What’s the minimum amount of interface that you need to do the most work?
I’m not talking web interface. I’m talking interface period. Picture a black box. What kinds of buttons, lights, or displays would you need to do, say, 80% of the work you do online?
I think the answer is very surprising: not very much. In fact, I’d argue with a few buttons that double as lights, and a mostly-plain display, you can do much of whatever you do right now. No keyboard, no web browser, no flash, no iPad.
Another way to phrase this question: What are the limits of a universal Minimum Viable Product?
It’s a magic box. A box where you push a simple button to get a category of information you are interested in, not a specific set of information from a specific site. Interested in technology news? Push the technology news button. Up pops a list of technology news gather from, well, anywhere/ Where it comes from doesn’t matter. Strangest 500-pound gorilla in the room ever — we go to this branded sites and participate in sign-ups, voting, games, and other “sticky” and “engagement” activities not because we particularly like them, but because they use human psychology against us in an attempt to own an entire category of material.
Want to chat with your friends? Push a button and say something. It goes to your friends (or “followers” as Twitter calls them). Send a person a message? Click on their name and speak the message. Want to review your financial status? Push a button to see your net worth. Another one to track recent activity.
Want to know why most people use Google? It’s not because of the quality. Most people use Google because after thousands of searches, they’ve trained themselves to think of “search” and the Google logo. I know — I’ve been using Duck, Duck, Go for the last 2 weeks and it has been painful. It’s a better search engine, yet in my mind the Google branding that I’ve subjected myself to over the years still draws me back to Google.
This is stupid. It doesn’t matter where all this information comes from. You want to send a message to a friend, do you care if she updated her personal email on LinkedIn? Does it matter? You just want to send her a message. We live in a wonderful age of computers. Why are we getting so wrapped up in channels, walled-gardens, brands, and all sorts of implementation details that have nothing to do with what’s important in our lives?
Such a device is known as a “magic box”. My current working title is “magic brick”, since the goal is to make the thing as plain, unattractive, and simple as possible. You can see an early prototype reading tech news from several different sites in the video below if you like. I’m building it in F# on a .NET stack, but the idea is to run it on mono on a stand-alone device
Of course this kind of detachment from the inner workings of the web not only brings freedom, it also threatens millions of established business models. Why build a freemium service if nobody comes to see your engagement material, nobody “plays” your site enough to become a paying member? How can you sell advertising if nobody ever reads the ads?
I love saying this next phrase because it has such a mad scientist feel to it (picture Dr. Evil with his pinky in his mouth) This will destroy the internet as we know it!
I have no idea where this project would lead, but I know the underlying technology is sound, I have a working prototype, and I know exactly how it’s all going to come together. If you’d like to be a henchman or a minion, we’re now taking applications. We’re also looking for places to build our secret lair. A death ray would be awesome, but perhaps that’s a bit much for now.
Technology has become an amusement park you have to drive to and pay to get in, even if “paying” only means putting up with ads and branding, and not like the human-empowering super-tool it was supposed to be. Let’s fix that.If you've read this far and you're interested in Agile, you should take my No-frills Agile Tune-up Email Course, and follow me on Twitter.