smart ideas

An elegant solution to interesting content marred by offensive graphics/asides

I read a lot of blogs, and surprisingly often I encounter a blog that is interesting, but uses examples that are sexist or offensive.  This is especially true in technology blogs, where the visuals accompanying interesting technical discussions often turn me off and turn me away from the blog.  Generally I don’t respond to such blog posters, unless I know them personally.  I appreciate the effort it takes to put out regular blog posts, and I don’t want to be too critical.  On the other hand, I do think it turns people off.

This discussion recently came up on Systers, a mailing list for technical women.

Nancy Tinkham, a professor of Computer Science at Rowan University proposed an elegant solution.  This is what she wrote:

I’m a computer science professor, and if I encountered this blog while researching information for a class I was teaching, I might send the author mail like this:

Thank you for your wonderfully-written blog on <gaming technique>.
I’d like to tell my students in <graphics course> about your blog,
so that they can use it as a resource, but unfortunately I can’t
use your blog in a university setting, because of the image that you
used.  Do you have a version of your blog post that uses a less
troublesome image that I could use as a resource for my students?

Is there a version of this that’s appropriate for your situation?  “I’d like to show my colleagues at work your wonderful explanation, but…”? You can praise the good aspects of the author’s contribution, while nudging him to think about how he’s rendered his own work useless by his choice of an inappropriate image.

I think phrasing the issue in this way moves one away from being pedantic or picky, and into simply suggesting that making a small change would make an already-useful resource much better.  I really like this approach, and intend to use it the next time I encounter interesting substance with distracting and unpleasant graphics or other content.

An interesting introduction to a EULA & a smart thing to do

I downloaded Omnigraffle today, and as for most software, you must agree to an End User License Agreement, or EULA, before installing the software. However, Omnigraffle does something unusual, with their EULA. The beginning of the EULA is a short paragraph that starts out:

The document that follows this paragraph is a license agreement. Why do we need such a thing?  Well, to be perfectly honest, our lawyers have told us that we need to protect ourselves. …

It’s a very friendly type of beginning, implying that of course the makers of Omnigraffle do not to make you deal with software licensing, but you know how lawyers are.  It then has the usual explanation, about people suing in different jurisdictions, and people misusing software.  But it is the closing of the first paragraph that caught my attention.  This is how they close:

Obviously, if you disagree, click “Disagree.”  But, don’t just stop there.  Let us know.  Send some email to <> telling us what you find unacceptable about our license agreement.  We can’t promise to change anything, but we will do our best to get back to you.

Now this is a wonderful idea. Not only does it make me want to read the license, it makes me want to communicate with them, and makes them feel much more reasonable than the usual EULA types.

Given that I often have issues with Software EULAs online — primarily because anything security oriented cannot include a clause that says “and we can change all this at any time without notice to you” — having a EULA that invites me to explain my concerns is a breath of fresh air.  Well done OmniGraffle!