As a web developer, I’ve seen hundreds of trends come and go
Among the most interesting and user-friendly trends are those that improve how users discern and interact with a site’s content.
Three of the trends I’m most excited about alter the way we visualize data, understand algorithms, and interact with alternate realities, allowing for greater transparency and accessibility:
1. Data is Beautiful
Data visualization can be an extremely effective tool for conveying information in an engaging way. As we speak, modern web technologies are reshaping the rules of data visualization to be effective and eye-catching. They are replacing more traditional tools and approaches such as crammed bar charts, chaotic tables and bar line graphs.
Newer animated charts can demonstrate discrepancies and ratios and how they evolve, while interactive informatics allow viewers to navigate through data easily. Maps and photo albums can also be made to show bird’s eye views or altered to be responsive with movement or other digital effects. Further, data visualization can also intersect with art to create awe-inspiring experiences.
GitHub’s homepage, which features a beautiful 3D globe that showcases the open-source contributions of its members and their geographical locations made throughout the day, offers a prime example of how animated visualizations can tell a company’s story. While projects like “If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel” combine art and science, and allow individuals to conceptualize facts. For instance, if someone told you that the distance from the earth to the sun is ~91.8 million miles, you’d likely shrug it off. When seeing it to scale through an art project, that fact hits very differently.
In recent years, there has also been a rising trend in websites and services reporting their data back to their users. Companies have discovered that consumers are generally okay with sharing their personal usage data as long as that data is returned to them in a beneficial way.
Everyone likes to know how their preferences compare to everyone else’s—think Netflix’s Global Top 10. Or to gain insight into their own tastes, like Spotify’s personalized reports.
Rather than keep data behind locked doors, companies should showcase it through customized reports and interactive graphics. When done well, those visuals may even influence people’s perceptions and decisions for the better—much like how Apple’s screen time reports help people become more aware of their habits.
With that said, I believe we’ll continue to see companies creatively showcase how their users interact with their products and sites over the next several years.
2. Recommendation Algorithms & Transparency
Personalized recommendation systems control the majority of content we consume and play a significant role in shaping online culture. From suggesting what video to watch next, or which route to take when driving to the dating profiles we see, algorithms influence nearly every decision we make.
In many cases, users are unaware of their function. Netflix, for example, serves different artwork depending on who is using the service, unbeknownst to the end-user. It’s no accident that the Recommendation Engine Market size is projected to reach $12.03 billion by 2025 from $1.14 billion in 2018.
In theory, the value proposition is beneficial to both sides. A well-functioning recommendation system provides relevant content to the consumer and increases engagement metrics for the provider. An exceptional recommendation system can make the users feel like the algorithm understands their tastes better than their closest friends or even themselves!
However, in practice, research shows that recommendations do more than just reflect consumer preferences—they actually shape them. As we transition from an active discovery model to a passive consumption one—optimized for engagement and quick emotional responses—our worldviews can be distorted in unexpected ways.
Recommendation systems compete for attention and learn from it, so if a user responds to negative emotions, they might find themselves locked into an endless feedback loop of doom & gloom content, which has the potential to erode their outlook of the world and the future.
Even worse, this happens gradually, without us even realizing it. We face what French political philosopher Michel Foucault described as and feared—the immanence of opaque power.
So, does that mean that in 2022 and beyond, we should drop such systems? Absolutely not; the benefits of such systems done right are immense. What we should strive to see in 2022 and beyond is simple: transparency and customization.
YouTube has already started providing users with details behind their add suggestions in the form of a tiny popup that asks:
“Why am I seeing this?”
When clicked, the popup provides insight into why that particular ad was shown to the user, such as geographical location, age and approximate interests. Other companies, like Google and Instagram, have also added the ability to opt out of targeted ads.
In the future, pressure from consumers and the Federal government will cause content providers to disclose more details behind their suggestions. “Why am I seeing this?” popups will become de rigueur on the platforms you use most.
But why stop at ads? It would be beneficial to see similar initiatives and transparency for all aspects of algorithmic recommendations. Why is a particular video/product/post suggested? Is it because users with overlapping interests interacted with it? Algorithmically recommended posts must be differentiated from the posts that the user chose to subscribe to and follow.
Finally, users need the ability to customize and control their recommendations in an active manner. Users should be able to review and modify the tags, cohorts, categories and interests the algorithm has assigned to them, and even temporarily turn off recommendations. This level of transparency and control would give users the chance to reset their feeds and pages, removing the risk of doom content spirals or siloed information bubbles.
There are ongoing initiatives to quantify and understand the effects of such systems, and we can only expect to see more of this in 2022 and onwards. Accurate and ethical recommendation systems can have an enormous positive impact on both individual and societal levels.
3. VR, AR and 3D Immersive Experiences
Lastly, AR and VR are some of the most exciting new technologies today because they change the fundamentals of human-computer interaction, blurring the lines between real-world and digital interactions.
The use cases are immense and can fit into nearly any industry or need. For example, imagine learning to play a musical instrument by seeing visual cues to help you press the right keys, or sculpting art without the need for tools or materials. Individuals could perform walkaround inspections of buildings or even furniture without ever leaving their living rooms.
Accurate digitization of real-world objects (360, photogrammetry, light fields) will enable AR and VR to blur the lines between real-world and digital interactions, and these technologies will filter into many aspects of our lives.
Virtual worlds may also help us see the world through different perspectives, helping us empathize with ideas and situations that seem foreign to us. VRE (virtual reality exposure) therapy is being tested as a potential replacement for traditional exposure therapy for PTSD and anxiety.
It won’t happen in a single year, but enormous changes are upon us. As the underlying tech and hardware powering these experiences continue to evolve, the accessibility of this technology will skyrocket, allowing the segment to grow exponentially.
About the Author
Pantelis Kalogiros is SVP of Web at Fyusion. Fyusion solves complex visual problems with innovative 3D computer vision technologies and artificial intelligence. Fyusion are a Cox Automotive Company.
Featured image: ©Twenty20