Monday, June 9, 2008

Gooey Interfaces, Then and Now

Here we see an interesting specimen from the twilight of the BBS age (1997, to be precise). In today's point and click, ultra-graphical world, many users are unaware that going online used to be a textual affair. The "hotkeys" are highlighted in yellow - Pressing "J" would let you apply to Join the system, "P" would send a plea for help regarding a lost Password, etc. To make things pretty, an ASCII art butterfly adorns the screen. The communications program (in this case, WinComm) keeps a readout of connection speed and time online at the bottom of the window. This was because connections were slow and long distance was expensive - so you had to be mindful of how long you stayed on. Seems archaic now, with fast broadband and ALWAYS being online....

In the 1990s an interesting thing happened. BBSs and the Web started to merge. Here we see the Web interface of the same BBS pictured above. Note that this was before "usability" became a buzzword - this Web page seems hardly useful, at least the part visible "above the fold" - all the user can do is send an email, see how many hits the page has gotten, and look at a more detailed butterfly! Note the dial-up number at the bottom of the window, in case you want to go old school and dial in the old fashioned way. Also, check out the miserable state of the browser (in this case, AOL, looking like a diseased version of Netscape.)

Which is not to say minimalist Web design is always bad. has done very well for itself with just a simple graphic, a text entry box and a few well-chosen links.

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