Infrequently Noted

Alex Russell on browsers, standards, and the process of progress.

so why *do* I bother?

Frankly, I'm not entirely certain why I blog. I get asked about it from time to time, and I never have a good answer. I guess it's a value thing. I don't really think I generate much of value via my blog, so I don't have a burning need to post or get better at it. I think this also informs my view of other blogs. I don't use an RSS reader because I tend to generally assume that other people are just as busy, tired, and over-worked (by choice, in my case) as I am. Therefore, I don't want to see a thousand posts in an "inbox", most of which are much like mine. If I want middling crap, I can make it. So I read blogs for the surprise of it.

I read them for the joy of reading something great, or different, or better than my own, so I limit the blogs I read to the blogs I can remember to read. It turns out that this is a pretty good radius. It means that I spend more time reading Ping and Ed Felten and less time reading the blogs of people who only occasionally have something interesting to say.

Taken as a whole, it then occurs to me that perhaps I should stop blogging. If I'm not going to put the kind of time and energy into it as these folks (who are much smarter than I am anyway), then what's the point? It's not like I have significant time to devote to this even if I were interested in doing it better.

What do you think?

the end of launch parties?

So tonight is the "Launch Party to end all launch parties" and I can't help but wonder if that phrasing is meant to be said with a hopeful glint at the end? Or is it just me?

I'm going to vote with my feet by helping to end launch parties in general. By not attending.

Unless I'm invited. In which case, RAWK!!

*much* better

Today, David sent me a link to "UNO", a program which fixes the theme mess on OS X.

My desktop is so much better now. Thank you, David.

rethinking my tagging flame

A copule of days ago I had lunch with a bunch of my co-workers at Jot (Scott, Michael, and Ryan) and I brought up the subject of tagging as a cop-out for search. Not surprisingly, most everyone disagreed with me to some extent. But as we talked it through, it became pretty clear that there was none of the "taxonomy vs folksonomy" debate in play.

Instead, people defended tagging from an interaction perspective. It seems that tagging feeds a need to feel organized in some sense. People at the table got a "solid" sense when they tagged a thing, regardless of its search utility. Better yet, people find tagging to be indistinguishable from social "trail leaving" (think del.icio.us), despite that their correlation is only an artifact of UI decisions.

It's just as simple for someone to click a "bookmark this" button as it is a "tag this" button, but somehow tagging has a more productive feeling for people. Tagging is a great way to entice users to provide other kinds of metadata, which is often significantly more useful.

Tagging is useful, but not for any systems reason. It's just a better UI experience. Who woulda thunk it?

shaming "Web 2.0" into utility

So this morning I was looking at the website for the "Web 2.0" conference that ORA puts on. The speaker list looks great, the registration is booked full, and I'm sure it'll be blogged to death. Another smashing success.

But then I noticed this quote in eye-catching green text at the top of the page:

Web 1.0 was making the Internet for people, Web 2.0 is making the Internet better for computers -- Jeff Bezos

The rotation of supposedly incisive quotes from people who are most notable for being..erm..notable seems like an apt metaphor for what "Web2.0" really is: unspecified. That they rotate is the most fitting thing about them.

Now, I don't know anything about Mr. Bezos' programming or HCI acumen, but it would seem to this developer that if Web2.0 is indeed about making things better for computers, then we're all (collectively) f'd. If that's the goal, I want off the train. Perhaps the quote is out of context, but nevertheless it outlines one of my biggest fears with fads like tagging and overloading of RSS for any-and every-thing, which is that we are now celebrating the failure of systems to make user's lives better as the indomitable march of progress.

Lets take tagging for example. Tagging is the pet rock of such "Web2.0" companies as Technorati and Flickr. With Flickr, it's almost excusable since the problem of creating relationships between images requires both more space as well as some sort of synthesis into a format that is more easily handled (i.e., text). But then why provide stricter organizational tools as well? Is it unstructured or structured? And if structured, why can't the metadata be mined to remove the burden to users without fobbing the work onto them?

And what's Technoratis excuse? That other things support tagging and therefore they use it? Sorry, but that's just sloth. I already typed in my search term. Isn't it a search engine's job to synthesize context out of raw data? If so, why are we then jumping up and down about something that lets us, the users, do the job of a search engine for it? Color me unimpressed.

And it's just one example of where real improvement (REST web services APIs, machine learning) are being conflated with ideas with marginal end-user utility (microformats and tagging) as somehow being ambassadors for "Web2.0".

We should have learned something from Web1.0. We should have a higher bar for allowing memes into the party this go 'round.