The unobtrusive browser

Why can’t the web be a total experience? I think the webbrowser is slowing us down.

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Why can’t the web be a total experience? Even though we have Flash, Silverlight, Ajax and the most beautifully designed websites, I never feel submerged. How can this be? My opinion is that the webbrowser is slowing us down, killing the experience in the process.

When you think of it: the functional framework of an average browser takes up 10-15% of our screen. Showing us buttons, icons and textfields that we won’t be using for most of the time. In fact, it’s defining the way I use and experience websites. By generalising navigation structures it forces us to navigate 95% of the web in exactly the same way: hierarchal. This of course enhances usability, but degrades user experience.

Besides the fact that it generalises the way we navigate, an even bigger issue is the lack of submergence. When I think of ‘real experiences’ a big range of moments comes to mind, ranging from computer games to movies and entertainment parks. There I feel totally submerged. You go 110% into the experience, not noticing the surroundings. This happens when you are in rollercoaster, racing on the highway and for example when playing an exciting game. But on the Internet I never get past the feeling that I’m just browsing around. And that makes me act accordingly.

There is of course the full screen mode, which enables me to hide the framework of my browser. But this is a power user tool, hidden behind a button. And so almost nobody uses it and thus no creative has ever made a website that mimics a true experience. There are of course a few examples that come close, such as Firefox plugin CoolIris (which isn’t actually a website). This plugin enables people to view photos and videos of the web in a fullscreen representation, submerging people in a beautiful webexperience. When I think of it… this is actually a good example of where the web could go when browsers become unobtrusive. Flash and Silverlight are a perfect base for this.

So what now?
I believe in an unobtrusive browser, which is mainly there to guarantee that I’m surfing the web safely. By removing the visual framework you force (and motivate) web creatives to rethink the way to move through websites. And because there is no framework the freedom will be total. 3D interfaces won’t look strange within a 2D shell anymore. I believe it will pave the way for a new generation of online experiences and interactions. Maybe Youtube could become a real online tv channel…

Of course not all the functionality a webbrowser offers is waste. The address- and searchbar are pretty useful, when combined (like in Chrome). But they should only appear when necessary. In it’s core this could be all the browser has to offer. And if somebody wants more functionality, this can be added by clicking in widgets – adding functionality. I can imagine a co-op widget, which shows me other people who are on the same webpage/-site.

Anyway… the bottomline is this: let’s open up our minds for a new generation of web experience. I want to submerge.

Jeroen van Geel

Jeroen van Geel is founder/chief kahuna of Johnny Holland and the interaction director at Fabrique [brands, design & interaction], a Dutch multidisciplinary design agency. You can follow him on Twitter via @jeroenvangeel.

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