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Thinking about the Gibberish app

Now here we have Gibberish, another interesting UI to study. Again, with all due respect to the implementer, it’s not a platform I’d wanna be on and, like Tempo, it costs a pretty penny, but it brings some UI innovations: it looks like a cozy chat window with the now traditional colored bubbles.

You write thoughts in a chat window as if you were chatting to yourself, sending messages, but you can edit the messages, maybe reorder them (I don’t know whether you can do that or not), and combine them with each other.

For readers, they look just like normal blog posts, there’s RSS and there’s a normal web view. The weirdo chat bubble interface is only for the person writing them.

It’s supposedly a way to overcome writer’s block. I haven’t tried the app (and not gonna), but I do believe that this does work.

It reminds me a little bit about the old “Drivel” app for GNOME that I used briefly twenty years ago or so, although that one didn’t worke too well because you basically only had a tiny li’l window to write one message, it felt cramped; Gibberish’ idea to instead combine several messages into posts is awesome.

I think this is also why people are writing Twitter threads instead of more easily readable texts: because it does help writer’s block. The problem on Twitter is that it’s then not very comfy to read those posts, but Gibberish doesn’t have the same problem.

For a few years I’ve had some scripts & macros that helps me clean my IRC rants up into blog posts. I don’t use that very often, but sometimes I do. Email to blog posts, now that’s more common, or rants on Fedi or other forum sites. What also often happens is that I start writing something in a small window, like this post you’re reading now. I was bookmarking the Gibberish site and in the description field I started writing and writing because I had more thoughts that would fit so I switched it to an Emacs buffer. That’s easier now when my bookmarking app also uses Emacs—I just need to rename the file and add a header and we’re off to the races.

I’ve been playing interactive fiction games since I was a kid but I really got into ‘em after Gargoyle was released, a super minimalist, book-like interactive fiction app that looks gorgeous. But another IF app that’s just as inspiring and that I’ve spent just as much time with is TextFiction, which, just like Gibberish, looks like an SMS app. Probably the killer app for Android, I’d say. I haven’t used Android in many years but TextFiction is one of the gems of F-Droid.

The Gibberish introductory post makes good points about how UI chrome can be a good thing. Sparse, open, and cold isn’t necessarily better than cozy & visually interesting. I went through a period a while back when I wasn’t reading as many books as I used to because the text kept jumping around and every book felt just like a wall of text; this was when my astigmatism just started to get worse. As I’ve talked about before, I got around this by moving a piece of paper, or my hand, or fingers over the page, or just holding my hand up next to the page. On my e-reader I put stickers on the border. Making the paragraph visually distinct from each other makes it easier to focus on them, which is the opposite of the super minimalist approach.

I never had any issues reading comics, or even some of those “cutesy” textbooks like the Heads First series or the GURPS series, so those “holding up my hand” or “decorate with stickers” techniques started as an older idea that I still haven’t gotten around to: a script that’ll take a text or an ebook or a Gemini page and make it look sligthly more like comics by having the paragraphs be different, having each paragraph be one of a number of random styles, colors, font styles etc. I might still do this one day, but my need for it has lessened as I got more used to reading texts again, occasionally doing the hand trick only when I’m especially dizzy.

Delta Chat has a similar appeal for me. It’s weirdly both minimalistic and adding chrome at the same time. It strips away signatures and headers and the general “overhead” of each message, it inlines subjects (or hides the subject entirely if the message is just an image), while still keeping the messages distinct and easier to read since they’re all different sizes and shapes. It does add the annoyance of making me have to click on every sender if I get a lot of messages; I wish allowlisting was way easier on Delta Chat so I could batch-read everything except for friends and fam. I’m kind of getting sick of using it. I just need to fix the remaining bugs in Autocrypt.el’s Notmuch implementation…

But that’s on the visual psychology side of things. I don’t wanna underestimate the piecemeal aspect. Writing a big paper or novel can be super daunting, and so can even a blog post sometimes. There’s the popular advice that writing your paper one sentence a day is better than never writing it. When I was in school, what I did was use an outliner (org-mode, at the time) and I’d have two files. One for all my ideas, putting them in a tree structure that made sense to me, one thought at a time. And the other was a skeleton made from the template that the school wanted, like “Abstract, Conclusions” etc etc, I could copy that same template between all the papers but then I filled that template out from the outline I had made, moving the bullets from one outline to the other until I had moved (or discarded) all of those thoughts.

And this frog fable by the Gibberish guy is spot on for how the drive for wanting to take credit often leads into trouble.

I feel it since one of my reactions (that certainly shine through in this post) was that “hey I’ve had similar ideas!”; so dumb. But that’s OK. It’s OK to think about ideas and think about how we can make interfaces differently and what works and what doesn’t work.