Facebook Waste

There are two things that frustrate me the most about Facebook.

The first is how games work there. I love the way Lexulous worked. I was playing games with my friends, and I was playing games with strangers without having to friend them first. And because it wasn’t constant asking me to invite people or ask them for help, I actually posted wins and achievement notices to my feed. Of course, Words with Friends owns my soul now, so I don’t play much Lexulous anymore. (Hint: people like to play on their phones and you phone app sucked. Maybe it has gotten better, I don’t know, because I’m not there anymore.) I want to play other games, and being a huge fan of MMOs I don’t mind playing with other people. But the current design of most (Zynga) games is that I need dozens and dozens of friends playing in order to progress at a reasonable level. Well, I don’t have that many real friends who want to play, so I need to friend strangers unless I want to suffer slow play. Friending strangers breaks Facebook. The result is, occasionally a game interests me enough that I’ll create a group/list that I’ve painstakingly denied all access to, and friend random people and put them in that list. This lasts until either a) I need even more friends, or b) I get a creepy feeling from having all these non-friend friends and thinking I missed some setting and they have full access to all my stuff. Then I spend a day purging those people and those games from my account.

The other thing bothers me is the terribly shitty layout of Facebook. Here, I drew a picture:

Facebook Example

That covers pretty much all that I find annoying or crappy about the default screen I get to see when I log in to Facebook. Essentially, the content I want is surrounded by stuff that is wrong or pointless. And they go a step further by making that center column all wrong. I want a time line, in order, of stuff my friends have done. That group on the left side called “Everyone” is how I do that. Even though the default News Feed lets me choose to show news with “recent stories first”, that feed and my “Everyone” feed are different, and not just because my own updates don’t appear in “Everyone” but because there is still stuff missing from the default feed.

Speaking of the default feed is constantly telling me things like that there are “5 new feed items” and then I click the link and only 2 items show up, or that one time it said I had 10 new items and none showed up when I clicked the link. I realize that’s probably because of all the apps I’ve blocked, but if I’ve blocked them then why are you telling me about updates I can’t see? And that goes hand in hand with my complaint about the numbers on the left. It tells me where are 20+ updates in a group, and I click on it to see that there are only 5 updates because there were probably 15+ messages from apps I’ve blocked.

There is so much wrong and useless stuff on Facebook (and I’m not even talking about the updates from my friends!!) that it makes me want to never go there. And still… it’s where everyone is. *sigh*

I Like Blogs

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since I maintain one, but I like blogs. The main reason I like them is that most blogs update daily, as in once a day. Maybe every once in a while a blogger gets prolific and updates twice a day, but there will also be days they don’t update at all. I can even manage to stomach sites that get enough popularity that they have multiple writers and updates start becoming more frequent, mainly because each writer often has their own voice.

What I hate is when sites become popular enough to be profitable and suddenly the RSS feed gets clogged with blurb posts that are little more than saying “Hey, there is a piece of news from somewhere else and here is a link.” I don’t subscribe to a lot of sites other people live and die by because of this. So many of them just don’t put forth the effort. A new thing gets announced and 90% or more of the sites post a “Look! New thing!” entry that just links to some other site (often a similar post that links to somewhere else – I mean, seriously guys, if you learn about the new thing from another site and not the source, please link to the source and thank the site, don’t link to the site, that’s a waste of everyone’s time). No commentary, no story, just a link and a place for people to comment.

If you are going to repost news, have the courtesy to think up an opinion on it, or the decency to do a daily or weekly wrap up of links so that it comes in one post and not twenty-seven. By posting every little bit of news or announcement or cool thing on its own with no meat of your own, you are saying that you don’t value my time, just your post count and my traffic. Which is why you lose my traffic.

My blog isn’t very popular. I’ve got maybe seventy or so people who read frequently enough to be tracked, and mostly it’s because, I admit, my content isn’t all that exciting. A few people like it enough to keep coming back, but that’s it. If I wanted to get more readers, I would post more content and work on making the content I do post better. I wouldn’t increase frequency with shit posts linking to other places with hot topics that will drive up my page rank in hopes that more people visit. But the latter seems to be what many sites do. They increase quantity without increasing or even maintaining quality, popularity over substance, and a number of other “this instead of that” scenarios.

I suppose it comes down to preferring opinions over news, especially since so many news sites are really announcement sites, posting headlines without substance. Anyway, back to the blogs…

The Information You Want

I watch the following TED talk by Eli Pariser a while ago and I’ve watched it a couple of times.  Take a little over nine minutes and give it a listen.

In some ways this is very much related to a post I made over two years ago about newspapers. When I go to Facebook, it continually keeps showing me the Top News, and the first thing I do every time is click the link for Most Recent.  To me, Most Recent is better because I go to Facebook fairly often and seeing month old news that I didn’t think was interesting enough to comment on a month ago is useless to me, even if 97 other people feel it is comment worthy.  I use Most Recent and I read all the news back to my last visit.  If something is interesting, I comment on it or Like it, and if I comment on something Facebook is kind enough to inform me if other people comment on it too so I can go back and continue to participate in the discussion no matter how old it is.

Over in the new world of Google+, Tom (yeah, that Tom, everybody’s friend from MySpace) has had lots of interesting things to say, but among them is this entry about how right now Google isn’t giving you control over how your content is filtered.  Largely it’s time based, but popular topics do (or did) rise toward the top, so my feed was filled with people like Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day and Tom, people who post and then get hundreds of comments within minutes, and my actual friends were buried.  They adjusted that, so I get less of a flood from popular people and see a more linear timeline, but sometimes I’ll see things out of order and I can’t tell why one item is considered more important than the other.  And that, as the video above states, is the problem.  At least, Google+ needs Facebook’s Top News and Most Recent options… at best, they’ll give the users a bunch of options and allow you to create your own custom feeds, and not just based on circles, but also based on circles.  I’d like to be able to push to the top not only popular topics, but ones in which more of my circled people are participating.  A topic with nine thousand comments by strangers may be important, but it’s not more important than a topic with fifty comments of which thirty-five are from people I have in circles.

I don’t mind if there are filters on content, but I want to be able to get at those filters and make adjustments, or sometimes remove them entirely and view them in a simple sorted order (like by date).  The only issue is when, as I said in my post about newspapers, the content creators actually make the content in a way that doesn’t allow certain filters or sorts – if you update a news story rather than posting a second story, the original story isn’t available to be read anymore, depending on how you do your update.

Hopefully, the trend will swing back toward user control over the algorithms that filter our content.  I don’t like the idea of other people (or worse, program code) decided what I should see.

What I Read

I don’t maintain a blogroll here, or even links of any kind to other sites unless they are within posts.  However, in a fit of narcissism I decided that I would post a list of links to all the sites that are contained within my Google Reader.  So without further ado, presented here in alphabetical order, and in one giant ugly paragraph, is what I read:

.: Cedarstreet :., < witty title >, A Next-Gen-MMORPG, A Softer World, A Tree Falling in the Forest, Anyway Games, Applied Game Design, Basic Instructions, bbPress Blog, Bio Break, Brass Goggles, Brea Grant, Broken Toys, Clients From Hell, Coding Horror, Corvus & the IGDA, Crabapple Cove, Critical Distance, crowdSPRING Blog, Daily Dragon Online, daspetey, David Wellington, DESIGNER NOTES, Digital Diary Detailing Datamancer’s Deeds, Digital Gaming@Dragon*Con, Dinosaur Comics, DOGHOUSE, Don’t Fear the Mutant, Dragon*Con MMO, Dragon*ConTV, DragonCon, DreamHost Status, Eating Bees, Elder Game, Epic Slant, Ethos Incarnate, Experience Curve, Felicia Day, Fidgit, Fullbright, Fun in Games, Fun in Real Life, Game Design Concepts, Game Design Reviews, GARY WHITTA, Geek Girl in Training, Grim News, Grumpy Gamer, Hark, A Vagrant!, Heartless_ Gamer, I HAS PC, ihobo, indexed, International Game Developers Association Board, into survival., James Van Der Memes, Karnatos, Kieron Gillen’s Workblog, Kill Ten Rats, Killed in a Smiling Accident., Kung Fu Monkey, LevelCapped, Lost Garden, Man Bytes Blog, Middle and Up, MMOData.net, Mobhunter.com, Moo Tang Clan, Mumble, My Name Is Michael, National Novel Writing Month – Breaking News, Nerdist, Nerfbat, Netflix – New choices to watch instantly, Netflix Community Blog, Not Always Right | Funny & Stupid Customer Quotes, not much’a nothin’, On Beyond Zebra, One Of A Crowd, Online Games Are a Niche Market, Only a Game, Over00, PARA ABNORMAL – the comic, paulietoons, paulneuhaus.com, Penny Arcade, Picture’s Up, Play Like a Girl, Popnarcotic, PostSecret, Psychochild’s Blog, PvPonline, Quarter to Three, Radioactive State, Rands In Repose, Raph’s Website, Real Life Comics, Running With My Eyes Closed, Scott Hartsman – Off the Record, screen play, Script Frenzy – The Beat, Sexy Videogameland, Shakefire.com blogs, ShrinkGeek, ShutterDreams, Smed’s Blog, Stylish Corpse, Surviving The World, Symptom of a Greater Cure, T=Machine, Tami Baribeau, Teaching Game Design, Terra Nova, Texas State Word, That’s a Terrible Idea, The Ancient Gaming Noob, The Banstick, The Brainy Gamer, The Celtx Blog, The Common Sense Gamer, The GameDev Project, The Grouchy Gamer, The HoneyComb Engine, The Internet Crashed, The Mod Squad. Blog., The Oakstout, The Oatmeal – Comics, Quizzes, & Stories, The Office of Letters and Light, The Official DreamHost Blog!, The Psychology of Video Games, The Word of Notch, This Side… Down, Tish Tosh Tesh, Tobold’s MMORPG Blog, Twitter Blog, Undead Labs – News, Van Hemlock, We Fly Spitfires – MMORPG Blog, Welcome to Spinksville!, West Karana, WIL WHEATON dot NET: in exile, Wolfshead Online, WordPress Development Blog, Words from Ward, WorldIV, xkcd.com, You Got Red On You, You Might As Well Be Unemployed, zen habits, Zen of Design, Zombie Reporting Center

Make of this what you will.

Dead Island

I first mentioned Dead Island back in October of 2007 because it was mentioned in Games For Windows magazine.  GFW has been gone for some time, and many people though Dead Island was too.  And then there came this…

While I’m pretty sure that the game play won’t be anything like that, the trailer is incredible.  Amazing even.  I eagerly await more news of this game.  And I know I’m late to the party posting this about a week after it appeared, but my posting schedule demands that zombies are on Wednesdays.

If the version above is confusing for you, here is one that plays everything out in chronological order:

Zed-box 360

Last week, Undead Labs announced their partnership with Microsoft and plans to release their upcoming Zombie MMO title exclusive to the Xbox 360.  As an owner of a 360 who does not own a PS3, this news excites me greatly.

They followed that up with a Q&A of their own and a rundown of links to other sites covering the news.

It is safe to say that there is no other MMO, or even game, that I am looking forward to more than this.  I just hope it doesn’t disappoint.

I also hope that Capcom is watching, because a Dead Rising 3 with even more multiplayer capabilities would be kinda awesome.

Anyway, here is a gaggle of concept art lovingly swiped from the Undead Labs site.  Hopefully they won’t mind.

Another brick in the Wall…

Bad Wall Usage
Click to see the Cracked post about the 10 Commandments of Facebook

My birthday has come and gone.  One thing that was very different this year over previous years is that my wall on Facebook wasn’t filled with well wishes.  This was a little sad… and yet, entirely expected.  More than a few people have made mention about not being able to write on my wall there, so I decided that I’d blog about it.

At first, the wall seems like a good idea.  Given the origins of Facebook, the wall is pretty much the chalkboard/whiteboard/corkboard on your dorm door.  People can drop by and, if you aren’t there, leave you a note.  As with many things, this also fits with Facebook’s “everything is public” mentality that those of us who don’t feel that way fight and force them to keep their privacy settings useful.  (If Facebook and Zuckerberg had their way, nothing would be private.)  Most of the things that used to appear on my wall were fine.  Birthday well wishes, holiday cheer, the occasional photo or video.  But every once in a while, something I would prefer to be a private message would show up there.  Thankfully in my case it was never anything bad, but we’ll come back to this.

Another problem (in my opinion) with the wall is that they opened it up for applications.  At the beginning, games would spam your news feed.  “Jason has a new cow in Farmville!  Click here to get a free cow too!”  All in an attempt to get your friends to all play.  But now you also get “Jason has given you a roofing nail in Farmville!  Click here to collect it!” written on your wall.  Seeing as how I don’t like very many of those games, disabling the wall stopped a bunch of those without me having to block the applications.

Anyway… back to the inappropriate comments.  The main issue with the wall is that it is (mostly) public.  If you allow people to post on your wall, your visibility options are: Everyone, Friends of Friends, Friends Only, and Custom.  Now, under Custom it allows you to block certain people or only allow trusted people, but it is a pain to do and doesn’t really solve the issue.  (Choosing “Only Me” is effectively the same as turning off the Wall.)  The majority of people never look at their security settings (and Facebook is counting on that).  Instead, most people think the wall is like sending a personal message.  The result is that over the years I’ve seen a number of things posted on walls that should be in private messages, or at least restricted to Friends Only.  Phone numbers, addresses, social security numbers, test results (yes, those kinds of tests), family secrets, and so on.  Sometimes I think about when people have bluetooth headsets for their cell phones.  They seem to forget that now that they aren’t hunched over their phone and talking into it, they are now projecting and everyone within twenty feet can hear that they are frustrated about not getting laid in the last eight months, and that since they haven’t been laid they don’t know why they have itching and burning in their crotch.  The wall on Facebook is like that.

So, back when I was running through all my security settings a few months ago, I decided to just go ahead and turn the wall off.  Don’t need it.  If you have something to say to me you can either send me a private message, or you can post it in your news feed and dedicate it to me.  I’d recommend the private message.  Sure, I’m ruining the social network aspects, the viral nature, of Facebook.  I don’t care.

The Sacrifice

Left 4 Dead: The SacrificeThis shouldn’t be news to anyone who is a fan of Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2, but yesterday the final chapter of The Sacrifice comic came out online.  Such a good story.  Go read it.  I’ll wait.

These sorts of things are why I love Valve Software.  Not only are their games well built and fun to play, but they understand story.  From Half-Life to Left 4 Dead to Portal to even Team Fortress 2, a game will little story of its own but surrounded by tons of great videos and other stuff.

Anyway, to get back on the Zombie Wednesdays bandwagon, yesterday also saw the release of The Sacrifice DLC for L4D and L4D2.  It’s great to fill in the gap of how our original survivors get down to New Orleans, and it’s also nice that they released it for the original game as well, just in case there are some purists out there still clinging to the L4D2 boycott and never bought the sequel.

Want to play?  On Live, I’m Jhaer.  Friend me, but also be sure to tell me who you are…


Looking at Facebook games I’m going to tackle a big one first: FarmVille.  The idea behind the game is that you build a farm, harvest crops and stuff for money which you use to build more farm.  There are two forms of money in the game, Coins and Cash.  Coins are what you get naturally just playing the game for most actions, Cash is what you can buy with real dollars.  Now, you can buy Coins with real dollars and you can get Cash through the game, but they are primarily obtained as first described.  You can also visit your neighbors’ farms and do chores to help them out.

Ring around the Character
Ring around the Character

One of the first things you are likely to notice if you go visiting other people’s farms is that the majority of them have something like pictured to the right.  A few carefully arranged objects, be they bales of hay or fences or whatever, so that your character can’t move.  See, when you click on things in your farm, like land to plow or crops to harvest or cows to milk, your character will walk over to those things and then do the work.  By restricting character movement, all actions are performed as you click on them instead of waiting for your character to walk to them.  This, of course, is preferred since the game involves lots of clicking and, if you go on long enough, big farms with lots of walking.  My farm doesn’t have this, because it looks stupid.  However, I have noticed that many of my neighbors stopped coming to do chores at my farm after the first time or two because without me putting up the barrier it just takes too long for them to do chores.

Packed in like things that are packed in tightly
Packed in like things that are packed in tightly

To the left here, you’ll see animals, the other large aspect of FarmVille.  Animals wander around if you let them, but this can lead them to finding their way into places behind things where you can’t click them, so most people just place them, click them and issue the “stay” command so they don’t move around.  As you get more animals, you need room for them and since space is scarce in this game, most people end up just packing the animals in a corner, sometimes in a pen, all lined up.  It makes for easier care, though PETA would be very displeased.  I let my animals wander, which only affects me since visitors interact with buildings (like chicken coops) and not individual animals.  Overall, like the barriers, lines of animals looks stupid, but the game doesn’t reward you for pretty, it rewards you for clicks.

The game also rewards you for spam.  I respect that FarmVille is intended to be a social game, but every time something happens in game there is a pop-up asking me if I want to post this event to my news feed.  I tend not to do these because I find them to be tacky.  Choosing that road limits my game, of course.  When I do chores, sometimes I get prizes, like special mystery eggs for feeding people’s chickens, but I don’t really get those prizes.  Instead, I get a pop-up that says I found an item to give away, and I have to post an announcement on my feed for people to click on so they can get the prize.  I never see these posts from other people because I long ago hid the FarmVille application since the constant bombardment of posts was destroying my ability to actually read real feed updates from my friends.  Facebook has evolved, and I probably could find a way to see what my friends have to say without game spam, but I’m too lazy to figure it out.  So, since I don’t see people giving away stuff, I don’t give stuff away.  Not by news feed spam anyway.

Reciprocity is the center of FarmVille.  When someone gives you a gift, you are able to send them a thank you gift, and it is really easy to do.  So in order to get gifts, you have to give some away.  In order to maximize your advancement in the game, you need items and the best way to obtain those items is to give those items away.  If, for instance, you want to build your stable for horses, you need items like nails and bricks and harnesses.  The best way to get those is to give them to other people.  It is sort of accepted in these games that if someone gives you an item, when you thank them with a return gift you should give them the same thing back.  So, give to others what you want to get for yourself.  Don’t worry about the cost, giving gifts is free, but I believe Facebook imposes a limit on the number of “invites” a game can send out per day, so make sure you only send to people who always return the love.  This is also why FarmVille is constantly asking you to post things to your news feed, because there is no limit to how often a game can post to your feed.

So, beyond the clicking and the gifting, what is there to do in FarmVille?  Design your farm!  However, very few people really do this as a good looking farm is less efficient than it can be, so most farms are just clumps of money earning with little eye for design.  I wanted to make my farm look as farmy as possible, but the game hindered me in that because a number of items, most noticeably many buildings, cannot be rotated.  This restricts the number of places I can put these items and have them make sense.  In the end, I was frustrated that I couldn’t get my farm to look the way I wanted.  All the pieces were there, I just wasn’t allowed to arrange them in the way I wanted.  This led me to not caring about my farm, which led me to playing less.  I began intentionally choosing crops that matured in 4 days so that I could return less often.  This decision restricted my choices of crops which further led me to not want to play.

Overall, the game is boring.  This parody commercial actually captures much of what I feel about the game.

Back to the beginning of this review, Coins and Cash.  FarmVille is made by Zynga and if you’ve been floating around the gaming end of the Intarweb you might have heard two things about them.  First, they have made buckets and buckets of money.  Second, they made that money, in part, by scamming people.  Games on Facebook make money in three ways if I understand it correctly.  The first is the old Internet standby of Ad impressions and clicks.  The second is direct sales (buying game cash).  The third is through partner referrals.  The third one is where the trouble pops up.  Essentially, you go into the game and click on the tab to buy game Cash and down at the bottom they have a bunch of deals.  You can buy 115 Cash for $20 direct, but they’ll give you 127 Cash if you click the Blockbuster link and sign up for an account (and pay for at least one month).  Now, from the consumer perspective, the Blockbuster link is the best deal because you can get a plan for $4.99 a month (plus some taxes and fees) and cancel after 1 month: 127 Cash for $5.  The reason they do this is Blockbuster is betting that they’ll turn enough of those first month people into subscribers (and they probably have details statistics that say something like 1 in 10 people who sign up remain subscribers for a year, 1 in 10 for 6 months, 3 in 10 for 3 months, and so on), so Blockbuster kicks back to Zynga an amount of cash per person that makes them want you to do the partner link instead of giving them a straight $20.  In fact, the values of Cash purchased direct are more than likely priced specifically to make you prefer the partner links.  $5 with Zynga only gets you 25 Cash, but $5 with Blockbuster gets you 127.  Where would you rather spend your $5?

But where does the scam come in?  It is in the other links.  You see, many people don’t want the hassle of signing up for Blockbuster, even if it is the “better” deal, so they’d rather just give cash for Cash.  Zynga directly accepts Visa, MasterCard, Discover and Paypal.  But not everyone has credit cards or use Paypal, however just about everyone has a cell phone.  Through a number of partners, Zynga accepts payment through cell phone.  You just click a link and then text a code to a number and you get your Farm Cash and the charge is just added to your next cell phone bill.  How easy is that?  Super easy!!  What is usually hard to tell, though, and is where people cry foul, is that some of these cell phone pay services charge a monthly service fee.  So while you might jump at the chance to send $20 to Zynga for FarmVille and just tack that $20 on your phone bill, the company handling all that money moving is going to require (usually in the fine print and terms of service that 99.99999999999% of people foolishly never read) that you subscribe to their service (which you do by simply authorizing the original charge with that code you text) which is often anywhere from $9.99 to $19.99 a month.  And, naturally, Zynga gets a kickback on that.  We could argue until the sun burns out about who is responsible, the consumer for not reading the terms, the service company for not making them more prominent instead of buried in legal jargon, or Zynga for not mentioning that those services charge a fee, but at the end the truth is that they are all responsible.  People should pay attention, service companies should be required by law to clearly and prominently explain their fees, and Zynga should section off those alternate payment methods under a label that says they charge a fee.

At the end of the day, FarmVille gets a “C” for being mildly amusing yet boring and annoying, but Zynga gets a giant “F” for being unapologetic money grubbing douchebags.  Making money isn’t evil, but you don’t have to be a dick about it.

The iPad

You can search all over the Internet and find out about the specifications and tons of opinions on it.  Here are mine.

First, I think the name is silly.  The people guessing that Apple was making a tablet came up with dozens of better names.  Does no one at Apple have access to Google?  It would have taken less than five seconds to search “iPad” and find the years old MadTV skit.

Next, I am not impressed.  They showed nothing in their presentation that made me want to have one of these over a netbook.  However, I see potential.  To me, the ultimate success of this device will depend on two things:

  1. What applications get designed to fully use this device.  The best idea I’ve seen floated so far is a “cash register” type application since one of these plus a couple of peripherals is cheaper than most computer registers.
  2. The next revision of the hardware.  Apple is notorious for withholding features.  They like to put just enough in a product to make people want it, but hold back enough features to be able to also make revision two, three, and four worth buying too.  Expect the next version to have the front facing camera most people feel is missing, and more memory.

Lastly, I think they priced it almost perfectly.  The only way it gets better is if AT&T subsidizes the price of the 3G version in exchange for a 2 year contract.  Personally, I wouldn’t want the 3G, so it is priced right as it is.

To me, at the moment, the deal breaker is the keyboard.  The virtual keyboard looks like it would only be comfortable using if I can manage to have the device at a 45 degree angle allowing me to type and see the screen.  This means that I’d either have to be hunched over the device, or to be lounging on the couch with my feet propped up allowing my lap to hold it up at a usable angle.  But that’s because the biggest feature of a portable computer for me is writing, and the iPad seems to be aimed more at people who are more interested in reading and watching.  This could be saved if someone makes some sort of clip on keyboard and screen protector (i.e. – the keyboard folds up over the screen, kinda like the clam shell design of a laptop).  But it would also have to more than double the weight of the device because you can’t have the screen be heavier than the keyboard in that sort of design.

Another missing element for me that I don’t think will ever make it into the Apple design is the ability to use a stylus.  I like to do digital art (doodling more than anything) but I don’t like doing it with my finger.  Perhaps, if the iPad sells well, Wacom will decide to make the Cintiq into a full blown art tablet.

Overall, as I said before, I see potential, I even see this as being a device that plenty of people could put to good use, but just not me.  And that’s okay.