The Lords of Vendorbation
noun : Unusable web-based intranet software foisted on large populations of users who have no say in the matter. For example, the “dynamic” website for your kid’s school, on which you can never find anything remotely useful—like her classroom or the names and email addresses of her teachers. Merely setting up an account can be a Borgesian ordeal minus the aesthetics.
Tried updating a driver’s license, registering a name change after a marriage, or accomplishing pretty much any task on a local, state, or federal website? Congratulations! You’ve been vendorbated. In ad sales? In publishing? Travel agent? Work in retail? Y’all get vendorbated a hundred times a day. Corporate America runs, not very well, on a diet of dysfunctional intranets sold by the lords of vendorbation.
Terrible food kills a restaurant. Terrible music ends a band’s career. But unspeakably terrible software begets imperial monopolies.
Wholesale contractual vendor lock-in between vendors of artless (but artfully initially priced) web software and the technologically unknowing who are their prey (for instance, your local school board) creates a mafia of mediocrity. Good designers and developers cannot penetrate this de-meritocracy. While they sweat to squeeze through needle’s eye after needle’s eye of baffling paperwork and absurd requirements, the vendorbators, who excel at precisely that paperwork and those requirements, breeze on in and lock ‘er down.
Vendorbation takes no heed of a user’s mental model; indeed, the very concept of a user’s mental model (or user’s needs) never enters the minds of those who create vendorbatory software. I say “create” rather than “design,” because design has less than nothing to do with how this genre of software gets slapped together (“developed”) and bloated over time (“updated”).
Vendorbatory product “design” decisions stem purely from contingencies and conveniences in the code framework, which itself is almost always an undocumented archipelago of spaghetti, spit, and duct tape started by one team and continued by others, with no guiding principle other than to “get it done” by an arbitrary deadline, such as the start of a new school year or the business cycle’s next quarter.
Masturbation, or so I have read, can be fun. Not so, vendorbation. It is a nightmare for everyone—from the beleaguered underpaid lumpen developers who toil in high-pressure silos; to the hapless bureaucrats who deserve partners but get predators instead; from the end users (parents, in our example) who can never do what they came to do or find what they want, and who most often feel stupid and blame themselves; to the constituents those users wish to serve—in our example, the children. Will no one think of the children?
Cha-ching! Like a zombie-driven un-merry-go-round spinning faster and faster as the innocents strapped to its hideous horses shriek silently, the vendorbation cycle rolls on and on, season after bloody season, dollar after undeserved dollar, error after error after error after error in saecula saeculorum.
Think it’s bad now? Wait till the lords of vendorbation start making their monstrosities “mobile.”
Doff of the neologist’s toque to Eric A. Meyer, whose cornpensation helped crystalize what to do with the bad feelings.
HTML5 Video Player II
JOHN DYER’S MediaElement.js bills itself as “HTML5
<audio> made easy”—and that’s truly what it is:
- HTML5 audio and video players in pure HTML and CSS.
- Custom Flash and Silverlight players that mimic the HTML5 MediaElement API for older browsers.
- Accessibility standards including WebVTT.
- Plugins for WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, jQuery, BlogEngine.NET, ruby gem, and plone.
For complete information, visit mediaelementjs.com.
Hat tip: Roland Dubois.
Proposed standards for the care and feeding of user generated content
THIS MORNING Contents Magazine launched the beginning of something both good and important: a set of guidelines that could lead to a safer world for user-created content.
Contents believes (and I agree) that products and services which make a business of our stuff—the photos, posts, and comments that we share on their platforms—need to treat our content like it matters. Not like junk that can be flushed the moment a product or service gets acquired or goes under.
On the web, popularity waxes and wanes; beloved services come and go. AOL was once mighty. MySpace was unstoppable. Nobody expected Geocities, Delicious, or Gowalla to just disappear, taking our stories, photos, and memories with them. But that’s what happens on the web. Tomorrow it could be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Flickr. We can continue to blindly trust these companies with our family histories, and continue to mourn when they disappear, taking our data with them. Or we can demand something better.
Contents and its small team of advisors have devised three simple rules customer-content-driven services and apps should follow to respect and protect our content:
- Treat our data like it matters. Keep it secure and protect our privacy, of course—but also maintain serious backups and respect our choice to delete any information we’ve contributed.
- No upload without download. Build in export capabilities from day one.
- If you close a system, support data rescue. Provide one financial quarter’s notice between announcing the shutdown and destroying any user-contributed content, public or private, and offer data export during this period. And beyond that three months? Make user-contributed content available for media-cost purchase for one year after shutdown.
You may see this as a pipe dream. Why should a big, successful company like Facebook listen to us? But citizen movements have accomplished plenty in the past, from bringing web standards to our web browsers, to peacefully overthrowing unpopular governments.
I’m on board with the new Contents guidelines and I hope you will be, too. If enough of us raise enough of a sustained fuss over a sufficient period, things will change.
Questions, Please: Jeffrey Zeldman’s Awesome Internet Design Panel today at SXSW Interactive
HEY, YOU WITH THE STARS in your eyes. Yes, you, the all too necessary SXSW Interactive attendee. Got questions about the present and future of web design and publishing for me or the illustrious panelists on Jeffrey Zeldman’s Awesome Internet Design Panel at SXSW Interactive 2011? You do? Bravo! Post them on Twitter using hashtag #jzsxsw and we’ll answer the good ones at 5:00 PM in Big Ballroom D of the Austin Convention Center.
Topics include platform wars (native, web, and hybrid, or welcome back to 1999), web fonts, mobile is the new widescreen, how to succeed in the new publishing, responsive design, HTML5, Flash, East Coast West Coast beefs, whatever happened to…?, and many, many more.
Comments are off here so you’ll post your questions on Twitter.
The panel will be live sketched and live recorded for later partial or full broadcast via sxsw.com. In-person attendees, arrive early for best seats. Don’t eat the brown acid.
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Migrating from a conventional Facebook account to a public figure (“fan”) page – a report from the trenches
BECAUSE FACEBOOK LIMITS USERS to 5,000 contacts, I had to migrate from a conventional user account to what used to be called a “fan” page and is now called an “Artist, Band or Public Figure” page. (Page, not account, notice.)
There’s a page on Facebook called “Create a Page” that is supposed to seamlessly migrate from a conventional user account to a public figure (aka “fan”) page.
The page says it will only migrate your connections—it will lose all your content, photos, apps, and so on—and Facebook means it. After migrating, all my stuff is gone. Years of photos, wall posts, blog posts, tweets, you name it. Even the “help” page link is gone once you’ve migrated, so you can’t refer to any help documentation to find out where all your stuff went and if any of it can be saved.
Custom URL breaks on migration
Because of an idiocy in the database, you can’t keep your existing custom URL, since, when you request it, Facebook tells you it is “taken.” My Facebook page was “jzeldman,” but that URL is “taken” by a fellow named “Jeffrey Zeldman,” so I can’t use it on my Jeffrey Zeldman page. So I had to change to a new URL (“JeffreyZeldman”) and now all my admin links (for instance at facebook.com/happycog) are broken, as they point to the old user page instead of the new fan page. At the very least, Facebook should seamlessly redirect from facebook.com/jzeldman (my old URL) to facebook.com/JeffreyZeldman (the new one), but it does not.
So all my other social media sites that point to the old Facebook account need to be updated by hand, and any third-party links will now be broken because Facebook doesn’t let you keep your custom URL during a migration.
Third-party apps disappear completely
Likewise, none of the third-party functionality (Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, RSS, and so on) has migrated from the user page to the fan page, and there is no information explaining how to reconnect these apps.
No reasonable app like the ones I’ve mentioned appears in the “apps” section of the sidebar on my new page. When I look for additional apps, I get treated to a bloated browse of crappy apps nobody on earth uses, whose creators probably made deals with Facebook in hopes that newbies would be persuaded to hook up these contraptions. You can find “PhotoMyButt” but not Flickr.
I, however, use Flickr.
So, since I can’t find it in the big dull browse, I resort to Facebook’s Apps’ “Search” box. Typing Flickr in that box is exciting. Instead of being taken to the Flickr apps on Facebook, I’m treated to endless redirects courtesy of a broken PHP script that loops infinitely forever suffering like Christ on the cross world without end amen while never actually resolving. Each new partial page that loads for an instant before being replaced by the next is undesigned and unbranded and contains only the sentence fragment, “Please stand by, redirecting…”
The devil will see you now.
So much for content
My photos are gone. My existing writing is gone. Facebook does seem to be migrating human beings who were “friends” on my old page, but nothing else works.
Oh my God, I can’t Admin my own page
I can’t Admin my new Facebook page because the “Admin” is “jzeldman” (me at the old account, which Facebook deleted). Perhaps this is why it’s impossible to post content, no apps work, etc. Nice.
Kids, don’t try this at home
All these bugs are probably known to Facebook, and there are probably nice people at Facebook whose job is to execute known secret internal workarounds when helping an actual “celebrity” migrate his or her page. I’m just guessing of course, but it stands to reason that Ashton K or Lady Gaga, if they want a Facebook page, probably don’t have to deal with all this frustrating brokenness. They have people for that.
But I don’t. I’m a web guy. And web stuff should just work.
Filed under: Design, editorial, experience, facebook, findability, glamorous, industry, Information architecture, interface, Layout, Marketing, privacy, Products, Scripting, social networking, software, State of the Web, The Essentials, This never happens to Gruber, Usability, User Experience, UX, Web Design History, Websites, work, Working, Zeldman
Like and Friend are broken in Facebook.
I CANNOT LIKE Happy Cog’s new Facebook page, due to Facebook’s unexplained and arbitrary limitation on how many things a user is allowed to Like. In Facebook’s world, it seems I Like too many things, and that’s bad—even though a chief value of Facebook to advertisers is as a platform where users connect to brands by “Liking” them and encouraging their friends to Like them. Breaking the user/Like connection arbitrarily not only frustrates the user, it also runs counter to Facebook’s business model. Moreover, the vaguely worded error message is a lie. No matter how many things I remove from my pile of Likes, I still cannot Like anything new.
So the real problem may be that I have too many “friends” (i.e. colleagues, business contacts, actual friends, and family). I’m allowed 5000 and I have 5000. If you have 5000 friends, you can’t add more friends, because God forbid you help Facebook grow its network beyond an arbitrary cutoff point. Moreover, if you have 5000 friends, you apparently aren’t allowed to Like anything. You have to choose: friends or brands. Like anyone, I choose friends. As a result, I lose value to Facebook’s advertisers, whose products I can no longer Like. This inability to simultaneously Like people and things maps to nothing in the real world and makes no business sense, but here we are.
So Happy Cog has a Facebook page, and I founded Happy Cog, but I cannot like Happy Cog’s Facebook page. Even if I remove everything else I Like from my list of Facebook likes, I will still not be able to Like Happy Cog’s Facebook page, unless I start removing contacts, which I’m unwilling to do for obvious reasons.
If Facebook were an eager young startup, they would quickly fix this problem, which runs counter to all their business interests and is not based on any real system constraints. But, as we all know, Facebook is an insanely successful company, so they have no incentive to fix the things that are broken in their user experience.
I like Facebook. I don’t mind the brain-dead broken parts of Facebook; all web apps have broken, brain-dead parts. That’s what testing and user feedback are for: to find fix broken, brain-dead stuff. I hate, hate, hate thinking Facebook will never fix what is broken and brain-dead in its site used by half a billion people. Say “Amen,” somebody.
Own Your Data
Captured from Twitter, here is Tom Henrich’s partial reconstruction of my conversation with Tantek Çelik, Glenda Bautista, Andy Rutledge and others on the merits of self-hosting social content and publishing to various sites rather than aggregating locally from external sources.
Touch-based App Design for Toddlers
As always, Luke Wroblewski nails it:
When kids interact with software they explore and engage with anything that looks interesting. Especially if it looks like content. Graphical user interface components don’t.
Consider the example of Dr. Seuss’s ABC book on the iPad. The intro screen uses colorful blobs to bring attention to large hit targets. But tap on one of these elements and up pops a standard modal menu asking you to select from one of three options. Modal menu dialogs and kids don’t mix.
More at lukew.com.
BBEdit Revised, Reviewed.
I RECENTLY ATE dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years. If you are in a position to do likewise, I highly recommend the experience. So much had changed, yet so much was still wonderfully the same. We were still the same joyously creative young fools, yet time had seasoned us. No longer poking the world with sharp sticks, we had found a place in it. I was pleasantly reminded of this existentially thrilling encounter while opening a pre-release version Bare Bones Software’s BBEdit 9.6 update—released to the public as of 12:19 EDT today.
A beloved and venerable HTML and text editor for Macintosh, BBEdit is tailored to the needs of web developers and designers who write their own code. Its no-frills interface consists of a document window in which you write your code; a side drawer that lists all pages you’re working on, enabling you to navigate between them; a stack of buttons (many with drop-downs) you can push to perform tasks like choosing and inserting a DOCTYPE, wrapping chunks of copy in paragraph tags, checking syntax and links for errors, and more; and a report window where you can view your test results and correct your errors.
Previous versions of BBEdit were updated with the precepts of Designing With Web Standards in mind, and the current version takes some of its feature cues from Jeremy Keith’s HTML5 For Web Designers. (When I say the software takes its cues from Mr Keith’s book, I mean that literally; Bare Bones Software head Rich Siegel and his team used HTML5 For Web Designers to help develop some of their testing suites.)
Given these antecedents, it’s no surprise that the new version adds support for HTML5, including published element lists from WHATWG and W3C; CSS3 properties, including vendor-specific properties for Mozilla, Safari/WebKit, and Opera browsers; a new contextual code-hinting feature tied to your chosen doctype that includes as-you-type popups for allowed elements, attributes, and (in CSS documents) style properties; and Bare Bones’s own offline validator (HTML 3.2 through HTML5, XHTML inclusive), baked right into BBEdit.
BBEdit 9.6 also found the errors in WordPress plug-ins like fbLike Button and TweetMeme Retweet Button, enabling me to make an informed decision to stop using the former plug-in and helping me edit the PHP files of the latter plug-in so that it now validates here.
BBEdit 9.6 also offers increased performance for several common
operations, including search, and includes several enhancements and
refinements, plus fixes for reported issues. Detailed information on
all of the changes and improvements in BBEdit 9.6 can be found on the Release Notes page.
After using the new version for two days, I am switching back to BBEdit as my full-time coding platform.
BBEdit 9.6 is available free of charge to all registered BBEdit 9 customers from the Bare Bones Software website on the BBEdit Updates page. For more information, or to download a fully functional demo, visit Bare Bones Software’s site.
Episode 20: Designing Web Applications, Managing Teams, and Creating Readability
Richard Ziade is the founding partner of Arc90, a consulting firm, product shop, and idea incubator based in New York City. Arc90 has a reputation as one of the best web application design shops around. Alas, nearly all their web application design work is for private corporate clients. Thus most of us don’t get a chance to see and learn from Arc90′s work. Fortunately we can get a taste of what they’re about by visiting the Arc90 Lab, where the company shares ideas, tools, and the occasional experiment in web technology.
Thursday’s Friday’s taping of The Big Web Show, we will probe Rich (if you’ll excuse the disgusting imagery) to find out where his ideas come from, how Arc90 manages the balance between product development and client services, and how to build a reputation when your client services agreements prevent you from having a public portfolio. I will also try to force Rich to tell our listeners if he has any awesome future plans for Readability.
Prior to Arc90, Richard worked in various roles crossing disciplines in design, technology and product management. Rich shares his occasional thought on design and technology at his blog: www.basement.org.
The Big Web Show (“Everything Web That Matters”) is taped live in front of an internet audience
every Thursday at 1:00 PM ET today at 2:00 pm! on live.5by5.tv. Edited episodes can be watched afterwards, often within hours of taping, via iTunes (audio feed | video feed) and the web.