Knowin’ What to Throw Away and Knowin’ What to Keep

It’s time for another installment of the State of the Hostile Web, a series that I’ve never officially started, yet have many entries examples of user-antagonism to highlight.

This time it started with a simple goal – I wanted to craft a clever reply to a Twitter post by my buddy Chris Bailey (@chriscognito):

Chris' Tweet: "Do you know when to cut bait and run? Sometimes knowing when to kill a program is as important as knowing how to start one."

I don’t know about you, but for me, I immediately heard Kenny Rogers. Maybe that’s because I was born and raised in Texas, but that’s besides the point. This was a crystal clear opportunity to blast the Internet with a reminder of the awesomeness that is The Gambler.

The Gambler Album Cover from KennyRogers.com (Links to Amazon)To ensure I got it just right, I did a quick search for the lyrics, and the first site to pop up is called LyricsFreak (they don’t get any link love from me – you’ll see why), which displays the words in all of whiskey-soaked glory. But when I go to cut-and-paste them (you can call it lazy – I call it efficient), nothing is selectable. At all. The normal click-and-drag to highlight doesn’t work and the right-click menu is taking the day off.

I was perplexed. I was annoyed. But I also know a little bit about these here Web pages, so I figured that I would just view the page source to disable the code that was blocking me, or I might copy the lyrics from there.

…and I stopped dead in my tracks, confronted with this:


&#79&#110&#32&#97&#32&#119&#97&#114&#109&#32&#115&#117&#109&#109&#101&#114
&#39&#115&#32&#101&#118&#101&#110&#105&#110&#39&#32&#111&#110&#32&#97&#32
&#116&#114&#97&#105&#110&#32&#98&#111&#117&#110&#100&#32&#102&#111&#114
&#32&#110&#111&#119&#104&#101&#114&#101&#44

That’s the very first line of the song: “On a warm summer’s eve on a train bound for nowhere”.

Seriously.

Beyond disabling all of the standard methods for copying a bit of text, Lyric Freaks encoded every single character of the song.

Part of me understands that their goal is to not have other people copy their database in bulk. Assuming they paid for the transcription, it has value to them that they want to protect in order to make some money . I get that. I’m a happy little capitalist myself.

But this practice has instantly made the site useless to me, when there is a sea of lyric sites available. Beyond that, any developer can tell you that this won’t make the least bit of difference to someone specifically scraping the Lyric Freaks site to snag their content. None.

So, the people who actually use their service, see, and hopefully click, their ads and tell others to visit are hamstrung.

Luckily Sing365 made it easy for me to reference The Gambler Lyrics.

Which I used oh so cleverly in under 140 characters:

This is a very long blog post that boils down to the fact that LyricFreaks has lost site of what’s important, hurting prospective users before they even have a chance to turn them into fans. All this in an attempt to protect something, using a method that won’t work, making the Web a little less friendly and a little less usable.

User-hostile practices do not work on the Internet. Your site or service is one among many competitors, and it won’t take long for a competitor to eclipse your work, so do yourself a favor and build solutions that reward the user for visiting instead of making their day harder in an attempt to protect a castle made of sand.

The Usability of the Link Icon

Peter Steen Høgenhaug has posted the results of a usability test focused “aimed at exploring how little documentation you could leave in a CMS, and still have even the most non-savvy person use it with no issues”. This lead him to discover how few people make the connection between an icon of two links in a chain with the act of creating a hyperlink to another page. It’s a quick read and a fascinating study of the cognitive association, or lack thereof when trying to extend real world imagery to represent online actions.

It would be interesting to see a study focused on users who are familiar with content management systems, to see if they find this to be an issue. Without a great replacement, we may need to rely on discovery and learning for this association.

This reminds me a lot of my previous post . So, posing the same question as we did there – what would be a good replacement? I haven’t been able to come up with a great iconic substitution and am leaning ever so slightly, toward simply using the word Link. I’m sure there’s something better though.

What do you think, is it worth changing? If so, what should it be?

What happens to user experience in a minimum viable product? »

“feature complexity — scope — is always the cost multiplier, not user experience. There aren’t debates about experience or how far to take it. The user experience simply has to be up to base standard in order to ship, no matter how trimmed down the feature is.” I agree 100% – without a consistent experience, you can’t trust the results gleaned from your minimum viable product.

Confusing and Cluttered Twitter Search Results

For the last couple of years, one of the most important columns in my TweetDeck setup was the one tasked with presenting tweets that mention Refresh Austin. The search itself is pretty straightforward, though it includes several variants to account for all of the possible ways that people might reference our group: refreshaustin OR austinrefresh OR “refresh austin” OR “austin refresh” OR @refreshaustin. This worked beautifully for a long time, but a little while back (I don’t know when exactly) I noticed that the feed included many tweets that have nothing to do with our group. A significant portion of these are written in languages other than English, so it’s been hard to detect a pattern.

Until today.

Twitter Search for Refresh Austin

The photo shows five recent tweets, three of which do not apply to our group at all. The key detail is that all three link to bit.ly/ra, which I set up a long time back to point to the Refresh Austin site. But in these cases, the problem appears to be due to the fact that a longer URL, which starts with ‘ra’ was cut off when the users retweeted or simply posted a tweet greater than 140 characters.

Twitter’s search now follows links within tweets to determine that they are both valid (non-spam, no malware) and also to provide additional context. So, in this case as bit.ly/ra resolves to RefreshAustin.org, the tweets appear in my search feed even though they have absolutely nothing to do with us.

So now I understand why this happens, but I do not have a solution for it. While I do not want to filter out tweets that contain the bit.ly/ra link as it is a valid link, I’d love to reduce the overall noise. This is a bit frustrating, but seems solvable with a bit of time and effort. Should I figure something out, I’ll post it.

Data Will Set You Straight

We are very proud of our empirical focus, because it makes us humble – we realize that most of the time, we don’t know up-front what customers want. The feedback from testing quickly sets us straight, and helps make sure that our efforts are really focused at optimizing the things that make a difference in the customer experience

Neil Hunt, Chief Product Officer, Netflix

The rest of the response to the question “What types of things does Netflix A/B test aside from member sign-up?” is well worth the quick read.

Interactive Sketching Notation »

"The interactive sketching notation is an emerging visual language which affords the representation of interface states and event-based user actions. Through a few simple and standardized rules, what the user sees (drawn in greys and blacks) and does (drawn in red) are unified into a coherent sketching system. This unification of both interface and use, intends to enable designers to tell more powerful stories of interaction."

Interaction Design in the Age of the iPad

The direct touch input removes a layer of abstraction, and that’s a really big deal. In this way, it was like going back to design for print – when you push it with your finger, it moves! – but it’s utterly unlike print in every other way imaginable. Point is, the direct interface really does mean reevaluating every assumption when it comes to interactive design.

Derek Powazek in Thoughts on Designing for iPad

Derek’s post is chock-full of insights, but that quote in particular struck me. I don’t think we’ve realized just how different the iPad and similar devices are from our familiar grounds, both in terms of design and usage. Tools that we’ve relied on, in some cases quite heavily, like the hover state, are on their way out, while entirely new capabilities are introduced.

We are no longer chained as designers, developers or users to that single little arrow moving about the screen. We can finally make use of all of our digits on-screen.

Game-Related Ends

“moral choices” in video games are, to me, more about cost vs. benefit than right vs. wrong. Because my real-world morality may not map to the world depicted in the game, and because “being evil” is a legitimate and common play strategy, I need to know how the decisions I make serve game-related ends.

Andrew DupontAlpha Protocol

Well said. In any story-based game, my first character typically follows a pragmatic course, though I tend to lean towards “light” or “good” decisions. Once I complete an especially good game, with a well-developed story, I will start anew to experience the game with an “evil” or “bad” character. This allows me to experience the story from a different angle, see how intertwined decisions and branch and appreciate a beautifully crafted world.

Games are a separate universe, with different consequences, which occassionaly often require that we make decisions and follow paths that we might not in our physical world. We as humans map our morality onto that universe, following our own codes and at times breaking them in ways both subtle and profound. It is both freeing and thought-provoking.

Well for me at least.

Thanks to Andrew for including that aside in his review of Alpha Protocol – it got my mind moving this morning, which likely wasn’t his intent when he wrote it. On a side note, I don’t think I’ll both with the game now that I’ve read his breakdown.