Thursday, February 21, 2013

I Hate Nagging Web Sites

Last fall Twitter introduced what they called "header photos" for user profiles. Basically, one can have a background photo in one's header--the area that displays one's name, Twitter handle, and so on. Now I do not visit Twitter often as I use HootSuite as my Twitter client, but the first time I did so following Twitter's introduction of header photos, there was a box containing a blurb at the top urging me to upload a header photo (I can't remember the exact wording). I simply hit the little "X" in the corner of the box to close it. I figured that should be enough to convince Twitter that I did not want to upload a header photo.

Unfortunately the next time I went to Twitter (which could have been much as a week later), there was the message again. I once more hit the "X" in the corner to close the box. It seems, however, that twice was not enough, nor was three times. I am not sure how many times the message kept appearing, but eventually it did disappear. That having been said, I think it should have only appeared once. I would not like it, but I could see the message appearing three times as acceptable. More than that and one would think it would be clear to Twitter that I do not want to upload a header photo. For one thing, I do not regard Twitter as Google+ or Facebook. A Twitter profile should not have to have a cover photo. For another thing, I cannot see spending so much time on a header photo for a site that I rarely go to (as I said above, I use HootSuite as my Twitter client).

While Twitter has apparently given up on urging me to upload a header photo, now it has taken to urge me to add my Twitter feed to my web site. This is impractical for me as I do not have a web site. I have this blog, but I have no intention of adding my Twitter feed to it. So far this message has appeared twice. I am guessing it will appear several times more before it disappears, just like the header photo message.

Of course, Twitter is not the only social media web site to engage in this sort of behaviour. I remember when Facebook introduced Timeline how they constantly urged people to switch to it. I refused to do so because I had seen previews of it and heard horror stories about it, so I resisted until they forced me onto it. Regardless, I did not appreciate the constant urging to switch to Timeline. Indeed, I am very thankful they came out with the single column version, which is much better.

I suppose there are those who will quite rightfully point out that I have complained often and loudly about Twitter and especially Facebook in the past, but here I must point out that they are not the only web sites or web companies to do this. Google, a company I respect and admire, has been guilty of this as well. Those of you with YouTube accounts may be aware that one can now use the name he or she uses on his or her other Google services (Google+, Blogger, et. al.) instead of his or her YouTube user name. I did this not long after they introduced this option, as I like the idea of my Google services being consistent across the board. That having been said, not everyone is like me. I have a friend who wants to continue using her YouTube user name. Unfortunately, almost every time she visits YouTube of late, she is confronted with the choice of using the name she uses on her other Google services. It doesn't seem to matter that she already made her choice long ago.

For fans of old movies and TV shows (especially Alfred Hitchcock Presents), this sort of behaviour from web sites must seem familiar. At least it seems familiar to me. It is the sort of behaviour one sees from the stereotypical nagging spouse in films from Three Ages to The Nutty Professor. While the nagging spouse might urge their other half to take out the trash or wash the dishes, these web sites are nagging one to upload a header photo, switch to Timeline, or stop using one's user name on YouTube. And while I can't speak for all users, I know that some of my friends and myself really do not like the constant reminders to change our experience on a social media site to something we might not want.

As to why social media sites nag their users to adopt the latest changes, that is hard to say. I suspect it is because most social media sites want a good deal of consistency across their user profiles. They want all profiles to have a header photo. They want all profiles to use a certain format (such as Timeline). As to why they want a good deal of consistency across their user profiles, I am not sure. Perhaps there is some way it makes things easier for them. Perhaps they think it makes it easier for users. Personally, while I can understand some consistency across user profiles (obviously you don't want profiles to look dramatically different from each other), I do not see the point in forcing every user to have a header profile or to use a profile format that has proven unpopular.

Indeed, I think social media sites could be missing one of the most popular features of web sites: customisation. Most people want to be able to express themselves in their social media profiles. They want to feel that their social media profiles say something about themselves. If that means not having a header photo or whatever, then so be it. To me, then, nagging users to upload a header photo, stop using their user name in favour of another name, and so on, is little more than an annoyance. Most users are simply going to close the box the containing the message to "upload a header photo" and go about their business, no matter how often they have to do it.

In the end, then, I would suggest that when social media sites introduce a new feature, that they do not feature messages at the top of the page urging users to adopt said new feature no more than three times. Obviously if a user ignores a message that many times, then, he or she probably isn't interested in the new feature. To do any more than that is, quite simply, nagging.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Kevin Ayers of Soft Machine Passes On

Kevin Ayers, one of the founders of the rock group Soft Machine, died 18 February 2013 at the age of 68.

Kevin Ayers was born on 16 August 1944 in Herne Bay, Kent. His father was BBC producer Rowan Ayers. His parents divorced when he was young and his mother married a British civil servant. As a result Mr. Ayers spent much of his childhood in Malaysia. He was twelve years old when he returned to England. He studied at Simon Langton Grammar School in Canterbury. As a young man he took up music and eventually joined the band The Wilde Flowers. It was in 1966 that Kevin Ayers and drummer Robert Wyatt,  both of The Wilde Flowers, formed Soft Machine with guitarist Daevid Allen and organist Mike Ratledge.

Soft Machine proved popular in the British Underground subculture, and performed regularly at the UFO Club and other London clubs such as Middle Earth and the Speak Easy. Their first single, "Love Makes Sweet Music" / "Feelin' Reelin' Squeelin'," was released on Polydor in 1967. Their first album, The Soft Machine, followed in 1968. Soft Machine toured the United States in 1968. It was at the end of the tour that an exhausted Kevin Ayers amicably left the band.

After leaving Soft Machine Kevin Ayers launched a solo career. His first album, Joy of a Toy, was released in 1969. Robert Wyatt, Mike Ratledge. and Hugh Hopper of Soft Machine all appeared on the album. Between 1969 and 1988 Kevin Ayers released fourteen more albums. Following his 1988 album Falling Up, Kevin Ayers did not release another album until Still Life with Guitar in 1992. His final album was The Unfairground in 2007. Over the years he worked with artists ranging from Ollie Halsall to Brian Eno to Mike Oldfield to Syd Barrett to Nico.

Kevin Ayers was an extremely versatile musician and songwriter. As part of Soft Machine he played both bass and guitar at various times, as he did on his solo albums as well. In his song writing he was known for his experimentation, and wrote songs in a wide variety of styles. His songs ranged from the pastoral ballad "Girl on a Swing" to the orchestral "There Is Loving/Among Us" to the pop oriented "Sweet Deceiver." He would have a far reaching impact on rock music, influencing subgenres from progressive to power pop to psych folk. His influence can be seen in artists ranging from Robyn Hitchcock to David Bowie to Teenage Fanclub. While neither Soft Machine nor Kevin Ayers may have ever reached the top of the pop charts, Mr. Ayers still had a impact on rock music much further reaching than many more popular artists.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Godspeed Richard Briers

Richard Briers, who starred in the television programmes Brothers in Law, Marriage Lines, The Good Life, Monarch of the Glen, and many others, died 17 February 2013 at the age of 79.

Richard Briers was born on 14 January 1934 in Raynes Park, Surrey, England. He grew up in Raynes Park and later Guildford, Surrey. He attended  Rokeby Prep School in Kingston upon Thames, Surrey. He left school at age 16 and spent the next few years trying to find a profession. He worked for a time in a clerical position with a London cable maker, then took evening classes in electrical engineering. He abandoned his studies to become a filing clerk. He was 18 years old when he was drafted into the Royal Air Force, in which he served as a filing clerk. While there he met Brian Murphy. later known for Man About the House. Through Mr. Murphy he found the Dramatic Society at the Borough Polytechnic Institute (now London Bank University). Following his National Service, Mr. Briers studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from 1954 to 1956.  After graduating from RADA he won a scholarship with the Liverpool Repertory Company. He later moved to the Belgrade Theatre. He made his debut on television in 1956 in a production of She Stoops to Conquer. He made his film debut in 1958 in Girls at Sea (1958). He made his debut on the West End in 1959 in a production of production of Gilt And Gingerbread.

In the late Fifties and Sixties Richard Briers appeared in such films as Bottoms Up (1960) , Murder She Said (1961), The Girl on the Boat (1961), A Matter of WHO (1961), Doctor in Distress (1963) , All in Good Time (1964), Fathom (1967), and All the Way Up (1970). On television he starred in the shows Marriage Lines and Brothers in Law. He also appeared on such shows as Armchair Theatre, Harpers West One, Dixon of Dock Green, and Jackanory.

In the Seventies he starred on the shows Birds on the Wing, The Good Life, One-Upmanship, and The Other One. He also appeared on such shows as Ooh La La, Late Night Drama, The Morecambe and Wise Show, and ITV Playhouse. He was the narrator of the animated series Roobarb and Noddy. He appeared in the film Rentadick (1972),  and was the voice of Fiver in Watership Down (1978).  In the Eighties Mr. Briers starred in the shows Goodbye, Mr. Kent; All in Good Faith; and Ever Decreasing Circles. He appeared on the shows The Goodies, Doctor Who, Minder, and Mr. Bean. He appeared in the films A Chorus of Disapproval (1989) and Henry V (1989).

In the Nineties Richard Briers starred in the shows If You See God, Tell Him; Down to Earth; and Monarch of the Glen. He provided the voice of Fiver on the animated series Watership Down. He appeared in the films Swan Song (1992), Peter's Friends (1992), Much Ado About Nothing (1993), Frankenstein (1994), A Midwinter's Tale (1995), Hamlet (1996),  and Love's Labour's Lost (2000). In the Naughts he provided voices for the animated programmes Roobarb and Custard and Watership Down. He appeared on the shows Doctors, Holby City, and Torchwood. He appeared in the films Unconditional Love (2002), Peter Pan (2003), As You Like It (2006), Freds Meat (2010), Run for Your Wife (2012), and Cockneys vs Zombies (2012).

If Richard Briers starred in multiple sitcoms that proved to be popular, it was perhaps because he had a singular gift for comedy. The man had perfect timing and was so funny that he could elicit a laugh with a mere facial expression. He was also capable of playing a variety of characters, from the earnest Tom Good in The Good Life to the obsessive Martin Bryce in Ever Decreasing Circles. While best known for his work in comedy, Mr. Briers was adept at drama as well. Notable is his performance in the TV movie Dad as a man whose wife has dementia. Richard Briers was a truly great talent in British talent, and one who will be remembered for years to come.