Including modern words in modern dictionaries

What manner of 19th century public domain dicitonaries are packaged with 21st century software? For Montogomery Burns, these word lists would be just spifflicastic, but maybe not for the average citizen.

I just installed Thunderbird 1.5RC1, keen to check out the spell-check. Neither “blog” and “podcast” were recognised as valid words, despite one of the other new features being RSS and podcasting support! Not pointing the finger at Thunderbird, since most dictionaries in usr/dict and ispell and Office(s) seem to be equally ancient.

Many web-related terms turn out to be unsupported:

  • blog.
  • rss.
  • podcast.
  • www.
  • weblog.

  • mozilla.

  • thunderbird.
  • firefox.
  • netscape.

  • perl.

  • usenet.
  • cgi.
  • http.
  • dotcom.

  • flickr.

  • technorati.
  • google.
  • ipod.

Further curious (bordering on obsessive), I then tried OED’s top ten new entries for 2001, specifically those with exactly one term. All but one of these fails too.

  • doh.
  • balti.
  • Doh!
  • Ladette
  • Mullet (Passes spell-check.)
  • Alcopop

Yep, forget about quoting the Simpsons and partying with Red Bull. At the end of the day, it’s the Mullet that commands your respect.

I’m sure Google Labs could run some algorithm against the web to produce a more useful spell checker. It would obviously find many new words that should be added, but furthermore, it would find obscure words that should be removed. And it could probably go a lot further too, and build a very clever grammar-checking algorithm. But for now, there’s plenty of mileage to be gained from a simple manual list.

Google: Edgy Minimalist or Choice-Deficient Simplist?

Don Norman questions the conventional wisdom on Google:

Anybody can make a simple-looking interface if the system only does one thing. If you want to do one of the many other things Google is able to do, oops, first you have to figure out how to find it, then you have to figure out which of the many offerings to use, then you have to figure out how to use it.

My first reaction was, “But the user’s always right!” If users think it’s clean, then it’s clean by definition. And it is users who sing Google’s praises, not just the usabilerati.

But when you think about all of Google’s other services, how many people really use Google for anything other than search? I bet people use a lot more of Yahoo’s services.

Take another careful look at Google’s front page. Want a map? You have to click once to be offered the choice, then a second additional time to get to the map page. Want to use Google Scholar to check references? Um, well, is that “Advanced Search” or “more.” What about their newly announced blog search? Why is Google maps separate from Google Earth? (Oh, those were purchased from different companies. Yes, but why should I, the user, care about the history of Google’s acquisitions?)

All of these things require you to click on “more” which gets you to the options page where there are 29 alternatives, plus links to “About Google,” “Help Center” (if Google is really so simple, why does one need help?), “Downloads” and then a special section on “web search features,” which has another 24 links of web features, a book search toolbar, and then another 23 sections of text — not links, text descriptions and an entire meta-language you can learn to improve the searches.

This made me think, why isn’t Google of all people playing the URL as command-line game with their own products? Sample searches:

  • “groups” – Yahoo Groups first, Google Groups 2nd.
  • “map” – MapQuest first, Google Maps 7th (Google Moon 90-something).
  • “news” – BBC first, Google News 5th.
  • “images” – YES! Google finally made it to no. 1! (Quick, get the SEO lawyers, Google’s cracked the Google algorithm!)

Now, this is all very nice and integral of Google to provide honest results rather than sprinkle in their own services. But what gets me is that they often provide no relevant link to their own service. I wouldn’t expect Google to show all of their services on the homepage, but I would expect it to point me to Google Maps when I search for “map”. And when I search for “Paris Map”, it’s nice that Google offers some images in the results, but I can think of something more relevant.

Rhythmbox – Usability Lessons Learned

Currently trying to delete about 50 playlists on Rhythmbox. (Rhythmbox doesn’t yet have podcast-friendly features like sorting by date, so I end up creating a daily playlist via a bashpodder hack, leading to numerous playlists).

The program’s nice overall, but deleting the playlists is a bit slow. I’m manually navigating to each item, right-clicking to open the menu, clicking delete, and confirming. Lessons learned here:

  • Keyboard shortcuts are good. Like “Del” for delete.
  • Multiple selection is good. Even for things you didn’t think anyone would need to do in bulk. You can’t anticipate everything users will do, so as a general rule of thumb … assume that if a user can do something to one thing, they will probably want to do it to many things.
  • Expose the configuration files so I can work out where all this stuff is stored, and manually delete them on the command line. I wish more Linux GUI apps would make it more obvious how the config maps to the filesystem – knowing that should be one of the main benefits of working in Linux.