The Voice is in the Words

Ben Brooks wonders if Instapaper and RSS readers are making the web bland1:

It would seem that everyone has a relationship with the way a writers site is designed — be it dark text on light backgrounds or light text on dark backgrounds. We get emotionally attached to these bits and channel that design while we read the articles. A site’s design helps to convey the message of the written words.

This is great, but what about people who never read the articles on the actual sites?

People like me. I do most of this kind of reading on my iPad in Reeder.

Brooks point, I think, is that removing the writing from the context of the site may be doing yourself a disservice as a reader.

I see his point, but I also think about writers who use standard templates on sites like Blogger and Tumblr. Experience Points is an excellent, in-depth blog on videogame analysis with a common Blogger template. Same thing with Game-ism, which covers the same subject but with a WordPress layout you’ve probably seen on other sites. Shaveblog uses the Colophon Tumblr theme, which is also used by Instapaper’s Blog and countless other writers on Tumblr.

How about Twitter? The most you can customize your Twitter page is by changing the background and maybe some colors. You can’t change fonts. It could be read on a computer, on a phone, in Twitter for Mac, Twitterrific for iPhone, a text message, an RSS feed, Twitter.com…I think I can detect the author’s voice among the other tweets coming in that all look the same (with the exception of the profile image and text). If you’re on Twitter you simply can’t know where and how your followers will read your tweets.

Brooks writes “Wouldn’t it be neat if Instapaper saved the site color and font information?” Sometimes that’s exactly what I don’t want, because writers aren’t always designers.

Is that different on the internet where you see writers like Shawn Blanc who are clearly good writers AND designers?

John Gruber’s post regarding blogging platforms2 touches on this topic a bit, but his point isn’t so much about a writer’s voice being told by a site’s design. It’s more about how default templates do little to portray a unique brand.

I’m making an assumption, maybe incorrectly, that most people who write online aren’t good designers. That’s why there’s Blogger and Tumblr and Posterous and WordPress.com. And that’s fine. You can usually tell a writer’s voice through things other than design – things like how many times they use the word “and” in a sentence, or how many exclamation points they use, or if their paragraphs are long or short. This is how we’ve been reading books for centuries.


  1. Are We Making the Web A Bit Bland? — The Brooks Review

  2. For those of you who can “just tell” if a site uses WordPress by looking at it: Daring Fireball: Blank Slate

Streaming services are the new bitrate wars

Rdio discussion board post pretty much goes like this.

Guy 1: Uhh – Rdio streaming is horrible!! Not as good as spotify by far.
Guy 2: No way. I have a Soundblaster XTIWTFBBQ and Rdio sounds as good as my 320kbps MP3s.
Rdio: We limit the bitrate on 3G streaming so your cell phone company doesn’t screw you over. We stream CD quality everywhere else.
Guy 3: CD Quality? P’shaw! What do you think that means?
Guy 4: Rhapsody sounds the best!
Guy 1: There’s no mids in the Rdio streams!

Facebook Questions

Facebook had some down time today after some new features were accidentally released. Epicenter has more.

One of those features is Facebook Questions, where you can ask a question in your stream and people can supply answers. Kind of like what Tumblr has.

See?

facebookquestions

That first field is for questions and the one below it is where you give some explanation of why you’re asking it.

MTV is teaming with Rhapsody for music discovery website

“This list is a pure hotness list,” Shannon Connolly, Vice President of Digital Music Strategy at MTV said in an interview with Wired.com. “We are intentionally presenting artists to the user that are high-ranking in velocity.”

I’m not sure I know what that means.

Velocity, in this case, means buzz — measured daily by incorporating feeds from Twitter, Facebook, and news sites from around the web. MTV is using technology developed by a company called The Echo Nest to determine the most buzz-worthy songs and artists on any given day.

Oh, ok. Like what The Hype Machine kinda already does.

High Speed Internet ≠ Broadband

I thought it was weird that my ISP didn’t advertise their service as broadband.

The FCC found that 30% of users had a download speed of more than 6 Mbps or more, 58% had a speed between 3 and 6 Mbps, and 12% had speeds below 3Mbps. The respective figures for uploads were 12% with more than 1.5 Mbps, 39% with 768 Kbps to 1.5 Mbps, and 49% with less than 768 kbps. All the figures are based on the maximum speed of the package a subscriber is on, meaning the actual speed they get may well often be lower.

I’m part of that 12% along with everyone in my town. DSL is the only option.

The figures also showed that consumers still aren’t getting much competition when it comes to decent speeds. …almost one in four people live in an area where there is only one provider offering a package of at least 3Mbps download and 768 kbps upload (which is below the FCC standard for “broadband.”)

I think we get 1Mbps.

Ollie Is Twitter

Meet Ollie.

Ollie

You may already know Ollie. Ollie is a Twitter bird. You can sometimes find him (or her?) on websites by Twitter account links. Sometimes Ollie even gets placed into news articles about Twitter.

googlenewsollie

There’s no doubt about it. Ollie is the most popular Twitter bird.

But Ollie is not Twitter’s bird. Ollie is Iconfactory’s Twitterrific bird. Twitter has a bird, but as far as I know it doesn’t have a name. It also doesn’t have eyes and feet. It’s a silhouette. For a long time Twitter’s bird was used for accounts with no profile image, although lately it looks like they’ve reserved that bird for app icons and replaced no-image profiles with an egg for tweets about to hatch.

But Ollie has been in active duty since 2007 when Twitterrific for Mac was released. And since Ollie was one of the only Twitter birds at the time Twitter started, well, over time Ollie became synonymous with Twitter.

So here we are, almost four years later, and it doesn’t look like things have changed.

That’s an interesting predicament for Twitter. The platform’s strongest visual identity doesn’t even belong to them.

Why You Should Never Pay For Online Dating

If you’re a subscriber to a pay dating site, you are an important (though unwitting) part of that site’s customer acquisition team. Of course, they don’t want to show you too many ghosts, because you’ll get frustrated and quit, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re relying on you your messages are their marketing materials to reach out to non-payers and convince them, by way of your charming, heartfelt messages, to pull out their credit cards. If only a tiny fraction of your message gets a response, hey, that’s okay, you’re working for free. Wait a second…you’re paying them.

That’s probably the same reason why you see the “hey, you haven’t posted on so and so’s wall in a long time” messages on Facebook.

Election season is a shitty time on social networks

From Parents on Facebook:

Mom and dad and aunts and uncles became the most prolific of facebook users. And, with the election brewing, facebook became suddenly a horrible, horrible place.

Being a Democrat myself, I enjoyed posting links, articles, and posts supporting Obama and mocking the Republicans. My target audience, of course, were my mostly left-leaning friends. But now things were different. Every (and I mean every) post was followed by a series of sarcastic, scolding comments from my conservative family members. Emotions were high during the election, but I think we all know that there is a special awful-ness that comes along with arguing politics with your parents. Its always personal, and always nastier than arguments with non-family members. And, lets face it, its never really about politics. Its about the disappointments you feel toward one another, and politics is the mask these resentful arguments wear. Sad but true.

MSN Spaces Closing

Microsoft will migrate all their users to WordPress.com.

From Matt Mullenweg

Four years ago I was fairly worried as every internet giant (Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo, Google) had a hosted blogging service. Now only Blogger remains, and is firmly in our sights.

Cameron Moll adds:

Blogger, no doubt, has the lion’s share of everyday bloggers. But if I were Matt, I might be more concerned about Tumblr as the most credible (and future) threat to WordPress.com.

I wrote before that I’ve been flirting with Tumblr, but I haven’t completely jumped in for a few reasons:

  1. The Queue system just doesn’t work right now.
  2. Likes and reblogs, while nice features, I think encourage, well, these kinds of posts.
  3. What happens when/if Tumblr shuts down?

Because of that I’ve really been using Tumblr as a vehicle to post links onto Facebook. If Tumblr were to break down / shut down / blow up, no big deal, because all I have over there is a social networking dolphin.

On the other hand, Tumblr is so easy to set up and use that if you’re looking for a hosted service then that’s the first one I’d recommend.

I also admire how seemingly easy it is to make your own theme. If you want to do that on WordPress(.org) then you should have some familiarity with the WordPress loop. But on Tumblr all you need is some comfort with HTML, CSS, and the Tumblr documentation nearby.

That’s the one thing that’s made me want to archive my WordPress install and move over.

Last.FM should drop the “friends” thing

And adopt Twitter’s follow model.

Last.fm is too much like Facebook. Keeping tabs on somebody’s taste in music requires both users to accept friend requests. If you don’t know somebody personally, but admire their taste in music, there’s a likely chance that your friend request will be rejected.

That’s too bad. Just because you don’t know somebody you’ll miss out on their recommendations. But do you really want to be friends? All you know is that this person has good tastes in music. It needs to be reciprocal, but it shouldn’t be.

Apple gets this right with Ping, allowing people to follow each other without the other needing to reciprocate. Rdio does the same thing. But Last.fm doesn’t, which is a bummer because, as far as social networks for music go, it’s the best – or it could be. It knows everything, at least from where I scrobble from, and can give me better recommendations for new music than anything else.

If you’re interested in the idea of music social networks, and underwhelmed by Ping, you should give Last.fm a shot. Maybe I’ll even accept your friend request.

Thanks For The Help, Random Search Results I Don’t Want

This is something my ISP does when it can’t find a URL. Rather than default to your browser’s “Page Not Found” message it displays a page of Yahoo provided search results. This example shows the page you’re sent to when looking for helpmeimonfire.com.

Screen shot 2010-07-02 at 3.47.13 PM.png

According to them this is meant to assist me. I could find this query useful, so I’m presented with 5 search results surrounded by advertisements that are good candidates for a junk mail folder.

Note how nothing here has anything to do with putting out the fire, nor am I commended for being able to type such a long url while ablaze. Instead I’m offered some information about:

  • Acai Berries
  • Fire insurance
  • 17th century materialism (?)
  • Adult cakes

You can opt out of this stuff, but I still think it’s deceitful. It offers a ray of hope for inexperienced users where there isn’t one. It’s only purpose is to get you to click on ads for garbage like acai berries.

Rdio: First impressions

rdio

I got an invite to Rdio.

First impressions after playing with it for 20 minutes:

Ooh, it’ll actually try to stay in sync with my iTunes library. Doesn’t upload anything, just scans iTunes to match things up. That’s nice.

AHH ADOBE AIR! GET IT AWAY GET IT AWAY!

After syncing it found about 7500 songs, which is ok for an early service, but isn’t quite the >30k in my collection.

Screen shot 2010-06-22 at 7.32.34 PM.png

The Adobe air player is alright, but will drive you crazy if you’re used to keyboard shortcuts from Bowtie or Coversutra.

It scrobbles.

It fails the Pink Floyd test.

You can share music on social networks, although really it’s just a link back to the Rdio page. Spotify seems to be the only company that gets this right. Sharing on other services feels more about marketing the service than sharing music with a friend.

Screen shot 2010-06-22 at 7.49.49 PM.png

Right now it feels more like a Lala replacement than an iTunes replacement. You can listen to as much music as you want through their website for $4.99 a month. But if you want access from your cell phone (including through Wifi, I assume) then the plan is $9.99 a month. The problem with these streaming services is that your collection is limited to what the service actually has a license for. They may not have your favorite indie band or that singer you found on Bandcamp.

But if you don’t care about stuff like that then maybe Rdio is up your alley.