October 2008 Archives

I wrote a very impressive blog, (far more impressive than this one) about Krug's chapters 4-6. Then Windows Vista felt it was time to restart my computer in order to  install some updates that may very well help my computer, but mostly seemed to change my resolution settings and mess up my dual monitor settings. While the update was likely necessary and useful, I did a system restore out of spite. I took this opportunity to examine the usability of Windows Vista.

Vista loves to make you think most of the time. It frequently feels the need to ask my permission before doing things I've just told it to do, like run programs, or copy files. This can get annoying, but probably tends to prevent viruses and spyware etc, from doing these things. Or at least it would if clicking YES emphatically wasn't a completely automatic reaction that takes slightly less consideration than blinking. However, despite this it doesn't feel the need (or rather the programers didn't feel the need to program it to, I understand that Vista is not a living entity inside my laptop) ask permission or even tell you before automatically restarting to install updates. While doing things automatically surely reduces thinking, it tends to antagonize the user. Occasionally, websites do this too. Their automatic functions tend to do little more than waste time, but they can still be annoying. Having a giant video of a concert immediately start playing when I just want to quickly click through and get tour dates, unnecessarily slows me down.....and irritates me.

Windows Vista, also tends to make some usability errors that were actually mentioned in chapters 4-6. (Sorry I got off topic) The organization for many of the control panel functions are a bit confusing. In many cases the major source of confusion is that they moved things to different places than they would be found in every other version of windows since 95. (Which 99.98% of Windows Vista users have some previous experience with) System would be a pretty natural place to have the system restore function. So I clicked under some of the vague options there like "system protection" and "advanced system settings" and went right back to the beginning, and decided to try the "back up and restore center" which would have seemed more obvious if it was phrased differently and didn't have an icon that indicated it was talking about files. Once I got there it had a couple big central boxes allowing you tlo "backup files" or "restore files." Then if you look closely at the tiny little link at the bottom, there is actually something about system restore. Finally.

These sorts of minor changes have been the bane of my existence for that majority of this semester. In the same way that changes in the standard navigational conventions on some websites can become frustrating, the tiniest subtlest changes from Windows XP or Windows 95 get annoying just because they require that little extra bit of though. Videos and Music are no longer in the "My Documents" folder, but instead are in seperate folders within each user's folder. This means that when I get home from a bar early in the morning and want to watch an episode of South Park while I fall asleep, I have to click "My Documents," stare at my monitor in confusion, exit "My Documents," click "Dave," then click "videos", etc. I guess I expect something better from the company that designed DOS. (Which I greatly prefer.)

On a completely off topic note, I noticed a similarity between Krug's discussion of website depth vs width and automated answering systems. On a website a user is either confronted with a few choices, but most click several times to get to what they want or a whole lot of choices that will get them there in fewer, though more difficult clicks. Most automated phone systems are the same. After a call to my bank, the screen on my phone looks like some sort of code consisting of 1's, 2's and 3's. A lot of times the options are two specific requests, followed by all other requests, but there are rarely more than 3 options, and often just 2. My local county courthouse on the other hand likes to ensure that you listen to no less than 9 menu items before getting to push a button. (It also tells you at the beginning of the call, that if it's an emergency you should hang up and call 911. A prime example of pointless noise.)

As Krug points out, three clicks that require no thought, may equal one that does. It's even more noticable when you're forced to listen as the menu options are read to you, rather than allowing you to scan a list.  Both forms of organization have major downsides, and honestly both calls probably take just as long though one obviously involves more pushing buttons. The important thing for websites is really just to combine both formats, making use of a moderate amount of options with a moderate amount of "secondary, tertiary and whatever comes after tertiary" levels.     

blah blah GINGER blah blah blah

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I really liked Krug's use of Gary Larson's Farside Comic comparing what we say to dogs and what they actually here. It really did a good job of illustrating his point about how little of a web site users tend to read. He points out that we really only see the hand-full of key words that relate to whatever we're searching for and ignore the rest. I know that, upon reflection, this is certainly what I do. (I'm also starting to think that my website reading conventions are starting to effect my reading ability. I tried to read Consolation of Philosphy by Boethius before decideing to do this and could barely handle it).

I find it interesting to liken websites to billboards rather than pamphlets, but it does make a lot more sense (except that when driving through places like Idaho and Montana I look at billboards a lot longer than I look at websites.) We only really look at websites long enough to click on the link we want (or think we want.) 

I really liked the examples Krugg used to illustrate his points. It was impressive how tiny, subtle changes make things easier to use. From particular text, to the placement of a little red arrow next to a word or even the color of the lines seperating items in a menu, each change made the web site noticably easier to use. All in all, I'd say Krugg was 100% right when he said it's mostly common sense, but "Like a lot of common sense, though, it's not necessarily obvious until after someone's pointed it out to you."   

Getting Comfortable With The Web

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With a half-semester completed, of Writing for the Internet, I'm think I've finally got the hang of blogging. This class has covered the various forms of writing for the internet (as the title of the course might suggest). We started with coding in HTML, and basic website design. We then moved on to actually writing the content of websites. We learned about proffessional writing, blogging and even creative writing. We are now beginning with the subject that will likely be my favorite: gaming.

In order to respond to our readings, discussions and assignments, we've each kept up student blogs. This blog is a portfolio detailing a few of the highlights from the first half of the semester.


The majority of the blogs were responses to readings. I've really improved as far as the coverage goes, and tended to actually use quotes. One of my most recent blogs is a critique of Writing for the Web 3.0 by Crawfor Kilian. We read this book while studying the conventions for designing websites as well as writing text for various online forms. Many of my other blogs are in response to just portions of the book. The first blog covered the general differences between print and web writing, which alerted me to some major mistakes I'd been making in my early web content. The following chapters covered different forms of online writing. One of the especially interesting ones covered different types of blogs and propoganda, which lead our class to determine that these blogs aren't really any specific type, but have aspects of all. I was also interested in the one about journalism, as it is a form of writing I am very familiar with.

After learning about the more practical forms of writing for the web, we studied and reflected on more creative outlets, starting with more traditional stories, which tend to take on the form of some sort of narrative. We then moved on to more abstract ones, which tended to make better use of the advantages of hypertext. Finally we just started learning about games.  

 While I may have improved in coverage, timeliness is where I've sort of been sliding since the last portfolio. So far the blog that I finished earliest was one covering four hypertext stories, which each student was aloud to select on their own. My blog analyzing the four I selected was my most timely. It was posted the day before class, by two minutes. The majority of my other blogs were posted sometime after midnight on the day of class. This is something I really need to work on (as I write this around two hours before class). As it really decreases the possibility for interaction with my peers.

 My interactions have been limited, most likely due to posting late. I did however, recieve a comment on my blog about "The Heist", which was my first experience with a traditional story written with hypertext.

I think that in many of my blogs have done a good job of analyzing and interpreting the material. This is in part due to the shift to creative hypertext. I'm a creative writing major, so its just a subject that tends to interest me. My blog analyzing different creative forms of online writing was quite detailed, as well as my blog about a single story from among the group, entitled the "Reagan Library." Another indepth blog is my critique of Writing for the Web 3.0 by Crawfor Kilian.

While my blogs got few comments, I did a better job of commenting on other people's blogs. I actually participated in a discussion on Anne's blog about the election.

All and all, I think I've improved since the lst portfolio. I just need to keep it up. 


The Origin of Games

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I was really interested in reading about the start of gaming. I've always been a fan of RPG games, (especially those that tend to involve more narration, dialogue and a story in general). I've also been a big fan of older games, (especially old DOS ones that are old enough that they have no copyright and are available online for free). I actually have played some version of the original text adventure game that Adams talked about. I was taking a class in programming Basic, and we worked with the game, and edited the code to create our own games. It's just really immpressive to look at how far games have come since then.

I've always considered video games (Well, RPG's not so much sport or strategy games), just another form of story telling. I've always felt that despite the varied mediums, from literature to games to drama, at it's heart, story-telling is essentially the same. Certain stories work better in certain mediums, but the majority of stories can be adapted for any of them. Many stories are. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, began as novels, became a computer game and cartoon in either the 80's or early 90's (I'm not entirely sure), then became movies, and finally a whole new series of movie-inspired video games.  The Resident Evil series took a much different route, and began as video game, then went first to novels and finally to movies. The same stories  were successfully adapted accross multiple mediums. This phenomenon illustrates the root of the video game as a literary form

Critique of "Writing for the Web 3.0"

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Crawford Kilian's book Writing for the Web 3.0   describes the unique techniques involved with writing specifically for the internet. It is unlike many books on web writing in that it describes writing content, and leaves out code. It covers many different forms of online writing, ranging from corporate writing to personal blogs.

The book was very informative, and I'd recomend it to anyone interested in online writing. It's also works as an effective reference tool, as the chapters are well divided, using many sub-headings. It's quite easy for a reader to quickly locate information on a specific type of writing.

Crawford Kilian has been a print writer for many years, and the book is written with writers who are familiar with print writing in mind. Despite this, in most places it describes conventions required for print writing, before then addressing the changes that one must make for online writing. 

My only real criticism, has to do with this. In some cases it seems that the general information about the various types of writing is inconsistent. In some places I felt that it was redundant (at least for me because I was already familiar with some types of writing that it covered). In other places I felt that there was not enough information about the given type of writing. I know from discussion that many of my classmates had this problem, especially in the corporate writing section.

To overcome this problem, one could address it much like similar problems on websites. It is important to avoid forcing readers to read text they neither need or want. To avoid this, a clear division between general information about types of writing, and information thats specific to the online version of that form of writing. By doing this, experienced print readers would be able to quickly access information about online writing. Readers who aren't completely familiar with the print versions of certain types of writing, will still have the information necessary to understand the portion about writing it online.      

The Happy Badger Exudes Confidence

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I spent a long time reading the Reagan Library. Its really really wierd, and Immpossible to link to any one page, as its constantly changing. Some of the text is randomly generated. It has random narratives between 4 different spaces, dimensions, or whatever one might call them. Within each one is a panoramic view, containing a landscape. Pictures in the landscape are links that I could not get to work on my browser. There are also links in the text though.

Each space has different color schemes, tones and objects that reside on its landscape. Each object has a little story with it. Each time you return to the object, the story is slightly changed. In theory, it is becoming more clear. One thing I noticed that was interesting about this method, is that each story seemed to contain a lot of random lines of gibberish (my favorite was "The Happy Badger Exudes Confidence") and cleverly altered cliches like: "If you can read this, you too are close." Intermingled with these are advice like: "count the dots", (These only appear in the red space, under the heading "notes") There are dots on each page indicating the number of visits. The more dots, the more comprihensible.

I eventually figured out that part of the reason they begin to make more sense, is that you automatically sensor out the old parts (which make little sense) and focus on the new parts, when you're reading it for the third time. I also noticed that many of the random gibberish lines were indeed randomly generated from lists of wierd phrases (like: The Happy Badger Exudes Confidence). This started to make more sense after I noticed the line: "Does the Noise Bother You?" (Something to this effect anyway, I clicked about 50 times and cannot get that same line again, so that isn't 100% definately word for word correct). Which makes a lot of sense. Much of the text struck me as random background noise. It was like sitting in a loud bar trying to talk to someone. At first you can't really hear them, but eventually the ambient noise just fades into the background.   

First Glance

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I started with The Reagan Library , because I thought it'd be fun to click one of them before the picture loaded. It was wierd, but hard to leave. I actually ended up spending a half-hour on it immediately, and then briefly hit a few others for another half-hour. I'll talk about the others first.

Deviant: The Possesion of Christian Shaw by Donna Leishman, was also pretty wierd. It had no text, until the end where it tells the story of Christian Shaw, a little girl who was "demonically possessed" and had several people put to death for it. I knew nothing of this story (which they posted in text at the end). The whole story had no text, just wierd little graphics and sounds, many of which were kinda cool. Had I read the text part first, it would have made far more sense.

Inanimate Alice, Episode 1: China by Kate Pullinger and babel, was unique in that it was actually linear. It was really interesting how the author incorporated video (low-res so that it loaded quick) and layered sounds to speed up or slow down the tempo of the story. Occasionally the story required the reader to click on things, besides the little arrows. It was a bit like the "living books" that my little brother used to read when he was young (They didn't exist when I was that young...yes, I'm old) They were basically well-illustrated books, where you could click on pictures to get them to do different little animations.

Star Wars, One Letter at a Time   by Brian Kim Stefans is exactly just that, with the addition of type-writer sound effects. If you sit and try for awhile, you can eventually start to make out some of the words, especially those you expect like, "A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away..." It was interesting, but it loses its novelty after about 45 seconds.

Story Land  by Nanette Wylde was kind of interesting, until you realize that its just a formula that repeats with certain bits changed. Its a lot like a mad-lib with the computer randomly generating the verbs, nouns and adjectives.

The First Few Hypertext Stories

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Both The University of the Yellow Wall Paper and The Body made great use of the hypertext-medium. The University of the Yellow Wall Paper tended to read in a random, disjunctive, way, very similar to "stream-of-conciousness" writing. The random ordering of thoughts (which is the precise opposite of what one should do on a business website) tends to mimic the way in which the brain works. Wierd, rambling, hypertext stories are a pretty good medium to describe a decent into insanity.

While I think the University of the Yellow Wall Paper accomplished its authors goals, I prefered the body. It had at least one element that Killian suggests: A home page that shows you all the places one can go. As a habitual linear reader, I like to have some vague idea of where the end is. While the initial picture isn't exactly a table of contents, it still gives the reader an impression of roughly how many pages there are. (I'm a little obsessive and have to read every single page.) This really helped me to enjoy the story. I also noticed that hypertext is a good medium for what basically amounts to a character sketch. 

Hypertext really gives an author an unlimited breadth to look at a story from, but at the same time tends to limit it temporally. (I've been thinking about what I could do with this medium) The author can examine a single event or moment from many different angles, but having many different sequential events becomes problematic. While The Heist became a bit confusing, as different things occured at different times, the body, which simply describes a character and her body as they exist at the moment the author writes them. The action is all flashback, and it doesn't really matter when the reader learns about it. I think this really made good use of hypertext.  

Blogs and Propoganda

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So, as far as the various types of blogs mentioned, I was mostly entertained by this type:

"One of the striking aspects of this [introverted blogs] genre is the author's denigration of himself: the blog is purported to be "chaos," "random," "neurotic," and generally reflective of failed life."---- Crawford Killian.

I had to smile when reading that because I bartended with a guy whose myspace blog does this. It's generally pretty pathetic. Its especially entertaining to hear about conflicts that I witnessed, as written from his perspective while thinking he has an audience. Minor conflicts such as when he got fired and when his boyfriend broke up with him, are blown to epic porportions. 

 It's similar to the "reality show" phenomenon, where people become so overly dramatically just come someones got a camera on them. (Or I'm wrong and they have a special place where the casts of reality shows are genetically spawned and bred to behave as such.) I just liked Killian's quote about this form of blogging.

To further quote people, I have to agree with Andrew LoNigro in his description of our SHU blogs "It's like taking all of the cateogories and throwing them in a blender." From this he created the term "Blender Blog," in his blog entry of the same title. I found this term perfect in describing my blog.

After checking my myspace blog (no link intentionally), as I rarely use it and didn't remember what all I posted, I noticed that it also falls under a similar description. There are a few entries that are purely travel writing (extroverted personal blogs), a few political, editorial type things (advocacy I guess), short stories, poems, (No catagory mentioned), a few that are general relfections that have nothing to do with me (rants is how I'd generally describe them), and then there is one pretty pathetic whiny one (introverted personal). All in all there is no clear catagory that this falls into. It is another Blender Blog.

In chapter 8, Killian moved on to discuss persuasion and propoganda. I guess in this case it seemed to me that the rules are pretty much the same whether its written in print or on the web or delivered in a speech. Good evidence is necesary, and fallacies get you no where. It seems that the majority of the book targets writers who are familiar with other forms of writing, but new to webwriting. This chapter however, seems more targeted at readers who are not familiar with persuasive writing in any of its forms.         

Killian Chapters 5 and 6....for lack of a better title.

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I've taken enough journalism classes that much of chapter 5 was review. In terms of specific conventions, webwriting is very similar to print journalism. The majority of conventions for displaying different types of information and maintaining political correctness are the same as those used by the Associated Press.

Chapter 6 however, was completely new. I've never had any experience with corporate writing, aside from writing press releases. It was interesting to note the sheer lack of usability associated with most corporate websites. 

"He [Nielson] cites one study of 15 big commercial websites in which users could find information only 42 percent of the time."

While web sites that offer only information about the company suffer from the same problems as other typically print media being transfered to websites, the problems faced by sites that actually sell things, seem to have a differing set of goals. Rather than trying to convert a pamphlet about the company into a website, such sites are combining this effort with converting a mail order catalog as well. The problem with this approach is that it ignores the internet's ability to allow instantaneous communication. Because anyone shopping on the website can immediately provide feedback, the site should be treated more like a physical store, than a mail order catalog.   

"The Heist" tends to read a bit like an Icelandic Saga

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Admittedly, I did read "The Heist" immediately AFTER leaving European Literature, where we're reading The Laxdaela Saga. It's an Icelandic saga, and tends to get really bogged down in geneology. Its interwoven with lots of tiny chapters that just give bits of background. It would actually be kind of nice if upon hearing a somewhat familiar name (They all seem somewhat familiar since 80% of the characters have the word "Thor" in their name) one could click on it and jump back to the chapter that explained who they were. It has many chapters where all that happens is that someone got married, had kids who all got married, one of them then had a son, who will not be mentioned for at least a hundred more pages. This seemed reminiscent of reading about a well endowed bank teller who happened to be trying to decide if she was in love with a banker owner's son who would eventually take over the bank and wear bad suits, after growing up in a town that required a well developed sense of irony. It gets difficult to follow.

The lack of a clear linear path that hypertext can allow a writer, tends to make it even more difficult to follow. At least in works with fragmented story lines, which most good novels have to some degree, there is some sort of frame work, with cues helping the reader determine when and where the action is occuring. Some writers give dates or times, or even locations, in first person narratives they often say something like "back when..." In most cases writers tend to guide the reader along, showing them what they want them to see, at the precise moment they want it to be seen.

This said, the whole idea of writing a story that can be read in a random order, is pretty impressive. It adds several new dimensions to the craft of story telling. To plan such a story, one would have to determine which pages to link and in what way, so that no matter which links they click, the reader still hits all the pages, AND recieves them in an order that makes sense. One of these days, when I get enough free-time (or if the website design project instructions are really open-ended) I'll definately have to write one of these.