Archive for October, 2010

Constructive

October 25, 2010

This was posted recently, in the always-excellent webcomic XKCD:

And what about all the people who won't be able to join the community because they're terrible at making helpful and constructive co -- ... oh

As always when XKCD is at its best, it’s both funny and thought-provoking, and quite on-target.

Here’s the question is raises, though: what’s the comment equivalent of the Turing Test?  Is the issue “bot or not”, “spam or not?” or “helpful or not?” Most spambots would fail the test described here; would human-generated astroturf?  Is “constructive” the right measure to use, to distinguish between “should be posted” and not?  It might be — indeed, the product-placement industry is almost based on this concept, and it’s better than simply asking “Do you think this is a bot?”.  But now I find myself looking for the best word to usefully express, “should this be here or not?”

To Bundle, or not To Bundle, that is the Question

October 21, 2010

I just got an unusually formal email from Google, saying that Google Groups is dropping a lot of functionality.  Specifically, they will no longer support customized welcome messages, pages or file storage for groups.  Essentially, they are going to stop pretending that they are competing with Yahoo Groups, in favor of trying to do a better job on mailing lists and forums.

They are quite clear, however, that you can still have group files and pages — it’s just that you should do files through Google Docs, and pages through Google Sites.

On the one hand, this actually makes a good deal of sense.  One of Google’s big problems is that they have lots of systems that are overlapping, or often completely redundant.  Having two separate file-management systems is a bit silly, so refactoring and merging them makes sense.

That said, I worry that they’re missing a key aspect of group identity.  Saying, “You can upload a file, and make it accessible only to a group” is not the same thing as saying, “You can upload a file within your group”.  The functionality may be the same, but the perceived user experience is very, very different.  Context matters, especially when you’re mucking with communities.

And frankly, I find myself disappointed that they claim to be focusing on mailing lists and forums, because that’s not the interesting problem.  I would far rather that they focus on community and identity, which are really the interesting problems that have not yet been well-solved.  Forums are a good use case for those, and it’s possible that they’ll do a lot of good along the way, but I would much rather get a really great, shareable and repurposeable group-management system than just another mailing-list operator.

So we’ll see.  What do you think?  Does this change sound good, bad or indifferent?  Is Google going in the right direction, or are they missing the boat?