Sunday, May 16, 2004

Form vs. Function

My Tivo's hard drive just died, but thanks to information on the web I was able to replace it myself. The background research for this task turned out to be an interesting illustration of how much difference the basic form of a web site can make.



The tivo hacking community has traditionally been housed in a couple of web forums: TiVo Community (which seems to have fallen out of favor because topics like video extraction are not allowed), and DealDatabase. Web forums are great for regular participants, but they're awful for new users. Forums have no clearly-defined entry point, which leads new users to ask a lot of stupid questions, which in turn breeds intense resentment and hostility among the regular community members. Some threads are made "sticky" so they're easier to find, but a lot of necessary and useful information falls through the cracks. Questions are frequently answered with "search for 'X'", but if you do the search, you'll find that posts saying "search for 'X'" have drowned out the posts where 'X' was originally discussed.



By contrast, the best starting point for tivo hacking is a wiki on alt.org. Wikis work well for this sort of thing because anyone can help keep them up to date, and they can easily be structured in a way that new users can pick up easily. But Wikis introduce peculiarities of their own - the WikiNaming convention of running two words together hinders their visibility in web searches. Of course, it's not as easy to keep track of all the changes to a wiki as it is on a message board, but as a starting point for newcomers that's not a problem.



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