Episode 31.5: Metaocrity

A special meta show with just Kroc discussing the feedback from last week’s show and going on to detail design concerns with the new site under production. Included is a transcription to hopefully help participation.

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Hello, welcome to OSnews podcast episode number 31 and a half. This is a meta show, nobody else is around at the moment, we don’t have enough news on the front page to warrant another podcast really and basically I just wanted to cover feedback on the previous show and some other topics I want to discuss personally; so it’s just me—Kroc Camen—today and hopefully this should be a short show!

Last week, we discussed all things mobile-computing, so, Palm WebOS, their development announcements. Google’s Nexus One. The HP Slate thing, and the possibility of an Apple tablet. Now—we got a comment by elgeb, basically about us giving Palm / WebOS the short end of the stick, and he’s saying that there was missing information (mentioning only part of what was shown) and lots of misinformation, saying that Palm is struggling to get significant developers, we misquoted the number of apps, we forgot to mention things like 3D apps on the way from Electronic Arts &c., the Palm [PrÄ“] is technically very similar to the Droid and has double the RAM for PrÄ“ Plus (David was saying that “Plam needs its Droid equivalent”, something with a bit more visual clout), criticisms of the development tools, little or no mention of tethering on Verzion, Flash 10.1 (the real thing, not Droid’s cut-down version)—which is important of course that the Palm OS does indeed have Flash 10.1 proper. “You complete a podcast in serious lack of research before entering a conversation between obviously uninformed parties happy to share their opinions nevertheless. Very, very disappointing from OSnews”.

My reply to that is essentially that the show is, is supposed to be like that. I’m trying to keep things extremely casual and simple, so that people can discuss things off of the top of their head and from their own passions of things, and for the show to not be really formal and like reading the 10 O’Clock news. I think that you get enough of that reading the website anyway and other websites and other podcasts &c. so that the idea of it being a completely informal unplanned, unresearched, ‘chat’ works for the medium. I think that’s what audio is for, otherwise it would be better to just write this stuff up as an article if we were doing it—like the week in review &c.

So, Perhaps the show should come with a warning beforehand saying that it is not intended to be accurate and that’s the idea—it’s just a roundtable discussion like what you would have in the pub, and where we’re inaccurate or wrong &c. that’s where we hope that you—the readers &c.—are going to comment and correct us &c. because we can’t know it all and often because there’s always such a rolling stream of news on the homepage, I’m having to talk about things that I don’t really know much about, or care about, or am not interested or enthused about. That’s the issue—if we want talk about web development then I can talk the hind legs off of a donkey; it’s my area of interest, but we’ve got to talk about Linux, or Mac, or Windows and it gets kind of tiresome. Even worse is when I’m talking about things I have no proper real experience with, and in the case of Palm—“Web OS” it may be—but I don’t have a smart phone of any kind, I’m not interested in getting one, I’m not interested in smart phones at all to be honest. I think my life is complicated enough and I don’t want something else that requires yet more responsibility. I’m looking to simplify things.

That’s the problem there is that all of us, the regulars on the show (we’ve only got three or four people that are regular on the show) and we’re having to talk about things that we don’t necessarily always know about and we don’t plan or research everything for the specific purpose of trying to keep the discussion real, and because I simply do not have the time! I’ve had an absolutely mental last two weeks with work and so, literally it’s done in spare time, I’m not getting paid to do this, none of the staff are getting paid to do OSnews (to contribute) and essentially I’m just trying to do what I can, I’m doing my part. Nobody asked me to do the podcast, it was just something I thought “hey I can do this”. It’s my way of being able to contribute to OSnews. It’s my way of being able to do something that’s going to make meaningful content, something that the readers can be interested in, something that will bring some flavour to OSnews—and that’s what I want to discuss about really, our content, and especially our original content.

Back in the version 3 days (I know a large percentage of the readership have been with us a long time, from 2005 / 2006 and so forth and I’m always seeing users with dates from around that area) the website used to be a glorified RSS feed (that was back before RSS was extremely popular) and we’ve been in a long transition away from that to try and produce more long articles (or long items as we call them) where we add our own opinion or writing to the news and extend it to a long item and anything that we don’t have the skills to extend or the knowledge &c. then goes into page 2. Page 2 does not necessarily mean that something is less important—not at all—it’s just simply that the very few members of staff we have here that are writing have no ability to add anything useful to that information.

You’ve probably noticed no doubt or know already that Thom is writing basically 90% of the news on OSnews; you can go down the home page—and in fact for the last four years—you will see his name on 90% of items and it’s incredible that he’s been doing that. I’m continually astonished by the fact that he’s so enthusiastic about OSnews and writing for it and keeping up the work, but it’s not fair. It’s not fair for Thom to be basically lifting this whole site on his own. I’m limited in my time and my style of writing is that I prefer to write articles that are about things that I’m interested about as and when I’m interested about them, and the idea of just news coming in and me having to deal with it by the end of the day makes me feel ill—I’m not that kind of person, it’s not how I work.

OSnews is, as I’ve said before, in a transition where we are trying to move more towards written articles about topics of interest, about people’s personal passions &c., a bit more like Ars Technica (not necessarily exactly the same in the way it works) but essentially that there’s a huge community out there of passionate people, and us—the staff—are passionate about a number of things and we want to write new articles about that rather than just regurgitating someone else’s RSS, not that I don’t appreciate greatly our contributors who are passing on the news to us, but this is the thing about OSnews is that we’ve got all these thousands of readers that are so astonishingly smart, and so astonishingly, skilled and really ‘in there’ when it comes to a lot of the more niche technology; far more so than myself and far more so than I could ever be when it comes to information about these niche operating systems, and just the more technical side of things really. I’m just really, specialised with the web and, , what I’m trying to say is: If we had just 31 people out of the thousands of readers we’ve got submitting one article a month—no more than one article a month—then we would be able to have a brand new article each day written by someone who is passionate about whatever they are writing about, who’s bringing up news that may not necessarily appear on the regular mainstream news (because they don’t cover these sorts of things &c.) and that’s really where we want take OSnews ,is for people to be writing about the things that they care about as how technology changes their lives, what makes niche operating systems important and relevant these days. To be able to show the different side of the niche operating system—from an inside perspective—instead of an outside view, which is always very negative (people saying, you know, ‘what’s the purpose of this?’, ‘why bother using something like that when I’ve got Mac OS X / Windows or Linux’ or whatever).

It would be completely wrong of me to blame you for not contributing enough and to say ‘Ah, well, our readers are just, you know, it’s rubbish, they’re idiots. they don’t contribute to OSnews; why aren’t they doing that’. That is a fault of a designer for blaming users, a designer should never blame the users. It is, as I believe it to be, a design issue. I do not think that the website encourages or helps, or even makes it evident that OSnews is a place that they can use a publishing space for information about niche operating systems, and that’s what I want to change with the redesign, in creating OSnews version 5.

The new website has got to be able to make it exceptionally easy for people to contribute, but it’s also got to make it easy for people to write lengthy articles—to spend a month on an article if necessary—to sit and think, and find what really matters to them when it comes to computers. Why are they in this game? Also, at OSnews we are very happy to publish rebuttals from people about articles that have been written. I strongly believe that the front page of OSnews should be a place for people to correct others and to correct us and to put matters straight and to give accurate information just as much as the comments are. If us the staff write a rubbishy article—especially me—then the first thing I want is someone to write a better article that comes from someone who is so passionate about this that they have to tell me what’s right and where I’m wrong and wants to do it in a way that informs others so that the record may be set straight, and we will publish that. We do not censor people; we do not say ‘oh, I write a terrible article about Opera and I won’t allow anyone to write an article correcting me about that because I want to hide my shame’ or something, no! It is exactly that, that OSnews is there to inform and I don’t think that the current staff have been really doing a fantastic job of informing because we’re limited in our knowledge! We only write about our actual area of expertise in extreme rare circumstances because we’re dealing with so much other news that we’re having to write up all the time—as I said, Thom writing 90% of the news.

What I want to do is lighten the load on the staff so that we can focus on other things and we can be there—as you lot—contributing an article every week, every month, about our passions. So, the new website needs to put writing at the focus, and it also needs to put users at the focus as well. The homepage shouldn’t, it needs to be able to show people that they’ve got a space that theirs as well, to praise the users, the contributors—rather than making it look like all this news is ((said in an snooty official tone)) ‘ours’—this is our homepage, no riff-raff here!

There will always be editorial control, so we will never, ever become—or at least hope not while I’m around—like Digg, or any social news site where people just submit stuff and everybody votes and everything, no, it’s about the users, it’s not about gaining votes and it’s not about popularity contests or anything about that. It’s about people’s passions, right? It’s why we’re here. It’s why we read OSnews, it’s why we use these operating systems because we damn well care about them and we want to tell others.

I’m working on the design of OSnews version 5; I think the cat was let out of the bag some months ago or something like that in one of the conversations and so I’ve let it slip a number of times since—yes, there is an OSnews version 5, I’m designing it, and it’s going to be a long time unfortunately until we’re actually through there, as I’ve said before, everybody is volunteering here and it’s being done on spare time, I’m a very busy person and I expect it’ll be at least a year I think before we’ve got it ready. Maybe sooner, maybe later, I don’t know. It’s too early at the moment, that’s the thing, I’ve only really just started as far as coding. We’ve done some design and I’ve only just started doing some coding stuff. The concern is that just putting a new skin on the website isn’t going to solve anything, right? Even I know that.

What needs to be solved is the issues like I say, about users, about contributors, about encouraging, having a website that just works towards people contributing to the site and makes as little hurdles as possible as to doing that. Hopefully that way we can get a better OSnews because that’s really what I’m in it for. No one’s asked me to do this, I’m just offering to do it because that’s again how I can contribute to OSnews. I don’t think I’m a particularly good article writer, certainly when it comes to OSnews—certainly when it comes to Opera ((:P))—and there’s so many far more intelligent people who reply to my articles that I think ‘wow, why aren’t you writing this! You know better than I do, clearly, why are you not writing this?’. Is it because you’re stupid, or that you don’t get it, or that you’re not interested, or you don’t like OSnews—I don’t think that’s the case. Maybe though there are many users who berate the rubbish I write and think nothing of it, but there are many users who could be writing for OSnews and making a great success of it, and getting their point across and really helping their cause. But at the moment, that’s not being advertised; we have a submit news link but it’s [so] tedious to go through the process and it’s not really geared toward writing and as we all know textboxes in web pages are extremely unreliable things that we have to write our thoughts down as quickly as possible and get it submitted before our browser crashes or before we lose it or before we accidentally hit the back button or something.

The whole, just comment forms, as a whole are just geared around writing something right there and then and submitting it as soon as is possible. How can you spend a week or month in a textbox in a webpage? You can’t, can you? You can on your hard drive, with your own text editor, but again OSnews is not, not really encouraging that. It’s not really saying ‘you can do this. this is an option. this is an open avenue for you’. So I think, one of the things I want to do is really merge the two. As well as the front end we need to redesign the back end too. Our submission tools &c. have been extremely basic. They do the job, but they do the job as far as a computer is concerned, they don’t do the job as far as a human is concerned. We’re finding it tiring writing HTML manually and having a tiny little text box and having to click so many widgets and so on, so forth, and so one of the things I’ve got to do is greatly reduce the friction to write an article so I’m putting together a WYSIWYG editor that is going to let the staff just focus on writing articles basically and not focusing on battling with formatting and code and so forth, and as well as, basically one of the reasons why there’s so few images and screenshots and so forth in OSnews articles is because it’s such a ritual to get them up on the server. You’ve got to do the resizing on the client, and you’ve got to upload the files and then you’ve got to write the HTML for it and, these things are not impossible, certainly not! They’re just friction, and that’s the thing. Any friction what so ever drastically reduces the chance that you are actually going to do something. It’s astonishing how much you can put somebody off of something just by adding one extra click!

I’m hoping to add—in fact I wouldn’t accept anything less I think—drag-and-drop image uploading; you can drag an image into the editor and it will—using the latest HTML5 stuff—it will show you the file, preview the image in the editor—before it’s uploaded—it will upload it in the background, it will do the resize on the server side so you don’t even have to resize on the client, you just drag the full high-res image, dump it in. It automatically creates the thumbnail, uploads, all of that! Literally, inserting an image should be no more than drag and drop. It should have been like this for years! The fact that it’s 2010 already and, urgh, data-input in HTML is just so ancient is quite frustrating. But, so, if I get that tool better, I can improve the backend, the submission process, then, I think the quality of our stories is going to go up from our own staff &c. Then we’ve got to get you guys—the readers &c.–interested as well, so I’m going to plan that we need to be able to give you the same tools. We need to make it as easy for you to write a decent article as it is for us to write one, and to jump through as [few] hoops as possible.

Second, we need to provide someway to be able to keep hold of articles that you’re writing to encourage you readers to use OSnews as a writing space, as a sort of personal notepad / writing block that you can start preparing articles in and you can come back to them days, weeks, a month later, to be able to fully polish it off if you want to do a lengthy review of an operating system and you’re not going to write it in one go in one tiny little textbox—nobody’s going to do that. You need a writing space for that. You need something you can come back to at any point, that you can reach from anywhere, that you can read over it and double-check it and proof-read it and so we have to come up with a design that encourages basically quality article writing. I think that’s very difficult. I think that’s an astonishingly difficult thing to achieve, more so than just re-skinning the website—anybody can do that.

At this early stage we are not doing as we did with OSnews version 4—getting you involved at an early stage because, the problem is that I think OSnews has for a long long time lacked a single vision, or at least since Eugenia left. Eugenia has been exceptionally clear about what she’s wanted and she had a great deal of success with the website, certainly. I joined about 2005/6 , something like that (it was during the version 3 era) and it was really good. Version 3 was the only website that I’ve ever had as my homepage, it’s the only website I would accept as a homepage. I think OSnews has been lacking vision as of late. It’s been getting by, because the staff have been so limited on time and we’ve just been basically keeping the ship afloat, and keeping up with bailing the water, and just making do, as is. Not downplaying the importance of OSnews version 4 that Adam Scheinberg wrote, it’s obviously a massive amount of work for him to have done. I’m very thankful he did that, especially considering what version 3 was before (when we’re talking about the code) and it’s really put OSnews in a good position. It certainly makes my life a whole lot easier and I think it’s really the springboard for what I’m doing otherwise it would make what I’m doing quite impossible.

I have a vision for what I think OSnews should be doing and I basically want to be able to present that vision, to be able to code it up and hand something that works to people and to say ‘this is what I think we should be doing, this is what the site should be doing. this solves these problems &c.’ and then polish from there, because the thing is if you get people involved too early then you’ve got all the cooks standing around the pot before you’ve put any ingredients in and it really gets in the way of broad, visual thinking about these issues of designing the site around the user, around writing and seeking out those sorts of goals. You get stuck in a re-skin job; of people fussing over minor details which, if you went back to the design you would probably never need those features or functions in the first place because your design negates them.

There’s a lot that we’re throwing away with OSnews version 5 and then trying to bake back in what we see fits the new ideas, fits the new design. Things like recommendations are gone at the moment, they may come back. We’re getting rid of the messaging system, we think e-mail will suffice. It’s like we got rid of avatar stuff and moved it to Gravatar. We’re just trying to simplify and get back to a real core importance with OSnews. What matters is, the news, okay? Like version 3 was. You open the page and there was the news. it didn’t prat about. It was exceptionally straight forward, a fantastic page and OSnews version 4 has become a bit clunky. There’s too many clicks involved and there’s too many pages, and there’s a lot of features that don’t really know what they’re doing and what their purpose is. Version 5 is going to be honed to a site that functions, that is important about its function,. What it will look like is only to serve the ability that it will present you the news in a clear, concise, manageable way, instead of just pratting about, the Engadget redesign, oh my days! The astonishingly bad Engadget redesign. Muppetry at its finest level. The whole sidebar you can just hide and you’ve not lost a single thing; it’s just filled up with widgets and junk just for the sake of removing whitespace. The header is absolutely massive, it’s full of even more AOL tie-ins than ever before. It’s an astoundingly bad news design. All news websites are going this direction—well, most news websites I think are going this direction—they are just adding in more complexity and just more awful design as they keep having to appease the parent companies (like AOL in the case of Engadget) and have to keep putting in bad ideas simply because they’ve got middle managers to appease and all this rubbish, and OSnews doesn’t have that thankfully. We don’t have anyone to appease except for us and our readers and that’s it. All we need to do is do a good job of presenting the news and we need to do a good job of writing the news. We don’t have to appease some stupid ‘AOL wants a rebrand’.

Ars Technica, oh my days! They took a reasonable website and they found a way to make it worse. Tons of menus across the top, and a “more” menu because there’s just so much affiliate crap. Ars Technica just screams to me ‘Affiliate! Affiliate! Affiliate!’. Sounds like the web developer here was chained up and had to answer every single e-mail from the affiliates about how they wanted the website to be design, urgh. I want to prove something with OSnews version 5, I want to show that news websites can be done in a proper way and not have all this affiliate junk in it, and not have all this sidebar rubbish and not spam users with tons of UI and just needless stuff—and just give you the news like you care, what you’re there for! Stop fart-arsing around.

The new site will be—as probably everybody knows already—HTML5. That’s because basically, given the time frame of how long this is going to take to develop it makes plenty of sense to develop for the future and not for the present. By the time this is done IE9 might very well be out, certainly a lot of browsers will have completely fallen out of use by then as well (older versions of browsers). The OSnews readership is extremely up to date when it comes to web browsers, they’re very concise. Those who are using Internet Explorer almost exclusively use Internet Explorer 8 which shows that those who choose to use Internet Explorer obviously keep it up to date as any sane geek would do. Those who are using IE6 are clearly a very, very small number, those people would only be using IE6 for the sole [reason] that they are in a corporate network or something like that, and that’s their only choice. That’s just how the OSnews readership goes. I’m developing for the readership, and the website—OSnews 5—it does work in Internet Explorer, it works perfectly in Internet Explorer 8. It looks as good in Internet Explorer 8 as it does in the other browsers and it will work in Internet Explorer 6 & 7. However, in Internet Explorer 6 & 7, it doesn’t support the sort of CSS that I’m using, you will get a sort of ‘lo-fi’ skin, which is extremely basic, but doesn’t hide any information from you, and is still completely 100% functional. It was exceptionally important to me that the whole site worked without JavaScript—okay—the whole website will work without JavaScript. That is guaranteed, I will not allow it any other way. It means that those on IE6 & 7 who are using the really sort of lo-fi, basic skin will still be able to read the news, they will still be able to comment, still be able to log in, still be able to do everything else anybody else can do except for it will just look a little more basic. If you’re using IE8 you will get the full graphics the same as everybody else and if you’re using Internet Explorer and have Chrome Frame installed (hopefully if Chrome Frame becomes stable enough by the time we launch) then we support that as well, so that even on IE6 or 7 can get the full works by using Chrome Frame instead.

So that’s the plan. It’s early yet, and it will pan out, but those are my solid core points—that it’s going to be HTML5, it’s going to be using very advanced CSS, it will work in the latest browsers, it will work in Internet Explorer 8 at least for the good looks, and Internet Explorer 6 and 7 users will not be left in the cold they will just have a very basic design, which I think is perfectly reasonable. We’ve got such a technical readership; I don’t need to pander—who willingly chooses to use Internet Explorer 6!? Good grief! You don’t make up enough people to warrant the effort to support Internet Explorer 6. Nobody could possibly warrant the effort to support Internet Explorer 6 with the readership OSnews has got. So we will be moving forward on that.

Speed. OSnews version 4 is slow! Very, very, very painfully slow. I liked OSnews version 3 because it was so stupidly fast. Table-design it may be but of course it was written to be quick, was written to be very solid. OSnews version 4 didn’t really have a deep, thorough, understanding of web browsers at its core. Adam Scheinberg—fantastic programmer that he is—is not an HTML and CSS nut like I am, okay. I’m obsessive. A lot of what I’ve learnt and the skills I have and the knowledge I’ve picked up in doing my own website camendesign.com is going into OSnews so that it will be hopefully as fast as version 3, if not faster and shall maintain so. OSnews version 4 is slow because of very, very insanely messy HTML and CSS. The adverts are a serious problem as well, they are extremely badly loaded. We’ve got HTML5 async and defer attributes on scripts to try to defer that off so that they don’t block the loading and there’s other tricks I’ll be trying to basically get the throughput fast as well as no dependence on JavaScript at all. JavaScript will be loaded absolutely last so it won’t be in the head, it won’t block loading or anything like that. That will also speed things up. Definitely, it’s got to be snappy. One page to another must be instant, that’s certainly what I’m aiming for. I don’t know as of yet how that’s going to go but it will be faster than version 4, that’s a certainty. I think that’s the least that you guys should get is a faster website.

But anyway, I’m rambling about web design sort of stuff that isn’t in concrete yet and it’s still a long, long way off, as I was trying to surmise in the podcast about the design issues of you, the readers. How can I design you? How can I make things work for you? How can I cajole you, for the want of a better word, into supporting OSnews, into providing us content for giving you, the pleasure of being on the OSnews web page, being a part of the community, seeing your work out there, getting a response from other like minded people and the community. I think the OSnews comments, our comment threads, are fantastic. Really, just astoundingly good. I don’t read comment threads on other websites at all, I often actually remove them using CSS because I don’t ever want to read them and OSnews has got fantastic, interesting comments—even the trolls are interesting! So I have to thank you for that, that’s wonderful. It’s why I’ve stuck with the website for so long because it always continues to be a smart, intelligent, well informed community and we need to make the best of that. We should be doing the best of that. We should be helping you help us with the community and again, it’s not being advertised. There’s nothing on the website that really speaks to you to say that ‘we need you to do this’ and ‘we need you to do that’ and ‘can you do this?’ and ‘can you do that?’ and ‘this is what is urgent’, ‘this is what is not urgent’ and so we’ve had to resort to the podcast and we’ve had to resort to blatherings on meta posts and things like that.

At the forefront of my mind is how can I make the new website really change OSnews? And with that, I think, I should solicit your replies. If you’ve listened to this, thank you very much for being able to put up with me and hopefully we will be back to our normal podcast, if the news is there, next week—who knows—and in the comments for this podcast, please try and write what’s important to you. You the readers are important, so what’s important to you? What can we possibly do that is going to facilitate you being able to get the platform you want for speaking to others about the things you care about, the niche operating systems, what’s important going on in the world about Linux, and free operating systems, and open source software and embedded systems and hardware and Amiga and BeOS and Haiku and SkyOS and MorphOS and—oh gosh—the list is endless. All those wonderful, wonderful, wonderful things. And not get caught up on the petty little changes like ‘oh, this colour is wrong’ and ‘I think this button should say this’ and ‘we should be able to click this’ and ‘I think we should have this feature’ or ‘that feature’ &c. because that’s, as I say, is just re-skinning a website. It’s not really what I’m trying to do here, trying to take the community to somewhere where they can enjoy it, because I don’ think us, the current staff, are really, you know, Thom writing 90% of the news, it’s not going to go anywhere like that. I love Thom for being able to be able to manage for such a long time and to be able to contribute so much to OSnews by doing that but it isn’t going to move the site elsewhere unless we’ve got contributors of all walks of life and skillsets &c. being able to add their opinion to that because it’s (OSnews) is an independent, and it should stay that way and it should make the best use of that. It should be able to present the independent view, stuff that you are not going to find on other people’s website, stuff that isn’t going to be in your RSS reader somewhere else. Stuff that only you in your mind can communicate to others. The stuff that you care about. That’s what matters.

Anyway, thank you!


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