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E-Business in the Enterprise – December 23, 2003

The Point and Click Preservation Society

By Sean Mc Grath

It was very cold and it was snowing hard that afternoon as I walked towards the Web technology conference in downtown Gotham. It was Christmas time and the relentless drone of Christmas carols seemed to waft up from every commercial orifice of this great city. Mixed in amongst the familiar tunes was the sound of bells ringing. Endless waves of ding-a-ling bells emanating from Santa Clause figures, standing at every second storefront, shuffling to keep warm in the biting cold.

One ringing bell in particular, was particularly close to my earmuffed ears, its piercing twangs were followed, predictably, by a chorus of "Ho, Ho, Hos". I looked up to see yet another Santa Clause clone collecting donations. I would not have given the fellow one more nanosecond of conscious thought if it had not been for a very surprising thing. This particular Santa Clause was not collecting donations for a traditional charity. A banner draped beneath his little donations table was emblazoned with the words:

Keep the Web easy to use.

Please donate to the Point and Click Preservation Society.

Thank you.

My curiosity was instantly piqued. "Hey there buddy", I said, making my way through the crowd to the place where he had set out his stall. "How come you are not collecting for Christmas charities like all the other wannabe Santas on the block?"

He smiled back at me with a smidgen of impatience in his voice. "I am not like those other guys. They pretend to be Santa. I *am* Santa."

"Of course you are", I replied, a bit surprised to say the least. Did this guy take me for a child? "What is with this Point and Click thing you are collecting for?"

"The Web", he said, sadness laced through his voice, "The World Wide Web used to be such a great place. I learned how to use it in half an hour some years ago. I taught Mrs. Clause how to use it in 20 minutes. All you needed to know was how to point and click. It was simplicity itself. But they are ruining it, ruining it for ordinary folk like me."

Something about his demeanor and tone told me that this guy was for real. He really was serious about this Point and Click thing. I contemplated letting him know that I was well versed in the technology of the Web, working as I do in the industry. However, I thought better of it, deciding instead to probe for more information to see just where this Santa character was coming from.

"Who are these people who, you say, are ruining the Web?", I asked.

"They go by many names. I call them 'The Thickeners'."

His stacatto pronunciation left it in no doubt that he was not a fan of these people, whoever they were.

"Some of them mean well of course, they are just misguided. I don't mind them so much. Some others though, well, some of them know full well what they are doing. They seek to commercialize and own the way the very fabric of the Web works. Adding features, making it more and powerful but less and less easy to use for people like Mrs.Clause and me. I fear the end of the browser is nigh and it is all *their* fault." He paused, looked over my shoulder and rang his bell.

"Has the name 'The Thickeners' got anything to do with 'thick client'?", I asked.

"Yes, yes!", he responded, seemingly delighted to find someone who knew the terminology. "They want to add more and more features to web client applications. More and more power, but with that power comes more and more complexity in the user interfaces of the applications themselves. No more simple point and click! Don't you see?" "But don't you want more power?", I asked.

"Yes, of course we all want more and more powerful applications. Saying anything else would make me a a Luddite and I'm certainly not one of those. I've no problem with power in applications. My problem is the idea that the only way to get this extra power is to move away from the simple point and click interface of the original Web."

"But there is only so much you can do with point and click.", I ventured, knowing from Santa's enthusiasm for his subject, that this would be met with a robust riposte, and indeed it was.

"You can do a lot more than The Thickeners think - or are willing to admit.", he replied. "They have the cost/benefit equation all wrong. What they fail to understand is that normal people outnumber hardcore geeks and always will. Normal people want simplicity in computer technology. Given a choice between simplicity and a welter of power user features, they will take simplicity every time. To a geek, clicking three times instead of pressing F8 or something seems like a terrible ergonomic waste but they have it all wrong I tell you. I would prefer to click three times, with three round trips back to the server, so would Mrs. Clause and so would all of my non-geek friends. Our priorities are different you see, we just want the technology to get out of the way. We don't want to have to learn new stuff with each new application. We have better things to be doing than becoming power users of a zillion web applications. We just want to point and click. Who cares if it is less ergonomically efficient, we are not specialists! We are just users with day jobs to attend to. The technology should get out of the way."

I decided the time was right to let Santa know that I worked in the industry. Actually, I didn't have to, he would guess as much from the question I was conjuring in my head.

"If I understand you correctly you would not be a fan of Web Services then?"

"I'm all in favor of process to process communications on the Web but not at the expense of the sheer ease of use of thin client, browser based applications. If the Web Services revolution results in the death of the browser as an end-user application interaction mechanism, then we will have made a giant step backwards in my opinion." I nodded and perhaps even grinned a little.

"You seem to know this field well", he said, ringing his bell again. "I design web applications from time to time", I answered. "Actually, I'm off to a web technology conference right now."

"Lots of talk about Web Services I expect?".

"Yes, definitely".

"Any talks about preserving the simplicity of the user experience in the post-web-browser world some are predicting?".

"Not that I know of."

"I'm not surprised."

"Why don't you come on down and ring your bells outside the conference? You might get some of the Thickeners you speak of to take heed of what you are saying."

"It wouldn't do any good."

"Why not."

"Bells do not work on deaf ears. I'll stay here and collect money to foster browser based application development tools and promote the REST architecture."

I made a donation, bade him farewell and headed for the web conference.

I was already late for a keynote on Web Services but for some reason, I did not feel inclined to rush.