UI Like, UI Don’t Like
One of the bits of software jargon the journalists at Slate have learned at the feet of our cybercolleagues is “user interface,” or “UI” for short. The UI is the face the software presents to the world–the set of devices (buttons to click, blanks to fill in, and so on) by which users are able to tell the software what to do. (As a division of Microsoft, Slate takes no position on what users should do when they want to tell the software where to go.)
Here at Slate we’ve been having a, er, vigorous discussion about one particular UI issue. It concerns our e-mail-type features. Currently we do these two different ways. “Dispatches & Dialogues,” such as “Movies Today,” uses an elaborate and (some of us think) elegant UI: Each discussion has an introductory page, each entry is on its own page, and (if you accept cookies) your computer remembers which item you last read and takes you to the next item when you return the next time. “The Breakfast Table” and “Chatterbox” employ a simpler and (some of us think) more elegant or possibly (others of us think) cruder UI: New items are just piled on top of older ones until, after a day or a week, a new page is started.
Atotally objective summary of the internal debate is roughly as follows:
Advocates of the simpler approach argue that it more closely captures the fizz of e-mail, is easier and quicker for the readers, and encourages the writers to really think of the process as a conversation rather than as a series of isolated pronunciamentos. (This contingent is itself divided on the issue of newest-to-oldest vs. oldest-to-newest, but that’s a whole other debate.)
Advocates of the complicated approach emphasize that some people enjoy constantly clicking and waiting because they have nothing better to do; that long and boring doesn’t necessarily mean bad; that cool technology is its own justification even if it’s useless; and that, anyway, who cares what the customers want.
The editor, of course, is scrupulously neutral in this controversy.
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