We learned in elementary school that there are 5 senses — sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. To date, the Web has been created out of, at most, 2 of those — sight and sound. And, our interaction with it — navigation and data entry — has been limited primarily to text, and secondarily to still images. Sure, it’s full of audio and video, but once we hit “play,” we become largely passive consumers of content. It’s a pretty narrow spectrum, when you get down to it. But, I’ve spied a couple trends that may signal the 1st phases of expansion beyond this text-and-pictures paradigm.
1. As the Web has gone mobile, our phones have opened the door to audio interaction. Apple’s Siri was the 1st serious volley in this direction, and now Facebook has introduced voice messages into its Messages app. And, if you believe the rumors, voice control is likely to be the backbone of Apple’s Web-centric television currently in development. The keyboard — the primary tether to written text — is likely to look like a relic in the decades to come.
2. Similarly, local search and mobile map apps have made the map a primary means of interacting with online content. If I need to find a local business, I don’t go to Google.com any more — I go to Google Maps. Sure, it still depends on text entry and visual information, but the information is structured very differently than it is on a “traditional” web page. It’s not a set of discreet documents, but rather a continuous, zoomable virtual representation of our world. Somewhat similarly, HTML5 has allowed websites to be strcutured as a single, zoomable/scrollable “document.”
3. Now Facebook has added the ability to “poke” your friends. Yes, this sounds a bit gimmicky, and the data is still text or image-based, but again thanks to mobile devices, one of the primary interactions with such a feature will be tactile — when your friend pokes you, your iPhone will vibrate in your pocket.
Obviously, as long as we’re still dependent on a screen to display visual information, the expansion into other senses is going to be somewhat limited — you’re a loooong way from actually tasting & smelling the amazing meal at The French Laundry that your friend just Tweeted about. But, it is certainly exciting to see the 1st pushes outside a paradigm that has been in place since the birth of the computer (or, you could argue, the printing press).