Thursday, June 30

Flickr reads like a person I'd like to be

flickr UI
Originally uploaded by bigyahu.

In my experience, websites benefit from having a consistent editorial voice (the copy on the website reads like it's always the same person, in the same voice.) This helps the visitor identify with the "people" or company behind the website.

A consistent editorial voice can (sometimes unintentionally) polarise visitors into "I like the 'people' behind this website" and "I don't like the 'people' behind this website", but it can also be used to make the broadest possible audience feel 'at home' and comfortable, if done right.

One of my own attempts at this is the Terms and Conditions page for HomeScreen. I wanted visitors to feel comfortable about entering into a monthly credit card subscription relationship with this company they'd never heard of before; and I wanted to make it feel like HomeScreen was a company that knew how to smile.

The T&C page includes a few light-hearted bits, especially towards the end. The privacy policy (which I assume absolutely nobody ever reads) has a few, even one right at the beginning, to reward anybody who actually bothers to read the page.

Unfortunately, there aren't enough editorial text opportunities on HomeScreen to keep the editorial voice front-and-centre because the site is all about quickly and easily choosing DVDs to rent. There have also been many, many 'chefs' involved in this particular soup over the last three years, so the voice isn't so much consistent as verging on multiple personality disorder.

One site that does a great job of creating an open, welcoming and funny editorial voice and then keeps it consistent is This screen dump shows how Flickr has taken something dry and functional and added a little personality to the page.

Many businesses would have legal and finance people all over a page that confirmed a successful credit card transaction like this, and they would be carefully (and needlessly) removing all trace of personality and charm, lest it be used as evidence against the company one day in court proceedings.

I've seen it happen many times before - you brief a lawyer to check that one particular part of your website is OK, and once they've finished, they decide they better make sure that the rest of your website is up to the same diamond-hard legal standard. Before you know it most of your website reads like a contract, and every second word gets a superscripted asterisk or greek character, referring to a mountain of small print bigger than the copy it refers to.

Either Flickr has some cool legal and finance people (which is as likely as rain on the Moon, but is nevertheless theoretically possible) or those people don't get to run amok and surgically remove all the personality from the site. Either way it makes me love Flickr all the more.

I don't think we should run out and kill all the lawyers, by the way. Though if some way could be found to make them wear ID tags, corral them in one place, perhaps with razor wire, german shepherds and spotlights... it would primarily be for their own protection, of course...

Tuesday, June 28

Space station gets HAL-like computer. First homicide expected in next few orbits

Sadly, the solar sailors were unable to get their solar sail into orbit. Flaky Russian space engineering let them down and although nobody's really sure, it seems the payload and launch vehicle splashed down somewhere in the Bering Sea. Strangely, monitoring stations picked up a weak signal from it, so maybe the launch vehicle was bouyant, the satellite unfurled the sail, and the solar sail is now on a broad tack across the Bering Straight. Expect to read about eskimos reporting a mysterious metal sailing ship with a ghost crew any day now.

But the space news stays whacky: now NASA has decided to give astronauts nightmares with a voice-activated interface to their latest computer system. Why? Was a keyboard and mouse too reliable? Not scary enough? Life in space getting a little tedious without the constant threat of computer-initiated homicide? OK, my own computer has never actually tried to kill me, but getting its voice recognition software to work reliably is guaranteed to drive you insane.

Wednesday, June 22

Solar sail is on its way

I grew up on a steady diet of 1960s and '70s science fiction, so I can't help but be excited at the news that the world's first privately-funded solar sail project has been launched today. It certainly reads like the plot of a sci-fi novel: inspired by the widow of a visionary astronomist and thinker (Carl Sagan [we're not worthy, we're not worthy]) a group of private individuals campaigns for 20-odd years to raise the funds and support needed to send a craft powered by a solar sail into Earth orbit, in a symbolic gesture meant to inspire all of humanity to stop with the violence and the destruction and look to the stars as the next goal for humankind.

To add some further plot intrigue, they launch the payload from a freakin' decommissioned Russian nuclear submarine in the freakin' Artic circle! I mean, come on, why not launch a death ray satellite instead and hold the UN ransom for a billion dollars? [evil laugh].

Actually, it seems like a very worthy cause, and hopefully the launch and the mission will go smoothly, so all that effort counts for something. In the next few days if the satellite responds to instructions, it should begin to deploy the solar sail, at which point, if the sun, the satellite and yourself are all in alignment, you should be able to see it clearly as it zooms overhead in the night sky.

You can follow its orbit and get instructions on how to try and see it as it flies over here.

Tuesday, June 21

Mini Club drive to Mt Seaview

Originally uploaded by bigyahu.

Had *such* a great time with the NSW Mini Club this past weekend, driving with 11-12 other Mini Cooper Ses to Walcha and back via Thunderbolts Way and the Oxley Highway, a good 500km or so.

Driving along with a line of chubby little Mini bumpers in front of you and a line of cheeky smiling Mini headlamps behind you was a blast. We got such a warm reaction from all the other cars, bikes and bystanders we passed, it was like being royalty for a weekend.

Surprisingly Mel was the only woman who drove much the whole weekend, even though most cars were owned by couples. She distinguished herself by keeping up with the fastest drivers in the twisty bits, and by equalling my own top speed (fast enough to lose our licences and then some!) on a long straight with plenty of visibility.

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