Written by Alex Iskold and edited by Richard MacManus

My wife and I were in the bookstore the other day and we were discussing the
difference between shopping online versus shopping in the real world. We were not focused
on ability to easily compare prices or instantly get to different stores, which makes
online shopping superior. Instead, we focused on the basic qualitative experience – e.g.
holding a book and flipping through its pages. We both felt that there is something
special about this physical experience, that cannot be replaced with Ajax or PDF.

At least not for us people who first learned physics and then went digital. But
we also agreed that with the race to squeeze everything into a computer, it won’t be too
long before we get a generation of people who might not crave the physical experience of
buying a book as we do. In the meantime, today we see a lot of taking things and concepts
familiar to us in our physical world — and bringing them online. So in this fun Friday
post, we look at some of these attempts and try to decipher what works and what does
not.

Nine Online – interactive social media magazine

[Disclaimer: The latest edition of Nine Online magazine briefly mentions Adaptive
Blue and socialmeter, web properties of Alex Iskold.]

Our first stop is recently the launched Nine Online
magazine from Novologic. This small publication focuses on helping PR professionals
understand the new social media. The site is implemented in Flash and combines
traditional magazine elements with innovative digital solutions that make it stand out.
It actually looks like a magazine, due to its shape and the ability to flip through the
pages. Typically, I would dismiss this kind of thing as fluff, but the way its
implemented here makes it appealing and clickable.

Nine online offers an interesting blend of static and interactive content. The
articles look like what you’d find in a typical magazine, but in addition they are
spliced with interactive videos and online quizzes. The fact that the implementation uses
elements of the physical world was nice, but what was mostly impressive is the natural
and intuitive embedding of the interactive elements – only possible in the digital
world.

[Editor’s Note: in a similar vein, check out Avantoure. We profiled this
interactive magazine back in December]

e-paper – bringing digital to physics

Way before Nine Online added a real-world feel to its digital magazine, researchers
explored doing the opposite – bringing the digital feel to one of our most beloved
objects, paper. Electronic
Paper
or e-paper was developed way back in 1970 at Xerox-Parc.

According to Wikipedia, the predicted future applications include e-paper books –
capable of storing digital versions of many books, with only one book displayed on the
pages at any one time. When this happens, we will flip through a digital book and also
interact with it as we interact with web pages today, using gestures. That brings us to
another contender in the race to blend physics and digital – the iPhone.

iPhone – bringing physics to digital

By now there are very few
skeptics left who do not believe that Apple can reinvent the wheel. They have done it
with iPod and it seems like they are doing it again with iPhone. Most of us have not yet
had the chance to try their patent-pending multi-touch technology on iPhone, but if the
click-wheel on iPod any indication, Apple has invented a truly new way of interacting
with digital information.

Apple promises to redefine our digital experience, by making digital objects look,
feel and behave like their physical cousins. This is not just a promise of a slick UI and
a fun toy, it is a promise of a phone and digital companion that saves time
because it will be as intuitive as things are in the real world.

Conclusion

Attempting to merge and reconcile our experiences in the physical and digital worlds
is no trivial matter. Many technologies are aiming to create a blend that delivers a
consistent, simple, yet rich, user experience. Since objects in the real world obey the
laws of physics and objects in the digital world obey, well, at best the laws of good
design, the laws for hybrids are not yet settled. 

The key to success is to ensure that the mix of physical and digital does not confuse
the user. When playing with Nine Online, I was never surprised by what happened when I
clicked on things. Surely many of you experienced the same with iPod – it behaves as you
expect it. Inventing new ways of remixing, while keeping users happy, is what these new
technologies are all about. 

What are your favorite digital and physical remixes?