Dressed Up to Distraction

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2001-06-04 Print this article Print

Whatever they're drinking at Forrester Research, please keep it out of my water.

Whatever theyre drinking at Forrester Research, please keep it out of my water. The research companys report on May 17, envisioning what it calls The X Internet, misperceives the Internets advantages and ignores decades of research into effective data presentation. I shudder when I read comments such as, "Imagine a corporate buyer navigating a virtual marketplace with a Doom-like user interface—buyers could simply shoot the deals they want." Those are the words of Carl Howe, Forrester research director, who suggests that this would parallel the evolution of TV to modern visual treatments of weather, sports and news.

I suggest that Howe is confusing distracting eye candy (bad) with data visualization (good). Im a huge fan of data visualization. Back in the days of text-only terminals, IBM had a terrific advertisement for what was then the novel idea of color text displays: An abnormal value jumped out of the clutter immediately when shown in a distinctive color. There are some things that our brains do very well, and for most people, that includes quick detection of color and movement.

At the same time, though, brief fascinations with exotic presentation keep coming back to what works. Look at the instruments on a modern automobile dashboard: white numbers on a black background, arranged in a circular arc with a moving needle. Its an old idea, but it works.

Forrester CEO and Chairman George Colony faults the Internet for presenting "essentially the same content offered on paper." But paper presentations represent years of research into what people readily understand, and the Internets presentations are more timely than paper can be. Timely is good. Clear is good. Gratuitously complex is bad, and I thought that this was old news.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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