TECH TALK: The Future of Search: Interfaces

Interfaces are critical because that is what users see. Two big innovations of recent times have been around the interface think Google and iPod. In some ways, the current search interface centred around the keyword box can become a drag for todays search engines and create opportunity for others who do not have the legacy of worrying about what hundreds of millions of users will think. This legacy-thinking has chained us to the folder-icon interface on the computer desktop for over a decade. Ajax can be the foundation to build next-generation interfaces.

The word has been coined by Jesse James Garrett, who explains what it is all about:

Take a look at Google Suggest. Watch the way the suggested terms update as you type, almost instantly. Now look at Google Maps. Zoom in. Use your cursor to grab the map and scroll around a bit. Again, everything happens almost instantly, with no waiting for pages to reload.

Google Suggest and Google Maps are two examples of a new approach to web applications that we at Adaptive Path have been calling Ajax. The name is shorthand for Asynchronous JavaScript + XML, and it represents a fundamental shift in whats possible on the Web.

Ajax isnt a technology. Its really several technologies, each flourishing in its own right, coming together in powerful new ways. Ajax incorporates:
standards-based presentation using XHTML and CSS;
dynamic display and interaction using the Document Object Model;
data interchange and manipulation using XML and XSLT;
asynchronous data retrieval using XMLHttpRequest;
and JavaScript binding everything together.

An Ajax application eliminates the start-stop-start-stop nature of interaction on the Web by introducing an intermediary an Ajax engine between the user and the server. It seems like adding a layer to the application would make it less responsive, but the opposite is true.

Instead of loading a webpage, at the start of the session, the browser loads an Ajax engine written in JavaScript and usually tucked away in a hidden frame. This engine is responsible for both rendering the interface the user sees and communicating with the server on the users behalf. The Ajax engine allows the users interaction with the application to happen asynchronously independent of communication with the server. So the user is never staring at a blank browser window and an hourglass icon, waiting around for the server to do something.

We need to think of innovative interfaces and that is where ideas like Ajax come in. But we also need to think beyond the computer to the mobile device. This is where speech comes in. Think of an integrated query-presentation interaction environment and that is where we can learn from video games (and word processors and spreadsheets). As Ramesh Jain puts it in his Gartner interview, the search becomes WYSIWYG what you see is what you get.

Tomorrow: Information Dashboards

TECH TALK The Future of Search+T

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.