Assume for a second that the Web as we know it has two major components, There is the Interactive Web, which deals with posting data (as I am currently), playing games, responding via comments, forum posts, Flickr and other galleries. There's more to the interactive web, of course, but that'll do for now. The second component is the Informative Web. This is where the majority of users spend their time. News sites, Yellow Pages listings, IMDB, and, for the most part, shopping sites and services such as Amazon.com or booking travel options such as deckchair.com.
The problem is the crossover between the two, as I see it. "Interactive" has become both a buzzword and a design orthodoxy rather than merely used where appropriate. Currently it's used in many places where it's simply not appropriate.
The issue is almost always that the user needs to continually use rather than merely read. If I'm operating a tool (like a car, for example), then I want to be in control of every last operation so I need to use. But if I am merely seeking information - such as cinema listings - I only want to read that information, I don't want to spend four minutes clicking things in order to finally get to it. Navigation of the Informative Web has become a skill, and this is one reason why its use is rather less than it could otherwise be. Put it this way, navigation requires state. It is necessary to store where you are, how you got there, where you were last, what were the last ten things you looked at. It's similar to those infuriating tone-activated telephone switchboard systems which absolutely everyone loathes with a passion. You don't want to press buttons. You just want to talk to somebody.
By the same token, on the Informational Web, you don't want to navigate. You just want to read.
Where there is state, there is the issue of imperfect, confusing and to many potential readers, scary navigation. A magazine has no state except for which page you happen to have open. People prefer paper media for this reason among others.
So, why is there so much navigation? Why is there so much data entry?
Because the software of the Informative Web needs to know what you want to know in order to tell you. And poor graphic design, of course.
On the second note, if, when one were to browse Amazon, one could enter a subject, say, Wizards and get not only a list of Harry Potter and other fantasy characters but scholarly studies of Merlin and books on Wicca and Kabbalah and of course, walkthrough tools for accomplishing things in software... and each book had a short paragraph with an actual description as well as the "star" rating given by readers... would that not speed up the selection process? I think it would.
Other things are harder. If I open yell.com, I'm probably looking for a service or product. I probably want one that's local to me, but I may not. I may decide to hire a car, enter data, confirm the data, be presented with a list of names and telephone numbers. If I choose, for the sake of example, Enterprise as my car rental supplier, I need to supply a whole lot of data. I need to tell them where I want a car from (a dropdown list) how long I'll want it for (select from a calendar containing no other data), the type of car I need, all about me.
Finally, I'll get a list of prices and then I get to do the whole rigmarole of booking and paying online.
What if there was a better way?
The issue here is that any provider of data or seller needs to be a part of the Informative Web until the very last second. The less data entry, navigation and general interaction any seller requires, the more likely they are to gain customers because people don't like faffing about with all that stuff. This is why Amazon, for example, stores your credit card details. Doing so means you have less data entry to perform - less work, basically - and thus a more attractive service.
What is needed is a way to provide all that information without the reader needing to do anything.
Let's envisage a service for a moment.
Let's assume that this service has a calendar which integrates with your scheduling app of choice and knows exactly what you have booked for any given time or place. Personal and professional, all on one calendar. Let's assume that it has mapping services, too. For you, it has two maps. One is detailed and shows you every street within say, two miles of your home. The other shows every street within two miles of your place of work. Zoom out and you'll get a bigger scaled map. As per usual. Let's go a step further and assume that it also has services which manage your financial data. Add a credit card and it will get your statements from your provider to view as you choose. The actual payment details are stored, too. Bank statements, bill-paying.... no problem. All right there.
All your contacts, your work address and contact details, home address and contact details... there they are.
And finally, let's assume that this service can be enabled to work with websites that you trust. It may even list them for you, like a kind of personal portal.
What happens now if I go to my preferred car rental firm's site?
It knows where I am. I am offered my own map (home and work!) with highlighted depots from which I can hire a car. I can zoom out if I need somewhere further afield.
It offers me a calendar - my calendar! - so that I can select the most appropriate time and date for me to pick up and drop off my car without referring to other information sources.
I select from the available cars.
It knows what driving license I hold, no problem.
I am presented with one option to close the deal - yes or no?
If yes, my credit card is billed and the appointment is confirmed.
There are issues with this of working that are fairly obvious. Security is the most important one and actually getting service and product providers to work with the provider of the, oh let's call it "online presence".
But if that software that managed all this was a desktop web-enabled client, you could manage everything, even your cellphone and email, through that single app. You could work offline when no bandwidth was available, updating as and when possible. And most of all, you could cut out all the the crap, stop wasting everyone's time and stop farting about with interactivity when you really don't need or want it.