A Modest Proposal

One that doesn’t involve eating children. But I’ll still keep this nasty, short, and relatively brutal.

I suggest that any website, blog, news provider, etc. that accepts comments from its readers, institute a tiered system for submitting, and displaying reader comments.

In short, people wishing to submit a comment on a story should be required to submit a sample comment to one of a series of sample questions. The samples would then be graded (a job for the Mechanical Turk?) based upon criteria such as spelling, grammar, logical reasoning, humor, and general literary value. Obvious nonsense, spam,  and/or plagiarism would receive a grade of “F” – and would be barred from submitting. Higher grades (and, for arguments sake, we’ll use the standard US educational system of A through D for the rest) would then allow the comment’s posts to be submitted.

People wishing to read comments on the website could then specify the “grade level” of commenters they wished to view. 

For various reasons, it makes a certain amount of sense for grade levels to rise (and fall) with the passage of time. for instance, a reader whose initial grade was relatively high, but whose subsequent comments failed to maintain a certain standard, could be submitted for review – and relegation – to a lower standard. There would be a mechanism by which a commenter whose initial grade failed to meet their expectations could, after a certain length of time, resubmit in hopes of raising their grade.

I do not know how technologically, or economically sound this proposl might be. But I sure am sick and tired of paging through hundreds of pages of inane nonsense, in order to find the few gems posted by people who know how to string two sentences together.

Focus Groups: Missing The Forest

The tech. blogosphere is awash with wailing and gnashing of teeth over the iPad. No built in camera. No support for Flash. No USB ports.

Obviously Steve Jobs and the people at Apple didn’t set up focus groups of technology-savvy geeks before designing the iPad.

I’d argue that when it comes to introducing great new technology, a focus group of any sort, let alone tech-savvy geeks, is probably the worst sort of tool you can use to determine what features to put in your product. There is an old joke about a camel being a horse designed by a committee. And for tech. products this is surely true.

The fact of the matter is consumers in general don’t always know what they want in a product. If someone had asked, back in 1983, what computer buyers wanted – very few, if any, would have said anything at all about a mouse, or a graphical user interface. And the ability, someday, to watch TV shows, listen to music, edit photographs, or connect wirelessly with a quarter of the world’s population was far beyond what 99% of people could even conceive of.

Why doesn’t the iPad have a camera, a USB port, or support for flash? Because it doesn’t need them. Some people think they might want them. But putting these “features” in the iPad would have made it cost more. Made it more susceptible to viruses or hacking. Burned up more battery power.

Multitasking is overrated

I’m often intrigued by people complaining about the lack of multi-tasking on devices like the iPhone and new iPad. Frequently these rants include more than one mis-spelled word. Since the rants were almost always written on devices that – at the very least – permit the author to check the spelling of his work while working on a document, it suggests to me that these believers in the value of doing two things at once aren’t actually that good at doing one.

We’ve become a society of multi-taskers. New laws in European countries and many US states are aimed at restricting, and in some cases outright banning, of the use of text-messaging devices while driving. (As an aside, I notice an exemption from most such US regs. for law enforcement officers. Is this really necessary?)

From the standpoint of the Apple devices (iPhone, iPad) the complaints are not strictly true. You can do two things at once: You can listen to iTunes music (or podcasts, audiobooks, etc.) while using most other applications – although obviously, applications that make extensive use of sound are probably not a good idea.

Doesn’t this limited-multitaking model actually mimic what works best in the real world? I think most people can safely drive a car (in most circumstances) while listening to the car’s stero. Its when we try and perform other, more mentally demanding, tasks while driving that we run into trouble.

One complaint I read came a day after the annual State of the Union speech. The commenter complained that with the Apple devices, he would be unable to upload to his Twitter account while simultaneously watching  feeds on his iPad/iPhone. Its going to take an awful lot to convince me that this is a bad thing.

Please be quiet

Main Entry: 1ya·hoo

Pronunciation: \ˈyā-(ˌ)hü, ˈyä-\
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural yahoos
Date: 1726

1 capitalized : a member of a race of brutes in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels who have the form and all the vices of humans
2 [influenced by 2yahoo] : a boorish, crass, or stupid person

ya·hoo·ism \-ˌi-zəm\ noun

Yesterday, Apple announced the (long-awaited, almost mythological) iPad portable media device.

And was promptly greeted with an almost deafening cacophany of scorn and derision from the vast majority of online “commenters.”

Now, by “commenter” I do not speak of people who are actually paid to review technology products. The David Pogues and Jesus Diaz’s of the world. People with some actual writing skill and training. I’m talking about the vast army of unpaid cretins who think that the world is just dying to hear their particular take on a product they’ve never actually seen in person, nor laid a hand upon.

These geniuses tell us what an awful product the iPad is. It doesn’t have a camera. (It doesn’t have TWO cameras!) It doesn’t support flash. It doesn’t multitask. Its only going to be bought by those too dull-witted to be running Linux on their self-built $250 netbook. I see the word “sheeple” used a lot: As if anyone who buys an Apple product is so gullible that they  can be gulled into buying whatever Steve Jobs and apple come up with.

To which I would say: Please, just shut up.

There are two sets of people with skill sets I’m interested in hearing from: People with the technical knowledge and resources to actually create things like the iPad. And people with the writing skills to objectively analyze and describe them.  The vast majority of “commenters” on blogs, technology columns, websites, etc. simply use the space provided to them to pour out whatever ridiculous prejudices and agendas that happen to be floating around their empty heads.

The problem with virtually all online “comments” is that the people making the comments bear no responsibility for what they write. If David Pogue makes a wild, unsubstantiated claim that is later proven to be fundamentally wrong – then he will pay the price. His credibility, and hence his livliehood, will suffer. And as a result, he has a built-in incentive to be objective in his writing.