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(This was originally posted on Google+ itself. I’m also keeping it here, for easy reference.)

A friend of mine notes that one of the problems of the current Google+ “real names policy” is that “Google is attempting to deal with (I’m assuming) manufacturing a community of 1-to-1 RL presence-to-online presence” — in particular, he says that while he does have questions about how Google is attempting to do this, he also has a lot of respect for the fact that they are trying to.

I’m not so sure that I do. Partly because I’m not convinced that there’s any value in creating a community of 1-to-1 real-life presence to online presence.

That’s partly because I’m not convinced that there’s any such thing as a 1-to-1 correspondence between real-life presence and real-life presence. I mean, seriously, are you the same person at work as you are when you’re down at the bar with friends? As when you’re having dinner in a nice restaurant with your lover? As when you’re in bed with him or her?

The idea of a 1-to-1 correspondence between real life presence and online presence is based on the idea that there’s a 1-to-1 correspondence between identities (personalities) and physical bodies. That idea is wrong. We all shift identities based on who we’re interacting with and what situation we’re in. That’s part of why we even shift our names based on that:

  • My fiancée calls me “Darling”, “Sweetheart”, “Dear”, “Love”, or “Honey”, according to her whim at the time. (We like variety, and we like to avoid getting too canalized to one particular term of endearment.)
  • My co-workers usually call me Kagan.
  • My friends usually call me Kai.
  • My siblings usually call me Kai, but my brother sometimes calls me “brother” or “bro” — and, truth be told, I like this occasional familiarity.
  • Sales people and waitrons and so on call me “Sir”. And this is not an outlying data point, because I answer to it, and I expect them to call me by this name. We all consider it right and proper.
  • Telemarketers and professional service people (bankers and whatnot) would do well to call me “Mister MacTane”. They often presume that they can call me “Kagan” — but this is a mistake on their part, because they are presuming a level of familiarity which (unlike my brother) they have not earned and do not deserve.

All of these different names, and different reactions to them, are signs that indicate that I enact different identities in different contexts. We all do.

And a social network that tries to straitjacket me into a single identity is doomed to omit huge chunks of who I really am. In so doing, it fails to serve my needs. It makes it harder for me to engage with the network at all… which makes it much more likely that I’ll leave.

I understand that Facebook is very deliberately built to enforce a single-identity model, because (as I’ve posted here before) Mark Zuckerberg actually believes that “[h]aving two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.” But Google doesn’t have to subscribe to Zuckerberg’s delusion.

Sadly, I see little hope that they’ll deviate from the “one physical body, one online identity” model that Google+ currently tries to operate under (and can never successfully enforce without causing even more problems).

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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When I was moving beyond self-written AJAX calls and picking up the Prototype and Scriptaculous libraries, one of the best resources I could find was Amy Hoy’s Scriptaculous cheat sheet. It was hard not to find it — or her: Google searches on the things I was dealing with at the time just kept leading back to Slash7.

I was already advanced enough not to need her “What’s AJAX?” cheatsheet, but it was cool that she’d done such a thing. In fact, she had — and still has — a strong streak of “help teach others, so they can get to where I’m at” about her. That’s something I’ve always striven for in myself, but where I haven’t (yet) gotten around to some of the tutorial posts I want to do, Amy’s been nailing that category for over 5 years. And she’s been taking it seriously.

Later on, when I was getting into Ruby On Rails, Amy’s Secrets of the Rails Console Ninjas was an eye-opener… and then there was her other article that assured me that it was okay to ditch WEBrick for Mongrel, and so many others.

But Amy doesn’t just know loads about developing in AJAX, JavaScript, and Rails. She goes beyond the ephemera of coding, delving deeper into the things that make programming matter. She asks (and answers) some of the hard questions about usability, including a pair of my own favorite points on the topic. She knows that software is also political.

And she writes damned well. Her style is clear, crisp, and readable — unlike my own tendency to ramble on and use overly-complicated sentences. (For what it’s worth, I talk much the same way. At least I don’t code the way I talk — honest, I don’t!)

If I can learn from Amy, maybe one day I’ll be as good a blogger as she is. In the meantime, she inspires me to keep improving.

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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Apparently tomorrow will be the “National Day of Unplugging”, when people who are ready to “take the unplug challenge” will obey the call to “put down your cell phone, sign out of email, stop your Facebook and Twitter updates”. But this isn’t just some kind of stunt or willpower exercise; there’s a point to it. Unplugging is supposed to help people “reclaim time, slow down their lives and reconnect with friends, family, the community and themselves.”

Uh, what?

Let me get this straight: Not posting any updates on Facebook, and not checking my friends and family’s Facebook updates, is supposed to help me connect with them? Turning off my cell phone, and refusing to send or check my email is supposed to bring me more into connection with other people?

What in the world do this event’s organizers think the rest of us are doing with Facebook, with email, and with cell phones?

The organizers are a group called the Sabbath Manifesto, and they espouse ten principles. The first two are “avoid technology” and “connect with loved ones”, respectively.

How the hell am I supposed to connect with my loved ones without using technology? Fewer than 10% of my friends, and absolutely none of my family, live within walking distance of me. (And I’m a fast and powerful distance-walker.) If I drive down the Peninsula, or take CalTrain to go see a friend, that’s using technology. If I quit using technology, I’d have to give up at least 90% of my social circle.

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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A good domain name should have the following features:

  1. When someone says it to you, you know how to spell it. This means that if my friend wants to tell me about your site at a party or a club or out on the street somewhere, she doesn’t have to spell it out for me. She can just say your site’s name, and I immediately know how to type it into my browser.
  2. When you see it written, you immediately know how to pronounce it. This is the other side of the coin, and it matters when I read about your site in print and then want to tell a friend about it. In fact, if your site’s name is sufficiently opaque, I could read about it, visit it, sign up, and use your service for months… and still not know how to tell a friend about it without having to say awkward things like, “Ummm… Zip-tick? something like that? I don’t really know how to pronounce it, I just know it’s spelled X-Y-P-T-I-Q.”

Marc Hedlund writes about Why Wesabe Lost to Mint, and manages to miss part of this point:

Mint was a better name and had a better design – both of these things are true, but I don’t believe they were primary causes for our company to fail and for Mint to be acquired. Mint’s CEO likes to talk about how ridiculous our name was relative to theirs, but I think the examples of Amazon, Yahoo, eBay, Google, and plenty of others make it plain that even ludicrous names (as all of those were thought to be when the companies launched) can go on to be great brands. (emphasis in original)

He cites “Amazon, Yahoo, eBay, Google” as examples of “ludicrous” names, but he misses the fact that all of them meet both of the requirements above — and Wesabe doesn’t. I’m assuming it’s pronounced “wee-SOB-ay”, but it could just as easily be read as “wee-SAYB” (rhymes with “babe”) — and I’m guessing it’s a mash-up between wasabi and “we sabe“, where sabe is the Spanish word for “to know”, and the basis for the English verb “to savvy”.

But that’s just a guess.

Of course, you already know how to spell it, but imagine someone told you about “a new site called /wee-SOB-ay/”… how would you guess it might be spelled? Ideas that come to my mind are: wiisabe, weesabay, weesobbe (possibly with accent on the E in the site’s logo); and “Just tell me how it’s spelled, already!”

Note that Google got its name from the mathematical concept of a googol: 10100, a very large number. But they deliberately changed the spelling, so people would be more able to tell each other about it, and more able to correctly type in what they’d heard.

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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Let’s organize a 10K footrace. At the end of the footrace — for, say, the last kilometer — we’re going to do whatever we can to encourage the people who are wearing blue jerseys and t-shirts and athletic clothing. There will be people standing by the sidelines to hand out bottles of refreshing sports drinks, and others jumping up and down and shouting slogans like “Dressed in blue! We love you!” whenever they see a blue-garbed contestant.

Why all the commotion over the people in blue? Well, that’s an attempt to offset what we’re going to do to them for the first nine-tenths of the race. You see, they’re going to be dealing with some seriously unfair shit: Instead of cheerleaders, the blue-wearing racers will have to deal with people jeering at them, shouting insults and telling them they don’t belong in this race. Some will be armed with Nerf guns or water balloons, which they’ll be hurling at the racers in blue in an attempt to slow them down or make them drop out of the race altogether.

And it’s not just the spectators; before the race begins, we’ll distribute secret notes to the racers wearing other colors, encouraging them to jostle their blue-garbed peers and even try to trip them up. Of course, many of our runners will abide by a sense of fair play regardless, but there will undoubtedly be those who take advantage of the biased environment we’re creating.

If a huge percentage of the racers in blue drop out before they ever reach the last kilometer… would you say that “not enough people in blue want to win races”?

Obviously, this footrace is a parallel for something else.

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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Just under a month ago, an iPhone developer from Australia — one who’s previously defended Apple’s approval process — had his own app suddenly dis-approved by Apple. According to his blog post about the sudden revocation of approval, “I had convinced my company to take a gamble and make some apps for Apple’s Store. Tennis Stats had been a great success and we wanted to get on the iPad train with My Frame. Things were going well, new features were being planned money, real money was being invested. Then Apple pulled the pin”.

I could say all sorts of things about schadenfreude, or how the developer — who goes by the nom de plume “Shifty Jelly” — should have seen this coming. But the guy’s already having a bad enough month, and there are broader issues to examine. Among them the thought raised by commenter Erik K. Veland:

Remember when Apple cracked down on Podcast downloaders? It was because they themselves were introducing this very feature in iTunes.

[I] would surmise [that] Apple is now bringing “widgets” to their dashboard in the near future, and that they are pre-empting any apps conflicting with the “duplicate functionality” clause. [historical links, added by Kai]

Once you’ve considered Apple’s penchant for banning apps that compete with features that are built in to the OS, you’ve got to consider how this compares against other companies’ competitive practices.

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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Okay, so I’m a little late to the party in posting this. All the professional bloggers have already written about it, while I’ve been busy with my day job. Nonetheless, something that’s been on my mind since the beginning of the week, when it would have been timely:

I think Facebook has now hit its “cap”. People who don’t yet have Facebook accounts now seem to be saying, “I ain’t gettin’ one now!” Others who do have accounts are finally abandoning them. And I’m one of those abandoners.

I have a little bit of interest in the Disapora* Project, but I don’t think it will really take off. On the other hand, in a recent New York Times article about the project, both its staffers and backers have some things to say about just how quickly they managed to raise funding — and all of those things point to a very clear demand for an alternative to Facebook.

Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has lately been saying that privacy is no longer a social norm, but lots of people don’t accept this. In fact, many of us think that Zuckerberg is saying such things in the hope of making them come true, rather than as observations of something that’s already come to pass.

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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Recently, a bunch of the blogs and journals I read (including my friends, not just big, famous sources) have had some bones to pick with Clifford Stoll’s 1995 Newsweek opinion piece, “Why Web Won’t Be Nirvana”. Stoll said: “no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.”

A lot of people have been, effectively, pointing and laughing at Stoll’s failed prediction. I’d rather consider it a cautionary tale: The man who was so totally wrong wasn’t just a random pundit who didn’t know what he was talking about. He was Clifford Stoll — author of The Cuckoo’s Egg, a man who had been online for 20 years at a time when most people were just beginning to hear that there was a such thing as the World-Wide Web, and the man who traced German cracker Markus Hess through umpteen layers of insecure computer systems and networks.

In short, the man knew what he was talking about. He wasn’t a Senator Ted Stevens. If he could be so wrong, how much faith can I place in my own predictions about where the Internet’s headed?

But wait, there’s more — how wrong was he?

Read the rest of this entry »

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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A while back, when I was writing Hummingbird, I needed to look for Twitter usernames in various strings. More recently, I’m doing some work that involves Twitter at my new job. Once again, I need to find and match on Twitter usernames.

Luckily, this time, Twitter seems to have updated its signup page with some nice AJAX that constrains the user’s options, and provides helpful feedback. So, for anyone else who needs this information in the future, here’s the scoop:

  1. Letters, numbers, and underscores only. It’s case-blind, so you can enter hi_there, Hi_There, or HI_THERE and they’ll all work the same (and be treated as a single account).
  2. There is apparently no minimum-length requirement; the user a exists on Twitter. Maximum length is 15 characters.
  3. There is also no requirement that the name contain letters at all; the user 69 exists, as does a user whose name I can’t pronounce.

If you want a regex to match on this, /[a-zA-Z0-9_]{1,15}/ would be nice and safe for use in both POSIX and Perl-style regex syntax. (If you’ve got Perl-compatible regexes, /\w{1,15}/ is quick and easy.)

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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In his latest entry on Coding Horror, “Windows 7: The Best Vista Service Pack Ever”, Jeff Atwood says:

I want the world to get the hell off Windows XP. A world where people regularly use 9 year old operating systems is not a healthy computing ecosystem.

I find this terribly, painfully wrong. The unintended consequence that comes from that mindset is: “Let’s make all the user’s hard-won experience and knowledge totally useless every few years.”

There are lots of reasons why I didn’t bother upgrading to Windows Vista (if you can call it an “upgrade”), but the one that’s relevant for this article is simple: I already know how to use Windows XP. I know how to use applications with menu bars. I don’t know how to use the Ribbon, and I don’t feel that I need to throw away my existing skills.

Maybe that means I’m not on the leading edge of the tech curve any more. Fine, so be it, but retraining habits and muscle-memory is an annoying, inconvenient task. There are times when the benefits are worth it.

Nobody has made a convincing case that Windows Vista’s blithe discarding of one of the four pillars of GUI design that’s been stable since the early ’80s — windows, icons, menus, and pointers — is one of those cases. In fact, the legions of people who bought computers with Vista pre-installed, and then paid more money just to use XP instead, argues pretty convincingly against such a move.

Mr. Atwood posits a world where people don’t use operating systems for more than, say 7 or 8 years. I’d like to counter with a world where the basic design of your car’s controls and interface changed every 7 years. Instead of a steering wheel, a pair of foot pedals, and a shift lever, suppose that the 2010 line of cars used a tiller lever and a single forward/back foot-slider. Or a joystick and throttle system, like a jet fighter.

Do you suppose the accident rate might spike?

I don’t know of any field besides computing where people think that it’s acceptable to completely redesign user interfaces every couple of years. In the terms of Kathy Sierra’s wonderful post, “Attenuation and the Suck Threshold”, redesigning your interface is a way of forcibly smacking all your users back down under the suck threshold. Instead of being able to continue to use your program, and gradually learn the new features, they have to drop everything they were planning on doing this week, and instead devote their time to re-learning how to use something they already learned before.

This is simply cruel. Please, don’t do it to your users.

There is a kind of fool who says, “This is old, and therefore good.” And another type of fool who says, “This is new, and therefore better!” But what kind of fool does it take to want everything to be new, or renewed, every few years?

Originally published at Coyote Tracks. You can comment here or there.

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