I was talking to a friend today. A friend that emails, blogs and uses web tools like ebay and paypal. I said, "hmm, that's strange, my browser isn't working. Twhirl is working though." I meant to imply that since my browser was frozen, I was checking my internet connection to see if it was an internet or Firefox problem. To which he responded, "My Firefox at work is working." Sensing a fundamentally different understanding of how things worked I asked a bunch of questions. (From my viewpoint, I had already established the internet was working, so his Firefox could have no bearing on my Firefox, but obviously he saw things differently.)
Turns out, he views Firefox as an internet service, not as an application that displays web pages through an internet connection. The fact that twhirl had internet connectivity did not mean that my other services would work. And all my other services were Firefox services because they all ran in the browser. He saw those services as Firefox services, not web services.
He did not seem to think of Firefox as an application. It was a web service.
So I'm not saying his view is common. But I'm also guessing that if I polled 100 random people on the street, many would not see the world my way and a few might see it his way. As we figure out how the desktop, the browser and the internet work together to deliver a seamless user experience, we need to keep in mind that most of our users will not see those as three separate things. They may see them as one thing or ten things, but they are unlikely to understand how they all interconnect at the technical level.
(And I do think the desktop, the browser and the internet have a lot of work to do to deliver a good user experience. Keeping my mail in the cloud is awesome, using Gmail in a browser window is not so awesome. It should act more like a desktop app, allowing me to open up multiple windows without extra toolbars, stash things on the desktop, etc. But that's a topic for another post.)
So that is why I'm fundraising for a usability study.
Photo by Votemann.