Category Archives: Design

I’ve redesigned the front page (again)

I’ve redesigned the front page (again) so that it displays 40 word excerpts from blog posts, rather than the full text of the post. A similar treatment is given to archive and category pages. The automated excerpting is a new feature of Typepad, and I figured I’d give it a go, knowing that I could always bring back the original with a few clicks.

You can see it at http://vielmetti.typepad.com.

So far so good, I guess. I don’t have strong preferences about it; the advantage is that more short posts fit on a page, making it easier to scroll through a lot of them. The disadvantage is that I don’t know where the 40 word mark is, and there’s no really obvious way to say “always excerpt the lead paragraph”, which is what I want.

Fiddling with your blog is the traditional way not to write. If I had to fiddle more, I’d look for a design that worked better on mobile devices like my Android phone; the current design has a weird choice of fonts for blog title that comes out too small, and my CSS-fu is not adequate to the task of debugging and fixing it.

Yahoo makes changes to Flickr, users are not happy

The site loads slowly, the photos are all squished together, and the carefully curated metadata and tags and comments and photo names are de-emphasized. It's like a weird mix of Pinterest and Tumblr.

I'm hoping for a classic.flickr.com to preserve the old UI, in the same way that old-school Weather Underground users can use classic.wunderground.com to see things the way they were meant to be.

If I had the time, I'd cherry pick the best photos from my Flickr stream and blog about them here.

Losing the categorical imperative

For a long time – over 2000 posts – I have been putting blog entries into categories. The categories used to live in a long list on the right sidebar. I’ve taken them out of the sidebar, and now they’re much less visible in the user interface to the point of being invisible unless you happen to search for them.

I have touched enough categories to not be authoritative on any of them. A good, tidy, modern blog that is comprehensive in some narrow sphere would have a tidy list of categories and would post in each of them regularly enough to be helpful. In contrast, a laundry list of one-time enthusiams just makes it pointedly clear when my interests have waxed and waned.

Another problem is that Typepad doesn’t have a straightforward way to “pin” a blog post to the top of a category, the same way that it can mark a post to stay on top of the main page. That makes it trickier to create permanent navigation within a category.

I do hope to put together some better navigation, so that someone coming to the blog for the first time can read some more popular posts or ones that I like. The whole thing has long since gone from a narrow, coherent narrative and turned into an unpolished open notebook, gathering scraps from here and there and not always pieces that have an obvious relation to the work as a whole. If it were a real scrapbook it would have tape-tags sticking out of it at all angles in all colors flagging things that deserve to be seen again; that doesn’t have to be done with categories.

More reading: Do your categories still make sense?, from Blogger’s Secret.

Related articles

I want to put you in a category
blogger vs journalist, day 5
Category:Categories
Categories, What’s the Point?
Pick a Label – How to Categorize the World – April 23, 2013

Zoom! Speeding up the web, one page at a time

ZoomI was reading this Medium post from Eric E Anderson on blog design and especially on sidebars, and decided to rework the design of this blog. No more interminable list of categories – instead, just one little picture of me upper left, and a link to the book I'm working on upper right.

The full article is worth reading; it suggests that the footer is unexplored territory for blogs, and that you're better off with a single column with the relevant consequental contextual information at the bottom, not on the side.

I'm a little hurt by making the sidebars full of white space, but not much. My paper notebooks have lots of marginalia, but they are marginalia that change with every page, and a lot of it is sidebar note-to-self rather than publishable anything. Still, the pages load a lot faster when they don't have quite so much crap on them, and I haven't even started to explore adding more stuff at the bottom.

Typepad is particularly good as a place to play with designs, they have a lot of premade ones that look much better than anything I would cobble together on my own (see e.g. this early effort which I wrote in vi, which is probably where I'd start from if left to my own devices).

Pages load a lot faster. Zoom! And that alone is worthwhile to do a redesign for.

“The business model is hamsters generating less money with each turn of the wheel.”

The phrase is from Dave Winer, noting the path of Web 2.0 company growth and the difference between what the systems are worth to the owners vs. what they are worth to the early adopters:

The APIs are corporate APIs, the CMSes are silos, the business model is hamsters generating less money with each turn of the wheel.  permalink

I can't say this is wrong, but it brings some regret for the time spent being the early hamster on the wheel and seeing whatever value I added to the likes of brand new systems being captured completely by those systems. It makes me want to start something brand new of my own – but then – you end up being captured by all of the tools you have to learn to bring it online.

Perhaps the best thing to think through this is that all new shiny online services have a lifespan. Some of them grow quickly and then die (remember Pownce? I thought not), some of them grow slowly and still live on somehow (remember Plurk?), others never get off the ground (a dozen tiny spam-overrun Twitter clones), and a tiny handful make it to Twitter size. You generally don't know when you're starting to talk to people through some new online system whether you are going to treat it as a long-term commitment to learning a complex system, or just some hands-on experimentation in something to be ignored and forgotten in a few weeks.

So you are a hamster, and you see a wheel. Do you get on to try it out, give yourself some exercise, or do you go to your workshop and build a better wheel?

Related articles

Twitter API changes cause obvious problems for developers
Hamsters Are Watching You

assisted synesthesia as augmented reality

A comment I wrote on Ethan Hein's account of color-coding sequencer tracks:

When you say “color coding improved your ears”, the first thing that comes to mind is that you are doing some kind of machine-assisted synesthesia. very cool, that.

another enticing pice from oblong industries

It's true that one of the elements is a blue ball that bounces in time to the music and touches down on the notes that are playing just then. Also true: a ball like that can never be entirely serious, but it can be entirely effective. What works is assisted synaesthesia, making sound seem like sight and looking seem like hearing. The time in which music happens is turned into the space of the animated score.

And then pretty quickly we hit this video of John Underkoffler at TED on the future of the user interface. Not quite what I was after, very lovely in its own Minority Report style but not for the perspective I was after.

This has an interesting perspective from a synaesthete, but I won't quote based on the copyright:

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An, finally, aha, wikipedia yields a reference: Plouznikoff, N., Plouznikoff, A. & Robert, J.-M. (2005), "Artificial Grapheme-Color Synesthesia for Wearable Task Support", Ninth IEEE International Symposium on Wearable Computers, pp. 108-113

This paper presents the benefits of generating an artificial visual synesthesia through a wearable computer. Following a short introduction to remind the need for seamless human-wearable computer interactions, this paper makes the case for drawing upon synesthesia, a combination of the senses naturally occurring in a small portion of the population, to augment everyday entities and more precisely to enrich written graphemes. We present the rationale behind our research and summarize the functionality, architecture and implementation of our current prototype. Preliminary results suggest that this kind of artificial synesthesia improves short term memory recall and visual information search times.

and the followup paper crucially gives the link to augmented reality

This paper studies a novel approach advocating the virtual alteration of real-world interfaces through a form of augmented reality. Following an introduction reminding the need for easy to use and more consistent interfaces across our many day to day devices, this paper makes the case for using wearable computers to enhance the interactions between humans and conventional appliances. We present the rationale behind our research and summarize our current prototype's functionalities, architecture and implementation. Preliminary results suggest that virtually altering the interface of real world devices improves execution times for simple tasks using these devices.