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Friday March 7, 2008

Hey, I have an idea! Since wlrn.org is such a clusterfuck, here’s a link directly to the listen now service. (It’s also in the navbar under “Links, general interest.”)

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Tuesday March 4, 2008

talkingnightlife: a discussion board dedicated to the Miami club scene. In “Alpha,” but appears to be pretty well populated. Slick design, too, with image sidebars that appear and disappear with browser width. (via Nefarious, who is a contributing photographer)

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Thursday January 17, 2008

The Miami Herald has launched miami.com beta, a city guide-cum-shot at internet relevancy, and it looks promising. There is great content, including a listing of artist with studios open to the public, a collection of old-Miami attractions, and a guide to the best of the food trucks. Most interesting though is the social-networking overlay, which allows the creation of MySpace-like profies, commenting, and whatnot, all tied to a point system that rewards active users.

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Monday December 31, 2007

“I’m thankfully no longer with the company, and the last I heard the project’s delivery is now late by around 5 months. So, when your new Comcast Personal Web Pages sucks a fat donkey cock, you can blame the shitty management at Affinity Internet and the even worse decision making of Hostway Corporation. ¶ How’s that for professionalism?” — Alex Cabrera, who recently outed himself as the author of Habla Mierda, from his about page. Yowzer!

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Thursday December 20, 2007

Sites gone from the Miami scene that I’ll miss as much, if not more then SotP: Category 305, Boom or Bust, Miami Vision Blogarama. What the hell is going on here? Update: Celeste responds. Long story short, lots of snafus, but the archives of C-305 will be back up at some point.

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Comment moderation at Herald.com?

Storm clouds gather around the reader comment situation at Herald.com. It seems that the future holds a registration system and/or comment moderation for the Herald, and with the ratio of useless/offensive comments that currently plague the site, I can’t say that I see this as a particularly bad thing. But I would also encourage the Herald to borrow even more liberally from how comments work on blogs. For example, the few comment excerpts at the bottom of articles never correspond to the articles at the top of the comments page. And why have a separate comments page, anyway? But more importantly, there is a glaring fallacy here:

The number of visitors to MiamiHerald.com in November was up 66 percent from the year before, according to Executive Editor Anders Gyllenhaal, and registration might slow or even temporarily reverse such strong growth.

With all due respect, Mr. Schumacher-Matos, the Herald’s Ombudsman, is getting himself very confused: what’s putting the breaks on Herald.com readership is the registration system required for reading the site, which is not only invasive and tedious, but broken — I’ve personally repeatedly re-registered for the site, only to have it forget me after a couple of months. I’m back to using bugmenot to access it, which of course does nobody any good (like the slipshod “data” they collect with the system had a hope of being of any use to the Herald to begin with). The obvious non-controversial solution is to make the site as easy as possible to read, and require registration for commenting. Throw in a few simple social-networking features, and your offensive comments will decline drastically, and be much easier to enforce.

I do appreciate the difficulty of the Herald’s position here, though — deleting comments is tricky, because once you take an active role in comment moderation, you are more responsible, both in a commonsense way and in a legal way, for the comments that remain on the site. And of course journalists prefer to error on the side of free speech, reader-friendliness, and (more recently) “interactivity.” Of course in this situation, those three ideals stand somewhat in opposition to each other.

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Thursday December 6, 2007

miami beach parking

Miami Beach Parking Receipt Generator. Supposedly they’re on to this, so it’s just for fun. (via) Update: MBPRG got p0wned.

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Tuesday December 4, 2007

The state of Florida has formed a partnership with Google to create an app to help people find state information on the web. I have a better idea: why not overhaul the state’s websites so they’re spider-crawlable. “Database-based” is no excuse: Critical Miami is database based, and Google does pretty damn well with it, in case you haven’t noticed.

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Monday October 8, 2007

10 ways the new miamidade.gov website sucks

miamidade.GOV

“OK, we’ll show those bastards. We’ll re-design the site, top-down, make it all Web-2.0 looking, throw every widget under the sun at it, and be damned if they’re not blown away.”

Uh, sorry, Judi. You blew it. Big time. So much so that a comprehensive, methodical analysis would take weeks, of which I ain’t got. But let me give you some highlights:

  1. You’ve got five (oh so slick) tabs running across the top: ‘Home,’ ‘Service Center,’ ‘County Agencies,’ ‘County Hall,’ and ‘Calendar.’ With the exception of the first and last one, do you really think anyone who doesn’t work in a county government has any idea what those things mean? You get paid for obfuscation?
  2. It’s a non-standards-compliant mess of HTML tables. I sympathize: web standards have only been globally accepted since around 2002. Nobody would expect you to get up to speed when building a website for a body that only governs 2.4 million people.
  3. Some of your links launch new windows . . . some don’t. This would be annoying enough if there were some rhyme or reason to it. There ain’t. Speaking of links, about half the links to existing pages have broken.
  4. What’s the single worst method for delivering online video? Windows Media? OK, let’s use that exclusively. (I’m letting the random links to PDF’s slide.)
  5. Here’s another great idea: let’s have as many sections of the site look and behave as completely differently from each other as possible! OK, you’ve got the main page. Compare the following: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 . . . ok, I’ll stop. Those last two aren’t technically even on the same domain (btw, is there a reason for that?). This takes the cake, though, right? No navigation for you! (What makes this particularly fun is that all these pages are a just a single click off the main page. Imagine what we could find if we dug a little.)
  6. With the possible exception of the Luminati, every other website in the universe that requires registration has the registration button on the login page. I searched like crazy for the registration button, and after a long search was informed that “Due to our recent upgrade, however, registration is temporarily suspended.” Ah — so this is one of the new “features.” Got it. Curious about why I was trying to log in?
  7. because the “My Calendar” thing seemed like the only hope for getting useful information out of your otherwise hopeless calendar page. Speaking of the calendar, if a sane rethinking of the whole thing is out, can we at least have the events open to real pages, instead of crappy popup windows?
  8. On the “Information for . . .” menu, residents are #9 on a list of 11. Thanks for making it abundantly clear where we rate.
  9. Extra poke in the eye to Firefox (or any non-IE/Windows) users: home page opens scrolled down a random number of lines, “intro” video distorts into its letterboxed shape, and of course none of the previously mentioned FUBAR has been addressed.
  10. . . . all of which brings me to the sad conclusion that this is nothing but a shitty new skin on the same shitty old mess. We think these people are going to implement county-wide wireless internet access? They can’t even get a website working right.

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Wednesday October 3, 2007

Also: the Herald’s webmasters had nothing better to do, so they decided to overhaul the site’s misguided mandatory registration system. It went live yesterday and dumped anyone who registered after May of this year. If you’re going to re-register, please use names to let them know how you feel about the system (e.g. “Mr. Fuckyou Assholes”) and MyTrashMail.

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Monday October 1, 2007

A list of still-live Miami-related Geocities websites, including Early aviation photographs, the Coconut Grove juggling exchange, ‘Nicholas Dunn’’’s Story’, and the charming South Beach crew. You may also enjoy the Firefox extension Timemachine 1.0, which will make ANY website look like 1996.

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Wednesday September 26, 2007

Hey, would anyone be interested in creating a Wikipedia article about Awesome New Republic?

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Monday September 17, 2007

Dear Miami galleries, thanks for keeping those sites updated, now can we talk about the Flash?

Try this experiment: Google a few of the artists that David Castillo represents, and note where the gallery’s page for that artist falls in the search results (#1 for Pepe Mar, a little way down on the first screen for Andrew Guenther, and on the second screen for Wendy Wischer). Repeat for Fred Snitzer (oops, it’s not possible to link directly to his artist list). Nope. Nada. Nothing (note: not even when you add the name of the gallery to the request). Hernan Bas is there right now, but with a broken link and slipping fast.

That, my friends, is why you don’t want a Flash website.

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Thursday September 6, 2007

Museum Park Forum. I love the idea of a site like this, and while this seems pretty transparently anti-museum and somewhat wrong-headed (if you give people a list of 23 community-park amenities to choose from, don’t be surprised when it looks like people want a community park). Here’s the plan for Bicentennial/Museum Park. And FWIW, I still support a soccer field on Parcel B — soccer is one of the few things Bicentennial Park is currently used for.

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Monday August 20, 2007

Looks like the website of Fredric Snitzer Gallery is being redesigned in Flash. Please please say it ain’t so!

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Friday August 10, 2007

Edited Herald letter

Herald Watch got a hold of a letter to the editor sent to the Herald and compared it to the published version. The letter is by former Herald journalist Paul Crespo, one of the subjects of Oscar Corral’s Radio Marti story. The strikeout text was deleted from the version published, underlined text was added. Interesting:

Reporter arrested / I was amazed -- but not surprised -- by your coverage of the arrest of Miami Herald reporter Oscar Corral. As the self-styled arbiter of ethics in Miami, The Miami Herald is displaying its own lack of ethics and professionalism in this case. In contrast to your front-page coverage of several Cuban-American journalists (including me) in 2006, your microscopic coverage of Corral's recent arrest for allegedly soliciting a prostitute was hidden on page three of the Metro section. / Regarding the front-page story by Corral about our freelancing for TV Marti, your own ombudsman, Clark Hoyt, found numerous flaws in Corral's reporting. Among the many critiques in his report on Corral's article, Hoyt stated that the story's ''hard and accusatory tone and the large and breathless headline suggested something more sinister than the story actually reported.'' What a difference between your piece against us and this minimal coverage of your reporter who wrote it. -- PAUL CRESPO, Coral Gables

What happened here? Well, they haven’t made it sound like Paul is saying anything he didn’t say. They’ve selected one particular point he made and deleted the material that’s tangential to that point. In the process, much of the anger obvious in the original has been sapped. There’s no question that the Herald editors have the right to do this. The question becomes, again, what should newspapers do differently in light of the internet?

A commenter on HW says: “On the web, there is little space limitation. They could have at least published the full version online.” More interestingly, they could publish both versions online, and let us see the edits. Such radical transparency seems to be the direction the internet is pushing all business, and it’s not ironic that newspapers are getting pushed in this direction, too. It will be interesting to see how long they fight this, and to what extent they are willing and able to change.

In the meantime, let’s have more of this. CC Conductor on letters you send to the Herald, and maybe these sorts of revision-revealed letters will become a regular feature.

[Accessibility note: the edited version of the letter is in the image’s alt-text. The original version is here.]

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Friday August 3, 2007

Good evening. Please note that Miami Nights now has an RSS feed. Thank you, gentlemen.

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Wednesday August 1, 2007

Design tweaks at the miamiherald.com

herald menu

Click over to any news story at miamiherald.com, and you get this groovy new menu bar. This is the same design I complained about on the Carnival Center’s website last year. These are not too difficult to use but please Herald — can’t we have drop-down menus? You know, like we use on all of our software every day? Yes, I know they block a portion of your content, but when we’re on the menu we’re not looking at the content. Trust me — you’d make life much easier for all your users, especially the less computer-savvy ones.

That said, I really like the feature. I can jump to whatever section I need with one click, and scrolling through the menus gives a good overview of the site’s structure. Which leads me to the next logical question: why not on the home page? All usually I want from the Herald’s home page is to get to the local news in one click, and I’ve never been able to do that. Why, Herald, why? Why does the “News” link in the left column menu have sub-links for “Hurricane 2007” and “Obituaries” but nothing else? Hopefully you’re just trying it out, and then will migrate it to the home page. I like that idea of rolling out interface changes bit by bit, rather then doing a grand all-at-once “redesign.”

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Thursday July 19, 2007

The new Sun-Sentinel website

sun sentinel homepage

A much needed overhaul

The Sun-Sentinel’s website recently went in for a long-due redesign. The new page is much easier on the eyes, with whitespace, gray hairlines between content, and periwinkle headlines. They’ve added some significant features, including modern “article tools” (which allow for resizing text, e-mailing a page, and more), a 5-star system that allows you to “rate” almost everything on the site, and “most viewed/most e-mailed” lists. A handy site index at the bottom of the home page allows quick jumps to any section of the site. The flagship of the re-design is a tabbed box on the home page that allows you to quickly scan headlines from the five most popular sections. To top it off, the design gives a nod to modern design standards; while it doesn’t quite validate, the old table-oriented layout is gone, almost completely replaced with more semantic markup. (If the last sentence made your eyes glaze over, don’t worry, just know that it’s a good thing.) So, the Sentinel gets a pat on the back?

Well, not so fast. When a project of this magnitude comes along, you don’t evaluate it by comparing it to what it replaced — you compare it to what it might have been, to the ideal solution. In some alarming ways, the new redesign is a re-skinning of the old site with a sprinkling of poorly-implemented me-too features cherry-picked from other newspaper sites. On closer inspection: “Most visited/e-mailed” lists are great, but what about “most blogged”? That’s gone over very well on sites such as nytimes.com. The “e-mail” this doesn’t e-mail a copy of a story, just a link to it, so when the story disapears from the website, the e-mail is worthless. And the tabbed “main module” is patched together out of flimsy JavaScript, doesn’t work properly in some versions of Firefox, and doesn’t work at all in non-JavaScript browsers.

But the big deal isn’t what the Sun-Sentinel did wrong, but what they chose not to do at all. What we have here is a content management system that just doesn’t manage the content very well, and doesn’t present it to the user in very helpful ways. Where are the archives? Most of the pages (not all!) display lists of articles only from the present day, but to find something that ran yesterday or a few days ago, you’re relegated to the search function, which, while vastly improved, still often returns way too many results and does not allow the results to be sorted by date. So it’s back to the needle-in-haystack scenario for finding anything but today’s news.

Blogs and archives

Let’s talk about blogs. The Sentinel has about 20, and they’re fine. But the news/blogs dichotomy implies a lack of understanding of what’s happening on the internet. Insofar as this dichotomy exists on almost all newspaper sites, this is a criticism of the industry rather then the Sentinel specifically, but bear with me. Consider that the blogs are the only parts of the Sentinel’s site that get obvious RSS feeds and permanent archives. What could possibly be the rationale, 10 years from now, of making their writers’ fleeting impressions searchable and accessible, while hiding the real news stories behind a paywall? (And no, they don’t get to say that it’s a question of needing to make money.)

The defining characteristic of real-world blogs is their reverse-chronological organization. What newspapers should be doing is to take the aspects of blogs that make them so powerful (in particuar the immediacy) and apply them all their content, not to have two parallel (blog/non-blog) systems. What’s the difference, really, between a short article and a blog entry? In the case of the Sentinel, it’s that the former is gone from the internet after a month, and the latter is permanent and has monthly archives. The Sentinel’s today-only mentality about the news means that even pages that do list older articles, such as Joe Kollin’s column about homeowners’ associations, don’t list the dates for the articles (look at that page and note how many features of a blog it has — does what the Sentinel is doing here really make sense?). Other columnists get a page with dates, but one which seems to observe the one-month rule.

A change in thinking

The problem with most newspaper websites is that the newspapers are trying to make the internet work their way, rather then adapting themselves to how the internet works. Online video on news sites is all well and good (well, actually it’s often terrible), as is PDA/cellphone-friendly content, but what we need is some real thinking about how to use this medium to its best advantage. Adrian Holovaty wrote an excellent article about how he envisions the job that newspapers do shifting in light of the new possibilities of the internet. He pleads for a move away from the “collect information/dump it into a news story” mode of thinking to a way of presenting each set of information in the way most suited to it.

For example, say a newspaper has written a story about a local fire. Being able to read that story on a cell phone is fine and dandy. Hooray, technology! But what I really want to be able to do is explore the raw facts of that story, one by one, with layers of attribution, and an infrastructure for comparing the details of the fire — date, time, place, victims, fire station number, distance from fire department, names and years experience of firemen on the scene, time it took for firemen to arrive — with the details of previous fires. And subsequent fires, whenever they happen.

What he’s arguing is that data, where applicable, should be stored in a database format that can be re-purposed later with maps, timelines, and other tools not yet envisioned. Write news articles where applicable, but look constantly for more useful ways to present information. Over the years the paper news industry has developed tools that made the most of the newspaper format (including charts, photos, diagrams, and other infographics). It has been painfully slow to do so for the internet. A couple of weeks ago the Sun-Sentinel ran a front-page story about water pumps that had been shut down due to groundwater salt intrusion, accompanied by an interesting diagram. Obviously much more could have been done online, but the website version of the story didn’t even have the diagram!

Other opportunities missed

There is a hostility to the notion of someone getting their news from multiple sources working here which again turns a blind eye to the realities of the internet. Want people to make your page the first place they visit? Why not make it customizable? No need to go as far as iGoogle — how about allowing folks to choose what their favorite sections are and put those on the front page? How about RSS feeds from other news sources? Outlandish? Works pretty good at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: their traffic page is a marvel of maps, live cams, RSS feeds, external links, and articles which — helpfully — have a headline, short summary blurb, and for articles from before today, a date!

So, they changed the layout. Great. Some bloggers do this every few months, to abate boredom. No doubt the Sun-Sentinel spent in the (low) tens of thousands of dollars for their new layout. Is it an improvement over the old site? Well, duh (on a good day, my cat can vomit up an improvement over their old site). But have they addressed any of the challenges facing them and their fellow businesses on today’s internet? No, natch. They’ve dressed a dog up in a slightly more practical and less baroque dress.

Update: I have more nit-pick thoughts that I’ll add as they occur to me:

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Tuesday July 17, 2007

The helpful folks at Miami-Dade.gov are always looking out for you. Next up is an alert system that will send you an e-mail, pager alert, or text message (your choice!) in the event of a hurricane or other warning situation. More about your choice: English, Spanish, or Creole! Kindly direct yourself to this only slightly user-hostile page if you’re interested.

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A live, auto-refreshing list of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue active calls. Can I have these archived, sortable, and mashed into a Google map, please?

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Monday July 16, 2007

A very interesting editing war is underway over the Wikipedia entry for Biscayne Landing.

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Friday July 13, 2007

The Sun-Sentinel’s web page has been redesigned for the usefuler (obviously inspired by the fabulous nytimes.com). Word is that miamiherald.com is undergoing an overhaul right now, to be launched in the near future.

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Tuesday July 10, 2007

Maybe Ed Rappaport, the new interim director of the NHC, can get his hands on some solvent and UNSTICK THE CENTER’S CAPS LOCK KEY.

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Thursday June 21, 2007

The Coconut Grove Village Council is behind on posting notices of their upcoming meetings and minutes of past meetings on their website. Tom challenged them on it, and got back a very polite letter which basically said, we don’t have the time to do it. Which Tom correctly points out is BS — you don’t not have time — you just don’t consider it a priority. If you can send out e-mails and press releases, you can update a website. If you thought it was important, at the very least there’d be a message at the top of your website along the lines of “Volunteer help needed running this website. Please contact us.”

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Wednesday May 9, 2007

Panel homework

In preparation for tonight’s panel, I’m reading and re-reading recent work by my fellow panelists. Here’s what I’ve got:

OK, sorry, I’m getting a little carried away venting my frustrations with these publications’ websites. I’m not addressing the writing; these are obviously all fine writers, I just hate to see good work be put into crappy packages. Anyhow, see you there at 7 pm.

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Thursday January 25, 2007

Defeating the Miami Herald’s lame login wall. Sure you can bugmenot it once and be done for life, but lackner has another way — the Herald’s website apparently lets you view a few articles without registering, so if you’re a light user, all you have to do is delete your miami.com cookies once in awhile.

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Wednesday January 10, 2007

More adventures on MiamiDade.gov

screengrab of a horrible online tool nobody should have to use

Sooner or later, you’re going to run into a Genious of Despair, and he’s going to ask you if you know who your county commissioner is. Time to get ready . . . except that the MiamiDade.gov website doesn’t make it easy. There’s a list of commissioners, and pages for each of them, and, hmm.. ok those link to maps of the districts, but where’s a map of the whole county? Wait for it . . . and nope: after five minutes of furious clicking and searching, I can’t find the answer. There’s a “Who is my Commissioner?” link, but that takes me back to the Firefox now allowed page. The site is borked in other ways, too — expanding menus won’t stay expanded, links launch new windows and mysterious “applications,” and I just know there’s a hidden link to a PDF lurking somewhere ready to crash my computer. Let’s play a game: I’ll give you safe Jpeg links to the district maps, and you try to figure out which one you live in with the fewest possible clicks (give yourself a pat on the back if you get it in six or fewer!). Then return to this page to decode your answer. Ready?

Nope, that didn’t work either. The URL’s to the district maps are not consistent, and some of the Commissioners’ pages don’t even give a link to the map. Surrendering, I fire up Internet Explorer, and go to this horrible contraption, what appears to be a Java-powered nightmare from the latter part of the 20th century. My computer wheezes, groans, and chuckles as I tried to pan and zoom on the crappiest of little maps.

Seriously, though, if it’s wrong for the WLRN website to be inaccessible, it’s 10 times worse for the county (annual budget: $6 billion+) government website. (Ways in which it’s inaccessible #4080: the commission map is color coded. Plus, what’s up with 13 commission seats and only 8 zones on the map?) Hello, is anybody out there listening?

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Sunday October 29, 2006

You must use Internet Explorer to live in Miami-Dade

'This site is best viewed with Internet Explorer' error message

Excellent work, guys, really. This is the page from which I got there, by clicking the “Find a park near you” link. Three observations here:

Overall, my impression is that miamidade.gov is a very information-rich site, but with lots of baffling gaps. Check out how the parks listed on pages like this don’t link to the parks’ pages. C’mon, guys; you can do better. Update: Dugg.

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