Monday, January 05, 2009

Feature Creature

Chip at Holidailies brings us today's writing prompt: "The one thing I want for Holidailies 2009 ...." I'm not really going to write about that. Rather I'm going to write about the danger of adding features. Or worse sometimes 'improving' them.

Holidailies is a portal that has code to present a changing view of a group of blogs as people register entries. Or, in the case of Holidailies at Home it is a list of blogs and a randomizer to scan through them. When Holidailies started it is unlikely that the participants were called blogs. But I digress. Chip has created a simple interface. You go there and there is a list of participants on the left, ordered by the number of entries they have made, descending. In the center is a list of entries registered with recent ones at the top. Along the right side is news, info, writing prompts and links to other info, contact and to login (when you do there's a link to post an entry). It's simple and anyone who comes here can set off on a blogland journey knowing they can find some new content.

You could make up new ways that this could work all day long. You could ask that the code automatically find your blog and see that it is updated. Our Austin, Texas daily photo participates in a portal like that (City Daily Photo). While it's nice not to have to post to the portal, posting gives you control over the blog entry presented and when it appears as well as letting you select an excerpt.

You could ask that the code grab picture or allow people to link to pictures and have them show on the portal. But this would interfere with the simplicity of the site and its celebration of words, words as a gift.

You could ask to be able to search the list or order it in different ways. (Fact is, Chip had some ordering options and they gave him trouble with his tools so he wisely simply ditched them.) But ordering by number of posts puts the real Holidailies hot shots near the top and a find on your browser takes care of the rest.

You could ask a lot of things, but be careful if you do. Because change and 'improvement' can slay efficiency and simpliciity.

Since I participate in another portal to blogs as I mentioned, City Daily Photo, I'll mention a bit about how it works. On that blog you don't have to post an entry. The code scans the sites and notes new entries, extracting the one picture (you are only supposed to put up one but really it will get the first in an entry). These can be displayed in the (reverse) order of update. It takes thirty minutes or so for your site to be noted in a regular scan. You can also choose favorites. This portal has been through lots of code changes and hiccups, but its coders have done an equally good job. While the portal behaves very differently it's appropriate to its mission and not too confusing. (That has improved over time.)

Things that are 'coded' are just static because we don't rewrite some lines and replace and integrate. It is so easy to change (not really always, but still) that the tendency is to change the code. Sometimes there are bugs. Sometimes they are very annoying. These things need to be fixed. But whenever we touch code we think we need to improve it. We especially think we need to add features. And sometimes those new features are very cool and useful. But sometimes they just get in the way. And even if a new interface is more 'intuitive' (in someone's opinion), it may be very unintuitive to someone who is used to the old and has the old interface pounded into muscle and visual memory. (We look for things where we expect them and push keys without thinking.) Moving things around is like getting in your car and finding that the controls work differently. Maybe reverse is up instead of down. (My car is a standard shift.) Whether that is better is one thing. Changing in mid-stream is hard.

Another interface I've used lately is Facebook. I keep being drawn in there because a lot of friends are there. They say it is a 'social networking site.' But really it's a portal, too, in the same sense as these others. But the thing seems jumbled to me and I have trouble figuring out what I'm doing. I like seeing things change as people put up statuses, but I think I prefer my dull blogs, completely under my control, which are then registered with portals in a rigorous way. I want to simplify my life, even in cyberspace.

[Today's photo is a reflection in the as-yet-unfinished chocolate shop on Second Street which has, obviously, a mirror inside.]


deb said...

Methinks that this photo should be printed and framed for your new condo.

Linda Ball said...

If only there was a place to hang it! Maybe just a 5x7 in a frame!

Chip said...

I completely agree with your comments about creeping featurism. Down that rathole lies Microsoft Excell. One of the great things about Holidailies is its simplicity.

(That's actually a hard requirement. There are a lot of non-tech-savvy folks in the journaling community that we want to be able to include.)

Thanks for your thoughts, and for participating.