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Misinformation from… Stephen Fry?

February 22 2022 by Jeff Johnson
Support this blog: StopTheMadness, Tweaks for Twitter, StopTheScript, Link Unshortener, PayPal.Me

The world-famous Stephen Fry tweeted yesterday about my Safari extension Tweaks for Twitter. Under most circumstances I'd be thrilled if someone with over 12 million followers tweeted about my software. Unfortunately in this case, Mr. Fry's tweets were mistaken about my software and potentially damaging to its reputation.

@stephenfry

The story, as told by the previous tweets in Mr. Fry's thread, is that he was confused his Twitter looked different from "normal" Twitter. This is actually a feature of Tweaks, to hide typically annoying elements on the page, but Mr. Fry clearly forgot he had installed Tweaks, and spent some time trying to determine the cause of the difference before discovering that it was Tweaks. I am sorry that he had to spend so much time on this problem. The story might have ended there, except that Mr. Fry mistakenly concluded that he needed to disable Tweaks (instead of simply changing its preferences) and that disabling Tweaks required deleting the app from his Mac. As a little indie developer trying to stay afloat, I was distressed that a Twitter account with such a massive following would publish misleading tweets that could scare potential customers away from my software.

I'm not angry with Stephen Fry, though I am disappointed. I'm also not going to sue Stephen Fry, though I do wish he would tweet a correction. I don't know whether he'll ever see this blog post, and I doubt that he ever saw my reply to his tweet; it's incredibly difficult to get the attention of a celebrity, since everyone is trying to get the attention of a celebrity. My blog post isn't intended to get Stephen Fry's attention — which seems very unlikely — but rather just to talk about my bizarre experience. In a sense, this post is more about Safari extensions than about Stephen Fry.

The main question on my mind is, how did Stephen Fry come to mistaken conclusions about Tweaks? After all, Tweaks has a toolbar item in Safari that you can use to view and change the preferences of the extension. This toolbar item has a blue color when you're visiting Twitter in Safari, gray when you're not, so it ought to stand out as affecting Twitter.

Tweaks active in Safari toolbar Tweaks inactive in Safari toolbar

I have to start by assuming that Mr. Fry customized Safari's toolbar and removed the Tweaks icon, otherwise it would have been pretty obvious that Tweaks was active on Twitter, and that he could have changed his Tweaks preferences. It may be natural and common to remove the toolbar item, as there's rarely a need to change the preferences of Tweaks once you've configured them to your, uh, preference. The likeliest scenario is that Mr. Fry installed Tweaks, removed the toolbar item, and then eventually forgot he installed the extension.

If Mr. Fry didn't see Tweaks in Safari's toolbar, then he must have ultimately found it in Safari's Extensions Preferences.

Tweaks enabled in Safari Extensions Preferences pane

Tweaks does have its own Preferences button in this window, so it's unclear why Fry didn't use that. I'd have to guess that he had already reached the point where he was single-mindedly focused on disabling the extension, given that he tweeted "I’ve lost myself in Settings for hours trying to get to the bottom of it." In reality, there are a couple of ways to disable an extension from within Safari Preferences. Unchecking the checkmark in the sidebar will accomplish that, though sadly the checkbox has no tooltip explaining its function.

Tweaks disabled in Safari Extensions Preferences pane

Another way to disable Tweaks is to remove its access to twitter.com by pressing the Edit Websites… button and switching from Allow to Ask or Deny. By the way, I should note that the support page for Tweaks has a guide for installing and also disabling the Safari extension.

Tweaks in Safari Websites Preferences pane

Instead of the aforementioned methods of disabling the extension, Mr. Fry apparently went for the Uninstall button. I don't really blame him, as that would be the most obvious method of disabling the extension to users looking at the Preferences window. Counterintuitively, however, the Uninstall button doesn't actually uninstall the extension.

The Tweaks for Twitter extension is part of the Tweaks for Twitter application.

The Uninstall button in the Extensions pane is a bit of an historical artifact. I've discussed the history of Safari extensions extensively in my blog post The decimation of Safari extensions. Years ago, Safari extensions used to be self-contained, and the Uninstall button would indeed uninstall them. In the App Store era (Safari extensions predated the Mac App Store), Apple has decided that all Safari extensions must now be distributed inside of a native app bundle. Thus, in order to uninstall a Safari extension entirely, you must delete the containing app. Otherwise the extension will continue to appear in the Safari Extensions Preferences sidebar. (But you can still disable extensions, as explained above.)

I've now filed a Feedback with Apple numbered FB9920704 and titled "The Uninstall button is confusing to users, including the world famous Stephen Fry". Ever since I've started developing Safari extensions, I've felt that the user interface has been confusing to users in a number of ways, and I filed several other Feedbacks previously. Hopefully the Safari team will address these someday.

I'm trying to take the whole situation with good humor. I certainly don't believe Stephen Fry was malicious. I do believe that with great power — and great Twitter following — comes great responsibility. It wasn't irresponsible to request technical help on Twitter, but it was irresponsible to state falsehoods about my software. So yeah, "I am an arse" was not entirely inaccurate. You know who you are. ;-)

Support this blog: StopTheMadness, Tweaks for Twitter, StopTheScript, Link Unshortener, PayPal.Me

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