Rant: I hate software

also posted on Pam’s House Blend.
for a good time, compare and contrast
how Soapblox (there) and WordPress (here)
display the URLs in the quotes 🙂

As a “grand old man” of the software engineering field of defect detection, I sometimes take it personally when I run into bugs or usability problems.  My IM friends are never surprised when I switch from a conversation on another topic to a rant about how it doesn’t need to be that way and running commentary about my search for a workaround while lamenting that so few companies — or open-source projects — bother to go for the rather-obvious competitive advantage of making software that works reliably and well.  It usually ends in comments in something like

jon: doesn’t look like there’s any way to get around it.  i hate software

friend: lol.  looks like you picked the wrong profession then

Ha ha.

These days, I spend a chunk of time thinking about bugs from a strategic perspective, as part of the consulting work I’m doing for Coverity: which are the ones people will pay money for, which technologies can find them most effectively, where are the holes in the marketplace.   On the political activism front, I worry about the possibilities for hackers exploiting bugs for some kind of e-deceptive practices as we get close to the election.  These are big deals …

But it’s the day-to-day stuff that really grates.  Yesterday I made a comment in the Quotes of the Day thread on Shakesville with a couple of links that I thought would be useful.  When I looked at what I had posted, it was badly formatted:

Matt Stoller’s A Skeptics caucus forms in the house and <a href=”http://www.openleft.com/showDiary.do;jsessionid=6AB2AD3F71B7FA926C37F72636C66E11?diaryId=8413″>Skeptics Caucus Enthusiastic, Oil Prices Skyrocket give some interesting perspectives on this.

Oops.  It seemed like I had forgotten the closing “</a>” to end one of the HTML links.  Well, it’s not the first time I’ve made that mistake — Disqus, the software that powers Shakesville’s comments, doesn’t have a “preview” button, so it’s easy to overlook.

And this is the kind of stuff that burns me up … how can discussion software in 2008 not have a preview button?  I’ve talked before about the power issues associated with commenting functionality, but just think about it from a customer satisfaction perspective.  Most users — like me — prefer not to get embarrassed and so would rather have the option to preview their posts first and correct their mistakes.  Most readers would prefer to see the posts after they’ve been corrected.   It’s not like “preview” functionality is rocket science; open source systems like Slashcode, Soapblox, Scoop and commercial products like WordPress, MySpace, and ezBoard/Yuku have had it for eons.  What were they thinking?  Don’t they use their own product?

Well, yeah, part of the reason I was so irritated here was that I was kicking myself for not having included the </a> and proof-read my comment before posting.  Really, though, is it so unreasonable of me to want the software to help me when I make a mistake, rather than rub my nose in it by displaying it to the world?

Fortunately, Disqus lets you edit your comments.  At least, sometimes it does, and I’ve successfully edited comments once or twice.  Usually, however, I can’t figure out how to do it, and after poking around for a while (“didn’t their used to be an ‘edit’ link here?”) I give up in disgust.   Yesterday was no exception.  So I decided to post a correction — and this time, I double-checked before posting.

Sorry ’bout that. The correct link is “<a href=”http://www.openleft.com/showDiary.do;jsessionid=6AB2AD3F71B7FA926C37F72636C66E11?diaryId=8413”>Skeptics Caucus Enthusiastic, Oil Prices Skyrocket.

Hey, wait a second!

Maybe it wasn’t me?

bangs head. edit isn’t working for me. i hate software.

<a href=”http://www.openleft.com/showDiary.do;jsessionid=6AB2AD3F71B7FA926C37F72636C66E11?diaryId=8413″>Skeptics Caucus Enthusiastic, Oil Prices Skyrocket.

Third time’s a charm?

Apologies, all …

Sure enough: there’s a bug.  MaryL mentioned that Disqus doesn’t like some odd characters (and helpfully provided the tinyurl equivalent), and Liss suggested that it’s specifically the interaction between question marks and long URLs that triggers the bug.   Isn’t it wonderful how in a Web 2.0 world, we all have to learn learn software debugging and quality assurance techniques just to live our lives?

And there’s no excuse for this bug.  Interpreting HTML like this correctly is a problem that’s been solved repeatedly, and it’s no secret which “HTML engines” work better or worse.  Why didn’t Disqus choose the one they did?

It’s not just Disqus, of course.  It’s the entire industry, making choices like this, not prioritizing their users’ experience.  Disappointing — and disrespectful.

And speaking of disrespectful, by now I had managed to clutter the thread with multiple comments that didn’t have anything to do with the original topic.  Oops.  I’d delete them and clean up after myself … but if that functionality exists, I can’t find it.   Alternatively, it would be great if the site admins could edit … oh but wait; when Disqus moved to its “2.0” platform, one of the “improvements” was taking away the ability for admins to edit users comments.  Sigh.

I hate software.