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Thursday, 02/26/04

As part of a feature on Google, Wired commissioned four re-imaginings of the Google.com interface. One of them is run-of-the-mill stupid. One of them is run-of-the-mill stupid with a pre-bubble corporate twist. One of them is by Jenny Holzer (!). Finally, one of them is so thunderously wrong-headed that I encourage you to take a look.

Fans of information design will be doubly impressed that sullen-looking Mr. Davis invoked the name of Edward Tufte, a deity of the field, as his sample search term. Though Mr. Tufte is still with us and therefore lacks a grave in which to spin, he does seem increasingly likely to steal all the sheets. 08:12PM «

Wednesday, 02/18/04

Jakob Nielsen's usability research is didactic and preachy, but usually points in the right direction. Here, writing about mailing lists (a subject close to my heart), he hits on a self-evidently true conclusion about how nontechnical users will undermine their own spam filters (emphasis his):

We've also found that users often employ their spam filters to avoid newsletters that they no longer want. Instead of unsubscribing, which users often view as too cumbersome, they simply tell their spam-blocker that the newsletter is spam. Voila: the newsletter no longer arrives in the inbox.

The fact that many users will declare a newsletter to be spam when they tire of it has terrifying implications: legitimate newsletters might get blacklisted and thus ISPs might block their delivery to other subscribers. This is a compelling reason to increase the usability of the unsubscribe process: better to lose a subscriber than to be listed as spam.

It's not going to be limited to unsubscription orders. Mail geeks have been locked in a Red Queen's race with spammers for years, and to keep up, we attach enormous semantic meaning to spam classification. As soon as modern filters become reliable enough for mainstream adoption, people are going to treat them as killfiles. It's going to cause havoc. It'll be hilarious! But messy. 10:32AM «

While concluding that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail eventually, a second California judge last night declined to enjoin San Francisco from handing out marriage licenses to same-sex couples. I've heard this story repeated several times on the radio this morning, but none of them mention that this second judge, James Warren, determined that the reason he was unable to issue an injunction was a a misplaced semicolon in the plaintiffs' brief.

"I am not trying to be petty here, but it is a big deal. That semicolon is a big deal," Warren told attorneys, according to an account by Associated Press.

I think that's adorable.

update: Thom suggests that there's a reason this wasn't reported more widely -- it's basically rubbish. He says the plaintiffs used their obfuscatory semicolon to create the impression that the city had to both cease & desist handing out licenses, and also appear in court later to explain their actions, when something legally compels the city to do only one or the other.

I haven't figured out what that something is yet. I was under the impression that the only relevant law was Prop 22, which is fourteen words long, including the words "a" (twice), "and", "or" and "in".

Court filings would be helpful. The SF Superior Court site refers me to to the Superior Court Electronic Information Center, a site I recommend you visit if only to take in its stalwart resistance to both usability and good taste. I can't provide a direct link, but it's case number CPF-04-503943, and as of yet there don't appear to be any filings available for download. 10:19AM «

Thursday, 02/12/04

I just noticed that Southwest will keep you apprised of flight information with a pager or SMS-capable cellphone. Is this new? It seems like a good idea, if potentially problematic for its lack of authorization safeguards. 08:09AM «

Friday, 02/06/04

I was in the kitchen when the NewsHour came on this evening, putting me in the unusual position of paying some attention to the sixty-second block of underwriter ads. SBC Communications is the phone company in the Bay Area and many other places. Here's a transcript of their spot:

One hundred twenty-five years of sweat
of building networks
of getting the job done
after one hundred twenty-five years, we are just getting started

I'm not sure how that particular set of phrases made it out of committee. It brings to mind some of the traditional weaknesses of big telecom companies.

"Hello sir, this is Jim from SBC with good news. A cancellation has just opened up in your neighborhood and we'll be able to install your DSL line ahead of schedule, in sixty years. A technician will be in your area between... let me see... 2064 and 2065, if someone will be at home during that time." 08:28PM «

Tuesday, 02/03/04

I wish Paul Graham had an RSS feed. When I don't have time to keep up with the blogosphere I tend to miss things like his taxonomy of spam-fighting strategies, or the announcement that O'Reilly is publishing a book of his essays in May.

The taxonomy is dated August 2003, so I don't know how I missed it. Graham, if you don't know him, popularized Bayesian spam filters and has a way with clear and compelling prose on knotty technical subjects. 03:53PM «

Safari 1.2 seems a little dicey in the human interface department. Tab-selection of links and onscreen objects drives me crazy, and Safari only partially lets users turn it off (popup menus and bookmark bar items are still included even when "Do not highlight links when I press the Tab key" is selected). This is mucking with some paleolithic muscle memory, and I'm not thrilled about it. Incidentally, if you don't quit the previous version first, the installer kills it for you.

One of my favorite selection niceties from IE was its ability to partially select the text of a link and follow it by hitting return, which was helpful in tandem with command-F. I'd hoped this would come with tab-selection in Safari, but no dice. And I've pretty much given up hope that they're ever going to fix the scripting dictionary, OmniWeb 5's example aside. Scripting of tabs can be worked around with work in the Accessibility API, but that's more than most scripters can be expected to tackle. 09:03AM «

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