Tags: conversation



Conversational interfaces

Psst… Jeremy! Right now you’re getting notified every time something is posted to Slack. That’s great at first, but now that activity is increasing you’ll probably prefer dialing that down.

Slackbot, 2015

What’s happening?

Twitter, 2009

Why does everyone always look at me? I know I’m a chalkboard and that’s my job, I just wish people would ask before staring at me. Sometimes I don’t have anything to say.

Existentialist chalkboard, 2007

I’m Little MOO - the bit of software that will be managing your order with us. It will shortly be sent to Big MOO, our print machine who will print it for you in the next few days. I’ll let you know when it’s done and on it’s way to you.

Little MOO, 2006

It looks like you’re writing a letter.

Clippy, 1997

Your quest is to find the Warlock’s treasure, hidden deep within a dungeon populated with a multitude of terrifying monsters. You will need courage, determination and a fair amount of luck if you are to survive all the traps and battles, and reach your goal — the innermost chambers of the Warlock’s domain.

The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain, 1982

Welcome to Adventure!! Would you like instructions?

Colossal Cave, 1976

I am a lead pencil—the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls and adults who can read and write.

I, Pencil, 1958

Ælfred ordered me to be made

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

The Ælfred Jewel, ~880

Technical note

I have marked up the protagonist of each conversation using the cite element. There is a long-running dispute over the use of this element. In HTML 4.01 it was perfectly fine to use cite to mark up a person being quoted. In the HTML Living Standard, usage has been narrowed:

The cite element represents the title of a work (e.g. a book, a paper, an essay, a poem, a score, a song, a script, a film, a TV show, a game, a sculpture, a painting, a theatre production, a play, an opera, a musical, an exhibition, a legal case report, a computer program, etc). This can be a work that is being quoted or referenced in detail (i.e. a citation), or it can just be a work that is mentioned in passing.

A person’s name is not the title of a work — even if people call that person a piece of work — and the element must therefore not be used to mark up people’s names.

I disagree.

In the examples above, it’s pretty clear that I, Pencil and Warlock Of Firetop Mountain are valid use cases for the cite element according to the HTML5 definition; they are titles of works. But what about Clippy or Little Moo or Slackbot? They’re not people …but they’re not exactly titles of works either.

If I were to mark up a dialogue between Eliza and a human being, should I only mark up Eliza’s remarks with cite? In text transcripts of conversations with Alexa, Siri, or Cortana, should only their side of the conversation get attributed as a source? Or should they also be written without the cite element because it must not be used to mark up people’s names …even though they are not people, according to conventional definition.

It’s downright botist.


I’m still thinking about blog comments so I thought I’d get a few hyperlinks and blockquotes out of my system.

Dave Winer promotes the idea of blog-to-blog conversations rather than the easier solution of providing a comment form:

That’s what’s important about blogs, not that people can comment on your ideas. As long as they can start their own blog, there will be no shortage of places to comment.

That’s exactly what Tantek does on his blog by displaying any Technorati links (reactions) back to his posts.

Joel Spolsky expands on the problem with comments:

They are a part of the problem, not the solution. You don’t have a right to post your thoughts at the bottom of someone else’s thoughts. That’s not freedom of expression, that’s an infringement on their freedom of expression.

When a blog allows comments right below the writer’s post, what you get is a bunch of interesting ideas, carefully constructed, followed by a long spew of noise, filth, and anonymous rubbish that nobody … nobody … would say out loud if they had to take ownership of their words.

This issue of taking responsibility for, and hosting your own words also lies behind Andy Rutledge’s attitude to feedback:

Anyone who feels the need to comment on what I write may send an email to me just as easily as writing a comment in some form on my site. Further, if someone takes issue with what I say, they may write about it from their own website and take responsibility for what they put forth, as everyone should.

But perhaps the best justification comes from John Gruber during a podcast chat transcribed by Shawn Blanc:

I wanted to write a site for someone it’s meant for. That reader I write for is a second version of me. I’m writing for him. He’s interested in the exact same things I’m interested in; he reads the exact same websites I read… If I turn comments on, that goes away. It’s not that I don’t like sites with comments on, but when you read a site with comments it automatically puts you, the reader, in a defensive mode where you’re saying, “what’s good in this comment thread? What can I skim?”

The comments over on Digg are, of course, an extreme example of just how puerile comments can be but at least they’re quarantined over there. I’ve never understood why a site owner would actually want to get Dugg and invite those kind of people over to piss on the furniture. As Jason Kottke put it:

Digg sents lots of traffic but IMO it’s mostly useless. They usually read only one page, send stupid emails, and never visit again.

And yet, again and again, I see sites like Digg and YouTube held up as paragons of community and interaction. I was chatting with Andy at work about how many potential clients treat community as some kind of checklist; comments: check, ratings: check, tagging: check. Thomas Vander Wal has come up against the same attitude. His solution is to point people to this Kevin Federline page on Amazon and ask Now, do you still want tagging?

I’m always impressed when site owners can provide a new, different way of fostering interaction. I really like the way del.icio.us uses the proto-machinetag syntax of for:username to allow sharing between users. It’s so much more discreet than the pre-filled emails that most sites use for user-to-user communication. It allows for a network to develop in an understated, organic way.

Naked lunch conversations

Shel Israel and Rick Segal are doing a bit of a world tour. They’ve just been to Ireland and now they’re winging their way to Brussels. In between, they made time for a whistle-stop visit to Brighton.

Why Brighton? Ben gave ‘em the heads-up that it’s a happening place.

Andy reserved a table for lunch at Carluccio’s and rounded up a bunch of local geeks and entrepreneurs. Much excellent conversation ensued, much of it about social media and, more importantly, people.

It was a real pleasure to meet Shel and Rick. It’s a shame they couldn’t stick around longer: they were literally in town for just a few hours. We didn’t even have the opportunity to take them out on the pier for a stick of rock.

There’s always next time.