The Usability Post
Thoughts on design and user experience by Dmitry Fadeyev

Web Browsers Need a Social Layer

Here’s an idea. Today, we’ve got a bunch of various means of communication we can use to share our thoughts on the websites we visit. These communication channels range from something like the comments area on blogs (just like the one at the bottom of this page) to message boards which many companies use for support or discussions regarding product features and live sometimes live chatrooms.

To be honest, there aren’t that many more channels, and most of the time websites don’t feature any of them at all. How many times have you browsed through an online store which had no discussion forums or no product review pages? Without any sort of customer feedback it’s very difficult to judge the quality and validity of what you’re about to purchase. Sometimes even blogs don’t have comment sections, and so to discuss the article you have to go elsewhere (for example, a lot of discussions these days take place on social news website threads rather than on the source articles themselves, even if they have comment sections)

I propose a different idea. How about a social layer on top of every site, implemented by the browser? Imagine if your browser had this social button that when pressed opened this new layer on top of the page you’re browsing that let you leave messages or even chat live with other people currently browsing the same page? Here’s what the button could look like (number of current messages displayed by the side of it):

Then you press it and the whole page grows darker, similar to the dashboard effect on OS X, and you see a lit of messages and an input field:

I think this communication channel, unchained from individual websites and pages, would be really great. It would allow people to easily talk about the current news stories right on the news page as they’re reading them. It would allow people to discuss articles that have no comments sections. It would allow people to review products right on the product pages themselves or leave comments about the quality of an online store and whether they had any problems with it. Bad sites won’t be able to hide away by not providing any form of communication channel because it will be taken out of their hands.

One problem I see with this idea is malicious use. So for example, competitors might leave bad messages on websites of their rivals to try to damage their image. I think these things can be solved though and even today, people can (and do) the same things, so it won’t be anything new.

The biggest challenge to this is logistics though – this feature would provide the biggest value if all the browsers implement it, but the problem is, someone is going to have to act as the keeper and server of all the messages. Google is one of the few companies who could do it, and they could do it very well given what we’ve just seen from their latest product, Google Wave. So really, what we need are waves embedded on top of every page, and a way to access them through the browser interface.

Anyhow, just an idea I’ve had for a while, so posting it here to see what everyone else thinks. Is this a fruitless idea or am I onto something here?

“For even falsehood, uttered by the tongue of man, seemed like truth and light before this hopelessly-deaf and unresponsive silence.”

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Further Reading

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