The Aardvark Speaks : essence, effervescence, obscurity. Established 2002. A weblog by Horst Prillinger. ISSN 1726-5320

September 2004 Archive

September 01, 2004

I wanted to write something completely different today (and also something completely new), but a comment from Ralf about his dissatisfaction with Trackbacks reminded me that I promised to write an article explaining the mechanics of Trackbacks already a long time ago, so I guess this is as good a time as any to write it.

You may have seen the word "TrackBack (0)" at the end of every posting on this weblog (well, sometimes it says "TrackBack (1)" too) and may have wondered just what exactly this means. If you're interested in the explanation, read on, if not, well, don't.

What is a Trackback, technically?

A Trackback is basically a link to somebody else's weblog. The interesting thing is that if there's a Trackback link on my weblog, it wasn't me who put the link there. Instead the other person sent a signal (a so-called "ping") to my server, and with this ping inserted the link to his page on my weblog. In other words, Trackbacks give you the power to insert a link to your own weblog on somebody else's weblog.

How do you send that "ping"?

First, you need weblog software that supports sending pings. Movable Type was the first software to support it, but by now many other products, including WordPress or Radio Userland, can send pings.

Second, you need the address to send the ping to. If you click on "Trackback" on any of my entries, you'll see the message "Use the following URL to send a TrackBack ping for this entry" and an URL below it. You need to copy (not click!) that URL, and when you write your weblog entry, paste it into your weblog software where it says "URLs to ping". As soon as you save your weblog entry, my site is pinged, and the link to your entry appears on my site.

Now the most important question: why and when do you send Trackback pings?

Let me start with something that should be obvious: you do not send a Trackback ping if the article that you are writing has nothing whatsoever to do with what I wrote in the article that you are pinging.

You should see Trackbacks as a form of remote comment; this is why Trackbacks and comments appear next to each other on my weblog, and why WordPress for example even lists them together. By "remote comment" I mean that you read my article and want to respond to it; but you don't want to respond by merely posting a short comment on my site, instead you want to respond through a longer article of your own on your own weblog.

Trackbacks allow you to do just that: you write your own article in response to my article, and you don't have to post a comment on my site saying "Hey, I wrote a response, click on this link to read it" — you simply send a Trackback ping, and something like this line is automatically inserted for you on my site. Nifty, isn't it?

So when do you send a Trackback ping?

Well, ideally whenever you feel that what you write in your article is a direct response to, or a continuation of, or an explicitation of my article.

Many people send pings if they merely link to an article. While this is not considered bad behaviour, it is not really the idea behind Trackbacks. Why would you insert a link to your blog in my blog if all you do on your blog is simply link to my blog? This is illogical.

The logical reason to insert a link to you on my weblog is to tell my readers, "come to me, I have more to say on that topic / I have a different point of view / I have related thoughts". Simple rule of thumb: if you feel that's what you want to tell my readers, then you send the ping. If it's nothing like what you wanted to say, perhaps you should reconsider whether a Trackback ping is the right thing or not.

Anything else to keep in mind?

Write excerpts. If your weblog software allows you to write excerpts of your article, write an excerpt if you send a Trackback ping. If you don't write an excerpt, simply the first 80 characters or so will be sent, and often these 80 characters may not make a lot of sense, so writing a good excerpt is your chance to convince my readers that it's a good idea to follow the link and continue reading on your weblog.

Avoid nonstandard character content. Make sure that the text of your excerpt does not contain any non-SGML characters and that it is stripped of HTML markup. These may be sent to the pinged site and may cause problems. Particularly German umlauts, typographic quotation marks, em dashes and the like may not be displayed as intended.

Be aware of timeout trouble. If the weblog you are pinging is on a slow server, you may receive a timeout error saying that your ping could not be sent. In that case, check the pinged weblog to see if your Trackback ping has arrived or not. In most cases, it will be there, and sending it again is not necessary. This seems to happen a lot with TypePad-hosted weblogs, by the way.

Ping sensibly. Do send pings — by turning thematic links between weblogs into visible and clickable URLs they are a valuable tool for building networks and enhancing cross-weblog communication. And of course they attract readers from other weblogs to your own weblog. But do send pings sensibly: bear in mind that by creating cross-links you want to create knowledge, not link noise.

Update: In a funny case of synchronicity, Martin Röll also writes about Trackbacks today, but he seems to be more interested in Trackbacks as reference information, which seems to be a rather author-centred approach to me.

Update: A German translation of this articleby Majo is available at IT&W.

Posted by Horst at 11:18 PM | Comments (1)

September 02, 2004

Somehow this whole fuss about Gmail invites reminds me of Max Barry's novel Jennifer Government, pages 5-6, where John and the other John talk about the marketing strategy for the new shoe model.

Posted by Horst at 04:30 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

One thing I noticed in France is how important streets in French cities always seem to be named after the same people and the same historical events, no matter where they are. And they seem to have a much stronger historical slant than street names here in Austria, so that they turn visits to French cities almost into a history lesson.

Jean Jaurès, République, Foch, Wagram, Gabriel Péri, Gambetta, Stalingrad, Bir Hakeim, Victor Hugo, Alésia, 8 Mai 1945.
Posted by Horst at 11:57 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

September 03, 2004

Jean Jaures

Speaking of which: the man with probably the most French streets and schools named after him, the philosopher, social reformer and founding father of French socialism Jean Jaurès, would be celebrating his 145th birthday today, had he not been murdered by a fanatical nationalist 90 years ago because he had opposed World War I.

"Le capitalisme porte en lui la guerre comme la nuée porte l'orage." —J.J.

Posted by Horst at 12:12 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

Interesting snippets from a recent speech by a man with memory problems:

Arnold Schwarzenegger: "When I was a boy, the Soviets occupied part of Austria. I saw their tanks in the streets.".
The part of Austria where Schwarzenegger lived and grew up was occupied by British, not Soviet troops.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: "I saw communism with my own eyes."
Probably on a journey to Russia. Austria never had a communist government.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: "As a kid I saw the socialist country that Austria became after the Soviets left."
From the end of World War II up until 1970, the strongest political party in Austria was the Conservative Party, which is known for its strict Catholicism and strong opposition to socialism. Schwarzenegger left Austria in 1968, when the Conservatives had a comfortable absolute majority in government.

Update: See also my thoughts here.

Update: Arnie's bad memory made it into CNN: Schwarzenegger criticized for Austrian history gaffes [thanks Klaus].

Update: The CNN article has now been changed. Some criticism has been removed, it now has a new headline and contains replies from Schwarzenegger's spokeswoman, who says exactly the things I had predicted in the first update.

Posted by Horst at 07:40 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack (2)

September 05, 2004

Haldur is on vacation at a moose spa and regrets to announce that he will not be blogging today and next Sunday.

Posted by Horst at 08:53 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

September 06, 2004

One of those enlightening moments in your life that you don't really want to have is when your dentist explains to you how a root end resection works. Click the link only if you really want to know. I wanted to know, but now I don't want the procedure done. Fortunately, my dentist thinks it isn't necessary. Yet.

Posted by Horst at 10:25 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Jazz at the Lyon Opera
Jazz in the peristyle of the Lyon opera: M'Bisha Trio, 10 August 2004

I wish they did cool things like this in the Vienna opera during the summer.

Posted by Horst at 11:33 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

September 07, 2004

  • A book entitled "The history of public transport in Vienna, Prague and Budapest" contained two chapters on Prague, two chapters on Budapest, and a brief note that it would not deal with Vienna.

  • I didn't quite understand why they meticulously cleaned the floor first and then started painting the wall. I also didn't understand why they punched three holes in the freshly painted wall one week later. And I didn't understand why they used the holes to install something that looks like three water taps in a pretty normal corridor, especially as there is no sink anywhere nearby.

  • On closer inspection, a book catalogued as being on "witchcraft productions" and "witch trails" turned out to be on "witchcraft prosecutions" and "witch trials".

  • A reader killed a mouse by accidentally stepping on it. Subsequently, mouse phobia prevented a number of people from removing the dead mouse.

  • On The Day When Everybody Wanted To Photocopy Like Mad, one copier had a paper jam, one refused to accept coins, one refused to accept copy cards, one was locked in the room that was being repainted, but the last one miraculously worked. Usually they all break down on days like this.

  • When the library closed in the evening, one reader complained that she had to leave, whereas the worker repainting the radiators could stay on. She said, "Are you trusting him more than me?"

Posted by Horst at 11:38 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (2)

September 08, 2004

Wezon Pissoirscheiben - bewährte Pissozon-Qualität

In a time like ours, in which a clever marketing machinery is immersing people like you and me in a perpetual hum of euphemism-speak, being confronted with the unadulterated, blunt truth can sometimes come as quite a shock.

I haven't decided yet which I like better: the "urinal slices" or the "tried and tested piss-ozone quality". The former sounds better in German, but the latter is a sure winner in English.

Posted by Horst at 11:55 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

September 09, 2004

The world wants United States President George W Bush out of the White House, according to a poll (PDF, 112K) that shows in 30 of 35 countries people preferred Democrat candidate John Kerry—especially in traditionally strong US allies. The only countries where President Bush was preferred were the Philippines, Nigeria, and Poland.

Only one in five want Bush re-elected. [...] Asked how the foreign policy of President Bush has affected their feelings toward the US, in 30 countries a majority or plurality said it made them feel "worse" about America. [...]

GlobeScan President Doug Miller says, "Perhaps most sobering for Americans is the strength of the view that US foreign policy is on the wrong track." [...] Among countries that have contributed troops to the operation in Iraq, most favored Kerry and said that their view of the US has gotten worse with Bush's foreign policy. [...]

Kerry was strongly preferred among all of America's traditional allies. These included Norway (74% for Kerry to 7% for Bush), Germany (74% to 10%), France (64% to 5%), the Netherlands (63% to 6%), Italy (58% to 14%), and Spain (45% to 7%). [...]

The poll of 34,330 people was conducted mainly during July and August 2004 by GlobeScan and its worldwide network of research institutes, in conjunction with the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) of the University of Maryland.

The only problem is that while the world wants Bush out, the people of the US, or at least about half of them, want Bush in. That, the amount of money at Bush's disposal and the voting machines that can easily be manipulated (see also here — what the hell is wrong with paper voting sheets anyway?) would make me very surprised if Kerry were elected president.

And that's despite Bush's problem with numbers.

Posted by Horst at 10:03 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Way to go (film still)

On my bicycle, it takes me seven minutes (QuickTime, 6.5 MB) to get to work. By public transport, it can take anything between 12 and 25 minutes. Or longer. Walking takes about 30 minutes.

Posted by Horst at 12:21 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack (1)

September 10, 2004

This really doesn't have much to do with anything else on my site, but as someone was desperately and repeatedly searching it for details on the life expectancy of aardvarks, I will now tell you that the oldest aardvark living in a zoo is 27 years old.

Posted by Horst at 03:03 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Part of the mystery about the wall that was first painted and then equipped with three water taps for no apparent reason has been solved. Even though it is still unclear why it was painted before, rather than after the installation of the water taps, at least the purpose of the water taps is now becoming evident: at the moment men in grey overalls are busy connecting no less than three coffee vending machines to the water taps. Three identical machines, by the way. It seems that they want to compensate for the fact that the library had to do completely without coffee machines in this building for the past 120 years by making sure we can three times as much coffee as we'd like to now.

Fair enough.

But who will pay for the signs saying "No coffee to be brought into the library"? Or are we to become, God forbid, a "coffee allowed" zone? I can alrerady hear the cleaning personnel rejoice over the extra amount of spillage they'll have to deal with. Secures their jobs, which, given that the university's cleaning budget has been cut three years in a row, must be a welcome relief.

Posted by Horst at 03:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

September 13, 2004

Herbert, Duc de Vaucanson
from Joann Sfar & Lewis Trondheim, Cœur de canard. Paris: Delcourt, 1998.

If it hadn't been for an entry on the Schockwellenreiter, I'd probably never have understood the joke. The humour of Trondheim (and Sfar) never ceases to amaze me.

Posted by Horst at 11:06 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)

September 14, 2004

AlI remember standing in this travel agency, and for some obscure reason there's only one counter open, and this very counter is serviced by an extremely patient and friendly gentleman, who would be the model of travel agent efficiency were it not for his two customers, a CBCCC.

You know them, I guess, this particular kind of person. You can't help but like them, you feel protective of them, but the one thing you'd really like to do to them is shoot them to the moon, instantly. I am talking, of course, about the Cute, But Completely Clueless Couple.

They are usually in their early to mid-twenties, and it's obvious that they haven't gone through the harsh realities of life yet; not in their relationship, because they still seem cute in a cuddly kind of way, but also not in daily life, because they're just so totally lost and helpless it hurts. How they go through life unscathed is a mystery; I suppose most of them just don't and turn into FBSCCCs — Frustrated, But Still Completely Clueless Couples — at some point; the others are probably protected by the Wall Of Naïveté, which, I am told, is very powerful indeed.

You can find CBCCCs pretty much everywhere, mostly in clothes shops where they can't seem to decide which clothes look better on him or her, and, in greater density, in travel agencies, where they take hours to look through brochures, trying to decide just where to go, which flight to book. Literally. Hours.

The travel agency session of a CBCCC usually ends with both of them wearing a puzzled kind of look, them both saying good bye to the travel agent and leaving, and the travel agent clearing away tons of brochures, all of which they've been looking through without having booked anything. As it happened in this particular case that I'm writing about.

After my prolonged wait, and after having given the travel agent time to clear away the mess, I sat down opposite him. "Can I help you?" he said, still sounding somewhat tired and worn out from the CBCCC encounter.

I took a brochure out of my bag and pointed at what I wanted. "I'd like this, please," I said. He looked so wonderfully relieved that it was a pleasure to behold.

Posted by Horst at 12:18 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

September 15, 2004

I had this really weird dream last night, which at some point turned into a veritable movie about crime, despair and, finally, romantic love. I actually managed to dream it to the end, closing titles and all, even though I was a bit disappointed that the credits for writing and directing went to some German guy called Uli Becker (I ckecked in the IMDb, he doesn't exist) and not to me.

Apparently the movie was edited together from some epic TV series called "30 Jahre Deutschland" about three decades in the lives of four rather weird characters — a former Russian athlete, an autistic boy, and I forgot who the two others were, even though I can still kind of see their faces on this set of publicity brochures for the movie.

I personally featured only in two very brief scenes of the movie; one, in which I was kind of a bad guy and had to say a few lines and look menacingly at some other character, and the other one, and this is the one that totally baffles me, where I'm sitting on this train, and one of the colleagues from work shows up, and he's obviously the train conductor because he starts checking the tickets.

I don't remember where I was going on this train, but I was going there and back again, and I had a 24-hour ticket, which I showed to the colleague/conductor on the way there, and for some reason I wanted to really confuse him on the way back, so I bought a second 24-hour ticket for the ride back, even though the first one was still valid.

It confused the hell out of him — he just didn't know what to do with the second 24-hour ticket ("But your first one is still valid") —, but as it was totally legitimate, there was nothing he could do about it.

Posted by Horst at 09:35 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack (0)

September 16, 2004

Mur des Canuts
Lyon, Mur des Canuts, August 2004.

Trompe l'œuil. This is just a painted wall. The only thing that's real are some of the tiny little dark windows (it's a bit more obvious on this previous version of the wall with Guignol characters on it).

There are many buildings like this in Lyon. Here's a link to a website with pictures of some of them.

Posted by Horst at 10:44 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

September 17, 2004

Lewis Trondheim feels he ought to lose some weight
from Lewis Trondheim, Approximativement. Paris: Cornélius, 2001.

I so know how it feels. And then they tell you that if you go on a diet, chances are that you'll actually gain weight soon afterwards.

Posted by Horst at 11:30 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

September 19, 2004

Moose Spa

Just to tell you I'm back from the moose spa. However, I fear that no matter what happens during the next few weeks, it will always feel like one big fat enormous anticlimax.

More pictures from the moose spa will follow later this week.

Posted by Haldur Gislufsson at 12:43 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

September 20, 2004

There are some initiatives on the web that I simply don't get. Cats? Who needs cats anyway, unless you want to be infected with toxoplasma? On the contrary, what we really need is not more cat content on weblogs, but more moose content. Which is why I designed this button

More moose content in weblogs!

which you can display on your weblog to show your support for mooses on the WWW. Stop the spread of toxoplasma! More moose pictures in weblogs! Yay!

Save the button to your hard disk, the upload it to your server. Here is the HTML code to display it. Just copy it and paste it into your page:

And here, finally, some more moose content:

A moose picture

Posted by Haldur Gislufsson at 04:08 PM | Comments (44) | TrackBack (6)

September 21, 2004

As promised, here are the first pictures from the moose spa... and as a special treat, I'm offering you two QuickTime VR panoramas. Click on the link below to see them, but beware, this requires QuickTime, and they may take some time to load (2 MB total).

A nice lake. With geese, pedal boats and tourists.

Nineteen friendly lions with a serious salivation problem.

Hold the mouse button and drag the picture to view it. Press Shift to zoom in, Ctrl to zoom out.
N.B.: Please notice that the plug-in interface in Mozilla and Firefox for Mac OS is buggy, and funny things may happen.

Posted by Haldur Gislufsson at 10:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Verry good Greek kittchen
Kournas Lake, Crete, September 2004.

There are some things you just can't eat, even if they prepare them in a verry good Greek kittchen... well, that is, unless you're verry hungry.

Posted by Haldur Gislufsson at 10:50 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

September 22, 2004

I'm not happy with Firefox. I never understood the hype about it. I tested several of the pre-release versions, and all of them were considerably more hassle than what they were worth. I had high hopes for the 1.0 preview, but after 4 days of testing, I must say that I still don't understand the hype, for the following reasons:

  • It crashes. Frequently. Far more frequently than Mozilla 1.7 or Safari. In fact, in crashes so frequently that I've just lost my patience with it and am now writing this article.

  • It takes ages to launch. Significantly longer than Mozilla 1.7, which is odd, because it's supposed to be smaller than Mozilla.

  • It crashes frequently.

  • Page rendering seems to be slower than in Safari or even Mozilla 1.7.

  • The Preferences window is cluttered, and finding the correct settings requires lots of guesswork rather than logic. Several important configuration settings (for me) seem to be missing. Also, it does not have a setting to select the Mac OS X default browser.

  • Did I mention that Firefox crashes too often?

I don't know whether these problems are specific to the Mac OS X version, but I just hope the developers get their act together for the final version, because the 1.0 preview ist just a major nuisance.

Interestingly, no-one seems to mention Mozilla 1.7 anymore. This is quite sad, because it's faster, more reliable, easier to configure, and much, much stabler than Firefox. Which is why I'll stick with it for the time being.

Posted by Horst at 05:02 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack (1)

September 23, 2004

It's always strange to find yourself quoted in weblogs in languages that you don't understand. If anybody here knows Finnish, I'd be very thankful if you could provide me with a translation of this brief paragraph in the comments, and perhaps some general notes what the article is about...

Boing Boingista lähtien noin viiden linkin rennon klikkaamisen jälkeen päädyin Aardvarkin kuvapostaukseen "The Problem", joka on ainakin minulle ajankohtainen, ja jonka voisin vaikka tulostaa ja laittaa jääkaapin oveen. [Lovelacen Testi]

Posted by Horst at 08:24 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Here are two more QuickTime VR panoramas from my holidays at the moose spa. Click on the link below to see them. Again, I have to advise you that this requires QuickTime, and that they may take some time to load (1.6 MB total).

A gorgeous view from one of the local mountains.

A gorgeous view from another mountain.

Hold the mouse button and drag the picture to view it. Press Shift to zoom in, Ctrl to zoom out.
N.B.: Please notice that the plug-in interface in Mozilla and Firefox for Mac OS is buggy, and funny things may happen.

Posted by Haldur Gislufsson at 11:40 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

My ticket for The Fall gig on 12 Oct 2004

Got the ticket.

New Fall album, Interim, has been announced for late October.

Posted by Horst at 11:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

September 24, 2004

I deny everything. It's just another false accusation from some robotic right-wing pundit who is trying to ruin my reputation.

Update: This weblog has no permalink, and the entry I linked to has expired. I made a screenshot of the page with the accusations to document this case of slander.

Posted by Haldur Gislufsson at 12:21 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Plakias, Crete, September 2004.

Drivers of vehicles heavier than 2.5 tons need to know Greek or be trapped here forever.

Posted by Horst at 12:55 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

September 26, 2004

Plakias at sunset

Finally! A selection of pictures from my holidays is now available online. Enjoy!

More moose content in weblogs!

Posted by Haldur Gislufsson at 03:45 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (1)

September 27, 2004

Saw a pretty mysterious movie trailer at the cinema yesterday. Checked the IMDb to see what it was all about. Found this review:

Eventually, you do learn that Aliens have a big part in this movie. Now, you never really "see" any aliens. However, random people just get sucked into the air........ which I think is extremely stupid. However, it looks really cool. [Source]

Some reviews are just priceless.

Anyway, the reason I was in the cinema was that I was watching Michael Mann's Collateral, which is interesting as it's a movie that is totally predictable (guess who will be the 5th victim, guess who will go through a complete personality change, guess who will die at the end and how — you'll guess all of it correctly, and you'll probably also notice at least two of the four blatant plot holes), and yet it's still oddly entertaining, and there's still lots of suspense, which I guess is due to Mann's taut direction and solid acting of Jamie Foxx (and Mark Ruffalo in a supporting role). The one slight disappointment is Tom Cruise, who looks a bit like a Richard Gere clone and is rather miscast as Vincent the killer, but then he's miscast in pretty much every movie he's been in, so that's not particularly big news. All in all, Collateral is quite watchable.

Posted by Horst at 12:24 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Don't put the ice cream box on top of the shrimp box in the freezer. Or, if you do, don't eat the ice cream right out of the box. Or, if you do, train your nose to ignore the shrimpy smell coming from the ice cream box. Or, if you don't, at least try to enjoy your strawberry and vanilla ice cream with that slight little extra hint of shrimp aroma.

Posted by Horst at 05:49 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

September 28, 2004

Martin Röll quotes Howard Rheingold:

It used to be if you were a kid in a village in India or a village in northern Canada in the winter, maybe you could get to a place where they have a few books once in a while. Now, if you have a telephone, you can get a free encyclopedia. You have access to the world's knowledge. Knowing how to use that is a barrier. The divide increasingly is not so much between those who have and those who don't, but those who know how to use what they have and those who don't.

While I admit that Rheingold is basically right, I would really like to go one step further. For a while now, and especially with Internet-based technology, we are having a new problem, and that is the intransparency of offered services, or a total lack of user orientation. This is leading to a situation where the problem for users is no longer really knowing how to use what they have, but indeed knowing what they have. In metablogging, the recent discussions of Wikipedia, Trackbacks and Audioblogs serve as excellent examples, but the problem goes far beyond these three topics:

(In the following examples, I will be using the terms "content creator" and "content consumer" rather than "information provider" and "user". This is because part of the problem arises from the fact that both creator and consumer are users — the former is using the product to create content, the latter is using it to access or retrieve content.)

The key problem as I see it is with applications that purport to offer a valuable service for the content consumer, while in reality they are mostly designed for the content creator. This is why opinions about these innovations are typically almost always divided: they generate great enthusiasm among those who use them to create content, while at the same time they are either ignored by users, or met with criticism because on closer inspection they are perfectly useless for those who want to retrieve the very content the claim to offer.

One perfect example of such an application would be library catalogues.

One would agree that a library catalogue is there to help people find books in the library, but several futile attempts to find the books that you wanted may have led you to believe that this assumption could be misguided. In fact you need to know a lot about the rules of cataloguing (e.g. that only the first of several editors is ever listed, that there is a fixed list of subject headings, that in some catalogues Austrian emperors must be searched with Latin rather than German names, that "Mc" must always be spelled as "Mac", etc.) to find a book. The current rule book for cataloguing in Austria is about the size of a telephone directory for a large city. No catalogue user can be expected to know these rules.

On closer inspection it turns out that the cataloguing rules are in many aspects perfectly useful — but only for the library, the content creator, because they offer a highly sophisticated way to keep a clean, standardised list of the inventory. It's perfect for the library, but in comparison it's of limited use for the reader — even subject headings are more useful to describe a book that you've already found rather than for helping you find a book.

Wikipedia is just the same. It is an excellent knowledge gathering tool. It has unique cross-linking capabilities, and everybody can contribute to the creation of a singular "hive mind" with very powerful information accumulation possibilities. Yet it is only of limited use for information retrieval, mostly because it is a perpetually continuous gathering process rather that a fixed end product. As long as no "freeze" is agreed upon, the data in it is subject to constant flux and change and can even fall victim to defacement. Moreover, the mechanics of discussions and version histories, while vital to understand Wikipedia and extremely useful for the content creators, are of no importance whatsoever to the average content consumer — neither is the ability to correct entries because the consumer is in no position to even recognise a mistake. Like professional library catalogues, it is a perfect tool to gather data, but flawed when it comes to information retrieval.

Some webloggers are totally enthusiastic about the linking capabilities provided by trackbacks in webogs and use them for all kinds of cross-links. And yet these valuable crosslinks go totally undetected by most weblog readers, simply because if you are not writing a weblog yourself and are therefore familiar with the concept, it's totally obscure what they are for, especially as they are often embedded in a way that offers little or no explanation to the reader.

Audioblogs are cool for content producers because they allow them a freer, more unconstrained way of expressing themselves, but they can be fairly tedious for the listeners. A voice talking for a lengthy (often unknown) period of time about an unknown topic requires a lot of trust from the would-be listener. There is no way to tell whether things will get more interesting or more boring; contrary to a written weblog entry, the listener has no possibility to skip parts, it's a matter of listening to everything or switching it off completely.

There are many more examples of solutions that claim to be consumer-oriented while they are really creator-oriented; I merely picked one obvious example from the real world that most people are familiar with and three examples that are getting a lot of coverage on weblogs. My criticism is not even that they are creator-oriented, but rather that many of them claim to offer a service to the consumer, but don't.

Don't get me wrong: this is not at all about tailoring your content so that it pleases your readers or listeners. It is about tailoring your interface so that your readers or listeners can access, retrieve and understand your content.

Some of these shortcomings can be fixed pretty easily, for instance WordPress is doing good work at integrating Trackbacks as if they were comments. Some obviously require fundamental changes — Wikipedia is now considering "freezing" articles and passing the "frozen" articles through a kind of "end control", both of which would have been decried as blasphemy even a few months ago.

It seems to be a problem with engineers' brains that they tend to build things in such a way as if only other engineers with the same kind of brain were using them. Computers and the Internet have, however, broken down many technological barriers and other people with all kinds of brains are now using products that still seem to be built by engineers for other engineers. People are so caught up in their own projects that they fail to see other people's point of view. But if that other point of view is not taken into account, these projects are reduced to an end in itself, like the German wikipedia, whose search engine is incapable of finding a significant number of entries.

There are those who think that a graphical user Interface and a computer mouse are useless luxury and who prefer a command line interface over anything else. And then there are those who are happy that somebody thought about a better user interface some time ago.

Posted by Horst at 12:00 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack (2)

September 29, 2004

I happened to be in the vicinity of Tichy's, one of Vienna's most famous ice cream parlours, today and thought that an ice cream might be nice, even though summer is mostly over now and the weather really wasn't much like ice cream weather at all. Coming closer, I noticed that an awful lot of people seemed to be queuing, which was odd, as it didn't really seem to make any sense in this weather. Then I realised it's the 29th of September today, which means that Tichy's is closing tomorrow and will only re-open some time in late March — which means six months without Tichy's famous hazelnut ice cream. This seemed just too long, so I definitely had to queue, too.

After about thirty minutes in the queue, I started to reconsider my plan. Certainly queuing all this time for just one small ice cream cone was stupid, especially as everybody in the queue in front of me seemed to be stocking their freezers with huge 1-litre boxes of ice cream, with the apparent minimum of four litres per person. There was no way I would queue any longer for just one cone.

Ten minutes later, I was the proud owner of three litres of Tichy's ice cream, which, if consumed wisely, should be sufficient to get me through the next few months without serious withdrawal syndrome.

And then I had this strange experience. On the way home, I passed this school, and there was this group of somewhat aggressive-looking eight year-olds in front of it, and I had to walk past them with my three plastic carrier bags full of ice cream, each of the bags proudly displaying the name "TICHY" in stark, bold letters. I suddenly felt vulnerable. In my mind's eye, I saw them mugging me, not going for my wallet, but instead running off with my three litres of precious ice cream.

For a split second, I almost considered offering them one of the boxes in exchange for letting me pass unscathed, but then they seemed to totally ignore me, so I didn't.

Posted by Horst at 09:53 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

September 30, 2004

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