Dan Bricklin posted a great piece on Microsoft’s Surface technology. Dan is a really smart guy and we could all do ourselves a favor and listen to him. Since I can’t elaborate any more than he did on the actual technology, let me elaborate on something else:
Two weeks ago, I attended the dux07 conference put on by the ACM. One of the surprising things to me was that there was an entire track devoted to data visualization. I’m a big proponent of the need to relate information in a more visceral way for it to become effective. Elizabeth Churchill from Yahoo! did a great job of presenting some ways to provide data as an environmental experience. If you’re not familiar with this concept, there’s the classic example of Peep, which is a way to “listen to your network.” In the world of Peep, network traffic is, say, the sound of a brook babbling. Each collision of network traffic may be the sound of a bird chirping. If a bird sounds particularly psycho, there may be something wrong with your network. The effort Elizabeth heads up looks at many ways explicit data can be represented environmentally.
The great promise of interfaces like surface is that they offer the opportunity to participate in the resolution of dilemmas presented by the ambient data metaphor “in character.” In other words, if the problem is presented as noisy birds, the solution silences those birds diagetic to the world representing those problems (shooting them? feeding them?). To simplify again, an issue represented by a squeaky wheel could be resolved by the interface action of oiling the wheel. Tying problem resolution to familiar examples in the real world should speed the response to the issues.
The great frustration is that MSFT only lets the privileged few participate in their reindeer games. Even working with a suggestion box metaphor (like the MacBU does) would guarantee a better solution.
So, if you have suggestions, please let me know. D.