Category Archives: technology

The Statistics on Link Rot

By sampling 4,200 ran­dom URLs span­ning a 14 year period, Maciej CegÅ‚owski, the cre­at­or of book­mark­ing web­site Pinboard.in, decided to gath­er stat­ist­ics on the extent of link rot and how it pro­gressed across time. Inter­ested in find­ing out if there is some sort of ‘half life of links’, he found instead that it is a fairly lin­ear, fast deteri­or­a­tion:

Links appear to die at a steady rate (they don’t have a half life), and you can expect to lose about a quarter of them every sev­en years.

And even that is an optim­ist­ic res­ult, says Maciej, as not all dead links were able to be dis­covered programmatically. There are also sev­er­al unanswered ques­tions:

  • How many of these dead URLs are find­able on archive.org?
  • What is the attri­tion rate for shortened links?
  • Is there a simple pro­gram­mat­ic way to detect parked domains?
  • Giv­en just a URL, can we make any intel­li­gent guesses about its vul­ner­ab­il­ity to  link rot?

Inter­est­ingly, link rot is what inspired the cre­ation of Pinboard.in (it fea­tures page archiv­ing fun­citon­al­ity). This is sim­il­ar to why I star­ted Lone Gun­man: I was los­ing track of inter­est­ing links and art­icles, and wanted a way to eas­ily find them again as well as help me build con­nec­tions between dis­par­ate art­icles and top­ics.

Mid-90s Quotes from Wired

Kev­in Kelly, edit­or of Wired, found an old file con­tain­ing a selec­tion of quotes from the first five years of Wired. This is a nice wander down memory lane, with Wired’s trade­mark embra­cing of tech­no­logy in the face of huge change quite evid­ent (as well as some mid-90s proph­esy­ing, pos­it­iv­ism, and–dare I say it–fear-mongering).

Some of my favour­ites:

Roadkill on the inform­a­tion high­way will be the bil­lions who will for­get there are offramps to des­tin­a­tions oth­er than Hol­ly­wood, Las Vegas, the loc­al bingo par­lor, or shiny beads from a shop­ping net­work.
Alan Kay, Wired 2.05, May 1994, p. 77

The very dis­tinc­tion between ori­gin­al and copy becomes mean­ing­less in a digit­al world – there the work exists only as a copy.
Daniel Piere­hbech, Wired 2.12, Dec 1994, p. 158

For a long time now, Amer­ica has seemed like a coun­try where most people watch tele­vi­sion most of the time. But only recently are we begin­ning to notice that it is also a coun­try where tele­vi­sion watches us.
Phil Petton, Wired 3.01, Jan 1995, p. 126

The future won’t be 500 chan­nels – it will be one chan­nel, your chan­nel.
Scott Sas­sa, Wired 3.03, Mar 1995, p. 113

Isn’t it odd how par­ents grieve if their child spends six hours a day on the Net but delight if those same hours are spent read­ing books?
Nich­olas Negro­ponte, Wired 3.09, Sep 1995, p. 206

The most suc­cess­ful innov­at­ors are the cre­at­ive imit­at­ors, the Num­ber Two.
Peter Druck­er, Wired 4.08, Aug 1996, p. 118

It is the arrog­ance of every age to believe that yes­ter­day was calm.
Tom Peters, Wired 5.12, Dec 1997

Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion and the Importance of Recognising “Enforced Compliance”

Influ­ence: The Psy­cho­logy of Per­sua­sion is Robert Cialdini’s 1984 book dis­cuss­ing what he calls the six fun­da­ment­al psy­cho­lo­gic­al prin­ciples of com­pli­ance: con­sist­ency, recip­roc­a­tion, social proof, author­ity, lik­ing and scarcity.

The con­clu­sion to Cialdini’s book points out why, in this increas­ingly com­plex world, res­ist­ing attempts at “enforced com­pli­ance” (decep­tion) through these key prin­ciples is as import­ant as recog­nising and respond­ing to truth­ful instances of their imple­ment­a­tion:

Because tech­no­logy can evolve much faster than we can, our nat­ur­al capa­city to pro­cess inform­a­tion is likely to be increas­ingly inad­equate to handle the sur­feit of change, choice, and chal­lenge that is char­ac­ter­ist­ic of mod­ern life. More and more fre­quently, we will find ourselves in the pos­i­tion of the lower animals—with a men­tal appar­at­us that is unequipped to deal thor­oughly with the intric­acy and rich­ness of the out­side envir­on­ment. Unlike the anim­als, whose cog­nit­ive powers have always been rel­at­ively defi­cient, we have cre­ated our own defi­ciency by con­struct­ing a rad­ic­ally more com­plex world. But the con­sequence of our new defi­ciency is the same as that of the anim­als’ long-stand­ing one. When mak­ing a decision, we will less fre­quently enjoy the lux­ury of a fully con­sidered ana­lys­is of the total situ­ation but will revert increas­ingly to a focus on a single, usu­ally reli­able fea­ture of it.

When those single fea­tures are truly reli­able, there is noth­ing inher­ently wrong with the short­cut approach of nar­rowed atten­tion and auto­mat­ic response to a par­tic­u­lar piece of inform­a­tion. The prob­lem comes when some­thing causes the nor­mally trust­worthy cues to coun­sel us poorly, to lead us to erro­neous actions and wrong­headed decisions.

Contextual Writing (Telescopic and Responsive Text)

How can a writer cater to an audi­ence with diverse pref­er­ences and needs (par­tic­u­larly, how much detail they want and how much time they have)? One way is to use tele­scop­ic or respons­ive text.

Tele­scop­ic text is a meth­od of iter­at­ively dis­play­ing more and more tex­tu­al detail on request (I sup­pose the read­er becomes the user). Joe Dav­is’ bril­liant example of tele­scop­ic text starts with the phrase “I made tea” before pro­gress­ing to a 198-word short story through 45-or-so iter­a­tions. Won­der­ful.

Respons­ive text is sim­il­ar in some regards and vastly dif­fer­ent in oth­ers. Like a respons­ive design, respons­ive text ‘scales’ in response to the user’s screen size in order to dis­play an appro­pri­ate amount of tex­tu­al detail. If viewed on a lar­ger screen, Frankie Roberto’s respons­ive text example points out:

It’s a bit of an exper­i­ment, and I’m not really sure how use­ful it really is, but I think it’s an inter­est­ing idea.

It could also per­haps be com­bined with some form of a user inter­face that allows you to con­trol how much text you want to read. This might be really use­ful for news art­icles, for instance – you could decide wheth­er to read full quotes and a detailed back­story, or just the gist.

I think mak­ing this beha­viour user-con­trol­lable is key and an inter­face variable/bookmarklet is an inter­est­ing concept to fol­low. One issue I envis­age is that adop­tion of this will come from authors and mak­ing this easy-to-imple­ment on the pro­du­cer-side will take some skill.

via @fooman­doo­n­i­an

Why Software Development Estimation is Hard: Sea Lions, and Coastal Paths

Among the many val­id responses to the Quora ques­tion of why soft­ware devel­op­ment task estim­a­tions are often off by a factor of 2–3, Michael Wolfe, CEO of Pipe­wise, describes exactly why this is without once men­tion­ing ‘soft­ware’ or ‘pro­ject’.

Instead, Wolfe elo­quently provides undoubtedly the best ana­logy I’ve ever heard for explain­ing the dif­fi­culty in provid­ing estim­ates for soft­ware pro­jects: a couple of friends plan­ning a coastal hike from San Fran­cisco to Los Angeles and start­ing their jour­ney.

Their friends are wait­ing in LA, phone calls have already been made push­ing the date back…

Man, this is slow going! Sand, water, stairs, creeks, angry sea lions! We are walk­ing at most 2 miles per hour, half as fast as we wanted. We can either start walk­ing 20 hours per day, or we can push our friends out anoth­er week. OK, let’s split the dif­fer­ence: we’ll walk 12 hours per day and push our friends out til the fol­low­ing week­end. We call them and delay din­ner until the fol­low­ing Sunday. They are a little peeved but say OK, we’ll see you then. […]

We get up the next morn­ing, band­age up our feet and get going. We turn a corner. Shit! What’s this?

God­damn map doesn’t show this shit!. We have to walk 3 miles inland, around some fenced-off, fed­er­ally-pro­tec­ted land, get lost twice, then make it back to the coast around noon. Most of the day gone for one mile of pro­gress. OK, we are *not* call­ing our friends to push back again. We walk until mid­night to try to catch up and get back on sched­ule.

Of course, this isn’t exactly a new ana­logy: it’s apply­ing the ideas behind Benoît Mandelbrot’s paper, How Long Is the Coast of Bri­tain?, pub­lished back in 1967, to soft­ware estim­a­tion. Still, it works per­fectly.

If you like Wolfe’s writ­ing style and want to read more, he runs a blog called Dear Founder.

Update: And of course, there’s always O.P.C.