Impulse information

The other day, I went to see Mimi Ito speak about the work she did on Camera Phones. I’ve heard her talk before, but I thought I’d go again to hear her work once more. At the end of the talk she mentioned a great metaphor, casually. She said that the phone wasn’t replacing the desktop, but instead that it was replacing gum and cigarettes. Yesterday, while I was working, I mentioned to my friend, Ted from 4info, of how to think about designing a mobile app. My analogy: think about designing for a 5 year old.

No attention, clear and direct, simple!

On the way home, we were chatting about the web on phones. We were talking about what a better metaphor for browsing the web on the phone would be. I was reminded of Mimi’s thoughts.

Impulse information.

Impulse information is something that you need within a few seconds of thinking of it. If it takes too much time, then your addiction and impulse wears off. You want to find that one thing. You want to find it fast. You want to find it now. You know what it is you are craving. The challenge is just to get it quickly.

You don’t want to browse through a lot of pages. You don’t want to sift through irrelevant content. You don’t want to be bogged down by massive hierarchical structures. You want something flat, quick, and satisfying. Something like a piece of chocolate after a big meal, a piece of candy at 4:00, a sip of coffee after a long meeting, or even a cigarette after sex. You need it. You want it. The moment matters.

The implications rethinking some of the way the web is structured could have implications structurally, functionally, and with content. Do we still necessarily need links, or is search better? Flatter databases with content that is readily available at a top level just waiting to be picked by an accurate query. Less network interactions. What would it mean to pear down content to only the really relevant information. Could we actually start to include short hand or texting phrases into content pages. Btw, w/o, 2, U, 4, etc. Cryptic perhaps, but if you get what you want and you get it now, perhaps more satisfying.

Taking this thought one step further… I venture to wonder… instead of the information age… are we beginning to enter the information addiction age? If so, sign me up for the closest IA.


5 thoughts on “Impulse information

  1. Blake Engel

    I like the metaphor. Sometimes the impulse is for information retrieval, and sometimes it’s for information storage. Think of the times when someone tells you the name of a book, band, or place you should check out.

    In impulse information retrieval, yes you are satisfying some kind of temporal need, but if you’re looking up some piece of information, it’s typically to fuel some conversation you’re having with a friend, to help you decide where to get ice cream, or to find out where you’re friends are hanging out and go there (for the Dodgeball-obsessed out there). Again, information retrieval to alter immediate behavior.

    However, in impulse information storage, the intent is not to alter behavior in the physical world based on some piece of knowledge gained from an information system. Rather it is to “unload” something onto an information system; to get it off your mind for later retrieval. That is, to alter your behavior at a later, more stable moment.

    Unfortunately, both are hindered by sub-par input devices. Oh well.

  2. anitamobile

    Thanks! Im glad you like it!

    I like your thoughts on the input ideas too!!! Makes me think… Stickies for the mobile phone. But we already have that. I wonder why people don’t leave voice memos to themselves more often?

    Or perhaps… why I don’t.

    Thanks for the toughts… they are interesting to think about!!

  3. Anonymous

    The work of Bradley Rhodes on Just-In-Time Information Retrieval Agents comes to mind.


    A good name can help. Chaos Theory was better (and more general) than Catastrophe Theory. Tipping Point is more popular (and easier to say) than Chaotic Phase Change.

  4. daviso

    I like your questions. re: information addiction. I was once addicted to blizzard entertainment cd roms and I recognized that the sleepless nights were causing me to be more out of touch than usual. I eventually quit them altogether –cold-turkey, spread my focus on 10 million other projects and ideas. I guess the need to impulse search will always be there, and then store/share via all these awesome mediums. What comes comes to mind for me is simple concept of nesting with your partner, buying groceries for later retrieval, buying cd for playback or itunes,etc. it’s one of those things that keeps us a little separate from dolphines, some people like to share, others like to gawk.

  5. anitamobile

    Yeah, I know that Blizzard Entertainment addiction all too well. The funniest thing is how fast and easy it infects everyone around you and then how much you actually really miss it when it’s gone. Guess that’s why this stuff is making so much money! Yeah, I agree… grocery retrieval, music playback, and sharing sounds like heaven to me! Thanks for reminding me of some really nice times. Thanks for sharing.


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