What Web 2.0 really needs is a global “turn off comments” switch

I love a lot of things about “Web 2.0.” Websites just look better, for one thing, and I firmly believe that “form” is a key part of “function.” The increased interactivity both between user and site and between user and other users has made the whole thing a lot more engaging.

But some people seriously need to shut the hell up.

I love the fact that many sites allow readers to comment on their articles. And I often wish more people would post comments on my own site. (I have to assume/hope more people are reading it than just those who very… very… rarely post comments.) But sometimes, especially when the topic inspires a passionate response (often involving Apple, love ’em or hate ’em), the worst thing I can possibly do is allow myself to get sucked down into the vortex of asshat ramblings in the comments section. And I have a perfect case in point here today from Technology Review.

I happen to be an Apple fanatic, I can admit that. But even if I didn’t love Apple, the iPhone would have won me over. In fact, going into the Macworld Expo keynote where Jobs first announced the iPhone, I met the rumors of an Apple phone with cringes and revulsion. Why would Apple make a phone? I wondered. What a stupid idea, I was convinced. But by the end of the keynote, I wanted one.

I still don’t have one, although I am presently contemplating it. Once I had actually used one, I was even more convinced that it was the greatest invention of the computer age. Opening it up to business apps and third-party developers is going to release the deluge. So I found the TR article interesting, but I seriously wanted to crush my skull in a vise after reading the first comment. And it just got worse from there, even with the commenters I agreed with. And yet, like with Katherine Kersten, I just can’t… stop… reading… them! HHFFRRRGGH!!! (Suddenly, I think I understand what that means.)

Giving Microsoft a ribbin’ over the ribbon

OK, that was an incredibly lame title; I guess I’ve just read too many headline puns in Entertainment Weekly over the years.

Anyway, I’d like to take a moment out of my ongoing obsession with translucent menu bars and open source operating systems (OSOSes?) and turn to the “dark side,” if you will. (That’d be Microsoft.)

A few weeks ago I took a training course for work. The course was not actually on Office 2007, but the computers in the training room were equipped with it, and it did come into play a few times. This was my first exposure to this version of Office, and needless to say I was stunned (and not necessarily in a good way) by the radically altered user interface.

I wouldn’t say I have any kind of unhealthy attachment to the lowly menu bar, but it is, after all, one of the cornerstones of a graphical user interface. I suppose being a Mac user has an effect on my sense of its importance, since it is ever-present at the top of the screen. I do think the Windows approach, where the menus are integrated into the application window, makes more sense and is — perhaps (gasp!) — more intuitive for novice users. But regardless of where it is, in most applications it just needs to be there, and without it I’m as lost as I’d be if I were looking not at a computer screen but at the inscrutable LCD display of a photocopier or a fax machine. (Have I ever mentioned how much I hate photocopiers and fax machines?)

If you’ve not yet seen Office 2007, you may not understand where I’m going with this, but, yes… it’s true… the menu bar is gone — GONE!!! — in all Office 2007 applications. Instead, you have… this:

Microsoft Word 2007 ribbon

Credit where credit is due (so Microsoft will not sue, since this image is surely copyrighted), I swiped this screenshot from here.

Maybe it’s just the effect of Steve Ballmer‘s voice ringing incessantly in the ears of their developers, but Microsoft actually has the audacity to suggest that this “ribbon” reduces clutter. Never mind the fact that you likely will have no idea where your formerly familiar menu options have gotten off to in this sea of buttons. And do not for a moment ask yourself why, if the tabbed ribbons have replaced the menus, they couldn’t have at least given them familiar names and organization (“File, Edit, View,” etc.).

Maybe I’m too “old school.” Maybe I’m a “dinosaur” or a “curmudgeon.” Some have made the valid argument that this interface may in fact be more intuitive to a new user who’s not familiar with the older versions of Word, Excel and the rest (yes, PowerPoint and Outlook are the Professor and Mary Ann of Office). But I have to ask this: how many people who are going to be using this really have never used Word (or for that matter, a computer with a GUI) before? And even if they haven’t, is an interface that assaults the new user with no less than sixty-one (according to my count in the above screenshot) buttons, tabs, or other clickable thingamabobbers, really going to instill in them a sense of ease, comfort and self-confidence at the keyboard?

But the ironic beauty (for us Apple fanboys) of this new interface is more than skin deep. For me, the most, erm, (I’ll use the word again) stunning thing about the interface is the magical, shiny, multi-colored and oh-so-enticing (yet strangely off-putting) Office button in the upper left corner, which not only beckons to you like a mercury-flavored Spree in this screenshot, but in fact pulses (yeah, that effect was cool in 2001) to the point of literally begging you to click it.

Go ahead. Click it.

But only click it once. For if you click it once, it spreads before you the most wondrous, the most essential (and for that matter, just about the only) menu in the entire application, containing options for opening, saving, printing and whatnot.

Click it twice, though, and guess what. No really, come on. Take a wild guess. That’s right, it closes the program. Brilliant! That’s really taking the novice into consideration. If there’s one thing I know about novice computer users, it’s that they don’t understand the difference between a single click and a double click. In fact, it seems the human brain must be hardwired to intuitively grasp that any quick poking motion with a finger should be done twice in rapid succession, and it’s only through years of experience with a computer that the tech savvy among us have trained ourselves out of this habit. Why else would so many websites (the first realm in computing that so boldly ventured into the netherworld of the single mouse click) have to plaster their pages with warnings not to click “Submit” buttons twice, lest Amazon.com should send you a duplicate copy of The Birds in My Life. (For the record, I found that particular item by going to Amazon and typing “stuff old clueless people like” into the search box.)

Now where was I? Oh yeah… my desktop. Because that’s what I’m looking at now that I accidentally double-clicked the mercury Spree. I assume that button is intended to be the Office counterpart to the new Start menu icon in Windows Vista. I have yet to use Windows Vista, or even to encounter a computer that has it installed. Nor have I yet talked to anyone who’s actually purchased it or a computer that came with it, but I’d guess that’s mainly because I don’t know anyone like this guy:

A typical Windows Vista user

Yes, that guy was in a picture on this page. I went to Microsoft’s website, looking for information about Windows Vista, and the first human face I encountered was that of Andy Samberg‘s stoner (or would it be “stoner-er”?) little brother.

OK, well… I don’t really know how to wrap this up. It’s almost 2 AM and I’m spent. I might go weeks minutes before I can find anything more to criticize about Microsoft. But don’t worry, when I do, you’ll be the first to know.

Science explains my madness, at last

If anyone has been bothering to read my rants for the past five-plus years, you may recall that one of my earliest blog posts was a tirade against the evils of cords.

Finally, while it may not be much solace, science as at least touched upon an explanation for why cords suck.

It’s kind of funny now, looking back at what I wrote in 2002. I was speaking in awed and reverent tones of the mystical wonders that awaited us in the future, these things called “AirPort” (I’m not even sure the term “Wi-Fi” was in use yet back then), and “Bluetooth” — things so new and wondrous that I put them in quotes when I referred to them, without a trace of irony.

Now I am pretty much taking for granted the fact that I’m sitting on my bed typing this on my laptop, connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi link to the router downstairs, and I’m controlling the cursor with a Bluetooth wireless mouse. Frankly, I’m more surprised by the fact that as of last Sunday my Mac is now set up in a triple boot configuration, with Mac OS X, Windows XP, and Ubuntu Linux.

Mac does Windows…

It’s old news that Apple‘s new computers all run the Intel Core Duo processor (or the unimaginatively — yet redundantly — named Core 2 Duo), and that thanks to Boot Camp, or a third-party app called Parallels (which I didn’t bother to buy, so I’m also not going to bother to track down the link), Apple’s computers can now run Windows natively.

Ultimately for no other reason than that it can be done, I naturally had to install Windows on my new MacBook. Tonight the “dream” (and I use that term without implying any positive connotations) became reality.

Sure, it’s great to have Windows, I guess. It benefits me mainly in that I can test my work in that most unpredictable of environments, Internet Explorer. I suppose it would also be handy for running Windows-only software, if there were any Windows-only software I actually wanted or needed to run.

The most striking characteristic I’ve noted so far is how obnoxious Windows software installers are. Installing a new application on Windows feels a bit like forcing your way through a crowded flea market, with aggressive hawkers pushing their wares on you. (In fact, come to think of it, that’s basically what it is.)

So far I’ve only installed 3 programs, aside from the OS itself (a harrowing experience in its own right), those being Adobe Reader, Firefox, and AOL Instant Messenger. I tried to install the latest version of Flash Player as well, but for some reason the installer just starts and then vanishes mysteriously. Ah, Windows.

Among those 3 installed programs, only Firefox did not accost me with multiple offers to install other, unwanted programs… or that perennial favorite, the browser toolbar. No thanks! I’m just coming for Adobe Reader. I really don’t care to also litter my hard drive (and desktop… and Start menu… and taskbar) with the likes of a 30-day trial of a watered-down version of Photoshop. And I definitely am not interested in the Adobe Yahoo! toolbar, nor can I even imagine what purpose it could possibly serve, other than to surreptitiously alert Adobe to the fact that I’ve surfed on over to my own website, wherein I’ve then proceeded to write and post a rant on the topic of invasive spyware.

It doesn’t have to be like this, people! (In fact, I am writing this once again having returned to the comfort of an operating system that just gets the hell out of the way and lets me do what I want to do thank you very much!)

Nothing new under the sun

Considering that I just finished recording a new CD whose centerpiece is a suite on the theme of the human experience entitled “Nothing New Under the Sun,” I should not continually find myself surprised that my seemingly oh-so-original ideas are, in fact… well, not. Especially when they come to me as a stroke of pure genius in the wee hours.

Case in point: I’m toying with some new ideas for a major overhaul of my personal website (far more than lazily “porting” it over to prefab blog software), and in the midst of setting up my “MAMP” (Mac OS X, Apache, MySQL, PHP — OK, so it’s not as elegant as “LAMP” but I am not yet on the “Linux is a legitimate desktop OS” bandwagon) development environment on my new iBook, the name for this new site hit me. It was sheer brilliance.

The Cortex Vortex

It was too good to pass up. And this on the same day when I had hit upon the idea of naming different-sex fraternal twins Franklin and Eleanor and nearly driven off the road in tears of hysterical laughter when SLP suggested the name “Fonzworth” (maybe you just had to be there… but truth is stranger than both fiction and SLP’s sense of humor).

So good, in fact, that naturally there were others in the world who had already found it that good, as well. Granted, there wasn’t really anything out there with the name that was like what I intended to do, but why compete with the villain from Crash Bandicoot 2… not to mention some guy in Quebec? (Do a whois, if you must.)

OK, back to Square One. Hey, maybe that would be a good name! Do you think anyone else is doing anything with it?

Not quite the event of the century, but I ran into and spoke briefly with Scott Savol at the Mall of America Apple Store last night.