Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur

August 18, 2002

Three interesting articles on diverse topics. I’d write more, but it’s late and I want to note these before I forget them.

Actually, that last item does provide some food for thought, but it’s on a tangent, so bear with me. A while back, Apple introduced an Internet search feature to the Mac OS called Sherlock. It worked by sending your query to a set of search engines, parsing the results, and combining them into a list. One of the reasons I didn’t use it much (aside from the fact that it still wasn’t as good as Google) was that the combining process tried to sort the results by “relevance”, which it did by comparing the numbers given by the various search engines.

You can see the problem, right? Putting aside the question of what those numbers mean, do the various search engines even operate on the same scale? Lycos might be ranking a pages from 1 to 100 while Excite could be going from -1 to 1 or something. There’s no way to normalize the numbers because they probably don’t even measure the same thing. (Also, the ability of those older search engines to assess relevance was pretty pathetic. There’s a reason Google conquered the world.)

Now, if the engines had all reported the probability that a given page was relevant (as a percentage or a fraction between 0 and 1) then they would at least be comparable. It would also allow for some interesting comparisons if two engines returned the same page. #


I’ve been meaning to revise the Library for some time now, although I’ve been hampered by a lack of new stuff and the sense that it’s “good enough”. Well, perhaps it is, and perhaps energy spent improving it is better spent on other projects, but there you go.

What I’m trying to say, in a typically roundabout fashion, is that I’ve begun the revision process. The current major changes are:

  1. The main page now lists the “recent” additions. (Hopefully, that won’t be such a joke once Out of Space gets going again.) Back when the Library was the main focus of ZedneWeb, its updates were listed here on the main page. I plan to continue noting them in posts, but the recent additions list will provide a place for infrequent visitors to get a sense of what’s new. I’m considering an RSS channel for the Library, but I don’t know that the extra effort would be worth it as the entire process is manual right now. (This list had previously been found on the projects page, which was more for convenience than because it made any sense to have it there.)
  2. The Sfstory section has been entirely rewritten. While I have yet to write a blurb that I’m completely satisfied with, these strike me as somewhat more interesting than the ones they replaced.
  3. The process of converting timestamps to ISO 8601 format continues. While writing 18-Aug-2002 requires less thought than 2002-08-18, at least for English speakers, it’s less useful when you have a bunch of dates in a list. It’s much easier to see a seven month gap when it’s presented as 2002-01-19 and 2002-08-18 than as 19-Jan-2002 and 18-Aug-2002. Plus, it’s big-endian, which is always a good idea.

The timestamp issue might seem trivial, I consider them one of the major usability factors in a fiction archive. There are a number of authors whose sites I visit infrequently (typically because they write infrequently). Most of their sites fail to date their stories, which is a fundamental oversight in my opinion because then I can’t always tell whether a story is new. Some authors will put “New!” or fancy graphics next to the more recent additions, but these only muddy the issue. If the site has been updated more than once since your last visit, there will be new things that are no longer marked new. Alternately, if the site has not been updated, then the things marked new are actually old. Dates reduce the problem, because it allows readers to figure it out for themselves. #