Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for December 12th, 2013

Charlie Parker

WordPress has been updated to version 3.8, notable for two reasons: a redesign of the admin panel, and a new “Twenty Fourteen” theme. Following Automattic’s jazz musician-themed code names, this one’s called Charlie Parker, and I like it a lot.

Matt Thomas wrote an excellent overview of the design decisions that drove WordPress 3.8 (via Shawn Blanc). The only thing I dislike is this:

We overhauled and streamlined typography, reducing to a single typeface, Open Sans.

I don’t know why, but I dislike Open Sans immensely; it simply doesn’t look very nice to my eyes. That’s why I made the Helveti-Admin plugin. It’s less than 2 KB and, if you dislike Open Sans as much as I do, you may find it to your liking. Just download it and upload the /helveti-admin/ folder to /wp-content/plugins/. Then head to your WordPress admin panel, click Plugins on the side, and activate it in the list.

I’m not really planning on updating the plugin. I don’t think it themes the admin bar, but I just care about the main content area. It shouldn’t break anything, but you know, use it at your own risk and peril.

The rest of the update is gorgeous, though. The new default theme is leaps and bounds better than any previous default theme. I tried the live preview on this site and, I have to say, I like it a lot. I’m not tempted to switch — I worked hard on this theme, dammit — but it appears to be a very flexible theme, despite the demo showing a cluttered magazine-like style.

The admin panel is a substantial improvement. It’s flat, yeah, but it’s smartly designed and doesn’t have the heavy look of the previous admin page. Everything looks more uniform and more decisive. I love it.

Update: Perhaps I spoke a little too soon about the Twenty Fourteen theme. It seems that nobody at WordPress owns a large display, because if I increase the width of my browser window too much, a large blank space appears on the right-hand side. Responsive, indeed.

There’s some sense in this decision: you don’t want super-wide paragraphs with atrocious line lengths, for instance. This seems like an ungraceful way to handle that.

Instagram Direct, Twitter DMs, and the Social/Communications Map

Tying into today’s presumed theme of ephemeral vs. permanent writing — and public vs. private messaging — here’s an insightful (as ever) article from Ben Thompson. I love this observation:

Both Twitter and Instagram face the same challenge in moving into this space: both have been built on interest graphs, which by definition is more about broadcasting and less about conversation. Twitter though, given its text background and the fact that DM’s are not a new product, has seeded many a relationship that naturally extends to messaging.

Instagram, on the other hand, is about images, literal projections from a user, and what text exists (i.e. comments) is about said projection, not the user.

Like I wrote earlier, I’m interested in Instagram’s angle, but I’m not sure how successful it will be. Placing images at the forefront makes it similar to Snapchat, but without the necessary ephemerality. Twitter’s direct messages are much more malleable, which I think makes them easier to understand and use.

Stock and Flow

In “The Year ‘The Stream’ Crested“, Alexis Madrigal references a piece from Robin Sloan, writing for Snarkmarket (oh, how I love that name):

  • Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist.

  • Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.

This piece may have been written in 2010, but it’s a perfect example of Stock — it hasn’t lost its relevance or interest in that time.

I love the analogy, too. I like to think of a post like this, in the context of Pixel Envy, as Flow, whereas the long form piece I’m working on is more like “Stock”. It isn’t length that defines Stock, but rather a lack of transience. It’s more permanent, and retains its value with time.

These are not necessarily mutually exclusive, mind you. Something like Twitter is ostensibly the epitome of Flow, but individual tweets may have lasting value. It’s the message, not necessarily the medium, that defines Stock and Flow.

The Year ‘The Stream’ Crested

Alexis Madrigal, the Atlantic:

The great irony is that we got what we wanted from the stream: a way to read and watch outside the editorial control of editors, old Yahoo-style cataloging, and Google bots. But when the order of the media cosmos was annihilated, freedom did not rush into the vacuum, but an emergent order with its own logic. We discovered that the stream introduced its own kinds of compulsions and controls. Faster! More! Faster! More! Faster! More!

And now, who can keep up? There is a melancholy to the infinite scroll.

An absolutely wonderful piece from Madrigal.

Instagram Direct

How do you message someone in 2013? Do you send them an email, like a pleb? Or perhaps you might fire up iMessage, Snapchat, WhatsApp, BBM, Twitter DMs, Google Hangouts, Skype, Facebook, Kik, or one of the countless other messaging apps you may have on your phone.

Is that not enough? Well, Instagram is launching one, too. In such a crowded field, how is this app different from every other messaging app? Brian Heater, Engadget:

You can send photos and videos with text, but not text alone, naturally. Images and videos, [Kevin] Systrom added, is what the new feature is all about. According to Systrom, the new feature is all about “connecting people around moments.” Once a friend looks at the image, you’ll see a check mark next to it. If they like it, you’ll see a heart.

It’s the Instagram experience, complete with filters and “Likes”, but among just a few of your friends. I’m not sure if that’s enough of a differentiator, but it’s a fairly bold move.

Oh, yeah, and the Instagram icon still looks out of place on the iPhone.

Update: Casey Johnston of Ars Technica reports that senders can delete photos from recipients’ feeds:

Instagram Direct not only leaves the detonation button in the hands of the sender, but the act of deleting a photo interrupts the recipient’s viewing of the photo. For example, say Jimmy sends John an Instagram Direct photo of a hot dog. John opens the photo to view it, and the read receipt on the photo notifies Jimmy that John has opened it. If Jimmy swipes the message to delete it from his inbox as John gazes upon the hot dog, John’s viewing experience will be interrupted by a “This photo has been deleted” dialog. The photo is also no longer listed in John’s inbox. If Jimmy hadn’t deleted the photo, John could not himself delete it, only “hide” it in his inbox.

What if they simply added a timer? This is one of a few reasons why I think Snapchat is vastly overvalued.