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muhuk's blog

Nature, to Be Commanded, Must Be Obeyed

October 16, 2008

My Little Distractions

I am not one of hyper-connected people who uses ten different micro-blogging services and maintains their profile in six different social networks and, just for the old times sake, frequents in certain forums. No, I’d rather just finish my work and then if I have time I can read a blog post or two (play). But most of the time I have my IRC client (#fazlamesai @ irc.freenode.net) and Plurk open. For short distractions. I don’t have a very long attention span, and I need short distractions frequently or else I get a headache.

I think RSS is one of the most helpful tools of web. It is easy, efficient and non-distractive. If you choose who you follow well, you would have an endless flow of useful information. I think everyone should use RSS. If you are not already following any feeds, you can start with Fazlamesai (in Turkish) or Slashdot.

First thing IRC reminds me is thousands of people sitting in front of computers asking each other ASL? or doing some other useless small talk. Let me add almost none of those people in this picture knows for sure whether the others are actually who they say they are. And a significant number of them just fake their identity (such as a thirty nine year old guy impersonating a eighteen year old girl). Not a healthy environment. But if you can turn your head from all the fun these chat rooms offer you can find chat rooms, for example, where open source people gather and help each other. Just find and enter your favourite software’s chat room, #python, #firefox, #debian…

I started using Plurk, first becase I was curious about amix’s startup. Then I decided to stay a little longer to further analyze how they have integrated game elements in their application. Then I kept on Plurking to get to know the people (early adapters) and to witness the evolution of a social network. I still use Plurk almost everyday, because it gives you the feeling that it is working[1].

Plurk is a so-called persistent chat application. You can think of it as a cross-breed between instant messaging and e-mail. It is possible to carry on real-time conversations, but when you come back later you can still find (and participate) older discussions. I think you can do this with other micro-blogging applications (such as Twitter), at least with their desktop clients. With Plurk this is possible in the browser.

It is not just AJAX that makes Plurk an attractive service. It has an elegant and feature rich interface. Posts are laid out (horizontally) on a timeline that you can scroll with your mouse. When you click on one of the posts it expands itself down to show you the comments and other details. No page loads. You can also fully customize the interface, change the appereance, hide some elements, add new ones… If you check out Plurk, you will see it is designed to be fun.

I think introducing this fun element is very important. We don’t do micro-blogging because we need to, it doesn’t solve any of our everyday problems. We do it because we want to socialize and have fun. Fun is normally a product of social interaction. But if you can make the interaction itself fun as well, that is so much better. Plurk has badges and a karma system. Basically you earn karma if you plurk frequently and in quality. The more karma you earn the more you quirks you get, such as adding a profile title or unlocking smileys. Now, this may sound silly to you. Why should we care? Well, you might not care, but in general people do care. Playing is the first complex skill we have learned, so we have a natural tendency to play even in adulthood.

There is one last thing I would like to mention. I think this is important too, for a successfull web service. Plurk changes, (naturally) it changes in place, and it changes to conform your usage. One example for that is when I noticed the “US Elections 2008” tab. It just appeared next to “All Plurks”, “My Plurks”, “Private” tabs one day. That’s a nice thing. But, wait there’s more. The next day an X appeared on the right of that tab. Not being an U.S.A citizen I clicked it and the tab disappeared. Which is also nice. But, wait there’s even more. The next day the elections tab didn’t show up again. Nothing, fancy. Just as one would have expected. But very important. Does many of your everyday services pay special attention to details like this. Users do, at least in a sub-conscious level. It is like having a new piece of clothing and feeling that you have been happily wearing it for years. It just fits.

So, what was I saying? Little distractions. But you need to manage them. You want a short cool off period, not losing focus all together. Plurk is a nice nice service. IRC still has something to offer. RSS is the king for me. But I still have work to do now. Introducing distractions without proper discipline quickly turn into inefficiency.

[1]This deserves a post of its own.

If you have any questions, suggestions or corrections feel free to drop me a line.