The problem with aggregators like Digg and Reddit

First of all, yes, I use Digg and Reddit. For those who don’t know, these are two of the most well-known “Web 2.0” sites. People send links about some news (or something interesting) and other people vote for such links. The most voted links go to the main page, from time to time. It is interesting to see where the collective mind goes, even when you find yourself in one of the retarded corners of the internet.

The biggest problem with them is that there is no way to point that one history is the same as another posted already. While I’m not sure about it, I hope the both sites would consider that, if someone post a link that was already posted, it would count as a vote for the first story and not create a new thing so people have to vote for it again.

Even with link dup checking, there are still some problems: Imagine that I find something interesting in the web, so I post some very small description on this website with a link to the original story and post my blog link on Digg/Reddit. Then I just sit down and wait for people to come to my site and I get a lot of money from Google Ads (no, I don’t have Google Ads on this site.) This is called “link-hijack” by the Reddit community and, more than once, I saw links with “Non-Link-Hijacked” in the title, which means someone decided to pick the original link and post it instead of someone else blog.

There are some link-hijacks that are a little bit more complicated to catch. First, let’s say someone find an interesting image. You can post it on tinyimg, imageshack or even in your hosted Gallery, with all those lovely Google Ads. There is no link for the original story and, most of the time, since the image appears on several different places at the same time, you lose the track of the original. Also, there are some stories which are, actually, part of the same big event. One of the examples that comes to my mind is the “This is cool”, which appeared on Reddit (sorry, but it is quite hard to find anything on Reddit after more than one week.) It was a photo of Barack Obama pointing to something. Someone photoshopped it, putting some sunglasses and added the link with the title “More cooler”. Then it started: People added an explosion on the background (you can see it here, which was posted under the story “Cooler”), and people put a nanchuck on Barack’s hand (see it here) and posted under the title “Coolerer”.) So, the joke spawned over several different links, and over several different links. There is no way an engine would recognized them as the same thing (and, most importantly, are they the same thing?)

That brings a question: what it is more interesting, something that people say “this is interesting” or something that gets a lot of attention on the web (like the original link-hijack)? Personally, I think that the even behind such stories and links is the main factor. Posting a link which explains climate change is destroying the environment and another link where scientists make pretty graphs showing that there is no relationship between global warming and the decline of pirates are, in fact, different stories, but they are linked by the same event. And that’s the problem with those aggregators: they care about links, not events.

Now, to be completely honest, I don’t think anyone would come an easy solution for that. It is easier to track links than events. And how would you check if link X is really related to link Y? Again, you have to trust that the community would take care of showing that X and Y are linked (or not) by some mechanism (tags? direct dragging links to say that they are related?) The first think that comes to my mind is something like “Human Brain Cloud” does to create the relationship between two words: the more the people link those two, that relationship becomes stronger and all the other ones, weaker. The problem is: would you really expect that people would sit down and say that link X is related to link Y? Over and over again? Instead of just clicking an arrow that points up or down? No, I don’t think so. You’ll have to search the current links, see of there is anything related and create the links.

But, in the end, I can see that cool things would emerge. Like you could be seeing some news report about google, which points to another news about how the energy usage is going up in the world, which is related to another story about Finland hoping that big datacenters move there where it is cooler (so no need of air-conditioning) and energy is plenty. Too bad we can’t expect that people would actually sit down and relate stories.

Mac OS applications are not very friendly

Long before having a Mac, I learnt about it interface and the Application/Window relationship on Mac OS.

You see, there is a fundamental difference between Linux/Windows application and Mac OS application. While in the first two the window is the application (and closing the windows, closes the application), on Mac OS it is not quite like that: you can have an application running without any windows (it would still show on the task list and it would have a menu on the top, but you may have no windows at all.) It makes sense for some applications to don’t have any windows, as it makes sense for some applications to simply disappear if there are no windows open.

Examples: if you are using some text editor, when you close your window/document, it really means you are done? Maybe not, maybe you just want to close that document before starting a new one. In this case, it makes sense to have the application still running. The same goes when you have more than one document open: displaying it as two separate windows make them independent of each other and you can choose how to work with them (that’s something it took years to Microsoft to realize and dump the MDI [multi-document interface] Word was using since it was called Word.)

So, basically, what you have on Mac OS is that every document should be a window and closing all documents don’t close the application.

One of the things that annoys the hell of me is trying to use Mac OS applications in a Mac OS way. One example is Safari: If you follow the idea behind the window/application Apple introduced, you’d have one Safari window for each site. The thing that annoys me on that is that there is no visual feedback about what it is doing. Firefox have the spinning circle, Safari has nothing. To make it display any feedback, you have to enable tabs, which means you’d start opening tabs for every page, which is not the way you should use this. And, to be honest, have a single, dangling tab just to display a damn spinning circle is quite stupid.

Mail.app is another application that completely fails on user feedback. I have some 20-something filters and my IMAP server is not that fast. So, when I start the application, it does nothing. Then it beeps. And displays nothing. And then, suddenly, it displays the mail counts. And there is this space in the sidebar which says “Mail activity”. A completely lost space which could be used to display, for example, “Retrieving your email”, “Applying filters”, “Checking new mail on folder X”.

Other applications simply decide not to follow the window/application metaphor. One example is PhotoBooth. I really like to take a picture of me from time to time and update my 15-something social networks site (well, from “time to time” more likely to be “every year or so”.) The thing about PhotoBooth is that, if you close the window, the application closes too.

Software Update is ever worst. If it doesn’t find an update, it displays “There are no updates” and, when you click “Ok”, it simply disappears. No window, no application, no nothing. What kinda of user feedback is that? Show the user that the update list is empty and let the user close the window or the application. Like every other Mac OS application.

And, on top of that, all those applications where produced by Apple itself. And I won’t even comment about iTunes, which doesn’t even follow the default theme you’re using.

Lore vs (statistical) Data

As most of you already know, I’m playing World of Warcraft for a while. “For a while” means “time enough to create about 6 characters.”

Anyway, this morning, playing with my Blood Elf, I got myself asking “what the hell is this ‘dead scar’ in the middle of the map?” And the answer was easy to find on WowWiki. And, to my surprise, they have a pretty good explanation for that.

Which also made me think about the whole WoW lore. I mean, it is not the first time I got impressed by the richness of the lore. When I was playing with a Draenei and doing all the chained quests one right after the another, I got a pretty good idea of the events from the arrival of the Draenei to Azeroth, to the beginnings of the alliance between humans, elfs and dwarfs and the draenei. And the way the quests were designed makes this easy to get, as long as you follow them in order.

Before WoW, I used to play GuildWars. The way GuildWars works is quite the same way WoW works, except that the quests are designed to be done in just one place, then you have to complete a special quest, a “mission” in GuildWars-lingo, then you move to the next area, do more quests, open the mission and so on. It forces you to follow the lore, to learn what did happen in there.

In a way, like Gerald once told me, things get a complete different perspective when you realize that everything your character is is just a few numbers in a database. That’s the way I feel about most people who play WoW: they are just fighting the numbers in the database, not following a story where you play a character on it. They are munchkins, not RPGers.

PS: Isn’t it cool that the two androids in the Star Trek universe make a nice subject?