This shit happens all the time.

I spent twenty minutes arranging photos in a photoset (because Tumblr always seems to decide that it’s better at arranging my photos in an order it likes than I am, so it doesn’t bother to arrange them in the order I named them, and I have to drag them around in its slow, clumsy interface) and typing a description, and then I get up to get another cup of coffee and find that Tumblr has dumped five of the ten photos and popped up this useless, uninformative error message (in red, above). The cherry in the ice-cream soda? The web site tells me to “try again later,” implying that there’s nothing I can do, but then warns me that I have unsaved work when I try to reload the page. The implication seems to be that, when there’s a technical problem preventing me from saving my work, I should save my work.

Which means, I guess, that I get to re-do the work I did earlier in the hope that somehow, this time, it might work. (Update: it did, but took nearly 20 minutes to post when I clicked “Post.”) This isn’t how Tumblr worked when I signed up for it: it was reliably functional. But that was before Yahoo! bought it last year. Maybe it’s worth saying again that Yahoo! kills every good service they purchase. Or, as Mat Honan put it on Gizmodo, “sadly, Yahoo’s steady march of incompetence doesn’t bode well for making use of these valuable properties. If the Internet really were a series of tubes, Yahoo would be the leaking sewage pipe, covering everything it comes in contact with in watered-down shit.”

“The polemicist, on the other hand, proceeds encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question. On principle, he possess rights authorizing him to wage war and making that struggle a just undertaking; the person he confronts is not a partner in the search for the truth, but an adversary, an enemy who is wrong, who is harmful and whose very existence constitutes a threat. For him, then, the game does not consist of recognizing this person as a subject having the right to speak, but of abolishing him, as interlocutor, from any possible dialogue; and his final objective will be, not to comes as close as possible to a difficult truth, but to bring about the triumph of the just cause he has been manifestly upholding from the beginning. The polemicist relies on a legitimacy that his adversary is by definition denied.”

Michel Foucault, “Polemics, Politics, and Problematizations: An Interview” in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow (p. 382 in ISBN 0394529049)

Part 5 in a series about problems with modes of discourse on Tumblr. Why, yes, I am thinking of self-identified “social justice bloggers” here who think that privilege is something that comes only with membership in groups to which the blogger herself does not belong, and who believes that privilege is something that other people need to check.

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Most likely explanation for why Yahoo! would buy Tumblr.

Hijinks Ensue, 3 June 2013.

Paul Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement

Part 4 in a series about what I see as problematic with discursive modes on Tumblr.

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Need I say that Tumblr in general often forgets about this? Of course, this is true of much of the Internet. The whole essay is quite short and worth reading.

Yanno, I was having a perfectly good day until I logged into LinkedIn to respond to a message and LinkedIn decided I needed to endorse people for various skills they listed. And picked my brother for all three slots that it recommended. And when I see this, I think, “Well, fuck. He did, when he was alive. Thanks, LinkedIn, you pushy fucker.”

I’m continuing this particular Twitter-originated conversation here because, yanno, some conversations are best held without a 140-character limit … despite the fact that I think that Twitter is a wonderful tool for many purposes.

For those of my readers who are not @PhotoEphemeris on Twitter, and haven’t been following this particular Twitter-based conversation, I’ve provided the above snapshots of tweets so that you can have context for this particular blog post. Here are links to the original tweets between me and PhotoEphemeris: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that, based on the way that the PhotoEphemeris person or people have interacted with me so far, it may very well be that tweets two, four, six, and/or ten may wind up being deleted in response to this blog post, which is part of the reason why I’ve taken graphic snapshots of them (and, in any case, it’s already a public conversation). But then, that’s just a wild guess. I may be wrong.

@photoEphemis: I initially reported that your website is rendering strangely for two primary reasons: partly because its incompetent design left me unable to find basic sales-driving information, and partly because I think that putting one’s best foot forward, as it were, is important. I’d become aware of your product due to a positive review on a website whose feed I follow. It looked like a useful product, and I wanted more info, but was unable to find it because of heavily overlapping objects and other rendering weirdnesses on your website.

I pointed this out to you not just because I couldn’t find the information that I wanted, but because it makes you look bad. Because, after all, the thing is that, regardless of what add-ons I’m using in Firefox, well over 99% of websites display correctly, and it is, in fact, possible to create websites that display properly regardless of how I’ve configured my standards-compliant browser, and to design websites that degrade gracefully under suboptimal browser configurations. No, I don’t necessarily expect you to design for every possible browser and browser configuration, and people who are using Lynx or Lunascape or AOL Explorer 1.3 or Billy Joe Bob’s Minimalist Web n’ Sister’s Shower Webcam Browser are going to be used to seeing that some websites don’t display as the designer imagined that they might. But we’re not talking about Lynx or Epiphany or Opera or Safari here: we’re talking about Firefox, a browser used by nearly a third of those browsing the web (and, incidentally, about 85% of Firefox users use at least one add-on). Website design is a time-consuming process — I understand that — and it involves choices: I also understand that. What I was pointing out is that, as it seems to me, your desire to use a fairly complex layout that invents HTML tags and attributes and disregards basic HTML structural and nesting rules, and your desire integrate Twitter widgets and similar pieces of web 2.0 trendiness, seem to have eclipsed (what I take to be) one of the basic purposes of your website: to drive sales. More generally, it seems to me that you’ve chosen layout coolness over the actual presentation of information in a useful, readable format.

After all, I’m a busy guy who works 80+ hours a week, and photography is a hobby for me; my free time is precious, since there’s so little of it, and although it might be that using a different browser and/or a different computer would result in an acceptably rendered website, I find the necessity to do this annoying. You lost a potential sale here because I’m not willing to start up a second browser or borrow my girlfriend’s laptop and check whether a website that uses the mythical <emphasis> tag might — just might — happen to render correctly under those circumstances: my free time is precious to me, and I’m not going to spend five minutes, or even fifteen seconds, of it working around your web designer’s incompetence. My assumptions were that, if I’m having this problem, it’s almost certainly not unique to me, and that you may be losing other sales as well. I thought you might appreciate knowing this. What I got in return was a set of defensive tweets insisting that (a) it was my fault for not reading your web designer’s mind and knowing that only bleeding-edge versions of the two most popular operating systems are “acceptable” viewing scenarios, and that (b) pointing out your web design problem hoats yo’ po’ whittow feewings.

I pointed out your presentation problem for the same reasons that, if my department were hiring, and I saw a nervous-looking stranger in a suit waiting outside of the department chair’s office, I would let him know if his fly were open: not because I’d be hoping that he would whip out a wad of cash with which to reward me, nor that I’d hope this would lead to a beneficial professional relationship, nor even that I think I’m entitled to live in a world without open flies, but just because it’s the decent thing to do, and because I hope that someone would let me know if I were in that situation. Do unto others, yes? I hope that someone would tell me if I were about to go into a job interview with my fly open. That’s what I was trying to tell you: your fly is open, and your potential customers see their pre-sales interactions with you as a job interview.

Yes, I realize that you’re selling an application program, not web hosting and/or design, and that your website is therefore not a perfectly accurate index into your company’s application programming capabilities. But it’s the primary index that I have without buying your product, and it is, to a certain extent, a fair one: there are numerous transferable skills that are shared between the two related knowledge domains, such as micro-level attention to detail, designing for and understanding how computers interpret data, and testing on multiple real-world versions of the platform. Your “fuck it, I tried your browser under an OS with an 0.2075% [0.25% of 83%] market share and an OS with a 1.34% market share, that’s good enough” response evinces a very minimalist approach to testing, well below the w3c community’s recommendations. I might mention again that the HTML for your front page is invalid, using tags that don’t exist and breaking other aspects of the expected structure for valid XHTML Strict 1.0 (the standard by which your web page itself asks to be judged), and this might — just might — be part of the problem. (I’m a literary theorist, and I can figure this out. Why can’t your professional web designer[s] bother to take a few minutes and run their pages through the w3c’s totally free validation service before putting them online, for fuck’s sake?) True, your coding of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript isn’t a perfect indicator of your employees’ ability to code in Java, C++, FORTRAN, Python, COBOL, Ruby, BASIC, Pascal, LISP, or whatever it is you use — but it is, I think, a more or less fair index of how your company seems to view the relative importance of basic aspects of coding and testing, and of the general intellectual skill of the people you hire to perform coding-related tasks. Even if this is, for some reason I can’t immediately see, an incorrect assumption, it’s one that other potential customers will make, as well. I thought you might want to know that it was happening and how it was affecting your sales. I guess no good deed goes unmocked.

Moreover, I’ve interpreted the conversation that we’ve had as a sample of how your company deals with (potential) customers and (potential) tech support situations. Going back to the fly-open-before-the-job-interview metaphor, I’d expect someone for whom I’d just done the favor of informing him of that particular presentational problem, if not to thank me, then at least to look into the situation and correct it, and to behave decently to a stranger who’d just done him a favor. What I got in exchange in was the equivalent of “Hey, my fly isn’t down. Maybe you should check the configuration of your glasses" and "Well, feel free to zip my fly up for me if it bothers you so much, dickhead.” Or, to re-invoke my earlier claim that you have to make a choice between devoting time to functionality and devoting time to coolness, it’s as if you told me to go screw myself, because all the cool kids are walking around with their flies open these days, and what fucking business is it of mine, anyway? — and, in this case, I’d certainly make sure that the chair of my department knew about our interaction, because I think that, in that circumstance, he might want to know about how the job candidate had interacted with a stranger who’s already in the department. (Treating the attempt to gather sales as if it were a job interview is, I think, a fair metaphor in many ways. This is a secondary motivation for me to write a blog post on the subject: I have a sneaking suspicion that our interaction is a fair indication of your company’s attitude towards customers, and other potential customers might want to know how you’ve interacted with me, so I’m grouping together our [already public] conversation in a set of images above and commenting on it.)

If I were to purchase your app, and it didn’t work for me, would I receive a better response from your company than what I’ve received so far? Or would I get a “here’s the source code, don’t hold back from fixing it for us, you interfering asshole” or “oh, this particular app is not guaranteed to work on iOS devices on which the last.fm app has ever been installed” — a rough equivalent to “oh, our web site is only designed to be viewed on browsers with a particular (non-publicized) configuration and that support tags our incompetent coders have invented on the fly”? Are you more likely to treat me decently after I’ve already given you money than you do when I’m merely a potential customer?

If you feel that I’ve been unfair or snarky, well, then, I apologize. But I might point out that some of your replies have been equally snarky; and I note that our conversation has ended with you blocking me on Twitter. While you can, of course, treat your web presence in any way that you’d like, I wonder (again, in the context of imagining potential future tech-support conversations) about the wisdom of paying money to a company that shuts down dialogue it finds unpleasant, rather than dealing with the issue at stake in that dialogue. You have competitors, and I’ll do business with them instead. Perhaps other readers of this blog post will as well.

In any case, you asked, “why all the snark?” and I’m assuming you actually want an answer — that your question was not merely rhetorical posturing allowing you to play to an audience. This has been your answer.

"And this is really the gist of it all. With computers taking care of things like hearing, driving, and more, we really can’t afford to be locked out of them. We need to be able to peek inside of them and see what they’re doing, to ensure we’re not being monitored, filtered, or whatever. Only a short while ago I would’ve declared this as pure paranoia - but with all that’s been going on recently, it’s no longer paranoia. It’s reality."

Well, @AVOS_com has taken @Delicious, a perfectly good product, and stripped out a bunch of useful features. Does anyone have a suggestion for a replacement? Desired features: social bookmarking, tag suggestion, ability to import existing Delicious tags, and the ability to generate tag clouds on a web page from tags attached to bookmarks. Find contact information on my home page if you have suggestions.