come, even within the data services sphere. I recently wrote a chapter on just this topic, which I hope to bring to you soon in abridged form.

Why are we still stuck with relatively crude address books? Services are emerging, like Fonetango, that give address books the attention they deserve, but there is a lot more that can be done in this area.

Is it possible that the new breed of dynamic interfaces, like Surfkitchen, will team up with providers like Plaxo to give us dynamically driven address books and people-centric interfaces?

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