Capn Design

December 2009

This month I posted 13 entries, crafted 77 tweets, listened to 85 songs, watched 19 videos, bookmarked 4 sites, took 29 photos and favorited 36 things.

Metacritic's Best Music of the Decade

They look at the best average score of all of an artist's albums released in the 00s (minimum of 3 albums). The winner: Spoon.

What's Not to Like?

Posted December 23, 2009

There a number of gestural ways for readers to indicate interest in content on the web. They all go by different names and representations, which makes it difficult to determine the right solution for your community. Below is an examination of the available options and, hopefully, answers to all of your burning questions.

Earlier this week, I was reading Gothamist and became engulfed in an article about EMTs letting a pregnant lady die. It’s an insane story and there are a ton of comments. There are also three “likes”. This disparity—one amongst many that exist on the internet—shows that there’s something broken with “liking” content.

When you find a piece of content that excites you, you probably want to do one of these things:

  • Respond to the article with a comment of your own
  • Bookmark the article for later
  • Share the article with someone else
  • Let the author know that you enjoyed the content

When a user “likes” a piece of content, they could be doing any of the final three actions, depending on the service. In the case of Gothamist, my instinct is that people “like” content because they want to tell the author and other readers that it was interesting and that they’d like to see more like it. Assuming this, why didn’t more people “like” this entry?

Before I answer that question, it’s worth noting that these gestural responses are very different from other reactions to content. Commenting, replying, sharing and even reblogging all involve content creation, which is a higher level of engagement and worthy of its own discussion. I also won’t really touch on flagging (e.g., spam, offensive content) or ratings.

Language Matters

Gothamist, as well as another small site called Facebook, use the word “like” as a way to note enjoyment, but it’s conflicting for a person to “like” an article that’s about a pregnant lady dying. Am I saying I like the article or that I like killing pregnant women and their fetuses? It’s clearly not the best phrase here, even though it works in most contexts.

There are certainly other options. Here are the ones I’ve seen the most and what they might imply. These are illustrative examples that cover many, but certainly not all, use cases (if a service has a word and a symbol, I just mentioned the word).

Type Services Definition
Like icon Facebook, Vimeo, Google Reader As discussed, it can either mean I liked reading the content or I agree with the content. Essentially, I feel happy after reading this. It’s more often used as encouragement than as a bookmark.
Favorite icon YouTube, TypePad, Posterous Similarly, this is something I enjoyed reading, but it tends to lean more towards a bookmark.
Recommend icon Movable Type, NYT I enjoyed reading this and I think you should enjoy reading it too.
[Up/Down] icon Reddit This is essentially recommend and not recommend.
[Star] icon Twitter, Google Reader This is mostly synonymous with “favorite”, but because there are no words it’s more open to interpretation.
This is good icon Vox I’ve only seen this on Vox, but I love it so I’m including it. This is back to a happy feeling and closest to “like”.
[Heart] icon Tumblr Very similar to “This is Good”.

The interpretations may give you some insight into what is appropriate for your context. In the case of the Gothamist article, “recommend” may be the best phrase since they use this data to calculate their popular article rankings. This isn’t everyone’s goal, though.

What To Do

There’s certainly no magic bullet, but how you implement this feature should depend on what you want to get out of the data. In the end, most publishers are looking for increased page views, but the path there relies on added value for the site’s community. If you’re keeping them engaged, they’ll keep coming back, which leads us to our final list. These are the benefits of using favorites:

  • A list of popular content: In addition to comments, page views, etc., you can use this to determine what content is most read on your site. This is an example of data that the publisher parses to add extra value (as opposed to the user).
  • A measure for the success of your articles: You can use this metric to refine the type of content on your site and gauge the success of your writers. This is another example of publisher-driven data.
  • A curation tool for users: People often just want a way to bookmark content, but it’s more often used as a way to represent who you are. There are millions of Facebook users whose identity is based solely on the items they “like” and share. This is an example where the community is making use of the data.

Really, all three use cases are valuable to publishers and users, just in different ways. The first and third are most valuable to sites that rely on user-generated content and the first two are more valuable for editorially-driven content. In the end, you should focus your efforts on what will improve the quality of and access to your content, because that’s why people visit your site.

Some Additional Notes

If your site is very upfront about its purpose, the language becomes less important. For sites where the homepage is a list of most popular content (e.g., Digg, Reddit), most users will click the button with the intention of promoting content to that list.

It’s also worth mentioning that sites often have two ways to provide gestural feedback, which can cause confusion and frustration. If you look at Twitter’s new retweet functionality, the inability to add your own comment essentially turns this into another way to favorite. It may show up in your user stream instead of a separate page, but it’s the same feature. Google Reader has two gestural responses: like and star (in addition to share and share with note). It seems like they’re just throwing the kitchen sink at the problem.

Finally, there’s the issue of site-specific jargon. Digg is the only site I can think of that does this with any success. Creating a new verb is not worth the overhead I would never recommend this unless your name is Kevin Rose.

I encourage you to comment with additional use cases and examples of usage in various services. I’d love to see as many examples as possible.

Roger Ebert's Best Films of 2009

Just added half of these to my Netflix queue (and he's also posted his best films of the decade)

Gourmet's Favorite Cookie Recipes: 1941-2008

They chose one favorite cookie from each year. I want someone to make a slider showing each of these cookies as you scrub across. [via Bobulate]

Beautiful Information Graphics Prints

Happy Hannukah to me? [via H&FJ]

New Scientist on the perfect way to slice a pizza

"Readers were invited to prove two specific cases of the pizza theorem. First, that if a pizza is cut three times (into six slices), the person who eats the slice containing the pizza's centre eats more. Second, that if the pizza is cut five times (making 10 slices), the opposite is true and the person who eats the centre eats less."

Foreign Policy's Top 10 Stories You Missed in 2009
Dock Ellis and the LSD No-no

In 1870, Dock Ellis threw a no-hitter while under the influence of LSD. Listen to him tell the story with some fantastic illustrations by James Blagden. I could have linked to Youtube, but this site is really, really nicely designed.

Canabalt Scoreboard Upgrades: User Scores, Historical Data

Posted December 4, 2009

Remember the Canabalt Scoreboard I built a while ago? I decided to add a couple things. Semisecret, the game's creator, is going to be adding a global leaderboard in the next update, so I thought I'd some things that will remain useful and parse some of the data.

Historical Data

death-graph.pngSince I started tracking data on October 4th, I've captured 25k scores. As of today, the average score is 3965m. When you break it down by the type of death, it's 3728m (fine mist), 4082m (hit wall) and 3686m (fell). I think it does a decent job of showing what obstacle is hardest to avoid (hitting a building above or below the window).

If you go to the site and click on the stats tab, you can also see a list of the highest score for each day since I've tracked scores and a pretty graph of how people are dying, broken down by day (seen to the right). It's also an interesting look into how often people are posting their scores to Twitter which I imagine correlates closely to total usage.

User Scores

You can also now look at all of the scores you've submitted. For example, here are mine and here's iSpacemanSpiff, who has the highest score right now. If you want to look up the scores of anyone else, just go to the main page and do a search.

More Information

I have other data I'd like to get up there, specifically the average score per day, to see if people are improving overall. And if any of you like the graph, I built it using the Javascript library, Bluff. I like it a lot and have also been interested in using High Charts, but that's fodder for another post.

The more I build this out, the more I think this would be a useful tool for developers. I know many collaborative FPS and MMPORG games use stats to change how the game works and I think iPhone developers with global leaderboards could learn from this data too.

A Town in Sichuan, China

Seeing this blew my mind today. I just can't imagine how different my life is from those living in this village. [via david]

I’m with Team Outside

Posted December 3, 2009

There was a raging debate on Twitter yesterday about punctuation and quotations. Most people came down on the side of putting punctuation inside the closing quotation mark and that's how American English does it. Quoth Wikipedia:

American English places commas and periods inside the quotation almost all of the time, making exceptions only for parenthetical citation and cases in which the addition of a period or comma would create confusion, such as when quoting a keyboard entry or a web address.

I get that, but I respectfully disagree. I prefer the British style:

The British style places them inside or outside the quotation marks according to whether or not the punctuation is part of the quoted material.

Maybe it's from reading Eats, Shoots & Leaves or maybe it's from my life as a programmer, but I think only the quoted material should be inside the marks.

We could debate this at length (and I'm happy to hear your thoughts in the comments), but I think if we just choose a style and stick to it, that should do the trick. Of course, if I got a gig writing for a publication, I'd happily comply with whatever style guide they prefer.

Wizard Smoke

Posted December 3, 2009

You should watch it in HD (via @AdaptivePath).

The Making of Fantastic Mr. Fox


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