User Interfaces for Wide Area Information Servers

Brewster Kahle, Project Leader, Wide Area Information Servers, Thinking Machines Corporation

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University October 2, 1991


Far from the electronic book that you can cuddle up with in bed, the current interfaces for electronic publishing are none-the-less exploiting current hardware and interface techniques to support browsing, selection, and retrieving of remote information easier for non-technical users. Since the Wide Area Information System is built on a standard protocol, user interfaces designers are free to create interfaces to a variety of information sources independently of those that wish to make the information available. The new issues facing the designer are browsing, budgetting money, privacy, dynamically changing information, and passive alerting. By presenting different designs for interfaces to WAIS in this talk, we hope to draw out the difference in designs and help future designers to see the problems that still need work. This talk will describe 5 interfaces that have been designed and implemented so far: WAIStation for the Macintosh, Rosebud for the Macintosh, Xwais for Xwindows, Gwais for gnu-emacs, and Swais for dumb terminals. Through this description, we hope to expose some of the issues that should be considered when designing such interfaces.


With Thinking Machines since the company was founded in 1983, Brewster Kahle architected the CPU of the Connection Machine Model 2 and lead the design of all of the custom chips. For the last 2 years he has been working on making the supercomputers a smart information server in a joint project with Apple, Dow Jones and Peat Marwick.


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