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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

IE + Xmarks caused major problems on my Win 7 machines

A crazy decision by Internet Explorer designers to keep its Favorites as files in Windows file system instead of XML / HTML file as any other browser does, just led to major problems on my Win 7 machines.

As you imagine, names of files on Windows have several restrictions, as they for sure do on other operating systems. Certain symbols are prohibited, file names cannot be longer than a limit, etc.
Obviously, these restrictions cannot always correlate to titles authors give to their pages.
Now, just add to this equation a common necessity for synchronizing bookmarks across different types of browsers and you got a recipe for a disaster.

That’s what happen yesterday on my home Windows 7 machines. Obviously, Xmarks software which lately became more and more buggy (Xmarks acquisition by LastPass haven’t helped so far) after some “upgrade” decided that it cam pump Firefox 4 / Chrome bookmarks to Internet Explorer (I use IE9, but it hardly matter) without adjusting their names to become suitable as Windows file names. Windows 7, on its side, which I previously thought of as a pretty stable OS, allowed to save some files with names it actually doesn’t support. For example, Firefox has a habit of converting long page titles into bookmarks of a format ‘This is a very long bookmark (…)’. Files with such names were saved on Windows 7, but then became corrupted. An attempt to delete such a file leads to one of the most stupid error messages I ever saw on Windows:

File name too long for destination folder.

Again, Windows displays this error message when  you try to delete a file, not to put it into Recycle Bin!
I finally found a way to delete those files: it turned out that launching command window and using del _folder_name command deletes all files inside that folder, including files, undeletable by Windows tools.

Add to this stupidity a nasty habit of Xmarks of creating millions of duplicating bookmarks (they even have a tool for deleting duplicates, instead of designing bug-free Xmarks!), and you’ll end up with a mess.  Bookmarks cannot be synced across browsers, a lot of garbage in your OS. I’m pretty sure my nightly Acronis backup failed last night because it couldn’t copy corrupted favorite files.

So, who is worse, Windows OS itself, Internet Explorer, or Xmarks? All of them together, probably.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Diaspora and beyond

I was reading an interesting discussion on Get Satisfaction site about security and discoverability on Diaspora social network.

Diaspora introduced some nice group-like features  called aspects.  Suppose I would like to chatter with my wife and with my girlfriend on Diaspora  (purely hypothetical :)  ). If I put them into different aspects, they will never know about each other until some traitor emerges. People I put  in one aspect don’t know about people I put into another aspect, posts are totally separate too (I can also post globally.)

In Google Buzz I can also post to a private group, but all people I follow and all people following me are publicly visible for everybody.

In Diaspora, even people who I put into one aspect don't know about aspect itself and don’t know about other people there, unless they commented on one of my posts to that aspect.

Next to Kevin Kleinman and xoen in that Get Satisfaction thread, I think that I should be given an option to allow people which I put into the same aspect to discover each other.  
Or, as Andrew Famiglietti said there, maybe I should be given an option to introduce people in my aspect to each other. 
I think that rather be a default option, because as soon as a person in my aspect comment on my post, this person will be visible to all other people in that aspect anyway. We're not going to hide people's names on their comments from other members of an aspect, are we?

(It'll be nice to have some graphical representation (graph) showing which people are connected and what they can see. To use HTML5 Canvas?)

Discoverability is a critically important feature for social network to grow naturally. We discussed it thoroughly on Buzz, which still doesn't have enough discoverability.
One way to improve discoverability of people is to have an automated suggestions, based on common interests (hash, keywords in aspect names and/or in posts), on a number of people who follow certain person. Twitter excels in doing that. 
Another way of improving discoverability is a good search - discoverability of topics.
Yet another way seems to be a Wall (Front page) which displays most popular (with most comments, with most "likes") posts. Chris Land is constantly advocating for such a feature on Buzz.

Finally, Buzz and, I believe, Facebook have one important advantage over Diaspora: I can post publicly and such a post will have its own permanent URL and will be searchable by Google. I believe for Diaspora to grow it should include similar functionality.

Please comment this post on Google Buzz and/or on Amplify. No link to Diaspora post possible, as I just explained.

Update: I was wrong. Diaspora does allow public posts with permanent URLs visible for non-members. Interestingly, it looks like comments made to public posts are not visible for outsiders. Look at this post I made on Diaspora:  It is visible for people with no Diaspora account, but there are no comments. However corresponding internal post has a comment: