onLine weblog archive

Saturday, May 06, 2000

Inca Spirit is apparently also some kind bud.
Best thing so far about doing for the first 43 days? Getting a chance to interact with interesting, nice people like Stewart, Alison, Ed, Taylor, Nadav, Dan, Jason...
On a mailing list I am on, another list member was looking for some information to help her decide how to format search results. I sent in the following response:

Interested in research and/or anecdotal stories about a) how "normal" people [ie, not librarians!] search (one word, boolean, etc)

I read your email immediately after watching my somewhat computer illiterate father attempt a search at, so I have an anecdote for you. I bought my parents a computer more than a year ago so that we could communicate by email and so they could see where I work (the internet), but they live 16 hours away and they don't have anyone back home to disciple them in the ways of the computer, so they have not developed a lot of skills.

Enough background. Here's the anecdote:

My Dad was searching for a band called "Inca Spirit" which he had recently heard perform. He went to and typed in "incaspirit-music." Of course that returned nothing (which was not clear to my father, mainly since AltaVista throws up so many links to fool you into thinking you got relevant results--try that search and see), so I asked him if they spelled their name without a space. He said "no." I said, and what is the dash? And he said "I'm just typing in some words for this thing to search for."

I conjecture he used the dash because of seeing hierarchical displays like "Home > News and Media > Newspapers" at Yahoo. I think he may have removed the space from their name because domain names don't have spaces, and he confuses WHAT he is actually searching: web content, URLs, keywords; these things just swim around in his head as one big fish called "the internet." Typing words into a search field is not substantially different to him than typing in a URL in the browser location field, and he knows not to enter any spaces there. Watching my father surf the web should be required for every web designer concerned with usability for "normal" people.

Friday, May 05, 2000

Ever read Christopher Buckley's Thank You for Smoking? It's a (hilarious) satirical book with spokespersons from the Gun, Alcohol, and Tobacco industries as its main characters. I can't help but think a Microsoft spokesperson would fit in nicely with them. From Microsoft slammed for email security holes.
More browser security problems. This one amusingly has Netscape and Microsoft arguing over who's fault it is. Boys will be boys.
Relief! I just opened up my Mozart's Requiem CD case and when I pulled out the CD, what do you think I found hidden behind it? Why it was my missing Louvin Brother's CD, Satan is Real! I shall now give it its first spin in 6 months. Then the Mozart.
Seems like the decision in this case regarding linking to DeCSS (the DVD cracking tool) should set precedent for the Napster case. I guess creating a network is different than just linking across an exsiting network though, isn't it.
You probably already know this, but the winners for the 5k contest have been announced.

Thursday, May 04, 2000

There are funny signs to be seen at
I am a little slow I guess. I had never read Derek Powazek's stoked until just now.
Metallica on MP3-Swap Services: Kill 'Em All
"There has to be some laws and guidelines to go by, before it gets too out of hand and sucks the life out of musicians who will stop making music," said James Hetfield, Metallica guitarist and singer.
I fully support what is doing on Gnutella.
This is an interesting article with a horrible title: Rivals battle AOL for Net's dawdlers.
Nice log by Dan Ancona over at vizbang. He has some comments re: the discussion on words and images Taylor and I have been having (I don't think it should be words VS. images). Pixelpony also weighed in a couple of days ago.
In a mild mannered email, Taylor pointed out that my claim below that is graphics free is not really true. Achieving a graphical effect with style sheets is not fundamentally different than using image files. I stand corrected. is an image free site!

P.S. If you want to see this site truly graphics free, go to my preferences page and select "style sheets off."
Zoinks! Destructive 'ILOVEYOU' computer virus strikes worldwide:
Unlike the "Melissa" virus, which traveled in a similar fashion, "ILOVEYOU" is more destructive. First, it copies itself to two critical system directories and adds triggers in the Windows registry. This ensures that it's running every time the computer reboots.

The virus then starts affecting data files. Files associated with Web development, including ".js" and ".css" files, will be overwritten with a file in the VisualBasic programming language. The original file is deleted. It also goes after multimedia files, affecting JPEGs and MP3s. Again, it deletes the original file and overwrites it with a VisualBasic file with a similar name.
Definitely Not Your Father's Newspaper
Preliminary analysis of research conducted by Stanford University and The Poynter Institute indicates that text plays a more important role than graphics as entry points for online news.
(Also see Eyetrack Online News Study May Surprise You.)

That makes sense to me. With so many annoying animations and banner ads, users have learned to ignore graphics. They come to read, and so they look for words. is a graphics free site! Except for the astrology section. And the gratuitous annoying animation. features some nice Flash work.

Wednesday, May 03, 2000

Zeldman: Content VS Execution.
On Jorn: Portrait Of The Blogger As A Young Man.
"I live on bread and water," Barger explains. "So as not to submit to the Idiots."
I have owned Freakwater's End Time for like 6 months, and I swear it gets better every time I listen to it.
Someone in France likes me! Translated with Babelfish:
The bidouillages on the Net, that always surprises. On, you can test a magic code which enables you to see the details of an image as with a magnifying glass.

(Les bidouillages sur le net, éa surprend toujours. Sur, vous pouvez essayer un code magique qui vous permet de voir les détails d'une image comme avec une loupe.)

From Astroscan.
Checking my traffic logs his morning, I noticed a very interesting entry in my referrers. Its exact meaning is open to interpretation. Either
  1. is listed as one of the Greatest Engineering Achievements of the Twentieth Century!


  2. Internet Explorer 5 inappropriately passes referrer information when a link has not been clicked.
Help me figure this out by answering my new poll:
Is one of the greatest engineering achievements of the twentieth century?
Or view the results.
Unbelievable! Words that haunt:
And then, suddenly, this: He was surrounded by police officers, who put him in an ambulance, which drove him to Bellevue Hospital, where the doctors took away his shoelaces as a precaution against suicide and committed him to the ward for the mentally disturbed.
From Michael Swain's Asides on Hypertext:
But don't give us hypertext as currently implemented. If you put a dictionary link on every word, you eliminate the ability to link documents together conceptually, to use linking as a structural tool. So you have to have a richer link-selection interface, allowing for selection among stacked, overlapping links.
Like Bubatech!

Tuesday, May 02, 2000

Why I love Rob Neyer:
And before you argue electronically that the Yankees "just know how to win," save your fingers because we're not buying that product here.
I think everybody already saw this, but I just read that the ArsDigita Foundation is offering a own one-year, tuition-free, post-baccalaureate program in computer science: ArsDigita University. 6 days a week, 12 hours a day.
Friend and comrade in pixels Derek has a new site up at, complete with interesting interface for a timeline of events in the past 6 years of his life.

You see, I really want to believe that Taylor is right. But then I think of the TV, which when it was first introduced was recognized as an extremely powerful visual communication tool that could revolutionize education and culture in general. 60 some years later the revolution is over and TV seems mainly to be a medium for transmitting flashing hypnotic drivel that keeps most of America tied to the chair every evening to find out if Dilbert Dowhipple can answer 12 questions correctly and win a million bucks. I emphasize "mainly" because I do recognize that there are excellent efforts to be found in TV and video. It isn't all bad. Just like Flash isn't all bad. But TV has had 60 years to mature as a form and to teach us visual literacy, and sadly, the language it speaks best seems to be "please stay seated in your chair and enjoy this titillation; should you be thirsty, drink coke; should you be hungry, try some of these microwavable goodies." And you know, it's not all the fault of the marketers and the network executives; TV is effective at that kind of communication, and people are receptive to it. Perhaps the web is egalitarian enough to keep from becoming taken over as a marketing tool where content is just bait for catching consumers. I hope so.

I don't want to be a naysayer or a doomsayer, and I certainly don't claim to be a soothsayer. I love the web. I love visual communication. I just see some very real problems with the way Flash is generally implemented, and I don't think it answers all the problems to simply say we're still learning how to use it. It's true, we are still learning, but that doesn't say anything about the ultimate efficacy of multimedia as a communication tool. I believe that text is superior in it's fundamental abilities to communicate ideas than ANY image based communication medium. That doesn't mean I am unfamiliar with the theater arts, and it doesn't mean that I believe that ideas can't be contained in visual communication. It means that I don't believe that anything can supplant text as the primary and most effective tool for quality human communication. I am all for building visual literacy, but please don't let it get in the way of me simply reading the information I want from your website. Metallica fingers 335,435 Napster users. Zoinks.
Zeldman has this to say:
The Last 'Whassup' Picture Show: This was inevitable. Ten years ago, tragedies quickly turned into office humor. Today they become instant multimedia web events.
Nadav has this to say:
The thing I find really interesting about all the silly cultural infatuations that get spread around the net is that they are the first baby words in a new literacy of graphics and animation. As a culture, we are beginning to communicate in motion graphics, which is, well, neat-o.
Taylor has this to say:
If you could somehow tweak the way reality worked and text took ten times longer than images or multimedia we'd all be complaining about all the useless text that people are forcing upon us. Browsers would have turn off text buttons on them.
On a mailing list of mine there was recently a discussion, an argument if you will, concerning the value of language vs. the value of the visual. It was good discussion and I think we all ended up agreeing that valuing language to the neglect of the visual is very bad. But come on! The written word is incomparably vital to both culture and individual. Without language (as if this is possible) the web would be more like cave man drawings than the Gutenberg press that it is. It's exciting to see a visual language developing on the web, sure. But don't let's kid ourselves: words are still where it's at.

Now, there are certainly some places where Flash is useful. I worked on a site for Nextel Direct Connect that uses Flash to demo phones that have a two way radio feature built in. The Flash movie is wonderful at showing both how easy the product is to use, and how useful the feature can be in real life situations. In this case, an interactive Flash movie is worth 10,000 words. But that is a very particular scenario unlike 99% of content that people want the web for, and the problem is that many designers use Flash where it just doesn't belong, where plain text is clearly called for, where users (not French Theoreticians) simply want to read and maybe print out some information. Image based tools like Flash lure developers and designers away from the basics with pretty animations and goofy noises; let's not justify that by claiming that images can compete with words as a fundamental and sophisticated communication tool.

Did I ramble enough for you?

Monday, May 01, 2000

Sylloge was kind enough to link to my DHTML magnifying glass yesterday, and I will as a result have about twice as many visits today as I normally would. Thanks, Stewart!
Here is a page on interaction design that is part of a site that is a good example of what NOT to do in interaction design. IMHO. I am in the minority on that opinion, I guess, since the site won best Personal Web Page in the International Web Page Awards.
I really like Joel's interface idea for tab interfaces with multiple rows.
Yahoo games already has one of these, but I am anxious to try out Poker Room anyway.
D. has one of these, but I think she is missing a breast or two.
I have a newfound appreciation for Canadian angst. (full story here)
It's quite exciting to hear that Pyra has not stopped working on Pyra. At Schwa we have been using it for a couple of months, and I love it. It needs to be more full featured to be truly useful, but it is a great start.

Sunday, April 30, 2000

Euphoria signs off the internet with this:
When i'm 80 years old I want to tell my grandkids about the places i've been, the people i've met, not the websites i've seen.
Webmutant's web design paper is a good read. A concise and rational web design ethos. We wrestled with some of these issues while designing and implementing the site for Zipatoni, the marketing agency turned interactive player at which I used to work (be using IE4/5 on PC or NS4x to see the site as it should be seen).

The thing with Zipatoni is that they wanted to communicate to potential customers (and potential hires) that they are a crazy bunch of creative knuckleheads; if anybody is scared off by the dark industrial look or the wacky interfaces, well, good riddance. So the normal standards of ease of use and such were effectively thrown out the window, and the success of the site (at least by those in charge, who weren't and aren't really web people) was judged based on how crazy we could make it. I don't think that is a very good way to approach a site, but what are you going to do when the client wants a site to communicate something that is in many ways antithetical to good site design? I had fun doing the DHTML at least.
A concise synopsis of some ASP Performance tips.
V. and D. and I were talking last night about Flash vs. DHTML issues, and lo and behold, this morning Cam had this to say:
People evangelizing Macromedia Flash as an end-all solution for web site design need to be shot. I came to this conclusion after reading the feedback to Dack Ragus' Flash is Evil paper.
You really do need to read the feeback.
Wish I'd found this sooner: Welcome to Win32 Scripting. Via onfocus.
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