Continuous interfaces

If you go onto the Wikipedia to look something up, you can mouse over someone’s name, and their picture, if there is one, will show up. But when you do that you are not making any decisions.

If you really want to know more about that person, you need to click on their name, and then you will be taken to their page. Which means that you will be leaving the page you were on.

This is different from what happens when we interact with documents in real life. In the physical world, we can spread out papers on our desk. We can also take a book down from the shelf, leaf through it, and lie it down on the desk, keeping it open to a particular page.

At no point are we “leaving” the documents that we were looking at. They are still right there on the desk, remaining open to us, as available as ever.

This ability to see multiple documents is somewhat approximated by computer interfaces with multiple open windows. But on a computer screen we usually don’t have the flexibility to move continuously nearer or farther away from a document, the way we can with paper documents when we move our physical body about a real room.

I wonder whether the ability to go beyond the discrete “click” action will become more available as mixed reality improves. Ideally we should have the best of both worlds — the ability to instantly make connections and look things up afforded by computer interfaces, as well as the ability to continuously and simultaneously navigate between many open documents afforded by the real world.

2 thoughts on “Continuous interfaces”

  1. Just noting that one take on this idea is at, just try clicking some links.

  2. Alas, this mode of interface – hovering to get a clue about a link or a control tool-tip, is lost on touchscreen displays.

    Sometimes “long press” is used to make up for it, but it’s not the same. Apple tried to use “push harder” (the “taptic” display) but it was a flop.

    If any of your grad students is looking for an unsolved problem…

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