Yearly Archives of: 2012


Pictures From A Few Weeks In London

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I’ve spent the past month or so trotting back and forth to London and have been rather enjoying myself. Since I take photos everywhere I go I’ve been taking lots of pictures. However looking at them, they’re not exactly what your average London visitor photographs. No sights, no London Eye, no House of Parliament. No, they seem mostly of food. Not sure what that says about me, but here’s a random assortment of pictures from London! I’m sure I’ll add more to this album over the coming weeks.


Put Instagram Photos On Your Desktop Wallpaper With John’s Background Switcher


I promised myself when I released John’s Background Switcher 4.5 a couple of months ago that I’d take a break and go build some iPhone applications I’ve been thinking about. I’m primarily a Mac user now so JBS (currently Windows only) isn’t something I really use and after 8 years working on it in my spare time I figured I’d taken it as far as I could. In short, it was time to work on something else.

Then, while taking a photo with Instagram (you know, that iPhone / Android photo app that Facebook bought for $1 billion), it struck me how cool it would be to add Instagram as a photo source to JBS. Instagram forces you to take square photos and JBS has a few options that make square photos look awesome. With JBS you can make it set your desktop background to a single picture (with a different one on each monitor if you have more than one) and that’s fine, but it can also create cool montages like a mosaic, postcard pile or a polaroid pile like these below:

Since Instagram was cool enough for Facebook to acquire I figured it might be cool enough that people would want to see Instagram photos on their desktop. So following a weekend’s work I’m rather pleased to release a new version of John’s Background Switcher that supports Instagram! (Those montages above were in fact created by JBS using Instagram photos).

Once you’ve installed JBS and brought up the settings window you can click ‘Add’ then ‘Instagram photos’ where you’ll be prompted to authenticate with Instagram:

You’ll need to have an Instagram account to use the JBS integration, so log in and you’ll be able to let JBS (on your computer only) read your feed. You can revoke access at any time from the Authorized Applications page on Instagram. Once you’ve authenticated you can create ‘sets’ from any of these options:

  • Your own photos
  • Your photo feed (the one you see when you fire up the Instagram mobile app)
  • Popular photos (the same photos from the mobile app)
  • Photos you’ve liked
  • Tags (add a tag and JBS will choose photos with that tag)

You can add all of the above and create as many sets as you like (so if you like photos of sunsets, sunrises, cats, lhasa apsos and hamsters, create a set for each tag).

Since Instagram photos are pretty small it won’t work very well if you use a single picture for your desktop, instead choose either a mosaic, postcard pile or polaroid pile for best results. You can select the picture mode here from the settings window:

Anyway, go to the download page, get yourself a copy of JBS (which is completely free) and enjoy! If you want to help me keep staying up late by drinking coffee and making JBS better, there’s a donate button right on the download page.

Update (2016): Note that as of June 2016 Instagram disabled API access to your own photo feed. This means JBS and apps like it can only show you your own Instagram photos.

Update (2021): Unfortunately Facebook decided that to access the Instagram API you need to be a verified business so the party is over – JBS no longer supports Instagram. It was fun in the early (pre-Facebook) days but all good things inevitably come to an end (post acquisition).


The Perils And Pleasures Of An Inquisitive Mind


If you follow the tech news you’ll often come across stories of “hackers” that have broken into secure military systems, stolen user’s login details to social networking site, extracted lists of credit card numbers from online shops, written viruses that spread across the world blocking up networks and a host of other “evil” and disruptive things. Quite often it turns out that the people doing it were young and inquisitive and instead of having evil motives just wanted to do it to see if they could.

It’s easy to look at these people with scorn and say they should channel their computing skills more wisely, but I never think that because I know exactly where they’re coming from.

I’ve managed to make a career writing software for a living. I’m fortunate in that the products I’ve built are, at any one time, in the hands of hundreds of thousands of people. I pride myself on my software craftsmanship – making phenomenal attention to detail my minimum requirement. I’m pathologically obsessed with details and building the best and most robust products I can while balancing the fact that I can’t spend an eternity polishing and improving – ultimately I have to get what I build in to the hands of people. And you know what? I may not be the smartest guy, the most talented developer or the most creative soul, but I’m pretty good at getting it done – shipping quality software.

While my University degree did cover a bit of software engineering, everything I’ve learned I learned by working with great people and having an inquisitive mind with a thirst for knowledge and self-improvement. However I had to start somewhere.

Back when I attended University it was the early days of the internet and there was a networked computer system that all students had access to. You logged on from any of the desktop computers and could access a variety of systems. I can’t remember what any of these systems were but I can remember the login system. You typed something like ‘login’ and hit a screen that asked for your user name and your password. Then you were in.

It struck me that it wasn’t very secure. If you walked up to a computer that was already showing you the login screen, how would you know it really was the login screen? So I decided to write a small piece of software that looked exactly the same, but when a user put their details in it would store them to a file, tell them they’d entered invalid login details and exit. They’d assume they’d mis-typed their password, login again and success!

Anyway, I wrote my little program, copied it onto a few machines when nobody was looking and ran it on each one so that as I walked away, anybody sitting down would think it was left at the login page. I returned a day or so later and sure enough, on each machine I’d have a look at the hard drive and my password file would have a user name and password for a real user. I tried one out, it worked, then I logged out.

To be clear, my motives had nothing to do with stealing passwords or logging into other people’s accounts. My concern was that the login system was insecure and I wanted to prove it in the best way possible – with real users. Clearly I was ahead of my time in terms of usability testing principles! I wanted to prove that the system was easy to hijack and, once I confirmed that to myself I deleted the programs and all the password files. I was much more interested in how I’d solve the problem to make the login system more secure than using login details for mischief.

The Windows NT Log On ScreenI found it interesting that when Windows NT came along you had to hit Ctrl+Alt+Del to bring up the login dialog (see right). Since that key sequence couldn’t be hijacked on Windows you could guarantee when you pressed it that nobody was running a malicious login screen. Most people didn’t realise this fact but I did following on from my investigations of the network login page while I was a student. I realised then that the people in Microsoft who came up with that solution clearly thought the same way I did. And now I know they do since my career has been doing the same thing they do – building software.

It turns out that to write robust software you need to think about every possible thing that could go wrong because if you have more than 1-2 users, everything that possibly could go wrong absolutely will go wrong at one time or another. The most consistent difference between good developers and mediocre ones is that the latter always code for the ideal situation – it never occurs to them that the user’s network connection might fail, their system might run out of memory, they might delete some files out from under you, that a service you’re using might fall over or that when they query for some data, nothing may come back, etc. Good people look at something and instinctively think “what if X goes wrong?” and try to think through all the edge cases they can. That same attitude is what made me look at the flaws in my University network login system and think about how it could be made more secure.

I’m definitely not the only software developer who’s done questionable things with software in their youth in the name of curiosity or inquisitiveness. Still, I never got caught because I learned to keep my mouth shut. Until today. So let’s just keep this a secret between you and me dear reader! 😉


A Weekend Camping Near Aysgarth, North Yorkshire

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What better way to spend a rare sunny weekend in Yorkshire than camping with friends and dog in the Yorkshire Dales near Aysgarth? Since I couldn’t think of any other way that’s exactly what we spent the weekend doing and as you’ll see from the photos we had a fantastic time! And Billy, our dog, turned out to be the perfect camping companion. Chilled out and enjoying hanging around with great people (and me). 🙂


Cornwall 2012


Having been to Cornwall a couple of years ago we thought it was time to go back. We spent a week staying near St Austell and our mission was to ensure our new dog Billy was as tired as possible at the end of every day. This meant visiting sandy beaches he could run along. I think you’ll agree: mission accomplished!


Ten Years Of Incoherent Ramblings (Blogging)


Slightly over ten years ago I came up with an idea. I’d left University and moved from Scotland down to Yorkshire and was struggling to effectively keep in touch with friends and family. While sending out lots of emails saying the same thing over and over again was fun I thought there had to be a better way to do it. Unrelated to this I’d previously, on a whim, registered the domain and hadn’t a clue what to do with it.

Then that idea I mentioned struck me. What if, instead of emailing everybody telling them what I’m up to, I simply created a website, wrote about all the things I got up to and had it automatically email friends and family when I posted something new? People could post comments after each article and no more multiple emailing. Genius!

I certainly wasn’t the first person to come up with the idea (there were plenty of people who’d been doing it for years already) but weblogs – or blogs as they eventually became known – were nowhere near as popular as they are now. I began with a simple site – a reverse chronological list of posts – newest first – and collected them into monthly archives. Whenever I posted something new I sent out an email to all the people I knew who wanted to be kept updated. I hand rolled some basic commenting functionality (this was before comment spam existed – those were the days) that let people add their two cents. I eventually renamed the site to “John’s Adventures” in a kind of ironic way and it stuck.

My goal was always to keep people in touch with what I was up to and friends and family were the audience I was writing to in my mind. I certainly wasn’t writing trying to become popular, famous, monetize or attract any attention at all – just keep friends and family up to date with my life. And for the past 10 years that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.

The thing that’s surprised me (other than that a great many people actually choose to come and read what I’ve written) is how much I’ve connected with people out there in the real world through my site. For instance, when I eventually came to terms with the death of my mother I put pen to paper to write down my thoughts on the process. Some time later I decided to post it here and the response has been overwhelming in terms of comments and emails from people telling me they felt the same way, it brought comfort to them or that they were glad to hear they weren’t alone.

I’ve made many friends I got to know virtually through blogging. I remember the first time I actually met my now good friend John Topley – I realised I actually knew him more than most of my real world friends! I’ve made friends I’ve still yet to meet (like Anne – who wrote the first blog I followed and still do). I’ve been recognised in the real world from the things I’ve written having been asked: “You’re not John Conners are you?” as well as by the software I’ve built and publicised here.

I’ve even been sent random free stuff which I’m never going to complain about! However despite repeatedly writing about travelling nobody’s sent me any first class tickets to Bora Bora so that remains one of my hopes! 😉

It’s also helped me improve my general writing skills. I’ve always tried to write in the same way I speak in the real world. So if you know me in the real world you’ll hear my voice in your head reading this text out but likewise if you’re reading this and haven’t met me you already know how my sense of humour works in the real world and that I talk a lot! In terms of communicating with people via the written word be it in a work context or otherwise, writing here has helped me immeasurably.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read that “blogging is dead” when new fads come along like MySpace, twitter and Facebook. I do partake in the social networking thing (as anyone unlucky enough to be my friend on Facebook will attest to). However while sometimes weeks can pass without posting anything here, the compulsion to write about the random things I get up to along with photos of the things I’ve been doing eventually overcomes me and I come crawling back.

I sometimes take a look through my archives and re-read things I wrote years ago. Often it makes me laugh or smile as I remember events I’d long since forgotten. I’ve even searched Google for an answer to a question and found myself on my own site where I wrote the answer! It’s a small virtual world.

Anyway, I see no reason to stop doing what I enjoy so here’s to the next 10 years and beyond! 🙂


Moving My Site From To


This site has been powered by the open source product WordPress since way back in 2007. In the old days if you wanted a website you’d hand-code it, meaning you’d need to learn about such exciting technologies as HTML and, well, that was about it. Then along came WYSIWYG (that’s What You See Is What You Get) editors like Microsoft FrontPage and NetObjects Fusion that allowed you to focus on the content of your site without delving down into the blood and guts of what made websites work. Of course it never really worked out that way as the sites didn’t quite look the way you wanted. Plus you had to run software on your desktop PC that build and copied the contents up to your web server. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

This eventually changed and web-based products like Movable Type and WordPress came along that meant you could make your site look the way you wanted (by either delving into the blood and guts or choosing a style designed by someone else) then easily post and update the content through your web browser from anywhere.

I followed that progression and this site was originally built and published using a desktop tool called CityDesk. I switched to Movable Type and after a few years, finally over to WordPress where I’ve stayed since. There were other content management systems (as they’re called) available but I liked its ease of install, ease of customisation, ease with which a software developer like me could modify it with plugins via some PHP and JavaScript and just general ease of keeping a site up to date. I could focus on what I wanted to write instead of how it was published, and leave the software to do the rest.

As the years passed WordPress has gotten better and better and I’ve tweaked and evolved my site design frequently to freshen things up. I’ve also added custom functionality that I’ve built myself on top so it was just the way I liked it (I can be a bit fussy).

The interesting thing about WordPress is that there’s a free version – – you can download and install on your server (the one I’ve been using) and, within a few minutes, be publishing to the world. You’re in complete control and can do anything you want including installing any of the thousands of plugins available. But there’s also a different product called which you don’t install on your server, it’s hosted for you. It’s run by the company automattic and while you can create a blog (or site) for free and start publishing immediately, there is a catch (or advantage depending on your point of view). You can’t create plugins or write custom code meaning your ability to change your site’s behaviour is somewhat limited.

While you don’t get anywhere near as much control as running on your own server you do get a lot of cool things. Firstly, it’s built on an infrastructure that hosts some of the highest traffic sites on the internet – and handles it easily. This means you don’t have to worry about keeping your server up and running – they do it for you. Next, as time’s passed I noticed that while I’ve had to write custom code to do some of the nice things I wanted (like supporting photo albums, contact forms, etc), these kind of features and much more now come for free on There are also things that are actually way beyond what I had and would require some tricky coding to replicate like photo album slideshows, syncing to twitter, Facebook, etc and many other cool things.

Then I spotted a $99 / year upgrade package that gives you the custom theme design option, domain mapping (so I could continue to use as my URL), 10GB of space and VideoPress (which I already use for uploading videos). I decided that “what the hell” I’d move my site over as a change is as good as a rest! If I didn’t like it I could always move back. This gave me an opportunity to freshen up my site design a bit and use the cleaner fonts and styles from one of the default themes (twentyeleven) and I’m rather pleased with the result – it’s not hugely different, just better in a lot of small ways. Migrating over my content was dead easy (as were all my images), the design itself took me a couple of nights to do and the transition has been reassuringly simple.

New Website Footer

If you’re reading this through a tool like Google Reader then come over and take a look around! Find a photo album and click on one of the pictures, for example. And if you’re reading this on a mobile phone you’ll notice a lightweight theme that’s fast, mobile friendly and much better than having a shed load of graphics loaded before you can squint at tiny text. I’m sure I’ll write about some of the neat features of the platform in time but as I’ve been telling anybody who’ll listen – if you want to start blogging or put a website together then or are my tools of choice!

The only slightly annoying thing is while I trawl through my pre-WordPress posts bringing the pictures on-platform (I don’t have to do it but I’ve been meaning to do it for years) Google Reader treats these updates like they were new posts. If that’s how you keep up to date with things you might like to unsubscribe for a while and keep an eye on my twitter page for new posts!


So Now I’ve Got A Dog!


It all started with an email. No wait, it started a while before that. A friend has a Lhasa Apso called Cindy that my good lady and I have looked after a couple of times. Lhasa Apsos are small dogs and the way I describe them is that they’re bigger than the sort of handbag dogs Paris Hilton has, can be dragged up mountains (because they’re tough), but are not exactly what you’d call macho dogs. They are, however, cute.

So we’ve looked after this dog a couple of times and because she’s such an easy going pooch we started thinking that some time we should get one (as you may remember me writing about here). Then Cindy’s owner sent her dog off to the stud farm to get pregnant, and a little while later she gave birth to 3 gorgeous pups. These little beasties:

Lhasa Pups

We were very tempted to get one of them but in the end decided not to. My good lady was between jobs, I was office based and we just weren’t ready to go through puppy training yet so decided that the next time Cindy had puppies we’d get one. And then I got an email. You know, the one I mentioned earlier.

My good friend Ben emailed to tell me that his parents (who live in the middle of nowhere in the Yorkshire Dales) had came across a lost dog that had appeared at their door wet, skinny and in need of help. Oh, and he was a Lhasa Apso. They were going off on holiday so dropped him off with friends who have a couple of other dogs. They took this little lad in, fed him up and cleaned him up. It turned out he belonged to a local elderly lady who had quite a few dogs and couldn’t really take good care of them. Her children were trying to re-home some of her dogs and apparently a couple of them had run away, one of which was this little Lhasa. He was impeccably well behaved, very chilled out and adorable by all accounts. She signed over ownership “to whom it may concern” and it was time to find a home for this unfortunate little pooch. Which was where Ben’s email came in.

His parents had fallen in love with the little guy but travel a lot so weren’t sure they’d be the best people to take ownership of him but didn’t want him to end up at a rescue centre. Since Ben knew we liked Lhasa Apsos and had been tempted to get a dog he asked if maybe, possibly, we might be tempted to give him a home. My good lady had just found a job, I’d just changed roles meaning I’d be working from home a lot more and the planets seemed to be aligning so I say “yes”. Ben said there was no pressure to take him, however just a few days later we found ourselves driving into to the middle of nowhere in the Yorkshire Dales (it really was the middle of nowhere) to see this dog and I’d already bought the bare essentials: a dog bed, lead, collar, shampoo, brush and some bowls:

Essential Dog Equipment

I’d also ordered a dog tag with his name and my mobile number on it. So you can tell we were feeling pretty positive. Turns out our optimism was justified. Little “Billy” turned out to be the most chilled out, well behaved dog I’ve ever met. Gorgeous and most definitely coming home with us!

Billy Chilling Out

The first couple of nights were tough as we wanted him to sleep in the kitchen and he barked for both nights. Eventually he’s settled down though and has been an absolute joy ever since. He’s 2 years and 9 months old and the nice thing about not getting a puppy is he was already house trained. He’d not been taught the usual dog commands like “sit”, “stay”, “roll over” or even responding to his own name (the latter which he now is – he’s a fast learner) but he does what we want him to do and Cesar Millan (the Dog Whisperer) wouldn’t even be interested – Billy’s already a calm submissive, well behaved dog that most certainly doesn’t need Cesar’s help!

Anyway, as well as giving us endless fun and companionship he’s also extremely photogenic so I expect he’ll be making an appearance in most things I post here from now on!

A Portrait Of Billy

Say hello to Billy! 🙂


Snowboarding, Morzine, 2012

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Regular readers may recall I went on a friend’s stag do snowboarding way back in 2009 and that I had a fantastic (but knackering) time. It was such a great laugh that 6 of us went again to Morzine in France (about an hour from Geneva) and, it won’t surprise you to hear, I took a few photos!

Europe has seen some incredible snowfall this season but also some startling low temperatures – certainly the coldest I’ve boarded in. However the conditions will still superb and a great time was had by all. Enjoy the photos! 🙂


17 Thoughts on Software, Humans and Facebook


I’ve spent a great deal of my life writing software and the thing that’s always interested me the most are not clever algorithms, cutting edge tools, slick user interfaces, super-clever frameworks, professional icons, neat layouts and design and well worded documentation – it’s not the actual software itself. What’s interested me is the people who use that software and how they use it.

My goal when writing any piece of software that ends up in the hands of a human being has always been: “make it software they don’t even notice they’re using”. I’ve worked with plenty of developers who take an incredible amount of pride in what they do and spend hours tweaking the tiniest of details as though they were carving a masterpiece from a block of marble (some of them have been, effectively). Agonising over pixels. Button placement. Colours. Every tiny detail. But that doesn’t matter a jot if the software they’ve built gets in the way of the person using it.

Cameras are wonderful and as a photographer I love the technology behind them: their lenses, the use of filters and a host of other things I’ve written about before. But a camera isn’t the end result, a camera is a tool to take a photograph and the photograph is the end product. A photographer doesn’t want the camera to get in the way of taking a beautiful photo. If you need to take a quick snap you don’t want to spend ages clicking buttons and going through menus, you want to point and shoot. If you want a landscape photo with a digital SLR you want to take a meter reading, pick your shutter speed and aperture – concentrating on the details of the exposure – and take the photo. You don’t want anything slowing you down. You want to concentrate on what you’re doing – composing and taking the perfect photo.

John's Background SwitcherSoftware, for me, is exactly the same.

John’s Background Switcher is, by some margin, the most widely used piece of software I’ve built. I designed it to sit in the background, be easy to set up and then stay completely out of the way. Most people can install it, set it up without thinking about it – they know what they want to do and it helps them to do that. Next they leave it alone, giving it no thought again. It’s taken years for it to get to that stage and hundreds of users telling me what they loved and what they hated. I’ve learned a hell of a lot more about human psychology building JBS than I have about algorithms and elegant coding practises.

The best way to demonstrate how things have changed is via my uninstall feedback page. When you remove JBS you can opt to leave feedback as to why. It’s the single smartest thing I ever did as I learned very quickly why people who’d bothered to install it then later removed it. Early on they’d complain about finding it confusing, not being able to do X (even though JBS did actually let you do X, it’s just the person hadn’t worked out how) and a host of other minor things that made JBS “not good enough” in my eyes. When someone is confused or can’t figure out how to use any aspect of software I’ve written it’s not a failure of that person, it’s a failure of me not making it simple and obvious enough to use and I learned a great deal, gradually evolving JBS and my software design philosophy over time.

The difference is that nowadays I’d say 99% of people uninstalling JBS who leave me feedback start by saying that they “love” JBS and are removing it because they’re changing jobs, or their computer is misbehaving and they’re removing all software, or their son is going to college and they’re giving them their laptop so cleaning it up first or even their wife doesn’t like it. They tend not to say they can’t figure out how it works any more and given the cross-section of people using JBS (see the Facebook user demographics below) I must be doing something right:

JBS Facebook Demographics

People don’t usually email me telling me how great the user interface is or how good the photo choices are – they tell me how they hate their job but when they’ve had enough they minimise their windows and see montages of photos of a family holiday with their kids and that gets them through their day. It’s not about the software, it’s about what the people who use it want to do and for software to be something people can care about and even declare that they love, it’s not the software they emotionally connect to, it’s what that software lets them do without getting in their way.

Which brings me onto Facebook. Facebook is brilliant. No really, it is. It’s brilliant in the way it manages to replicate real-world social interactions.

Say you and a friend are sat at a table in a bar talking about your Star Wars figure collection (you’re obsessed with them). A mutual friend spots you, saunters over and sits with you, joining in the conversation and you catch up – you’ve not seen each other since Comic-Con. You  take out some polaroids you took of your new Jabba the Hutt figurine to show around and your friends all laugh at you as you flip through them. Next your ex-girlfriend (or ex-boyfriend) appears and comes over with her hunk of a new boyfriend / girlfriend who is definitely not into Star Wars figures. You ignore them and they go away. Or maybe you and your friends have a go at their new partner (in a funny way) and they go away. Or maybe they join in the banter and sit down. A couple more friends turn up and you have a good old catch up, take some polaroids and share them around to remember your fun night of drinking and talk. You then go home and write up in your diary some of your experiences of the day, sticking some of those polaroids in place to remember for years to come or look at them and laugh the next time those friends are round at your house. Or maybe you’ll show them to another friend who couldn’t make it.

In the real world this sort of social experience is effortless but prior to Facebook trying to replicate that situation “virtually” was always a compromise. Facebook eloquently lets you do all of the above (except the drinking) with the fact that you have a wall. You can look at the wall, the walls of your friends or a stream of posts on walls of you and your friends all at onces. This is what I find brilliant. The wall is you sat at a table. You add memories to it by uploading pictures, making posts, other people commenting and so on. If you want to know what your friends have been up to lately, or maybe just the friends from your previous company have been up to, then you can find out on Facebook arguably faster than you could do in the real world (assuming they use Facebook).

I know, Facebook didn’t invent the wall, MySpace was using a similar approach and I’m sure plenty of other sites were. It’s just that Facebook refined the idea, concentrated on what it is us humans want to do – interact with each other in a variety of human ways like we do in the real world – and created software that gets out of the way and lets you get on with it. I barely even think about Facebook when I use it and never have – instead I’m thinking about the people I’m interacting with and what I want to do in terms of interacting with them. The friends who’ll see a video of bull frog playing ant crusher I came across. Perusing photos of my brother and what he’s up to. New baby announcements. Videos of friends cats. It’s a great way to stay in touch with people I’d rarely see otherwise.

However there’s a problem. It may be a little too good. I’ve spent the past year or so posting frequently to Facebook. I’d post photos, talk about what I’ve been up to, things going through my head, things I’ve read and pretty much all the things I’d normally do with people in the real world. I’d also take an active part in what my friends were up to, commenting freely. Whenever I’d meet friends for real they’d point out that I was always the most prolific poster and would cut me off telling a story saying they already knew it. So it was working. There was no two ways about it, my friends would stay in touch with me whether they liked it or not (well, unless they unsubscribed).

But did I feel as close to those people through Facebook as in the real world? I’d have to say “no”. It’s all a bit too superficial.

It’s like being a movie star at one of those Hollywood parties where everybody air kisses saying “darling, you look fabulous!” but nobody has a meaningful conversation about anything. Facebook enables a lot more communication and it’s easy to get sucked into that constant craving to see what’s new and if someone’s replied to your post or vice versa. Like that Hollywood party set. But what it doesn’t do is replace sitting around a table just talking to each other. It’s no substitute for the real world and if anything I feel I’ve drifted further away from my real friends as a result. It’s not a substitute for sitting around a table in a bar just talking. More communication doesn’t necessarily mean better.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think Facebook is brilliant. You can interact with people without even thinking about it and it can feel like it’s just the same as the real thing. It’s my ideal software – focussing on the human and allowing them to use it effortlessly to interact with other people. But it’s still missing a more meaningful way to stay in touch. I remember when my brother lived in San Francisco and thanks to Skype it made the world seem a lot smaller. In fact I probably spoke to him more then than when he was living in Edinburgh!

Google+ has a feature called “hangouts” that lets you have group video chats. I never really saw the point of it until I saw this ad:

Hangouts are actually very cool, particularly on a phone which is the place I use social software like Facebook 99.9% of the time. Facebook does have video calling, but that’s one to one and you can’t have group conversations which sort of defeats the whole point of it. If Facebook had a slick way to turn a multi-person written conversation or chat into a video conversation that was as effortless as using the rest of its user interface then they’d have an absolute killer feature. Yeah I know Google+ has hangouts and I should switch to Google+ but Facebook has already crossed the generation divide (in that both the parents and children of my friends use it) and I just don’t have room in my life for another social network!

I never normally do New Year Resolutions but this year I’ve decided to spend a lot less time “interacting” on Facebook and a lot more time “interacting” with friends in the real world instead. It may mean less communication and not knowing what everybody is up to at any given time. But it’ll be less communication with a lot more meaning. Unless of course Facebook follows my advice! 😉

P.S. There aren’t 17 thoughts here, I just like the number 17. And making you keep count!