There is Another Answer to the Privacy Question

In my last Random Thoughts post, ragging on Windows 8, I brought up the possibility of collaborative user interfaces. I suggested that Windows 8 should have been designed from the get go as an operating system that recognized what environment it was being asked to interface with and provide the user interface experience that best suited that environment. That got me thinking, how could this be done?

In pondering collaborative interfaces my thoughts immediately gravitated toward some kind of ‘negotiated’ experience. By using either statistics or simple majority, whenever that was appropriate, the number of users would decide what kind of thing was going on. An example is probably the best way to get my point across.

Let’s say that in terms of public interfaces there develops a kind of de facto standard where we expect a landing or main page and then a proscribed series of other pages: products, about, map, what’s on sale, etc. Well, why can’t individual users set their preferences as to which pages they would really like to see when they go to an interface. Some people might really want to see the main page because it has all of the information they usually need to figure out something new right there, in some kind of a quick format. Some people don’t want that, though, and only want to see what’s on sale. You see, if there is a standard, individual users can set what they like to see first, second, third, etc. Depending upon who is looking, and what the math says, the collaborative interface could do a sort of slide show through the crowd’s desired pages. At the very least it could order the page selections on the menu bar accordingly. It would be up to site designers to build sites that had all of the potential pages extant within them. If the interface was a store window, of course, a person standing right in front of it would be able to get a kind of pop up just for them displaying what they wanted to see that didn’t interfere with the larger display that people, and math, would see at a distance.

I used to think that the only way to get to a truly public interface was to know a lot about the users. I had this idea that digital advertising signs, for instance, could query into all the people’s cell phones around them and examine that data for social network preferences and then display the same kind of thing I just mentioned based upon some kind of statistical work done on the results. You know, the ads would change based upon who was around, so that ads only showed for the things people within range were interested in to begin with. The problem with that, of course, is that it implies people would have to give up some privacy.

As you can see giving up privacy is not really necessary. The only private thing that’s necessary to reveal is a person’s page order preferences.

Perhaps this begs another point, what about how much information stores are required to reveal? As history has taught us the system works pretty well when stores offer themselves to us and we choose with the up or down vote of our custom whether we like them or not. That works pretty well, but the consumer still doesn’t have all of the information they really want. There are ways for stores to position themselves within a kind of standard, the same standard mentioned above. They’ve always done that in the past by choosing how much information they’ve been willing to show. They have controlled the information available and marketed themselves. You know, a store that competes on more of a price basis wants to show what they charge for things. They want you to know they are cheaper. Stores that seek to differentiate themselves based on other things, like trendiness or convenience don’t necessarily show their prices, though. Aren’t these things really just more preferential choices that a user can make? Sure, these are probably more metadata kinds of things, at least in theory, but they could have a real influence over what kind of stuff comes up on a public interface as well. Why not show a trendy, or bargain based, or other marketing language intensive interface to the world, if that is what most people around want to see. Why not make collaborative interfaces that have all the different elements of the standard available, but allow the information revealed to change depending upon who is around to look?

Aha, this does make demands of those in business. To a certain extent they would have to give up control and empower the consumer. Collaborative interface designers, also, would be required to know what to show to all of the different kinds of potential audiences out there. They would have to know the businesses they are writing code for. They would have to know how to make clever segues. They would have to know how to stonewall expectant consumers, who want to know prices, for instance, when a boutique simply does not want those revealed. They would have to know people.

And the consumer could keep their private lives private. The only thing they would need to reveal would be the order of pages within a standard they generally want to see and the order of marketing preferences they prefer to see those pages presented in. Most people, obviously, would elect to chose price, but when a business absolutely refuses to present prices people’s second choices would then become important. Whether an interface has been designed properly, with fallbacks and appealing language and presentation would then become very important.

Yes, the honesty people engage in with themselves would also be important. Sure, most people would choose price, but how do they know they aren’t just saying that out of a knee jerk response? Maybe your cellphone would have to keep stats on what you really do want and offer advice to you concerning what your preferences really ought to be? If you just can’t figure it out maybe you could go to central gathering sites, where that information has been gathered on people who have opted in, and then you could reflect off of society at large in order to make your choices?

The future is wide open, but it doesn’t have to be intrusive.

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