Let’s get critical: “Wolfram Alpha and hubristic user interfaces”

Seen Wolfram Alpha yet? Here’s a good primer video, narrated by Stephen Wolfram himself.

I played with it a bit when I first heard about it, then got frustrated. (I think I was trying to get a comparison of populations of Canadian provinces, and it just bailed.) So I forgot about it until I came across this article: “Wolfram Alpha and hubristic user interfaces”

It’s a little technical, but it’s easy reading, and valuable if you have an interest in computery things like programming and user interfaces. The author highlights failures of supposed “intelligent control interfaces,” which finally makes me realize why I HATE the Microsoft “ribbon” interface (which has been rapidly adopted by Autodesk in AutoCAD and in Revit, the piece of software I use at work on an almost daily basis). In grouping objects together, the ribbon is trying to anticipate my working process (which it can’t do without reading my mind) and thus ends up obscuring the tools I need. Adobe started doing a similar thing in it’s suite of products. Why not just let us use the palettes that have worked so well for so long?

Anyway, consider it!

Here’s an excerpt to tease you:

Dr. Wolfram, may I mention a word to you? That word is MySpace. If there is any such person as this average person, she has a MySpace account. Does she generate customized nutrition labels? On a regular basis, or just occasionally? In what other similar activities does she engage - monitoring the population of Burma? Graphing the lifecycle of stars? Charting Korean copper consumption since the 1960s? Perhaps you should feed MySpace into your giant electronic brain, and see what comes out.


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