Monthly Archives: June 2015

“Write the apps you want to write in your free time and out of love for the platform and for those specific apps. Take risks.” — Brent Simmons on the state of indie software

→ 2015/06/30 1:20 pm

Apple Music and free Beats 1

Apple Music launched today with iOS 8.4. Christina Warren has an early review for Mashable, in particular mentioning the value of For You:

“The real heart of Apple Music is the For You tab. This is basically your music homescreen. When you open the section for the first time, you’re asked to go through a discovery exercise. This was lifted directly from Beats Music and it’s one of the best discovery tools I’ve used over the years.”

If Apple Music can be thought of as Beats Music 2.0, then the Connect tab is probably a little like Ping 2.0, an update on Apple’s first attempt to build a music-only social network. As Daniel and I discussed on Core Intuition 187, any service that demonstrates a network effect — everything from eBay to Twitter — needs some critical mass of users to reach its potential. I was curious whether Apple could achieve this if the Connect feature was locked behind a paid subscription after the initial 3-month trial.

What I missed is that Connect and even Beats 1 will be free. From the Apple Music page:

“Even without a membership, you can listen to Beats 1 radio, see what artists are posting on Connect, and hear our ad‑supported stations.”

Beats 1 is one of the more interesting aspects of Apple Music to me. I just signed up for the trial and plan to continue at the $15/month family subscription.

Paul Krugman on the triumph for Obamacare

Writing his op-ed for the New York Times, Paul Krugman reacts to just before and after the Supreme Court upheld a crucial part of the Affordable Care Act:

“Was I on the edge of my seat, waiting for the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare subsidies? No — I was pacing the room, too nervous to sit, worried that the court would use one sloppily worded sentence to deprive millions of health insurance, condemn tens of thousands to financial ruin, and send thousands to premature death.”

He continues by countering many original arguments against the law, from not insuring enough people to costing too much. He wraps up with:

“Put all these things together, and what you have is a portrait of policy triumph — a law that, despite everything its opponents have done to undermine it, is achieving its goals, costing less than expected, and making the lives of millions of Americans better and more secure.”

And that’s not the only big news from the Supreme Court. Nice way to end the week.

Don’t solve everything

When I talk about microblogging, sometimes I get feedback asking what we should do about cross-site replies. That is, if you’re distributing microblog posts across different domains rather than centralizing them all on a service like Twitter, how do you solve linking together conversations and @-replies across those sites?

I don’t have a solution for that. Of course I’ve thought about it. I wrote 12 years ago about Trackbacks, which were an attempt at solving this. IndieWebCamp has more recent, related proposals.

For my new project, I’ve chosen to just plainly admit that I don’t have a solution for a next-generation Trackback. I will instead have limited centralized replies and favorites. It’s not ideal, but that’s why I call what I’m working on halfway-decentralized. It’s a next step, not the final step.

It’s okay not to solve everything. Cross-site replies and conversations need to come from the community, evolving organically from what people are building with their customized WordPress themes, experimental RSS readers, and new client software for posting. The open web advances incrementally, not all at once, and trying to fight that by tackling too much will get us nowhere.

Four microblogging community tips

Ever since writing about my WordPress-based microblog and linking to similar solutions from Seth Clifford and Ben Brooks, I’ve been hearing from more bloggers about their interesting microblog workflows. Everyone has a slightly different spin on the basic idea, but all of them achieve some independence from Twitter by having the primary copy of each post live on their own site.

First, Chase McCoy mentions on App.net that he uses Launch Center Pro for quick microblogging of links:

“To make a post all I have to do is copy a link, and then run a Launch Center Pro action that prompts me for the text of the post. One click and it’s done!”

Then, Sander van Dragt describes his WordPress setup. It’s similar to mine, but his post includes more detail. He also links to a comment on my .htaccess gist with a better explanation and rewrite rules.

Next up, Adam Simpson shares how he posts to his own microblog directly from an SMS. He even goes one step further, integrating tweet features directly back into WordPress:

“I save the tweet ID of every post that gets posted to Twitter. I use that ID to pull in the favorite and retweet counts and display them next to each ‘note’ in the WordPress dashboard.”

And finally, here’s an AppleScript solution on App.net from Henrik Carlsson that allows him to take any text on his Mac and quickly post it to his microblog via an Automator workflow. Pretty great. I had forgotten that AppleScript has native XML-RPC support, which most blogging systems support.

I’m inspired by all the cool work people are doing around blogs. It’s a good time to write on the web.

NSDrinking is on for tonight with a repeat of last month’s venue: Radio Coffee & Beer. Come by to chat about Mac/iOS development around 7pm. Food truck tacos, too.

→ 2015/06/25 9:27 am

Jim Coudal at CreativeMornings

Several years ago, Jim Coudal gave a talk about shifting from client work to product work. I recently re-watched it and it’s still great, even if some of the details have changed. They no longer do Jewelboxing, for example, and Field Notes has become an even bigger deal.

It’s also about bad ideas, managing projects, and team size. On wasting time, Jim says:

“I think wasting time is an important part of the whole process. Because when you’re screwing around is when you have the good ideas.”

The best talks are timeless, which is difficult in the tech world. This one comes closer than most to achieving it.

The Focus Course

Today, Shawn Blanc launched The Focus Course. Originally conceived as a book on productivity, it expanded during his research and writing to include 18 videos, PDF workbooks, and a discussion forum, wrapped together with 75,000 words in a 40-day course package:

“The Focus Course is for anyone who wants to increase productivity, personal integrity, morale, and overall quality of life. What sets the course apart is that it guides you in the implementation of these principles so that these topics go beyond mere head knowledge and into experiential knowledge.”

I love the scope of this. It sounds like he put everything into it.

First time at a waterpark with the Apple Watch. It got splashed and sunk and plenty wet, even if I tried to avoid submerging it completely. Seems totally fine.

→ 2015/06/23 6:38 pm

Overall quite happy with the IFTTT recipe for posting to App.net, but noticed that any inline links aren’t preserved. I write in Markdown, it goes to RSS as HTML, and either the IFTTT converter or App.net API just assumes plain text.

→ 2015/06/22 10:11 am

Microblog timelines, Project Lightning, and River.js

I said that one important facet to microblogging is the timeline experience. This is a basic foundation to Twitter’s success, although they continue to de-emphasize or twist it. Their upcoming Project Lightning will attempt to curate and deliver tweets to you that are important regardless of who you’re following. From Mat Honan’s scoop on the project for Buzz Feed:

“Launch one of these events and you’ll see a visually driven, curated collection of tweets. A team of editors, working under Katie Jacobs Stanton, who runs Twitter’s global media operations, will select what it thinks are the best and most relevant tweets and package them into a collection.”

David Pierce wrote for Wired with further speculation on what it could mean for Twitter. David starts with the premise that Twitter is basically full of junk:

“Sure, yes, everyone’s Twitter is different—that’s one of the service’s best aspects, that you can follow anyone you want and see whatever you want. Unfortunately, this only works if everyone on Twitter isn’t terrible most of the time. They are.”

The essay continues, describing Project Lightning as the death of the Twitter timeline as we know it:

“With this change, Twitter doesn’t have to look like an endlessly flowing, context-free stream of tweets; instead, you can see a hand-curated set of tweets, links, images, and videos related to what’s happening right now. You see one at a time, swiping through them until you get to the end. And there’s an end!”

Since I haven’t seen this new feature, I can’t tell whether it’s a major shift in how Twitter is used. Federico Viticci is optimistic about it:

“This is another example of Twitter moving beyond Legacy Twitter and the belief that Twitter is still only a timeline of tweets in chronological order. The company has been enhancing the service with media improvements and design changes aimed at making Twitter less static – the opposite of a traditional timeline. If anything, they’ve been moving too slowly in this area.”

I agree with Federico on the value of curation and surfacing great content. But also the timeline must remain at the heart of Twitter, just as a reverse-chronological list of posts has been on every blog home page since the term weblog was coined 18 years ago.

Dave Winer calls these timelines “rivers”, and last week he open-sourced a browser for the River.js timeline files. Formatted as JSONP, you can think of River.js as conceptually the same as an RSS feed, except that it’s easy to display with HTML using only JavaScript.

I plan to fully support outputting River.js in the project I’m working on. For the last few years, Twitter has had a monopoly on the timeline. We need to break that up. The first step is encouraging microblogs everywhere, and the next step is to build tools that embrace the timeline experience. If you’d like to see my take on this, please sign up on the project announce list.

Why Ello isn’t enough

Last week, to not much fanfare at all because nearly everyone had already lost interest, Ello shipped their iPhone app. Credit to them for attempting to build a new social network, because this is extremely difficult. But it seems to me that Ello is a bust. They needed a more compelling pitch than simply “no ads”.

(I’ve heard some people joke about Ello’s monospaced font, but I kind of love that about Ello. If you want to differentiate yourself, design isn’t a bad place to start.)

App.net was — and likely will be for many more years — the most successful attempt to compete with Twitter and Facebook. If they fell short, despite how many things they got right, how can another clone of existing social networks hope to do any better?

I wish I could cheer Ello on. Spend enough time clicking around on Ello and you discover a niche but fascinating community, full of beautiful art and photos. It’s just that after so many months, there’s still not even a mention of an official API on the planned features page.

The next great social platform can’t be yet another centralized system. It has to be more distributed and more open even than App.net. It has to focus on writing and bloggers and embrace what is good about the web. Ello doesn’t do any of these things.

Taylor Swift and the Apple Music trial

Taylor Swift writes on her blog (via iMore) that she’s hopeful Apple will be the first company to get streaming right, but that she can’t agree to 3 months of artists not getting paid:

“I realize that Apple is working towards a goal of paid streaming. I think that is beautiful progress. We know how astronomically successful Apple has been and we know that this incredible company has the money to pay artists, writers and producers for the 3 month trial period… even if it is free for the fans trying it out.”

I agree with Taylor. Apple still has a mountain of cash. Seems reasonable for them to use it to launch Apple Music properly and get musicians excited about the service. Usage will be higher during the free trial, so it would be a nice gesture to the music community, even with some kind of reduced royalties.

Imagine if Apple had launched the Mac App Store with this same model, where users could try apps for free and developers wouldn’t get paid for the first 3 months. Pretty unacceptable.