Web Service Envy

I discover things on the internet. That is, I think, a very large portion of what it’s for. I follow links and links to links and repeatedly refresh an RSS reader once every five minutes. But there are so many places to look, so many environments to feel out, so many services to pick from that I agonize forever over all of the choices.

Sometimes I wonder, why can’t we all just have one service for The Internet? Take a look at this wonderful array of icons I bumped into during geography research! (Images are an extremely important way of engaging one’s audience, but I’m not using a screenshot so you won’t be tricked into trying to click on them and because it looks cooler. Hence the awesome horizontal artifacts.)
[A badly taken picture of a box of icons for too many sharing services]

But of course, it’s competition between them, and it makes everybody try harder and sometimes specialize, which is great for the consumers. Cue Adam Smith’s so-called invisible hand. (See right now I have the privilege of citing any social studies jargon under the pretense of “Hey, I used something from school in my everyday life! LOL”, but in maybe five years it becomes incontrovertibly snobbish-nerdy. Oh well, I’ll enjoy this while it lasts.)

Here, I’ll point them out for you: the top three are Twitter, Google+, Facebook, which is possibly the least intuitive order possible (to me, but I’m not a very heavy link-sharer, mostly because most of the stuff I discover is interesting to about zero other people in my immediate social circle.) The bottom row consists of Facebook, Twitter, good ol’ email, del.icio.us, Digg (hmph), Google Bookmarks, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Technorati, Yahoo! Buzz (dead), Blogger, MySpace (!?!?), and the good ol’ RSS feed.

(…no WordPress (surprisingly?). What have I done?)

The AddThis widget you might see on certain websites (*cough* AoPS blogs !?! *cough*) claims to have 317 of these services. I’m not sure if that’s counting the 11 it shows you right away, but obviously it doesn’t matter, the world is overflowing with services and everybody uses something different, which is a pain in the neck when it comes to trying to interact with people. Especially for me because I think about them for two weeks before choosing one.

Why are these choices so difficult to make? I don’t like throwing around my email and handle around at random parties (surprise!). I know that after I make the choice, I can always go back and sign up for the other one. The cost of a migration climbs slowly as I continue on my journey through life and the internet, but I will always be tempted to look over the other site’s frequently asked questions again, compare features, see what everybody else can do with those niche options I happen to be missing. Why do I need to look at my blog and then at Tumblr (oh look xkcd made a joke about them, therefore something must be going on over there), trying to convince myself that the type of platform I was looking for was different, and then that those people at Tumblr aren’t “real” “bloggers” in whatever cherry-picked sense of the term I am thinking of? Why must I drag myself through the differences when I know most of them couldn’t matter at all to me?

Then, after another bout of surfing, I discover this guy who posts about people exclaiming about how simple and nifty his blog is: every post is nothing but a static file with a minimal stylesheet, loading in the blink of an eye. Then I read about the discussion talking about various ways to implement a static file server, instead of having to have a zillion mappings between URL slugs and posts, along with tags and categories and bloated riffraff, or what I have here. I learn about Jekyll and Octopress—techie blogging via the terminal, still with all the bells and whistles, but fully hackable—and wonder what I’m missing out on here, what customization or cool tricks I could pull off, how unbearably awesome it would be to use this computer with Vim key bindings everywhere. I admire simplicity too; why did I think highly enough of my skills to go to the labor to produce such an elaborate banner for a single-digit-viewer blog that takes five seconds to load? Five seconds is plenty enough to cause cognitive drift, and that’s under my reasonably stable internet! That’s not even mentioning me wondering if I should get a Twitter account, because of hearing about this other cool finalist game in the news that might or might not be pushed along by having one.

Juggling these accounts quickly leads to stuff about passwords. Yes, insecure passwords are all too common and password reuse is dangerous. Hey, at least I’m not using 12345678 (what is with people who do this?) But yes, I have a good deal of accounts and passwords to remember: right now, twenty-four such pairs recorded, and no, they’re not all different. I’m forced to write down memory trigger so I don’t get tripped up by so many associations. Maybe I should start using a password manager! The tech crowd seems pretty crazy about LastPass. But I have plenty of time to select a right password to remember and still feel safer actually knowing what’s locking up my stuff without the dependency, so I’ll keep using my system. For now.

A couple days ago I spent the evening dose of procrastination on looking for information on whether switching to Google+ would be a good idea. Those +1 buttons now share (no pun intended) every freaking awkward place along with the Facebook like buttons. In fact I’m pretty sure they recently redesigned that 24-by-16-pixel large button (yes, I measured it; pretty typical dimensions, I think), from its original Google-colors-clumped-together to a red-on-gray icon.

Social networking is big to the web giants because people spend most of their surfing time on those websites. Apparently the time a typical user spends on Facebook beats that of on Google, Yahoo, and two other sites I don’t remember all added together. People Google stuff all the time, but there isn’t as much content on the results page as in the results themselves. So, if Google+ gets to hijack this transition period in user experience, they win big. That’s what I’ve gathered from, er, Googling the matter. I guess I don’t need another social network… yet.

I have been not-quite-consciously thinking of myself as not a big Facebook user for a while, although I actually to check it regularly and am now commenting in nontrivial amounts. I know that around a year ago in the dark ages of prednisolone-vincristine-epirubicin-asparaginase induction I was desperate for this stuff, even falling to the level of planting and harvesting virtual artichokes in a four-day cycle. But now, although I’m never bored to that sort of limit, even though I enjoy playing Name the Cognitive Bias with my feed more than actually taking in all the media in it, I do have Facebook as one of these major input ports of information.

Why do we need notifications so badly? Why do we naturally let the world suggest, coax, persuade us to do what they want us to do? Why does my web experience consist of constantly checking about five notification chokepoints in turn every minute? This is all the information diet coming back at ya. First and foremost, I’m a sink of information on the web here; I’m guessing most people are. It’s easy, but there is nothing to accomplish, no human innovation or excellence.

So here I am, trying to produce content to nobody in particular. Bummer.

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