Tactile web?

The absence of many of the senses (touch, smell, taste and largely, hear) when interacting with t’interweb is a challenge that at some point needs addressing if we are to replicate the real world into the virtual world.

Lots of studies have shown that these senses greatly influence our decisions and if virtual environments seek to achieve comparable success to the real world it won’t be overlooked for long.


On the face of it, sounds easy to deal with – simply play a backing track on a page and you have sound except that’s not the whole story. We use sound in a far more complicated manner and how we perceive or react to sound also varies depending on what we are doing.

We’re going to start testing using sound as an aid to navigation, initially it will be as simple as small “click and ding” cues to assure site visitors that actions they are trying to do, have, in fact been achieved. Sound is, potentially, the easiest sense to deal with as most browsing devices have a speaker, very few have “smell-o-vision” and I’m not aware of any device that produces taste (urgh!).


Is an interesting one. The growth of touch-enabled devices such as the iPad and other touch screen tablets shows some promise. Joshua Ackerman of MIT suggests that our use of tactile concepts in metaphors that relate to behaviour might influence our judgement which provides an interesting basis to start thinking about how we might use tactile feedback to “convince” a web site visitor. There is not yet a way for a site to directly feedback touch but there most certainly is a way to read touch via devices that have accelerometers installed. In fact simple examples of this exist already on, for example, the iPhone that can carry out actions when shaken, turned or moved.

Early work has started on meta-materials that can impart different touch sensations such as rough, smooth, rippled and whilst this work has an early home working with vision-impaired people the simple idea that a site can “talk” to you through the feeling of the site as your finger or palm wanders over the page is appealing, if not a little ‘Star Trek’.

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