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The digital magazine of InfoVis.net

Books are over? : wait for 2007
by Juan C. Dürsteler [message nº 5]

As Internet keeps growing, it will be increasingly important to have abstract resources that allow us to navigate in a more agile way and to understand better the nature and contents of the space in which we are moving. But the path to this goal is not trouble free.

In his recent book 'Designing Web Usability', Jakob Nielsen makes some interesting predictions already in the preface. A book indeed indispensable for everyone interested in Web Usability.

According to him, reading from computer screens will become as fast and easy as reading from a book from 2002 onwards for the high-end computers, becoming commonplace in all homes around 2007. Nowadays there already exist laboratory prototypes.

At this point it's worth remembering that the digital paper, in different forms like electronic paper and  e-ink  continues its progress towards the virtual shelves.

Regarding the Browsers, it's clear that the usefulness and ease of use of the existing ones is more than opinable; Nielsen considers that we'll have to wait until 2003 to have a really useful web user interface. More on this topic in a forthcoming article.

But not only the user interface matters. Currently the reading of a book is fundamentally a linear, sequential process, as when you hear an audio tape, that you have to fast forward entirely until you reach the next song. Nevertheless, reading hypertext is a random process, as is the listening of a compact disk.

Reading a hypertext document requires our decision to determine which parts we want to read; we have to devise a reading strategy we are not used to.

For this reason Nielsen believes that until 2001 we won't see well written hypertexts appearing regularly. Users won't be used to read hypertext with the same ease as they read 'normal' books before 2005.

In fact hypertext writing is not taught at school and it's not easy to find experienced people, nor many web sites devoted to this topic. At Eastgate you can find some resources on hypertext. Some of them are not very usable and some other are very experimental, but the majority are of interest.

Another non negligible problem is that of the bandwidth. Always according Nielsen's predictions, until 2003 it will continue being insufficient even for the advanced users. We won't have enough bandwidth until 2008.

All this scenario leads to the substitution of books by their electronic counterparts by 2007. An assertion that resembles more a provocation than a prediction. Nevertheless, taking into account the progress we have seen in the last years, we cannot discard it a priori.

In the meantime, we'll have to put up with the means we have and with following the evolution of those that, no doubt, will come (and perhaps we will contribute to create).

Links of this issue:

http://www.infovis.net/printRec.php?rec=llibre&lang=2#DesigningWebUsability  
http://www.media.mit.edu/micromedia/elecpaper.html  
http://www.eink.com  
http://www.eastgate.com/Hypertext.html  
http://www.useit.com/alertbox/980405.html  
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