My mate is now friends with some random

In real life, if my mate told me he was now friends with some random guy he met at a pub, I’d wonder why I was being punished with such a shit story.

New Facebook updates hit this weekend. Every time my friends make a new friend, I get notified. Why am I being punished with such shit stories?

Facebook is now a continual stream of noise. It seems that every time my friends post anything on anything anywhere I get notified. Facebook is the new Twitter.

So apparently the Facebook geniuses made these changes largely as a result of user feedback.

Let me let you in on a secret of good software design. You can ask users for feedback. And then you are better off ignoring everything they say and doing it properly.

I exaggerate. A little. A good designer must take that input, find the nuggets that are actually useful, and then implement something that is actually going to work. Generally the user has not thought through all the use cases of the change they’ve requested. Do you think Apple create their legendary interfaces based solely on user input? Even Microsoft are smart enough to not do that.

Not following? Think about the car built for Homer.

homer-car

This is Facebook as of today.

Waking your sleeping Mac on demand

Tonight, I discovered I had left something on my Mac at work that I wanted at home. The problem: my machine at work is sleeping, like most of the personal machines on our internal network when we are not in the office. It is also wirelessly connected to our internal network, not connected via ethernet (for those one step ahead of where this post is going).

However, my machine at the office is also set up for Wireless Wake on Demand. Those who are interested can read some technical details here and setup details here. This is new in Snow Leopard, and you might recognise that we are talking about waking a machine that is wirelessly connected to a network, not a simple Wake-On-Lan sending a magic packet over ethernet.

So I VPNed to work from home, went to my Finder, selected the menu Go->Connect to Server... and put in “jamie.internal” (my machine’s name on the office network). My machine at work was woken in the background, and I connected to the machine as per normal in the Finder, got the file I wanted, disconnected, and closed down the VPN. My machine at the office went back to sleep and I had the file I wanted.

I could also have shared the screen to manipulate my Mac via its user interface, and apparently even shared iTunes if I had it running.

There is a bit more going on here than just sending a magic packet wirelessly to wake the machine – the Mac is asleep, but our office wireless router is broadcasting over bonjour the services my Mac can actually handle as if it was awake on the network, so that if I try to use these services, it wakes the machine up first. This also means then that my machine in the office, even when sleeping, will still appear on other machines on the internal network as if it was awake, advertising all it’s services. Similarly, if I had it sharing music in iTunes, it would appear as a shared source of music on another machine in iTunes, even when asleep.

This is obviously a very handy feature – possibly more so for my colleagues than for me given I could walk over to the office in 10 minutes from my home to manually get the file (though it is after midnight, and Melbourne streets at night are a little dangerous these days, so I possibly avoided a random stabbing or glassing).

I’m sure you can also see advantages in a system like this for the environment  too – machines don’t have to necessarily be running 24 hours a day just so you can access an occasional resource.

This will also work for Macs connected via ethernet. It may also work from a Windows machine to access a Mac at your office (with a SMB share). Not tested, as Windows is not welcome in my home, but I assume it will work.

CY @tw1tter #sucks http://bit.ly/d0gsba11s

I’m always interested in playing with the latest technologies. That extends to the latest internet technologies and web based applications. So when I first heard about Twitter I made myself an account.

Although the original idea sounded good, maybe even useful, I found the implementation limiting and frustrating. After lots of whinging, and messing about on Twitter trying to find something useful in it, I was pretty much ready to just ignore it. That was until Twitter started to invade Facebook. That invasion was the catalyst for this article.

In the beginning

When Twitter first appeared, the idea was to provide a micro-blogging service. Short messages, for giving status updates. That doesn’t sound so bad.

So what’s wrong with Twitter?

Let’s start with the obvious.

140-character limit

Tweets (Twitter messages) are limited to 140-characters per message. SMS messages are limited to 160-characters. Take the worst feature of SMS from the 1980s, and implement it in the 2000s…

No, even that isn’t fair. Almost every phone now supports SMS messages well in excess of the original 160-character limit (by sending multiple SMS messages disguised as a single SMS). Who in their right mind would implement a service with that limitation from day one?

The defence of this limitation is startling – the claims people make are sometimes humorous and often ridiculous. It is claimed, for example, that by limiting the number of characters, people will somehow write messages that are succinct and more interesting as a result. Take a look at your average tweet and you be the judge on that.

Some have defended the limitation by claiming that it is like the limitations of haiku, that result in wonderful poetry by limiting the number of sylables in the poem to follow a certain pattern. In the same way, this limitation of 140-characters will create status updates that will amaze with literary genius. Wonder at the typical poetic masterpiece you find on almost every twitter account:

I am eating roast chicken for dinner! Yum!

The limitation is artificial and short sighted. And results in a number of other problems that will be outlined below.

No reply threading

Twitter is a stream of posts. That would be fine if all it was was a stream of your posts, but that isn’t the way it works. People can also post something to you (and others), so in effect can reply to something you posted.

But that reply is not threaded in any way. Tweets appear chronologically, i.e. based on when you sent it. You reply 2 days later, and there are 2 days of other posts before your reply. All context has gone. Often these replies are as a result confusing.

Any sensible system that allow replies would allow threading. My mail client does it. My newsreader does it. In fact, Facebook does it.

Replies and Recipients

So when you do reply, or post a message to someone, or a number of people, you do so by putting in to your posted text an @ symbol, with the recipients Twitter name following. Suddenly your message is littered with @ symbols, and odd user account names for people you may or may not know.

@sam69 Hilarious post dude. @sexyGurl and @mr_b1g should join us for drinks with @ha1ry_back12

This is metadata! But the metadata is being put in to the actual text that is then displayed to the user. It’s like 1970s computing technology. It’s like being forced to store your files with filenames like:

Business report for my manager Mike Georgeff written by Jamie Curmi of Precedence Health Care on the 12th July 2009 owned by account “jamie” with read and write permissions for group “staff”.doc

Not only that, but this metadata is part of your 140-character limit. And there is more of this metadata abuse to come.

Tagging

Where once Twitter was about short status messages, it is now about full on chat conversations, and posting to multiple parties. Next came the request to tag the message so that people could search for tweets of interest.

This by itself is a useful idea. Of course people would want something like this. So how was it implemented?

You use a # sign followed by the tag. So now you have tag metadata in your post. The end result:

@sam69 Hilarious post dude. @sexyGurl and @mr_b1g should join us for #drinks with @ha1ry_back12 #boozeup

This is metadata! It should not be in the message!

So with all these @s and #s, the text is pretty ugly. In fact, the human eye finds it difficult to read because the @s and #s, along with strange non-your-spoken-language usernames draw the eye away from the text that makes sense. And it takes up characters in your precious 140-character limit.

Short links

There isn’t much room to say much is there? So you have to either not say much (which is quite common), or link to something that says more. But URLs are usually quite long (look at the one for this page for example). That will suck up your 140-character limit – so the Twitter solution is to use services that shorten your URL by encoding it in to something that makes no sense.

So this is why you’ll see links like:

http://bit.ly/qPjtp

Wondering where that will take you? Good luck – it could be to something related to the tweet. Or it could be to goatse.cx. You never know.

Now there is even less room in your tweet. What to do?

Two Letter Acronyms

With such limited space, users have invented acronyms to use so that they can actually fit some useful text in with all their #s, @s, and links. Acronyms such as RT (Retweet), FF (Follow Friday, which bizarrely means to suggest a friend to someone, so now even the acronym definitions don’t make sense to a casual reader), OH (Overheard), etc.

Once again, some of this (like RT) is actually metadata – like when you forward an email to someone. Now take a look at your typical tweet and you are seeing @s, #s, acronyms, links with random numbers and letters, and somewhere in all that mess may be a message of interest.

Actually though, rarely is there a message of interest in a tweet.

Facebook

So, the guys at Facebook saw there was something to Twitter, so this year they implemented a new Facebook interface that is reminiscent of Twitter, with its status updates. The difference was, the Facebook team actually improved on the idea. No ridiculously short message limit, full threading of comments, ability to add real links (and even show the link, for example display an image from that link), no need for @s, #s, obscure acronyms, links to real people’s names and not their jumbled usernames.

And this is why Facebook is the better service.

So, I could have just left it at that. Until I started seeing Facebook updates that said things like:

Enjoying food and talking crap with @sam69 @sexyGurl @mr_b1g and @ha1ry_back12 at #taxi in #docklands

What the hell was that?

Oh yes, what you are looking at there is a Facebook application that can take your tweets from your Twitter account, and post them as status updates on Facebook. So now my Facebook page is as ugly and messed up as Twitter.

And this is not on.  So from today I am launching the Facebook group “Get Twitter Updates Off Facebook“.

Here’s the way this works. If you find a friend posting twitter style updates (that is, they use any inappropriate @s, #s or Twitter Acronyms), you send them a message on Facebook telling them that:

Hi <Insert Your Friend’s Name Here>,

Although I count you as a friend, your abuse of Facebook with Twitter updates that include inappropriate Twitter detritus such as @s, #s and Twitter-only acronyms, means that I can no longer accept you as a friend on Facebook.

We may still be friends in real life, and you are welcome to be my friend again on Facebook when you stop posting status updates based on Twitter limitations. Until then, I wish you all the best.

Your friend,

<Insert Your Real Name Here>

Sure, your friend might stop talking to you. But think about how much nicer your Facebook Home page will be. Eventually either Twitter developers will actually get it and move in to the 21st century, or Twitter will die. Either one is a good result.

Misanthropy

Jamie knew he was guilty of arrogance and misanthropy, but he compensated by being kind to strangers and tipping really well at restaurants.

Ok, I didn’t write that. Sherman Alexie did. But sometimes I do think that way about myself.

Regular readers might recall my trying to help a stranger 2 months ago. I never saw that $20 again.

Today I was walking down Collins Street after work when this girl came over to me and asked if I could spare any change. The voice sounded familiar. I turned to look at the girl – it was the girl I “lent” $20 to two months ago.

“You have got to be kidding!”, I said to her.

“What?” she said. I found I was still walking, and she was chasing after me!

“You still owe me $20 that you ‘borrowed’ months ago!”, I said.

She continued to follow, staring at me, and said, “I….I don’t know what you’re … what you’re talking about”.

She stopped following. I long ago realised I’d never get that money back, and I actually felt sad for her. She was with another girl – the other girl looked like a druggy.  The other girl then chased me and asked me, “Could you help us out?”.  I said no – a little pissed off.

I continued walking, and was confronted by a third person asking for money. What is going on in Collins Street?  I ignored this person.  I was still feeling quite annoyed.

I then saw the girl meet up with the druggy girl, and some other new guy who was carrying something in a manner that suggested he stole it off someone (sort of a ‘look what I scored, quick, put it back in my pocket’).  That’s four beggars on one journey down Collins Street.  Those 3 ran off ahead of me together – probably to work another street.

A few minutes later a guy I regularly see asked me if I could spare a dollar. I said no.

Then I felt really bad. He wasn’t part of that group, had a kind face, and he’s never been pushy. He didn’t lie to me, he just asked for a dollar. I shouldn’t have let those other 3 upset me. So, I’m sorry to that homeless guy – next time I see him I’ll give him some extra money.

See – people like that girl ruin it for everyone. I don’t think I am really misanthropic, though perhaps I wish I could be.

With a capital C

Sadly, Michael Jackson passed away last week. I was a fan, so a sad day.

A large memorial was planned and televised around the world. Although I was a fan, I wasn’t a big enough fan to tune in to the telecast in the early hours of the morning here in Australia. But I did happen to see a repeat telecast in the afternoon.

So, a little about the memorial. First, the memorial was Classy with a capital C. I mean, you had a gold coffin:

And all the men in the family wore a single silver glove:

But this post isn’t about the Jackson family and their cashed-up-bogan style. It’s actually all about Channel 7 – the Australian Free-to-air commercial television network that has its own style as classy as the Jackson’s.

Take a look back at those stills. We have a 7 network logo in the top left hand corner. Nice. Subtle.

Then look at the bottom left hand corner. Oh, classy. A hat, glasses and silver glove – just like Michael Jackson. Taking up almost a quarter of the screen. And on screen continuously throughout the broadcast.

Yep, that’s right – two “watermarks” on screen throughout the broadcast. Nice one Seven. That big orange and black one was nice and subtle.

But that’s not all. This is Seven’s SD channel. What’s on the HD Channel? Let’s take a look:

Oh they didn’t? Oh yes they did. An obscure 1940’s black and white movie, 4:3, scratchy as hell. Nice one Seven. Great use of that HD channel of yours.

Free-to-air television in Australia is Crap.  With a capital C.