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In fact, Web 2.0 is simplicity defined…

by David Brewster on May 7, 2007

in Technology

Let’s bring my previous two posts together. It occurs to me that Don Norman need only look at Web 2.0 to see that simplicity, as he defined it in his ground-breaking 1999 book The Invisible Computer, is alive and well – and hardly over-rated.

In that book, Norman argues that the problem with the computer – and particularly the personal computer – is that it tries to be all things to all people. Combining so many ‘tools’ in one box requires a lot of behind-the-scenes complexity. He contrasts the PC with our kitchens, in which we find a wide range of made-for-purpose implements. No one expects to find a kettle that is also a toaster, or a fry-pan that is also a mixer. Norman goes on to suggest that, one day, we will favor lots of mini-applications, even mini-computers, each performing it’s own specialist tasks. He acknowledges that in the case of computers, these applications will need to be able to talk to each other easily – something less important with your toaster and your kettle.

Now consider a recent article in Melbourne’s Age newspaper, looking back at the last five years of internet development. The article is a good summary in itself, but if I can try and summarize it further:

A catalyst for change was the foundation of Technorati for tracking blogs, which allowed people like Robert Scoble to popularize his ‘corporate blogging manifesto’. Scoble also lives a Second Life, the online world which has more than 5 million accounts – according to their blog on WordPress. WordPress features Adsense advertising, pay per click advertising, a popular search term being iPod, which gave its name to podcasts which are distributed in part by MySpace, the biggest social networking site. Another form of social networking is bookmark site del.icio.us, the idea behind which has sporned specialist sites such picture repository Flickr, and more recently, but now bigger, video responsitory YouTube, which was recently bought by Google, developers of Google Maps. These have established wide-spread popularity due to AJAX programming tools which have been used to create mash-ups including GeoTwitter. And so on…

The article above misses a couple of my favorites, especially Wikipedia, but you get the idea. It seems that when someone has an idea for a new web-based application these days, they don’t try and add it as a feature to an existing site, compromising both, but rather create a new, smaller and specialized tool. Don – isn’t this the way simplicity should be?

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