Archive for February, 2010

Why Use Twitter?

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

From what I’ve seen, a great many people can’t see a use for Twitter. I understand, because Twitter is best when you’re looking for some specific things.

Think about an iPhone (or equivalent mobile device). Why would you want one of those instead of a laptop? It’s because you can take it with you, and it’s easy to do something quick with it between things.
Basically, it’s small and mobile. Manageable.

Twitter is the same way. Blog posts are long, and aren’t easy to follow when you’re out and about—especially on a mobile phone, which is where Twitter (Twttr, back then) was first envisioned for. You need something small and light, to fit with the mobile nature of your small and light phone.

As well, while you’re working, trying to keep up with blogs can really hinder your progress (believe me, I know). Keeping Twitter open on the side helps you keep in touch with what people are doing, minute-to-minute, while not taking so much overhead that you lose (much) productivity.

Twitter was adopted early and heavily by the professionals of the Open Web, because of what’s possible with it. I could send a message to a top CEO, and I’d likely get a reply back. I could engage many of my idols in conversation (if I had something to say; I hate to come across as an idiot).
Everything said on Twitter is completely public, which is half the magic. (There is a friends-only setting, but those are uncommon, and usually as a second, personal account beside someone’s public account.)

Facebook is a two-way process: you ask to be someone’s friend, and they might let you.
Twitter, on the other hand, has a follower/following model, where who you follow is your own choice. I can follow Obama, or Pepsi, or Bill Gates, if I wanted to. I would see what they’re saying. People can follow me if they find me interesting.
Because of this, I rarely have to worry about spam. I do check whoever is following me, and sometimes I’ll remove them, but they otherwise have no bearing on my experience.

So, if you’re interested in:
-Specific people
-How/What those people are doing
-Open communication
-A ‘marketplace’ kind of social atmosphere

Actually, that last one makes me think of something.
In Canada, if you smile to someone as you pass by them, they might smile back at you. In large gatherings, we find it easy to introduce ourselves to the complete strangers around us and share the experience. I hear this is being put to good use around the Olympic games.
Geeks, too, are similar. We bond together, and share ourselves through our technology (which is why geeks had really taken to Twitter a couple years ago, before the media hype).
In the states, I hear things are far less fun for normal people. I could imagine strangers are suspicious in public places, and you tend to ignore each-other in the streets. Twitter would hold far less appeal to you.
Just a theory.

Anyway, I hope that clears some stuff up. I was skeptical of Twitter (and, in fact, am skeptical of other services I’ve heard about since then), because I didn’t see a use for it in myself. After a while, though, I fell into that Open Web group and started really opening up my life. At the point where I was sharing my feelings to the public, Twitter made perfect sense.


The Awareness of No Heat

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Do you often think about your furnace?
The odds are that you don’t, and that it’s turned up somewhere in the low-to-mid twenties (Celsius; you Fahrenheit types know what yours is set to). But what if you turned that down?

In my day-to-day life, I’ve turned the thermostat down to about 15 degrees, and suddenly I found myself noticing every time the furnace came on. That’s because I need it, now, and it’s no longer just something that happens in the background.

Any time you’re comfortable, try doing with less. You’ll notice more about your surroundings.

Life Below 640px

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

You’ve probably seen a similarly-named post proclaiming some ill-thought-out idea about folds. This post isn’t about the fold.

It’s about the window width.

You see, there are a good number of people using windows that are below what we consider average (say, 1920×1200 or so). This isn’t even about the total screen size, but rather is about the size of the content area for any specific window.

It’s possible to full-screen browsers, these days, which will fill up the screen, but the basic idea behind Windows was that we have… well, windows. Multiple windows, so that we can work on a couple things at a time. Windows with scroll-bars and status-bars and title-bars and possibly chocolate bars (but I wouldn’t bet on that last one).

With wide screens, one can have a couple things open at once. I’ve found it handy to have twitter open to the side while I browse in the remaining screen space. On a 1024×600 netbook, that means I have something like 629×454 of webpage.

Life below 640px.

At this moment, I’ll take a moment to mention The Fold. Yes, people can scroll, with that helpful little wheel on their mouse. That one-directional wheel. The one that can’t scroll horizontally.

The fold does exist, but it isn’t where you expect: it’s to the right, where only a small scroll-bar hints at additional content.

Google mentioned something about this, a couple months ago. They were wondering why few people were downloading Google Earth, and discovered that the Download button lay to the right of The Fold.

There’s an easy fix for the fold. All you have to do is create a fluid grid, or else design your site with collapseable structures that reshape the page on smaller screens.
Perhaps also media queries that style the page differently when the page width is too small.
All in all: Just don’t do fixed-width, least of all for 960 pixels. Those designs take up almost my entire screen.

I guess this post was about the fold. But as I’ve pointed out, the whole fold thing is just a sub-problem of bad design for small screens.

I’ve done some experimentation with pixels and ems, and there’s a post I need to make about the best ways to position and size things. You shouldn’t use pixels all the time, but you also shouldn’t use ems all the time. More on that later.

One final thought: The W3Schools compile lists of screen sizes of visitors, which is actually nearly worthless. I’d prefer they gathered the height and width of browser windows’ active areas, so we can have definitive evidence of screen sizes used in the wild. I’m certain that very few 1920×1200 monitors are used full-screen.

Netbook Redux

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Since I got my netbook, I’ve used my big desktop machine two or three times. The desktop has a larger screen, which is nice (I really wish this netbook had video-out), but there’s really nothing special it can do that my netbook can’t. I guess there’s an old game I wanted to play, which needs at least 1024×768 resolution (this has 1024×600), but that’s about it. Graphics files would be easier to work with on a large screen, too.

I’ve never used much disk space, and I have a combined 44 GB of space on my netbook.
I can’t remember when I last maxed out my CPU, besides when I’m encoding movies, but that would just take a bit longer than usual. On really slow CPUs, I can’t play emulated SNES games at a good speed, but this netbook plays them perfectly. I think the only time I’ve run into CPU limits on this device is when I had several pages open with embedded video, and tried to watch them.
I have as much ram in this as I have in my desktop, and I plan to double that sometime.
The write speeds on my drive are terrible, and that’s about the only problem I can see with the netbook. Truth be told, the SSD is likely using technology from 2008, and is undoubtedly from the lowest end of the price scale. When I get an upgrade, for a couple hundred dollars, it’ll be an order of magnitude faster.

The battery also runs out too quick for my tastes, but that’s a null argument when talking about a desktop; if I unplugged the big machine, it would cease operation immediately.

So… when you get right down to it, a netbook is actually all people need. I think a VGA port is needed, so people can buy bigger, higher-quality displays, but otherwise there’s really no argument.

I wonder when they’ll have netbooks with DDR3 and Super-Speed USB?

Art, Design, and Inspiration

Friday, February 5th, 2010

I went to school as a computer programmer (and analyst); and yet, when I started creating websites, I found that design was integral to anything I had to do.

When most people think of ‘design’, they think of art and imagery. They imagine a creative spout of inspiration that makes something ‘edgy’ and new and good-looking.

That’s not design.
Design is the intelligent application of goals around limitations and road-blocks. When you design a page, you’re finding a host of different needs and working with what you have to fulfill those needs.

In this way, design is inherently different than art. Artistic expression is all about reaching into your mind and somehow sharing that with the world. Design, in contrast, is about studying every facet of your work to determine what needs to be done, and how to make it work the best it can. It requires intuition and intelligence and an uncanny knack for seeing every connection.

Next time you’re making something, take a moment to think about how it’ll be used, and who’ll be using it. A good design will take you to whole new heights.