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.