The Uncanny Interaction Valley

Most of you are probably familiar with the term Uncanny Valley, but just in case, here’s a quick refresher. As (graphics/etc) get more realistic, there comes a point where “so close” becomes worse for end effect than further away. Don’t believe me? Here’s what the Uncanny Valley can look like — so close to what you expected that the tiny differences scream out at you.

Uncanny pictures

Coding Horror has an entry today discussing the Uncanny Valley effect when it comes to user interfaces. Specifically, where does Web 2.0 fall down into the Uncanny Interaction Valley?

The early Web applications looked like… forms. And so we didn’t expect much from them except to act like forms.

Internet Pizza Server

But now, Web applications look and behave much like we’ve come to expect from applications. And this is where we hit an Uncanny Valley. I mean, they LOOK like applications, but things go wonky on the interaction side. Let’s take Facebook.

Ars Technica:  Facebook Boxes

So I can drag apps around and configure them. That looks a lot like document editing I’ve done in desktop apps. Can I use Cut/Copy/Paste to arrange things? Hmm, nope. What about Undo if I don’t like a change? Nope. So we’re approaching an Uncanny Valley here…

Anyone who’s tried to write a highly-interactive Web app can tell you… it’s painful. Libraries like JQuery or Yahoo! UI have helped make the job easier — but rich interactivity is still an uphill battle on the Web. The tiniest mistake or change (in your application, or in the browser) can destroy a carefully-crafted interface’s appearance. Javascript compatibility can make you want to tear out your hair. Security, script and SQL injection, cross-site security… Each aspect chips away at the illusion of a perfect, desktop-like experience.

Coding Horror concludes that

…one of the great strengths of web applications is that they aren’t bound by the crusty old conventions of desktop applications. They’re free to do things differently — and hopefully better. Web applications should play to their strengths, instead of attempting to clone desktop applications.

I’m not certain that abandoning the strongly-established conventions of desktop application behavior is the way to go, but if you do go that route with your application, be aware that it’s a longer climb from “form” to “app” than it may seem at first. With the rise of really slick Web applications like Google Docs, the bar for Web 2.0 quality just might go awfully high.

About Tachevert

A cofounder of and full-time geek, Tachevert writes about whatever strikes his fancy. Despite the inherent contradiction, he can often be found videogaming or attempting to run.
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