Year: 2011

    The Rise and Fall of LiveJournal

    This is a post from my blog, which is (mostly) no longer available online. This page has been preserved because it was linked to from somewhere, or got regular search hits, and therefore may be useful to somebody.

    Once upon a time, accounts on blogging site LiveJournal were precious commodities indeed – the site gave out invites for its members to use, but there was no public sign-up page. I got my invite in the autumn of 2003 thanks to sasahara (Account active 2003-2009) from the IRC channel that I frequented at the time.

    LiveJournal was the ‘in’ place to be for angst-ridden students like myself, in the dim and distant pre-MySpace past. We were all there; it was our network before Facebook came along and crushed all other ways of swapping awful memes with your friends.

    If I recall correctly, on our first encounter, squirmelia (2001-2011) asked for my LJ handle before I was asked for my name. (Though seeing as that night was also my first encounter with eldritchreality_ (2004-2011)_ and charon47 (2001-2010), and my first trip to The Dungeon, that recollection may easily be in error.)

    As the place where we bared our hearts for the world to see, there were good and bad times aplenty, all pasted up on the internet – though in the case of the most intense drama, it was locked down for only certain groups of people to see. I recall having “Everyone except X” groups for all three of my University crushes, plus the girl I ended up with.

    The LiveJournals we created for characters in a roleplaying game, like my own Kotori (2004-2005) are still there. And aside from an in-character Remus Lupin blog (2003), eldritchreality and I are still the only LJ users to express an interest in combat magic. We spammed countless quizzes and memes together, organised dozens of parties over LJ; my friends and I.

    Good times. And yet, in a few short years, it has become nearly irrelevant.

    10% of those people I was friends with on LJ have properly closed their accounts; 90% of the rest stopped posting long ago. 20% of the groups I was a member of are closed, 100% of the rest are silent or beset by Russian spammers. 19 of my friends have their own blogs elsewhere. And I irritate everyone I’m sure by syndicating my own posts from my blog to LJ with the accompanying hook link to direct people back to my site.

    Scrolling back as far as I go in my LiveJournal friends list turns up a grand total of 10 people still using it, of which 8 post only unprotected entries which I could easily pull using an RSS feed.

    Which leads to the conclusion that LiveJournal is taking up its space on my toolbar and in my brain in order that I stay in touch with two people – both of whom I interact with more on Facebook than LiveJournal anyway.

    Sad as it is to see LiveJournal wither and die when once it was our companion through our angstiest years, I think it may soon be time to declare it over. Like all technology in our century, it ends not with a bang but with a whimper, simply rendered archaic and irrelevant by its successors.

    Like tears in rain, and all that.

    Could I Live Without…?

    This is a post from my blog, which is (mostly) no longer available online. This page has been preserved because it was linked to from somewhere, or got regular search hits, and therefore may be useful to somebody.

    A couple of months ago, I was particularly scathing about the crop of Facebook games that I was playing, particularly ones that had no end. The result? I no longer play any games on Facebook whatsoever. As I bemoaned at length, not one of them was adding to my life in any appreciable way.

    I wonder if it is now a good time to apply the same logic to various online services – to be extremely critical of them, to discover whether or not they actually add any value to my life. In short, could I live without…

    1. A Google Account

    As a search engine, Google is almost essential to life on the internet today.  Like a lot of you, I have signed up to many Google services over the years, each one simply on the merit that it was better than the competition (if there even was competition).  I go through phases of being alarmed at the amount of data Google collates about us all – their “do no evil” policy is wearing thin in the eyes of their customers.  But could I manage without mail, calendars and contacts synchronised between my phone and the web?  Without the near-endless entertainment of Google Reader?  Without the Android Market?

    Although I resent Google’s dominion over my online existence, its offerings are just better than others’.  And having an Android phone seals the deal.

    Verdict: No.

    2. GMail

    If I can’t live without a Google account, maybe I should just dump the GMail part of it?  I’ve actually done this once before; moved my e-mail wholesale to my own server.  But I went back – it’s a nice feeling to be in charge, to have your own mail server, but everything was so much harder.  ”Archiving” and “tagging” become a multi-click ‘move’ operation, IMAP has a host of strange issues, and no webmail client is a patch on Google’s.

    Ditching GMail appeals, but two months down the line I’d probably spend another evening moving everything back again.

    Verdict: Probably not.

    3. Twitter

    I suspect I’m in the minority, in that I follow no celebrities and don’t use Twitter for anything to do with “brand awareness” or “customer interaction”.  I use it for talking to my friends.  There are simply too many of us, online too irregularly, to use instant messaging – or god forbid, phone calls – any more.  (Whether that says something about the quality of our interaction, I’m not sure.)  But without Twitter I’d be largely unaware of what’s going on in the lives of the dozen or so people I care about the most.  Though my posts may be trivial and of interest to few, losing Twitter would be close to losing friends.

    Verdict: No.

    4. Facebook

    The social network we love to hate, there are a whole host of reasons people would want to quit – disregard for privacy, endless Farmville spam, lack of transparency / import & export functions – but yet, so few do.  I don’t play games on Facebook, I rarely post photos, I don’t “like” pages or take quizzes.  I have around 300 “friends”, many of whom I haven’t seen since school and wouldn’t recognise in the street.

    But there’s a few close friends and family that don’t use Twitter, and closing my Facebook account would mean cutting them off.  And besides, there’s always that nagging thought: “you’re 26 years old, every 26-year-old is on Facebook!”

    Verdict: It’s tempting to try.

    5. Google+

    Like many geeks, I am an “early adopter” of Google+, a social network that’s still in beta.  Now and again I load the page or run the mobile app, to see what people have posted – and they’ve posted exactly the same as they posted on Twitter.  Plus, without an API, I never bother to manually copy my own Twitter and Facebook posts to G+ too.

    It’s nice to be in there in case it picks up and becomes the next Social Network to Rule them All.  But right now, it’s taking up brain power and space on my bookmarks toolbar, and I’m gaining nothing from it.

    Verdict: Yes.

    6. LiveJournal

    All my LiveJournal posts are already syndicated from my blog, and I go through phases of disabling comments on my LiveJournal posts to drag people to comment on the blog itself.  It rarely works, but I have so little interaction with people through LiveJournal these days that it barely matters.  LiveJournal is dying, at least from my perspective, and I have already declared it time to quit.  Perhaps now is the time.

    Verdict: Yes.

    7. DeviantArt

    Once upon a time, I posted stories here with regularity.  Now, it’s a place I visit daily on the off-chance that one of the couple of artists whose pictures I enjoy has posted something.  Usually, they havent.  This is what RSS was made for.

    Verdict: Yes.

    8. Flickr

    Though firmly an amateur, I’m proud of my photos and Flickr is where I choose to show them off.  It’s also where family members abroad go to see what we’re up to, and it’s my insurance against a hard disk crash erasing the bits and bytes of our memories.  Just as with GMail, there’s a strong temptation to move my pictures to my own server, and run my own image gallery – but Flickr just does it better.

    Verdict: No.

    9. Last.fm

    I’ve been a keen scrobbler since the days when people knew what “scrobble” meant, and it’s so easy to set up that I’ve always set it up on any new computer, operating system or media player.  But why?  I know what my taste in music is, and I have little interest in my own listening history.  My friends surely have even less.  The only reason I can see for continuing is that I’m proud of the amount of data I’ve generated already – and that’s no reason at all for carrying on.

    Verdict: Yes.

    10. Foursquare

    In using Foursquare, I may be just as much a victim of the sunk cost fallacy as I was in all those Facebook games.  I’ve now been “playing” for so long that I’ve stopped caring about beating my friends; stopped caring how far away the next wall-chart sticker might be.  Checking in is just something I do when I arrive at a place.  I’m now essentially getting nothing out of Foursquare, even though I’m still reliably giving the company and its affiliates a complete history of where I go and where I shop.

    Verdict: Hell yes, ditch this yesterday.

    What are your thoughts on my reasoning?  Which services are you tied to, and which are you considering leaving for good?  I’d be interested to know.

    Announcing: SuccessWhale version 2.0!

    This is a post from my blog, which is (mostly) no longer available online. This page has been preserved because it was linked to from somewhere, or got regular search hits, and therefore may be useful to somebody.

    Ladies and Gentlemen of the Internet, I am pleased to announce that SuccessWhale version 2.0 has just been released and is now live on sw.onlydreaming.net.

    SuccessWhale is a web-based client for Twitter and Facebook, written in PHP, JavaScript and MySQL. It offers a multi-column view that allows users to merge together information from all their connected accounts and view it at a glance from any web browser.

    The big changes between version 1.1.2 and 2.0 are:

    • Facebook support
    • Support for multiple Twitter (and Facebook) accounts
    • As many columns as you want
    • Columns that combine multiple feeds
    • Lightboxed images from Twitpic and yFrog
    • New themes
    • Numerous bug fixes!

    You can see a screenshot of it in action below:

    SuccessWhale Screenshot

    I would particularly like to thank Alex Hutter, Hugo Day, Erica Renton and Rg Enzon, whose help in finding bugs and suggesting new features has been instrumental in bringing SuccessWhale up to version 2.0 today.

    SuccessWhale is an open source project, and the source code is licenced under the GPL v3.

    SuccessWhale is Terrifying: VPS Edition

    This is a post from my blog, which is (mostly) no longer available online. This page has been preserved because it was linked to from somewhere, or got regular search hits, and therefore may be useful to somebody.

    Just under two years ago, my SuccessWhale Twitter client was gaining new users at a steady rate and, as I noticed with alarm, was about to blow through my then-limited bandwidth allowance.

    I’ve since relocated all my web stuff to Dreamhost, taking advantage of their unlimited bandwidth offering to plow through 10 GB and more a month. But now I’m coming up against the last remaining limit of my shared hosting – memory usage.

    Both Westminster Hubble, which constantly crawls MPs’ social networks and RSS feeds, and an increasingly complex SuccessWhale, churn through a ton of memory. I don’t have a nice scary graph for this one, but at peak times, I’d estimate that my web server kills over half my PHP processes due to excess memory use. That means Only Dreaming basically goes down, while SuccessWhale throws errors around if it even loads at all.

    It looks like I’m left taking the expensive plunge of moving my hosting to a VPS rather than a shared solution, which is a jump I’m nervous to make, especially since none of my web properties make me any money. Most worrying of all is that VPS prices tend to vary by available memory, and I don’t actually know how much memory all my stuff would take up if it were allowed free rein. And nor do I have any way of finding out, bar jumping ship to a VPS and taking advantage of free trial weeks.

    So, dear lazyweb, do you have any experience with this sort of thing? And can anyone reccommend a good (cheap!) VPS host that fulfils the following criteria:

    • LAMP stack with “P” being both PHP and Python (or *BSD instead of Linux)

    • Full shell access

    • Unlimited (or at least 100 GB) bandwidth

    • Unlimited (or at least 10 GB) disk space

    • At least 20 MySQL databases

    • IMAP mailboxes & mail forwarding

    I’ve been recommended linode by a friend which seems great for tinkering, though the price scales up rapidly with RAM use and I’m not sure I want to deal with the hassle of setting up Apache, MySQL etc. by myself. And there’s Dreamhost’s own offering, which would be virtually zero-hassle to switch to, but probably isn’t the cheapest around.

    So, citizens of the interweb, I seek your advice!

    Glitch: A Beautiful Something

    This is a post from my blog, which is (mostly) no longer available online. This page has been preserved because it was linked to from somewhere, or got regular search hits, and therefore may be useful to somebody.

    My name is Cheesefish, and against all logic it is one of the more mundane names I have come across. I am wearing a sari and I have a fox on my head. My hobby: squeezing chickens. My mission: to become the finest chef the world of Glitch has ever seen.

    Glitch is a browser-based, entirely combat-free, massively multiplayer online game. And for the last few days, it has been something of an obsession. It is Maple Story, if Maple Story cut the combat (and the Korean-ness) and focussed solely on exploration and crafting mechanics. And it’s the exploration that makes it. As a 2D scrolling flash game, there are none of World of Warcraft or Guild Wars’ sweeping vistas here, but it makes up for it in variety. One moment you may be exploring a lush and utterly normal forest, but one stop on the ever-present intercontinental subway drops you off in a land of pastel where the hills have eyes.

    Stranger places still await the intrepid explorer. Keita Takahashi, creator of Katamari Damacy, has had his hands on this game and it certainly shows. (The other more recognisable members of the team are, bizarrely, the founders of Flickr.) There have clearly been some… unique minds behind the design of this game, which become most apparent when acquiring raw materials from the environment.

    Need meat? You get it by nibbling on pigs, but only after petting them. Milk? From butterflies of course, but they must be massaged first. Grain can be obtained by squeezing chickens, but eggs? Oh, right. Egg plants.

    From the odd interactions with fauna to the bizarre contraptions you can use, the ever-humorous quest descriptions and the pet rock that does your learning for you, there’s a strange sense of humour at work here and it works very well indeed.

    Glitch is also an example of one of my most hated things – an Energy-based game that has no end. But here, it doesn’t feel malicious like the game-killing ‘games’ of Zynga and Playfish. Energy is plentiful and refills completely every few hours, and even with my character’s mediocre cooking skills, she can easily whip up enough odd food and drinks to keep her energy and mood full. Skills are learned over minutes, hours or days of real time, but again unlike FarmVille and its kin, they’re not just a mechanism to drag you back to the game. There doesn’t feel like an urgency to get them learned, and besides, you can manage them from the website or the iOS app without having to touch the game itself.

    So what the heck is Glitch? It doesn’t seem much like a game, as there’s no way to win and no reason to compete against anyone. It’s a world to explore, to create and add to, and apparently, to hold farmers’ markets in.

    It resembles nothing quite so much as a twenty-first century upgrade of the MUSH, the shared environments from the early ’90s. If it allows anything like a MUSH’s ability for players to create and expand the world, it will be a wonder. But creating with text is easy; doing so with graphics much more complex, and I can’t imagine the company behind Glitch giving up creative control so readily.

    But even without that, even without an idea of what it is and what it’s going to be, it’s certainly a beautiful something.