Cards are an emerging way to structure web information so that it’s easier to for mobile devices to parse and display in a stream — when you simply like an article online and its headline and art appear on your Facebook in a neatly organized module, that’s an example of what cards can do.
Wildcard, a New York-based startup, has built a browser for iOS where cards — not HTML webpages — are the standard unit that users interact with when surfing the internet. The first version of Wildcard is now available from the App Store.
Cards aren’t just a design innovation for marketers — many people believe they could become one of the default design elements for computers with smaller and smaller screens. It’s not hard to see the start of the card takeover on mobile devices: The latest version of [company]Google[/company] Android displays notifications as a set of “cards,” each with information and potential actions the user can take. Apple Watch, expected early next year, probably won’t have a full browser, but well structured cards could be one of the best ways to show a little nugget of information on such a small screen.
Some are hopeful that cards could become one of the primary ways that apps interact with each other on your phone. But developing for cards is harder than simply adding tags to existing content and systems. “Think of a card as a native receptacle for structured information,” Wildcard co-founder and CEO Jordan Cooper told me in an interview. “Cards are a data effort.”
Of course, cards don’t matter if users don’t end up interacting with them. So Wildcard’s mobile browser, which pulls its cards from third-party APIs — an example of what Cooper calls a “third-party card interface” — is the company’s first step to making cards mainstream.
When you first open the app, you’re confronted with six trending searches, and when you scroll down, you find other cards you might be interested in — for instance, a “collection” of cards about brewing great coffee, or a recent article from a publisher who supports cards. In many ways, the app resembles Google Now, which is perhaps the most famous card-based interface currently in wide use to date. Browsing is snappy, with new cards loading immediately.
I didn’t find the automatically surfaced, editorially picked content in Wildcard particularly compelling — and there’s a little too much emphasis on commerce at the moment (one of the first card actions most people implement is a button to buy or install something) but as it is right now it could be a great lightweight feed replacement for Twitter for many people. Wildcard generally looks and feels very slick. It is designed by Khoi Vinh, who was a New York Times digital design director and founded Mixel.
Wildcard’s non-consumer facing projects could end up being even more important to the company. For now, various card implementations, like [company]Facebook[/company]’s Open Graph, or Pinterest’s Rich Pin, don’t really work with each other. Until there’s a standard for cards, Wildcard’s own standard wants to fill that gap. Many websites have already implemented cards, for services like Twitter or Facebook, and Wildcard will provide tools and an SDK to translate those cards and make them interoperable.
There are other companies looking at the same problems with cards: CITIA is another startup with an advertising focus for cards, and the big tech companies are working on their own card technology too.
Wildcard has $10 million in funding from various investors, including General Catalyst Partners. For revenue, it doesn’t plan to monetize the commerce that takes place in its browser, but rather hopes to place ads against its card search that it’s developing in-house.
“The worst user experience is the mobile browser,” Cooper said. “We’re aspiring to replace Safari or Chrome with something better.”