Monthly Archives: April 2009

Stupid Facebook Fan Pages Considered Harmful

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Yes, I’m breaking out the “considered harmful” cliche.

I think Facebook is jumping a proverbial shark. In addition to the “viral” quizzes that are really annoying (and occasionally interesting), the increase in random fan pages is really making the site hard to tolerate. Facebook wants to make fan pages like people. That’s fine, if you’re only allowing people to have fan pages. The fan pages seem to have been designed for entities who want to have a presence on the site. Like companies or celebrities, etc.

Lately there have been fan pages for random shit like hugs, rain, flip flops, music, etc. Who is supposed to be the owner of the rain fan page? Who decides what rain says? I think groups were a fine way of indicating that you supported something. But fan pages are supposed to be pseudo-official (at least when celebrities make them, they are required to show proof of identity). This mixture of official and random-shit fan pages just makes Facebook seem unprofessional.

I am all for developing tools and letting people use them for what they may. But maybe there should be some rules about superfluous junk like fan pages for “wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tubeman.”

OR! Maybe I’m just getting old. *sigh*

The Lime Green Nintendo DS (USA) Comes A Bit Late…

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Warning: Be prepared for a rant.

I just learned that Nintendo is releasing a lime green DS. The thing I’ve wanted ever since I learned of the DS. I have a lime green Gameboy color and a lime green Gameboy Advance. Lime green is my favorite color ever. Left to my own devices (which I have been), everything I buy is lime green. Basically when I wear my backpack, jacket, shoes, hat, etc, I look like a ninja turtle. This is just some context.

I just got the DSi like a week or two ago. It’s really nice. Not that much different from a DS but it has some interesting features like the cameras and new software. I figured I’d buy the DSi when it came out and then if it was ever released in lime green, I’d get that one. Because I’m a sucker and I gladly pay the Nintendo tax.

Anyway, now I find out that the lime green DS I’ve coveted since forever is a reality! RIGHT AFTER I BUY THE DSi!!! Interestingly, my emotions are a combination of rage, acceptance and really wanting to buy the lime green DS anyway. I wish I knew how to quit you, Nintendo. I WISH I KNEW HOW TO QUIT YOU!

Also, this one looks like it’s for moms. Does that say something about my taste in video game console colors? Hmm…

Kurt Elling and Ernie Watts at The Michigan Theater 04/16/09

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I saw Kurt Elling w/ Ernie Watts at the Michigan Theater last Thursday. The program was billed as “Dedicated to You,” in which Kurt re-envisions songs from Coltrane/Hartman’s ballad album. I really like this album, so I approached the concert with some enthusiasm and also some apprehension.

The instrumentation was kinda interesting. There was a combo as a base: Piano, Bass, Drums, Sax. Then there was a string quartet called ENRON or something (err, it was ETHEL) included in the instrumentation. This made the music seem a bit more fancy, but also more… orchestrated. I thought it took away from the jazziness of the performance. Like a real jazz performance will be a bit impromptu. The strings can’t really improvise along with the rest of the band (at least not in 4 part harmony) so everything is a little more rigid.

Anyway, I think the set included all the songs on the aforementioned cd, but in different arrangements. Some were converted into non-ballads and I think one was played at ballad speed but in a double-time feel. Can’t really remember everything because I wasn’t taking notes. I do recall that I didn’t really like the arrangement for “My One and Only Love.” I thought it should’ve been given a real ballad treatment instead of the uptempo version that wasn’t very long.

I mean, the concert wasn’t bad or anything. Not at all. Elling was a pretty good singer. Even though he kind of overdid the loungey moving away from the mic and then getting closer to it to change dynamics thing. You know what I mean? He also had some funny movements. He has a good voice, but he also seemed to mess around with the vocals a little too much. That’s okay for people who are familiar with the subject matter but for people hearing a standard ballad for the first time it makes it harder to listen to.

I wonder if listening to the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (a definitely old-school group) is making me kind of snotty. LCJO gets criticized for not being more modern. But I like the old school sound! There were times when the Elling group really got in the groove (or as we jazz musicians like to call it, “in the pocket”), which was great. I really like the straightahead jazz sound. I guess I really shouldn’t complain though. I was happy with the concert for the most part.

Towards the end Elling brought out some old jazz singer dude. I didn’t know who he was at the time but I just looked it up and it was Jon Hendricks. He came on for the last two songs and scatted. The first was Bessie’s Blues, a Coltrane tune that wasn’t on the ballad cd. I think this was one of the times the group really jelled. Then they played Bye Bye Blackbird. Kurt sang the Miles Davis solo of it using some made up lyrics. It was kind of cool because I think a lot of people recognized that it was the Miles Davis solo and appreciated it. It’s also kind of cool because it requires secret jazz knowledge to pick up on it!!! Oh, and after I looked it up I learned that Jon Hendricks actually did this in 1986. So I guess Kurt was doing a tribute to Jon, while Jon was standing there.

During Bye Bye Blackbird, Jon was taking a solo. It looked like he was taking a longer solo than everyone had anticipated, so I think Kurt was trying to figure out how to signal to him that the song needed to end. I mean, they were probably cool having him take the solo. But he most likely didn’t do a rehearsal with the guys. So it was pretty entertaining watching the guys figuring out how to end the song while the guy was taking a long ass solo. That’s how jazz people roll.

The closers were definitely the right choice because they had high crowd-pleasing potential (blues and a well known standard). I think everyone left happy, including me. While I think the source material for the concert is timeless, and perhaps shouldn’t be messed with, they did an okay job and the concert as a standalone event was good. It’s kind of hard to please and live up to standards when you leave yourself open to comparison with Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane…

ALSO: After doing even more research (lookin’ on Youtube) it seems as though Kurt sang with Bob Mintzer, one of my favorite mustached modern composers. Though apparently he didn’t sing “My Foolish Heart” on the album which I really, really like, he did sing it live with Bob. Neat-o.

Ann Arbor Duck Graffiti

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It’s been a while since I noticed this but I hadn’t written a blog post about it yet. All around Ann Arbor, you can find a distinctly unique signature of “Duck” written on stuff. From mailboxes to walls to whatever. I think I first noticed it on a paper towel dispenser at BTB Cantina. I thought it was some kind of trap where once I read it, I had a second to actually “duck” or be hit on the head by a log or something… That obviously wasn’t the case (I didn’t duck).

Does anyone know what the deal is? Is Duck a gang? Can I join? Do I want to join? Is Duck involved in illegal activities? Does Duck fight crime? I wanna know.

On Customer Service and Giant Companies

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For a long time, I’ve been a pretty cost-centered consumer. By that, I mean that I mostly cared about how much things cost. This makes sense if you’re poor or really care about getting a good deal. Recently at SXSW, I considered the concept of customer service as explained by Tony Hsieh, the Zappos guy. Random thought: crap, I still need to finish my epic SXSW post!

Tony argued that by focusing on customer service and, a step above that, customer happiness, you could grow your business based on word of mouth and repeat business. This makes sense for a retailer. It’s pretty wonderful how successful Zappos has become just by treating the customer like a king.

Lately I’ve been working on projects that rely on software written by other companies. This concept is not new. I’ve been very frustrated by interacting with systems that don’t work well. Thinking back to the Zappos talk, I wonder if the customer service (and happiness) concept couldn’t be translated to giant software companies.

Web apps are cool because they are relatively easy to build and the users are the most important part of them. They create much of the data and interactions between each other. Web apps have the potential to be highly scalable. What often ends up happening is that a small number of engineers work on an app that millions of people use. This is the case at places like Facebook and Google. Facebook’s job site currently states that it has less than 200 engineers and just a few days ago announced it had reached 200 million users. That’s a ratio of about 1 million users per engineer. I’m sure Google has similar insane ratios.

What do these ratios mean for “customer service?” Basically that it doesn’t exist. And this leads to great frustration when I have an issue with the software. For example, I needed to rename a Facebook Page for work because there was a typo in the name. I filled out the contact form. Never got a reply. I did check the FAQ and yes, it stated that page names are not changeable. But why the hell not? It’s just a record in a database. The problem isn’t really that the name isn’t changeable; it’s that I get the feeling that no one is listening to me.

I also had an issue with Google Apps and their gadget within Sites not working in IE. This is a pretty obscure error but upon inspection of the Google forums (which are actually kind of useful), it appears others have the same issue. But even though multiple users have complained, the Google spokespeople are happy to claim it’s an edge case and dismiss it by giving out urls to help articles that don’t resolve the issue. Again, it seems like they don’t care.

I also had a problem with Google Forms being extremely volatile and absolutely not working correctly. I was literally wondering if anyone had run any kind of QA on the software before releasing it. Simply put, the software was not ready for deployment. Who could I voice my opinion to? No one, because Google is a faceless giant who doesn’t care what I think.

And they shouldn’t care, because this user frustration is not hurting their bottom lines. For every frustrated user there are a thousand who aren’t frustrated. Those users will probably just go away and avoid putting more strain on Google’s massive infrastructure. Good riddance, right?

I can’t imagine there is a good solution to the problem of too many users and not enough support. Forums help, but they can’t completely solve everyone’s problems, especially when the problems exist in bugs in the software. I wish companies would pay more attention to their “customers” when they had real issues with their products. But these companies are just way too massive to give personalized help.

I imagine that some day there will be a massive backlash against this style of software design. Internet scale companies have a way of alienating users and making them feel as though their opinions really don’t matter. They take a “we know best” approach and make blanket decisions that will be good for 99% of the user base. When users protest a redesign of Facebook in aggregate, they might wield more power, but how influential are they, really?

I guess open-source software might be able to fill niches where these giant companies fail. Case in point: WordPress, which I’m using to write this blog post (but who knows where my blog will reside in the future?) is thousands of times better than Google’s Blogger. My theory is that after Google bought Blogger, they moved it to their servers and promptly stopped caring about features, usability and general quality. In my opinion, Blogger is an anachronism. It sucks hard. WordPress, on the other hand, has been constantly improving thanks to contributions from volunteers. This is also probably the reason that WordPress kicked MovableType’s ass.

So open-source software is quicker to improve and react to user needs. But how do you open-source social software that relies on network-effects like Facebook? I guess a decentralized model would work. Maybe a social network based on a protocol instead of a website. Does that sound a bit like twitter? Maybe, but probably not enough. For now, we’re still stuck accepting that we’re lowly users, unable to affect the status quo of applications owned by giant companies who don’t care what we think. Unless, of course, we are employed by those companies and really want to make a difference…