Monday, April 26, 2010

Archive from 4_6_07 - More Blog configuration

Like all software, there is a learning curve attached to blog ware. There is all the conventional set-up( just get it working...) stuff, along with the personalisation ( "I want it to work this way" or "This reflects me a bit more") along with the external functionality ("Spammers are scum", "link to me", "search me" etc) settings.
Some of the missing functionality is the personalisation of function("I want it to work like this..."). Like most software there are a set of assumptions and resulting constraints on the way the software works that are derived from the designers understanding ( either poor or good) of how "users" want their product to work. This may be either poorly implemented or quite polished ( in this case it seems quite polished) but at the end of the day the software encodes a particular work flow and mindset on the task. The assumptions are drawn from the designers experience with their own activities.
I find these sets of assumptions interesting. I am coming to see them more and more in my own work. Developing many quite different tools for disparate users in a short span of time has provided some quite condensed experience.
My observation is that most users who are approaching a new task are very dependent on their previous experience. You can either borrow from that ( both good and bad ) or make a clean break and provide something new and simple to learn. If they can have easy and early success with something then you have a winner. By this I mean, software should work straight out of the box. It should do something that is recognisable to the user as being sort of like what they want. Only then can you start to offer them options to modify the experience to be "more like what I want". At this point you have achieved the all important step of "engaging" your user. They are "inside" the experience. They and the software are now collaborating on getting the experience and process they want.
To bring this back to the subject of blogging software; my recent experience has suggested that my understanding of "normal" blogging processes are effectively zero. The conventions of blogging and the process of managing a blog are totally new to me.

I consider this a good thing. I have few pre-conceived notions about how the "blog" experience should be. The closest I can come is in managing online learning environments and discussion forums.
Another observation is on the learning curve subject. If you assume a learning curve is a factor of the difficulty of the subject matter as well as the complexity imposed by the interface design, then blogging is currently a fairly painful exercise. Not impossible but still relatively complex. Perhaps a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being transparent and 10 being "Invent your own tools". My conclusion would be that the software still has a fair way to mature yet. The feature set is still growing, as well as the challenges facing the designers. There are still conventions being worked out and new ways of using the blog being invented. As such its far from a mature experience but is also hardly raw anymore. For a couple of years in existence... that pretty good going. (when I say a couple of years, I mean, a couple of years being know to 'popular' culture. Obviously writing web logs has been around a tad longer than that.)
I feel the need to examine why I have started a blog. Really, it was the urge to try to simplify my life a bit. I am coming to use the online systems more and more as file repositories. The learning systems we use at Uni are fine for study materials and all the associated files, but are unsuitable for the addition of personal files or files I need access to from multiple places. They are also unsuitable for taking notes on random stuff. I have the habit of writing tracts of, basically, rambling garbage about topics that spark my interest and saving them on various hard drives, thumb drives, email systems etc. Its a pain to find them afterward and its more a pain to make sure they don't fall into the hands of anyone else. Its not that they are sensitive or contain unkind thoughts about others; its just that they are my rambling garbage and I wish to control access to it.
The next step in my attempt to solve this problem was to post it all to one of my websites. However this required having an FTP client and a decent HTML editor installed and accessible on all the computers that I use. Quite impossible. Having three offices, working in the labs, working from other peoples houses... not going to happen. I thought about trying to set it all up on a thumb drive, but even that means I need the drive with me 24/7. Another piece of junk to get lost, damaged or just in the way.

So the perfect solution is a web app. Something that I can have access to anywhere there is a connection and will just work.

While the page formatting might not be stupendous and the lack of some of the features of a word processor might be a pain. Its good to be able to just log in and work. Upload... finished. No pain. Speed, done.
I am tying to simplify things so that there is less of a barrier between me and what I am trying to get done. I am finding this an elegant solution, learning curve not withstanding.
It will be interesting to see how my habits change with access to slightly more transparent tools. Will I be inclined to write more often? Will my signal to noise ratio raise or fall? Will my interest wander to something else now I feel like its taken care of?
My guess would be slightly higher noise to signal ratio. ( no spell checking or grammar checking. Easier to click the save button without thoroughly checking what you have written )
Like now...

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