A Short Story On How Not To Share Things

Imagine I bake a delicious batch of cookies. They’re still warm and mushy. I put them into a bowl while they’re nice and warm and walk them into the living room where a group of my friends are lounging around. I sit down and they get a whiff of my fresh batch of cookies.

I’m proud of my cookies and I look forward to sharing them and hopefully getting a few compliments in return. I put the bowl forward for all to share and enjoy. As soon as someone reaches for one, I grab their hand by the wrist.


That’s not nice. In fact, it’s rude. This is why I think paywalls will fail on the Web. They’re not nice and they’re rude.

Why We Built Readability

Over at the Arc90 blog, I share some thoughts on why we built Readability and where we plan on taking it. It’s an interesting time. The big players – the players that can afford to build their own mini-Internets – are already battling it out.

For us, it’s about doing it on the Web. It’s about elevating the Web providing amazing experiences around content. It will require great tools and a fair amount of discipline, but the Web can become the premium place to explore and consume quality content.

Look out for where we’re taking Readability this summer. It’s going to be fun.

Pulse App Pulled For I-Don’t-Know-What

So wait.

The Pulse iPad app gets pulled because the New York Times put the squeeze on Apple to remove the app from the iTunes store. The key text from the New York Times legal:

The Pulse News Reader app, makes commercial use of the NYTimes.com and Boston.com RSS feeds, in violation of their Terms of Use*. Thus, the use of our content is unlicensed. The app also frames the NYTimes.com and Boston.com websites in violation of their respective Terms of Use.

So be warned, Netneswire, Reeder or any other feed reader out there. Hell, anybody that is pulling in content via RSS into an iPhone or iPad app be warned. This is big news. Consuming content freely available on the Web crosses a line, a brand new frickin’ line that didn’t exist yesterday.

Now, this can’t be real right? There has to be some nuanced fine line that Pulse crossed. The New York Times cease and desist letter goes on to say:

I note that the app is delivered with the NYTimes.com RSS feed preloaded, which is prominently featured in the screen shots used to sell the app on iTunes.

Emphasis mine. Ah, now I see. It’s because the Pulse reader preloads the New York Times feed as a default. If a user pulled it in, then that’s OK (I guess) but if Pulse preloads it, they’ve crossed a line?

Guess what else crosses a line? Apple Safari on the iPad or iPhone. By default it comes preloaded with the New York Times among a host of other news sources.

This is an incredibly dangerous precedent. I predict the New York Times will come to its senses and reverse their position. I can’t imagine this sticking.

Update: Position reversed. I’d love to hear an explanation behind what happened.

Update #2: Wait, The Times Company still wants it out. Stay tuned!

Growing Old Friends

Every day, many times a day, millions of people snub millions of other people on the Internet. It happens amongst those of us that are fortunate enough (or unfortunate – depending on your viewpoint) to have crossed a relatively modest threshold of social connections facilitated by the Internet and more specifically email.

The typical snubbing goes something like this:

  • You’re introduced to someone in person or you reach out to someone that you think is worth connecting with. You send an email.
  • They respond and thank you for the note and convey that they’d love to meet up some time for a drink or lunch or coffee or whatever.
  • You follow up with them and they never respond. Ever.

I can attest that this has happened to me. I can also shamefully attest that I’ve done this to others. I promise a follow-up and I never actually follow up.

55217_2 Here’s the ugly reality of email overload: the outcome isn’t just a cluttered inbox. It’s countless people waiting to be acknowledged and – dare I say – respected. But we simply can’t do it. We can only handle so much at a time. The incredible efficiency of email and other communication tools have far outpaced and blown out our own expectations of how we should respectfully and properly communicate with one another.

As I stare at my countless emails, I know for certain that there are senders in there that deserve a response and probably won’t get it. Many times a day, every day we send the following signal to those waiting on the other end:

“I haven’t gotten to you because there are others that are more important to me right now and, I’m sorry to say, you just haven’t made it up the list.”

Doesn’t it sound awful? This is exactly what we do when the flow of emails come in. We prioritize in real-time. The chosen few will get a response. Some will get one almost immediately. The rest? They get nothing. They don’t even get a “sorry, I’m very busy right now” response. They get silence.

When we do run into someone we’ve failed to respond to, we usually pile on the “…I’ve just been so slammed with work and the whole conference thing that I just haven’t been able to catch up!” The other person usually just smiles and looks away. They understand where they’ve landed on the priority list.

Everyone applauds the hyper-connectedness we’re experiencing today. The truth is we can’t really leverage it in a very meaningful way. There are a chosen few that get proper attention, the rest just end up in a sort of long tail of human connections. They’re relegated to an almost trivial status – only acknowledged as a scored point on your “friends” or “followers” tally.

There’s been a lot of interesting discussion of late about what the Internet is doing to our brains. Nick Carr is leading the charge with a recent Wired feature and a new book called The Shallows. In short, the barrage of information that comes at us via the Internet is rewiring our brains. We’re optimizing ourselves for short, fleeting bursts of information. The capacity to focus and think deeply is under threat. I agree with much of Carr’s thinking because I’m experiencing it first hand.

Carr makes a compelling argument on the psychological impact of the Internet. What’s most unnerving to me is that some of the “content” I’m consuming (or expected to consume) isn’t a book or an article. It’s people. My diminishing ability to focus and give due attention is actually having a social impact on the people I know and the people that attempt to connect with me.

frame2A new social protocol is emerging. We’re starting to sense that we can’t really give one another due attention. The outcome is a dilution of the basic building blocks of social mores. Words like “friend” or “connection” have been watered down and our expectations around them have diminished as well.

Take each of us in this shallow state that Carr describes and put us in a Petri dish. How will we connect? Do we just buzz around occasionally bumping into another? Can we connect deeply? Will we give one another the chance to form the subtle but deep roots that connect people in a meaningful way?

I don’t think anyone can predict how we’ll adjust and tweak our behavior to deal with these changes. We’re flooded with information today, but it doesn’t linger. It doesn’t stick around and age. The best social connections we can make are the ones that we keep around and cultivate. I hope we don’t lose that capacity to give worthwhile connections their due attention. As the writer and critic John Leonard said: “It takes a long time to grow an old friend.”

Readability Updated: Hyperlinks Be Gone! (If You LIke)

What I love about working at Arc90 is that, rather than just putting in my .02 on some heated debate on design and technology, we actually get to ship stuff to state our case. Shipping is the strongest statement you can make.

Nick Carr recently wrote an interesting post entitled Experiments in Delinkification. The premise was simple: the lure of hyperlinks are a distraction from the reading experience. A heated (and I mean heated) debate ensued and many others chimed in.

Well, we decided to do something about it. Today, we’re releasing an update to Readability that adds the option to turn all hyperlinks in long-form text into a set of footnotes. You can learn all about this update by visiting the Arc90 blog.

This clever little update would not have been possible had Tim Meaney not clamored for it and had Chris Dary and Dan Lacy not built it. We hope you find it useful.

The Museum of Magazine History

Interfacelab and iA do an admirable job of ripping the new Wired iPad app to shreds. I don’t need to add more to what they’ve already said. I will add what they didn’t say:

Fundamentally, what makes Wired so good is the content. It’s a good brand because its content is good. This app is the equivalent of Wired taking its content, throwing it in a pit and pouring cement over it. It’s an instant fossilization. The content is mummified. Never to be touched or dissected or shared. I can’t even circle a paragraph on the fucking thing. 

With technology, shit is supposed to move forward. You’re supposed to be able to do stuff and experience stuff that you couldn’t before. This app is more like a tribute to magazines than a reimagining of where publishing can become.

It’s anti-Web, anti-sharing, anti-copy/paste – anti-everything. It’s a disservice to what was created. On the Web, content lives and breathes. This isn’t a digital magazine. It’s a tomb.

One final thought: there’s an odd irony about the whole experience. The iPad brings us closer to content – physically – than any technology to come before it. The whole experience is almost a tease. You’re swiping and touching all these “pages” and you can’t do a single thing with them. Welcome to the Museum of Magazine History.

IPad Impressions (Because The World Really Needs One More F#*%ing Blog Post About the iPad)

Yes, everything that can be said about the iPad has been said, except what I’m going to say (which is hopefully different than what others have said – maybe):

  • I input less on this thing. There is no keyboard. I explore less. I find myself bookmarking pages that I like perusing because I don’t see myself doing anything highly interactive on it. By taking the keyboard away, I’m pressed towards a passive posture (I’m not insinuating this is bad, it just is).
  • You can’t multitask. This is a good thing. Without being poked and prodded by juggling five things at a time (which usually includes some sort of chat client), we’re giving our brains a chance to dive deeper into the experience in front of us.
  • I have one question for content creators, publishers and even some of the application designers out there: why did you wait for the iPad to clean up your shitty designs? USA Today. Time magazine. New York Times. Even some of the apps that have Web interfaces got an upgrade. Why not make them great on the Web?
  • You can’t resize the Web browser. By imposing this constraint, it frees up designers to think more about composition and art direction. There are two modes – horizontal and vertical. It’s a hat tip to paper. You can’t resize paper.
  • Historically, devices became more magical by getting smaller. From a big cassette player to the Sony Walkman to the iPod shuffle. Imagine if the iPad came first. Imagine if rumors started flying around of a “miniature iPad that could fit into your pocket.” It would run all of your existing apps (scaled down) and it would let you make phone calls.
  • I don’t think anyone will do long form reading on it. The Kindle is small, light and feels more like paper. I don’t think people want light emanating from a book they’re trying to read. I could be wrong here.
  • I think the introduction of $5 magazines-as-apps that look like Web pages without all the garbage is preposterous.
  • There’s something irksome about the way this thing shuns the Web – not just in terms of Web browsing, but in terms of how it overwhelming imposes its own patterns and paradigms that only render things more cumbersome. Maybe this is where we’re headed: vertical lock-in from device to cloud. That would suck.

These are my impressions after a couple of days. What’s fun about a device like this is that I can honestly say I don’t know what my impressions will be in a week or a month or 3 months. For all its strengths and faults, it is different, and it’s forcing us to ask new questions about design, technology and how we want things to work. That’s always a good thing.

Come Say Hi To The Basement.org Guy At SXSW

First off, my apologies for the lack of postings on Basement.org. I am still alive and I’ve got thoughts I badly want to get down, but time is sparse these days unfortunately.

If you’re attending SXSW Interactive, I will be there along with some of my partners in crime from Arc90: Tim Meaney, Avi Flax, and Rama Poola. Tim and I will be giving a talk that should’ve been called The Revenge of People, but instead it’s called The Revenge of Editorials. It’s about the Web, people, craftsmanship, content and all sorts of other stuff. We’re excited to about it and hope you can join us. It’s our first time at SXSW. We look forward to the sensory overload.

In any case, if you’d like to meet up, feel free to email me or ping me on Twitter.

The iPad & The Side Streets

Anyone that follows this blog knows that I’m an unrelenting advocate of building great user experiences. Whether on the Web, mobile or desktop software, great user experiences enlighten, flatter and elevate users.

As technology continues to accelerate forward, it’s become even more critical to mask away the complexities of how things work and to just make them work. Period. Thanks to the likes of Apple, user experience isn’t "something we should think about" anymore. It’s a key differentiator. A better-designed anything will win.

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The Essential First Step To Blowing Minds

"Less is more."

It’s a powerful phrase. It’s one of those rare quotes that itself is illustrative of what it’s trying to say. If we decompress it, we’re really saying something like "If you show less, then each thing you show carries more weight."

Taking the thought a bit further, I’d assert that less isn’t only more, "less" is often essential to success. Conversely, "more" often leads to failure. When we release a product, we often want to talk about its power and versatility. Truth is, nobody else wants to hear about that. They want to know – in as simple a manner as possible – why something should matter to them.

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