OK Computer: how to work with automation and AI on the web

Automated systems powered by new breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence will soon begin to have an impact on the web industry. People working on the web will have to learn new design disciplines and tools to stay relevant. Based on the talk “OK Computer” that I gave at a number of conferences in Autumn 2015.

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The Changing Form of the Web Browser

I wrote an article, The Changing Form of the Web Browser, for rehabstudio (my employer). It’s about the present and near-future of the web browser, in a market where the consumption of information and services is shifting. It’s quite a long piece, and necessarily broad for a non-technical audience, so there is perhaps a lack of nuance in its conclusions. Still, I’m quite proud of it, a lot of research and writing was involved.

There’s an extract below, but I suggest you read the whole thing in context if you can.

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Innovation in Mobile Browsers, and the iPhone

Last week I wielded the mighty power of Twitter to say this:

If you use an iPhone I feel a bit sorry for you, because you’re missing out on the really innovative stuff happening in mobile browsers.

A few people asked me what I meant by that, perhaps thinking that I was criticising iPhones in general (I wasn’t[1]), so I want to take a moment to elaborate on my statement. To do that, I’ll begin with a story.

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Feeling Like An Unwelcome Guest on medium.com

I have a shortcut to medium.com on the home screen of my Android phone. It’s there because I browsed the site a couple of times and Chrome’s app install banners prompted me to add it to my home screen, so I did. Some time later I launched the site from the shortcut icon and it opened and loaded so quickly that I actually thought it had retrieved a copy from an offline cache. But it hadn’t, it was just very well optimised. So ten points to the Medium team for that.

Today I launched the site from the shortcut again – but this time the experience was somewhat different. So different that I have to take away all the points I previously awarded to the team. The problem is that when I launched the site today, I had the door emphatically slammed in my face.

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Mobile Browsing Around The World

I find it fascinating to see the variance in browser use in the diverse regions of the world, and nowhere is that variance more apparent than in mobile web browsers. While in the West we may be used to Chrome and Safari being more or less the only game in town, elsewhere in the world the story is quite different. In this article I’m going to take a look at a few charts which illustrate that difference.

The stats used here are collected from the 30 days prior to 25th August, taken from StatCounter.com. They come with the usual disclaimer about the impossibility of getting completely accurate data, and don’t always include feature phone browsers, so should therefore be treated as indicative rather than conclusive. With the caveats out of the way, let’s begin.

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Exploring URL discovery with the Physical Web

One of the emerging concepts that I’m fascinated and excited by is the Physical Web. If you haven’t heard of this, a brief and very coarse summary is that it’s the idea of transmitting URLs from beacon devices, commonly using low-energy Bluetooth (BLE). Current beacon schemes are largely based on Apple’s iBeacon protocol, which transmits a unique ID that requires an app receiver to decode and turn into an action. The Physical Web’s difference is that URL transmission requires no app, decentralising the process.

Making any device able to transmit a URL is rich with possibilities: from super low-friction discoverability of information about nearby places (imagine a page of search results showing only the things immediately around you), to immediate interaction with nearby physical objects. While I’ve still yet to actually build anything using the Physical Web idea, I’ve started to explore what I think it can be useful for.

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