UX: The Visual Web, Killing the Discussion
The introduction to the new Google+ reminds you to "Liven up your post" with a photo or a video, cuz, you know, words are soooo dead.

With the recent successes of Instagram and Pinterest, analysts are hailing a revival of an old trend in communication (with its roots in stone age cave paintings). Pictures! "Andrew Lipsman, the vice president for industry analysis at the research firm comScore, called [Pinterest's] popularity among brands one more example of “the rise of the visual Web,” along with Instagram (which was recently acquired by Facebook) and Facebook’s timeline feature, which is heavily driven by images instead of text ."

Mobile versus the Desktop: Tool Limitations on Text
As we consume more and more of our content over mobile devices, we are losing our tools both for consuming and creating text. On a mobile device, even responsive, voluble readers can hardly be expected to do much more than tap out an acknowledging +1 with our thumbs or, if we are really motivated, a "LOL". The marketers worry about the lack of audience engagement. Would they also expect us to clap without hands? Give us a keyboard where we can touch type.

Opposable thumbs gave us an evolutionary advantage but thanks to our mobiles we're now all thumbs. I saw one poor man at SXSWi pawing at his iPad screen like a puppy, as if his fingers had fused.

I know some of you are wonderfully adapted to typing with your thumbs. And limitations often result in new art forms as the creative among us test the boundaries. In Japan, the mobile phone beget the thumb novel, keitai shosetsu fiction serialized for text messaging.

In 2009, Barry Yourgrau wrote, "...the keitai shosetsu phenomenon hasn’t so far headed west...mobiles play a different role in Japan. They, not computers, are the principal portal to the internet. "The majority of my students (19-22-year-olds) don't have a PC," notes Yuki Watanabe, a PhD candidate in Tokyo. "They're of the keypad, not keyboard, generation. The lingo of texting is normal language to them."

In 2012, we seem to have caught up. In the introduction of the Google+ redesign, Vic Gundotra touts "Conversations you'll really care about". Unfortunately, the limitations of reading and typing over our mobiles hamper in-depth discussion and influences the design of our tools. It's hard to "cherish the conversations that unfold" when we have to open every long comment separately -- even when viewing on the desktop. (Maybe that's what unfold refers to.) This is time-consuming, and annoying. Being constantly required to fiddle with the tool distracts our attention from the content of the discussion.

Opening a comment also causes the left text margin to jump. Our eyes strain trying to find the beginning of the next line. (I can no longer find an example of this so maybe it's been fixed.) As with using any kind of tool, the user should be focused on job, not the tool.

So what tools does Google+ provide for conversation? Per Vic:
• Full bleed photos and videos that'll make you really proud to post
• A stream of conversation "cards" that make it easier to scan and join discussions
• An activity drawer that highlights the community around your content

Look at a screenful of conversation cards. How many lines of actual content text do you see per screen?

Driven by Images
Kelly Mooney. "[People] love scrolling for minutes or even hours looking through photos by friends, celebs and brands or on topics they’re passionate about. With Instagram, there’s no need to share any sentiment or craft the perfect post. Words aren’t the magic here; pictures are." (Emphasis mine.)

Vic Gundotra. "Simply put, we're hoping to make sharing more awesome by making it more evocative. You know that feeling you get when a piece of art takes your breath away, or when a friend stops by with unexpected gifts? We want sharing to feel like that, every single time." (Emphasis mine.)

So the visual web is like TV channel-surfing on steroids. We j-key through the conversations cards, passively staring at images which reduce us to our primal, emotional state. Awesome! Do we stop there with what Wordsworth called "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings" and call it a success? Or do we press forward and meditate, mull, analyze, synthesize, and create something of our own? Do we have a real conversation?

I can't settle for appeals to emotion; I want thought-provoking ideas.

A Picture's Worth
I enjoy seeing beautiful, startling, evocative photographs and paintings on Google+. But I get tired of that old saw, "A picture's worth a thousand words."

Show me the picture that expresses, for example, all that +Peter Strempel does with his words.

Despite the setbacks, we lovers of words don't give up. No. We keep trying to make it better. You can find some of us in +Dieter Mueller 's Homo digitalis circle.

The Visual Web

Kelly Mooney: The Rise of the Visual Web

Vic Gundotra: Toward a Simpler, More Beautiful Google

Barry Yourgrau: Thumb Novels -- Keitai Shousetsu 携帯小説http://www.keitai-shosetsu.com/
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