Friday, 25 April 2014

Email rant

Good day to you. I think communicating with people isn't as good as it could be these days. For example, the SMS represents the least horrible way of communications. If you do call someone, you have to try to do sort-of face-to-face communications without being able to communicate nonverbally. I don't know about other people, but at least I rely much more on the nonverbality when discussing face-to-face, and thus making a phone call feels like driving a car without wheels. With SMS you don't have the social pressure of forming the response in milliseconds, and thus you are able to actually think before saying things, and you have also time to play little verbal games. However, SMS is not the final solution to the problem of communications. They are really used only in the phones, they originally had the stupid 160 char limit, and again, I don't know of other people, but I hate doing SMS with a touch screen.

How do we, for example, communicate with computers? Well, with emails. Emails are another thing I hate with firey passion, alongside the phone calls. You always check the mail folder too often or too seldom. Done too often, your real jobs suffer, and done too seldom, people will complain. You could setup the Outlook on your pc to ping you every time it receives mail, which'll lead to the former problem, or you can use the web clients, which'll lead to the latter. I think the only thing worse than receiving email is sending it, for you have to prepared for the recipient to read it either immediately or sometime within the following decade. With email the misunderstandings are the easiest and the worst, and with the previous problems, they'll probably be noticed too late. And then there's the problem of spam. Luckily the problem of completely irrelevant spam has been solved, but the problem of almost relevant spam is still strong. The usual cause for the almost relevant spam are the people that don't know how to use the email. They'll send mail to whole school groups, when the mail is relevant to maybe three out of the fifty students, because they don't know who it is relevant to. Subject lines with the pattern [Re:|Fwd:]* (hoping I got the regexp correct :P) are sign of collective stupidity of both users and email clients alike. If the discussion has more than two participiants, making a flattened representation of the discussion tree up to the present moment is unbelievably hard, if not impossible, and the signatures with a length of a Yegge's rant make following the discussion even larger pain in the ass. And guessing how formal to be in the mail? Hard.

So, emails might have been a good idea a few decades ago. What else do we have? Well, one can always build a persistent communication tool around the discussion board - concept, but, unlike emails and calls, has never been not-stupid idea. You either setup some PHP-based abomination who first saw daylight fifteen years ago (and thus working inside it is nothing like working with a tolerable PHP-codebase), or you experiment with something like Discourse, on which I wouldn't base my life on. Or, in my case, with little work I could hack the Pröng to be a tolerable PHP-communications-board to achieve anything, for the code isn't actually bad (despite the database interactions being a slight WTF), but that's not an option for general people because I can't be arsed to release the source code.

And the last, but not in any way, the least: the instant messages. If your friend is not online, they work sort-of like email, and if the friend is, the friend is forced to react to it somehow. This has the same productivity problems as setting up the Outlook to ping upon every new email, but for some reasons it feels not as awful to me. If the friend doesn't react with at least response like "ok" within a few minutes, he probably is never gonna react, and if there's miscommunication, people can immediately (or if the other participiant is offline, once he logs in) ask for clarification. The IM-discussions also scale to multiple participiants much more nicely than emails. The formality usually is a no-problem, for the tone of discussion is usually the same as would be in a gang of friends hanging out.

Unfortunately, most of the IMs of the day have an awful user experience. And in case they have a good UX like the five-year-old Windows Live Messenger -09 had, they have minor fuckups one can't fix themselves, and the customization- and expansion possibilities are fairly limited. These I try to fix with the IM-project of mine, which currently lacks a good name. I'll maybe tell more about this thing's current state, but now I'll move to the sauna. Til the next time!