Hacking the user interface through tags

30 March 2006

I’ve been thinking about tagging a lot recently. One particular thing came to my attention yesterday, and I think it’s worth noting in public.

Users use tags to hack the UI. Tagging isn’t just metadata; it’s metadata you can use.

To wit: a friend mentioned that one of the problems he had with Flickr was that you couldn’t see al the photos from a particular date. Oh, but you can, I said, and showed him the Archives page which does exactly that – it lets you trawl through photographs by date. It’s a really nice piece of design, in fact, so if you’ve never looked at them, go and check them out.

Of course Flickr lets you see things by date – it’s one of the key pieces of data it associates with every picture. Yes, there’s some confusion between “date uploaded” and “date taken on” but that’s dealt with – Flickr lets you view by both.

My friend hadn’t found this supposed lack in functionality a hinrdance, though. Instead, he’s just tagged his photos with a tag for the year (eg ’2006′) and, sometimes, a tag for the month (‘September’). He’s not the only one – hunt around Flickr for the preponderance of tags like ’200506′ or ’20031224′. Lots of people do it.

Why do they do it? Two reasons. Firstly, they’re adding data that they either don’t think is there or that they can’t find. Even though Flickr stores date information, and they can see that at the bottom right of each picture, if they can’t manipulate that data – if they can’t pivot around it – then they store the data in a way they can use it – they stick it in a tag field. And that leads to the second reason: they’re making something to click on.

Making a tag is like making a shortcut button. One click on “2006″ shows me all my pictures from 2006. So does the “archives” function but it’s not quite as fast, to be honest, and not as immediately intuitive.

This is true of all tagging systems – tagging makes links, that’s they way it works. So as well as using tags to store data, tags get used to extend and build upon the user interface. As a developer, this has an unexpected bonus. If you see lots of tags emerging storing data you already track (such as dates), consider that the method for accessing data by date might not be obvious (or simple) enough. And if you see enough data of identical format being tracked – often in the form of machine-readable tags, such as geotags, then perhaps it’s time to consider adding a new feature. Tags are a great way to track how uses actually make use of your service.

Cruel but informative accidents

29 March 2006

Staplerfahrer Klaus [low-res WMV], or Fork-lift truck driver Klaus. A short German film, spoofing industrial safety videos, by looking at a young forklift driver’s first day at work. “Cruel but informative accidents” occur, according to the blurb.

Yes. Yes, they do. Entertaining – whilst the style is spot on, the sheer messiness of the accidents and the cheapness of the gore has an endearing, shlocky charm. Very, very, very funny; it deserved all the awards it won. Go and watch it (warning, contains strong gory violence by anyone’s standards. If you put a chainsaw on screen, it has to go off, you know).

Universal currency

26 March 2006

So we watched Shallow Grave tonight. My second time, Alex’s first; I’d largely forgotten it, so enjoyed it afresh. Anyhow, Alex later asked me what I would do if we had a roommate die with a big stack of cash. I suggested calling the authorities immediately, whilst Alex took the next train home with the money.

Then she commented that she liked David’s plan, securing the money in bonds. I suggested buying Apple products. Alex initially, dismissed this, but I explained:

iPods are universal currency. A Shuffle to two Nanos, two Nanos to a big one. We can launder money through them and they almost hold value. Plus, they’re not much bigger than hypothetical £250 notes anyway.

So if you ever see my suitcase explode, and a thousand iPods go flying everywhere, do be respectful; I’m in mourning.

Safari crashed again

26 March 2006

Safari crashed. Again. With lots of tabs open. And I can’t remember half of them.

I hate you, Safari.

More photos from Etech

26 March 2006

Julian Bleecker (landscape)
Originally uploaded by Tom Armitage.

I’m slowly getting my pictures from ETech online; the last batch left will be of my time in San Diego after the conference. These ones are slightly better than the ones I uploaded first – in part, because I’ve processed them a bit more. This is one of my favourites – of Julian Bleecker – from the afternoon where we took break on the pool deck. Fun.

The RoR hype-bandwagon mows down another cretin

23 March 2006

Now, I love Ruby on Rails. Really love it. I’m using it for business and for pleasure. And it’s now got me writing boring scripts in Ruby, just to learn the language better. And, you know, it’s a lovely language. So while advocacy and promotion of RoR as a way to develop your webapp is all well and good (because, after all, it’s one framework (albeit a pretty darn good one) amongst many), every now and then the hype bandwagon strikes. Like in this introductory article on Sitepoint, which contains the cracker:

“…without Rails, Ruby is nothing!”

Oh dear.

Rails might have brought Ruby to popularity, but seriously, that sentence is as big a pile of nonsense as any I’ve seen. It’s these kind of sentences, uttered off-hand by Rails-converts still in awe of the hype-bandwagon, that damages the Ruby community – and makes you look like an arse.

“Is controller design killing creativity in videogames?” – UK radio edit

22 March 2006

So you may (or may not) be aware that I gave a 40-minute talk at Etech this year entitled “From Paddles to Pads: Is Controller Design Killing Creativity In Videogames?“. Well, I’m now doing a 15-minute recap of it in the UK (London, to be precise) at an event which (for one reason or another) is entitled Technology 2.0. If that sounds offputting, consider this: it’s basically ConCon 2006 (and that may still make no sense to you, so in short: people at US conferences recap them for those who couldn’t make it).

Anyhow, details of the event are linked above; it’s free, but it’s also RSVP only. Do come if it sounds interesting (or, more to the point, you want a quick yammer afterwards). I’ll be doing my best to ram an 8000-word, 67-slide extravaganza into 15 minutes, and give a rough overview of my argument (if not all the lovely evidence). There are fewer words in this version of the talk. There are, however, more slides than before, and a new joke about Larry Lessig.

Also, Yoz is talking about Ning, which should be fun (in a UK context) and there’s more promise.tv goodness from the Ludlams. And it’s all chaired by Internet Celebrity, The Dave Green (from NTK). More to the point, there’s drink later. So maybe see you then. Do say hello if we’ve not met before.

(Yes, I know I still haven’t got around to posting my Etech recap and notes. I will get around to this shortly, but it’s still percolating, which is probably a good thing).

Links & notes for this month