PostRank goes bump

I removed something from my blog today. Well, from the sidebar, actually. All right, all right — that is hardly the Times relaunching, I am aware of that, but it is still noteworthy for two reasons : one, it was the most recent addition there. Two, I removed it as a matter of, well, exorcism will have to do.

The item I removed was a pretty inconspicuous link to the aideRSS ranking of my blog’s feed items. I you missed Kit Meredith’s post extolling its virtues, aideRSS is a free web service that will swallow your blog’s feed (any feed, really, it doesn’t need any kind of subscription) and, after some rumination, spit out a ranking of your posts, which it calls PostRank. The FAQ tersely states that « PostRank™ is a scoring system that we have developed to rank each article on relevance and reaction [my emphasis]. ». The idea is to define sub feeds of, say, the top 10 % posts, so people can subscribe to these instead of the whole feed. Which sounds rather neat.

So what’s wrong with it ?

Nothing at first sight, which is exactly why I included the link in the sidebar (the much more informative widget provided is unavailable for wordpress.com hosted blogs, as it requires JavaScript to work). After all, if it helps my readers, it’s a good thing.

What made me wonder if that was the thing to do was what I discovered when I had a look at what aideRSS considers my « top 20 » posts (click on the screenshot for a larger picture) :

PostRank de Rheta’s World le 12 Mai 2008

I mean, I can more or less agree on the inclusion of four posts among the top five. The reaction numbers (which aideRSS computes from the number of comments, Google blog search hits, Diggs and del.icio.us bookmarks linking to your post — although oddly enough, its count is slightly off from the ones the services themselves provide) are mostly corroborated by the reader statistics of wordpress.com. The fifth one, my interface rant, is the odd man out. Obviously, that is one case where aideRSS does its magic computing relevance. Independently from any feedback numbers.

So why remove the link ? Was I miffed by some patent pending, trademarked Google-ish algorithm showing me it knows more about my posts’ relevance than I, as the author, do ?

Wish it was that.

I removed the link because I was frightened — frightened to death by seeing what aideRSS considers the seventh most relevant post on my blog. Ever. See for yourself : Continue reading

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Story Box

I always am in deep awe of those bloggers (say, Lillie Yifu, or Prokofy Neva) who turn out post after post in one long prolific stream. My own thought processes are so haphazard and incoherent I’m actually rather surprised I eventually manage to publish anything at all, never mind at the break-neck pace some are able to sustain. It’s a bit like watching an old toaster : no matter how long and hard you stare, you’ll always miss the moment it ka-chunks — and most of what it spews out, somewhat ballistically, is charcoal, not toast.

It thus comes as no surprise to me that more often than not, someone else beats me to the punch, putting things into neat words that have been pinging around my head in hapless chaos, making me blurt « yeah, that » when I read their findings.

Dusan Writer has done so tonight, and he has done even better, carrying the thought much further than I would ever have been able to :

But when I look at Second Life You-Know-Where I don’t see a game, and I don’t see a role-playing environment, and I don’t see an e-commerce engine (although to some degree it is all of these) – I see the possibilities for stories. And in these possibilities I am attracted to how Second Life may be a new camp fire around which we weary hunters gather, scratching pictures in the sand with our primitive tools and telling each other of the days we’ve had, and the adventures ahead.

As I owe Dusan an apology for having somewhat misrepresented his stance on Second Life You-Know-Where in my last post, all I will do today is bow deeply to him, and send you over to his post, should you not have been there already : The Story Box: Second Life You-Know-Where & Magic « Dusan Writer’s Metaverse

Le rouge et le noir

Now that my Dazzle induced snow blindness has abated, I realise it is too easy to poke fun of the whole thing, and that doing so misses the point utterly. The Dazzle team’s total obliviousness to all theories of ergonomics and interface development and their utterly amateurish take on widget and icon graphics makes them such an easy target, one might easily lose sight (no pun intended this time) of the one fact that should be central to all discussions of the Second Life client interface (and which the Dazzle revamp does absolutely nothing to address) : it is about content.

Second Life You-Know-Where is content.

The client is only a toolbox to access and manipulate that. It’s main problem (all right — besides being horribly inconsistent) is to aspire at being a full fledged, self contained OS-like application, when it should be more like a browser : a window to a world outside your computer, connecting it to and integrating it into your computer. Basically, we are talking modularity and OS integration. I for one would like to know why SL does not allow the transfer into and out of the world of event data (beyond copy and paste of plain text) ; I mean, ever heard of vCalendar / iCalendar, LL ? Or why login does not make use of OS features (password store on Windows, keychain on OS X) ? Or why the client doesn’t even use OS native text editing widgets (I never noticed that before switching to a Mac, because SL Y-K-W‘s widgets are modelled on Windows’ — but in fact, SL Y-K-W is the only app on my Mac disdaining to use the system spellchecker, or stubbornly refusing to advance the cursor from word to word with Option-arrow) ? Or why we have to download a texture to edit it, then re-upload it after doing so, instead of integrating off-world editors ? I could keep going on, but I think you get my drift… I’m ready to bet client development would profit greatly from such a paradigm shift, concentrating on the logical structure of the browser and the best way to make it work with content, instead of wasting manpower on re-developing OS features. And so, of course, would we all.

I’m not naive enough to believe this is more than a pipe dream. But one is allowed to dream, don’t you think ? Especially when one sees what astonishing things content creators manage to do despite the bad state of the tools they are using. We can’t remember that often enough, because, when all is said and done, user content is one of the things that makes Second Life unique, and immersive, and addictive. The other is the range of customisations possible on our avatars. Shapes, skins, fashion ; no virtual world offers opportunities quite like these, and there is more to it than glitz — far more. Because, as my friend Rick van der Wal once rightly said, the real interface to the virtual is your avatar. The software is but the conduit.

Nothing could serve as a better memento of this in my mind than CodeBastard Redgrave‘s wonderful Boudoir Rouge photo series — and not only since I had the undeserved honour of posing for her among women smarter and more creative than I am by far (she’ll scold me for saying this — Codie isn’t just one wonderful and gifted SL Y-K-W photographer, she’s also one the most generous and kind persons I have ever met — besides being ebullient, raucously funny, and a very smart person to boot). I’ll quote her verbatim on her series :

The Boudoir Rouge series is an ode to beauty of all the great ladies of the metaverse, mostly those who influenced my Second Life You-Know-Where. This serie portrays women avatars I admire greatly because they are all smart, creative, and lovely. Boudoir Rouge is not a who’s who of Second Life’s most popular girls; it is a very intimate and personal road I’m following. Sometimes meeting with people I never met before, or sometimes they are good old friends who had a huge impact on my own second life, and some other times its people that inspires not only my own Second Life You-Know-Where but your own too.

To me, in creating such beautiful content by capturing the beauty of the real interface to our world — the avatars we have painstakingly crafted and lavished so much care and love on — Codie’s series embodies much of the double essence of Second Life You-Know-Where. Don’t take my word for it. Go take a break from interface rants, crashing woes, and resentment at Linden Lab. Let her pictures (Flickr slideshow over here, album view over here) soothe you. If nothing else, it might provide a shred of much needed aesthetic relief. And if you are lucky, they will help you renew your commitment to the one part of marketing spin Second Life You-Know-Where is truly about : Our imagination.

Amuse-gueule

I have to apologise. No, not for me, though I am the one unable to post the grand thoughts my numerous fans are clamouring for, but for my typist. My operator. Whatever you want to call her. Until a few days ago, I have been calling her my atomic me, but we have had, well, you might call it a spat.

The reason, you ask ? She has a new love. No, not a man, nor a woman. Worse. A machine. She has been stroking it, toying with it, and, honestly, drooling all over it in a disgusting way for days.

Poor Rheta, of course, only got the crumbs. A perfunctory « well, SL Y-K-W is in the app folder, now get off my back while I set up [oh yeah, right] things » was all I got for three days. When I finally got the run of the thing, it turned out even worse than expected. I mean, before, I had a very cosy little off-world home in the barren wasteland of Windows called Firefox. it was snug, fitted with everything I needed (Google Mail, Google Reader, Open ID identification, my Notefish notes, j’en passe et des meilleures). She said she had relocated it, and that I would miss nothing. But when I went to visit, finally, and after having had to listen to her waxing lyrical about how pretty it is, how polished everything is, how —well, you get the idea — imagine my dismay when I found out the one thing butt ugly was my home. The horror.

She promised to improve it. She had me try something called Fluid, saying « your mileage may vary ». Vary it did indeed, to the point Google Reader was about the only usable thing on it. And whenever I turned to her, she said not to pester her. All the while my news, mails and other things kept piling up. I would feel like crying just looking at my inbox. Insupportable.

Tonight, we had words. It was ugly. We were at each other like harpies. She said she would not spend more money for stuff only I would use. I yelled she’d spent enough already, and I that I was fed up getting the scraps from her ladyship’s table, and what the hell did she mean by « only » me anyway ? True to the law of opposite motions, tempers went up and things went downwards from there.

I have won. I think, at least : I now have a small budget to buy a new home. Strange names — Mailplane, Twitterific, gSync, PixelMator — are going through my head. I feel giddy.

And her ? I don’t know yet. She’s in a huff with me, but I don’t care. We will make up, that much is certain. After all, we are inseparable. But you, my dears, will have to be patient, just for a little while longer, until I get my home nice and cosy again. Things will be better after that, I promise. Stay tuned.