Google’s mishandling of RapGenius spam

December 31st, 2013

Last week or so Google removed from its search results in response to solid evidence that the site was using spammy techniques to try and get higher search ranking. This is against Google’s terms of service, so they felt justified in taking rapgenius off results for any search. In response to this I am blogging about a relevant topic in an effort to get more hits to my site. But I am doing it over a week late because I’m a despondent millennial who listens to The National.

I dislike black-hat SEO and link spamming and all that, but still, this was bad form on Google’s part. I go to Google search to get the most relevant search results. If I search for rap lyrics right now I won’t get that. I will get pages and pages of ugly, ad-filled results and I will wrinkle my face up like so. I always clicked the RapGenius result in my lyric search because I knew that I would get more out of it. I dig getting annotations with meanings of slang-terms and complicated rhymes. I will get what I want faster by bypassing google and using rapgenius to search; that can’t be what they want. We both lose.

Google is compromising their search engine’s functionality to make a point that could be made other ways. Sure, I support a penalization of rankings on a level with the penalizations of any other lyrics sites that have shady practices (I can’t imagine they all got to the top ranking by exclusively wearing white SEO caps), but this is over the top. Especially considering this could have been one overzealous marketer and have nothing to do with company policy.

It makes me wonder what awesome sites I may not ever see because somebody at Google doesn’t like them. We shouldn’t have to worry about that.

I don’t (want to) know what gamification is

March 23rd, 2012

A while ago I came to the realization that when I was talking about gamification I wasn’t talking about the same thing as everyone else. I’d been thinking of writing this post for the last few weeks, but the latest episode of Let’s Make Mistakes with guest Stephanie Morgan really forced the issue on my clackity-clacking. It’s an insightful and entertaining discussion of the whole idea, so go listen to it. I’ll still be here when you’re done.


So Gamification is all about adding game mechanics to the (virtual) world. Badges, point totals, trophies, winners and losers. It appeals to our basest selfish/competitive natures to make us engage with your service–hopefully obsessively.

When I first heard about the concept, I had a full-on misinterpretation of what it was. Gamification = making things game-like. So I figured it was all about playing, interacting, strategizing and exploring. I wanted a gamified website to be a framework that’s complex and multi-level enough to react in interesting and unpredictable ways to creative inputs. One that has a distinct atmosphere and some kind of a story to tell. Because that’s what I like to do in the games I like. I like playing and having fun more than I like winning.

It’s all about the journey, asshole

With recent advances in web technology, that sort of interactivity is becoming more and more common. Now more than ever the web is filling with designs that reward exploration and allow for a much deeper level of input and response than just scrolling text and images and clicking links.

This is like in those games where you’re creating a story, you’re making new connections, trying new things. That’s what I want gamification to be. That’s the fad I want to see. Rather than treating the user as a point-hoarding, competition-stomping, reward-addicted automaton.

I find what’s trending now under the banner of gamification to be gimmicky and occasionally irritating, but goddamn it sure does work. The currency of likes/follows/reblogs on sites like facebook, twitter, tumblr, youtube (and especially klout) leverage the basic principal of number accumulation. It’s been used to build fabulous communities like stackoverflow and quora. I think it appeals to a similar part of the brain to the one that loves top 5/8/10/15/50/200 lists. If we abstract all the meaning and nuance of something (longdesc) to a number that can be mathematically compared to other numbers (int), it’s just easier to store (for computers as well as people).

I know the basis of games is that simple earn-points-to-win model. And the basis of playing games is to win. I’m getting carried away. It’s my own fault that I am drawn into ‘games’ (board games, video games or card games) with complexity and an opportunity for creativity, that have more than meets the eye. I have to remember that a lot of people are happy to play D&D to slaughter Orcs and loot them with the hope of a +4 sword to replace their +3 and that’s their prerogative. Even though I’m the guy who wants to find out what the Orcs are doing there in the first place and figure out how to trick them into telling me where they got that +4 sword and maybe if I’m lucky they’ll share that braised skeever recipe with me. I like a game that will allow me even a sliver of that. I don’t want to just click cows, ya know?

My games are better than your games

But here’s another thing. It’s easy to get sucked into a simple, monotonous game. But I don’t find many people who actually prefer those types of experiences to the kind that I’m talking about. They just don’t find them as much or they take too long to draw them in.

So what am I saying? I hate arguments that boil down to semantics as much as the next guy, but I think my ‘misinterpretation’ of gamification is actually pretty valid. Games are about playing and having fun, as well as accumulating points and winning. I don’t mean to poo-poo the entire exercise of adding levels and badges to things. Afterall giving your users a sense of accomplishment is probably not the worst thing in the world. But I will defend the idea of gamification mostly because I’m really thinking about things like this or this (things that live more in front-end than back).

So gamify all you want, but please think of making your app/site/whatever resemble a deep, rewarding game and remember why people sitting down with a deck of cards would probably rather play Poker than War*. If you want to make something more compelling and immersive, it might pay to do more than slap a point system on everything.

Although, in the end, it may be that games are so varied a term like gamification is not actually useful.

*because they want to win some cashmoney… because it’s complex, strategic and psychological!

Don’t make me decide

March 6th, 2012

I’ve been thinking a bit lately about the advantages of interfaces making decisions for their users and why asking a user to make any decision can hurt the chances they will continue to use it. That paints a pretty dismal picture of users, doesn’t it? So lazy. So lacking agency. But bear with me and I’ll try to make it more rosy.

I think this principle started to become real for me as a teenager when, fancying myself a potential amateur filmmaker, I booted up the demo of Avid for kicks and immediately experienced untold levels of confusion. Then promptly quit. Now that’s not a direct criticism per se, they know their audience is professionals.

The principle was realized in a subtler way last week at work. Read the rest of this entry »

Why your ‘Skip to Content’ link might not work

January 31st, 2012

Did you know that a skip link in Chrome or Safari cannot work properly without using JavaScript?

I stumbled onto this factoid today and I was pretty stunned. I’d just assumed all the techniques for implementing skip-links (posted online and in various books) would work as written.

But it turns out that if yours aren’t working, it might not really be anything you did wrong (though it sort of is, because as a web developer you probably realize you are responsible for knowing exactly how every rule and behaviour works in every browser still being used). The real culprit is Webkit. (webkit is the engine that Chrome and Safari are both built on).

Here’s a bug report about the issue that was submitted 4 years ago. Nothing has been done to address it.

What’s most concerning is that this doesn’t seem to be common knowledge in the web design community and most solutions for skip-links posted online don’t realize this particular limitation of webkit browsers. As a result, thousands of pages that were built to be accessible are very likely not functioning properly for 33% of users (Safari and Chrome’s combined browser share, and that’s not even including mobile traffic). That’s a big problem.  Let me explain a bit about accessibility, skip-links, this particular problem, and what you can do to help. Read the rest of this entry »

Web Conferences with Online Content

August 2nd, 2011

The worldwide web conference scene has been ballooning of late. As a web worker, conferences are a great way to hone your craft, get on top of new technologies and network!  If you’re on your own in a smaller town where the conferences don’t happen, though, it’s not always very practical to book the flight and pay the fee to attend. To get a little way around that, though, a few conferences have begun putting many or all of their panels online for free with audio, video, or both. You don’t get the awesome sense of community and networking opportunities that way, but it’s still a great way to play around with some new ideas and get to know some of the web design/developer personalities. Here’s a list I’ve collected of conferences offering some or all of their content up for free. I’ll try to keep it updated if I find more, and please let me know what I’ve missed!

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Getting the right Debug Player in Flash Builder 4

December 17th, 2010

We’ve been transitioning from Flash Pro to the eclipse-driven Flash Builder at school, and it sure has a lot of benefits. One thing missing, though, was the console. Where do all those traces go in Builder?  Flash Builder definitely lets you look at traces, and a whole lot more (like inspecting the value and structure of all your variables at any given point; standard debugging stuff). You just need to run it in debug mode. Problem is, everyone I talked to in my class was having trouble getting it to run. Read the rest of this entry »

Beauty = Usability

August 10th, 2010

Visual pleasure can have a big effect on the enjoyment we get out of using something, and thereby its usefulness and our lives in general. That’s one of the main purposes of design: that balance between looking good and being useful. The real trick is to maximize both without sacrificing either; we’re all constantly exposed to things that haven’t paid adequate attention to one or the other.

I guess it’s all rather obvious. The reason I’m on that kick now is that I recently had a hands on experience that solidified the importance of the appearance side of the equation in situations it wouldn’t necessarily be expected, so I thought I would share:
Read the rest of this entry »

An Open letter to Medtronic

August 2nd, 2010

Buggy, difficult to use software really gets to me. Usually I just grumble about it and try to learn something from its mistakes. Sometimes, though, I feel like something needs to be said. When it involves pharmaceutical companies charging sick people an arm and a leg for products for their treatment, and when the sick person in question is diabetic old me, sometimes I can even get a little bit cranky (or you can call it passionate). Today, I found out that I can’t use the Medtronic Carelink USB on my newly upgraded computer because they haven’t bothered to develop Windows 7 drivers for it yet. Yes, I could find an extra hard drive and install windows XP on it, I mean, if I really want to use that software. But that seemed like a stupid thing for me to have to do. So instead I channeled my frustration into a letter.
Read the rest of this entry »

iPod/iTunes: does not play well with others

July 23rd, 2010

I love iTunes, and I hate it at the same time. Because it’s the internet, here’s a tale about the latter side of my relationship with it. It’s part one of a tale of what happens if you use Apple software without agreeing that doing things exactly their way is the best.

A few months ago I had a hard drive crash (I guess I should count myself lucky to have had only one in 10 years or so of heavy computing). I didn’t lose any personal work or documents (I have that all backed up on multiple computers and dropbox), but I did lose a large chunk of my digital music collection. In itself thats completely replaceable. Priority One: I need to maintain my ~2500 song radioslipstream playlist. It retells musically my potentially ongoing college radio DJing and podcasting stint, and it is pretty dear to me, and one of my favorite things to listen to. I’m not about to let it go, nor am I keen to rebuild it missing song by missing song. But, I have all the songs from that and all my playlists on my iPod, so it should be a cinch, right? Well, not so much. Read the rest of this entry »

Built me a computer

June 22nd, 2010

Recently I put the finishing touches on my nerddom by building my first homebuilt PC system. Somewhat to my surprise, the physical building of the thing from a hardware standpoint was really easy. It is easy, even logical, to feel nervous dealing with wires, screws, and hundreds of dollarsworth bits of circuitry, but I didn’t run into a single hiccup in that process (though my cable management might not be the most ideal).  That may have been a big wonderful fluke, but also could have had something to do with the real hard part: choosing what goes in the box, and the box.

There are a lot of angles to consider and thousands of options for each part. I spent a great deal of time pouring over benchmarking websites, product reviews, knowledgeable friends, and the extremely helpful tomshardware forums.  I actually started working up a build back in March when my previous PC developed another new set of defects, but decided to hold off since I still have a high functioning mac laptop.  This month a new batch of defects convinced me it was finally time to get this done with.

My primary concern was cost efficiency, quiet, and beefy performance. I do a lot of graphic work and am interested in doing a bit more film work so I felt justified shelling out for a higher end machine. I finally came to a build I liked at a price that didn’t seem too intimidating, and I will detail it part-by-part below: Read the rest of this entry »