The Google+ Conundrum

I’ve got a minor confession to make: I actually really like Google+. I wanted to like it before, but some of the features announced over the last couple of days coupled with the redesign have moved the service into the “this is a nice product” category.

I’ve even actually used it(!) to upload some photos I took whilst I was in Scotland recently and sent them to some family. It’s nice, and it works well. I like especially how the photo-sphere photos I’ve taken are displayed in a panorama-style, with the option to switch back to “normal”, and whilst the auto-correction was a little over-zealous on some photos, it generally worked very well (and made Scotland appear misleadingly sunny).

The big cycle the platform is stuck in at the moment is that nobody’s using it, so there’s no “social” or “network” and thus nobody’s using it. Whilst well-done features such as the new photo sharing may start to change that, there are still big flaws in the accessibility of the platform, and this mainly comes down to the Circles system.

Circles works in principle, just not in practice. The mix of public, partially public and private results in a system which is confusing for non-geeks and frustrating for geeks. With the aforementioned photos I uploaded, I was never entirely sure how I was sharing, and had to check my profile in a logged-out window to make sure I’d set sharing correctly.

That’s a big stumbling block and for the foreseeable future is going to prevent Google+ from becoming mainstream. It doesn’t make perfect sense to a mass-audience and thus a mass-audience isn’t going to be persuaded to make the switch.

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You don’t /have/ to be angry at the Daily Mail

Earlier this afternoon I got back from a lovely ten-day break with family in the small Scottish town of Dunoon. I’ve got a lot of family heritage there, and it was great to see the place everyone’s been talking about for so many years, and when it wasn’t raining, the scenery was really beautiful (when it is raining you can’t see the scenery).

Not having a laptop, I was entirely reliant on my phone for all technological access, and on the whole, that worked well. I was slightly too constant in my checking of the battery level at times, but once I got past the idea that “it’s actually fine if the battery runs out”, I was quite happy being computer-less.

As one would expect, I did a little bit of writing when I was away, and for that I used a bluetooth keyboard I got on Amazon for 10 quid. I didn’t spend long writing, but when I took a quick look over it earlier on, I was slightly amazed how much I’d written in not-very-much-time.

And then I stopped looking over what I’d written and went on Facebook.

And then I decided there wasn’t interesting on Facebook and checked Hacker News again.

This continued for a good twenty minutes or so until I realised I’d stopped being productive entirely. I don’t really like Facebook, and I’d been on Hacker News already, but the mere option to check them tempted me. Had this happened when I was writing this on my phone? Nope; the single-task, app based interface doesn’t allow for it. On the computer, though, the temptation’s there and I’m all over the place.

For me, the big problem is the “Speed Dial” that loads up every time I load a new tab. This lists a bunch of websites I visit frequently, and it results in me visiting Facebook every time I open a new tab cause the button’s there. Another one of my big speed dial time sinks is the Daily Mail.

Reading the Daily Mail generally just makes me angry, but it’s also just bizarrely intriguing and I’ll frequent it… frequently.

I didn’t go on it once when I was away, and you know what? I didn’t miss it at all. It’s now gone from Speed Dial, along with Facebook. I won’t be absent-mindedly clicking those any more, nor will I absent-mindedly wasting time on them.

You don’t have to be angry at the Daily Mail, right?

Down by the seaside


Today is Easter Sunday! I don’t go in much for religion… at all, really, but I’m not complaining about Friday and Monday Bank Holidays.

I’m also not complaining about having the chance to go down to the sea and visit my Aunt, who lives in a lovely cottage there. Her partner’s Father (or maybe Grandfather) built it by hand in the 1920s and it’s since evolved into a very homely home, complete with chickens and rolling countryside.

It always annoys me a little bit that the phone signal there is nonexistent, but once I’m over not being able to check Twitter and emails for vital updates, it’s quite nice to get away from it all for a bit.

And that’s kinda what I’m doing with this blog post. No drivel about driverless cars or phones pretending to be computers, just a nice thing for a change.

Great purchasing experiences

As you’ll know if you read my “main” site, WPShout, you can now download the lovely design which powers this blog, with the price start at free.

The design — Empty Spaces — is available as “pay what you want”, meaning anyone can download it and pay any amount they like. I’ll cover this in more detail over on Shout; I don’t wish to dissect my WordPress theme experiment here.

Instead, I’d like to focus on the practical hows of selling something like a simple WordPress theme. After reading about Nathan Barry’s experience with Gumroad a couple of months ago, I thought I’d give using it a shot. It looks simple, easy, effective and cheap, and it’s all of those things.

If you want to download Empty Spaces on WPShout, you just need to click the download button, which triggers Gumroad’s JS and loads an overlay where you can confirm your choice, select a price and input card details as necessary. Within a couple of clicks you’ll have the theme downloaded.

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Always On

Much has been said over the last week about EA’s horrendous launch of the new SimCity. As someone who enjoyed previous SimCities, I’ve been following the discussion that has followed the launch and I’m not writing this with the idea that I’m adding something fascinating and new to the discussion, rather, I’d like to look at the hows and whys.

We’ll start with a bit of backstory. The story here is pretty simple: EA, wary of the quantity of sales lost to piracy on previous PC-only releases such as Spore, set out to make a new version of SimCity, where the game was inherently tied to EA’s servers. The idea was by making the game an online game, piracy would be impossible as, well, you can’t pirate a rack of servers.

So far so reasonable; it’s fair enough for a firm investing huge amounts in a new title to want to protect itself from freeloaders and pirates. It makes business sense to do something like this, which — as far as I can tell — is the big problem here. What seems like a good idea in a boardroom isn’t necessarily a good idea when applied to the real world. In the case of the computer gaming industry, for example, the best options are often the most innovative ones.

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Productivity & Environment

I’ve done a lot of writing over the past couple of days; 3500 odd words as part of some work I was doing for Siobhan, 1500 for a WPShout article that’s scheduled for tomorrow and another couple of hundred outlining my plans to overhaul local election campaigning (don’t worry, though – I won’t bore you with the detail!).

I know that I write at a rate of around 900 words per hour, and for every hour of writing, there’s another twenty minutes researching. That all very quickly adds up, and for me at least it’s natural to look at ways to increase one’s productivity. Even if I can become 10 or 20% more efficient, it makes a huge difference. Mentally I find it hard to write more than twice a day; I split into ‘morning’ and ‘afternoon’ schedule mode even though with the two-and-a-half or so hours I need per bit of writing, there’s time for three bits to be written.

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Capitalism And Games That Are Hard

Last week I said this time around I’d write about the process of writing for Smashing Mag, which I still intend to do, but as you’re not my mother and can’t tell me what to do this week I’m going to write about something completely different! Hooray!

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had the immense pleasure of playing a couple of two lovely indie games on my shiny new phone, specifically Super Hexagon, which you can see above, and Cubes vs. Spheres. I picked both of these up for about £1 each (Super Hexagon was on sale for a short time) and I’ve enjoyed playing them since.

I like Super Hexagon especially because despite it’s crippling simplicity, it’s fucking impossible. And I like that. I like that a lot. The first time I played the game I think I lasted around three seconds before dying. The second time I played the game I think I lasted around four seconds before dying. The game has no mercy and makes no apologies for it, but that’s what makes it so great.

I’d really, really like to see more cute little indie games that I can play on the train; the Android and iOS marketplaces offer great ways to get games out to a huge number of people  relatively cheaply and easily and so one would think that’s entirely possible, yet…

…there’s a reason app stores tend to be dominated by big name studios; the studios are very good at producing very successful games because they know how to make a game successful. Indie developers? You can make the best game in the world, but if nobody knows about it, you’re stuffed. I’m assuming here that because I haven’t heard of the best game in the world, my theory stands firm.

My point remains, though. Large game studios need to guarantee a return on investment when they set out to make games. They have shareholders, investors and employees to look after. The guy who comes home and makes games after working at the office? He can afford to take risks because it’s not the end of the world if nobody plays his game.

I’d just like to hope that I do get to play your game, man who comes home after working at the office and makes games! I like your games.

Things That Just Work

We made it through January with one post a week! Hi-five, [Reader2]! I’m slightly concerned I’m writing these blog posts more because I said I would rather than because I have something to say, and it’s clear quality is suffering as a result, but I shall soldier on regardless.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m now the proud owner of a shiny new Nexus 4. Despite the very odd decision to make a phone people are going to inevitably frequently drop out of glass, I’ve so far been very happy with it.

The main reason I’ve thus far been happy with my shiny new bit of kit is that it just works. I’ve got everything set up the way I want it, and when I want it to do something, it does it without thinking too hard about it.

With apps like Tasker I’ve even streamlined and automated some of the more annoying problems that come with owning a smartphone; at night when I’m at home, it dims the screen and sticks the device in portrait when I’m using the browser, Twitter or Bacon Reader.

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Snow & Tradition

It’s been snowing the last couple of days which, asides from making getting anywhere extremely difficult, has also meant I went out and took the same pictures I always take whenever it snows, at the woods near my house.

It did feel like a little bit of a redundant trip when I marched out in the cold earlier to snap some pics as I’ve already got identical photos from years before, but it’s more like a tradition now, which makes it fine 😉

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