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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pictures Are The New Words

7:23 AM Posted by Deepak Nayal , , No comments
Web and mobile applications are increasingly making more use of pictures. This trend - more photos, lesser words - is getting much more common in the new consumer apps. 

The old adage "a picture is worth a thousand words" has never been more apt and useful than the current times. It is a well known fact that most of the users only scan information on the web, and only read items that they intend to. With decreasing attention spans and increasing number of websites and apps sprouting everyday, the battle for user mindshare is getting fierce by day. And with only a few seconds to gain users' attention, a screen full of words (especially in the case of a new web app) has become a classic design anti-pattern. 

Pictures work as a great tool of engaging users quickly, and they work both ways - for viewing the content and also for contributing. In terms of viewing, these do not just improve the look and feel of an application, but also get the message across quickly. With only a few seconds to get a user's attention, pictures do the job well; they are a lot more easier to scan through. In terms of contribution, these can help reduce the effort required for adding content. It obviously depends on the context and purpose of the application, but it definitely is much easier to upload a couple of images than it is to write a paragraph or fill a form. I believe one of the key reasons behind the success of sites such as Tumblr and Pinterest is that they focus much more on pictures than their competitors do and make it easier for users to add/view images.

Pictures are like words - used to convey your message across. Look at it this way. A romantic novel will have pretty much the same words as a thriller novel. It is the context that those words are in that gives the novel its meaning. Similarly, while a lot of new sites might require users to upload and view images, these can be done for different purposes. Facebook does it so that you can share photos with the people you know; Pinterest does it so that you can pin your favorite items to your board for later purposes; Instagram allows you to apply amazing effects to your photos. So do not mind the fact that every third web application wants users to upload, view or link images, it is what they do with those images that matters.

There are multiple reasons for the recent explosion of picture-centric websites.

  • To begin with we can now afford to have our websites with images, thanks to the increased bandwidth. Imagine opening Facebook Photos or Pinterest or a album Picassa on dial-up modem. 
  • Second, cameras are much more accessible now. A lot of people now have mobile phones with powerful cameras. And in case of smartphones you can seamlessly upload images from your mobile phones directly to a website. This integration of software and hardware has proved to be one of the most important factors in increasing user contribution. 
  • Third, the advancements in web 2.0 technologies (especially on the client side) allow internet based applications to provide seamless and powerful user experience. 
  • And fourth, web and mobile applications have become a lot more user friendly than they used to be, and pictures help in designing these applications in such way. 

I am certain that this growth of pictures on the internet will not just stay but actually increase, especially with advancements in network technologies. This will not just affect how we design and develop applications but also how we process data and information at the backend. I believe we will soon be due for a "Big Data ver 2.0" revolution, in which data processing technologies (such as Hadoop) not just process structured and unstructured text, but also pictures and media clips. The possibilities as always are immense.


[Image Source: worldwidewonderings.net and forbes.com]

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