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Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Talking Pages

Web pages are a great meeting place. But what if they don’t offer you a direct way to add feedback, or talk with other visitors? And if they happen to (we are talking about 1% or so of the web) why do I have to switch my interface to use their unique community-like feature?

In real life when I enter a place, I’m not supposed to wait for someone to hand me a mouth to start speaking. We all carry our communication tools around wherever we go and expect them to work. We should expect the same from technology which is extending our body (like the mouse, keyboard, and web browser).

In chat rooms (like those on Undernet as seen with MIRC) you will often find talking pages happening – people throwing URLs back and forth, effectively walking the web together. These sites they visit do not specifically support a community or feedback area. (Of course throwing back and forth URLs isn’t the smoothest implementation of this idea. And you have to find the right chat room, and wait for people to hang around with. Most people might be surfing the web in the meantime.)

Weblogs often also serve the same need. You comment on a web page, and you will link to it. In theory someone visiting that web page could use Technorati and other services to find comments on this page. Not quite real time, not quite easy enough.

What I want from my browser is a talk tab. Something which sits in the bottom of the window, waiting to be expanded. Something with a history. Something which of course is optional and can be turned on and off at will.

In Wikis, you will already find two of the needed features (Wiki software in many ways make up for the lack of evolution in our browser metaphors). Here, you can edit any page (to add your thoughts and comments to make it grow), and you can start talking to others about any page.

For example in Wikipedia, the following page covers Google (as you know, you can click “Edit” to edit this page):

And the following URL appears when you click “Talk” on top:

So any page has its meta-page attached to it, a sort of backyard open for discussion. A Wiki is designed to be a meeting and collaboration place. But mostly any web site can be.

When I visit, I might want to add a comment to the page or talk to other people which are visiting at the same time. When I read an article at, I want to share my thoughts, and hear other people’s thoughts. When I publish a blog post, and someone reads it, I might want to talk to this person. We don’t need,, or my blog software to help out here. (That would be terribly inefficient, like forcing every last web page to implement a back button.)
All that is needed here is another software – your browser, preferably, or a plug-in to it – initiating a look-up using the URL as common grounds ID.

StumbleUpon does something along these lines, just not very real time. (In StumbleUpon you can add a toolbar to your browser, to then find comments on any page you visit which other StumbleUpon users have visited before. I believe in the late-90s there also was a software called Third Voice doing similar, but it never took off.)

Real time communication, of course, means chat. Which is just what we need on top of the web, and its browsers. When I visit any page (a front page, a page deeply nested, a pop-up, a search result, and whatever you can think of) I want to chat with other people who are there at the same time (or scribble right on top of the page to express my idea, or highlight words with a yellow marker, or speak to them using my voice). Is that impossible to implement or too much to ask from browser makers? Because it sure would be nice – we’ve been browsing alone for too long already.

Google Turns Six

Today’s Google logo celebrates Google’s 6th birthday.


Gallina is a blogging software using Gmail as its data storage. [Via Aimless Words.]

On Not Recommending Firefox


“Aggressively marketing Firefox before it is a completely stable product is dangerous. (...)

Problems with the browser include (...) no “Go” buttons next to the address bar and search bar by default. Many, many users need a button to click.

Firefox right now is very good for an experienced net user, but is not at all ready for the average person. If you plan on targeting the general public, you need to understand the general public. (...)

You’d be shocked how many people don’t understand what a URL is and what the address bar is for. When they need to go to a site, they close the browser, re-open it so they get the MSN or Yahoo home page, and enter the URL into the search box. How about integrating the address bar and the search field? If what I entered isn’t a URL, pass it to Google.”
– Adam Kalsey, Why I don’t recommend Firefox, September 6, 2004

That’s what’s already happening in my Firefox, and I believe it’s the default setting too. (I agree though people do need “Go” buttons next to the address and search bar. I know I can hit the Enter-key, but sometimes I prefer using the mouse and click.) I also agree average user shouldn’t care about what a URL is*. I too prefer to remember a site address by its “Google URL” (the words needed to search for to bring it up again).

*I always find it funny when IDs are exposed in the interface. That includes telephone numbers, which are completely cryptic and unrelated to the person they address (and yet, they have managed to make it into most mainstream interfaces).

What I don’t agree with at all is the conclusion of Kalsey to not suggest Firefox to average users. Why? Because Internet Explorer is a major security hole in the hands of average web surfers. I installed Firefox on my girlfriend’s computer because in the past she had to install a new system every few months surfing with Internet Explorer – she would end up so Spyware-infested her computer became unusable.

I guess in the end it won’t be average users installing Firefox on their systems. It will be the people who understand what a browser is, what it should do, and what makes it good. The average user will continue to just use whatever’s on their system.


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