Joho the Blog » Are we in for perpetual innovation?

Are we in for perpetual innovation?

Here’s a hypothesis that emerged when talking with Henry Copeland [twitter:hc] about a panel at Web2.0 he’s leading:

Previous media have generally gone through a period in which their navigational systems were unsettled, but then developed stabled systems that lasted for at least a couple of generations. Libraries certainly did. Television spawned tables of channels, times, and shows that are still in use today. Newspapers developed a semantic lay out and use of fonts that is so standard that for generations all newspapers have looked and worked basically the same.

So, will the Internet’s navigation systems follow the same pattern? Will they settle down so that over the course of several generations, the Net will look and work basically the same? Even within particular functional areas, say, search engines? Or will we be constantly innovating the basic navigational systems of the Net? Or, will some systems become settled — say, search engines with text entry boxes (and their oral equivalent) and lists of results — while there is wild innovation in other areas?

I don’t know, of course. But, if I had to bet, I’d say that we’re in for perpetual innovation, with some inventions lasting longer than others. The Net may be the exception to the pattern because of its scale, its complexity, and the ease with which anyone can innovate.

(This of course assumes we continue to have an open Internet. But that’s a hobby horse for another trail.)

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3 Responses to “Are we in for perpetual innovation?”

  1. Elizabeth Eisenstein extensively documents these sorts of issues with respect to the printing press and book printing in Europe. We’ve done cute things with physical books, but the navigation metaphors have sustained since (before) Gutenberg, even transcending to ebook media. I would say that we’re likely to drag along the early constructs as they become more-or-less settled, although there will always be room for “cuteness.”

    The earliest threaded forum structures, for example, were an artefact of the hack that created Usenet (because it was really, really expensive to join Arpanet back in the 1970s). That artefact still remains, nominally as a best practice in online, distance education, for instance, and as the comment/reply structure in almost every web application going.

    We’re seeing a lot of transition innovation occurring now-ish as we begin to move away from print-culture constructs and towards UCaPP constructs. But during the last three communication transitions, the winning metastructures sustained, and sustain to today. No reason to believe that we contemporary folk are any different.

  2. As my pal @johnniemoore would say – innov-already! ;-)

  3. Years ago, one of Jakob Nielsen’s “Alertbox” essays (no time to look it up, sorry) was about experimental subjects’ resistance to innovative web navigation schemes. There had been a period in which new ideas of how a browser should interface with sites had aroused the active interest of the people who tested them, but there came a point when the reaction was more one of impatience, along the lines of, “We already have a perfectly good way to do that, what’s the point?”

    Of course the classic example of the same process is the adoption of the QWERTY keyboard. Maybe not the best, but considered good enough by most.

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