The Very Definition of Visual Bloat

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Check out this MSN8 screenshot. Look at the ratio between real content and useless cutesy bloat. Actual content is actually left with a minor part of the screen.

“You can customize all three columns on your page”. No kidding? Can I remove all the visual junk too? Microsoft tries to deliver a task-based Internet package, but buries the actual primary task (here, reading the news) among big buttons and countless links to other stuff. I’ll handle the multi-tasking myself, thank you.

We’ve been promised integrated browsing nirvana for years now. At one time, I thought MyYahoo was headed in the right direction and might indeed let you build a dashboard that was useful as a time saver. That was when Yahoo wanted to be in the software business, not the cable TV business. Now I have strong doubts that the “starting page” concept is even useful at all. It’s trying too much to guess what users want to do, while the underlying hardware and medium are increasingly powerful and versatile. A starting page that gets what you want to do wrong is basically failing its very reason for existing. If the failure rate is too high, or if it takes too much time to act from the said page, then you end up not using it at all.

Now all we get from big players is AOL-like silliness. Microsoft still doesn’t get that people don’t want their news and education from the Pravda. “More than 100 content modules are available to choose from”? I can live with your promotion of your own content (or your partners’) but unless you deliver an open architecture, I’ll never use your product. Sorry but nobody tells me where I get my news from. My answer to consumerist soft totalitarianism – in the grand tradition of Walmart deciding what lyrics are proper to be featured in a song – is thanks, but no thanks. It’s soft because you’re not sent to Gulag if you don’t comply, but it’s going to be increasingly pervasive if we’re not careful about where we spend our money.

Imagine an MSNAOLYahoo car. When you climb up in the driver seat, you’re offered these four options: “drive to our partner mall,” “drive to work,” “drive to our selected movie multiplex,” “drive to your mom’s place.” Oh, you’re still able to drive everywhere else, only you have to do a cumbersome combination of moves with your gear shift and wheel to enable the freewheeling (bad pun intended) feature. And you can’t really get rid of the “are you sure you don’t want to drop by our selected restaurant” notices projected on the windshield.

They get it exactly backwards. Most of the web queries are unique. People do an amazing diversity of tasks on their PCs and online. Trying to cram that down to a few selected activities and places is not only presumptuous, if not downright arrogant, it’s stupid. Seems these guys like to lose mindshare to Google (or lately Trillian, which should have a bright future.)

Update: speaking of Gulag, and this is more serious, the EU is taking another step towards turning into a soviet organization. This new thought police law is directly inspired by a French law written by a Communist (loi Gayssot).

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