FBML and problem solving

Photo by Bryan Veloso on Flickr

Photo by Bryan Veloso on Flickr

I have risen to a new level of geekdom. The other day, as I was putting together a Facebook page for the library I ran into some problems, so I had to learn some FBML.

We recently switched from Meebo to Digsby for our IM reference widget. I wanted to put that same Digsby widget into our Facebook page so students would be able to connect with the library there as well. There is already a “Digsby widget” application  available in Facebook, but unfortunately when I tried adding it to the library page it kept failing and instead added itself to my personal profile.

Then, I decided I could just find an app that just allowed me to copy and paste the HTML to embed the Digsby widget, but none of those worked correctly either. Finally, as I was about to give up, I found an FBML app in this blog post. I googled FBML and found the Facebook developer’s wiki. It was easy enough to map FBML to the HTML that I already knew.  So I wrote a few lines of FBML including the location for the Digsby widget, and lo and behold it showed up there on my Facebook page.

This was one of those moments similar to when I first started writing HTML or CSS, when you just take a step back and say, “oh wow; I actually just created something.”  What amazes me is that is that I could actually understand enough about HTML to hack together something that worked in FBML, a totally new language to me. It is just a little over two years since I started learning HTML. Ever since then my curiosity and interest in technology in technology has been piqued.

I realized that there must be some solution to my problem, and kept trying different approaches to solve it.  That is the part I really love about technology. You are constantly learning and solving problems.  If something doesn’t work you have to keep trying until you find something that does. And with every problem you have to learn a little bit more.


Citations are dumb


Image from "Victory of the People" on Flickr

I really find citations to be annoying.  Who cares if you are supposed to add a period instead of a comma?  Who cares if everything gets capitalized, or only the first words?  The original point of citations was so you could refer the reader to a  relevant quote or an idea from someone else.  Well guess what.  We have a way better tool for that now. They’re called hyperlinks.

Citations are the original hyperlink. Example: A reader is cruising along reading a lengthy document on law or medicine or something equally prestigious and comes across something with which he is unfamiliar. “Golly, I sure wish I knew more about where this information came from,” he says to himself.  But lo and behold there is a little number next to the sentence he was just reading.  He glances at the bottom of the page and finds the same corresponding number next to a little note, a footnote if you will.  He is then able to follow the citation in the footnote to a completely different article and then learn more about that topic.

The same process is currently availble on the web except it is much easier.  If you see something you want to know more about, you click on it.

I can see why students cut corners and  spend as little time as possible on citations. It’s boring and it is not the reason they went to school.  I get bored to tears coming up with citation examples.  And I don’t always get the capitalization right.  Citations are not fun or glamorous.

Even though I think they’re dumb, I can still see the value in them.  Properly citing teaches you to give credit where credit is due. It teaches you to be able to separate your thoughts from other people’s thoughts. It’s also good practice following set formats and writing a certain way.  In their jobs many of these students may have to use specialized writing: things like business memos, technical writing, commenting in their code. Students have to learn sooner or later they have to be able to understand and follow specific rules for writing.

That doesn’t make it any more fun, but at least it gives them a reason why they should care about proper citations.