That Busted GIF Feeling

That busted GIF feeling.

Has this happened to you? You’re using the iLike social music discovery network and things are humming along nicely. Then one day, because of a brief iLike.com server hiccup, the iLike Sidebar for iTunes is unable to download and refresh your friends’ photos. Instead of your music pals’ smiling faces, you see the classic “busted GIF” icon that web browsers use to denote “image file not found.”

Here is a screenshot of the iLike Sidebar with missing images.

Here is a screenshot, a few days later, with all friend images missing.

It’s what my iLike sidebar has looked like for the past two weeks. It may be what it will look like forever. Has anyone else encountered this problem? Anybody found a solution? Nothing I’ve tried works.

  • Refreshing the sidebar by clicking the semi-circular “refresh” icon to the right of the label, “Recently played by your friends,” does not solve the problem.
  • Hiding and re-showing the sidebar does not solve the problem.
  • Waiting days, or even weeks, for the problem to correct itself does not solve the problem. The problem never corrects itself.
  • Downloading a fresh copy of the iLike Sidebar and reinstalling does not solve the problem.

iLike’s FAQ does not address the problem. When you encounter a problem iLike’s FAQ does not address, you are supposed to contact iLike. I contacted iLike last week. I’ve also written to Dick Cheney. I haven’t heard back from either one. I’m more likely to hear from Cheney. Cheney doesn’t have a Facebook application and he isn’t adding 300,000 users a day.

Like every other recent website, iLike identifies itself as a beta. When you identify yourself as a beta, and you’re adding 300,000 users a day, it’s to be expected that your technology may be imperfect, and it’s also understandable that you may not have time to respond to every user who contacts you about a problem. Hell, I’m not a beta (and I’m not adding 300,000 users a day) and I can’t respond to everyone who contacts me. I get it.

In the scheme of things, a broken feature in a free web app is no big deal. I still like iLike. But if anyone knows how to squash this bug, I’d like it even better.

[tags]iLike, sidebar, bug[/tags]

My Ding-a-Links

“The Dark Side of the ‘Citizen Media’ Revolution”
“Blogs—the primary engine of Web 2.0’s so-called ‘citizen media’ revolution—are ten years old this week,” says Andrew Keen. Mine’s over twelve, but who’s counting? (And how can something that old be called Web 2.0, anyway? But I digress.) Keen fears that unmediated publishing, made possible by the web, is lowering the quality of discourse. To oversimplify (but only a bit), “professional” writer + editor + publisher = good for civilization; Jane Smith + WordPress = bad for civilization. The idea that the two conversations might enrich each other eludes Keen. Coincidentally, he has a book on the subject.
Mahalo – “first human-powered search engine”
Currently in Alpha, whatever that still means, Muhalo (Hawiian for “Thank you”) wants to be a hybrid of Google and Wikipedia. Whether these two ways of finding and learning can be combined by a volunteer community is the noble and exciting experiment Mahalo will perform. My Mahalo profile, written by Dave, seems pretty good for a start. Suggestion: encoding ampersands to create valid URLs on “return” links would be a nice (and easy) minor technical improvement. Hat tip: Daniel Schutzsmith.
Diagonal Stripe Background Generator
Satire of an exhausted “Web 2.0” visual trend, or useful graphic design tool? It’s both! Ajax-powered visual design tool lets you create, preview, and download seamless, striped background images, with or without gradients.
Tartan maker
Still using diagonal stripes? Get with it. Generate seamless tartan patterns for all your Web 3.0 needs.
Requirements? That’s Sooo ’90s
“Usability and accessibly must be passive to be truly successful. No requirements, no rules, no instructions.”
Supermoxie
Fine adult and children’s book illustration by Jena Scott.
Film Techniques of Alfred Hitchcock
Top 13 basic film techniques of Alfred Hitchcock. The audience is pulled in by eyes, camera, distractions, point of view, montage, simplicity, ironic characters, dual actions, MacGuffins, etc. Every visual storyteller should know these principles. Via Kottke.
Ugly Airline Math: Planes Late, Fliers Even Later – New York Times
Statistics track how late airplanes are, not how late passengers are. The longest delays—those resulting from missed connections and canceled flights—involve sitting around for hours or even days in airports and hotels and do not officially get counted.
exPhone
Recycle or help someone reuse your old cell phone (AKA mobile phone).
Recycle Your iPod or Cell Phone
From Apple. Like it says. Free.
iPhone: The Music Video
Twittered by millions. New York Times technology columnist (and former off-Broadway pianist/conductor) David Pogue dumps his old mobile for the iPhone in this sing-a-long video, set to the strains of “My Way.” It shines brightest when folks in line at the Apple Store start belting out the refrain. P.S. What’s up with the boat boy?
ZOMG! Spare me the POSH acronyms, please!
Ara Pehlivanian’s well-reasoned rant against the rebranding of semantic HTML. Minus the anger and hyperbole, I agree with him.
R.I.P. Kramer
No, not the fictional character played by racial harmony guru Michael Richards. Kramer was a great WordPress plug-in that found incoming links to your site’s posts and printed them in your comments field. Alas, a few days ago, Kramer began time-stamping all such links December 31st, 1969 at 3:58 pm in place of their actual publication dates. Not only did this strew one’s site with factual inaccuracies, it also had the effect of sticking rudimentary inbound link text at the top of every comment column, since comments publish from oldest to most recent, and no comment will ever be older than December 31st, 1969. When obvious potential remedies such as emptying the cache failed to correct the problem, I (and presumably every other Kramer user who’s awake) disabled Kramer. The program has not been updated since 2005. Perhaps some nice person will fix it. If not, R.I.P. and thanks for the good years.

[tags]POSH, kramer, exphone, keen, britannica, search, searchengine, wiki, google, wikipedia, mahalo, recycle, iphone, ipod, recycling, hitchcock, apple, design, webdesign, accessibility, backgrounds, patterns, tiles, diagonal, tartan, generator, ajax, tile, maker, creator, web2.0, stripes, diagonal, diagonal stripes[/tags]

“Maybe” is one option too many

When I’m planning an event, and I use a web service like evite® to send invitations, that web service offers three choices:

  1. Yes, I’ll come
  2. No, I won’t
  3. Maybe—I’m not sure

“Maybe” is one option too many. As a best practice, we should dispense with it, just as we should replace five-star rating systems with four-star ones.

The problem with five-star rating systems

Let users choose from five stars, and they nearly always pick three. Three is the little bear’s porridge, neither too hot nor too cold. Three is neutral—a safe place to hide. Even in the virtual world, where nothing more consequential is being asked than an opinion, many people would rather equivocate than commit.

But present these same users with a four-star spread and you leave them no cover. Two stars out of four is not neutral. Neither is three stars out of four. Any star rating they choose will reflect an actual opinion. There is no place to hide. When there is no place to hide, courage arises out of necessity. Force people out of the brush, and they develop the backbone needed to state an opinion.

The trouble with “maybe”

As data, “maybe” is as useless as a three-star rating in a five-star system—and as hypnotically compelling to users. “Maybe” is a button that begs to be pushed.

Maybe is a magnet for neuroses. It salves guilt complexes and incites passive-aggressive avoidance behaviors.

“Maybe” sometimes means maybe, but it can also mean, “I’m not coming but I don’t want to hurt your feelings.” Or even, “I plan to come but I reserve the right to change my mind at the last minute if something better comes along.” Some people even use maybe to mean, “I won’t make dinner but I’ll come for dessert.”

When you invite twelve people to a restaurant dinner via a web service, at least four will say maybe. Do you reserve a table for twelve? When eight show up and range themselves at opposite ends of the table (“because other people might be joining us”) you have an awkward table filled with gaps. The empty seats haunt the meal, suggesting social failure.

But if you call the restaurant at the last minute to change the reservation to eight, two of the maybes will show up, like ants at a picnic. They’ll have nowhere to sit, and they’ll blame you. (“I told you I might come.”)

How can you know what “maybe” means? In the context of a web service, you can’t. All you can do is phone people and ask whether they’re leaning toward coming or not—in other words, try to move them from a five-star three to a four-star two or three. If they’re the passive-aggressive type, they will continue to evade the snare of commitment. “I’m probably coming,” they’ll say.

What is the solution? Use web services that offer a binary choice: “I’m coming” or “I’m not coming.” If you can’t find such a service, build one. If you run a web service that includes “maybe,” offer an optional two-choice (“no-maybe”) version.

When demand an outright yes or no, people generally supply it. They only equivocate when handed the means to do so. Form is content.

[tags]design, usability, invitations, fourstar, fivestar, rating systems[/tags]

iTunes, iLike, and iWish

At long last, the new iTunes upgrade lets you replace DRM versions of music you bought at the iTunes store with new, higher-quality, non-DRM-protected versions. Everyone must be as happy as I was; the whole world apparently bought non-DRM-protected versions of its music today. How else to explain the inability of Apple’s server to deliver the purchased music?

I’ve got 45 files stuck in a download queue that blazes along at about 16 bytes per second, yes, I said bytes, before timing out and locking up. (Screen shots: 1, 2.) The first 50 files or so downloaded at normal speed; then everything ground to a halt, and it’s been that way for hours.

I don’t mind waiting for Apple to sort its network problems. I just wish iTunes would quit nudging me to sign in and download files that are just plumb stuck.

I like iLike

Speaking of music and bandwidth problems, in less than two weeks of use I have become addicted to iLike™. This clever web app uses iTunes APIs to keep track of the music you are playing and “watch” the music your friends are playing via a sidebar that installs itself in iTunes.

Think of it as part Truman Show, part personal radio station. Nobody will know you’re dissecting a moose, but everyone knows you’re listening to Barry Manilow. Insidiously and almost overnight, the app changes the way you listen to music. It might even change the music you listen to. (You might stop listening to Barry.)

With iLike, you can preview your friends’ music, recommend tracks to others, find free music by little-known bands that matches the music you’re listening to, and lots more. It’s a great little application. But the developers need more servers. The app often crawls. At times it’s too underpowered and overtaxed to find your friends’ music, or to record the music you just listened to. Sometimes it even goes offline, and then what do you have? Just you, listening to music. Which suddenly seems not to be enough.

[tags]itunes, ilike, web apps, bandwidth[/tags]

The heartbreak of technology

It is an internet connectivity trifecta:

  1. The phone company configured your DSL line wrong.
  2. The new DSL modem supplied by your ISP was a dud.
  3. Your brand-new Airport Extreme wireless router does not work. It’s under warranty, but to get it replaced, you must endure another hour-long session with Apple technical support. You’d rather chew off your own leg. (Update.)

It’s really a fourfecta. The phone company fixed the DSL line, but didn’t tell the ISP. They didn’t even tell their own service technician. Dude showed up to fix a line that wasn’t broken. You wonder what the guys in his Anger Management class had to say about it.

Two and half weeks into the void, a light bulb moment: Maybe it’s the modem. ISP sends new modem, you get your speed bump.

But only when you plug directly into the modem. For your new Airport Extreme wireless router cannot find an IP address even when you enter it manually. Indeed, this remarkably attractive piece of technology cannot be configured in any meaningful way. It cannot even restart without hurting itself.

You read that the new Airport Extreme works great. Alas, there was one lemon in the production line. You got the lemon. Trifecta.

Two faces

You tell PC users you bought an Airport Extreme because it was time for a new router, and Apple computers work best with Apple routers. Besides, Apple has that whole 802.11n thing going. That 802.11n is just so much better than the outdated spec they’re using. They just wouldn’t understand.

You tell Mac users you bought an Airport Extreme to replace a perfectly good third-party router, because OS X 10.4.x is semi-incompatible with third-party routers. All too frequently, one of your OS X 10.4.x Macs becomes unable to find a wireless signal sent by your ancient Linksys router.

You didn’t have to buy the Airport Extreme router. You could fix the compatibility issue by adjusting a setting on the old router. To do so, go to Fresh Kills, dig your old G4 tower out of the landfill, boot into Virtual PC, and log into the old router.

Can’t find the old G4 tower in the landfill? Buy an Airport Extreme. Apple makes it. Their stuff just works.

Support

The Lithium Woman in Apple Technical Support was unable to suggest anything beyond restarting the hardware and sticking a pin in the Reset hole—things you tried many times before breaking down and calling Apple. Why this tech support call took an hour is a mystery. Why it is called “support” is a more profound one.

At the start of the call, you said all you needed was help accessing the Manual Configuration panel to type in the WAN I.P. address, because for some reason the Manual Configuration Panel would not load. But the Lithium Woman made you plug stuff in and unplug stuff and turn stuff on and off for an hour. It was the stuff you’d already done, and you explained that, but that’s how tech support works, so you did it.

At the end of the hour, having sufficiently atoned for your sins, you again asked for help accessing the Manual Configuration Panel, as you needed to type in the WAN I.P. address, and the Manual Configuration Panel just wouldn’t load.

The Lithium Woman said you shouldn’t have to type in an I.P. address.

Impasse.

After a while, feeling bad for her, you offered her a face-saving way of ending the call without having helped you.

You figured, once your new DSL network was set up, your Airport Extreme router would just work.

But let us pause

Most readers stopped after the first paragraph. A few hardy souls made it all the way here. Thanks for sharing the journey.

Die-hards will want to suggest solutions. For them, a few details.

Automatic setup and manual configuration both end in “please try again” error messages.

The router freezes and crashes without ever connecting, suggesting that the problem is software based. We’ve wiped Airport Utility off the hard drive with App Zapper, removed preferences, reinstalled from disk, and run Software Update to download and install the latest version. That kind of reinstall usually does the trick. Not this time.

Resetting the device with a straightened paper clip is the only thing that briefly lets you access Manual Setup. You enter the IP Address, Subnet Mask, Gateway (Router), and DNS Servers. You verify the data. The device restarts itself. You bite your nails. The software congratulates you. You open a browser. You are not online. And you can no longer access or change settings. Unless you restart the device with a straightened paper clip.

Nothing works. You are the proud owner of a piece of modern art. The object is beautiful, but it has no heart. There is no network, no nothing. George and Martha. Sad, sad.

swfIR (swf Image Replacement)

Happy Cog’s Jon Aldinger, Mark Huot, and Dan Mall have published an image replacement method to remove some of the limitations of the standard HTML image object while supporting standards-based design concepts.

Using unobtrusive JavaScript, progressive enhancement, and Flash, swfIR (pronounced “swiffer”) lets designers include high-quality, scalable artwork in user-resizable web layouts—and even add styles to the images.

[tags]swfIR, imagereplacement, design, webdesign, webstandards, flash[/tags]

ALA 233: Semantic Flash, Valid Arguments

In Issue 233 of A List Apart, for people who make websites:

Semantic Flash: Slippery When Wet
The love that dare not speak its name gets its due as Happy Cog’s Dan Mall explores some of the ways Flash can enhance semantic, standards-based site designs. Part One of a series. Includes do-it-yourself, “shiny floor” project built with web standards and, yes, Flash (there, we said it).
Where Our Standards Went Wrong
No, they didn’t go wrong by using Flash. A List Apart’s Ethan Marcotte weighs the pros and cons of rigorous validation. Re-examine your assumptions. Discover the silent weight of invalid markup. Consider how to better educate clients on the benefits of web standards.

This issue goes out to our friends at SXSW Interactive.

Edited by Erin Kissane. Produced by Erin Lynch. Tech-edited by Aaron Gustafson and Ethan Marcotte (is that fair?). Illustrated by Kevin Cornell. Art directed by Jason Santa Maria. Published by Happy Cog. It’s shake and bake and I helped.

[tags]webstandards, flash, design, webdesign, alistapart, validation, ethanmarcotte, danmall, danielmall[/tags]

Praise the Lord and Pass the Pliers

A List Apart 231 is strictly for tools. Unusual tools. Tools so wrong, they’re right.

So you need to prototype a sophisticated web application, all whizzing pathways and flipping form fields. So you need complex software, right? Not necessarily. In Paper Prototyping, Shawn Medero shows how to do sophisticated interface development thinking with our old friends, Mr Paper and Dr Scissors.

From child’s tools to what the pros use, our “so wrong, they’re right” tool theme continues in Casper Voogt’s unexpected Quick CSS Mockups With Photoshop. Yes, you read that right, and no, we’re not advocating a return to table-based layouts or absolute positioning.

The greatest web magazine team in the world produced this issue of A List Apart. Special hat tip to editor Erin Kissane (aka Girl Erin), acquisitions editor Krista Stevens, production manager Erin Lynch (aka Boy Erin), and technical editors extraordinaire Aaron Gustafson, Ethan Marcotte (studio, bio), and Andrew Kirkpatrick. ALA illustrator Kevin Cornell brought this week’s articles to life with a visual language that straddles brilliance and madness, and art director Jason Santa Maria supervised all visual details and contributed the issue’s color scheme.

[tags]alistapart, design, webdesign, prototyping, layout, photoshop[/tags]

Register for An Event Apart Boston

Registration is now open for An Event Apart Boston 2007. Enjoy two amazing days of design and code plus meals, a party, and a bag of swag for a mere $795 (reg. $895) while early bird savings last. Attend for as little as $745 with a discount code exclusively for zeldman.com readers.

Learn by day, party by night

On An Event Apart’s website, you’ll now find a detailed schedule describing the presentations with which our superstar speakers hope to entertain and enlighten you. From “Web Standards Stole My Truck!” to “Redesigning Your Way out of a Paper Bag,” it’s two stimulating days of best practices and fresh ideas in design, usability, accessibility, markup and code.

Check out that schedule. I’ll wait.

Lest you be overwhelmed by learning too much too soon, we’ll help you unwind (and do a little networking) at the Opening Night Party sponsored by Media Temple. You might even win a prize, courtesy of Adobe, New Riders, or Media Temple.

Hotel savings

Our Boston Events page also includes notes to help you book your hotel room at a specially negotiated discount price.

Located in beautiful and historic Back Bay, the Boston Marriott Copley Place provides in-room, high-speed internet access; laptop safes and coolers; 27-inch color TV with cable movies; luxurious bedding and linens, and more. Best of all, it’s the site of the conference. You can walk out of your room and into the show!

Save more with discount code

During the early bird period, the price for this two-day event is $795. But you can nab an extra $50 off with this discount code exclusively for zeldman.com readers:

AEAZELD

Just enter AEAZELD in An Event Apart’s shopping cart to enjoy those savings immediately. During our early bird period, you’ll pay just $745 for the two days and everything that comes with them.

After February 26, 2007, when the early bird savings ends, the price goes up to $895, and you’ll pay $845 with the discount. Still pretty good for two days with some of the sharpest minds and greatest talents in web design. But why pay more? Book An Event Apart Boston as soon as you can.

Unlimited creativity, limited seating

An Event Apart Boston will be the best conference Eric Meyer and I have yet put together. It will also be this year’s only East Coast Event Apart. Don’t miss it.

Join Eric and me, along with Steve Krug, Andrew Kirkpatrick, Molly Holzschlag, Cameron Moll, Dan Cederholm, Ethan Marcotte, and Jason Santa Maria, for what we modestly believe may be the most exciting and enlightening show in modern web design.

Hurry! Seating is limited and early bird savings end Feb. 26, 2007.

[tags]aneventapart, boston, aneventapartboston07[/tags]