Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Context sucks

Various online services provide status messages in a manner that sucks all of the context out of them - hence the title of this post, which is an example of the phenomenon. (Read "sucks" as a noun, not a verb, to get the meaning that I intended.)

Here's another example. Let's say that John Smith joins Facebook. John befriends some people, plays a little Starfleet Commander, and then eventually gets around to filling out his profile. After he does this, all of his friends get the following status update:

John Smith is married.

Now his friends have known about Smith's marriage for years - heck, some of them were probably at the wedding - but I guess the marriage isn't official until Facebook says it is.

Another service that posts confusing status updates is LinkedIn. Now John's wife Susan happens to be on LinkedIn, and she likes to join the various LinkedIn groups. So one day her LinkedIn associates see the following status update from her:

Susan Smith joined the group The Dell Workforce.

Because LinkedIn posts many different types of status updates, there's the possibility that this may be misread. Does this mean that Susan has quit her job at the accounting firm and is now working for Dell? While the status update technically includes the word "group," I know that there's been at least one occasion when I thought that someone had changed jobs, but in fact had only joined some LinkedIn group.

And I'm only talking about the status updates that are auto-generated by the service itself. When users write status updates, they often have to shoehorn the update into a pre-determined number of characters. Anything going to Twitter has to fit within 140 characters, or fewer if you want it to be retweeted.

Add to this the fact that many of these services are world-wide. Someone whose native language is French may misinterpret my English. Hey, someone who lives in Scotland may misinterpret my English.

How do we solve the issue of context-less abbreviated statements floating around in the wild, causing confusion wherever they go?
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