Better Design Through Code

Every day our web applications ignore useful visitor data. We respond to single request based on a domain and a path without listening to the capabilities, location, preferences, and favorite interactions of our visitors and their requesting agent. A few weeks ago I challenged a room full of designers at PARC to rethink what’s possible on the Web and rely on adaptive programming techniques to serve the right content to the right audience at the right time. I titled the 50-minute talk “Better Design Through Code” and walk through latent capabilities of servers and browsers ready and waiting to deliver personalized, adaptive content to unique Web visitors.

I prefer recorded presentations to static shared slideshows. Each movie has 3GPP timed text chapters indexed by slide if you would like to jump ahead to a particular part of the presentation. The whole process is very experimental yet an interesting way to reach new audiences.

Classify incoming requests

Incoming requests contain more than a domain and a path. Servers can listen to full request data and segment your audience based on key factors such as preferred language, browser capabilities, or requesting device such as a TV or mobile phone. Listening for key navigation clues reduces visitor input and delivers the best content possible quickly and easily.

Location filters

Broad data options can be quickly narrowed through location-based targeting. Web sites can store simple lookup tables to identify the location of their audience at various confidence levels as broad as a home country or as specific as a postal code. New data-driven location services such as Gears or Loki offer even greater location precision by searching the local network for mapped devices on your local network, within radio range, or even receiving signals from GPS satellites.

Detecting installed software

Software installed on our computers leave browser-addressable footprints in the form of MIME and URL schemes meant to connect our browsers, webpage embeds, or downloaded files with the appropriate installed application. We can detect installed software on the requesting visitor’s machine by testing these known MIME footprints and establishing connections between our web application and the best possible handler on the client. Want to send a photo RSS feed to iPhoto without confusing your users with technical jargon? Test it. Need to communicate an physical address or seamlessly hand off a podcast subscription? Identify tethered GPS or music players on your visitors’ machines and dynamically create links to desktop-addressable software from within your webpage.

Detect favorite websites

The final part of my presentation focused on identifying the favorite websites and web services of a visiting user to improve site content. Browsers leave a history trail to help us quickly navigate to our favorite resources and identify previously viewed content. We can connect our audience to the web applications and services they care about by testing websites of interest against the current browser history and displaying the best activity prompts to each unique visitor.


Every time a web page loads we throw out potentially useful data. With just a little effort we can thrill our users with custom, adaptive experiences based on their unique computing and personality profiles for increased engagement and conversions. This presentation outlines some of the reasonably easy methods of customization available to site owners seeking more intelligent methods of visitor interaction through smart server- and client-side applications.

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Commentary on "Better Design Through Code":

  1. Brian Dunagan on wrote:

    Very clever ideas for detecting favorite websites and installed software. Thanks for posting the video!

  2. Adam Bryson on wrote:

    I know that what you are suggesting is intended to be used for good things, but it leaves a lot of room for abuse and also misinformation. You can’t assume that everything on one particular computer is related to the current user. You also can’t assume that because I logged on while I visited San Francisco that I live there and want to see ads for Trader Joes or Longs Drugs, when in reality I live in Nashville and there are no Trader Joes or Longs here. But I admire your enthusiasm and hope that some good comes from these ideas.