When I was a kid I lived in a 100-year-old log house lovingly restored by my parents and filled with antiques. My favourite piece of furniture was an ornate Victorian pump organ. You might know it better as a “church” or “reed” organ. (And yes, I am a bit worried about keyword search here…) Musical instruments are obviously interactive. But the reed organ is more interactive than most. It has stops that you pull out to create certain sounds, and while you’re pulling the stops and playing the keys you have to pedal with your feet to operate the bellows that force the air over the reeds. Our organ also had wooden “arms” that you levered out and pressed with your knees as you played. That was to produce some aural effect I never achieved because that last step pushed me over the edge of my multi-tasking abilities.
So I was thinking about the reed organ the other day when we were tasked with creating a template for a client’s website. The point of the template was to make it easier for users to write a letter online, and there was some talk of making a “fill-in-the-blanks” style template. And it might have worked for some of our visitors, but it struck me that writing a letter, no matter how convenient you make it, still has to be genuinely interactive. You have to be able to push the pedals and pull out the stops in order to make an emotional connection with the person you’re writing to. You can’t just fill in the blanks. The best online experiences are those that engage you. And oddly, the best way to successfully take an offline experience online is by reproducing some of the traits that define the offline experience, and adding enhancements. Online Scrabble (formerly known as Scrabulous) is a good example.