The web sees evolution on the fly

20 April 2008


A US developer has come up with a way for webpages to evolve how they look to make them more user-friendly.

A great websiteMatthew Hockenberry, from Boston-based Creative Synthesis, has developed a system that watches how different aspects of a web-page perform, and then uses what is successful at grabbing a user's attention to guide the look and feel of the rest of the page.

In a pilot test, 24 volunteers were given the software and asked to create "blogs" for themselves.  The software then "mutated" certain aspects of the pages, such as the fonts or text sizes, every time someone looked at them, whilst simultaneously tracking how popular the different elements were.  Over time the programme "killed off" the least popular variants, whilst components of more user-friendly features were steadily incorporated into other parts of the page so it slowly evolved to suit the preferences of the users.

According to Hockenberry the early-generation pages, before the layout turns into something more user-friendly, are not pretty.

"We see a lot of terrible designs for the first 100 or so generations," he points out.  The system is likely to find favour in a number of corners of the web.  Pages could be better tailored to disabled users, for example, who often have different and highly specific needs, and the process could save developers large amounts of money. 

For websites like Facebook or Amazon, trying to anticipate the needs and preferences of users, and then developing and road-testing something suitable, can be a costly business.  But if the computer does the development for you, based on what users want, the rest, as they say, is history.


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