Have you ever wondered why we have more than one unit - and even going one step further - why do we need to care about these?

Multiple measurement units are a legacy (but also richness in methodology) be carry with us. And it’s a fairly expensive legacy as NASA can recall.

Artistic depiction of Mars Climate Orbiter in orbit around Mars.

NASA/JPL - http://www.solarviews.com/cap/craft/mco1.htm / http://www.solarviews.com/raw/craft/mco1.jpg (See also http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/jplhistory/captions/marsclimateorbiter-t.php)

To read about what happened to this object and the $125M that the error costed you can go here.

However, the mere existence of multiple measurement methods prompts you to ask why this method exists, how was it conceived, and in what ways is it better. What did they saw that made them create this representation instead of another one, and how what’s in use differed from what they envisioned in the first place.

To me the culprit of this is the lack of adoption of a single method while we keep on researching for better methods. Or inventing them altogether.

And it’s because we keep banging on different units of measurement non-stop.

Obviously, no country is going to drop their measurement system in-promptu because many critical infrastructure and too many things rely on that. Literally, it underpins all our current society.

The other way would be to teach multiple system to everyone. That will be difficult since measurement systems are very entrenched in society. How do you “implant” one system not widely in use in that setting is not easy and loads of questions come to mind when thinking of the details to coordinate such an underatking (e.g. who decides the curriculum, how extensive is the learning: is that used only to measure or also to do maths, should we teach all math concepts using both, etc. etc. etc.)

The world has changed in the last 20 years

Computers, and the internet connected us all. Browser made the connection a visible window in your desktop and now you’re more connected than ever. So much so you interact with people all over the world which you bet! uses all types of measurement systems you come across on a daily basis.

We can’t blame humans for doing the work computers should do though. We think with the measurement system we have been taught to. I can’t think personally in inches, I hold no reference of how much length an inch is. I can’t visualise it. I don’t have a kinesthesic representation of how much that is, let alone intuitively know the measurement reference! Many have the opposite, they can’t visualize or have a kinesthesic intuitive sense of what a centimeter is like.

You can surely recall going to google or another search engine and look for how much is X inches in milimeters, or the other way around. Or how many stones are a Kg? Seems everyone assumes you have these conversion tables just by your side all day long.

We can still do better computing

We can do better - only - if we don’t think haphazardly as we have done with a lot of the internet development in too many an occasion.

We could in theory make computers (especially browsers) “translate” units for us as you keep encountering them. That would seem sensible since measurements units and measurement difference are quite ubiquitous.

Now, I’m announcing we are going to be building exactly that. And it’s going to be called the “Internet Usability Package” or IUP for short as it will appear in the browser stores.

It’s called like this because this is an accessibility feature that should come with every single major browser. Yet it does not.

This has been in the back of my mind for more than 1.5 years now, and thought multiple times to put remedy to it. And again, a good remedy, not something put together haphazardly that barely helds together - and which doesn’t withstand multiple different usages.

It’s also not only an automatic conversion table, beacause rules might differ for different cultures, people, etc. And then preferences, tailoring to work or whatever reason make some might want inches converted to meters while others would want them in mm. And yet other rules might evolve and arise as people use it.

It will be available in the Chrome store, Mozilla store and Safari store soon.