Yearly Archives: 2011

Tweet Marker wins a Macworld Eddy

A few times since it launched, I’ve said to friends that Tweet Marker may be the best thing I’ve done. It has reached more users than any of my indie Mac and iOS apps, and it has been especially rewarding to work with other Twitter developers. It’s not perfect yet — there’s more to improve in future versions of the API and clients — but I smile every time I see a tweet about how someone can’t imagine going back to a Twitter client without it.

So it was really gratifying to see “Macworld recognize Tweet Marker with an Editors’ Choice Award”:http://www.macworld.com/article/163951/2011/12/the_27th_annual_editors_choice_awards.html for 2011. Thank you Macworld for seeing Tweet Marker as an important part of the Twitter experience.

And thanks to “all the Twitter app developers”:http://twitter.com/#!/manton/status/143729811406331905 who have supported Tweet Marker in their apps. We are up to 9 supporting apps across 5 platforms — Mac, iPhone, iPad, Chrome, and Android — with more on the way. I’ve opened up the API to over 40 different clients in various stages of research or testing.

Tweet Marker is a little unique among most of the other Eddy winners this year in that it’s still completely free. I won’t see a sales spike following the announcement. If you’ve been enjoying the service, consider picking up a copy of my iPad app Tweet Library, or donating directly “on the site”:http://tweetmarker.net/.

Redis-only migration

The best critique and praise for Heroku is that it’s opinionated: only deploy with Git, only use PostgreSQL. On the whole this is a good thing, because it simplifies the choices that developers have to make. Fewer choices means more time to spend on things that matter.

But at $200/month for a dedicated database, there’s a very real cost with PostgreSQL on Heroku. For a service like “Tweet Marker”:http://tweetmarker.net/ that is currently free, I wanted to save money on hosting and simplify things down to a single database. I might have preferred to streamline to PostgreSQL-only, since it’s rock solid and Heroku’s tools are excellent for managing backups and moving data around, but Resque (which Tweet Marker uses to process background work) is built on Redis. If I wanted to streamline to a single database, it had to be to Redis.

Tweet Marker as essentially an OAuth-wrapped key/value store anyway, so why burden the app with a full relational database? The handful of extra tables I had for tracking users and sessions could also be migrated to Redis. And even though it’s a memory database at heart, it is persistent, so I can use it for real data.

I conducted the transition in stages:

  • First, I was using Redis for stats. Because Redis has an atomic increment command, it’s trivial to use it to keep counters on various metrics: total number of reads/writes per hour, day, or month, broken down by different Twitter clients. This was my first use of Redis outside Resque tasks and it performed great.

  • Next, I moved the marker data. I wrote a script to dump all the data from PostgreSQL to Redis, and at the same time modified Tweet Marker to write data to both locations when requests came in. I let that run for about 2 days to confirm that the data was identical in both places before shutting PostgreSQL down and routing reads to Redis only.

  • Finally, I finished moving some additional tables to Redis so that I could completely shutdown PostgreSQL. Again, simple is better.

All of this was using Heroku’s “Redis To Go”:https://redistogo.com/ add-on. I love it because there’s no configuration; click a couple buttons and you have a server. But as soon as I was running full time on Redis To Go, I started to be concerned that I had given up a great amount of control over my data. While Redis To Go conveniently offers daily backup snapshots, it doesn’t appear to have any commands for restoring data or otherwise getting access to the server and Redis files. And though I could probably set up a separate Redis To Go instance and manually send it a slaveof command to turn it into a slave, not being able to edit the config file meant that if the server was rebooted I would lose the slave until it could be reset. Not good.

I also expected I would quickly outgrow the smaller Redis To Go plans, eventually forcing the monthly pricing up to the same level as I was paying for PostgreSQL, but with less control. I had to run my own database server instead. And because Heroku is all on Amazon EC2, it also had to be on EC2 for the best performance between web server and database.

I went to work provisioning an EC2 instance. Initially it ran as a Redis slave to the master on Redis To Go. After I felt comfortable with EC2 and had automated backups in place, I added a separate instance on Amazon for the master and switched the app over to it. The cost for 2 “micro” instances is about the same as I was paying for Redis To Go, but with much more available memory, hourly backups to S3, and access to the Redis aof log. And my total monthly hosting costs are about half what they were before.

I’m hoping to keep this setup for at least the rest of the year and well into next. As the Tweet Marker user base grows, I’ll bump up to higher-capacity EC2 instances. Heroku continues to be really great, so I don’t expect to change anything there.

SXSW 2012 and Twitter API innovation

The short version of this post is: “please vote for my SXSW talk”:http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/ideas/view/11867, which I’ve proposed with David Barnard of App Cubby. If selected, we’ll be talking about how to innovate on top of Twitter, using examples from the history of Twitter apps in the App Store including Tweet Marker, Tweet Library, and David’s upcoming app Tweet Speaker. Equal parts business and APIs, I hope it’ll capture how much we can still do if we think beyond the Twitter basics.

The longer story is that SXSW is always changing. I started this blog on the first day of SXSW 2002, when the conference was just a few rooms in a single hallway, and I’ve seen it grow to more than a few venues spread across downtown Austin and even farther out. That’s okay. There’s a place for small events, as SXSW once was, and there’s a place for the event where the blogging, design, social network, and software folks can meet in one place.

Take the Mac and iOS development world. This year alone has NSConference, Voices That Matter, 360|iDev, 360|MacDev, CocoaConf, MacTech, Çingleton, and SecondConf. These attract developers from all over the country, but most people can attend one at most, and many events are regional conferences at heart.

We need WWDC as the single place. No matter how great the smaller conferences are, WWDC is the big one, the one you don’t miss. And so it is with SXSW.

I believe SXSW 2012 is going to be fascinating to watch. A couple years past when everyone already thought it was too big, 2012 could see real turnover. Some previous attendees will skip it, and many new people will speak for the first time. I want to see that conference, to find out what its themes and focus will be, and hopefully “our talk”:http://panelpicker.sxsw.com/ideas/view/11867 can be part of it.

Tweetbot + Twitterrific

The second app to support “Tweet Marker”:http://tweetmarker.net/ has arrived, and it’s a great one: “Tweetbot”:http://tapbots.com/software/tweetbot/. I love using Tweetbot on the iPhone and Twitterrific on the Mac and iPad. Seeing these apps work together just makes for a better Twitter experience.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind while using apps that support Tweet Marker:

Turn it on! First things first: enable Tweet Marker in both apps on every device you plan to use Twitter on. MacStories has a good summary of this (with screenshots) for “their coverage of Twitterrific”:http://www.macstories.net/mac/twitterrific-4-3-syncs-timeline-position-with-tweet-marker/ and “again for Tweetbot”:http://www.macstories.net/news/tweetbot-1-6-gets-tweet-marker-timeline-sync/.

What syncs? Only the main timeline and mentions sync between the apps. While working with these developers, we made a decision to change how Twitter lists sync after Twitterrific had already shipped. So while both apps think they are syncing lists, the format on the server is not compatible between the two. A future version should fix this.

How to switch apps? Most apps take the approach of saving the last-read position when the app is quit or sent to the background, and restoring it again when it is launched or brought to the front. You may need to change your default habits a little to get the most accurate behavior. When you know you are going to switch apps, just close your active Twitter client first before opening the next one. It may also help to wait for the app to download new tweets before scrolling or interacting with it.

Hosting for Tweet Marker

Today was day 7 of the “first app”:http://twitterrific.com/ to ship with Tweet Marker support. Overall, things have been working great. I thought I’d write a little bit about my hosting experience so far.

First, the good news: the service is up and fast. Twitterrific is sending a lot of traffic, even with the preference off by default, but the server app is architected in such a way that things are zipping along nicely. Performance is especially important on the iPhone, where a Twitter client might be saving state on quit and any lag would be pretty obvious. Non-trivial server work, such as hitting the Twitter API, is done in the background using Resque, and the queue size there is usually small too.

There have been two distinct problems, though. Each was a good opportunity to improve the system.

On the first day, the background queue stalled and the requests piled up, so much so that my Redis instance ran out of memory and clients started receiving errors. I upgraded Redis, restarted the app, and bumped up the number of processes to quickly catch up on the backlog. Although it hasn’t resulted in errors since, it has delayed some requests on 2 more occasions after launch. I also adjusted how I’m collecting statistics to further improve performance.

More recently, I’ve noticed some sporadic SSL errors when Tweet Marker tries to verify the user account via Twitter. I added more wait-and-retry logic, and I’m keeping an eye on this to kick the background script if necessary. There have been no errors in the last couple days.

I still think it was the right decision to host on Heroku. Although I am manually monitoring the server for general health (need to automate this badly), everything is less work than I would do with a colocated box or VPS. The biggest cost is that at the last minute I upgraded to Heroku’s dedicated PostgreSQL database. I’m still evaluating that, but I would rather launch with too much horsepower and scale it down later, than not enough.

Again, thanks for your support. It is a little nerve-racking because I know that “other people”:http://www.iconfactory.com/ are depending on Tweet Marker being up and performing well. This is a different experience for me than working at a “larger company”:http://www.vitalsource.com/ with a dedicated system administrator, and also different than server backends for my Riverfold products, where it is only my own customers who will be disappointed if I fail.

Wii Transfer 2.7.2

And now for something completely different. I released a bug fix update to “Wii Transfer”:http://www.riverfold.com/software/wiitransfer/ last night, the first in over a year. It doesn’t have some of the bigger things I’d like to finish for the app, but it does have an important bug fix to Mii rendering.

At some point in a recent update to Safari or Mac OS X, Miis started appearing blank in Wii Transfer. These are rendered in an offscreen window using Flash, then saved as thumbnails in Wii Transfer with the option to export a JPEG. The fix — for reasons I’m still not clear on — was to switch to using NSBitmapImageRep’s cacheDisplayInRect instead of initWithFocusedViewRect. Needless to say, customers were frustrated that this was no longer working, and I’m sorry I didn’t take care of the problem more quickly.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the future of Wii Transfer and its companion “@wii”:http://twitter.com/wii Twitter account. This little Mac app is overdue for a rename and refocused feature set.

Tweet Marker bootstrap

Tweet Marker is getting big. I couldn’t be more excited that “Twitterrific 4.3 is now shipping”:http://twitterrific.com/ with syncing across Mac, iPad, and iPhone. “Users love it”:http://tweetlibrary.com/manton/twitterrific4.3 and many are rediscovering Twitterrific or becoming new customers just because of this feature.

More apps are coming, too. Craig Hockenberry, from a “Macworld article by Dan Moren”:http://www.macworld.com/article/161655/2011/08/tweet_marker_shows_twitter_client_developers_still_innovating.html:

“The real value is having something that works well across the entire Twitter ecosystem. It’s our belief that Tweet Marker will become more useful as more clients support it.”

I struggled with how to build, price, and launch Tweet Marker. The first developers to use it are taking a risk, so I felt I had to remove the friction of supporting the service by making the API free. To cover hosting costs, I plan to later make an optional paid subscription available for developers who want more than the basics.

But we’re not there yet, and some people have asked how they can support Tweet Marker directly. As an experiment, I’ve put up a donation button over “on the Tweet Marker site”:http://tweetmarker.net/. Think of it as a small investment in the service, a bootstrap to get things off the ground and remove the stress of scaling.

It is not, however, a substitute for supporting client developers. Please pick up a copy of Twitterrific, and when my app Tweet Library is available with sync I hope you’ll consider that as well. Thanks!

Twitter app chance

Five years ago today, I joined Twitter as its 897th user, though for some reason “my first tweet”:http://twitter.com/manton/statuses/1457463 wasn’t until a few months later. So much has changed in the meantime — the API always in flux, the transition from primarily SMS, to web, to apps — but in many ways the core of the service remains intact and stronger than ever. Short messages, distributed efficiently to friends.

I talked about some of the good and bad of being a Twitter developer “on the ATX Web Show last week”:http://atxwebshow.com/2011/07/05/episode-34-tweet-library-with-manton/. There have been a string of changes that cause developers to scramble: turning off basic auth, discouraging mainstream clients, disabling DMs for xAuth. With each step, Twitter loses a little goodwill, and that’s demonstrated in the tweets I “collected over the xAuth change”:http://tweetlibrary.com/manton/xauthtooauth.

Even as Twitter passes 1 million registered apps, there’s a risk that some developers will stick with the platform as users only, putting their apps in maintenance mode. In May, “Kiwi developer Isaiah stopped development”:http://yourhead.tumblr.com/post/5550105265/i-love-you-kiwi-i-know of his Mac Twitter app:

“I’m just going to take a break from Kiwi for a while. It’s still for sale. I still support it. I’ll still fix bugs when they crop up. But adding new features and playing catch up with the other guys/gals is off the table.”

Maybe because I don’t have to depend on Tweet Library sales, I tend to more stubbornly ignore what is good business sense. There’s so much I still want to do. As “I wrote in my previous take”:http://www.manton.org/2011/03/twitters.html on the state of the platform: “I’m a little discouraged, but not enough to stop.”

I think that’s doubly true today. More annoyed, but also more determined to plug holes in the platform, from archiving to syncing. I couldn’t be more excited about the developers who are building in “Tweet Marker”:http://tweetmarker.net/ support.

And there’s always a chance, a feeling that something big is just around the corner. That if I don’t add that one feature, or open up that new API, I’ll miss the tipping point that makes Tweet Library really take off.

iPad Pro is the new iPod Photo

I’m fascinated with the iPad “3” rumors because on the surface they make so little sense. Apple just shipped the iPad 2, no competitors can match it, and demand is strong. Why mess with a good thing so soon?

But it almost fits when you give it a name like “Pro” (or iPad Retina, or whatever). This isn’t a replacement for the current iPad; it’s another layer to the product lineup. And like the awkwardly-named iPod Photo from 2004, I bet the iPad Pro is meant to be temporary. It’s a way to sell a high-end, over-priced and over-pixeled iPad before the technology is cheap enough for the masses. A year or two from now, the Retina Display will be available in all iPads, and the “Pro” name will fade away, just like iPod Photo did when all iPods got a color screen.

Push-based sync

“Guy English writes about iCloud”:http://kickingbear.com/blog/archives/202 and the magic glue (Push Notifications’ persistent connection) that makes it work:

“Each of these new features tickle the persistent ‘push’ connection and trigger some action on the device. The short-form state may be transmitted immediately and set on any connected device within moments. Document syncing is likely to trigger a negotiation process to compare the state on any one device with The Truth stored on Apple servers and replace the document on the device with the latest revision — this has the advantage of limiting the window between syncing where conflicts are most likely to occur.”

Sync speed matters. The first note sharing server I built for VitalSource years ago assumed a lot of offline time, and despite “my blogging in 2007 that it was”:http://www.manton.org/2007/01/bookshelf_note_sharing.html “magic”, in practice it could take 5-10 minutes before all your computers got their act together to get a set of highlights completely synced. With that kind of lag, note edits might happen on a client in the meantime, so we remembered conflicts everywhere and had a UI for resolving them.

Too complicated. The new system, recently rolled out in Bookshelf for iPhone and iPad, syncs so much more efficiently and quickly that conflicts don’t need the same emphasis. We can throw away a bunch of code and simplify the user interface.

I’ve yet to do anything with iCloud except read the release notes and sit through a couple WWDC sessions, but we’re going to have a fantastic platform if it can deliver the same speed and reliability of Push Notifications. Guy’s post is the first I’ve seen to connect the dots, capturing how well-positioned Apple is to use this plumbing for all sorts of stuff.

Direct download as a bargaining chip

In the closing paragraph of “my Mac App Store follow-up post”:http://www.manton.org/2011/06/mac_app_store_followup.html, I suggested that eventually most developers will exclusively distribute through the App Store. John Brayton, the developer of “CloudPull”:http://www.goldenhillsoftware.com/ for Google Docs backup, “called this out on Twitter”:http://twitter.com/johnbrayton/status/83214489025134592:

“Good post, but disagree that selling outside the MAS won’t be worthwhile. IMHO we should be using our own stores as bargaining chip.”

“In a thread to the MacSB mailing list”:http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/macsb/message/18381, John has a related version of this reasoning:

“Selling independently provides protection against Mac App Store policy decisions that could affect my app. If Apple decides tomorrow to kick me out of the Mac App Store, I would take a hit but I would still be able to sell my app.”

I couldn’t agree more, to both points. There may be some advantages to going App Store-only — less initial setup for checkout and licensing, no confusion about which version to buy, or where to upgrade — but indie Mac developers should be doing everything they can to control their own destiny. Having your own store is just good business sense.

Focusing on the wrong things

“Great post from Garrett Dimon”:http://garrettdimon.com/post/6724266888/my-biggest-mistake, on his biggest mistake building the bug-tracker Sifter:

“I got bogged down watching our bottom-line even though we’ve always been comfortably profitable. I worried about preventing fraud even though the only instance we ever encountered only cost us $200. I constantly worried that Sifter could go down at any moment even though we’ve had 99.96% uptime since launch. […] All of these little things were distracting me from the work that really mattered.”

For a small company, focusing on the wrong things will make or break a product. I’m guilty of the same thing. I sat on “Tweetmarks”:http://tweetmarks.net/ for 6 months without launching it because I was worried about how to pay for hosting and how to get developers involved.

Sometimes there’s no obvious solution until you ship. Eventually it becomes easier to know when to be patient — to solve a problem right the first time — and when it’s needless worrying over something that may or may not even happen. And as 37signals says: “decisions are temporary”:http://gettingreal.37signals.com/ch06_Done.php anyway.

Mac App Store follow-up

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while. First the good news: “Clipstart”:http://www.riverfold.com/software/clipstart/ is in the Mac App Store. Overall I was very happy with the response and glad to have a new way for customers to find the app.

I’ve received a bunch of good feedback on “my blog post about Apple’s 30% cut”:http://www.manton.org/2011/01/app_store_30_cut.html. A few people are really upset with Apple, and there are posts in the dev forums about Mac apps that still weren’t approved for one reason or another weeks after the store launched. Other developers keep quiet, either for fear of rocking the boat or because they are happy with their sales and don’t see a significant problem.

And then there’s most of us who know Apple can do even better. We’re frustrated when an app (not just our own) is rejected or stuck in review indefinitely, but we just accept that things are a little dysfunctional and cross our fingers that maybe Apple will magically become more transparent.

But it’s not going to happen by itself. It’s not going to happen because the culture of Apple under Steve Jobs is secrecy. Apple is about great products, sure, but they’re so obsessed with the big reveal that it weakens their communication with developers.

From a “MacSB mailing list post about WWDC”:http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/macsb/message/18055 by Dave Howell, written back in February:

“Second, Apple employees are no longer allowed to talk about anything. In the past, half of the value of WWDC was talking directly to the folks who wrote the OS frameworks you have questions about. But now the answer to any question is always either ‘file a bug’ or ‘send an email to devprograms@apple.com.’ They’re all under a gag order.”

The baffling part is that many of the problems in the App Store process are easily solvable. The iTunes Connect team could, for example, make it a priority to answer all email. I don’t know what the organizational structure is over there, and I’m sympathetic to what must be a flood of app submissions, but it doesn’t feel like App Store support gets the same quality treatment that Developer Technical Support does.

Contrast with “Gus Mueller’s point on Twitter”:http://twitter.com/ccgus/status/24200147764256768:

“I’m with you on the 30% + silence issue. With PayPal, they’ll call me back when I email them with problems or questions.”

“Michael Tsai echoes this”:http://mjtsai.com/blog/2011/01/09/mac-app-store-unanswered-questions/ on his blog:

“The main value of Apple’s 30% cut is access to a larger market, but it still doesn’t look good that companies such as PayPal, eSellerate, and E-junkie charge much less and provide great service. I can e-mail or call those companies and get answers right away.”

Good support takes extra resources and it costs money. Luckily Apple has both, and that’s why drawing attention to Apple’s 30% cut was key to my original argument. Developers are playing by Apple’s rules and helping to fund the App Store.

Despite all this, I’m upbeat. In 2011 I want to look for ways that I can help Apple succeed, such as filing bugs. For years I swore off bothering, because it took so long to turn around a fix, if ever, and I had long since worked around a bug and moved on. iOS changes that delay because it improves so significantly every single year.

I’m all for “praising Apple when it’s deserved”:http://www.marco.org/2011/02/04/ode-to-the-app-review-team, but history shows that Apple improves the App Store when people complain. My posts are negative when it’s warranted and worth paying attention to.

The App Store is getting better. (I love that the Resolution Center is there even if I hope to never need to use it.) The writing is on the wall that a year from now most apps will be distributed through the Mac App Store, and the savings and independence of direct download sales won’t be worth the maintenance of two separate forms of distribution for many developers. But if Apple holds all the cards in this relationship, then we must hold Apple to a very high standard.

Carousel

Don Draper, from the season 1 finale of Mad Men (YouTube, skip if you plan to watch the whole series):

Don Draper

This device isn’t a spaceship; it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel; it’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels — around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we were loved.

When I first saw this a couple years ago I thought of Steve Jobs, the master pitchman in our industry. The delivery is different, more personal here, but it was stunning as part of the full episode. Who doesn’t want to build products that resonate so well, that go from nice utilities or productivity apps to something our customers fall in love with?

First you build a product that changes things, that is truly useful. Something ambitious. Then find a way to sell it that connects, and underscore why it matters.

I don’t really know how to do this yet. But I do know that part of it is telling stories. Why did I create Tweet Library? To tell stories, to remember events that matter before they’re lost in the fleeting stream of old tweets. It’s the kind of nostalgia at the heart of the Mad Men clip.

I like this post from Kyle Neath of GitHub, that it’s about ideas, not products (via Duncan Davidson):

People want to be part of ideas. Being part of a company who builds a successful product is cool… but being part of an idea is a lot more attractive. If you can build a business where both your employees and your customers think they’re part of an idea, you’ve created something special.

If you can extract the core idea from a great product, everything that comes next can be matched to the idea, so the product has a clear path for new features. Building a story around it — something that sticks, and having the resources to tell that story properly — takes a lot of work. I’m inspired when I see others do it well, and it’s an art I hope to make time for.

WWDC 2011 keynote: diversify

This year’s WWDC keynote was one of the most significant of the last few years. Twitter integration and iCloud were the highlights for me, although at the end of the week I’m still not sure when or how I’ll be able to use either. But I love that it was a software-only event — that’s how WWDC should be — and I love that there were major new features on both of Apple’s platforms.

A few of the announcements seemed to have significant overlap (if not direct competition) with third-party developers, in particular Instapaper, Camera+, and the dozens of to-do list apps in the store. You can see some of that live reaction in a “collection of tweets”:http://tweetlibrary.com/manton/wwdc2011 I put together at the conference.

My first thought for Marco Arment was that he should come out with a new product. Not because I’m worried about Instapaper, but just because I’d love to see what he’d build next. “Marco is still upbeat on Instapaper’s chances”:http://www.marco.org/2011/06/06/safari-reader-and-instapaper for continued success:

“If Reading List gets widely adopted and millions of people start saving pages for later reading, a portion of those people will be interested in upgrading to a dedicated, deluxe app and service to serve their needs better. And they’ll quickly find Instapaper in the App Store.”

Yet here’s Dave Winer, “reflecting on when Apple competed with his product”:http://scripting.com/stories/2011/06/06/anotherGreatSboringsLovely.html:

“I think the answer is to find meaning in your work independent of what happens with the fickleness of the platform vendor and its developers. I went on to take the same software that Apple crushed and turned it into blogging, RSS, podcasting, web APIs, all kinds of cool stuff. And yes it did eventually make me a bunch of money. But not the way everyone thought it would.”

As Dave used to say, zig where they zag. Find the unique value in the apps you build and spin those out as separate products or use as inspiration for new features. Daniel and I have talked about this on Core Intuition: pull your app’s strength into a competition advantage by reusing code and adding more depth than anyone starting from scratch.

By playing to your strengths, you can do more, faster. Every indie Mac and iOS developer should be thinking about a suite of products.

“Justin Williams hits this”:http://carpeaqua.com/2011/06/07/the-agony-and-the-ecstasy-of-wwdc/ in the context of WWDC:

“Some people grow frustrated by Apple continually making inroads in existing developer’s territory, but it comes with being a part of the platform. The key is to ensure your product lineup is diverse enough that you can survive taking the blow Apple may offer at the next keynote.”

You should make the choice to diversify before you’re forced to make it, because WWDC is already a full year of choices rolled up into one week. Dropbox/Simplenote and iCloud, OAuth and Twitter.framework, iOS 4 and 5, Retain/Release and ARC. Like the “Persians deliberating while both drunk and sober”:http://skepticalphilosopher.blogspot.com/2009/09/persian-strategy-deliberating-while.html (“via Buzz Andersen”:http://twitter.com/buzz/status/76502320514465793), if you make any real decisions during WWDC’s info intoxication, make them again a week later.

Marco has a clear advantage over his new competition, though, regardless of whether he creates new products or sticks with Instapaper. “Send to Instapaper” is built into every great Twitter app and newsreader. It took years to build such widespread integration, and it won’t be easy (even for Apple) to be on equal footing with such a well-loved and established brand.

FAQ for Tweet Marker

I mentioned in “my first post about Tweet Marker”:http://www.manton.org/2011/06/tweet_marker.html that there were some decisions still to be made about the service. I don’t know everything yet, but I do want to answer some common questions I’m hearing from users and developers.

Will Tweet Marker be free?

Yes, I do not plan to charge users directly to use the service. There will also be no charge to developers for the basic sync API. However, it will take on real hosting costs, so I plan to have a more advanced paid plan (with more features and stats) so that participating Twitter apps can help pay for the service.

How useful is it if the official Twitter app doesn’t support it?

It is still very useful for users of third-party Twitter clients. I couldn’t allow the official Twitter app to use the API even if they wanted to, because theirs is a free app and has such a huge number of users. I also like that Tweet Marker becomes a selling point and discovery tool for other apps.

Shouldn’t Twitter provide this service as part of their API?

That would be great, but Twitter doesn’t seem interested in providing such a service. They don’t encourage users to read everything in their timeline, and it would be a little at odds with their focus on only the latest tweets.

Why aren’t you using Apple’s new iCloud?

The primary goal with Tweet Marker is to enable different Twitter apps to work together. iCloud is designed for storage and syncing only between apps from the same developer, so it’s not appropriate as a replacement architecture for Tweet Marker.

Where is it hosted and what language was it written in?

It is hosted on Heroku, which also powers the web site for my iPad app Tweet Library. Tweet Marker is written in Ruby with the Sinatra framework, and backed by PostgreSQL.

What about sample code for building this into an app?

I’m working on an example project for Mac and iOS. In the meantime, remember that it uses OAuth Echo, which is what most Twitter apps should already be using to post to Twitpic and Yfrog. Just change the URL to use the Tweet Marker server and include the tweet status ID in the POST body. To retrieve the value, it’s just a GET request without authentication. “See the docs”:http://tweetmarker.net/ for more.

Update: I reworded the part above about whether the service will be free, since I don’t control how third-party clients will make this feature available to their users. I also updated it to reflect the service name change from Tweetmarks to Tweet Marker.

Tweet Marker

So you want to sync the last-read tweet with all your different Twitter apps on iPhone, iPad, and Mac? Yeah, me too. While I hope to build a version of Tweet Library for other platforms, what I’d also love is to be able to switch between clients and know that each one will pick up where I was last reading in the timeline.

That’s why I’m introducing a new service for Twitter developers: “Tweet Marker”:http://tweetmarks.net/.

I’ve already showed it off to a few developers, and if you’re writing a Twitter app I’d love for you to support it too. It will be baked into the next version of Tweet Library.

There are still some unknowns (especially around whether I will need to ask for help to cover hosting costs), but I wanted to launch it now before WWDC so that other Twitter app developers meeting at the conference can give me feedback on the service. Tweet Marker has actually been running for months, and when an opportunity came along this week for a new logo (“thanks Alex!”:http://dribbble.com/solonsky), I knew it was past time to finish documenting the service and get it out.

To be successful it needs at least 2 apps to support it (I’ll supply one of those). I’ve tried to solve all the other basic problems. It’s simple, fast, scalable on Heroku, and protected so that mischief-makers can’t tamper with tweet IDs.

Send me an email or find me in person next week if you have any feedback.

Update: This post has been updated to reflect the service name change from Tweetmarks to Tweet Marker.

The Daily

“David Barnard chimes in”:http://davidbarnard.com/post/5649151852/orchestrating-magic on The Daily:

“The carousel is a fun bit of UI (at least in theory, it’s still a bit laggy and jittery for my taste), but there’s just no way to quickly deliver enough content to make the carousel usable. The front page and table of contents, on the other hand, could likely be fully delivered in the 4-5 seconds from the launch of the app to the end of the launch animation. Sending users directly to the front page (or potentially a redesigned table of contents, but I wont get into that) will make it feel as though the app has been magically filled with content.”

David makes some great points. Put another way, if some of their design decisions were too ambitious for their technical plumbing to keep up with, they should update the design and optimize it for speed. With such a mainstream app, though, you can’t really win. I’m sure if it was only fast and not fancy, it would have been criticized as too bland.

The initial criticism of “The Daily”:http://www.thedaily.com/ always seemed overblown to me. It’s not perfect, but they got some of the difficult things right: navigation that makes sense, original content, good layout, clear subscription model.

Off and on for the first few weeks, I would read several articles each day in The Daily. There were a couple crashes and glitches, but nothing that made the app unusable. If no one else had been complaining, I’m not sure I would have noticed anything so wrong it was worth mentioning.

They can make it faster and polish up the rough edges over a few subsequent bug fix releases. And maybe enough of the fundamentals are right that they can get pretty far even without the design changes David suggests.

Now that I’ve “written a few e-book apps”:http://www.vitalsource.com/, I can say with certainty that getting the basics right is more challenging than it looks. Other traditional companies moving their content to the iPad have launched much farther off-course than The Daily.

Appsterdam

A great name to go along with “a big idea from Mike Lee”:http://mur.mu.rs/?p=1:

“If you’ve been to a conference, you’ve probably thought, as I have, how nice it would be if everyday life could be like that—being surrounded by peers, able to get help solving a hard problem, then get accolades for doing so. There is a gestalt to sitting face to face with a group you just don’t get over the wire. With Appsterdam, our community is not just a nice idea, but a nice place.”

I would love to visit Europe again. It’s been too long.

Tweetbot

After about a day of using Tweetbot, “I said”:https://twitter.com/manton/status/58723721728360448:

“Tweetbot gets nearly everything in the UI right. Love it. But.. it’s a basic client. I still think the future for third parties is features.”

I only got a few responses, most defending Tweetbot as something special. I agree, and there’s a lot to be inspired by from it. In an odd way, though, just being the best Twitter client isn’t enough.

“Marco Arment writes more”:http://www.marco.org/2011/04/18/ben-brooks-on-tweetbot (following a “post from Ben Brooks”:http://brooksreview.net/2011/04/appsuration/) about why Tweetbot isn’t for him despite being such a good client:

“A new Twitter client that essentially offers the Twitter app’s features, but in different places, isn’t enough of a difference for me to switch. If anything, it supports Twitter’s ‘don’t make full-featured apps’ position. Maybe they were right.”

The problem isn’t that third parties shouldn’t make full-featured clients; it’s that they shouldn’t make clients that have exactly the same features as every other client. If Twitter discourages all apps from being made just because many will fail, we’ll miss out on all the things Twitter will never add to their apps and platform.

I see three compelling reasons to use Tweetbot 1.0: the design, swipe for conversations, and related tweets. The last is actually in the Twitter API — I’ve been meaning to add it to Tweet Library — but it’s not yet documented outside of an email message to the dev mailing list. Congrats to Tapbots for being the first I’ve seen to add it as a high-profile feature.

Last September I wrote about “next-generation Twitter apps”:http://www.manton.org/2010/09/next_generation.html:

“I believe we’re about to see a third generation of clients that will go way beyond what the web site can do. There was worry when Twitter bought Tweetie that it would destroy the third-party Twitter market, and sure, some developers will fail or be discouraged from trying to compete against a free official product. But really what it does is raise the bar — that to succeed Twitter clients should be more than just a one-to-one mapping between UI and the Twitter API.”

I hadn’t announced Tweet Library yet when I wrote that. Now that I’ve shipped it, I believe even more strongly that we haven’t seen anything yet from Twitter apps. Tweetbot is a great 1.0 and my go-to app on the phone because it’s better in lots of small ways than anything else. But that it’s not for everyone is actually great news. I hope there are plenty of unique features still to come from a variety of other apps.

Consider this: Tweetie already “won” the market. No matter what we do as Twitter API developers, none of us can ever have the most popular Twitter app. This frees every app to focus on its core strength. For Twitterrific, that’s a unified timeline; for Echofon, that’s last-read sync; for Hibari, that’s keywords; for Kiwi, that’s themes; for my own Tweet Library, that’s curation.

What’s Tweetbot’s core strength? For now, overall user experience, not standout features. But I’ve been a Tapbots customer long enough that I’m excited to see where they take it.

For more Tweetbot discussion, check out “this collection of tweets I made”:http://tweetlibrary.com/manton/tweetbot1.0 about the launch.