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December 24, 2003

Every Website is a Snow Globe

We've had a variety of Web metaphors. We've had The Fountain vs. The Waterfall, comparing rapid-prototype, quick-and-dirty review and improve cycles, reiterative design processes (fountain) vs. traditional linear processes (the waterfall-- think IBM, Apollo). Personally, for web design, I'm a fountain / rapid - protyping type.

We've had The Cathedral vs. The Bazaar -- the Cathedral is a monolithic, best of technology, no rollout till it's perfect, multi-generational, long delay till rollout project management perspective, vs. the Middle Easter Bazaar, where we can give you something to get you going today, we'll have something better for you tomorrow, and over a short period of time we'll go through several versions each meeting more needs and getting closer to the target.

They each have their place-- when you're building Notre Dame you don't reasonably plan on leaving some features for v2.0, and when you're Open Source you go for incremental continual releases.

But now I would offer: Every Website is A Snow Globe.

Every website is a snow globe. It's an artificial construct, a set piece, a small world that encourages people to look into it. People have a concept of what to do with a snow globe, and you have to accomodate their expectations.

Within the snow globe there's a small artificial world, and a good snow globe has details presented in such a way that the user is drawn into it. A great snow globe, just like a great story, invites and then relies upon the user's willing suspension of disbelief.

You can't control the angle from which the user sees the snow globe for the first time, but you can provide clues to help them orient themselves. The best snow globes are visually delighting and offer an unexpected treat.

Some snow globes offer music, and although at times the added feature is effective, in general music breaks down the moment of magic, pulls attention away from the display, and reduces the presentation to a mechanical marvel. Music boxes are gratuitious add-ons to a snow globe.

A snow globe is a snow globe, and is evaluated according to snow globe standards; it's not a tiny television.

And a snow globe is just a snow globe; it's a technical product with a limited defined impact. It's not a substitute for a real-world presence.

So that's my "every website is a snow globe" web design metaphor. I should mention that Pittsburgher Joseph Garaja patented the process of constructing the snow globe completely underwater, thus avoiding the tiny air bubble which was a standard feature in all previous snow globes.

There's probably an extension of this line of thought that involves Faberge eggs, but I'll come back to that at Easter.


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