Zachary J. Slater

Assembled in Philadelphia

Kids don’t understand command line interfaces and this isn’t a problem

Marc Scott says “Kids Can’t Use Computers… And This Is Why It Should Worry You“:

Mobile has killed technical competence. We now all carry around computers that pretend to be mobile phones or tablets. Most people don’t even think of their phone as a computer. It’s a device to get quick and easy access to Google. It’s a device that allows us to take photos and post them to Facebook. It’s a device that allows us to play games and post our scores to Twitter. It’s a device that locks away the file system (or hides it from us). It’s a device that only allows installation of sanitised apps through a regulated app store. It’s a device whose hardware can’t be upgraded or replaced and will be obsolete in a year or two. It’s a device that’s as much a general purpose computer as the Fisher Price toy I had when I was three.

The central idea of this article is that people who don’t understand exactly how a computer functions and can’t fix it themselves are morons who all grew up with GUIs that abstract ideas to the point where the Internet Explorer icon is The Internet.

All of the anecdotal evidence provided as to why this is such a bad thing are wildly incorrect.

Yes, some people don’t understand how to turn their computer monitors on or flip the wi-fi switch on the laptop so that they can browse the web. That isn’t a failing of their teaching so much as it is a failing of the software and hardware.

13 years ago I was a hardcore Linux nerd full of disdain for anyone that couldn’t fix their own computer. Today we have computers in our pockets that are more useful and easier to use than the computers I’ve owned most of my life. I can learn German and hook up my guitar to my pocket computer that also makes calls. This is an awesome thing that hardcore nerds love to ridicule.

Marc Scott’s advice for fixing this non-problem is that parents should force their children to learn a scripting language to find the wifi password from a list of possibilities; Windows and Mac users should install Linux; and Mobile users should get Ubuntu for phones.

Installing Linux next to or on top of Windows or OS X only teaches users something because Linux won’t do what they want. Yes, they’ll be forced to use the command line to get their printer, sound, 3D accelerated rendering or power management working properly. When that doesn’t work all they will have learned is that Linux sucks and they should never have installed it. When they can’t boot back to Windows because Grub trashed the boot loader they will just go back to Candy Crush on their phones.

These solutions are all ridiculous. That computers, and iOS in particular, are easy to use is not a problem that needs solving. Unintuitive software that doesn’t do what users want and grumpy old people like us who refuse to change are the problem. Devices should be easy to use and perform the functions that people expect. Nobody should be forced to learn a command-line to use their computer.

Leave and find your community

The photography post from Friday kind of relates back to online community management. Bear with me here. Remember how I found a different audiences on tumblr, flickr, and Facebook?

You have got to go to where your audience is to find them. If your forums or Facebook page are dead but there are people using your product then they are still talking about it, just not where you would prefer.

One of the gaming communities I worked with last year had this issue.  Folks were using the forum and Facebook page, but not as many as I would like in order to get a good picture of what they’re talking about.

After getting to know some of the more hardcore players I found out through them that these players were on a chat service I had never heard of before called Palringo. It operates in a manner similar to IRC or other chat rooms, except with a proprietary client for desktops and mobile that enables purchases for emoticon packs and some neat features like audio messages that folks tend to use when driving or because their Android phone is a piece of junk for typing.

There weren’t just a few players from the community I was supposed to be a part of on this service, there were hundreds.

This is one of the most important lessons that people just refuse to learn. You cannot force a community to form where you like it, you have to seek out your community where they are.

I chose to come into that community of players and talk with them and prove I was real by handing out some prizes to people who moderated the chat rooms or other folks when I was feeling generous and it made sense to do so and it further ingratiated me into that community.

It was also important to step away and let folks trash talk each other and discuss the company without me being there. This is another important thing to do that so few people learn and instead burn out their community and themselves with constant status updates, requests, and other feedback. You as the community manager are a participant and have got to step away sometimes to let the conversation flow without you. Come back soon, but make a habit of stepping away.

Most of these folks will be around long after you’ve left the company if you’ve done your job right and allowed them to take ownership of it. Not all of it, just the parts they control and you should give up some control so that they can participate.

hi5 was another good example of this. We had a global community of millions who didn’t speak english. Even if they all spoke English there was no way we could reach everyone on a one-on-one level.

The solution seemed obvious to me because it had already been implemented before I got there by somebody that was way more talented than I am.

You talk with your bilingual members who are already leaders on the site, or in our case a social network, and lend them credence and they will become invaluable to you.

Most folks call this a VIP or superstar program, whatever you want to call it, it is essential to talk with the people who actually use your product and reach others who you wouldn’t otherwise. These people will connect you to them and when someone you don’t know has an actual problem there is a decent chance that you can solve it through your superstars before it becomes a real problem.

When I took over this program I would often know about issues that wouldn’t show up in analytics or certain service outages before our (awesome!) operations team knew about the issue.

Photographic Memories

One of my favorites

One of the photography writers I read, Gannon Burgett, asked what service their readers use for displaying their photos online:

While writing our last article, I started wondering what service photographers prefer to use to display their images online. Whether an amateur or professional, there are hundreds of platforms from which you can share your work in the digital realm.

Even beyond just sharing images online, we must also take into account the format we want to share them in: blog, portfolio, etc. There’s Flickr, Tumblr, 500px, and more, but we’re also looking for more custom solutions along the lines of a website you send your clients to.

My response in the comments on 2.8 was pretty straightforward but I wanted to elaborate on it here.

Photography is one of my favorite things to do, but it isn’t something I talk about a lot because my results are still very much in the amateur space. Most of the people I know who do it, are much better at it. At least as far as their choices of subject and lighting go. Although I participate in a flickr group competition it isn’t something that could become a full-time career.

So, I really enjoy Flickr due to the social aspects of that site. Comparing my photos to others in the competition is a major boon and it’s great that Flickr acts as an almost complete backup for the photos I’ve cared enough about to upload. My apartment could burn down tomorrow and I’d know that most of the photos I care about are safe online.

With tumblr I get another audience, I upload and tag my photos more heavily there and through the tags I find that people are liking my photos more than they’re being discovered on flickr.

Facebook may mangle my photos a bit but some folks are there who won’t leave to go elsewhere. Most of the really good photographers I’ve met in real life are there and won’t go to a flickr or other services.

At one point I used smugmug, but while it was perfect for a portfolio site it was lacking the social features that I get out of flickr and I wasn’t willing to pay for two services.

It’d be good to get my photography up on this self-hosted WordPress installation as well, to operate as more of a portfolio. This would probably be the least social form of it, but it’d be good to have something else here besides a description of my work history and this blorg.

You’ll find a different audience on each site but the feedback and different forms of usage I get from all of them is invaluable.

This sounds like something Comcast would do

Ryan Kearney:

On November 20th, 2012 Comcast hijacked my HTTP traffic and re-routed it through their own servers, injecting a ‘notice’ on the page before completing the request. What this means is instead of my web request being routed to the website I wanted to visit, Comcast took it upon themselves to hijack my web traffic, forcing it to go through their servers instead. This poses a massive security risk for users since there’s no telling what type of logging Comcast uses on their end. Why did they do all this? To force a ‘courtesy notice’ on every webpage I visit until I logged into my Comcast account because I was within 90% of my new 300GB limit?

Quebec’s Multilingual Joker

The World interviews a comedian in Quebec about language:

Samir Khullar aka Sugar Sammy is the Quebec-born son of Indian immigrants. As a kid, he spoke Punjabi and Hindi at home and French at school. But he learned to tell jokes in English.

‘I’d host all the talent shows at school,’ he says. ‘I’d make all the announcements on the intercoms, and when we had school trips the teachers would let me go to the front of the bus to entertain the kids.’ He did all that in French. He had to– those were the rules. But he’d switch to English whenever he could, ‘just because it wasn’t allowed. As soon as it’s not allowed, as a kid you want to do it.’

Listen to the entire interview audio, it’s great:

Misguided Listings

David Sprinks on How to Hire the Right Community Manager for the Job:

As a result of these four things, most companies that I speak to who know they need community help are completely lost on how to find the right person.

Over the past few years, I’ve helped place a number of community managers and have advised dozens of companies on how to find the right person.

1. What are your actual needs? Are you even hiring for community?

This will solve the first two problems right away. It’s easy to know if you’ve found the right person if you’re super clear about what it is you actually need. Forget about titles.

Are you hiring someone to build a power user program? Then look for someone who has done that before.

Are you hiring someone to manage a forum? Seek out that experience.

Are you hiring for someone to do social media marketing? Then find someone who’s done that (and don’t call them a community manager when you hire them, thanks!)

What most companies that post job listings for a Community Manager actually want, and the job listing sort-of-makes-clear, is a Social Media Marketer to get their message across and make their calls-to-action successful.

Community managers and other folks can wear a lot of hats, to reuse a tired phrase, but it isn’t always necessary and it certainly doesn’t need to be this way. There is value in just straight-up community management without the marketing angle.

Checkboxes that kill your product

Alex Limi on Checkboxes that kill your product:

If I told you that a company is shipping a product to hundreds of millions of users right now, and included in the product are several prominent buttons that will break the product completely if you click them, and possibly lock you out from the Internet — can you guess which product it is?

Sounds like that’s the kind of product that only a large enterprise software company like Oracle or IBM would ship, right? Maybe some of the antivirus extortionware software for Windows? Maybe vpn software?

Well, we have met the enemy, and he is us.* In the currently shipping version, Firefox ships with many options that will render the browser unusable to most people, right in the main settings ui.

There are too many good products, free and commercial, that suffer from configuration rot.

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