Being better, by being worse

A team led by Simon Robinson from Swansea University in the UK is working on a way to make GPS technology worse.

Well, not exactly worse, but less precise. Basically, they are aiming to add exploration back into the possibility for how you get from A to B.

Let’s say your in a strange city, and you want to get to a famous landmark. A current GPS tool will take you there directly by the shortest or fastest route – but that might bypass that beautiful (but slower) route along the river, and a dozen little cafes that you’d otherwise never forget.

Their approach is intriguing. They are working on a tool that doesn’t give you turn-by-turn directions, but instead shows you the direction to head for. You might for example wave your mobile around, and it will buzz in the direction you need to head – but the path you take is up to you.

It’s an interesting idea, and one that has some potential for exploration in a web environment. Large applications are in many ways like a large city – they are stuffed with interesting content, but finding your way too it isn’t always that simple. Search engines and shortcuts are the equivalent of a GPS, taking you directly to your goal but often by-passing interesting content along the way. Is there scope for a happy medium, pointing you in the direction of your goal but letting you explore your way towards it?

I believe there is, and I believe it could work in a very similar fashion. Set your goal, and have the site provide you with a rough direction. The closer you get, the more that ‘direction’ narrows, until you reach your goal.

For example, imagine hitting a site selling books. You search for a particular book, and the site offers you a choice – jump straight to it, or explore your way there. If you choose explore, the site offers you highlights on certain navigation options, narrowing these down as you get closer. So you get to find your book, but also get to explore a little along the information pathways that lead to it.

It’s a great idea, and one I’d love to play with given the chance.