Let’s all go to the ZUI

For about two weeks, I’ve been mulling over a best of blogpost for SxSW;  I attended the ending awards show and thought why don’t I try to do this better? But some of the best ofs have morphed into tweets and internet babble so I thought I’d issue another shoutout to Sx (but the 2011 version): in praise of the ZUI (zooo-ee). Remember http://2011.beercamp.com/? It was a Sx experiment a bit back, which allowed for some JS and CSS transform magic to make for a limitless dive into cool content, and its zoom functionality has been on my radar of late.

In sweeping generalities, the ZUI (Zoom User Interface) is a vector graphic environment that allows users to approach and access content in a fluid sequence of zoom and pan through a seemingly infinite internet space. I’ve captioned David DeSandro’s GitHub mockups to illustrate the type of code layering patterns it uses executed through CSS scaled transforms among other masterful flourishes. Golly it’s cool, and before I get all-gooey-(or all-GUI? too much?)-gush about how brilliant it is when the content auto-adjusts to fit the resized container objects (semantic zooming *swoon*), let me stumble through some examples…
  • ChronoZoom: I tweeted this a while ago…visually stunning
  • 3D Topiscape: Personal knowledge management, filemapping in vis.
  • Scale of the Universe: Also tweeted, shameless replug.
  • Piccolo: Historic Java/C# toolkit that now operates/updates with small-scale upkeep. Long-live piccolo.
  • Impress.js: Prezi optimized for CSS3 transforms and more modern browsers.
  • Prezi: I’ve always found the Prezi to be a particularly engaging. The swoop and zoom function has real potential to mask even unimpressive content. It’s rather immersive, like an IMAX movie v.s. a Netflix download. In fact, I just staged a GoogleFight between Prezi and ppt. and hot damn if it didn’t own Office like WHOA.

Tertiary, but maybe worthwhile is an <aside> on the application of the ZUI to mobile devices and media. The agreeable tactility of a touch interface gives the ZUI more gestural bang for its buck: pinch to shrink, spread to expand, jump on the scroll event in JS and go wild….seemless, genius, when your code doesn’t break. #notthatihavethisproblem

Fusing ZUIs with the architecture of a mobile app demands a kind of immediacy in feedback that we are increasingly demanding as users. With dialup and the rainbow spinner roll, we were forced to support delays. Now if some JS or fancy Flash takes more than 2 seconds to load, I’ll close the tab and work on one of the 4 (read: 10) other browser windows i’m paging through.   With mobile, it seems we have 0 willingness to wait. When we navigate with our fingertips, feedback must be continuous for morale to improve. HTML5 echoes back with some pretty impressive support for meh computers with fancy graphics/vid cards (AKA mobile devices!), and the kind of global visualization and manipulation capabilities of WebGL lend themselves to the propagation of the ZUI. Ultimately, adding transforms and scaling = math that I am not prepared to execute but am happy to consume. The layering is learnable though, githubable, so I’m going to pencil it in for my pockets of “fun” time in the future. For now, I’ll start brainstorming means of sustainability and preservation as art installs migrate from the gallery to the ZUI. AND what if our pinterest boards could be revisualized as networked swatch samples in a ZUI? Or our Flickr accts could be nested into piles of photographs browseable in zoom.
Oh the places we’ll go!
And thus the ZUI becomes the big-kid zoo of overstimulation in an interface where there are no “documents” “or windows” because the objects are live and mobile and moving, and we’ve this intimate scope with our antelope. Our virtual zu-scapes are immersive. and so the kind of gated interface that we’ve maintained with windows no longer keeps us from a diving (or div-ing – see caption code #shameless); in sum, we’re not prisoners of our position (outside the zoo or in). And though we’re probably not at the Command-line ->Graphical UI precipice with the GUI->ZUI gravitation, we’re pretty close to considering the technology of the ZUI as integral to our demands of daily mobility and device dependence.
Some space ZUI’s, befitting our final (?) frontier….
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