The evolution of language

We’ve all had the experience of being lost. Some of us, as kids, lost track of our parents in grocery stores. As adults we’ve all felt a moment of panic when taking the wrong exit, missing a subway stop or not being able to find a familiar face in a crowd.

Most of us have been lost on the Internet too. We don’t generally think of it in those terms, but how often do you log on intending to go one place and end up someplace else?

Orange County, Calif.-based Verbalnet Technologies Inc. has developed a product designed to keep its users on the paths that they want to go down while on-line. Information Desk is an Internet navigation product that serves as a reception area for a Web site.

“My interest started with a need to surf the ‘net and navigate large Web sites,” said Adrian Gluck, technical guru at Verbalnet and inventor of the product, who found himself frustrated with the lack of direction most sites offered. “The best thing to do would be to call somebody and find out where the information is, but companies can’t afford to do that. They want to get away from that. Besides, receptionists are not trained information officers, so my answer was to somehow replicate the process that a receptionist or an information person would go through.”

Gluck, a Los Angeles-based Canadian, received two degrees from the University of Toronto, where he studied under Marshall McLuhan. Gluck admits to applying McLuhan’s concepts and principles to his development of the Information Desk.

“The most important thing that I learned is that if you want to replicate the experience of talking with somebody, you have to build language into the paradigm,” Gluck explained. “Language was invented fifty thousand years ago, but until that time, mankind was communicating with hieroglyphics, drawings, signals and single sounds. They found that that wasn’t acceptable, so half of the world’s population developed language, and the other half wasn’t able to do it. The half that developed language took over the world because language allowed people to work together as a team.

“Graphic user interfaces are a throwback to fifty thousand years ago,” Gluck added. “Single words and simplistic images like icons are being used to communicate with each other. We are a society with billions of interactions, and while it was good in 1984 when Apple popularized the icon, it has become inadequate in terms of expressing needs and wants.”

Gluck went on to say that because language is very complex, computer systems are often unable to disambiguate words. “My invention is about bridging that gap.”

Mueller International in Irvine, Calif., has put Gluck’s theory to the test by installing the product on to its Web site. According to Todd Mitchell, director of e-business services, the addition of Information Desk has been an improvement in the site’s navigation, but hopes that it will be used more readily by repeat visitors than by those visiting the site for the first time.

“We don’t necessarily want somebody to just get to that single page that they’re looking for without seeing some part of our site, but by the same token I don’t want to drag them through our entire site to get there,” Mitchell said. “For a first time viewer, you do want them to see everything. You want them to sit through the initial Flash page, because we’re proud of it and that’s the eye candy. What we’re looking at is the repeat visitor. Somebody who remembers the site, wants to know if we do something. And bam – they get on, open Information Desk up and they get right to it.”

Information Desk works by allowing the user to make a plain-English “I want to” request without having to use a keyboard. Every option available on the site is made visible to the user, who is transported to the desired page by highlighting a specific need.

Vancouver-based Ash Abhyankar, Teldon International’s director of sales for marketing and e-business believes that Gluck’s product may be on the right track – for a certain type of user.

“If you’re talking about B2B, language is the right way because it allows the user to get to the guts of a matter,” Abhyankar said. “From a consumer C2B or B2C standpoint, an icon or a picture might be easier. A picture being worth a thousand words is still applicable today.”

Information Desk is a portable system that has a plug in, add on module, and is designed to overlay over any Web site.

For more information on Information Desk, go to