We're made for zooming

Posted by: Bgiussani

It its newest issue, Newsweek publishes a detailed story on Microsoft’s Seadragon technology and the man behind it, Blaise Aguera y Arcas (who premiered it at TED07 last March, watch his speech), and discusses what it calls the "zoom interface":

The Internet, it seems, doesn’t take advantage of how humans best process information. Evolution granted Homo Sapiens a high degree of visual acuity … Scrolling and linking are inferior modes of taking in information. "Humans are incredibly good at spatial navigation and incredibly bad at navigating through a list of generic icons or generic text." … These limitations are not lost on the technology giants and forward-thinking entrepreneurs working to commercialize a new way to take in information visually: the zoom interface. In its simplest form, it displays information all at once – all the photos in an album, say, or all the files on a PC, or all the entries in a database, or all the items retrieved in a search – and when you spot something of interest, you zoom down into it. In this way, zooming represents an upgrade from the second- and third-best methods for accessing information (scrolling and linking) to the best option: displaying information like a landscape, and giving people the chance to zoom down to the details … Only recently have engineers had the advances in display technology, broadband connections and video processors capable of coping with a zoom interface. As a result, prototype zoom interfaces are now up and running in labs around the world.

And are arriving on the market. Think of Google Earth’s zooming capabilities, of the iPhone, of Jeff Han’s PerceptivePixel multi-touch wall (watch his speech at TED06), of Zumobi‘s zooming interface for cell phones, and many others.

Read the full Newsweek story.

Comments (2)

  • Nick Gentry commented on Feb 7 2008

    This will help to push the internet as a truely three-dimensional medium. We have up have up until now been constrained by the limits of width and height.

    It’s exciting to see what designers and information architects will make of the new infinite depth that is on offer.

  • Laura Harris commented on Feb 3 2008

    A zoom interface is available as a plug-in for all the major browsers at It’s free and once running in your web browser, allows you to view collections of pictures from several popular image sharing sites within a full-screen zoomable virtual space.

    My own experience with the plug-in has been fascinating, and I think really illustrates the points made in the quoted article regarding how we can interact with this sort of presentation and navigation more efficiently than with scrolling and linking.