Interface Culture from the Big 4

by August 4, 2004

In Interface Culture, Steven Johnson discusses how the fusion of technology and culture is revealed “through the anonymous middlemen of interface design.” This concept gains some traction in the context of the four biggest internet companies: eBay, Amazon, Google, and Yahoo.

eBay's trading platform (essentially defined by a community’s use of an interface design), has recently been discussed as a model for more democratic business structures.

“We're in the early stages of a change toward more human freedom in business. It may in the long run be as important as the change to democracy was for government. Information technology is reducing the cost of communication. It's now possible for far more people to have enough information to make decisions for themselves, instead of just following orders from somebody who supposedly knows more than they do.” –Will Every Company Be Like eBay?

As technology becomes more integrated into our daily lives, human values (that ultimately define culture) become a more integrated part of technology. This is visible in recent efforts to enable trust and ensure security online. In an effort to increase credibility in one of its key value propositions, online reviews, Amazon has started the Real Names system which “encourages users to append to their product reviews the name that appears on the credit card they have registered with Amazon.”

Long touted as an example of simple interface design, Google recently shared a number of insights that illuminated some of the cultural considerations present in their design:

“In early tests Google site visitors waited to begin typing their queries, sometimes for as long as half a minute -they said they were waiting for the page to load as they were used to more cluttered, ad smeared portals. Though many Google site testers don't know what the "I'm feeling lucky" button does, they tell Google they like the flavor of the button's text, they think it's comforting, exciting, and adds to Google's personality. Google designed their site for the "expert searcher" and trusts that one can become an expert searcher in a month or so, and that the process is intuitive.”

Last but not least, Yahoo launched a beta of their Local search service. As an interface for finding local culture, this service may be the simplest example of interface culture in this list but it has an elegant interface that I felt obligated to share.