2019

Exploration on the Internet

A grid of images showing different mobile and desktop designs from our concept

Description

This is a summary of Kai Wanschura’s and my Bachelor Thesis in Interaction Design at HfG Gmünd. It was supervised by Prof. Benedikt Groß and Prof. David Oswald.

My Role

Concept, Research, Visual design and Interaction design

Information on the Internet

Kai and me started the work on our thesis by asking the following questions about being online:

How is it possible for the many people, who use the Internet every day, who have different thoughts, motives and tastes to not only coexist but also be satisfied on the same platform? How can they find something that inspires them in the right moment? And, how do they find content that does not float in the mainstream?

At the core, we want to move away from an Internet dominated by pushing trends and media-effective content onto its users towards one that instead acknowledges a diversity of interests and information*.

Why exploration matters

In some cases it might be true that there is a lack of resources on a topic, but given the amount of information that is accessible online, the more crucial issue at hand seems to be how users can browse content that is valuable to them without having to know precisely what they are looking for, not only targeting their immediate needs, but also long-term interest.

Our proposal addressing this challenge centers around three fundamental ideas that can enhance how people explore the Internet while leaving content creators all of the current freedoms when designing their digital spaces*:

01

Humans should be primary authorities to declare qualitative content.

This authority doesn’t mean every human recommendation is valuable. In a recommendation system, trust in the recommender’s expertise is essential, but also rarely unconditional. link to trust ref.Consequently, suggestions are by default limited to specifically assigned areas of interest. At the same time, quality itself is largely subjective, depending on individual judgement criteria, preferences and someone’s personal situation, so opinions from different people shouldn’t be quantified and merged in order to assign an objective value to a piece of information.

Concept 02

People should be in control of how they explore.

They need to have the capabilities to define the topic they want to expore, how much they want a recommendation to diverge from the content they are currently viewing or what format the information they are browsing should have.

Concept 03

Exploration has to be possible across platforms

To ensure that suggestions are most relevant we need to take different sources into account and break engagement loops created on individual websites or platforms.

This last point specifically implies that simply inventing another social networking site, web app, or search engine won’t be enough. Instead, we need to enable exploration at a higher level, like the browser or the operating system itself*.

To match how people interact with the Internet, the system needs to respond to their changing intentions. If someone decides to spontaneously jump from broadly browsing for information on one topic to searching for a specific link, that shift has to be easily possible. Likewise, if someone doesn’t want to continue exploring, but rather focus on their current task, any additional recommendations need to get out of their way.

Zooming out

To put these ideas in context, exploration is only one part of the process of learning, researching or coming up with ideas. The system presented in our thesis is intentionally open-ended, because it only focusses on using the Internet for inspiration. It needs to be connected to tools from other areas, such as focussed consumption, archiving, synthesis or communication, to truly provide value*.

Further reading

On our project website Kai and I go into more depth about our reasoning and practical application. You can also find the full-text of our thesis there.