Vincent Gable’s Blog

May 19, 2009

Improving Space to Work

Filed under: Design,Sample Code,Tips,Usability | , , , , ,
― Vincent Gable on May 19, 2009

The Change

Enlarge the “What are you doing” box on, to make compressing substantial ideas easier. with a larger text-field


I’ve been disappointed with the posting interface of every Twitter-client I’ve tried so far. Just like any writing, tweets start with a first draft. My first drafts are often longer than 140 characters. That shouldn’t be a problem; trimming the fat is part of any editing process. But most Twitter-interfaces are so downright hostile to anything longer then 140 characters that trimming a 145 letter utterance is a frustrating study in fighting my tools.

(The worst client I tried was, Blogo, which would stop you from typing and yell at you with a dialog if you dared press another key after typing 140 characters. But Twitterrific was little better; I don’t understand how something so user-unfriendly became so popular.)

Even doesn’t give you enough room for writing a long, but under-the-limit tweet. To see for yourself, just start typing “mmmmm”; the box will run out of room before you run out of characters. It’s downright crazy to have to scroll to see all of a tweet you are writing.

Now there’s nothing wrong with trying to prescribe a pithy style of communication. Clearly Twitter wouldn’t have worked otherwise. But punishing users for doing the “wrong” thing isn’t as effective as giving them the tools to change their behavior, to wit: space to work on shortening their writing.

The Code

This CSS code makes the direct-messaging, and “what are you doing?” text-boxes tall enough to hold 5 lines of text without scrolling. By default Twitter’s web interface only holds 2 lines of text on screen.

#dm_update_box #direct_message_form fieldset textarea#text,
#status_update_box #status_update_form fieldset textarea#status {
	height: 6em !important;

The selectors I used are pretty specific to, so it’s unlikely this will interfere with another site’s layout, unless it’s HTML code is nearly identical to Twitter’s.

How-To: Safari

Copy the above code into a .css file, (“CustomSafari.css” is what I called mine) then select that file in Safari -> Preferences -> Advanced -> Style sheet:

After restarting Safari, Twitter’s web interface should give you room to work.

March 2, 2009

Initial Findings: How Long is an (English) Word?

Filed under: Research | , , ,
― Vincent Gable on March 2, 2009

My brief research into the English language revealed the average character count of a word is eight. Throw together a bunch of a smaller and bigger words, some single spaces and punctuation and you roughly end up with the average 140-character tweet being somewhere between 14 and 20 words. Let’s call it 15.

Rands in Repose

That contradicts the common wisdom I’ve heard: the average word is 5 letters, so divide your character count by 6 to get a word count.

But that was a rule of thumb from the days of typewriters. Hypertext and formatting changes things. For example, every time you see something in boldface on my blog, there are an extra 17 characters for the HTML code, <strong></strong>, that makes the text bold.

Just to poke at the problem, I used wc to find the number of characters per word in a few documents. What I found supports the 6 characters per word rule of thumb for content, but not for HTML code. The number of characters per word in HTML was higher then 6, and varied greatly.

The text of the front page article on today’s New York Times was 5880 characters, 960 words: 6 characters per word.

The plain text of Rand’s webpage claiming 15 chars per word was 6794 characters, 1175 words: 6 words per character. By plain text, I mean just the words of the HTML after it was rendered, so formatting, images, links, etc were ignored. The HTML source for the page, however, was 15952 characters, meaning 14 words per character.

What about technical stuff? The best paper I read last year was Some thoughts on security after ten years of qmail 1.0 (PDF). It has no pictures, just 9517 formatted words. A PDF represents it with 161496 bytes (17 bytes per word), but ignoring formatting it is 62567 characters (7 characters per word).

I’m still looking into how long English words are in practice. Please share your research, if you have an opinion.

July 7, 2008

Rands First Law of Information Management

Filed under: Quotes,Tips,Usability | , , , ,
― Vincent Gable on July 7, 2008

Rands’ First Law of Information Management: “For each new piece of information you track, there is an equally old and useless piece of information you must throw away.”

Rands in repose

So true.

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