It’s my web, dammit, and I’ll do what I want!

A dirth of media articles have surfaced around Greasemonkey, a Firefox extension that lets you modify websites to your liking. I’m not about to get into the myriad scripts available or call out my favorites (I haven’t even used it yet though I did find one for fixing Spread Firefox’s column overlap issues!) but I do want to call out a shifting paradigm overtaking the web gradually, mercilously and with no sign of abating.

The trend is towards user-augmented web experiences, where users are in the drivers seat determining how they want to use a website rather than leaving it up to web designers and developers. Even on user-customizable blog software like WordPress, Greasemonkey scripts are showing up to set default prefs on the edit screens!

…Something that I read the other day on a site detailing steps to disable Greasemonkey really clued me into what this trend means:

“Your DOM”? I am sorry, but once your code leaves your server, it is no longer “your DOM” but the “user’s DOM” and they can screw with it as they please.

This is a wholly new concept that flies in the face of years and years of being inundated with the shrill cry of intellectual property and copyright fascists who can’t stand to think that someone else might want to alter their creations beyond their original artistic vision. We’ve been cooped up with that mindset for some time and only now are we starting to really break free from it. Only now do we realize — “Hey wait, this is my web browser on my computer! I don’t have to just sit here and take this! I can make my web browsing experience whatever I want — and I will!”

And as the web moves towards a more fluid model (or as Technorati CEO Dave Sifry calls it, an “event stream“), we’re going to see more of this — where blogs dissolve into tributaries and web aggregators become the Ganges and Niles of the internet. Stay tuned, I think I might just be working on something that will yet make it possible to swim the web as it goes liquid… and just might keep us from drowning in the impending deluge of freeflowing content.

Dan Gillmor makes the switch to Drupal

Dan Gillmor gets DrupalProlific author and blogger extraordinaire Dan Gillmore has packed his blog and moved it to the bayosphere, a new site dedicated to citizen journalism in the SF Bay area:

I’ve moved my blog to Bayosphere, where I’ll report and comment on the Silicon Valley technology community — and a whole lot more including my observations about the burgeoning arena that’s variously called citizen journalism, personal publishing, grassroots media and a lot of other things. They all have something in common: the read-write Web.

The coverage has been interesting as usual, with posts on Drupal, Slashdot and an explanation on the Bayosphere about why they chose Drupal

…and for some reason I was given credit for getting Dan to make the switch! While I did work with him in the initial part of this project, that work didn’t make it into the current iteration. In fact, Dan even came up to me during the PDF and asked me dryly, “So what’s this about you convincing me to go with Drupal?” In any case, I’ve now been in touch with both Dan and Jay Campbell (who set up the site) and we’ll be finding time next week after I return to the Bay area to discuss this project further. But I should make it clear… I don’t feel like I deserve all that much credit for doing any convincing. I may have been one of many putting a bug in his ear, but if Drupal weren’t really the best choice, I don’t think he would have gone with it, regardless of anything I might have said.

With that, I welcome Dan to Drupal and hope he’s got a lot of gripes that I can go to town on!

*P. S.* Turns out Moby uses Drupal too. Who knew!
*P. P.S.* See? We can get along! Matt calls the Bayosphere One of the best uses of Drupal I’ve seen.

Spreading Firefox viral style

Firefox makes everything look betterA while back a project was thunk up to do a viral video marketing campaign for Firefox. The original idea was something like MoveOn’s Bush in Thirty Seconds, but that idea was scrapped when it turned out MozEurope already had something setup with guerilla marketing firm Pozz.

Well, it’s finally landed and I have to say, it’s pretty damn clever. How do you spread a browser? Certainly not by showing it! Let people’s reactions do the convincing. I mean, when was the last time you ate a cell phone by accident?


P.S. And it appears to be getting quite a bit of press in Europe and around the web. Sweet.

P.P.S. SpreadFirefox also apparently hit 100,000 users but you wouldn’t know it because of the weird changes they’ve been making to th design and content of the site. I think Robert Wiblin’s got it right (third comment): “Now if only actually did more things and kept itself updated it would be a really useful resource!” Patience… yes… patience.

It’s been one hulluva week

One of those weeksWhat can I say other than it’s just been one of those weeks? I can’t even characterize it so much as sense the depth of the changes happening in and around me. Nor can I chalk it up to any singular thing, there’s just a lot goin’ on!

So first off, lemme give props to Matty Mullenweg, for topping 200K downloads of WordPress, the software the powers this very blog. 200K. That’s just friggin’ sweet.

Moments before and in no way diminishing Matty’s accomplishment, Firefox hit the big 50 mil. Even if the quality of design at Spread Firefox seems to tanking since I left, I’m really proud to have been part of the effort to get the word out about the Fox. And having a hand in the launch of the rather successful syndicated download counter thing feels pretty tasty too (to use an Ericism.) Oh, and it seems SFX just hit the 99,000 member mark. Day-mn…

Ok, so other schtuff.

Well, I’m deep into rewriting my CivicSpace themes from the ground up, gutting all my previous code and aiming at a consistent codebase. I still don’t know how big a project this is and I’m having some trouble keeping focus on it. The good news is, this overhaul will have very positive results, both for CivicSpace, Drupal and, I hope, themers in general. We shall see.

In other news, my nascent work on SpreadOpenOffice seems to have suffered a bit of a blow, with one of the originators of the project being blown off by the OOo proper folks. I mean, it never makes me happy to see people fight, and it makes me even less so when having seemingly silly disputes over apparent falsehoods. I mean, Charles Schulz’s line “It is a very smart attempt to fork the community.” just seems preposterous. In an all the discussions about this effort I’ve been privy to, it’s never seemed like an effort to fork anything… The way I see it, if the OOo community doesn’t develop a way to harness the efforts of its grassroots supporters, there’ll eventually be more forks than a UN dinner party anyway…

So while I have a few other related projects going on, none warrant much discussion… except the nascent SpreadCC discussion and SpreadButter

…which is, mind you, yet another CivicSpace site. Speaking of… this week was probably one of the most tumultuous for us so far. But I’m not too worried; from adversity and conflict usually springs innovation and clarity, which is precisely what we’re in need of. I’m willing to give it some time and see what happens, but between balancing theming, module improvement, Drupal development, relationship building, promotional efforts, and business model planning, it’s been a helluva week.

Oh, and in the meantime, the Web 2.0 arrived. Backpack, Rojo, and hmm… something else… all launched… Firefox got SVG, Tiger finally dropped and… oh yeah, I moved (which has nothing to do with anything).

I forget what I was going to write next. But oh yeah, it’s really been one helluva week.

The full dish on the “Always Use Protection” poster

Always Use Protection PosterIt’s fascinating how much of a treasure trove of interesting historical tidbits the silverorange intranet is. After all, that’s where the birth of the “Always Use Protection” poster occurred. And since there has been a lot of mystery surrounding the project, I thought I’d set some facts straight.
Continue reading “The full dish on the “Always Use Protection” poster”

Making it better

WordPress Woodtype WordmarkMatt writes eloquently about the kind of user experience he seeks to create in WordPress and how it leads to a much larger goal:

“We all love software that is a joy to use and elegant to work with. As far as WordPress can become that software to more people, I think we’re doing a good job.

“It’s tough work — it hasn’t been easy and it won’t get any easier. There are proprietary and commercial companies trying to do the same thing, except with millions of dollars and dozens of full-time employees. However they don’t have the community or passion that we have, and I think we can do a better job and make the world a better place in the process. I truly believe this, otherwise I would have given up or sold out long ago.”

That Matt and I share such similar moral aesthetics contributes to how well we get along. Having similar long-term goals also helps. It’s interesting to read Matt’s characterization of the development of WordPress; in spite my dayjob, he makes it sound so epic, I almost can’t but pitch in…

…Which is perhaps the reason I’ll be turning my attention to a new and exciting (as yet unannounced) venture very soon… working directly with Matt and the WordPress community… details as they develop!

A vision for CivicSpace; or Why CivicSpace hasn’t been eating its own dogfood

CivicSpace is at a point in its adolescence where it’s beginning to question just who it really is. I will attempt to describe why we’re struggling with this issue, how it is affecting CivicSpace and ways to think about our work from this point forward.

There’s a common expression in software development that recommends “eating your own dogfood” as soon possible. The idea is get to software developers to experience firsthand their work from the users’ perspective earlier in the development cycle. The thinking suggests that this will allow for proper adjustments to be made before a product ships. It’s common sense really; you wouldn’t feed yourself crap, so don’t feed your crap to your users.
Continue reading “A vision for CivicSpace; or Why CivicSpace hasn’t been eating its own dogfood”

Redesigns run amok!

A number of sites have redesigned lately including CivicSpace, SvN and VersionTracker. Do I smell a trend?

CivicSpace redesign
Well, if you haven’t seen it yet, we went live with the beta of the new CivicSpace redesign. I’ve had this on my plate since last fall, but only now after the logo has more or less been finalized (and business cards printed) did I feel ready to proceed with the site’s design.

…that and Zack and Andrew are touring the country this month going to various conferences and the old site just couldn’t be kept up any longer without seriously soiling our burgeoning reputation.

So within one week of returning from Belgium, CivicSpace got a brand new site thanks to the perserverence, determination and abandonment of sleep by members of CivicSpace and Music for America (watch for their redesign coming up soon).

Now what’s interesting to me is that on the same day that we go public with our redesign, I spot two other significant redesigns. Coincidence or serendipity?

SvN redesign

VersionTracker redesign

Well, I’m going to stick with the latter, though that’s certainly not a scientific observation.

And while we’re discussing redesigns… how about the “new” RSS icons? Is this variation a good thing? Do we need to stick to one look (besides just orange)? I’m all about moving away from the RSS mini-buttons but are we moving forward in a sensible way?

RSS Specimens

Bah! Here’s a picture of me doing my thing care of Miss Chang.

Better customer support for CivicSpace

I propose an improved model of software support based on community participation and an integrated support interface.

CivicSpace IconI had a thought this morning while talking to my roommates about the meager help system in CivicSpace. It so happened that we weren’t even talking about CivicSpace, but after the FLOSS Sprint this past weekend, my mind has been circling around ways for making web interfaces not only more usable but simultaneously more helpful.

More specifically, the standard help menu in any software, at least for me, is fairly worthless. It requires a massive investment on the part of the user in terms of time spent searching and reading. And generally, help ROI is quite low, meaning that for the amount of effort I put in to searching, reading and forum-browsing, I rarely get out in support what I put in.

Help is hard

Why is this? Because help is hard.

Help is both hard to write from the developer perspective and it’s hard to know what you’re looking for as a user. Terminology gets in the way as do the various mental models that people use to understand what software is or what it can do.

Therefore, in order for help to be truly helpful, help should not only be presented in a sensible, digestible format, but it should be timely, accurate, contextual and convenient and accommodate the different ways that people might conceptualize the support that they need.

To that particular end, I think that support systems should become more social in nature, providing direct access to communities and networks that can understand and cope with vague, non-descriptive or otherwise unclear assessments of someone’s needs. I propose that CivicSpace adopt a social model of support that increasing reliance on and participation in the greater CivicSpace community. Gmail seems to get this, although they’ve minimized its presence on the help page:

Gmail Groups Help

Support by RSS

So in addition to encouraging more community interaction for support, I also suggest that we tie actual help requests or bug reports into a CivicSpace user’s remote account in order to bring the history of support inquiries into a familiar and convenient environment. As it is now, the Help menu that CivicSpace ships with is all but completely useless for most of our users. You get a handbook for the installed modules and a glossary of terms… ok, not worthless, but certainly not helpful. What would be better, I think, is a menu like this:

New Help Menu

Granted, this is just a quick mockup, I think that it begins to bring the support process more in line with user needs and provides it in situ rather than externally, like bugzilla or the current CivicSpace Issue Tracker. With this kind of system, I imagine that clicking on the main Help menu would return a page with a special search field along with RSS feeds of your recent support tickets, of community support requests and updates of any support communications you’ve recently made.

So now that I’ve outlined this big idea, I wonder if anyone has any additional suggestions or comments on how my thinking could be improved or made to be more in line with your support needs?

Standalone IE7 destined for WinXP+ only

It turns out that Microsoft’s next point release of Internet Explorer will only be viable on machines running Windows XP or greater.

IE7?It turns out that Microsoft’s next point release of Internet Explorer will only be viable on machines running Windows XP or greater.

From a web development standpoint, this seems to be the primary argument against tying your browser to your operating system. Think about it: when IE7 hits, all of web developers are going to have learn all the new bugs that are sure to come with the updated version. As it is, we have a good dozen or more browsers to deal with. Add to that having to code for Windows 2000 and WinXP+ and Longhorn separately and you can see the size of the problem.

So it is rather significant news that Microsoft has decided to decouple IE7 from Longhorn and release it for WinXP. This cuts down the number of different operating systems to design for by one, and suggests that Firefox is indeed affecting the 800-lb gorilla’s strategy.

Because Longhorn is to WinXP what OS X was to OS 9, the upgrade process is going to be painful for more than just old Windows 2000 users. It’s also going to hurt for web developers who have become savvy to IE6’s standards support shortcomings and learned how to get around them. Adding a new browser to the mix is going to create a slew of new challenges; and just when you thought the world was getting safer for web design, Microsoft has decided to go and bust up our party.

Time to brush up on the new box models hacks. <Sigh>