Blogging since 1998. By David Wertheimer

Category: Internet (Page 1 of 39)

Virtual office apps and the idea of space

I’m working with a client this winter that is a client of Roam. Still in beta, Roam’s premise is “to bring a whole distributed company together,” which means combining text, voice, video and conferencing functions in one place, with an added UI layer that creates a sense of space.

That last bit is the differentiator, and it’s interesting to experience. The default Roam screen is a grid of employees. There are additional, smaller visual grids off to the side, representing “floors.” Several of them are organized by department, while one floor contains meeting rooms of various sizes and an auditorium.

Each person has an “office” with quick links to booking appointments and sending text messages. An office has two spots in it, one for the employee and one empty. Anyone can click on the empty spot and invite themselves into their coworker’s space. It comes complete with a knock-knock audio ping. If the knockee accepts, two people can then talk voice directly to one another. Text messaging is available everywhere.

The most important feature of this app is that Roam tries to place its users for the benefit of everyone else. If I go into a meeting room, for example, I no longer show as being in my “office”; it’s empty until I exit the other room. When coworkers are in conversation, their icons pulse lightly when they speak. And if a user switches to Roam’s mobile app, it disconnects the desktop app, and vice versa—a person can’t be in two places at once, after all.

The idea is that Roam is replicating in-person office culture. If we’re in a modern, pre-pandemic office, we most likely have open floor plans, low cubicle walls and glass-walled rooms. We know who’s in a meeting, we see who’s doing a 1:1 or a pull-up or even having an idle chat with one another. Wouldn’t it be nice, Roam asks, if we work remotely and still have that?

What’s interesting to me is this sense of place. Roam’s assertion is that what remote offices are missing is the being-there component: looking across the way, knowing your colleague is plugging away at a file, noticing that two peers are in conversation, that a few other folks seem to have stepped away: finding a new level of situational awareness. Being there, as it were.

My colleagues like the Roam app because it feels tangible: they can see the whole company (60-odd employees) at once, and they know who’s around and what’s going on. It’s obvious that they miss in-person office culture despite embracing full remote.

I appreciate the sentiment. I’m a big fan of the Huddle feature in Slack, which I’ve described more than once as the desktop equivalent of, “Hey, got a sec?” And I get why a company or leadership team would want this. It’s nice to know by looking, just like a live office, who’s around. Even if it’s a bit apocryphal—the app doesn’t know, for example, if a user going idle represents a lunch break or an hour deep in code—it feels good to have a pulse on the cadence of the org. The team is actively thinking of ways to leverage that knowledge to improve cross-team communication and camaraderie, which is great.

What remains to be seen is whether this is an advantage, or if it undermines some of the very things that make remote work pleasant. I’m curious to see how the app evolves, and where its founders (who are rapidly iterating, and devouring user feedback) take it.

Just quieting my twttr

It it not lost on me that the most recent post in this blog is about two wonderful Twitter feeds that I had the pleasure of crafting for the past decade-plus. If you want to know more about my experience on the platform, read that before you read this.

“Oh Elon” is how business writer Matt Levine titles all his Twitter screeds about the acquisition, and it’s a perfect encapsulation of how those of us who love Twitter have felt the past six months. The now-complete sale and in-progress upheaval of the essential social media platform have been a can’t-look-away event, startling and infuriating and exasperating and, most of all, sad.

In just a few weeks, Elon Musk has fired or encouraged the departure of the majority of Twitter’s staff, run roughshod over many hard-fought conventions, and made its users fearful that the site would, sooner than later, just stop working. It still seems fine, as of this writing, but Musk is showing his libertarian, nihilistic tendencies; he reinstated Donald Trump’s account earlier this evening, for one.

Many people have started avoiding the site in quiet protest and disgust. I suspect there’s no one moment that will push me off Twitter for good, though. It still fills useful holes in my day, from finding friends and colleagues to informing me about breaking news (and memes). Many of my must-read follows are still posting, so I have reason to stick around.

However, I weaned myself off Facebook pretty thoroughly a few years ago, and I will probably do the same with Twitter, too. I’m not a zealot; I have active accounts with Meta, for example, on all three of their platforms, and I’m actually on WhatsApp daily, because who isn’t? But I only check into Facebook occasionally, when an item of note brings me in (I don’t have the app on my phone), and I peek at Instagram just once or twice a month. My life online seems quite fine. And should Twitter continue its suspected arc—more buggy, more sludgy, more prone to boosting extremist political and anti-Semitic perspectives—I will shift my gaze from there, too.

I created a Mastodon account several years ago but didn’t get very far with it. I knew a handful of people with accounts, but there wasn’t much going on. Scaling social is hard! Well, guess what: in the past two weeks, I’ve come across more than 100 members of my Twitter universe on Mastodon, and activity is starting to pick up. If the trend continues, that’s where I’ll be, whenever I’m in the mood for short-form, public social posts and fast-breaking content.

Twitter has had a very long run. It would be lovely if it could continue.

My social media parenting journal

Way back in 2009, I had an idea: I wanted to post my young son’s utterances on Twitter.

At the time, Twitter was a fairly new service, and still open to experimentation. I wasn’t the first person to post his precocious kids’ quotes there, but it was a bit of a novelty nonetheless. I actually started a little too early to be social-media-level interesting; the first few tweets I posted were about individual words.

It wasn’t long, though, before my son got wordy, and clever, and hilarious. I kept grabbing my phone and jotting things down whenever he made me smile. I thought, at the time, that it’d be funny, maybe go viral a bit, or at least give my friends a laugh.

What I got instead was something different. The tweets stayed fun, but also started capturing the sweet, the poignant, and the magical. As he got older, it inadvertently started to chronicle not just his progress, but his personality.

I soon spun up a Twitter feed for my younger son, too, which captured his own distinct character, including his growth (for example, how he went from individual words to full sentences in a matter of weeks) and his own takes on the world.

And so it went, for years and years. My sons got increasingly sophisticated but no less quotable. And I kept tweeting. It got tougher as they got older–we try not to stare at our phones when we’re together as a family, and they didn’t always want to be recorded. But the feeds endured and grew, for more than a decade.

In recent months, I’ve realized we’ve basically outgrown it. My boys are too mature now, their humor contextual and nuanced, and no longer the stuff of pithy short-form text capture. (Indeed, they’re old enough to have their own social media feeds, should they want them.) But once in a while I’ll catch and record a gem. And as it stands, the archive is wonderful. The boys enjoy reading their own histories once in awhile, and each other’s, simply because it’s such a delightful way to revisit the past.

Alongside the photo albums, the videos and the mementos, my children’s Twitter feeds are, unexpectedly, one of the most cherished items of their formative years. 

Best of all, they’re easy to share: https://twitter.com/nathan_says and https://twitter.com/says_eli. Have fun exploring.

Sedecordle is the best -rdle

You’ve been playing Wordle the past few months, haven’t you? Who hasn’t? It’s a great little game, a couple of minutes of diversion, deep thought and great satisfaction. I play it almost every day.

To everyone’s delight, Wordle quickly spawned knock-offs, all in the open-source, free-to-play spirit of the original. I play a bunch of them. There are all sorts of variants, from words to maps to songs to movie stills. They all have their charms, and the internet is a little more fun as a result.

As someone who likes word puzzles, I’ve spent most of my -rdle gaming time on the letter games, espeically the spin-offs. Wordle begat Dordle, which is two wordles solved simultaneously; that led to Quordle, and the multiplying went from there: eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four. Many of them even use the same codebase.

You can play them in order, which is fun, or you can just hit the best ones: Wordle, the original, and Sedecordle.

Wordle is a brain teaser, great for all the well-documented reasons. Sedecordle is a puzzle: 16 words, 22 total guesses, each attempt painting in different parts of each grid. It is part word search, part crossword and part jigsaw puzzle, requiring dexterity and clever construction to find every word in time. It takes a few more minutes than Wordle, but like any good word game, the satisfaction that comes from completing it is great.

Sedecordle is inherently solvable, but not easy. I try to crack it in as few as 18 rounds, but I still lose outright maybe once a week. A word with multiple uncommon options (PATCH, MATCH, WATCH) can quickly undermine the day.

The others? All worthy, just not as satisfying. Dordle is a great little trifle, as is Quordle (although their word choices are much more esoteric). The 32- and 64-word options are noble but more of an endurance exercise than a game; they use every single letter, and with patience it’s just a matter of filling in words. Octordle alludes to the promises of Sedecordle, but the eight word grid is not as compelling as sixteen.

So: sedecordle. Enjoy.

Ring ring ring (ha ha hey)

Basic services are often compromised when living on an island. Living on, say, Nantucket, one probably gets used to losing power or phone service every now and again when the weather gets in the way.

That’s not supposed to happen when the island is Manhattan. So when our phone line went down for two full weeks, without notice or apology from our provider, we decided to switch our service.

This is kind of a big deal in my household. We possess a 212 phone number that we don’t want to lose, so doing a successful number port between service providers is critical. And more notably, until our switch, we still had a phone line served on copper.

I have long espoused maintaining an old fashioned land line. It doesn’t use electricity! In a blackout or an emergency, we can still make calls! (And, yes, tradition.) Heck, even during the signup for VOIP you have to acknowledge that your phone may not work in all circumstances—not true for copper.

And yet, pretty much everyone we call has a cable triple play now, and heck, maybe the police department does, too, not to mention the people and places that dropped their centralized phones entirely, in favor of their cell phones (of which we now have—gah—four. Although the children live on text and video chat, and barely need a number at all, but that’s another blog post).

So we accept the march of progress, and the roughly $700 a year in savings, and we move not-so-boldly into the future. I called Spectrum (with whom I have cable TV and internet service, through a bulk rate building package) and added our phone to it. There was lots of waiting for my rep to cheerfully set me up, then lots of saying “yes” to an automated verification system, then more waiting while Verizon and Spectrum did their number portability dance, and without fanfare, the phone would begin working through the cable modem instead of the copper line.

That led to an additional six weeks of limbo, as Spectrum needed Verizon’s signoff, and Verizon was unsure about our personal signoff, so nothing happened. Secondary prods didn’t help on either side, until we got billed by Spectrum for a month of nonexistent phone service, which prompted an impatient call from me, demanding a refund. That miraculously unclogged the pipes, and two days later, our phone number switched services.

Credit where it’s due, literally: Verizon was helpful after the switch, voiding our last month’s bill, and even sending a $2.93 debit card for a slight overpayment relative to the transition date. Spectrum fixed its extra bill, too.

And now? Our phone seems exactly the same as before, with the added perks of on-screen Caller ID if we’re watching cable TV when the phone rings, and a special ring sequence if the call is from our building lobby. These are not innovations, but they’re new to us, and still amusing. Otherwise, it’s the same old same old.

Until the power goes out, at least.

Looking back

Last month, the Ideapad turned 20. Twenty years is a long time to do anything, as many of my fellow early bloggers can attest. Those who have kept at it since the turn of the century have my appreciation, not only as like-minded fellows, but also for maintaining the independent spirit of the early web, where our dreams were self-made and limitless.

I have on my server a bookmarks list, saved out of some version Netscape or Internet Explorer, that is now fifteen years old (May 6, 2003, to be exact). It’s a nice flat HTML file so all the links in it are clickable. To celebrate two decades of blogging, I thought I’d republish the list as-is, click through to all the blogs I once had bookmarked, and report on them here. Let’s see how the independent web of 2003 has persisted to 2018! (Hint: it’s doing pretty darned well, all things considered.)

Key:
Still publishing!—has posted in the past 12 months
Maybe still publishing—live with posts, but none in 2018
In amber—not active, but defending the web from linkrot
N.B. Many of the links here are still active but don’t point to the pages they did back then. Caveat clicker.

Blogroll

37signals’ Signal vs. Noise Still publishing!
Anil Dash Still publishing!
Nick Denton
Boing Boing … Wonderful Things Still publishing!
kottke.org Still publishing!
WebWord.com
megnut In amber
Noise Between Stations Maybe still publishing!
The Morning News Still publishing!
sippey.com Maybe still publishing
Mighty Girl Still publishing!
whatever, whenever
nothing, and lots of it Still publishing!
Textism
Andre Torrez Still publishing!
b-may
Ftrain_ Main Ftrain Maybe still publishing
defective yeti
Witold Riedel NYC Still publishing! (over here)
bazima chronicles
hello, kitten.
DS.ORG
Izzle! Izzle pfaff! In amber
MrBarrett.com
Mastication is normal
petit hiboux .. the owl in winter. In amber
peterme.com Still publishing!
Choire Sicha
East West Magazine

Not Updated Daily

Cardhouse Still publishing!
50 cups of coffee _ strange brew _ never the same girl twice
metascene– There ain’t no Sanity Clause
stating the obvious In amber
maybe i still am!
Acts of Volition Still publishing!
jeans and a t-shirt In amber
What Do I Know
SHARPEWORLD
Waxy.org Still publishing!

Meta

Take a penny, leave a penny. Still–er, never mind
memepool.com
FARK.com Still active!
Blogroots
blogdex – the weblog diffusion index
Daypop Top 40 Links
What’s Happening In amber
Metafilter _ Community Weblog Still active!

More blogs

ToT Days of Self-Contemplation and Soul Searching
ODonnellWeb Still publishing (an email)
evanrose
_usr_bin_girl _ ( just a digital girl ) _ blurbs from the web
somebodydial911
Backup Brain
Scripting News Still publishing!
dangerousmeta! Made it to April 2018
365 Days Project
shellen.com Still publishing!
caterina.net Still publishing!
Q Daily News
Living Can Kill You – saila.com In amber
Jerry Kindall
David Galbraith’s weblog
Nedward von Suckahs In amber
sylloge
muxway
eatonweb blog_ vomiting up the web
The War Against Silence In amber
what is a tigerbunny
Wrap Me Up in It
misc., etc.

Internet, Design, UI blogs

SAP Design Guild In amber
bBlog_ Business intelligence _ XPLANE
Boxes and Arrows
In My Experience… Home In amber
evolt.org
XPLANE _ xblog (The visual thinking weblog.)
Joel on Software Still publishing!
ia- news for information architects
holovaty.com Still publishing!
dive into mark
Daring Fireball Still publishing!

 

XOXO 2018

The biggest thing I can say about XOXO, having attended this weekend for the first time since 2013, is that I feel pretty much exactly how I felt the last time around, and I wish I had made it to all the ones in between.

Very few events of any scale manage to be open, accepting, encouraging, inspiring, surprising, energizing and downright fun. Despite lots of comments about how big the conference has gotten—two thousand attendees this year—I felt the same warmth and community (albeit with a bigger challenge to find old friends in the throng) as I had previously.

While I had to miss the last day, I soaked up a wide array of XOXO’s programming, including all of the conference’s first day, most of Art + Code and Story, and a good amount of the tabletop and arcade rooms. I was nearly overwhelmed with the amount of creativity and inspiration that surrounded me. The talks I saw brought tears to my eyes, both happy and sad, on more than one occasion. Like last time, the net result is like experiencing a sea swell on a boat: I’ve been pulled up to unexpected heights, and I’m wide-eyed as I see where it will take me.

And while I was thrilled to spend my time with familiar faces, the natural new connections make this event special. An XOXO attendee can successfully strike up a conversation with pretty much anyone wearing a badge. So when I’m there, that’s exactly what I try to do. Grab a meal with six people I’d just met? Turn people you admire into the people you know? Say hello to every person who sits down next to me, transforming unfamiliar faces into friendly ones? Yes, yes and yes.

Life in a broader sense doesn’t always work like XOXO works. Heck, we as people don’t work every day the way we function in this setting; I know I’m not always one to smile at strangers. Yet Andy and Andy continue to bring their universe to life, and I am again grateful for having been there.

Persistence

@20, by Paul Ford.

In two weeks, the Ideapad turns 19. The website itself is somewhat older—I don’t know the date, but I believe it was sometime in 1997, after I got tired of having a tilde-level user directory and long before I realized “netwert” was cumbersome and not something I’d necessarily want in perpetuity. My first ~werty dates to late 1995 or early 1996, I think; my critical writing dates to college, offline, and Nov. 1, 1998 in this space, where it has pressed forward in various fits, starts, ebbs and flows ever since.

Lots of folks chimed in to agree with Paul on his post via social media. But because much of what he wrote about his website is applicable here (indeed, for many of us borne of this era), I thought I’d address it in the most appropriate manner possible: with a blog post of its own.

Paul: Some days I want to erase this whole thing—much of the writing is sloppy and immature, and I was, too. But why bother to hit the red button? 

I actually have the converse opinion of my own site. Much of my writing from back then is immature, probably much more than Paul’s sophisticated, philosophical approach. Every blue moon or so I meander back into my archives, read a little bit, and find it alternately joyous an excruciating. But it never occurs to me to erase it. My old notes occasionally have relevance and create delight, and for as long as that is the case, I’m happy to have them persist.

Like Paul, and so many other writer-blogger-creators of the early Internet era, I don’t get nearly as much mileage out of my personal website as I once did. But for me, at least, it’s nice to come back to the old homestead once in awhile. See you soon.

On Ghostery

With all the recent industry fuss over ad trackers, I got responsible and reinstalled Ghostery on my browser, and I activated many of its blockers. This has had several interesting effects.

One is that active tracker blocking is invasive in its own way. I’m creating hardships in my own browsing experience that privacy hard-liners don’t mention. If I block optimization schemes too aggressively, I can break essential functions once in awhile, including a site I manage at work whose navigation is mboxed for Adobe Test & Target tracking. Visiting Monoprice with Ghostery on, I discovered today, gnarls their top nav, too, and their search box disappears. And so on.

Another is the level of awareness that Ghostery creates in the end-user. I know about ad networks and trackers, of course I do, I’ve been in this industry 20 years now. But I didn’t actively think about them all that often.

Then I turned on Ghostery, and I visited copypastecharacter.com, a humble little type-geek website that allows for quick unicode character finding. And in finding my ✔, I also found 87 trackers. Eighty-seven! I no longer wonder what purpose the site serves beyond its builders’ nerdy satisfaction: it’s a robust ad engine. As are many other websites for whom users unwittingly expose their usage details.

The full list, behind the jump, for posterity’s sake.

Continue reading

Why I became a Wikipedia contributor (and why you should, too)

Wikipedia is a part of everyday life for most everyone who uses the web. I personally cross-reference or poke around Wikipedia almost every day—93 times in the past 30 days alone, per my browser history. Millions of people are similar to me, if not more so.

Having become something of an institution, Wikipedia now faces a long-term struggle for its fiscal and editorial health. Most immediate is the need for cash flow. Wikipedia’s frequent pledge drives on its website do a good job of highlighting the organization’s monetary needs (and plenty of readers, thankfully, are listening).

More easily overlooked is its slowly dwindling volunteer workforce, the thousands of people who keep Wikipedia updated and objective.

Active editors on Wikipedia, from The EconomistWikipedia is only as strong as its contributors and editors, a team that peaked several years ago. The Economist did a great deep-dive into Wikipedia’s state of affairs this spring. It pointed out that the number of English-language editors on the site has dropped steadily for nearly a decade, to 30,000 volunteers this year, down from 50,000 in its heyday. That sounds like a big staff, but with nearly two billion pages to curate, and an almost entirely unpaid team, the math quickly gets sour.

Right around the time of the Economist article, I found myself disgruntled at yet another article speaking in the present tense about 2011. So, after a decade of lurking and leeching, I signed up for a Wikipedia account. And when I see a line like, “The band is slated to appear on the first week of Jimmy Fallon’s new talk show,” my annoyance now turns to utility, as I am empowered to fix that sentence, and a tiny bit responsible, too. As a longtime writer, editor and grammar hound it’s a no-brainer for me to pitch in.

I’ve only updated a handful of articles thus far, but I am quick to hit the Edit button when I see outdated or inaccurate text, most recently this morning, updating the status of a canceled program. Making updates to Wikipedia is easy, it’s satisfying, and it ensures that the site will continue to be a useful resource.

Wikipedia, of course, has been running on this model since its inception. But too many people, like me, take the labor behind the site for granted. My own contribution ultimately will be small, but it will be a contribution nonetheless.

Please consider doing the same. Even occasional edits help keep the world’s encyclopedia appropriately encyclopedic.

« Older posts

Ideapad © 1998–2023 David Wertheimer. All rights reserved.