09 March 2007

Hacks for the heck of it

The new Blogger brought a lot of new features. We (the bleet) were a little worried about the future of hacks, and how Blogger's features would make a lot of past hacks useless, and make future hackery difficult. Now that I look back these past 2-3 months that I've been following the new Blogger, hacks for it, and the new generation of hackers, I must say I'm a wee bit disappointed at the situation, and that our fears have come true to some extent.

No longer can I see a Commentosphere, or one to use or extend my favourite hack, the Native Blog Search. One of the best hacks (and I shall call it one), and one of the very few I sincerely revere as a 'hack', has been 'Neo', the complete blog hack by Ramani. There was serious dedication, and work behind it. Not to mention the idea. And 'those' are the qualities that actually make a hack, a 'hack'.

Scripts to clean your room

A lot of hacks today are mere 20 line functions that work on a feed from Blogger, and print out all it's contents. My hacks suffer from this lack of innovation as well, with possibly only the Custom Dates script being something I'd like to call a proper hack. All the asynchronous post and labels loading, fancy pants recent comments or posts, are pretty much commonplace. There isn't anything new, something that would make someone sit back and actually appreciate the work, wonder in awe at the work behind the script.

It isn't the lack of skills, but ideas that I believe should be blamed. That said, I come full circle back to the point I had made back when Blogger went into beta. It'll soon become not what you can code, but what you can think. Coding is just a small aspect of a hack. Coming up with the concept, the design, the functioning, everything, takes a lot more effort than typing out syntax. A hack I'm working on at the moment is seriously taxing my reserves, and with college, it just gets harder. In the end, if it sees the light of day, it'll be worth it though. I can say it's on the same lines as the 'revolutionary categorising hack' that Avatar had revealed to everyone (back when Bloggeratto existed :P). I hope to break my monotony with that!

A little boring

As Avatar rightly said, Bloggeratto went off the stage at a particularly right time, because the entire Blogger scene seems to have been lulled into silence. When was the last time you saw something big pop out on radar that got the community buzzing? More than half a year ago! Isn't that bad? There is nothing worse than having a stagnant community. Here I am enjoying Blogger being ranked the topmost blogging platform, and there Wordpress is celebrating the onset of version 2.1 of their platform, with more improvements.

I have discussed these views with people in the past, and they've agreed that the concept of a 'hack' has somewhere gotten lost. What we come up these days are simply mods (or some other term Avatar came up with :P), where we take an existing source, and just modify it to show something different. It has reached a point where hacks are mere plugins, that people keep adding to their blog to change something or show something. They don't 'do' something, or not something really worthwhile anyway. Also, all the services which were offering JSON(P) feeds, are now also offering widgets for one-click addition into Blogger. This severely reduces things that non-creative hackers can achieve.

We need to 'create' a source, not just use one. Every one of the great hacks in the past has either created the source, or used an existing source in a way no-one thought of using it. We need to look at information from a different angle, look for data where it is least expectedFor example, did you know that the expanding of posts in your 'Manage posts' section is done via AJAX, and that Blogger has makes a call for that? What if one wrote a PHP script to catch that call's data, and use that for something like Asynchronous posts?. Build functionality not ordinarily or easily available. We need to Put the freezer at the bottom!

The target users shouldn't necessarily be complete newbies who don't know a thing about code. One's code should surprise long time coders into thinking thoughts on the lines of 'Why didn't I think of this?' or 'That's fantastic! This is something I could really use!' And it's not hard to do if you keep your eyes open. I always try to get the method, the way of thinking, or the idea out if I'm not making a hack. By doing that I hope that someone else will catch on, and using my idea come up with a hack for it, or better.

So stop re-inventing the wheel, or even trying to change it's shape. Try and invent a new rim, or an axle! :P The community, I'm sure, is looking out for something absolutely fresh!


Avatar said...

yes, the word Hack has transliterated itself and it now means anything. people add it to anything.. i find it frustrating.. but you already knew that..

i blame that to people lexicon lazyness.


and i must say that even then that the year started with a abysmal pace it is catching up now.

January: nothing
Febrary: bits here and there
March: things seems to moving around... umm

MaIDeN said...

I'm looking for something fresh. Something that I can't find on bleet blog. Something like:

1. Static page.
Something, a kind of static page which blog not reloaded when people hit the static page icon
2. Quick Link.
Something like side blog which I can write an interesting link with my own comment.
3. asynchronous comment page
Yes. You know what it was ;)

Deepak said...

I'll have to partly disagree with you.

...or one to use or extend my favourite hack, the Native Blog Search....

...A lot of hacks today are mere 20 line functions that work on a feed from Blogger, and print out all it's contents....

These two lines look contradicting, because Native Blog Search too just took contents from a feed and printed it. The only difference was that the feed was that of Google Blogsearch.

I don't mean to say that Native Blog Search is not a hack. The idea behind that was nothing less than a revolution at that time, even without the Suggest part. I just want to say that your interpretation of the term hack (the latter quote above) is not correct.
A hack is any change which modifies an existing functionality to add or extend new functionalities which otherwise are not accessible to a user. (For the record, I got this definition in wikipedia)

Take Stephen's peekaboo comments for blogger beta for instance. It just gets a feed and displays the contents. If we go by your interpretation above, this would also be one among those bland so-called-hacks. But it is a hack. Why? Simply because people didn't have that functionality before.

Hacks too are mods. It is difficult to find a proper definition. I tried to define them as changes which are more functional than cosmetic. I was so wrong.
Adding a favicon to Blogger or make the feed metadata point to feedburner feeds is not a hack, but Labels Cloud is. But Labels Cloud too is only a cosmetic change.

I agree that a hack doesn't make news without new ideas. I agree that most things now are old wine in a new bottle. I agree we are starving from the lack of ideas, and people are not awed anymore. But we need people like Avatar to generate ideas. Ideas are not generated so easily.

About Ramani's Neo template, calling it a hack is an understatement; it is a complete makeover. It is one of my favorites too. :)

Sigh.. I spent a good 30 minutes writing this comment carefully, so as not to offend anyone. Hope I didn't. :p

Aditya said...

“Native Blog Search too just took contents from a feed and printed it”

...in a way (I say again), that no one had thought of before. Not even 'Google' (I'll take the liberty of saying that). So even though it was ordinary, the very fact that it was the first of it's kind makes it good! I don't say this just because it's mine, btw :P

I think I should have mentioned this in the post, but since you bring it up here, I'll say it. The fact of the matter is that with changing times, definitions change. More than half the things today, 2 years ago, would be extra-ordinary. But we have passed the Web 2.0 phase. We are all too familiar with asynchronous things. We see it everywhere. So, there is no innovation.

Even if you take a feed and do something cool with it, to generate a previously unavailable -- 'and much needed' -- functionality, I'll go ahead and call it a hack. I don't want to take names here (Avatar knows exactly who), but there are hacks which literally take feed content, and generate an output, and become famous. People treat them as the 'next cool thing' in Blogger. Don't deny it, I know you've seen it happen.

D2b label cloud isn't just cosmetic. It's derived from a 'hack', just changed to suit the new Blogger. You have to take that into consideration. The hack for the old Blogger, the original, was genius!

Everything is not black and white, and you have to take into consideration a lot of things. And don't worry about offending anyone. Blogging is all about expressing your opinions :)

phydeaux3 said...

I'm offended...not really. :-)

I was working on a blogger widget that mows my lawn. But I'm running into problems.

And I call everything "tweaks" now, just to avoid the lexicon wars.

Avatar said...


oh yeah, i know them all.


Wanne bet against me on the "is hard to find a proper definition" thing? :P

well, don{t recommend you to do so, but the reason is that had pinned it down quite a time ago, it was hard?, yes, but it was done. the proble with the interpratations of words is that not only definition change from time to time, but words meaning vary depending on the matter at hand you are using them as a reference for something.

(i would show you but my blog is not up and if quote it, mycomment is going be far larger than aditya own post)

it is not the same thing a software hack, than a hardware hack or in this case a web hack, wich is partly a matter of software and the circunvention of a service.

Aditya native search deserves to be called a hack, because it is not just a circunvention (the orginal root of what was the genesis of what a hack is, and that goes a step further than chagning funtionality, is also going against it, or forcing it.wich are not the very same things one from another, no matter how similar they are), the native search, not only requiered code to be written, it needed a entire service to be created, wich goies partly agaist the orginal souce, circunvent it and then is finally forced to do things..

it goes all the way..

in the case of later hacks where you only need to use a feed from a determinated service, write some code to circunvent it use or modify it, no one had to create a separate service to do, and it most cases, the service feed in questions was already designed for user customization and modification.. so where is the proper Hack in that?

but whatever, i know it is so subtle, and sutile the art of definition when your are playing with words that have lots of tonalities in how people percives them, and if there is a word in the internet that has them in spades, that is HACK.

now, let return to what is important, the widget that can prepare you a expresso in the morning, and is surelyy going to come out from phydeaux3, man if that is not going to require a lot of Ha...tweaking.


Deepak said...

Good God!
I never said that native search was not a hack. I would pull my tongue out before saying that. It is a real innovation and I still consider it one of the best. Honestly, people like you and Phydeaux3 were my real inspirations.

I just pointed that the statement about "just taking feed and redirecting the content" was a bit blunt. Really, is there a need to wade against the stream, if the stream is flowing in the direction you want to go?

I don't deny that people (including me) have given just mods without new ideas. I think I too get an inkling on who you are talking about, but let me be unassuming. I've seen people who just redo an existing idea and become famous. I don't deny that. I know because I've been following the bleet (undercover though :p) from the time Bloggeratto came into existence. But to say that they are just not doing anything worthwhile is really discouraging.

I agree with Avatar that the definition of a hack has subtle differences based on perception. My intention was not to define a hack.
But I still don't think hacks can be called hacks only if the ideas are fresh.

In the meantime, I'm game for a cup of espresso made by the new widget Avatar is talking about :)

Ramani said...

wow.. I didn't know you liked Neo this much :) I have been on vacation and out of touch with blogs since early this month and so I missed this post. I was lucky to have all the required data in the feeds to do all that I wanted in Neo. Ofcourse there are some minor things missing but I lost the motivation to implement them. Here's the rumour: Neo may soon be available for free, but no support for installation/changes :o)

Aditya said...

Glad to have you back! :)

Yes, I really do like Neo. It’s not so much about pulling data from the feeds, but rather making the whole thing work together so well that it seems a natural evolution of what we think of a ‘template’ as :)

Free ‘eh? Haha! I am going to be going in the opposite direction ‘very’ soon! Let’s see how both our endeavours turn out?