Archive for the ‘web’ Category
In the course of yamming and tweeting about a bugbear of mine, I've realised I have enough to say to make a blogpost.
The bugbear is people who want bespoke websites for short-lived projects
Or, anyway, people saying yes to them without asking pertinent questions.
As I wrote to someone else earlier today: '"Wanting their own site" is a big, big, MAJOR tendency of which I would like to break a great many production teams, programme and otherwise.'
Simply put: I find it futile and annoying how much web design and site-building goes into promoting events that'll last a month, or in some cases, a day. The event, and hence the usefulness of the site, is ephemeral, while the site just sits somewhere afterwards, forever or until it falls prey to a deletion quota.
Why this stuff annoys me
This annoys me particularly because, of all the discrete "websites" I've worked on that went on to live somewhere on bbc.co.uk, many of them in my opinion should not have existed.
On /religion I worked on bespoke programme pages, because at the time (i.e. before /programmes standardised programme pages) this was what was done. It resulted in a lot of lavish sites that nobody now visits. One such example was The Passion, which has been moved to /programmes but whose old bespoke site remains. Look at all that stuff. Galleries, audio clips, articles – all made for a week-long programme broadcast one Easter. It could expect a repeat or two on subsequent Easters, and then? Out to pasture. All that really nice design and build work (CW, BB, PMS: my bribes go to the usual locker number) for a site that was of public interest for far less time than it took to make.
That's fixed now for programme sites, as I said. Each episode now gets its own automatically-generated page on /programmes, which page the programme production team can themselves update with any extra material they care to add. Some get customised page colours and banners, but in general most of the layout and design remains the same as on other programme pages – as it should.
But I also worked on some campaign or event sites. Some were for non-BBC events that we'd publicise for public interest, like the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, or World Youth Day (an annual Catholic event). Some were campaigns run by local radio and similar low-budget departments, and were cases in which we'd make a site or page for them because they couldn't afford to. One more prominent example was a large site, with its own top-level directory, for Liverpool '08, when that city was Capital of Culture. It was updated weekly while the event went on. Now? Oops indeed; at time of blogging it doesn't even have a mothball banner.
So, after National Buy a Book For a Cow day was over, we'd end up with a site sitting orphaned somewhere on bbc.co.uk – because while it's bad manners to leave 404s (I'm not sure if 410s are seen as similarly impolite), the site had outlived its usefulness as soon as the ephemeral event was past. With luck someone would remember to mothball this. (If I still have FTP access I might see about doing so for Liverpool '08…)
The problem is that we haven't seen a solution similar to /programmes for websites specific to events ("ephemerals", as I keep wanting to call them for some reason). Actually there sort of is a solution (see next section), but it doesn't seem to be enforced: I still see a few custom sites getting built.
Can't we put a lot of these things on Things To Do?
The BBC has a section called Things To Do, which is geared up to present events that happen at specific times in specific places. Actually I'd never seen Things To Do before @r4isstatic mentioned it today, and when I saw it I thought it was pretty ace and wondered why it isn't being used for a lot of these campaigns and events. You get the design and layout ready-made, space for a nice big picture if you really must have your own set of branding (a separate rant entirely!), things like maps and related events all added for you, and your event stays in a huge back archive, easy to find when you want to refer to it. Why would you reinvent the wheel?
I suspect the answer may be that bugbear: production teams may not understand the web that well, and they want their own site. The problem is that they get it. In the BBC these days you can't just be given a bespoke site without someone giving you permission, and I don't think the permission should necessarily be granted. In my view there are only a few cases – Children in Need, for example, is a perfectly legitimate example that is heavily promoted across the BBC and reoccurs annually – in which a big custom-made site is appropriate. The rest should go through a sort of common-sense test and most of them should be refused.
Questions I'd ask
Here are some questions that I would put to any team that asked for their own bespoke site.
- Why do you want your own site? (will give an idea of how much they understand the web)
- What lasting value will it have?
- Will people still visit the site in two years' time? ("no" answer = automatic refusal)
- Would it sit appropriately on an existing BBC system, like /programmes, /showsandtours, /thingstodo, News, Blogs…? ("yes" answer = it gets built on that system, not as a new site)
- Is it infringing on the purpose of another site on bbc.co.uk? ("yes" answer = automatic refusal)
- For example, is it a site about World Animal Taxonomy Day, which would clash with Wildlife Finder? If so, it gets put on /thingstodo or similar and promoted by Wildlife Finder.
I think that kind of approach would help to organise the way in which we commission sites and cut down the number of ephemerals sitting mournfully where nobody can find them. It would save all that wasted time, effort and budget, which sounds like a pretty good thing at the moment.
So I was idly tweeting with another online writing enthusiast, David Ball of Ongoing Worlds…
David: (to someone else about a different writer) I think he's got multiple characters in his head
Herm: Oh boy do I know THAT feeling. :)
David: Do you have multiple personalities? Or do you just mean you write about lots of characters? Or are they both the same thing?1
Herm: My characters are a lively bunch, but when it comes down to it, everyone is certain who's the writer and who the puppets. :)
David: Have you ever known a player who uses his name for the character? I always thought that was weird.
Herm: Not as such. Known people, self included, who use character names as their screen names. Can be warning sign but not always.
Herm: I knew one guy who invented a race of super-elves and used the species name as his handle. He also really thought he was one.
David: Haha let me guess they were better and much more powerful than normal Elves? Was he a god modder?
Herm: He tried so hard not to be a powergamer while his immortal psychic swordsman interacted with everyone else's humanoids… ;)
Herm: He was a good writer and a good friend for a while but he just couldn't play a human. When he did, it BECAME an immortal elf.
David: oh god! He should have read my article about god modding https://ongoingworlds.wordpress.com/…
David: So what's the different between a god modder and a powergamer? Is it just a different term for the same thing?
Herm: Yes, as I understand them. But I've seen others say "godmodding" to mean "writing another's character w/o permission".
David: Ahhh, good point it does also mean that. Maybe i'll do a follow-up article to distinguish the two
By which time I'd already decided to do a bloggy ramble myself.
First off, and tangentially: maybe it's just because I'm an old-timer, but we always said "godmode"/"godmoding", not "godmod"/"godmodding". I always assumed the etymology2 was "someone whose character is overpowered to a degree inappropriate to the setting – like using a God Mode cheat on a video game"3. Possibly the urge to rhyme won out in popular parlance. God-mod. Mod-nod-plod-oddsbodikins.
I say I say I say, what's personal, enjoyable and best done in private?
Of course you can be a good writer and also have the powergaming flaw, just like you can be a nice person but incredibly obnoxious when you're with more than two or three people. Some of us are naturally more suited to solo writing: after all, the protagonist or antagonist of a novel can be comparatively overpowered without tripping the same Mary Sue alarm in the reader, and without having to worry about discourtesy to the other writers.
So, if writing about immortal planet-building elves is your bag, and more importantly if it's your only bag and not shared by your friends, perhaps it's best bagged in private. That way you can use both hands and it's less messy.
All the same, if someone really wants to play with others, I won't say they shouldn't. (It helps if they're into it with the right reasons or attitude, which I'll cover later.) But that does come with a certain expectation of communication, cooperation and gentlefolkly behaviour towards all writers involved.
Communication is a perennial problem in roleplaying games and I can't offer any advice beyond the obvious: do it. Do lots of it. Chat around the roleplay; chat about things you liked or didn't understand. Make yourself approachable and encourage questions or requests from others. And act on what you hear.
In extreme cases, yes, that may even mean making your precious character behave out-of-character in order not to distress another writer who may have some personal issues of his/her/their own. (If you're a good roleplayer who can think on your feet, even this can be avoided very easily. "Suddenly Cecil dropped his fork and had to stop talking for a moment." Done.)
The writer I mentioned earlier on had a degree of my own social impairment and didn't grok that. It was overridingly important to him to be true to himself, and his characters were too personal to him for an accommodation like that to be thinkable.
I think a lot of roleplaying etiquette problems stem from people taking either their characters or their writing skills over-personally.
One of the two of us is real. On balance, I don't think it's the guy with the wand of fireballs.
I've recently been involved with a fan roleplay for the first time ever. During that I've come across people with different opinions about how a character should behave. The person playing that character reacted in a very upset fashion to criticism along the lines of "I think that was out-of-character for him", describing it as the most hurtful thing it was possible to say to a roleplayer.
I don't agree with that. Between two fans of a series, what is in or out of character in any uncanonical situation is a judgement call, and just because one of the two fans is actually roleplaying the character in question, their opinion doesn't override that of someone else who likes the series. Of course, where one person's opinion does override the other is in the course of that particular roleplay – the character from the series 'belongs' to each of you, but the fan iteration of him is being played by one of you, and that's who has the final say about whether he ends up hanging from a bridge.
If you feel the game is wandering so far off track that it's no longer enjoyable for you, the other choice is to leave as amicably as possible, which the other player ended up doing. Their parting comments, although expressed fairly politely, were what caused that strong reaction from the player who felt accused of OOCness – and that strong reaction caused alarm bells for me.
As well it might. I've been guilty of the same.
Lessons can be learned. Blame can be shouldered. (With a smile!)
I'll take a fairly recent example. The vast majority of what I write and roleplay is original fiction, not fan stuff. When someone described a character of mine as (paraphrased) an arrogant know-it-all, I was very upset. Now, this could be an understandable reaction from a writer who had been trying to play the character as approachable and humble as well as highly intelligent: after all, essentially the comment signified that I'd failed to do this, which was a straightforward failure in my writing skills.
But being honest, I couldn't separate that from feeling hurt more personally. The character in question began as a bit of silly wish-fulfillment – a villainous Gary Stu, if you will. I've developed him over years into something I, while trying not to be presumptive, think is much more of a rounded and realistic fellow than he used to be, complete with healthy differences in outlook from his writer's. But still, unlike other characters of mine where I would take criticism of their personality flaws with humour and often agreement (and even secret glee that I as a writer have expressed those flaws well), with this one character there's still that bit of personal resentment that insists my friend is criticising me.
But it's a childish bit of personal resentment, and it's wrong.
It's not that I think the character's perfect – indeed he's deliberately far from it – but I suppose arrogance is an accusation that hits close to the bone for me personally. My upset was understandable, certainly, but it was wrong. And it needed putting in its place. After a bit of weeping and angsting and canvassing my other friends saying "Do I really write Suitov as arrogant, baw haw?" I got over it. I'm still not sure if I accept the criticism as it was stated, because the collective feeling was far from unanimous, but when I write the character now I bear it in mind. With any luck, Suitov is less likely to be taken as arrogant these days than he was before.
A point to all of this. I know I had one.
Pairs of things.
Authors do take their characters personally, that much is obvious, but it's (a) not a positive trait and (b) not an immutable fact. Nobody is stuck with a thin skin. Part of playing with others means, to put it brutally, jolly well blowing one's nose and growing a pair. Whether breasts, balls or whatever secondary sexual appendages we neuters get to have, when you play with others you will either end up growing a pair of something or you'll always fail to fit in anywhere without upset.
If you don't want criticism, you can always write your novel, send it off and then prepare yourself for the possible shock of your life when you hear back from the slush pile editor. That's cool. Many people work best that way. Writing solo is a different kind of writing, as we've covered above.
But, if you've chosen to roleplay with others for fun, you will need to accept the basic tenet that fun needs to be had by all writers involved.4 They're not there to carry you or stroke your ego. They're not there purely to set up really cool lines for your character to say.5 You're all there with the aim of forming a kind of gestalt lulz machine, cranking out fun and jollies for all in the vicinity.
Happy pretendy funtimes.
To finish with, I could do a lot worse than to link you all to the legendary article entitled Internet Drama and You. Even if you just skimmed my lengthy post here, I urge you to read Wade's in full. It's funnier than this one and it's written by another Deadpool fan. If that hasn't yet convinced you to read it, it also has ILLUSTRATIVE PICTURES. Come on! I mean, pictures!
1 I could deal at a bit of length with the similarities and differences between dissociative identities and being a writer, but that's not the topic of this post. I know some multiples number among my friends, so as a courtesy to me, no flaming David for his well-meaning curiosity. :) (Or, frankly, anyone.)
2 Yes, I do theorise uncontrollably about etymology. For someone lacking a classical Greek and Latin education, I'm weirdly interested in the epidemiology of words. I put this down to two of the racial flaws I took at character creation, "Half English Teacher" and "Half Geek", which infused my genes with two hefty doses of pedantry. Come to think of it, even as a toddler I wouldn't say a new word until I knew how it was spelled.
3 Wikipedia has more about God Mode and debug modes. Even modern video games use this term sometimes. The command console in Oblivion, for example, toggles god mode with "tgm".
4 But not necessarily all characters involved, of course. (Sorry, Weft.)
5 There's an element of that, of course, but Crowning Moments of Awesome, Snarkitude or Being the Universe's Butt Monkey are there to be shared – appropriately, according to character type. Two badass characters in play means two characters who both need to be given scenes that express their badassery.
I've been eager for more news about this proof-of-concept project, now called the Mythology Engine, because I'm enchanted by the idea behind it.
The Mythology Engine is envisioned as a guide to stories on the web: a database of characters, places and, crucially (the most unusual bit) events in fiction and drama.
Now, in its complete form this would be a paradise for pedants and canon geeks, but it can be a lot more than that. The ideas is that the site would let you (points quoted from the introductory blog post):
- Catch up on stories you've missed
- Explore stories and characters and help you understand plots and relationships
- Find the stories you are looking for and share your favourite moments or characters
That's right. In addition to solving arguments, giving you ideas for what episodes to watch to see more of your favourite character or showing you what she meant by "This is exactly what you did last time!", this site could be the most advanced, most thorough spoiler experience ever created. (Naturally, however, the pages are in fact very polite in hiding spoilers.)
The proof-of-concept, unsurprisingly, uses Doctor Who. Not just because it's popular, but also because a show whose central theme is time travel ought to be an especial challenge to represent in a sensible form. See what they've come up with…
The bad news: as I've said, this is just a proof-of-concept and I don't know that there are any plans to make a full version.
Good stories with rich worldbuilding always make me happy, but it doesn't have to be speculative fiction.
Here's an example of online storytelling that is wonderful (and has a powerful message or three).
Smokescreen is a free-to-play online game, made by some folks called Six to Start along with Channel 4. It has a very clever plot. And, as of the latest episode, it even has a resident music video (which is part of one of the episode's puzzles).
It's lovingly put together with the kind of attention to detail that pours out of the Grand Theft Autos and the Oddworlds of this gaming world.
(Drafted before I posted the prev entry, delayed until I was sure the recipient had seen the picture.)
Eye candy first! Here is Mai (800×600, 63Kb)
Not much to say about this one. I wasn't kidding when I remarked to Ree that she's about the only person in the world for whom I would possibly consent to draw a Japanese1 World of Darkness2 catgirl3…
I'm still getting used to the new admin interface in WP 2.7. The "write post" screen feels more cramped in its default-ish layout, but I'm already loving being able to hide such things as the useless 'post slug' field (I just use numbers; I hate wordy URLs. They smack of shameless SEO and are untidy), and to drag my less-used options somewhere out of the way.
I think I'll rearrange it further to get it down to two columns, so I'll have a bigger text entry field. The "Media" field is calling me to
take a look into its eyes post stupid audio or video entries. Maybe…
edit: Hang on. I'm mighty angry that wpuntexturize has disappeared. I loathe WP's auto curly quote behaviour, and the only replacement I've found that works requires you to add a custom field to every post. I'll try reinstalling wpuntexturize and see if it works… (edit2: Seems to, after I edited it manually to add ellipsis to its array of things to un-replace. Why they don't let you turn the loathesome texturize behaviour off in the first place is a mystery to me. WordPress fail.)
1 (Note for new readers and silly literalists: I don't really have a beef with Japan or the Japanese. I know next to nothing about Japan – except, naturally, for a good bit about Shinto and Buddhism, which goes with the job. No, my beef is with the good people of Wapan… who also know pretty little about the Japanese, but that doesn't stop them.)
2 (Another note for new readers: I definitely do, however, have a beef with White Wolf. GTFO of my mythology.)
I promise after this we'll hear enough about microformats for today. I've found myself referring to my own posts on this, so I've created a microformats tag and am making this post with blank forms that I can copy and paste at work.
Blank hCard template for company
<span class="fn org">
<span class="extended-address"></span>, <span class="street-address"></span>,
<span class="locality"></span>, <span class="postal-code"></span>
Blank hCard template for individual
<span class="fn n">
<span class="title role"></span>,
Phone: <span class="tel"></span><br />
Email: <a href="mailto:" class="email"></a>
Consider this an informal licence to use these templates for whatever you like. No credit or link required; point folks at my posts on microformats if you think they'll be helpful.
(If you use them for a site or page that is pro-religion or is about sex, alcohol, smoking, cruel treatment of animals, or disreputable or illegal activities, please don't link back!)
Another few tricks with hcards.
These guys' details are freely available on the web, so I hope they'll forgive me for using them as examples.
Paul Rodgers, Editor, 6 Music
Phone: (020) 7765 4763
When someone's email address contains their organisation's full name, it'd be churlish to refuse the opportunity, and no little thing like lower-case letters is getting in my way.
A couple of points to note in our first example:
- Paul's job title also includes the department he works for (well, controls, actually). That's fab, since it lets us kill two cats with one ballbearing.
- You'll also notice a big
orgspan, which has to encompass his department (
organization-unit) and company name (
organization-name) and a bunch of other stuff.
- I'm hoping this is ok semantically. As I understand it, when both unit and name are specified, anything else should be ignored; and indeed, exporting to Notepad through Operator shows that it seems to have been interpreted correctly.
Paul Rodgers, Editor, 6 Music
Phone: (020) 7765 4763
Robert Gallacher, Editor, Planning & Station Sound
Phone: (020) 7765 4373
And Robert's department isn't stated here, so we'll just mark it up as a role, which is easier. The
org span can now go just around the letters BBC:
Robert Gallacher, Editor, Planning & Station Sound
Phone: (020) 7765 4373
Please note the date on this entry. It could well be that these people's details are no longer accurate. View them as examples only.
To see and use microformats in Firefox you currently need a suitable extension. If they get wide uptake, though, expect that to change.
(It's such fun updating this old site. Once you get used to the tables and can skim through them blindly, at least.)
An hCard microformat worked example
Both of those were less than 100% helpful in marking up some of the addresses I was doing today, though, so here's an example of a fully marked-up company name and address with some tricky bits.
(This address is available freely on the web and was the first example I had to hand, unsurprisingly.)
In this example the address needs to show up as "BBC Media Management Scotland, Zone 1.02, Pacific Quay, Glasgow".
With microformats you can't put information in attributes (so you can't do
<span class="org" address="1 Balloon Street">Company</span> or similar). All the text you want to mark up has to be there, displayed on the page.
That's a problem. There is no post code here.
Well, I found an incomplete post code for Pacific Quay, Glasgow on the web. G51—that's enough to help your mapping software out, at least. How to include it without making it visible? I just cheated and told the browser to hide it:
<span class="postal-code" style="display:none">G51</span>
Similarly to the post code, the country (Scotland) is not shown separately. This time it's because the page is only aimed at people in Scotland, so it would look patronising and possibly US-centric at worst, merely bloated at best. So much for the site visitors, but mapping sites are almost all American and will assume the country is America unless told differently. Well, I could add another hidden span here, but wait a second. What was that organisation name again? BBC Media Management Scotland. There's a usage of the word that already exists, ready for me to throw my
The full organisation name, then. There isn't actually a company called called "BBC Media Management Scotland". "Media Management Scotland" is a subdivision of "BBC". A human reader will grok that, and with microformats we can get the computer to grok it too.
<span class="fn org"><span class="organization-name">BBC</span> <span class="organization-unit">Media Management Scotland</span></span>
Or with the extra country-name:
<span class="fn org"><span class="organization-name">BBC</span> <span class="organization-unit">Media Management <span class="country-name">Scotland</span></span></span>
And yes, you need to add both
org for it to understand that this is the name of an organisation. hcards were set up for people and
org really refers to the company at which the named person works.
The address is fairly straightforward except for that "Zone 1.02". Experimenting with Google Maps, I found that "Zone 1.02, Pacific Quay" turned up no results, even with the country name and partial post code included. "Pacific Quay" on its own does turn up the correct result. I could just not mark up Zone 1.02, leaving Pacific Quay as the full street address. But that's changing reality to please Google or Multimap, which is dumb, and besides would be unhelpful to your readers if they want to export the full address, say to print some labels.
Luckily hcard microformats have a class called
extended-address, I discovered after some digging. The examples I found used it for things like room or flat numbers in a building. That'll do.
<span class="extended-address">Zone 1.02</span>, <span class="street-address">Pacific Quay</span>
I think that's all the tricky stuff in this example.
<span class="fn org">
<span class="organization-unit">Media Management Scotland</span>
<span class="extended-address">Zone 1.02<span>, <span class="street-address">Pacific Quay</span>,
<span class="locality">Glasgow</span> <span class="postal-code" style="display:none">G51</span>
Naturally, you'd want to remove the whitespace to get it to display inline without unsightly gaps around the commas. And you could replace the outermost
span with a
div to make it block-level.
UK legal name change by deed poll – a DIY guide.
Nice site, so I'm doing my bit to get it up Google. If you want to change your name, do it there.
If you use this, please fix the typo in "substitution" ("subsitution") under point 1. I've notified the site owner and they're fixing it. (Now fixed.)
To-night… I'm gonna have myself… a real good name.