Monday, December 22, 2008

Work In Progress: BoingBoing Minus Disneyland

I've been reading BoingBoing since the old days when you had to go to Barnes & Noble to get it and people would look at you funny.

The old zine was a beautiful thing and the new incarnation's awesome as well. With its several nifty offshoots and gigantic audience, the new BoingBoing matured into a fantastic success. But the new BoingBoing also added an inexplicable fixation on Disneyland that I don't appreciate, enjoy, or understand. I don't care about Disneyland one way or the other. When you don't care about something, seeing it pop up as a non sequitur once introduces variety and spontaneity; seeing it a hundred thousand million times gets distracting and irritating.

I described this in the past as the Tim Bray problem, which was a mistake. I've read somewhere (I think here) that the human brain has specific areas devoted to gossip that take automatic precedence over any other brain function except for the recognition of human faces, the adrenaline response, and autonomic functions like breathing. So if you've ever noticed that people's brains seem to shut off the minute gossip or interpersonal drama gets involved, that is in fact literal truth.

Large sections of the human brain switch over to background priority level when gossip gets involved. Which means if you want to use Tim Bray as an icon of irrelevance, because he happens to fit that role for you personally, people aren't going to go, oh, yeah, I see what you mean. They're going to go, oooh, Tim and Giles are going to fight after school.

Describing it as the Disneyland problem is much simpler. If you read BoingBoing every day, you're going to see something about Disneyland sooner or later. Most people seem to love Disneyland. I don't. A few people seem to hate Disneyland. I don't. Disneyland means nothing to me one way or another, which means that any blog post about Disneyland, whether critical of or flattering to Disneyland, is meaningless to me.

I tweeted months ago about wanting a Twitter filter to screen out any reply to @timbray. I still want that filter. But as far as a BoingBoing filter which screens out any Disneyland content, I've built that.

Sort of. It sounds like the simplest app on earth but in fact there are some problems with it. I'm really announcing it in hopes that somebody will point me in the right direction for fixing some of its flaws. Here they are:

  1. Safari: works on my box, fails live

  2. Firefox: fails on my box, links-only live

I don't know what the story is with IE and I don't plan to find out. I do plan to find out how it looks with Google Reader, but I started hacking on this Friday night, and I've had a horrible cold all weekend. In addition to writing this, I've been sleeping all weekend, and I also squeezed in a few hours of work.

Anyway, pooooooor Giles, what a martyr. Yadda yadda yadda. I still use Safari as my blogreader, so a BoingBoing filter which works under Safari and on my box is good enough for me. But I had wanted BoingBoing Minus Disneyland to be my Christmas present to the world, and that just isn't happening.

As far as I can tell, all the problems come down to the inconsistencies of RSS. RSS spawned inconsistent de facto forks left and right the same way HTML did, only HTML did it under the eyes of a lot more developers over a longer period of time. I don't know what's going on with all this cross-browser stuff. My RSS is messed up every which way to Sunday. On top of that, RSS readers seem fragile and easy to confuse. HTTP headers must factor into it somewhere, too, as the only difference I can think of between dev and production is that I'm using Mongrel on my box and (probably) nginx live.

If you've got tips to fix it, or books/blogs/gems to recommend, hit me up, I'm easy to find.

Update: It's alive! Much thanks to Sean Geoghegan, and also to Tim Bray for pointing me in the right direction.