Web’s Future and the Automobile Industry

Posted August 1st, 2006 by Mike Cherim

For my wife’s birthday I bought her a (pre-owned, 2004) Dodge Ram 1500 pick-up truck. Her last vehicle was a Nissan Pathfinder and it was over ten years old. She lets me drive her new truck now and then and I made an observation when driving it the other night: The automobile industry has come a long, long way since Henry Ford said of his Model T: “You can have in any color you like so long as it’s black.” I made this observation because I got into her truck, adjusted the seat, popped open the cup-holder tray to set down my drink, tilted the wheel, set the air conditioning, figured out the onboard navigational computer, found my favorite radio station, opened the windows, turned on the lights, and few other not-very-exciting tasks. And not once during any of this did I need to consult the instruction manual.

So what, you may be thinking. And I suppose ordinarily I would have the same attitude. But when you think about all that I accomplished without giving it a second thought — what we easily take for granted — happened the way it did because car makers have refined, re-refined, re-re-refined, and perfected their products over the years. Every control’s use was absolutely intuitive. That, when thinking about it, is quite an accomplishment. Years of trial and error, research, studies, user-group queries, and more made it so. I was damn impressed. It was food for thought. Will the web be this way some day?

When the automobile was invented it was first referred to as a horseless carriage. A lot of people thought they were noisy polluters that scared real horses (still true today I guess). They broke down a lot and were a real bear to get started — people broke limbs starting them. And keeping them running was no easy feat. They got stuck a lot (proper roads hadn’t been made yet and horses didn’t mind mud one bit). Going for a drive to the next town was a real adventure. A lot of people hated automobiles; some feared them. Some folks considered them a passing fad. Those contraptions will never catch on, they muttered.

But they did catch on, and they became easier to use as design mistakes and gross oversights morphed into clever innovations. More and more people bought into the horseless carriage concept; even the nay-sayers eventually saved up their hard-earned dollars to buy one of their own. An infrastructure developed: roads were built, support for them in the form of service stations sprang up in even far-flung places. They even started coming in colors beside black. Progress was made. And progress never stopped.

Today, American families now have two or more of those contraptions. They have become fast, powerful, and very easy to use. Yet they are highly complex and sophisticated machines. We adapted, but more so, automobiles changed. They got better. To the point of where they are today. In thinking about it I am amazed and quite impressed with the car-makers and what they have accomplished. Needless to say, I started equating all this to the web.

To many people (still) the web is a contraption: A paperless magazine. A lot of people fear it and speak badly of it. They won’t yet let themselves adapt. Thus, some of the onus falls on the shoulders of the web developer. We strive to make websites easier and more intuitive to use. To make sites more accessible. Currently we sometimes have to provide online instructions to explain what is what and how it works. We sometimes have to provide instructions informing users they need to read more instructions to get it right. But it’s getting better. Compliance with standardization bring us onto the same page. We will see what works and what doesn’t and employ that which does. Doo-dads and gizmos come onto the scene, many of which quickly retire into obscurity, while others will remain and get better and better each year.

I predict that in fifty years, assuming comment and email spammers to kill the thing, the web will be like today’s automobiles. It’ll be something the Luddites of the world will pick up and use without giving it a second thought. Instructions won’t be needed. Grandma will be a geek. And some guy will write in his __fill__in__the__blank__ that the web has impressed him in how far it has come and how simple it is to use and enjoy. Good job geeks! Way to go you web developers you! We aren’t the Henry Fords, but we aren’t that far behind that period either.

Know this: You can have my websites in any color you want, so as long as it’s one of these 256…

2 Responses to: “Web’s Future and the Automobile Industry”

  1. JackP responds:
    Posted: August 1st, 2006 at 6:59 pm

    Mike, you’re a man!
    What need have you of such things as instruction manuals, or asking for directions? We are man, we will solve it ourselves, without recourse to anyone else thank you veyr much.

    Incidentally, I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I did hear tell that Henry Ford quote was a myth…

    PS The web in 50 years? Don’t be so daft. If I can’t download the information directly into my brain by then simply by thinking about it, then frankly we’re getting no-where. Plus I’d like
    Bracelets of Immortality to have been developed by then, also. And global warming/conflict in the Middle East/why can’t everyone just be nice to each other to have been resolved by then also. I don’t think I’m asking too much. Apart from maybe the Middle East thing.

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