Nope, not Marty and Doc; I’m talking about the returning popularity of the command line interface.
Over at 43 Folders, Merlin gives a demonstration of Stikkit. Merlin gives an example of Stikkit’s “magic words” — commands that Stikkit parses from each note. After my post on Humanized’s Enso, I’m starting to notice a trend here — it looks like the command line is making a comeback. A post at Lifehacker earlier this month noted that search boxes are also command line interfaces.
Just as with Enso, the question I’m asking is — do we really want to go back to a command line interface?
Sure, a trained user might be faster using a CLI, but I don’t think that’s relevant for an application like Stikkit, which is really supposed to be something you use in the background. Do it really matter if you take 30 seconds or 45 seconds to schedule an appointment? For most people, no. I think it’s much more important to have applications that don’t require much thought to use.
It reminds me of the old mouse vs. keyboard paradox, described by Bruce Tognazzini:
We’ve done a cool $50 million of R & D on the Apple Human Interface. We discovered, among other things, two pertinent facts:
- Test subjects consistently report that keyboarding is faster than mousing.
- The stopwatch consistently proves mousing is faster than keyboarding.
This contradiction between user-experience and reality apparently forms the basis for many user/developers’ belief that the keyboard is faster.
The theory to explain this is phenomenon is, in a nutshell, “time flies when you’re having fun.” Reaching for the mouse and pointing to an object on the screen is such a cognitively simple task that users actually get bored, and perceive time passing slower.
I wonder if the the same effect is happening with applications like Stikkit: people feel productive, because they get to type everything into one box, instead of clicking on buttons. But, in fact, it may take longer to stop and remember the command syntax than it would to actually click on the pretty icons.
UPDATE: Thanks to a commenter on the 43f thread, I saw this article from Donald Norman: UI Breakthrough — Command Line Interfaces. He’s basically saying that yes, command-line interfaces are coming back, in the form of search. The big difference though between using a search box as a CLI, and something like Enso, is that the search is much more forgiving. I can never remember whether to type “define:copacetic”, “define copacetic”, or “copacetic definition” into Google. The beauty is, they all work. Even if Google was unable to recognize the special command in that, chances are that a regular ol’ web search would still find what I am looking for.