Thursday, June 28, 2007

Thought for food

Borrowing a concept from a fellow I used to work with. I give you my thoughts, you give me food. Yeah, going on lunchtime.

The topic of today's entry: "Friends-only" blogs/blog entries. This is something that's been confounding me for a while now. I see this from time to time, and it seems particularly prevalent on LiveJournal over other blogging services (Blogger, Xanga), and nonexistent on privately-hosted Movable Type/WordPress blogs, probably because they don't have those bizarre social-networking platforms to operate on installed on every damn site that hosts them.

Anyway, getting sidetracked. "Friends-only." I've been turning this over in my head for a while and I can't seem to decipher the logic behind the phenomenon. I've always seen the Internet as a communications tool. At its core, that's exactly what the Internet is. In the early days there were BBS services and IRC channels, newsgroups, LISTSERVs, and the venerable, ubiquitous E-mail. All of these served the same fundamental purpose: communication.

Once the World Wide Web (not the same as the Internet, though I'd like to think the folks reading me would know that) came into its prime (after the days of single-long-ass-page HTML documents with sliding rainbow HR tags--I'm talking late 90s/early 2000s here), there was a noticeable shift in focus away from the "wild-west" systems of old and onto forms of online communication styled after print publications. Some sites followed this more than others, and certainly there were those that went off and did their own thing, eschewing the trends of the time, but by many rights websites were becoming online magazines or newspapers.

Then, the next generation of Internet-based communication services (marketroids labeled it with the nonsensical and ill-thought-out moniker "Web 2.0" [1]) came into being. Blogs were a major part of this "Web 2.0" phenomenon. Not necessarily the first, but these days they're certainly among the most pervasive elements of the user-generated-content-heavy sectors of the Web.

Blogs (as if you didn't know) give users a way to easily publish information, opinions, thoughts, reviews, previews, code, specifications, requirements, images, sound, video, or just about any other kind of data imaginable. "So what? Big deal. You can do that with a website." True, but the advantage of a blog is that it does the dirty work of HTML/CSS formatting for the user, thus enabling publishing by those who have something to say but not the knowledge of markup languages to effectively say it. This is subject to debate as to its nature as a good or bad thing, but the point remains that blogs enable quick and easy publishing without having to sift through piles of code. This in turn enables someone to reach the large audiences previously available only to web developers, but with the simplicity of E-mail or BBS services.

So now we have people who can easily publish what's on their mind. "Fantastic," I say. "Go forth and publish! The pen is mightier than the sword! And give me back my pants!" Just seeing if you were still paying attention. So people go out and publish, but then, for whatever reason, blog-hosting services give people the option of posting "private" updates to a blog. This is where everything starts going down Counter-Intuitive Boulevard. The whole point of a blog, as I have always seen it (and maybe I'm just flat-out wrong about this and that's where the confusion lies), is that it enables one to reach large audiences with ease. Now, however, with "private entries" or "friends-only," that advantage is effectively nullified and we're back to the days of either communicating with the world at large via websites or, more specifically, communicating within small circles via BBS/Usenet/IRC/LISTSERVs/E-mail.

So...then...why not just use a BBS or E-mail if you want to communicate with only your friends? I'm sorry to burst bubbles, but NOBODY has a circle of friends large enough that they need a blog to reach them all. Hell, start up your own IRC server, host your own Invision/phpBB/vBulletin message board, or just use frickin' E-mail. I can't help but feel like I'm missing some fundamental part of the equation here. Marking a blog posting as "friends-only" seems like nothing more than some juvenile attempt at stirring up drama or provoking some jealous/indignant/angry emotional response. It's akin to hanging a sign with bright red letters saying "GOOD FREE STUFF INSIDE!" on a door whose doorknob has a numeric keypad attached to it (substitute biometrics/magstripe/RFID as your preference dictates). What's the point?

If you want to communicate privately, there already exists TONS of infrastructure for that, some of it decades old and developed to perfection. Seriously, when's the last time you remember having problems with E-mail because of a bug in the POP/IMAP/SMTP protocols? The protocols themselves, not someone's misconfigured server.

If you want to communicate publicly and have the skills (and the time, o ye accursed eternal arch-nemesis), make a website for yourself. Hosting is cheap and I'll set up your web server for you personally. If you want to communicate publicly and don't want to bother with hosting fees/server configuration/writing code, then use a blog.

If you use a blog, however, please attempt to understand that you're using an inherently public communications medium and that "friends-only" entries/blogs are doing nothing but cluttering up server space that could be better used hosting something that benefits everybody.

Quote of the Moment: "Turn ALL friends-only and private entries public, so everyone can see them. Thus rendering the "piggybackers*" obsolete, all the knives in each others backs will be totally revealed. Know those negative things you said in private about your boyfriend that he didn't know about? He would know now. ...and watch armageddon happen with a bunch of moody 19 year olds. :)" -British(51765), Slashdot.
(equally hilarious) Reply here.

Song of the Day: "Pillar of Salt" by Star Salzman.

[1]: This is tangential to the topic of this post, but I feel the need to clarify, for those who aren't active in IT circles, the reason why "Web 2.0" is such a reviled term among geeks. It's actually a simple explanation: Version numbers are intended to denote differences, be they large or small, in the form, function, or codebase of a piece of hardware or software. "Web 2.0" only refers to new applications for existing Web technologies, but does not accompany any change in the technical specifications of the World Wide Web itself. No new version of HTML is associated with it, no revision to the HTTP protocol, nothing. It seems petty or nitpicky to those whose passion is not technology but it treads on sacred ground, so to speak, to geeks and can cause a lot of confusion for those whose computer knowledge encompasses the general concept of versioning but who do not understand the specifics. The tech semi-literate are more likely to be interested in "Web 2.0" than the modern-day luddites, but at the same time are also more likely to be misled by marketing terminology into believing "Web 2.0" reflects some radical change in the way the World Wide Web operates. In reality, it reflects only a bunch of self-important bloggers, irritating teenage Myspace users, and campus-resident students at big, populous party colleges posting pictures of themselves in various states of undress and/or inebriation and spewing bullshit about how they're angry that their off-brand MP3 player was stolen from the locker room.

Now that I think about it, maybe "friends-only" isn't such a bad idea anyway. At least not if it spares me from having to read drivel like that.


Blogger LadyJeanetta said...

While I agree with much of your reasoning on this issue (in that friends-only entries are often used to allow a person to bitch about another person/people) I have to defend the idea, to a degree.

Email as a means of communication is preferable when it comes to personal issues. However, sometimes an issue occurs where the poster/emailer might benefit from responses/ideas from multiple parties. Let's find an example... Okay, I'm looking for a place to buy my (theoretical) boyfriend something naughty for Christmas. I don't think the whole blog-surfing world needs to see this request (and I certainly don't want responses from every Joe Pervert on the 'Net)

But if I post this question on my blog and receive responses from, say, 5 people I know, and they then have the option of responding to EACH OTHER's responses, creating more of a forum atmosphere, I then benefit from their responses and the discussion that ensues, moreso than I would over email.

Just a thought, really, as I've never had a friends-only entry and only once had a creepy person post a response in my LJ. But one of the things I enjoy most about my blog is not the two-way communication (ie., me and the person responding) but the sense of community created when responders can reply to each other. So I can see the value of "friends-only" entries when used as a tool to unite people, not to exclude them.

5:26 PM  
Blogger Aidan Novastral said...

Your scenario is certainly valid, but creating an ephemeral forum-like setting for discussion of a particular topic is what mailing lists are for, and that goes back to my point about these things having already been thought of.

Of course, you do raise two new questions about which I'm most curious.

1. What did the creepy person say?

2. What naughty item should I get my girlfriend for christmas this year?

7:50 AM  
Blogger Jenny said...


1) I don't remember exactly... I think it was some random pick-up-line type thing. I'm really not into being hit on by strange people.

2) Hee hee, let me think about that one. 'haps we can discuss it this evening (you're still on for hanging out, I hope?)

I'd really like to figure out how to hook my lappy up to my tv (so Katie and I can geek out with some Spooks episodes). As you have a certain expertise, would you be willing to go shopping with me to pick up what I'd need? Pretty please with sugar on top?

8:07 AM  
Blogger Aidan Novastral said...

Soitenly. If it's like mine you'll just need an S-video cable and then an 1/8" male-to-male stereo cable to go from the line-out to whatever audio receiver/stereo/amp/sound device you're using. One thing to be aware of, though, is that you have a Dell laptop and Dell has a history of using proprietary connectors. Not saying it's impossible to find a cable, but you might need to special-order one for your model from Dell's online store. Bring your system with you when you come by today and I'll take a look at it. Or, in the meantime, if you tell me your notebook's model number I can look it up and see if there are any off-brand parts sold at CompUSA/Worst Buy/RatShack/etc.

8:41 AM  
Blogger Aidan Novastral said...

One other thing: if you do just need an S-video cable, you might consider ordering from NewEgg. They have S-video cables for as little as 2 dollars for a 6-footer. Best Buy will charge you $30 for a Monster Cables "ultra-shielded" 24k gold-plated cable; enhancements that amount to literally JACK SQUAT. If you need to you can borrow my S-video cable while you wait for the one from NewEgg to arrive. Food for thought, thought for food, it's all up to you. Depends on how much instant gratification is worth to ya.

8:57 AM  
Blogger Jenny said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:51 AM  
Blogger Jenny said...

(reposting, as part got cut off)

Oooh, quick reply :D Slow day at work? Anyway, my lappy, she's an Inspiron 600m. I'm hoping I don't have to order from Dell -- I was hoping to have everything I needed by Friday.

Anywho, we can discuss things further tonight! I'll be over around 5:15-5:30ish, cool?

Thanks muchly for all your help. If I can reciprocate by providing sci-fi goodness at any time, please don't hesitate to let me know.

9:53 AM  
Blogger Aidan Novastral said...

Looks like you're in luck: according to a CNet (blarrgghhhhh) review, the 600m has S-video out, so no having to deal with proprietary connectors.

Also, the same review states that the display can go up to 1440x1050. Can yours do that? I was curious as to whether it was an option you select when you order the system or if it's standard. I remember at one of my LANs you were running 1024x768. If your display mode can go higher, I have a ton of HD 720p video files I can give you to play. I just haven't since I thought your display didn't support it.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Jenny said...

Yay for not having to buy a special Dell cable!

I don't think my resolution goes up that high... Just to 1024 by 768. But if I connect to another monitor, it allows the resolution of THAT one to go higher. Technology is weird.

Anywho, great news, and I'll see you tonight 5:15ish. Be warned: I'm on Midol and Sangria (though I shall, of course, be sober when I drive). Jenny's brain has left the building.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Aidan Novastral said...

I'm on Midol and Sangria--

Woohoo! Paaaaartaaaaaaaay! I got some Bailey's and Zantac, and if you really want to have fun, I think I can dig up some Tavist-D if we're feeling adventurous. The fuzz'll never catch us! Mostly's all over the counter...and...perfectly legal...and...really...won' Damn.

It's posts like this that make it very obvious I've never done drugs in my life. Frell it, caffeine's a drug and that's good enough for me. Late-night Bawls run anyone?

As for the monitor thing, it's not as weird as it sounds at first. Basically what it means is that your video card (be it onboard, mini-PCI, mini-AGP, what-have-you) supports resolutions of up to x by y, for varying values of x and y. Your monitor also supports resolutions of up to a by b, for varying values of a and b. Problem is, a and b are smaller than x and y, so you have a video card that's capable of more than your laptop's LCD can display. Once you connect it to a monitor with a higher resolution, your bigger display modes become available to you.

It's no different than when I replaced one of my 17" 1280x1024 LCDs with a 24" 1920x1200 LCD and was able to make the switch seamlessly with the same video card. Essentially what's happening is that the card treats an external monitor as a replacement for, or rather an addition to, your built-in LCD. Your laptop's LCD is like my remaining 17-incher, and the monitor you plug into is like the 24-incher I recently acquired. Two different display modes, but the card can handle both. Probably at the same time, too, which means you can extend your desktop to the 2nd monitor and use both at once.

11:45 AM  

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