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  • Michael Krakovskiy 2:55 pm on September 13, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , bow and arrow researcher, , Futurology, , , , , , , , oil-based laxative, Phil Libin, , Scientific revolution, , Trail, , unimportant web gunk, , Web Needs   

    On the Importance of Lube 

    As a response to meaningless discussions about microformats, standards, widgets and other unimportant web gunk I wrote an article Deadprogrammer’s Hierarchy of Web Needs. The gist of that post is that what matters the most is text and images, and that the importance of everything else above it falls in geometric progression. Things high on the pyramid get too much consideration.

    There is one modifier that does not fit on the pyramid: lubrication. You see, there’s a lot of friction associated with putting content online. It’s a major limiting factor to the growth of the internet. Those who focus on the base of the pyramid and apply enough lube succeed.

    Twitter succeeded because it is the ultimate lube, the equivalent of a major dose of oil-based laxative. It lets you put little pooplets of thought at the speed of diarrhea. Text alone is enough – it’s the very base of the pyramid. Because of that people forgive Twitter the url shortening pandemic – the very thing that is poisoning the exchange of links, the terrible handling of images, and the procrustean shortening of the information that you can share.

    My ideal twitter feed is kind of like now defunct memepool.com, but with inline images. I want good copy, I want good images and I want good links (and not the terrible shortened crap – this is not what hypertext is about).

    Besides lube, there is stuff that seems like a good idea, but is actually adding friction. The days of black backgrounds and blinking text are behind us, but the new enemies of eyeballs are more subtle. Hashmarks in Twitter are terrible. I can’t read shit like “ugh, bad #weather in #hoboken #today #firstworldproblems”. Another thing that acts as sand in my eyes is “winerlinks“. They are little hashmarks that let you link to every paragraph in the story (which is a great idea), but at the same time they look like a bunch of bedbugs and scrape your eye with every saccade.

    The year is 2011 and we are walking with supercomputers attached to digital cameras more powerful than the ones that went into space probes. Yet sharing an image is still a huge pain in the ass. It just takes too many steps. Iphone apps do it relatively well, even if too many people mangle their perfectly good pictures with a totally un-fun “a fun & quirky way to share your life with friends through a series of pictures” (whatever that means).

    Here’s Vannevar Bush talking about “memex trails” in “As We May Think“:

    “The owner of the memex, let us say, is interested in the origin and properties of the bow and arrow. Specifically he is studying why the short Turkish bow was apparently superior to the English long bow in the skirmishes of the Crusades. He has dozens of possibly pertinent books and articles in his memex. First he runs through an encyclopedia, finds an interesting but sketchy article, leaves it projected. Next, in a history, he finds another pertinent item, and ties the two together. Thus he goes, building a trail of many items. Occasionally he inserts a comment of his own, either linking it into the main trail or joining it by a side trail to a particular item. When it becomes evident that the elastic properties of available materials had a great deal to do with the bow, he branches off on a side trail which takes him through textbooks on elasticity and tables of physical constants. He inserts a page of longhand analysis of his own. Thus he builds a trail of his interest through the maze of materials available to him.

    And his trails do not fade. Several years later, his talk with a friend turns to the queer ways in which a people resist innovations, even of vital interest. He has an example, in the fact that the outraged Europeans still failed to adopt the Turkish bow. In fact he has a trail on it. A touch brings up the code book. Tapping a few keys projects the head of the trail. A lever runs through it at will, stopping at interesting items, going off on side excursions. It is an interesting trail, pertinent to the discussion. So he sets a reproducer in action, photographs the whole trail out, and passes it to his friend for insertion in his own memex, there to be linked into the more general trail.”

    Stinging together these trails is still too cumbersome. Have you ever tried to post a picture of two items (what JWZ calls “ exhibit A, exibit B” (this particular link leads to a collection that is totally worth your time)? What if there are no pictures of these items on the internet and you have to scan or photograph it, upload it, crop it, post it? And what if like Vannevar Bush’s bow and arrow researcher you’d like to add a comment in longhand, your own handwriting. Or how about a little hand-drawn diagram? This simple task will likely take at least half an hour.

    But enough bellyaching. It’s 2011, and the flying cars are almost here. There’s Skitch and Evernote (Phil Libin seems to be making the dream of Memex a reality in a less lame way than anyone else). And as an alternative to Twitter there is Google+ – I can drag an image from Skitch into a text area and it automatically uploads! When they’ll open up the API doing A/B posts will become finally possible there. Please, please leave the suffocating, hashtag strewn stinkhole that Twitter became. Join Google+. I’ll be hanging out there.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 9:00 am on February 11, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , fiddler, , , , Fishing tackle, , , links, , Recreational fishing, , search rankings fall, Surf fishing, technology changes, , Web Needs   

    Deadsticking 

    Let me tell you about web development and fishing, my two great passions. Here’s a fishing story. When I was a kid, i fished off the long piers in the Black Sea. I did not catch all that much, and I mostly thought that was because of my lack of skill and resources: I though if I could cast further, have a better fishing rod, or be able to go out on a boat, maybe I could catch more. Then I noticed that one fisherman was catching huge quantities of fish.

    He had an interesting technique. Instead of using a single rod and switching from a place to a place, he’s bring ten. Each one was cheap and simple bamboo rod. He’d bait them, and drop the hook in shallow water in clear water, where the sea floor was covered with concrete blocks with holes used to stabilize the sand. I tried fishing near those holes before, but never caught anything. He’d set up his ten rods, and then just wait. An interesting thing happened: after about an hour the fish started biting, and were mostly just catching themselves: all he had to do was walk from rod to a rod and take off the fish. Sometimes just a single hole would be producing, then he would take that rod and catch fish after fish from the same place.

    This technique is called deadsticking: you leave the bait motionless, and thus exposed to the fish for much longer periods of time. Most fish grab the bait and run: you don’t even need to set the hook, the fish catches itself. When on the boat the same technique often works. Having a number of rods fishing all the time gives you two benefits: it shows you the hot spots and exposes your hooks to more fish.

    I see this again and again: a company redesigns a website, changes the core technology used to build it, spends a lot of money, and then the traffic and search rankings fall, and thus revenues fall.

    I am pretty sure I know the cause of this: broken links. Any redesign of a website of just about any complexity, especially when technology changes breaks a lot of links. Search engines are like fish: they do not like things moving from a place to a place in an unnatural manner. A fisherman once told me: hey, do you think a Tautog (a kind of fish) ever seen a dead fiddler crab jump three feet up and down? Fish do like movement, jiggling the bait often entices them to bite. But the important thing is, the jiggling can’t be too vigorous and take the bait out of the view! Google likes to see changing content, but if the location of the content darts around – you betcha boots you are going to see your Pagerank take a hit.

    The best thing to do when faced with with less traffic from Google is not to redesign the site again, but to dead stick: fix all the broken links, keep the site stable, and better yet, bring in more rods – build more sites.

    In my time I’ve seen a large number of websites and careers that were set back by CMS switches and redesigns.

    Further reading: The Russian Tea Room Syndrome and Deadprogrammer’s Hierarchy of Web Needs.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 5:40 pm on December 24, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Banksy, , , , famous graffitti artist, , graffitti artist, , , , Human development, , Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Maslow's pyramid, Microformat, Personal development, , , , , , Web Needs   

    Deadprogrammer’s Hierarchy of Web Needs 

    I recently received a phone call from a recruiter. He wanted to lure me away to some “big company” that still had “small company feel” to participate in a “redesign of a major website”. He felt like all of these things, as well as “a well stocked kitchen” were big selling points.

    I am a veteran of many website redesigns, major and minor. I’ve come to dread the word “redesign” because very frequently it meant taking a perfectly good website and making it significantly worse, and then through major struggles making it marginally beter. In the past I wrote a rather bloated article titled “The Russian Tea Room Syndrome” about this. Today I would like to write a bit more about this, as this topic rarely leaves my mind and my life.

    Earlier in my career, I had very little influence over the redesign process, but this is changing. This is the primary reason why my job title has the shameful word “Architect” in it: I write code and configure servers, but I want my say in strategery as well.

    So, Michael, you might ask, what is the problem with redesigns? Aren’t redesigns about making websites better? Well, many redesigns suffer from not following IBM’s famous motto.

    IBM has one of the best corporate mottos ever: CRUSH and DESTROY. Uh, I mean THINK. They even give out props with the word “THINK” on it and publish THINK magazine.

    Many redesigns happen simply as a knee jerk reaction: oh, look company X is doing Y and using Z. When you sit in a meeting and somebody is describing a redesign purely in terms of things other people do, you are likely in trouble. No thinking is involved at all.

    But sometimes it’s the type of thinking that is going on that is the problem. You have to think about the relative importance of things.

    I have a picture by famous graffitti artist Banksy hanging on my wall. It is a metaphor about true and false importance.

    In 1943 a Brooklyn College professor Abraham Maslow outlined what is now known as Maslow’s Hierarchy: a pyramid that ranks human needs. It looks like prior to him nobody really gave a lot of thought to relative importance of pooping and morality. Well, maybe a little – there’s a Russian idiom for a person of untrustworthy nature that originated during WWI when soldiers relieved themselves in rows, next to specially dug trenches: “I would not take a dump next to this person”. Also see “I hope they serve beer in hell

    Here’s Maslow’s pyramid in all of its glory:

    I decided I’d come up with the hierarchy of web needs:

    standard adherence: strict XHTML, CSS, etc

    choice of technology: language, CMS, OS, cloud/servers, etc

    other features: widgets, games, microformats

    multimedia: video, podcasts, interactive flash

    design: graphical elements, typography, pleasing layout

    semantic web: metadata, tagging

    usability: text size, image size, logical layout, uncluttered interface, site name/urls, browser support

    community features: comments, ratings, feeds

    googliness: search, speed, security

    content qualities: usefulness, interest, freshness, uniqueness

    content: text, images, links

    In my opinion unsuccesful redesigns happen when people start from the wrong end of the pyramid (always skipping the first step: I’m yet to meet anybody with power who thinks about these things are important).

    I will expand on this in my next post.

     
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