User Hostile UI

I don’t really like Facebook, but I have to use it because that’s where my friends are. (Well, my fiancée is there, and she makes my friends for me. So I use it. Begrudgingly.)

At first what I didn’t like about Facebook was that it is a thinly veilled CIA front, and even if that weren’t true, they are grossly negligent about privacy, meaning that the CIA could get all my data even if Facebook wasn’t using Langely for offsite backups. (And they are.)

But I digress. The reason I don’t like Facebook right this moment is this piece of user-hostile UI I got today:

The Publisher on your Profile has been updated

The Publisher—the box above your Wall—has been updated to match the one on your home page. No matter where you use the Publisher, your posts will appear here and in your friends’ streams, provided they can see the post.

OK, plus points because Facebook’s UI people realized I don’t know what they mean by “Publisher”. Minus points because they didn’t explain it successfully anyway, explaining it with respect to something else I never understood (“my wall”… WTF?). More minus points because they either don’t know, or don’t care that I DON’T CARE what they call the thing, and I don’t want to know if it’s there or not there. I will probably notice on my own (or not). And finally, minus points because I don’t like the font they used. (OK, that last one is a bit subjective, and frankly, it could have gone either way for the UI guys. So let’s compromise and call it minus 1.5 in total.)

Attention All UI Designers: please just get the fuck out of my face with your publishers and walls and stuff. Give me text boxes and buttons. Have them occasionally do something delightful and useful before I even know I want it. Don’t waste my time making me read your crappy descriptions of things you should not have to describe. Go read the Psychology of Everyday Things to find out why only fucked doors say “Push” on them, and why only fucked websites have explanations as stupid as yours on them. If you are too stupid to know that I’m talking about, search for “Bad Affordances”.

That is all.

PS: I want a bumper sticker that says “Bad Affordance”, and I want to go to Facebook HQ and put it on random cars. Bonus points if I actually hit a UI designer’s car.

PPS: When I write a webserver it’s going to have an error message, “503: Bad Affordance”. Heh.

PPPS: You-Eye and the Bad Affordances would be a really great band name. Not.

The Gopher-verse, averted

This is insane.

At the time the web came into being, AOL was already offering a content-driven text and graphics medium. And Microsoft was hard at work making “Blackbird”, which was a content authoring technology for MSN that never saw the light of day because of HTML. Microsoft ditched it and launched MSN over PPP and HTTP, and embarrassed AOL by showing them the future.

Also, network administrators are not technophobic reactionaries. They are professionals with conflicting responsibilities. Like all professionals, they do what they have to do to get the job done. Sometimes it is appropriate to filter something in order to maintain the breathing room for the network to do the job. In the early 90’s, filtering technologies certainly existed that could have killed off the web, but there was a critical mass of academic networks, and under-critical-mass of commercial ISPs. The academics were interested in seeing what new things were coming. The commercial ISPs were split between common carriers like UUnet, and walled gardens. As I already mentioned, the walled gardens had their own content technologies and wanted to move past the limitations of Gopher. The common carriers didn’t care what went over the network, as long as it drove demand for the network itself.

As an example, ask yourself why UUnet was the largest purveyor of copyright infringements and porn (and copyright-infringing-porn, probably) back in those days. UUnet carried all the newsgroups unfiltered. Why? It was good business to offer content.

Who started this idiotic Gopher meme? If someone knows, could you please give them my blog’s address so I can wack them with a clue-by-four? Thanks.

Losing Faith

NPR’s Planet Money (which I have been known to describe — without hyperbole — as “the best journalism on any topic in any media, in the entire existence of journalism”) published an interesting blog posting. A reporter goes to the Treasury Department to find out that the US government is going to lend billions of dollars to the IMF, but will do it in an off-books deal (you know, like Enron).

The killer is the last two sentences:

So why not pledge a trillion dollars to the fund? I asked. No good answer.

I think it must be that at some point people would lose faith in the financial soundness of the U.S. government. 

Hmm.

Vanity Fair on Iceland

I became aware of Iceland’s bankruptcy through a curious route. A local geek mailing list had a posting from a friend of one of the guys on the list. She was Icelandic, and she was really in distress — able to understand how serious the situation was, unable to understand it at the same time, scared for the future, and reaching out to a friend. It was really touching. I replied to the guy that it was a shame I couldn’t access any of the Icelandic news as an English speaker, and that perhaps his friend would like to start a blog translating it, so that I could understand her country’s situation better. I offered to donate some money for the service.

It took off. NewsFrettir has consistent readership, and has been helpful to the girl, if not from by making a dramatic amount of money, at least as an emotional outlet and support. It always helps to know someone’s listening, that someone cares what’s happening to you.

I come back from time to time and check it out, to see how it’s going for the girl I “met” anonymously last October. She’s strong. She’s weak. She’s above all, human. She’s struggling, but what makes her struggle all the more is her empathy for those struggling around her. I think about her and hope for the best. I donate some more money from time to time, but it’s not so easy for me either — I’m on a student’s budget as well, because I’m living alongside my student girlfriend in a country where I don’t have the right to work. (I’m not complaining, this is exactly what I want from life, and what I chose. But I’m unemployed, and I have the budget to match.)

Now, there’s another piece of the puzzle. Vanity Fair has published an article on Iceland. It gives me another view, and while it doesn’t change what I’ve already learned about one woman there, and how she feels about the changes in her community, it also shows me some other sides to the story.

And on a relatively unrelated aside…

One really great quote from the story is:

You can tell a lot about a country by how much better they treat themselves than foreigners at the point of entry. Let it be known that Icelanders make no distinction at all. Over the control booth they’ve hung a charming sign that reads simply, all citizens, and what they mean by that is not “All Icelandic Citizens” but “All Citizens of Anywhere.”

This observation is so, so, so true. The borders of the USA and the UK always make me scared, depressed, and annoyed. And I’m a middle-class white guy, with the right passport. I have the right to pass these borders and they still make me cringe. Imagine how other, more desperate, people feel?