Abstract Once one completes the design and construction of a novel interface that claims to embody a new interface paradigm one is confronted with two problems: (1) Is the interface better than what exists? and (2) If it is better, what makes it better? The answer to the second question is important if one has any hope of extending the paradigm. Also, paradoxically, it is important to have the answer to the second question to be able to address the first. This is because new paradigms often derive their value from introducing new functionality in the system and thus highlight criteria not previously recognized. This is exactly the case with a novel database retrieval interface we have constructed called RABBIT. This article describes some recent work on understanding where the apparent power of the interface comes from.