Skip the navigation

More innovation means less control. Is that bad?

March 16, 2013 07:00 AM ET

Another major addition to the repertoire of touch is the lack of touch. A new hover feature enables you to see what's inside folders, emails and photo galleries by holding your finger just above the screen.

These are both very cool new technologies and they demo well. What they also have in common is that the additional power and convenience come at the expense of user control. There will be times when users doesn't want the page to scroll when they tilt, the video to stop when they look away and don't mean to hover, and the phone will do what they don't want to do.

Kinect and Leap

Another user interface advancement makes a comparable exchange between ease and power on the one hand and control on the other. In-air gestures used for controlling Kinect for Xbox 360, and several others I told you about in January -- including the sophisticated technology developed by Leap Motion -- are cool but they bring new levels of non-exactness to computer user interfaces.

Google Personalized Search

Search used to be a more exact science. You typed in Boolean search operators and a search engine spit back what it had in the index based on whatever metrics that search engine would use to place the results in a specific order.

In recent years, search has gotten a lot smarter, and by smarter, I mean less user controllable.

For example, when I used to search for my name, which is spelled Elgan, I used to get every result using that exact combination of five letters. Now, search engines go ahead and toss in results for the more common Elgin spelling, assuming that I have made a mistake.

That's one example of a generalized intelligence that has been baked right into search engines. But in addition to intelligence, we also have personalization. The best example is Google Personalized Search.

When you search Google nowadays, Google takes into consideration past searches, your location, your ZIP code, and possibly your activity on YouTube, Google+, Gmail and other Google sites as well as dozens of other "signals."

In other words, your results are unique to you, and if someone else conducts the exact same search they will get a different result.

Users are no longer controlling search results. Google's algorithms are now in control.

Facebook EdgeRank

Social networks are designed increasingly to protect users from their own decisions.

We decide to follow too many people, and as a result our streams would overwhelm us with status updates and content.

So Facebook and other social networks protect us by using algorithms to decide what we see and what we don't see.

Our Commenting Policies