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Archive: June 2006

Forgetful Flickr

Jeffrey wrote yesterday about some Flickr problems he’s having, and while he’s found resolution, his post brought to my forebrain some problems I’ve been having with Flickr.  So I’ll record them here.  Wooo!  Flickr pile-on!

Actually, I really only have one problem, but it manifests itself in multiple ways.  The problem is this: any photo with a privacy setting other than “Public” doesn’t ever show up in Flickr RSS feeds.

Here’s why that’s a problem, instead of a good thing:

  • If one of my contacts has marked me as a Friend, and they post a photo that’s visible only to Friends & Family, that photo does not appear in my RSS feed of photos from my friends and family.  These same pictures show up if I go to the “Photos from your Contacts” page on the Flickr site.  In the feed, they’re entirely absent.

  • If I post a photo that’s visible only to Friends & Family, any comments made on that photo do not appear in my “Comments on your photos and/or sets” feed.  So I don’t know what anyone’s saying about pictures of my wife and child unless I go to the “Recent activity on your photos” page on the Flickr site.

  • Bonus related limitation: only comments appear in my recent activity feed; things like added tags and favorite-photo designations don’t show up in the feeds either.  In fact, the feed link on the Flickr site says “Subscribe to recent activity on your photos” but the only activity shown in the feed is comments on public photos.

There may be other, even more subtle hindrances in that vein, but those are the ones that have annoyed me the most.

So why is it that stuff I want to know about—in fact, the stuff that I probably want most to know about—is only available on the actual web site, and not in the RSS feeds?  Flickr knows exactly what it can show me and what it can’t when I visit the site, but when viewed through the lens of RSS, it suddenly forgets what non-public access I’m allowed to have.  To steal a perfectly appropriate line from Jeffrey’s post:

A user experience mistake like this feels quadruply wrong precisely because user experience is what Flickr typically gets so right.

Update: it seems to be a security thing, as a few people have already commented.  I guess I understand the concern, but it’s hard for me to give it a whole lot of credit: if I were that paranoid about people seeing photos I consider truly private, I wouldn’t put them on a central server that anyone can visit in the first place.  Yes, I’ve withheld some photos from being fully public, but that privacy effort is one security breach or late-night coding goof away from total failure.  (Remember when Amazon accidentally showed the real names of reviewers instead of their account names, thus exposing some authors as having slammed books competing with their own?)  So if my personal “recent activity on your pictures” and “photos from your contacts” feeds were based on long randomly generated tokens, and not the discoverable user IDs, that would seem to be private enough—for me, anyway.  Your paranoia may vary.

@media Impressions

I’m back home from @media 2006, and as much as I’m happy to be reunited with my family, I’m very glad I made the trip to London.  All the people I met (and I met far too many to have any hope of naming them all) were great, very enthusiastic and passionate about what they do.  Forget the “reserved Englishman” (or woman) stereotype: if I were to create a single composite image to represent my experience, it would be a warm, wide grin.

From all the commentary, it would seem that people very much enjoyed my keynote, “A Decade of Style”, and several people commented on its similarity to last year’s keynote by Jeffrey Zeldman.  I knew he’d talked about the Web Standards Project, but I didn’t fully appreciate the danger of topical overlap.  Fortunately, this doesn’t seem to have hurt its reception, and I’m glad people found my little trip down amnesia lane to be of interest.  Personal narratives can be highly compelling, but they can also be unimpressive or (even worse) boring.

Of course, there was plenty of love for other talks, but you can understand why I might have been most concerned about how my talk was received, it being the one for which I was responsible and all.  I don’t get nervous about speaking in front of audiences, but I do fear boring or annoying them.  If there’s one thing I strive not to be, it’s a waste of others’ time.

As usual, there’s a quickly expanding body of photos over at Flickr.  I just have two things I’d like to suggest that @media photo taggers please do (or don’t):

  1. While I appreciate the photogenicity of London, pictures of Big Ben or Heathrow airport don’t really deserve the tag “atmedia”.  The venues, sure; the attendees, absolutely.  But a picture that shows all of the seats on your flight to UK were full isn’t really about the conference.  And do we really need to see what you ate for dinner each night?  I say thee nay.  (But then I totally don’t understand the impulse to habitually take pictures of one’s dinner, so maybe I’m a tad off base there.)

  2. If a person is depicted in your photo and you know their name, you should put that in your photo’s tags.  Whether you use the proper format (“Joe Person”) or the compressed version (“joeperson”) is irrelevant, since Flickr treats them as being equivalent.  But it’s nice to be able to find all the photos of, say, Jon Hicks by a convenient name-tag.

    I’ve also seen people tagged with both their name and URL, so a photo of Jon Hicks might be tagged both “jonhicks” and “hicksdesign“.  That’s a decent bit of design redundancy and probably worth doing, but at the very least, tag the names.  I’m going to go clean up my omissions on that score this evening, so as to flesh out the semantic gooness of my own photo stream.

Just my two bits of tagging advice; take ‘em for whatever you think they’re worth.  In the meantime, if you’ve ever wanted to see me wearing a suit, or with my fangs partially extended in anticipation of a fresh meal, well then—I guess it’s just your lucky day, innit?

Mail Mishandling

As much as I detest IMAP, I have to admit that it makes testing new mail clients a heck of a lot simpler.  So after an extended period of using Thunderbird, I decided to try out Mail 2.  I quickly found myself in a familiar place:  wishing I could combine the best features of two programs.

There are things about Mail that I completely love, such as its smart folders.  Thunderbird’s “saved searches” never really seemed to work right; when I set up an “all unread in the Inbox” folder, the count jumped around more randomly than an Amazon sales ranking, and didn’t keep up with changes in the actual unread count in the Inbox.  I’ve also been completely underwhelmed by Thunderbird’s offline archiving.  It’s a major pain that any folder I want to have archived offline I have to configure individually in Thunderbird via “Properties…” and that I have to tell the application I’m going offline before it bothers to archive anything locally.  Compare all that to just saying (as in Mail) that I want to keep “All messages and their attachments” and then having the program do just that as the mail comes in.  Yes!  That’s what I want.  Why doesn’t Thunderbird allow that?

On the flip side, it’s a lot easier in Thunderbird to do things like navigate mailboxes with the keyboard.  It lets me highlight an arbitrary number of messages, hit command-R, and thus open a reply to each one.  It has labels like “important”, which are useful for helping messages stand out in a large mailbox, and allows the labels to be set with unmodified keystrokes.  In order to even get close to that in Mail, I had to install Mail Act-On, which is way cool, but also fundamentally hampered by what Mail allows filters to do.  Compared to Thunderbird, that honestly isn’t much.

When I’m in Mail, I also miss little touches like alternate-row highlighting in mailbox views.  Maybe there’s a way to make that happen with a plugin or something, but I couldn’t find one.  And what I really miss is the ability to define per-account behaviors.  In Thunderbird, I can say that one account should have all its outgoing mail bcc:ed to a given address, while another should not.  In Mail, that’s a universal setting—the very thing I like about its archiving configuration, ironically, I dislike here.

Mail seems a lot snappier than Thunderbird, that’s for sure.  But it has enough limitations for someone like me that I don’t think I can stick with it.  I’m probably not part of its target audience.  My biggest clue of that was the fact that there’s no setting (I can find) to have the text insertion point placed below the quoted text when replying.

If a mail client is going to try to force me to top-quote, then that’s no client for me.

Shirty!

While in Chicago, we went for lunch at Navy Pier.  What can I say?  We were tourists.  As we were lead to our table, one of the waiters stopped me and said, “I love your shirt!”  It was my microformats icon shirt, and it turned out he had no idea what it was.  He just liked it.

A couple of days later, as we were passing through security at the base of the Sears Tower— Carolyn’s pick for what to do that morning— one of the guards burst out laughing and, pointing to my shirt, said “That’s right on, man!  I heard that!”  The source of his mirth was my ALA “Please code responsibly” T-shirt, the one with the car-off-a-dock icon on the front.

It’s literally been years since I had a random stranger comment on a shirt I was wearing.  Is there something about Chicagoans that they’re more conscious of other people’s shirts?

Sweet Home Chicago

As Jeffrey said, An Event Apart Chicago was fantastic.  There was a great energy in the room—not only in the speakers, but in the audience as well.  The old talks felt like they had more punch, and the new material was crisp and fresh.  We got a lot of really sharp questions during our talks, and even the between-session chatter crackled with high-level insight and ideas.

There have been some great shots posted in the Flickr group, which includes a few humble efforts from yours truly.  Several of them give an idea of how packed the house was, and still there was a sense of intimacy.  For this, I give a great deal of credit the venue itself; as Jason said, I just want to take it with us wherever we go.

Thanks to all who made the day so great.  With the energy charge of Chicago still humming in my head, I’m looking forward to AEA New York more than ever.

June 2006
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