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Re: Googling by E-Mail (or wherever else you are at the moment)

From: Al Gilman <asgilman@iamdigex.net>
Date: Sat, 24 Aug 2002 08:11:05 -0400
Message-Id: <>
To: WAI-IG <w3c-wai-ig@w3.org>

At 04:55 PM 2002-08-23, Joe Clark wrote:
>A rather odd statement here:

[blind people using a Google-by-mail gateway.]

Somehow I fail to find this odd.  Let me explain just a bit why this seems
"only natural" to me.  It's not that they couldn't have run the forms mode
interface from their Web browser.  It's that you are more likely to find
them at home in their mail tool than in their Web tool when the question
comes up that they want to ask Google.  The Web reaches the World, but does
not subsume it.

Access to interfaces designed for the Web [i.e. the desktop delivery
context] from the 'Tiny' WAP terminal have bombed in the marketplace.  Never
mind in a voice transcription.  But phoneBots that will read you your email
are a viable commercial service.  There's a moral in there, somewhere.

Conjure up for a moment the picture of Curtis Chong telling how his mother
came to use email.  Curtis explains that all he had to do was to tell his
mother that email he could read for himself, and hardcopy letters he had to
*pay* someone to read to him.  Her frugal traditions kicked in at once and
she learned to use a computer.

Email is the first and prime function of a blind person's computer.  It
fills a more universal need that what the Web contributes.  WebVan comes the
closest, but it's not available in most areas.  Addressed push messaging is
more primitive and endemic than publishing to the World.  It's no wonder
that essentially every blind person who manages to get and master a computer
uses email.  A lot.  The other aps are relatively optional and more spotty
in their uptake.  Mail by Web does make your email accessible from an
airport kiosk for the sighted traveler.  But it's a sick joke through a
screen reader.


How many sighted people do you know who learn one Ap and never use another?

Spreadsheet people write their letters in their spreadsheet program.
Word-processor natives do spreadsheets in WordPerfect Tables.

A Google search is extremely simple in its interaction logic, so it makes
sense to dispatch it from the tool you're in; not quote go on the web
unquote to do it.  This is the point of the Web Services.  Encapsulate the
service delivered at an RMI level, and gateway it into the all the spaces
where you can find people who want it.

Even for those not blind it is more natural.  Email is the natural push
gesture.  Webbing is fine so long as you are pulling.

Got a question?  Send a question.  That's colloquial.  The Web is arcane by
comparison.  There are more records in people's email address books than in
their Web bookmarks.  The reply you get has links you can pull from, and
you're off and running.  Forms mode makes life easier for the computer, not
the person.  At least as mediated through a screen reader this is still true.

The firm offering the service by email are doing this because Google handed
them on a platter the web service that they are laying a front end on.  All
they had to do was lay a little wrapper around it.  They can get the
functionality wholesale.  You're going to be seeing a whole lot more of this.

The Web is a natural as the platform integrating the data world that Google
is mining to answer your questions.  Not so natural as the last-mile mode of
service delivery.  Market share in the final mode of service delivery is
going to ebb back into more naturally-occurring modes of dialog.  But the
radical leap of one URI index space will live on under the covers.

>A rather odd statement here:
>>August 22, 2002
>>A Nation of Bloggers and Googling by E-Mail
>>Google by Mail
>>By most measures, Google dominates Web searching. Now you don't have to 
>>be on the Web to use it.
>>A new service called GoogleMail gives you e-mail access to the popular 
>>search engine. Just send a message to google@capeclear.com with your 
>>query in the Subject line. The search results will be sent to your In 
>>box, usually within minutes.
>>The service was created by Cape Clear Software, which specializes in 
>>so-called Web services, or software that links online applications with 
>>other programs. Initially it was aimed at users of palmtop organizers and 
>>mobile phones. But in just a few months GoogleMail has handled more than 
>>30,000 queries from a surprising variety of people, said Colin Newman, 
>>vice president for marketing at Cape Clear.
>>For example, GoogleMail is fielding many queries from places where online 
>>Internet access can be relatively expensive, like Russia and the 
>>Philippines. "People are creating e-mail queries offline and then going 
>>online just to send them," Mr. Newman explained. "Then they disconnect, 
>>and log back on later to download the results."
>>The service has also drawn interest from blind users, who use special 
>>devices that read them their e-mail. Now those "readers" can handle Web 
>>searches as well. [...]
>Just how is Google inaccessible to screen readers? It's almost entirely 
>plain text. Sending results by E-mail eliminates the one or two graphics 
>(which already contain alt texts) and nothing more.

The "now those readers can" could be considered technically wrong.  Then
again, this kind of sloppy writing isn't anything one can't expect in
today's media.   This just reflects the usual level of hype, inaccuracy in
search of emotional punch, that is endemic in the Media.  Posting here is
not a way to correct the accuracy level of journalistic writing.  [And it's
probably futile to try.] This inaccuracy is not what any blind consumers
ever told the reporter.

If we fail to pick at nits, that's not the issue anyway.  If the consumer is
accustomed to using their screen reader to read their email, and not
accustomed to Webbing through it, then they are unlikely to use Google until
it can be accessed by mail.  I'm not aware of a MailWatch list sustained by
chronic difficulties in using email through a screen reader.  The service is
more accessible to more blind consumers if it can now be accessed by email.
That much is true.  And it matters.

For what people will choose to do where they actually have a choice,
'accessible' vs. 'inaccessible' is not a sufficient indicator.  Do you eat
something just because it's edible?  Email can be more 'palatable' in speech
mode than the fully-accessible Web, if only because it's a mode of operation
whose command set you have more other reasons to use, and thereby remind
yourself about.


>     Joe Clark | joeclark@joeclark.org
>     Accessibility <http://joeclark.org/access/>
Received on Saturday, 24 August 2002 08:12:34 UTC

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