Interface, and the First Sixty Minutes

I’ve been struggling to explain SFW interface to people.

Which is weird. Because I actually think the interface is one of the stronger features. I have come to wish I could surf the web in SFW instead of say Chrome. It solves a bunch of issues Ted Nelson tried to solve but more elegantly and with less fluff, and stops much of the nasty fraying of our focus the browser saddles us with.

So am I crazy? Inreasingly, it looks like that may be the case.

But it’s funny, I was just pasting a web video into a post, and let’s look at how that looks.

Go to the YouTube page. (How do I know where that is?)
Search for the YouTube you want. Go to the page. (OK).
Click on it. (The Google link) Yes, the Google link.
(Even though there’s a video link above me). Either one. Just get to a video.
[Wait]
Are you on the page? (Yes.) OK, look under the video, there’s a little “share” link.
(How would I guess that that’s where I put a video in a blog?) Because I’m telling you now.
Click on share, then click on embed. (What does embed mean?) It doesn’t matter, click on it.
Select that text in there. Now press Control-C. (Huh?) Control and C at the same time.
(Oh. How on earth would I know that?) Because I told you. Oh wait. Shoot. Put in your size first.
(What size?) 480 width by 320 height.
(Which box is which?) Width is always first.
(How do you know that?) I just do. Now control-A
(How did you know the dimensions?) They just work well.
Now browse back to the tab with your post. (I closed that, sorry.) OK, re-open it.
(Do I log in again?) Yes. (I forgot my password). Click the forgot password link, and get your password.
(OK, firing up email). Ok. Waiting. (Ok, I’m in.)
Browse to the post you were making. (OK). Click “Text” instead of Visual. (OK I see a bunch of garbage).
Does it look like your post? (Yes).
Find where you want to paste it and click Control-V. (OK, it pasted my password in there).
Um. (Is this because I right-click copied my password from my WordPress invite email?)
Yes, maybe. Probably. (Right click copy and control-C go to the same place?)
Yes. (Is this in documentation somewhere? Why isn’t this documented?)
I’m sure it is, somewhere. OK, go back to the YouTube video. Click share, then embed. Set the dimensions. Control-C.
Then back to your blog. Paste it in. Click the tab to visual. Ready?

We do the copy method, because after initial difficulty, copy-pasting ends up being an incredibly quick way to put together a blog post — you copy-paste an embed, but you can also use the technique on URLS and the like.

I’ve tried other blogging products that are more user-friendly in the first sixty minutes, and I’ve always come back to the copy-paste method. Specialized ways to do these sorts of things up your productivity in your first sixty minutes by killing that productivity in your post-sixty minutes work. That’s a good trade for a website, but a lousy trade for a tool.

The question is always what sort of problem is it? Problems that appear sporadically (setup, settings, etc) should be brain-dead easy. Things you do every day should be efficient and flexible, and ideally tie coherently into an overall model of use. The test of the interface is what the average interaction with it feels like.

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5 thoughts on “Interface, and the First Sixty Minutes

  1. It took me five minutes to wrap my head around copying and pasting a youtube embed code back in 2005/2006, after an hour and twenty minutes into a demo with SFW this comparison seems to downplay just how conceptually different SFW is from the web we are used to. I think you tend to minimize that reality in this post a bit. You have a very long road in front of you for getting broader adoption on this one—and I’m with you on trying. Wrapping your head around SFW makes setting up a domain, using Cpanel, and installing your own WordPress seem easy by comparison 🙂 And you are the one who recently said “decentralization has to be made easy, and ideally it has to let me do neat new things that centralization did not allow”.

    And you also noted in your previous post that faculty have choices to make when it comes to learning technology, and as SFW works now, it’s hard for me to imagine this will be an easy choice. I think the transculsion work with Dokuwiki you were doing was conceptually much more understandable in relationship to loose federation, though arguably not as radical. And this might illustrate to you where I am at in terms of grokking all this. I admit to not fully understanding the scope of SFW, and I will be putting in more time this weekend on the films. But I do want to caution you a bit when you suggest if only the web would be more like SFW, because, on your more pragmatic days you know, right now it’s not.

    • These are good points. I think it’s a lot easier than CPanel personally, but perhaps that’s because I had been grappling with the problems it addresses, so the solutions made an intuitive sense to me.

      One of the ways that SFW solves the problems I was having with thinking through federation, for instance, is it mashes up data and pages in the browser rather than at the level of the server. That makes things hard to conceptualize a bit a first, because we are so server-centric in our thinking. But once you get that, when you’re try to solve problems, the right solutions just come to you.

      I often use the example of the Adobe Illustrator interface to talk about interface. If you’ve never futzed with a vector drawing, it seems ridiculous to draw a curve using the bezier interface. But if you do it without learning the bezier interface, you’ll end up taking ten times as long when you try to clean your design up, and be permanently inefficient as a designer.

      I made up this video to show the new way we can do films with hashtags, but actually watch the first 90 seconds of it — I set up a site from scratch, join a federation, and import templates in the first 90 seconds, while talking it through.

      I appreciate the kick-back on this and the chance you’ve given me to demo it. Keep kicking back. But I’m going to keep trying to explain why this is actually quite possibly the best interface I’ve ever used for anything.

      But please, keep kicking back, and I’ll keep trying to explain the beauty of it (and simplicity! The interface really just suddenly clicks once you get why it had to be made that way). Eventually I’ll either learn that I’m not normal in this regard, or you’ll grow to love it and we can be insane together.

      I guess the big thing is it’s not a series of steps, it’s more like understanding what copy and paste is. And once you get that, it turns out your life is much easier. But until you get that, it’s just a meaningless set of procedures that seem like a foreign language.

      • This was a helpful session, and the movie pages are a better example why the sfw approach could make sense.

        I am closer but quite there to the conceptual internal model of how it works. And it’s not for lack of your efforts to explain, there’s as much to be done on my side. And if a bunch of used tech heads feel lost in the space… Well it is a sign more work needs to be done.

        I still feel lost in there, because I don’t have the mindset yet. I was struck by this in the call I had to leave for; I was explaining to Howard Rheingold the principles and structures I do often with FeedWordpress syndication sites. My familiarity and experience there make it so clear to me, yet as much as I explain and blog and diagram, others are not always at a level for it to be so intuitive.

        When I find the compelling use case for sfw I wil lbe in like a big dog.

        Just do something about those icons! They don’t mean anything to me.

  2. I think I finally grasp the concept, if not the internals. I have a vision of a cooperative class note taking space that I’ll try if I can get a server up. For what it’s worth I agree with Alan about needing an alternative to the gradients. Is something like uploadable avatar support possible?

  3. Hello would you mind stating which blog platform you’re using?
    I’m planning to start my own blog in the near future but I’m having
    a difficult time deciding between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.

    The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for
    something unique. P.S Sorry for getting off-topic
    but I had to ask!

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