16 December 2003 :::
12 noon est
Logic bumps on the information superhighway
Last year, Amazon unveiled a “Look Inside This Book” feature to help potential purchasers decide if an item met their needs. (Unfortunately, book pages are rendered in the JPEG format, which makes the text blurry; GIF or PDF would better preserve text quality.)
This year, the etail behemoth unveiled an even stronger feature, “Search Inside This Book,” a “Eureka”-worthy innovation powered by two facts:
- the value of most books resides in their text
- the web excels at letting users search for and read text
Two plus two equals more sales. But only if Amazon lets its customers know about these features. It does so by applying graphic headers to its book cover thumbnails. (Those thumbnails would work better as GIFs than JPEGs, because it’s hard enough to read the tiny titles, author names, and callouts without blurring the text as wee JPEGs do. But that is by the way.)
Amazon could not do the volume of business it does if it required artists to create each thumbnail by hand and editors to review the work for sanity. But unexamined bulk formatting has its drawbacks, as the unfortunate juxtaposition of header and cover art at left shows. (Spotted at Another Pointless Dotcom, where the punchline comes faster and with less fuss. Amazon’s previous “Look Inside...” Lolita graphic was unintentionally funnier and nastier.)
Many zeldman.com readers will recall a similarly hapless juxtaposition between Google Ad Sense, American Tourister text ads, and a New York Post article about a murder victim whose body parts were discovered in suitcases.
Not long ago, every element of every web page had to be crafted by hand, like Shaker furniture. If those limitations still applied, the service- and information-driven web we know and love could not have come into existence.
We are empowered by extensible data formats, image processing server software like Adobe AlterCast, and the ability to build or buy publishing and syndication tools. Intelligent software like Ad Sense that dynamically maps advertisers to content may free many smaller publications from the need to seek and seduce sponsors. It’s all good.
But until software algorithms are as smart as people, there will be logic bumps on the information superhighway. :::