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This just in from Innovation Senior Writer, Jessie Scanlon:
Last week Mozilla Labs, the R&D arm of the open-source browser maker, launched the Mozilla Labs Concept Series -– an open initiative to “explore and design future directions for the Web.” As Mozilla Labs VP Chris Beard told me, “we’ve been very good at recruiting and engaging tech collaborators, but our design efforts have been more haphazard.” The goal of the Concept Series is to bring more people and ideas into the discussion. He stressed that it is not an effort to “open-source design,” saying that he didn’t believe in “design by committee,” but that in the ideation phase, more ideas is better. In order to lower the barrier to entry, the initiative welcomes interactive prototypes, mock-ups, sketches, or even just ideas submitted without any visuals.
To kick off the project, Mozilla posted a three-part series of videos that imagined a Web browser of the future.
The videos and the hyper-interactive concept they captured – called Aurora -- were created by the Web design firm Adaptive Path, one of the smartest working in the space. Sometime I&D columnist and Adaptive Path co-founder Jesse James Garret led the Aurora design. If you have any interest in Web design or innovation, you should watch the videos, which have sparked debate. (See here and here).
The Aurora videos include some cool elements. In a scenario in which two farmers collaborate remotely to compare rainfall (but you could sub in Wall Street analysts comparing a company's stock price history), one drags a graphing tool onto a Web site data chart that immediately converts the numbers into a line graph. In other words, a simple tool converts any data set into the most appropriate visual representation. There's also a three dimensional, time-sensitive take on the desk top in which related objects (applications and documents) are clustered in sometimes over-lapping galaxies (think 3-D Venn diagrams), with the most recently used objects in the forefront and objects that haven't been used in a while faintly in the distance. (The temporal aspect of it reminded me of David Gelernter's Lifestreams project.)
There are some problems with Aurora: the browser window is framed with a "top shelf" of frequently used items, a left-hand column showing objects used recently, a right-hand column where you could temporarily store objects, and a bottom "wheel" displaying all objects or programs currently in use. In other words, it's busy. And after watching the videos several times I still don't understand the "radial menu" – so I won't try to explain it.
Setting aside Aurora, which is just one concept, the Concept Series will be interesting to watch. Mozilla's Firefox browser (which now accounts for 20% of the global market) was created by a global community of developers – some paid, mostly volunteer. With the Concept initiative, the company aims to engage a similar community of designers and human computer interaction experts. "We can't just be listening to tech-savvy people," Beard says. "What goes into creating a great product is a mix of design insight, product insight, and technical skill." Mozilla says it has received hundreds of ideas already, as well as a few mock-ups. So keep watching.
What comes next? The Bloomberg Businessweek Innovation and Design blog chronicles new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.