Let’s go picking nits in… Google Reader

Did you notice the flurry of new features in Google Reader? Following (as in ), liking (à la ), people searching (-ish?), several Mark as read options grouped in a mildly confusing button+drop down menu combined control, a new Send to tool that only appears after having visited the appropriately well hidden last settings’ tab —who knew? I’m a sucker for features. Hey, I’m an engineer: the whole world is lacking in features, or suboptimal in some way to me. I also crave smooth user experiences, and unfortunately Reader is not feeding that weird need of mine.

Trouble is looks like a playground. One where engineers have been given free rein to pile up new toys, unchecked by responsible adults. Reader was a nice newsfeed reader: now its bubbling its way up to become a social platform of sorts, haphazardly adding features all around, meatball style. Perhaps the old Zawinsky mantra should be rephrased for the brave new web:

Every program attempts to expand until it goes social. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.

Let’s focus on some hard evidence: a rectangular area, 135 pixels wide and 150 tall, hidden from view until you surgeon-click on a teeny 10×10 down arrow symbol, meaningfully tucked away at the right side of the People you follow portlet title bar (just look at the illustration so you don’t have to take my word for that). A single, humble drop-down menu that accounts for no less than five different user interaction issues —and I won’t be looking at accessibility features this time. From top to bottom:

  • First two menu items are mutually exclusive choices, though the use of checkboxes seem to convey they are not. That’s what radio buttons are for: to allow users to discern at a glance when one and only one from a list of options makes sense at any particular time. It’s a functioning metaphor, give it some respect, would you?
  • When space is at a premium, why have two exactly antonymous actions (Show vs. Hide) when a single one would do? You have the checkbox indicator for that very purpose, don’t you?
  • Sort alphabetically and Sort by recency also exclude each other nicely, but they cannot be compressed into one. Here radio buttons would truly shine, believe me.
  • Whoa. Show all and Show updated. There you are, again. Someone has an axe to grind against radio buttons, I’m sure.
  • Last, Sharing settings menu item is not meant to apply some immediate action upon the application; but to act as a gateway to a modal dialog. You have a way to show that behavior to users, and therefore enhance your application predictability: just append an ellipsis (…) there. Thats three more bytes (some more if you worship your ), but it’s for great justice.

See what I mean? I don’t like authority arguments thrown at me, but see this friendly reminder by Jakob Nielsen and this Stack Overflow thread. Now please excuse me while I go solving some real world-class problems. There is this smell coming from the sink…

Tumbling across the friendly pipes

This connected day and age has brought forth the end of isolation. Publishing one’s own essays, news, rants, photos and the like is essentially free-as-in-beer; the scarcity part of the equation has shifted to attention. Scattering these tiny shards of the self all around the intertubes only compounds to the problem: what’s one to do, though? No tool covers all possible needs, nor should we wish to! Remember UNIX philosophy —to do one thing, and to do it well.

Long time FriendFeed users know the solution to self-generated content dispersion. FriendFeed aggregates your different digital selves: for me it’s my blog, my tumblelog, my Twitter feed, my Flickr account, my Google Reader faves… you name it —and by no means I consider myself a social web junkie! (You mean there are worse cases out there? Outrageous!) In any case, Friendfeed takes your tiny social web mini-mes and assembles a coherent footprint out of them. Well, maybe not so coherent, but a footprint for sure.

FriendFeed is as good as the quality of its integration services. They are a-plenty nowadays, around 57 plus a generic RSS connector. My woes have been directed mainly to its Tumblr import abilities: being a tumblelog, I feel the format is rather similar to a single FF entry, only less limited —just as a FF entry is about the same as an overweight twit. I’d like my Tumblr posts to appear at FriendFeed as an entry+comment combination: the entry would carry a link to the original source, while the comment carries the (usually short) post body text. Nobody ever visits my tumblelog directly, so I’d prefer the link to point not to my post, but a further step up the ladder to the original news/wisdom/ditty/whatever that prompted my annotation.

FriendFeed’s Tumblr integration is much more simple, so how about some mad hacking skillz session? Tumblr4FriendFeed is a Yahoo pipe that aims to reach my set goal. It has been tested against the two Tumblr post types I use the most, namely links and photos. It even shortens the original URL by means of a subpipe, Shorten URL, that takes advantage of the very simple API set up by cort.as URL shortening service, just for the sake of it.

By all means, feel free to clone the pipe and play with it! You may import it into FriendFeed using the Custom RSS/Atom service. Don’t forget to select “Include entry description as a comment”, otherwise the body text of your Tumblr posts won’t display. There are undoubtedly many more test cases than the paltry few I fed it, but as far as I am concerned, it just works™. Therefore, I hereby declare this particular itch to be scratched. Thank you for listening.

A sad partnership

Today I was truly saddened to find this ad on Wired Magazine:

So saddened, in fact, that I set out to write this letter to to make my disgust public:

Dear sirs:

As a long time reader of your online magazine, I have recently noticed you are inserting adverts in your pages.

While I do wholeheartedly support religious freedom, I find the apparent endorsing of scientific reporting by Scientology disturbing, to say the least. In my opinion Scientology is actively co-opting science facts and methods to arrogate to itself a brand of legitimacy no cult can claim.

Therefore, I urge you to reconsider that ‘sponsoring’ relationship in the name of scientific integrity. Please do not allow your prestigious and often entertaining reporting to be tarnished by such dubious associations.

Sincerely,

If you feel disturbed in the slightest by this step by step invasion of the scientific limelight by these intruders, then by all means stand up and protest! Rational minds all around the world cannot allow this travesty of science to gain any further share of public image and goodwill. It’s either that, or stop considering Wired a (mildly) trusted source of (somewhat bland) scientific entertainment and toss it to the heap of pseudo-scientific pamphlets with cultist connotations.