R.I.P. Web Pages and Browsers?

by Andy Polaine on April 25, 2005

I have always thought that browsers were a step backwards in interaction design. Just as designers were starting to explore and understand how to speak in this interactive language, the ice age of the web hit and held everything back by about six years.

Janice’s essay “A Whole New Internet” picks up on one of my main irritations with the Internet – web browsers. When Jakob Nielsen wrote his ill-conceived rant “Frames Suck” one of his main arguments was that pages were the fundamental building blocks of the web. Now, in one sense he is right, but it’s a very myopic view of what the web could deliver.

Janice is speaking about Ajax, not a new technology, but a new way of putting existing ones together. Jesse James Garrett gives a great explanation of it, though you have probably already experienced it with Gmail or Google Maps. She quotes an important point Michael Buffington’s post “A Whole New Web”:

The entire way of thinking about how to make sites that people interact with is changing. The idea of the web page itself is nearing its useful end. With the way Ajax allows you to build nearly stateless applications that happen to be web accessible, everything changes. What it changes into is starting to become apparent, but I think we’re still trying to figure out where we’ll end up.

At last! I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Flash, though I think it can do great things, and one of the reasons has been its terrible interface/working environment. Yet it always stunned me how many web designers were willing to go through the pain of dealing with early versions of Flash to achieve even the simplest (and sometimes complex) things online. It’s a testament to the desire to break away from the page and the clunkiness of web browsers.

As the past couple of years have demonstrated, not obeying the paradigm of the page has started to deliver some real interactive content online, not just a linked set of pages. So, the question is, do we still need browsers?

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