Log All The Things!

Recently on Hacker News, a new product called Heap was linked and quickly rose to the front page. Heap is an analytics tool that captures everything that happens on your web site. I mean everything: clicks, submissions, even perhaps mouse movements, and it’s all dumped to a database that you can analyze later for marketing etc…

It’s a UI firehose

I’m not knocking the product since they’ve obviously spent a lot of time and energy and I can respect that. I hope they’re successful. But anyone using things like these have to keep one thing in mind…

Data is like a plucked flower; it starts to die and go stale the moment it’s captured. How soon it goes stale depends on the type of data, but you then need to make sure it’s shifted (another firehose) to analytics ASAP. It needs to be looked at for actual usable information and interpreted somehow to monetize, if that’s your intention, or feed further research.

By simply capturing everything, you’re effectively creating a very large feed of data that you may or may not use. You’re facing a similar conundrum as the U.S. intelligence agencies who (we’re told) collect and log virtually every cell transmission and, allegedly, every email passing through computers within and, also allegedly, outside our borders.

Who said or did what, and more importantly, why? Are they really interested? Curious? Can be driven to become interested? Marketed to? Can they get their friends, family and colleagues interested? Can they give me money? These are more important questions to answer first before you go about Logging All The Things. I have a criticism about this further below.

Which brings us to those users who don’t fall under the umbrella of “marketable” for technical reasons.

The problem of backward compatibility

Is it just me or IE8 is just not considered by web startups anymore ? Sorry to deviate a little but every time I try to look at a “Show HN” in IE8 (work computer), it fails for about 85% of the time. I could understand that some startups heavily depend on latest browsers but what about others ? – codegeek

No it’s not your imagination.

The web doesn’t all flock to Firefox or Chrome or Webkit or, the soon to be former independent, Opera. By limiting themselves to a relatively smaller subset of web users, Heap and similar products have effectively decided not to bother with the rest. To be fair to them: they’re probably not wrong.

The vast majority of analytics, web apps, shiny new HTML5 things are all geared toward the tech-savvy crowd who are connected to everything all the time and, for better or for worse, are geared toward the browser as an OS substitute. Those interested in these things in the first place will likely be running a browser capable of those very things, but this now takes away the potential consumption of the web.

The web is a product delivery network

It used to be a means of just communication, then trade, then sharing and now it’s all about content delivery. “Content” as in data is now a product itself so along with your shoes, fishing rods/reels, computers etc… you now have data being sold as well.

To sell data, you must first gather it, and then you bring yourself back full circle to the aforementioned stagnation problem. Captured data is useless if it cannot be applied in a meaningful way and it becomes harder to apply to anything useful if you have too much of it.

As DevOps Borat put so eloquently :

I don’t want to be marketed to

This isn’t really a secret, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned it here before. When generally I browse for leisure (which I sadly don’t get to do as often these days) and it doesn’t involve me watching YouTube videos or playing a game or some form of interaction, I browse with JavaScript and all plugins disabled in Firefox.

I realise this involves killing advertising on sites I enjoy and I don’t completely feel comfortable doing it, but the alternative is more intrusive and objectionable to me and I don’t think I’m alone in this.

As the old addage goes: If you’re using a service for free, you’re the product.

This holds true of YouTube, Facebook, Google+, Gmail and yes, even WordPress. Advertising and value added features are how these services stay afloat and I can appreciate that. I also hope that they can appreciate the sheer volume of crap constantly targeted at me through the use of cookies, JavaScript and of course my IP (I’m sure) no matter where I go and what I do.

I’m old fasioned

I remember a time when web pages were hastily constructed bits of content consisting of tables, poorly contrasting background images, tags and barely functioning CSS that broke in any browser other than IE5 or Netscape. It looks like we may be returning to these bad old days with newer technology.

Governments and universities controlled most of the internet connectivity — for better or for worse — and the few companies that did let you build a site for free on the newly emerging “web” were Tripod, Geocities, AOL Hompages et al… and they too made sure there was ample advertising (or value added as in the case of AOL).

But you know what?

Aside from the odd virus or two, since those are also ubiquitus (and antivirus was/is Snake Oil), the blistering popup storm that can be managed if you knew how to tweak Netscape or installed the latest popup blocker, It was still managable.

I could actually consume the web without being consumed

I didn’t mind the ads that sold me dates to college students, mostly cause I was still in junior high, but also cause they didn’t know which site I visited before or where I was looking or what I liked to buy (eBay started in 1995 and I thought it was the best idea since sliced bread).

But these days suddenly web sites that have nothing to do with what I was looking at before, know which ads to show me.

I’m visiting a site on chemistry books that’s showing me ads to fishing reels. How did they know I was looking for fishing reels before?

I’m visitng a site on telescopes and they’re showing me ads on test tubes and beakers.

I’m visiting a site on printing and homemade paper and there’s an ad on star tracking scopes and GPS.

What is this madness?

Now as for the folks at Heap who may be getting, an undeserved, flogging from me for contributing to this tracking malarkey, I apologize for coming off as somewhat irascible. It’s not your fault since you’re only contributing to the demand.

What worries me is that there is demand.

Is blocking ads the same as stealing?

I submit that it is not, but Svetlana thinks otherwise.  I won’t address the Amazon issue, as it’s explained it pretty well and I agree on that stance.

Here’s some clarification…

Yes, you are a content creator, and that means you can receive compensation if you feel you should be rewarded for your work. However, you’re not “selling” your writings.  We do have a choice to not “purchase” your writings as you haven’t disabled public access to them.

Now, if you publish your work in PDF or locked HTML form and the only means to access it is through a subscription or individual sale of articles, then you are saying that you definitely want compensation and are, actually, “selling” your content. Then, if someone gets access to your work without compensating you, it is indeed “stealing”.

But until that happens, no one is “stealing” from you just because they’re blocking ads. Even your “about” page clearly notes, “Profy is a blog…” not a pay per view site. If, while browsing the site and viewing your ads, your visitors will generate revenue for you, then that’s a nice plus. However it isn’t a prerequisite for browsing your site as you have not configured your site for that.

“And advertising is supposed to be an equivalent of paying…”

Incorrect. Advertising is the advertiser paying you for views and clicks from a visitor (a solicitation) which the visitor is free to refuse.  If I’m walking down the street past an art exhibit (created by you) and while enjoying it someone hands me a flyer, I’m more that free to not look upon it or even accept it. The fact that web advertising is configured for a page load (or automatic view) is incidental.

For comparison… I’ve started selling T-Shirts, and if someone wants that particular content, then they have no choice but to purchase it.  It is a form of restricted access to content. But if someone wants to block images from RedBubble or links to the site, then they’re certainly free to do that. They’re not “stealing” from me. They’re just choosing to ignore extraneous objects for sale.

It’s a configuration enabled or installed on the visitors’ own computers for which I have no say and neither do you. Everyone should be free to browse however they please, and if the type of browser or browser setting disables access to ads, then that’s their call, not ours.

“Yet I think that this plugin (and multiple others intended for the same purpose) should be as illegal as the torrent one that Amazon was so quick to protest to last week.”

Welcome to China? How is infringing on the rights of the visitor any different than infringing the rights of the creator? You are arguing that computer users are not free to install whatever software they please and not use their computers however they please (provided they do nothing illegal). Choosing not to see your ad is not illegal. And making illegal any software intended for that purpose violates all our rights as netizens.

The road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions. This kind of draconian view on advertising will have greater (far worse) rammifications in the future.

The term “Patriot Act” comes to mind.

Warning: Personal opinion ;)

My writings are not for sale and I’ve placed most of it (since 1997) in the Public Domain. Obviously this isn’t acceptable for all content creators and many have locked them in copyrights etc… Mind you, under the Berne Convention, I don’t really have to assert my copyright claim. Just by creating the content, I’m automatically entitled to copyright. I have just chosen not to exercise that right for the vast majority of my writings.

My only wish is that someone will find my work useful for worthwhile and just purposes and will, in the end, benefit the community at large.

Edit_

Forgot to mention this eariler…
Wikipedia runs on donations. If your content is truly useful, you will find a way to make money off of it without ads. Consider what they did at the Daily Kos. They asked ad blocking visitors to buy a subscription.

Open Source needs a marketing facelift

Because some of these names look like they were created by a 5 year old. Seriously! Isn’t it hard enough to sell OS without the additional hurdles? How many misconceptions do you need to add to your “to fight” list?

Let me give you a small sample…

Duplicity

… Is what we see frequently in soap operas, made for TV movies, and courtroom dramas.

Oh wait… We’re talking about a backup program.

Yes, it’s still in beta, so it has a chance to correct this issue. But I won’t be holding my breath.

KGB Archiver

This is really an awesome utility and it breaks my heart to include it… But what were you thinking?!

Go-oo

I kid you not. That’s really the name of an office suite. It’s a variant of the OpenOffice suite and is apparently modified with added improvements.

The project site claims better functionality and more “polish”, though I haven’t tried it.

But somehow, I doubt there are many others out there (besides freaks) who want to get their hands dirty with Go-oo. An office suite maybe, but definitely not Go-oo.

OH! You meant “Go”, break, “oo”! Well, how many people do you think will get that on the first try.

GIMP

Two words… Pulp Fiction.

You know, I don’t recall any other acronym besides “GNU” that has evoked this many questionable titles (see below, there’s more where that came from).

SXEmacs

Speaking of weird fetishes, I don’t think the added pink text and cheesy font are hiding any innuendo here… or helping much.

It’s a replacement for XEmacs a fork of Emacs. (Why in the world would you fork Emacs? Haven’t you foolish mortals ever encountered perfection before?)

And aims to correct all the aberrations and bad taste left behind by the afore mentioned fork.

VILE

OK seriously… I don’t even know where to start…

It’s bad enough you people had to mess with perfection, but dragging Vi into this too?

Trying to merge traits of both editors to end this dispute is like claiming interracial babies will end racism… It bloody won’t!

GnuCash

No, it’s not the name of a get-rich-quick scheme you’ll find in your inbox.
But you could have fooled me if I hadn’t actually seen the project first and I wasn’t familiar with GNU.

I can understand you want to give it a meaningful title and you want to include the “GNU” badge, but seriously?

GnuCash is actually quite a nice piece of software for managing your finances. It’s a pretty good alternative for Quicken. But don’t think I can get my mom to use it instead, let alone a boss, with a name like that.

UltraMonkey

It’s doesn’t weigh 200Lbs – 300Lbs, have super powers, wear a costume, fight crime, or enjoy bananas.

What is actually a very reliable and high performance load-balancing software package for Linux, has a name that makes it near impossible to sell it to corporate Pinhead(© Bill O’Rly) bosses. You know for a fact, these idiots always look at the name first. If the IT people are smart enough to hide the name of the software and just call it the “load balancer”, they can get away with installing it. Or else, forget it!

Do you have any idea how many people in charge of money will scoff at spending any IT time (therefore money) on something with this unfortunate name?

——–

I think that’s enough to get the message across. The more discerning of you will notice what’s really happening here. The fact is that these software packages are put together by nerds and geeks. And nerds and geeks will use nerdy and geeky names.

Some of the titles (adding those not mentioned here) are outright embarrassing.  And not even the RotN kind of funny embarrassing. I mean face turning red, can’t look at boss, muttering the name (hoping for the boss’ poor hearing + morning Tequila to make up a new name) type of embarrassing.

I know it’s not all their fault. I’m sure most people didn’t even know what a Gimp was before Pulp Fiction. But change with the times as they say…

Stick “Enterprise” somewhere in the title

… And people will flock to it like nobody’s business.

I once worked for a product placement company (whose name I will withhold), where I had to come up with a tracking and placement monitor(a combined bookmarker, scheduler and time-tracker on steriods) and improve the previous measuring tool used to track the duration, location, and proximity of a product live, in video. To my delight, I was given the opportunity to take a look inside the previous tool.

WOW!
The level of bloat and hackish spaghetti in there was beyond belief! And the internationalization? Don’t even get me started. When did job security become such a high priority that we’re willing to create absolute garbage just to be needed in the future?

This goes a long way to prove my hypothesis that 50% – 70% of programmers are con-artists.
Yes, I’m taking a big risk in bashing my own field, but it seems people will come up with problems that don’t exist, only to create solutions for them and charge extra. And let’s not forget the planned obsolescence, because any year it works without an upgrade, is a year without a pay-raise.

The product placement company was cheated so well, they ended up having to redo the whole thing from scratch. That’s twice the cost of the upgrade (from a different company this time) and all the payments for the original version and maintenance down the drain.

I must ask if people actually listen to what they say or have they memorized the marketing jargon so well, that independent thought is impsossible at this point. Or why else would someone come up with the most menial and basic functionality one would expect from a device or method beyond the Stone-Age, put the word “Enterprise” in the product title or description and expect the target audience to ooh and aah.

I.E. I need to be notified when an employee finishes a job and the time it took to finish. Super. I also need to setup schedules and resolve job conflicts. How about an added calender too? Great. Any time-tracker grandma can write will have these features, but the Enterprise version comes with free eyecandy and guranteed inaccessibility to all mobile devices.

Oh! And while we’re at it, let’s do a lovely, vendor, bow tie in for our package so that it will look nice for Christmas.

Buyers and clients take note:
If what a piece of software does is described as “magic” as in the “you don’t need to know how it works” variety, stay far away! If they can’t describe to you exactly how it does what it does in plain English, there’s something fishy going on. And no, they don’t need to give away any trade secrets to come up with an explanation. That’s just a smoke screen for poor workmanship.