An Open Letter to TCNJ’s Social Software

I don’t know how you think the Alumni Social Networking web app is working out but I hope you are having the same problems I am having. On a pure usability stand point it’s badly designed. What I can talk about the most is the College Union Board neighborhood which I set up last summer as one of the few students in the system. Once I set it up there was no way to add events or add news. Now you might tell me that there is no way to add events for individual groups and that perhaps it is only a collection of events and news of people in the groups. I have no idea if that’s true or not because I’ve never figured out how to add either. There is also no CUB message board. how do you set one up? I have no idea.

I’ve liked the idea for College Social Software since I heard about it. The problem is that it’s so hard to navigate and is so frustrating that even I can’t stand using it. I certainly hope you don’t think it is a success. Just by watching the message boards and class notes it seems participation is lackluster. While you don’t need to compete with monster successes such as (If you haven’t researched other social networks I highly encourage you to do so.) you do need a enjoyable experience that is flexible to the users needs.

If I heard right you even pay for this horrible experience. My recommendation is to get rid of it. I think the people who would end up donating through the site would donate anyway as you must love the school to put up with the horrible social application. There is a great open source social software called Aroundme. Not only does it come with some beautiful graphic design but it is very easy to learn how to use. Completely written in php it should not be hard for small additions to be written by the IT staff of TCNJ.

I hope the social software can be improved soon. Other wise students will always turn to facebook and never take a second look at what you are offering.

Sincerely, Stefan Hayden

Browsershots: a quick review

One of the hard parts of web design is conditioning yourself to out put code that works in all browsers. I don’t know how many people can code web sites with out needing to check to see if the code actually works, but I am not one of those people. Searching the internet for solutions there are services to check how your page looks in other browsers but they are all rather expensive for little college graduates like me.

The other solution that some subscribe to is called the “Avoid the Cutting Edge” approach. For the most part I am appalled by this approach as I can not think of any other industry that advocates staying away from new and better ways of doing business. I feel an “Understand the Cutting Edge” is a better outlook to have. It’s important to know what the new technologies can do. Yet no matter how fancy a new feature might be if it does not work in the dominant browser (currently IE) then the feature is dead in the water. Though I am waiting for the “Killer App” that will propel Firefox to the forefront. Some where out there is an idea that can’t run on IE and if implemented for everyone else the mass exodus of IE would begin.

Until that killer app comes I will continue to push IE as far as it will go and will need all the help I can get checking to make sure my web pages work in every browser with out spending a fortune. A long time coming some one has finally started an open source project that let you see your site in different browsers. Browsershots works by letting you submit a URL and it renders out PNGs of what it looks like in different browsers. I’m unclear exactly how it works but from what I surmise it has a central server that dishes out jobs to people who are running the scrip on their computer similar to how Seti@Home works. I downloaded the script and tried to see if I could figure out how to run it off my dreamhost account but did not have any luck. The project is still in it’s baby stages, though it has already handled some very large hits from and the like. When you submit your link it gets put in a pool and it renders out PNGs which you view on their site. This is a very public way of testing websites and would especially be a problem for larger projects that need to be kept secret. It would be nice if there was an easier way to run it privately, which it says it can do but it is not documented well enough for me to figure it out. Perhaps it could use a wiki for documentation to help speed the writing up as I would love to run my own version.

While it tells you the stats that the PNG was rendered with next to the image it does nothing to help you with any display problems you might have. Perhaps it might be a pipe dream but it would be amazing if it pointed out likely problems that different browsers will have with the code (XHTML, javascript, CSS) that you have written. I ran in to my own error as I got the error shown below and can’t figure out why. I get it for both my site and the one I’m working on. Let me know if you figure the problem out because as of right now I’m stumped.

my stange error


I’ currently obsessed with Firefly. I had only heard about it and never actually saw it on TV. I only knew it as the quickly canceled sci-fi show that had some buzz to it. Of course if the show is canceled and no reruns are played the only way to see it is buy a forty-dollar plus DVD set or find a friend who already has (Gilmore Girls solved this problem making the first episode available on DVD).

I made the forty-dollar plunge with the patented college age “get it for Christmas” method. I’m going to try not to gush about the beautiful set, amazing actors, or deep storyline but it at least needs to be mentioned. The show is about a small band of strangers who become family as they try and survive. The story is mirrored in real life as the small, friendly fan base of Firefly rallied to save the show. Though the show did not to get to finish it’s 14 episode run the resulting after thought of a DVD by fox preceded to sell some 200,000 copies.

Those sales prompted the upcoming movie set to come out in September. With the low low price tag of 40 million Firefly has been free to market it self in more interesting ways. One of those ways has been showing unfinished versions of the film to the loyal fan base months before release in addition to a Firefox like grassroots publicity campaign. A 3 part comic is also coming that is written by Joss Whedon as well.

What will come of this world that has been created and is dieing to tell its story? If the fans have anything to say about it the film will result in the resurrection of the series in all its glory. And if you’re lucky you will not hear a peep from me until it’s announce return to TV has come.

My future in RSS – aka: FeedLounge

FeedLounge launched it’s alpha version (is that really a launch?) just days ago and it’s already generating a lot of buzz. From the sound of it I’m already preparing to make the switch. Reading others talk about rss I’m always surprised by the number of people who use desktop rss readers. As a college student (just graduated) I almost can not imagine that. Living in a world where I was up in campus life or the art labs for hours (or days) on end with out my rss reader handy is a painful thought. For these reason whenever I have been given a choice between desktop and web solutions I always chose web. Bloglines has served me in the way hotmail did the job in the 90s. Bloted, clumsey (ewww frames), hard to find help. I found the Bloglines’ help forum once and have never been able to find my way back to it since. I had hoped a quick redesign would have happened once Ask Jeeves bought it as several of google’s purchases seem to have undergone.

Bloglines was my first love and really introduced me to rss. I will never forget bloglines but I’ve been ready for a new rss relationship for a while now. I knew some one somewhere was working on a better solution and I think FeedLounge will be it.

AIGA’s Fresh Dialogue: Friendly Fire

Fresh Dialogue: Friendly FireAIGA’s Fresh Dialogue: Friendly Fire, which was their last event for the year and is the first AIGA event I have helped run, was a blast. Escorted by another TCNJer we quick found our selves out of place as all the SVA students seemed very well acquainted with the AIGA staff. Every one was very friendly and we ended up talking with some great people.

As an event it was fairly well planned. They had about 20 volunteers for an event that CUB would have only have had about 10. Mark Byron was well in control and used his large volunteer staff to good effect. He was able to cover a lot of bases that CUB would not have bother with like people at alternate entrances directing people to the correct one.

James Victore moderated and he is very colorful character but did not come across as the best moderator. At times he seemed unprepared though this maybe partly due to the odd nature of the talk. The 62 and the Crye Association (no site?) were not graphic design companies but more along the lines of industrial designers. I am all for the holistic approach to learning about design but James had a hard time bringing the conversation back to design. There was also little talk between the two groups till them end (at which point I had to go back up to get ready to sell books) about how The 62 kind of hates what the Crye Association does (a lot of military design).

Though it was less then a dialog and more of two sets of speakers talking in turn it was really interesting to see the work that both groups were doing. It nice to just be awear what others are doing with in the same industry as you even if you don’t have an interest in doing it your self.

Afterwards a lot of us went down to a very nice bar and hung out with the other volunteers, AIGA professional staff, and the presenters themselves. I’m not really a bar person but I had a lot of fun and talked to some amazing people including Robyn Jordan, one of the AIGA staff, who I got to talk a lot about the AIGA organization and its inner workings.

I had so much fun and really look forward to being involved in more organization up in Boston. Who says graduating from college is a bad thing? Not me.