[foaf-dev] SocialWeb anti-pattern wiki? today's annoyance: name too long/short/weird to fit

Dan Brickley danbri at danbri.org
Sun Oct 18 12:32:22 CEST 2009


Greenpeace's site just refused to let me sign up, because my first
name - Dan - is too short. See screenshot at
http://www.flickr.com/photos/danbri/4022025450/ ...

OK so my passport and family use 'Daniel' but I've been using 'Dan'
for over twenty years. Who are they to say that's not my name?

I know plenty of people who go by 'Jo' as a first (given) name, which
is a mere two letters. Or a Jan (like my mum); or a Ted (cc:'d). Sure
these can be considered contractions of some original longer form, but
I'm sure many people have < 5 chars (or < 3 chars even) on their birth
certificates. Not that a Web site has any reason to demand to know
what's on your birth certificate!

See also http://www.slideshare.net/danbri/danbri-foaf-talk-social-web-camp-www2009
for a couple of examples from the ill-fitting Charles McCathieNevile:

Charles tried to sign up to Facebook ('Facebook helps you connect and
share with the people in your life - Sign up, it's free any anyone can
join"), only to be told:  “Name contains too many capital laters.”

So, off to Twitter.com instead, to "Join the conversation", as they
say. But sorry: “Name is too long (max is 20 characters)”.

This is what happens when you put computer programmers (many of whom I
count as dear friends) in a role where they get to control (often
casually and without a lot of care) what end users can say about
themselves. See http://geeks-bearing-gifts.com/gbgContents.html for a
lot more detail on this kind of mess.

What can we do to help programmers who are put in this role to stop
and think; to remember when they're building so-called 'social Web'
sites that not everyone understands 'first name' as meaning the same
thing, and that the rule "all first names must have 5 < x < 20 chars"
makes no more sense in Croydon than in China.

Articles like http://adactio.com/journal/1357/ ("the password
anti-pattern") and
http://factoryjoe.com/blog/2009/01/02/twitter-and-the-password-anti-pattern/
("Twitter and the Password Anti-Pattern") have been quite effective in
getting more software engineers to understand why certain kinds of
technical lazyness is disrespectful of the poor end users. In this
case, the habit of asking users for passwords for another site teaches
users to behave in ways that may leak their passwords.

So I wonder whether we (the w3c socialweb incubator group, the foaf
list, or anyone interested) might usefully start collecting up a list
of anti-patterns (probably in a wiki), so that busy overworked coders
can be helped to avoid some ugly little mistakes which exclude users
or force them into narrow ill-thought-out schemas...

cheers,

Dan


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