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Beyond Pages

In another article, ‘Always On’, we discussed the impact of permanent Internet connections as a key driver for the coming of age of the Internet (as compared to ‘dial up’ connections).

In this article, we explore it further with a particular focus on the effect of designing websites.

New Technology

When a new technology is introduced it is released into a world that thinks in terms of the old technology.

The classic example is the ‘horseless carriage’. When the motor car was first introduced, the way people related to it was that it was merely a ‘horse and carriage except there was no longer any horse’. There were little or no consideration that this mechanical carriage would ever come close to being a catalyst in the development of national highways and alter the shape and scale of our cities, our shopping habits or how to impress your neighbours.

The Internet fits this pattern. In the early days of computers as office equipment, they churned out more paper than ever before – all you had to do was connect a printer to your computer and you had your own instant publishing empire: memos, letters, notes, agendas, etc.

Along came the Internet and with our heads firmly entrenched in the thinking of ‘printing pages’, it is little wonder that we created ‘websites’ comprised of ‘webpages’.


Before you begin jumping up and down, I will qualify this statement.

Firstly, if your website is full of ‘pages’, that’s okay. Most people think in terms of newspaper pages, book pages, documents and letter - designing your website around pages makes sense, that’s primarily where the Internet is at right now.

Secondly, the web had to start somewhere and this is an obvious and logical place. New technology typically takes the thinking of the technology that it replaces before it is refined and extended to new levels. The Internet effectively replaces print and began by modelling itself on print and is now becoming something else.

Thirdly, some of you may be wondering what else is there? If you don’t have pages, then what do you have? That’s the question we are going to focus on in this article.

A Comparison

The key to thinking about this transition is to go back to first principles and compare the difference between the qualities of print and the qualities of the electronic Internet medium.





Fixed – Once printed the image or text is fixed in place and is difficult to change. Typically it needs to changed and then reprinted.
Fluid – Once text or an image is posted on the Internet it can be quickly and easily altered and replaced.
One-way – Printed text sits on the page and the reader reads it as it sits there, in this sense print is ‘one-way’. Similarly TV is ‘one-way’ in that the message is sent one way to the viewer – the viewer does not influence what is written, only their interpretation of what is written.
Interactive – the Internet invites the visitor to ‘click’ on things on the screen and this shapes what the visitor sees. This is a ‘two-way’ process where the visitor changes what is presented.
Standardized – When you buy a copy of a book, everyone buys the same book.
Personalized – Whilst software that you buy is the same, the opportunity to personalize its appearance and uses is built-in. Similarly, your path through a website is a personalized one and each site can be personalized to address your individual preferences.
Linear – printed material is typically designed to be read in a particular sequence. For example, novels.
Non-sequential – When visiting an Internet site, a visitor may at any point in time choose a number of alternative paths to take – including going to another site!

This comparison is by no means complete and it is sufficient to illustrate the point here: there are a number of fundamental differences between print based thinking and what is possible through electronic formats.

What will this look like?

This may all sound wonderful, but what does it all mean?

In terms of website design, here’s some suggestions as to what this may look like:
  • If webpages are used in the future, they will be personalized to the visitor based upon information gained by cookies and collected over a number of visits. For example, register on Amazon and they will display your name at the top of the screen and highlight books in your preferred categories.
  • An increasing use of databases to present personalized information based upon the selection criteria of the visitor.
  • Rather than static pages with static text and images, websites will include more animations, movies, sounds, voice controls, etc. The use of ‘Flash’ is one step in this direction. Visiting the Internet will become an interactive entertainment experience compared to the rather dry clicking on pages or the one-way broadcast of television.
  • Rather than giving visitors the ‘answer’ through pages of articles that are printed and read offline, more self-directed learning will take place online through ‘learning’ games.
  • In preference to solo surfing, more real time interactions with other people will be available. Extending upon the idea of a ‘chat room’, consider that your website focus may become a meeting place for discussions about your niche, comprised of people who are visiting at the same time as you.
  • Similarly, websites will need to become more than a simple source of information and begin to offer more and more tools for getting things done. Online banking is an early player in this arena. Look for opportunities where people can co-ordinate their actions and work on joint projects through the global reach of the Internet.

Look ahead

Webpages have a lot of mileage left in them. The intent of this article is simply to keep an eye on the horizon and look ahead to what may be coming your way.


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