Evolve or die.

September 22nd, 2011

Jason Scott found a Facebook exchange that neatly encapsulates the pros and cons of the latest round of changes to the way Facebook operates.

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Safari 5.1 woes

September 20th, 2011

I'm sufficiently unhappy with Safari's performance since the introduction of version 5.1 to give this a try:

Annoyed by Safari 5.1's tendency to spontaneously reload pages when you didn't ask it to? There's a workaround for it, but it introduces a few problems of its own. Some Safari extensions will not work, and some of the new gestures won't work either. […]

Given how many extensions were broken anyway by the 'upgrade' to WebKit2 in Safari 5.1, I'm willing to risk losing the use of a few more extensions if it results in a more stable browser.1 I hope Apple have thrown a bunch of people at this problem and are going to roll out Safari 5.2 with WebKit2.1 ASAP, or I'm going to have to learn to live with OmniWeb's lousy Applescript support all over again, or else switch to Google Chrome and rewrite my various Applescripts one more time.

[Via Daring Fireball]

  1. So far, so promising. But it's very early days.

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The Web (browser), evolved

September 4th, 2011

The evolution of the web, tracked in parallel with the evolution of (some) web browsers.

The only browser they list that I haven't used is ChromeOS. But then, there are also two browsers I used a lot that aren't listed: Cello, the first web browser I ever used way back in 1993, and which I stuck with until Netscape Navigator came along, and OmniWeb,1 which I started using soon after switching to a Mac back in 2003 and might well be using to this day if only it had better Applescript support.

[Via swiss miss]

  1. Which, to be fair, is built around a modified version of the Webkit engine that Apple use in Safari, so I understand why it wouldn't be listed separately from Safari in a chart intended to illustrate the development of web-based technologies: the things that make OmniWeb such a good browser are client-side features, rather than web technologies.

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Better left unposted?

August 22nd, 2011

Unedited Thoughts About Technology:

Microsoft

The most mindblowing thing in technology right now is your inability to make products that people love (with very few exceptions). Brilliant, creative people work for you, and they have seriously incredible ideas. You have more money than Jesus Christ's rich uncle. I have these crazy high expectations, these hopes that you'll blow me away and you totally let me down. Just try making something other than an Xbox that I can fall madly in love with, and that more than 5 other people will buy because you didn't wait until 3 years after the rest of the market to launch it? Please? Also: I can't fucking believe you won't have a real tablet until 2012. I guess we can use it to liveblog the end of civilization. It better be so good Jesus Christ himself rides down to earth on it, if you're going to take that long. People like Skype, though, and Windows 8 looks alright maybe, so good job there. I guess.

[Via LinkMachineGo!]

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CSS unsized images

July 26th, 2011

Nicked from 37signals:

Have you noticed that software feels cheap when UI elements move around on the screen without notice? Web applications are particularly vulnerable to this problem. Browsers give image elements a default size if they do not have explicit width and height attributes. Once these images have loaded, they expand or contract to their full size, causing all other elements on the page to reflow in response.

We try to avoid this in our applications, but it's easy for an image tag to slip through the cracks. That single tag might be repeated many times in a loop, each instance causing the on-screen furniture to shift around in an unseemly way.

Here's a tip for catching unsized images during development. Add this CSS rule somewhere in your stylesheet:

img:not([width]):not([height]) {
border: 2px solid red !important;
}

Then any images without width and height attributes will be drawn with a red border so they're easy to spot.

Neat.

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Dyslexie

July 14th, 2011

Dyslexie: the font for people with dyslexia…

This font is especially designed for people with dyslexia. When they use it, they make fewer errors whilst they are reading. It makes reading easier for them and it takes less effort.

Be sure to watch the video that illustrates exactly why Dyslexie is more readable.1

[Via kottke.org]

  1. It's just a shame that in order to display the text on their web page using Dyslexie the project team had to resort to using cufon, a sIFR replacement that wraps each word on the page in a bunch of markup and makes it hellish tricky to select, copy and paste a block of text. I couldn't even paste the copied text into a text editor window and get a usable result: I ended up having to use the Instapaper Text bookmarklet to produce a view of the page I could copy-and-paste the above blockquote from.

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Languages of the World (Wide Web)

July 9th, 2011

Google's Daniel Ford and Josh Batson have been mapping the languages of the World (Wide Web):

Most web pages link to other pages on the same web site, and the few off-site links they have are almost always to other pages in the same language. It's as if each language has its own web which is loosely linked to the webs of other languages. However, there are a small but significant number of off-site links between languages. These give tantalizing hints of the world beyond the virtual. […]

[Via MetaFilter]

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Urchin must die!

June 11th, 2011

Reasons to love Pinboard1: declaring War on Urchin!

Today I finally started stripping utm_* query parameters from all URLs arriving in Pinboard. They create needless URL bloat, erode user privacy, make it more difficult to identify duplicate content, and benefit ad publishers at the expense of everyone else. Out they go!

  1. #57 in a continuing series.

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Sony passwords = Gawker passwords = ?

June 7th, 2011

Troy Hunt undertook a brief Sony password analysis, using email address and password information from some 37,000 registered users of Sony Pictures that is now freely available to download, thanks to the efforts of LulzSec. His most interesting findings relate to password re-use:

  • 92% of users with multiple accounts recorded in various Sony databases across their different services and locations used the same password for more than one account.
  • Comparing the Sony data with the account details released during the Gawker data loss last year, 67% of users who had registered with Sony and Gawker using the same email address also used the same password for both accounts.1

There are lots of other fascinating scary statistics in Hunt's post. I'd love to write more about this, but I have to go and update some account details on some web sites. Now!

[Via Waxy.org Links]

  1. Admittedly, there were only 88 instances of the same email address being used at Sony and Gawker, so the small sample size may mean that this isn't representative of the wider picture. In a world where passwords still end up jotted down on Post-It™ notes, it feels believable, though.

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Longevity of URLs

May 28th, 2011

Maciej Ceglowski of Pinboard has been trying to quantify how large a problem linkrot truly is, based on an analysis of bookmarks stored at the site going back as far as 1997:

Along with the pretty graph, I've published the detailed results by year here. Links appear to die at a steady rate (they don't have a half life), and you can expect to lose about a quarter of them every seven years.

I'm actually surprised that the percentage of pages being moved or otherwise disappearing from their original URL is that low. I'm inclined to agree with Ceglowski's suggestion that as these links have been retained by Pinboard's users – going back to the late 1990s in some cases – dead links are likely to have been identified and updated or deleted in users' bookmark collections, thereby biasing the sample in favour of working links.

Part of me thinks that I probably should do something about the no-doubt-large proportion of links I've posted in 11 years or so of blogging that no longer point anywhere useful. Then I contemplate how much work it would be ((Particularly given that I'd be inclined to try to find updated URLs for links wherever possible!) to go through and find them all and then amend or delete the associated posts, and I come to my senses…

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The Infinite Version

May 23rd, 2011

Jeff Atwood yearns for the infinite version:

One of the things I like most about Google's Chrome web browser is how often it is updated. But now that Chrome has rocketed through eleven versions in two and a half years, the thrill of seeing that version number increment has largely worn off. It seems they've picked off all the low hanging fruit at this point and are mostly polishing. […]

Chrome's version number has been changing so rapidly lately that every time someone opens a Chrome bug on a Stack Exchange site, I have to check my version against theirs just to make sure we're still talking about the same software. And once – I swear I am not making this up – the version incremented while I was checking the version. […]

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Annoying.js

May 23rd, 2011

Annoying.js:

/**
 * Annoying.js - How to be an asshole to your users
 *
 * DO NOT EVER, EVER USE THIS.
 *
 * Copyright (c) 2011 Kilian Valkhof (kilianvalkhof.com)

[Via Waxy.org]

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Everything on Facebook is Now

May 18th, 2011

Asked to comment on the prospect of one day archiving Facebook, Jason "Archive Team" Scott got his rant on:

Facebook is a living computer nightmare. Just as viruses took the advantages of sharing information on floppies and modems and revealed a devastating undercarriage to the whole process, making every computer transaction suspect… and just as spyware/malware took advantage of beautiful advances in computer strength and horsepower to turn your beloved machine of expression into a gatling gun of misery and assholery… Facebook now stands as taking over a decade and a half of the dream of the World Wide Web and turning it into a miserable IT cube farm of pseudo human interaction, a bastardized form of e-mail, of mailing lists, of photo albums, of friendship. While I can't really imply that it was going to be any other way, I can not sit by and act like this whole turn of events hasn't resulted in an epidemic of ruin that will have consequences far-reaching from anything related to archiving.

Follow the link – trust me, the full rant is well worth a read.

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Paying for searching

April 27th, 2011

Kevin Kelly wonders:

How much would you pay for search if it were not free? Let's pretend it's an alternate world, or maybe sometime in the future, and there is no free search. You have to pay for your Google, or Bing, or whatever. How much would you be willing to pay?

I would pay up to $500 per year. It's that valuable to me. What about you? […]

I couldn't ever imagine myself paying a three-figure sum for search. A nominal fee of something like £20 a year would be about my limit – anything beyond that and I'd just end up finding other ways to locate the information I needed.

I remember using the web years before Google came along. There's no doubt that Google's arrival made life easier – especially early on, when Google was so much faster and more up to date than the existing search engines and directory sites – but we did, somehow, still manage to find things on the internet BG. AG, I'd end up bookmarking more sites that I knew to be reliable reference points for areas I was interested in, and would probably find myself looking to interest groups for pointers to content quite a lot of the time. Usenet and mailing lists used to be really good for this sort of thing, provided that you were willing to wait for a reply. I'd imagine that if Google and their competitors ever went down the paid search-only road it would make Mark Zuckerberg's and Jimmy Wales's and Jack Dorsey's day/week/year/decade.

Of course, the real point here isn't to identify a price point for search: it's to underline just how rapidly and completely access to reliable online search engines has become an essential part of the online experience for many of us.

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Think of it as the web analytics equivalent of the Total Perspective Vortex

April 25th, 2011

The New York Times has come up with Project Cascade, a program that takes referrer analysis to a whole new level. Both pretty and useful.

I look forward to someone cloning this and building a WordPress plugin to put this sort of analysis slap bang in the middle of site administrators' Dashboards.1

[Via Flowing Data]

  1. On second thoughts, perhaps not. The post title explains why.

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Native HTML5?

April 16th, 2011

Translation From MS-Speak to English of Selected Portions of Dean Hachamovitch's "Native HTML5" announcement:

Native HTML5 support in Windows with IE9 makes a huge difference in what sites can do.

We're really, really sorry about IE6. Not sorry enough to disable Windows activation and allow all the software pirates in China to upgrade, but sorry nonetheless.

Web sites and HTML5 run best when they run natively, on a browser optimized for the operating system on your device.

I think we can all agree to hate XUL.

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Ghostery

March 17th, 2011

If you browse the web using Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer or Google Chrome and you dislike the idea of advertisers using tracking cookies and other such hidden methods to build a profile of your web browsing, you might want to install Ghostery. Quoth their FAQ:

[Ghostery] scans the page for scripts, pixels, and other elements and notifies the user of the companies whose code is present on the page. These page elements aren't otherwise visible to the user, and often not detailed in the page source code. Ghostery allows users to learn more about these companies and their practices, and block the page elements from loading if the user chooses.

I've relied on Privoxy as my first line of defence against intrusive web advertising and tracking for years, but I'd never pretend it was the ideal program for non-techie users. Ghostery isn't going to make me abandon Privoxy, but on the basis of my having played with Ghostery for a little while this evening it looks to be a much more user-friendly solution: a toolbar icon indicates how many tracking services it has detected when you load a page, and from there you can view information about the company trying to track your usage (complete with a link to their privacy policy) and can opt to block or allow that service on the site you're looking at – or across all sites, if you'd prefer. There is an option to send your 'Ghostrank' data back to Ghostery for research purposes, but even if you don't enable that option Ghostery continues to work.

Ghostery is free, easy to use and 100% a good thing, as far as I can see. It doesn't default to blocking all advertising, it just gives the end user a decent amount of control over what advertising and tracking they'll permit without overwhelming them with options they may not even understand. Who could object to such a thing?

[Via One Thing Well]

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"Had bedbugs been found in the Delicious offices, our server would have been doomed."

March 8th, 2011

One for the techies: Maciej Ceglowski on how Pinboard survived a sudden influx of refugees from Delicio.us

On December 16th Yahoo held an all-hands meeting to rally the troops after a big round of layoffs. Around 11 AM someone at this meeting showed a slide with a couple of Yahoo properties grouped into three categories, one of which was ominously called "sunset". The most prominent logo in the group belonged to Delicious, our main competitor. Milliseconds later, the slide was on the web, and there was an ominous thundering sound as every Delicious user in North America raced for the exit.

I got the message just as I was starting work for the day. My Twitter client, normally a place where I might see ten or twenty daily mentions of Pinboard, had turned into a nonstop blur of updates. My inbox was making a kind of sustained pealing sound I had never heard before. It was going to be an interesting afternoon.

Before this moment, our relationship to Delicious had been that of a tick to an elephant. We were a niche site and in the course of eighteen months had siphoned off about six thousand users from our massive competitor, a pace I was was very happy with and hoped to sustain through 2011. But now the Senior Vice President for Bad Decisions at Yahoo had decided to give us a little help. […]

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Flick off…

February 2nd, 2011

The good news is that when you ask Flickr to delete your account, they really do delete your account.1 The bad news is that if Flickr inadvertently delete the wrong account you're out of luck:

When Mirco Wilhelm tried to log into his Flickr account yesterday, he was surprised to find that his 5-year-old Pro account with roughly 4,000 photographs had completely vanished. It then dawned on him that only a week earlier he had reported another account for posting stolen photographs.

He immediately contacted Flickr asking if they had deleted the wrong account by mistake […]

Flickr say that they can restore his account – and have offered him a four year extension of his Pro account for free in compensation for their error – but that they can't do anything about restoring his photos and their associated comments and ratings and so on.

I'm astonished that Flickr apparently have less comprehensive backups of their user's content and associated comments etc than I do of the contents of my Mac Mini's hard disk and my iTunes library, but that would appear to be the case. I know they're operating with ridiculously large quantities of data with more being uploaded/rated/linked to every minute, but they're a big company: isn't one of the reasons we're encouraged to put our data "in the cloud" that a big company is more likely than J Random User to be in a position to keep on top of the latest software patches and make adequate backups?

[Via Memex 1.1]

  1. cf Facebook, who famously take their time over the process.

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Readability improved

February 1st, 2011

From time to time1 I've been known to rant about how I wish the newspaper and magazine publishing industry would stop distracting itself with visions of paywalls and iPad apps and find a way to let me make a single payment that will be shared out in proportion to the number of times I read their various publications. Now the creators of the Readability bookmarklet have gone several steps further than just decluttering the reading experience: they're out to ease the process of paying publishers for their work along the way.

Readability is now an online service that both stores details of stories you want to read later but also divides up the monthly subscription you pay – a minimum of US$5.00 per month – between the various publishers according to how often you've read them each month. Several very smart people are advising them on this, and I really think this could be the start of something huge.

I've just signed up2 and installed the Safari extension, and am looking forward to playing with my new toy over the next couple of days.

  1. You'll note that at one or two points the punctuation in older posts has been corrupted, a consequence of my carelessness when I restored the sight after last year's hack attack. I'm going to spend some time this weekend cleaning all that crud out and restoring proper punctuation to my archives.
  2. One quibble: at the moment you can only pay your subscription via Amazon. I trust that they're going to offer a range of payment methods: I hadn't used my Amazon account in so long that I had to go in and set up a new card.

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