Inclusive design is really just a name for the positive feeling I have about certain designs. Exclusive, then, describes the opposite feeling. I call design like that which is behind Facebook strikingly limited, for example. I’m astounded that Blogger is still in use as much as it is. In short, I basically can’t stand anything that builds up walls around itself, blocking information in and leaving user control out.
The Straw that Broke…
Not long ago I read a piece describing the way Facebook has built up walls around itself. Nick Gonzalez called it a walled garden, meaning that the spread of your information is limited. He pointed out that Plaxo’s service is approaching the scope of Facebook’s, and that it is doing so in a much more open environment.
“While not as exciting as Facebook, Plaxo is edging in their direction. Plaxo Pulse ties together disparate services from across the web unlike the news feed, which ties together only Facebook’s content. While Plaxo hasn’t launched a platform to a crowded hall of over-eager developers, they have quietly focused on linking to existing applications on the web.”
Honestly, the new Plaxo developments excite me. The fact that it now supports OpenID excites me. (Which reminds me: go see 37signals’ explanation of OpenID and its usefulness. It’s wonderful.) I may actually check the service out now. Until now I only knew it’s name by the subject line of dead emails long delivered to Recycle Bin hell while cries for me to update my contact information were left hanging in the thin dry air.
Okay, maybe that was a little dramatic. You get the point.
My favorite applications are always those that aren’t closed applications. They reach their true potential when combined with other applications.
Inclusive design embraces other technologies and services with the goal being seamless integration for the end user. A huge feature of an application designed inclusively is the ability to export all of one’s information at any time. Examples that come to mind: Plaxo(duh), Highrise, WordPress, and (maybe a stretch) the iPhone. These inclusive services/apps/products take advantage of standards like iCal, RSS, and valid semantic markup.
Exclusive services have a tendency to lock you into the service it provides. And I mean lock in the cruelest sense of the term. With Facebook, your information isn’t going anywhere (yet). In a sense, it isn’t really yours. Control of your information is the price you pay with applications like these.
Or, for example, I’ve faced the headache of helping friends migrate from
LiveJournal to WordPress. Fumbling around in a system that is largely proprietary and non-standard is a nightmare.
Some web applications get it, if not completely. Small steps are taken, every year or two, toward what users really want. Take hosted video websites: you would be hard pressed to find one that won’t offer a slew of options for embedding your video in a number of different places. At some point they realized that offering the data in one place wasn’t good enough: it had to be where it was wanted, when it was wanted.
But that isn’t good enough anymore either.
Independent developers are now stepping in where the big guys aren’t. Facebook won’t allow us to get our information back, so we (in the we-the-people sense) found a way to take it back (sorry, for Mac only). In a related story, other developers fed up with constraints decided to start downloading YouTube videos on their own.
We (again, the people) are an impatient bunch aren’t we?
Now, neither of the stories above are recent nor are they the worst that’s been done. But knowing that that has happened, and that it’s become so commonplace (especially in the case of YouTube downloading) one can’t help but wonder what’s next.
So what’s the answer? Best as I can tell, new companies (web, specifically) have to start being open. And not open as in “we have a company blog, we’re relevant.” I mean open as in “you can have your information back, your files however you want them, and full control of how everything looks.” That time is coming, either by evolution or revolution, and it will be a huge step in the advancement of technology design when it does.
This post was written by Ryan Imel, who also blogs about WordPress Plugins and themes at Theme Playground.