Saturday, May 05, 2012

George Herbert, squashed?

This has me intrigued. I went looking for a portrait of George Herbert, and found lots of versions (thanks, Google Images!) Most depict him as having a long, narrow face, but there's one -- just one -- which shows him looking more "normal". I found one site which presented both images, without comment, as here:

George Herbert George Herbert

Looking at these with my photographer's eye, I judge that the two images are clearly from the same source, and the one on the left -- the widely used one -- is clearly a distorted version. Wikipedia uses a fuller version of the left image, and there are six variations of the same at the National Portrait Gallery site. It's an engraving by Robert White, and the earliest version is from 1674, and obviously a frontispiece to his work:
George Herbert, by Robert White, 1674 - NPG  - © National Portrait Gallery, London

So, I'm intrigued. Did Herbert really look like that? Did someone think he looked strange and stretch the image horizontally to make him look "right"? Did the artist think a squished portrait was more artistic? We'll probably never know.

Monday, April 30, 2012

EMail : the social networking software that refused to die

I remember when Google+ was new, a number of people were, perhaps in an excess of excitement, suggesting it would be not just a Facebook killer, but a replacement for email. This was not a totally crazy idea, because at the functional level, there are broad similarities: email has contacts and mailing lists, G+ has circles; email has messages, G+ posts. So in theory, one could easily replace email with Google+, and in fact it could be a replacement for most of our day-to-day communication.

Alternatively, Facebook could be, indeed wants to be, a replacement for email, and they are approaching 1 billion users. Facebook provides a Message feature for private messaging  between individuals and groups. You can even have a Facebook email address so that people not on Facebook can send you a message, and vice-versa. [Unfortunately, FB Messages has a horrible interface with almost no features.]

So why, when almost nobody has a good word for email, does it persist?

The most obvious reason is ubiquity: just about anybody you need to contact has an email address, while only the smart people have joined G+. :) [At time of writing, the best guess is the membership is approaching 200 million.] Many email users are not (strange as it may sound) avid users of social media, so unlikely to be on either Facebook or G+.

A second, equally powerful reason is the if-it-ain't-broke argument. For all the I-hate-email angst you'll hear from any email user, and despite the relentless spam, as a means of communication, it works. It's well understood, and used correctly, it's reliable. 

And a third reason is, email is not yet ready to die. The concept is old, the protocols also, but the technology has not yet stagnated. EMail clients continue to improve, spam filters are doing an excellent job of eliminating most spam. For someone like me, who started with the Unix command line "mail" program, and progressed through elm, pine, Eudora, Netscape, Outlook, Thunderbird and now gmail, I've seen steady and continuous improvement in clients. And gmail continues to improve: gmail filters are brilliant, and are streets ahead of anything offered on the social networking platforms. As one who receives several hundred emails daily, who's work schedule is built around email, I don't think anything else could replace it at this time.

[Having said that, let me say I am equally happy receiving messages from people through G+, Twitter or even Facebook. But no way do I want to see all my work emails there.]

I think where we're at right now is this: that email has a place and a value which cannot be taken by anything else yet. But at the same time, for simple, uncomplicated casual communication between friends, social media beats it hands down. Horses for courses. And be happy that there are now more horses in the race.

[Ironically, perhaps, I'm writing this blog post in Gmail and sending it from there to Blogger. So sue me. It works.]
Um. .. OK. Just had a reminder email from Google that I have a Blogger account. I'd completely forgotten ... as you can see, the last post was 2002! Oh dear. Well, lot of water under the bridge since then.

I'm not sure I really want a blog anymore, since I tend to just throw things into Google+. But I'm not ready to discard this just yet.

In fact, one reason to keep this is that Google+ posts have some limitations: only one image per post, and limited formatting. So there may be value in keeping this for those times when I really want to go to town on a post.

Stay tuned!