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I come not to praise in-app purchases but to not bury them.
Really, I hate the in-app purchase racket. I hate how it’s abused by so many developers. I will always favor an app that has a list price and no in-app purchases over one that’s going to nickel and dime me or even just make me pay to unlock levels or features.
The in-app purchase racket preys on people like the lottery. Pay another dollar and maybe you could win today! Oops, not today! Well, see you tomorrow!
Turns out, surprise, a lot of people like the freemium model
The thing is, the in-app model can work for both sides. It potentially solves a number of problems for developers. It was a big push for webOS, back in the day, to try to create opportunities for the developers, and it’s turning into a useful tool for developers when used intelligently.
And yes, it can be abused, but that’s true of pretty much everything.
How does it help developers?
It saves developers from the pain of having to deal with the “free trial” app and the “paid full” app. you can ship one app and use in-app to unlock the paid features. the pain of this “one app in two” are legion, starting with the pain of actually convincing users to buy and switch to the full app — and then getting their data from the free app to the full app through all of the security restrictions.
It’s a very effective tool against piracy. It shifts the revenue point so that cracking the app and installing a free, stolen copy isn’t nearly as useful to the pirates. Some app developers I talked to back when I was dealing with this stuff for real found that many of the folks using pirated apps were still doing in-app purchases for things, turning them into part of the revenue stream. Even if they don’t, it’s a lot harder for them to take full use of the app without in-app.
It can be an effective alternative to trying to convince users to pay up for “really good App 2″, given that Apple and pretty much every other app store has decided not to implement paid upgrades. You can offer “really good app 2″ for sale in the store, and for existing users, upgrade “really good app” to include the features of the new app in a way that they can be unlocked with a in-app upgrade at a discount. It may not work for all apps and all code bases, but the option is there. And for some apps, it can make sense to create features and enhancements that are offered through in-app instead of going the “really good app 2″ route.
I in many cases encouraged developers on webOS to think about in-app, especially as a way out of the “free app/paid app” hell that so many of them dealt with. Users generally love the “try and buy” option and shy away from paying for things they aren’t absolutely sure off unless they can test them out. But if you have a free demo app, it can become painful to try to convince them to move to the paid version. A well thought out demo with unlock lowers the pain points of both of these situations. AND screws over the pirates.
That said, yes, some apps abuse in-app, especially off in game land where you’re constantly being nudged into buying more diamonds so you can buy more stuff. My view: I don’t mind that, if I’m getting good value, and by value, I’m talking about game-hours compared to the amount of money I’m spending. I recently played a game for a good number of weeks, and put a fair bit of change into it (let’s just say “I could have bought a really good XBOX game for that….”); and I think it was quite a fair cost to me, given how many hours I got out of it. And then one day I’d decided I’d played it enough, and I thought as it advanced to really advanced levels it lost its game balance somewhat, and so I deleted it and moved on. I don’t regret the dollar amount a bit, given I probably ended up paying something like $0.30 an hour to play, more or less. That seems fair compensation to a developer to me (I know, horrors, to those of you who think $4.00 for a game a developer spent 18 months building is expensive. Those of you who think that’s a ripoff need to get a new hobby)
Now I’m playing the latest version of a game in a series I’ve played in the past. This one has shifted from the price up front to the in-app (aka “buy more diamonds!”) model. It’s okay, but the game play is, IMHO, too heavily biased towards “if you don’t buy this better armor you’ll die a lot, and you can only buy the better armor with diamonds, of course…” and so I’m dying a lot. And I’ve tossed a little money at it to experiment with their game play model and pricing, and to be honest, it’s going to get deleted soon. It’s okay, but…. the balance is too heavily weighted towards “buy more diamonds” for my taste. So they’ll end up getting a lot LESS of my money, because they got too greedy in their game balance.
And that’s the answer here: if you try a game and find it greedy, throw it out. And send them an email to the support folks telling them why. If it’s not fun because they tweaked the game balance in greedy ways, don’t play it. If you don’t play it and don’t send them money, they’ll get the message. If it’s fun and you’re getting a lot of gameplay hours out of it, well, everyone wins, right?
That’s my basic model: I know what I’m willing to fork over to have a good time. I value it as a rough “per hour” cost. The more fun a game is, the more I’m willing to adjust that “per hour” cost towards “sure, I’ll buy more diamonds”. the more they seem to be keeping me from enjoying the game until I fork over money for more diamonds, the faster I trash it and move on. I expect the developers to set a game balance that’s fair to both sides, not just them. If they blow it and get greedy, well, there are another ten bazillion games in the app store waiting for me to try them out…
Developers deserve a good living. in-app gives them opportunities to do so. But that doesn’t mean you should let them hold your fun hostage, either. Push back on that and say no by deleting the app and not wasting your time or money on greedy ones. That’s the way to send the message not to abuse in-app.
(and no, not gonna mention app names. they’re irrelevant for this discussion, and I’m not looking to review or publicize them….)
(if you aren’t interested in science fiction fandom, or worse, science fiction fandom politics and SMOFFing and all of that crap, avert your eyes and go read something else. you’ll thank me…)
So, this is a motion that’s being offered at this year’s WSFS meeting at Worldcon: To gut the Hugos of the Fanzine, Fan Writer and Fan Artist categories (pdf link), an idea put forward by one Milt Stevens. If you’re at all interested in this stuff, go read it; I’ll wait.
Oh, good lord.
This proposal is patently stupid and I expect it’ll die a quick and hopefully embarrassing death for its supporters. It’s attempting to restart a fight that was lost and done with about 30 years ago. Since I was in the middle of this fight back in the day, a bit of historical context for the twelve people in the universe who might care….
For what it’s worth, John Scalzi does a wonderful job of gutting this — the only word I can come up with printable is senile — attempt to return fandom to the good old days, if you define good old days to almost 40 years ago before the scourge of the modem. Or something like that. It’s being fronted by Milt Stevens and seconded by Linda Deneroff, which I’ll describe more or less as old school paper fanzine geeks and smofs that were well-known back in the early 80′s. Mike Glyer, of File 770 fame, seems to be cheering them on.
This is a bunch of aging comedians trying to get people to stop watching that damned Television thing and come back to the Vaudeville stages. Nothing more, nothing less. And it’ll be about as effective.
1989, Noreascon 3. OtherRealms was nominated for Best Fanzine and I ended up nominated for Best Fan Writer. OtherRealm was up against File 700 (who ultimately won), and the wonderful FOXFAX and Ed Meskys’ Niekas and the Fanzine I actually voted for, Lan’s Lantern by George “Lan” Laskowski (may he rest in peace. Miss you, Lan). Best Fan Writer was mostly the usual suspects, Dave Langford, Mike Glyer, Arthur Hlavaty, Avedon Carol, Guy Lillian and this interloper, namely me, the online fan geek. Dave Langford won (and deserved to, but I voted for Hlavaty. Surprised I didn’t vote for myself? I knew I wasn’t going to win, I didn’t think I deserved to, and it was just rather nice to be on the ballot finally… mostly).
There were — I’m shocked, you know — rumors of bloc voting and nominations that year. Not in the fan categories but in one of the pro categories. Frankly, it was mostly the usual in group political infighting. but when I went to Noreascon that year, I was rather — frustrated — to start hearing the rumors that the only reason I was on the ballot was that the people organizing the bloc nominations for that other category told everyone to nominate me as well so it wouldn’t be obvious that there was organized group nominations going on. As far as I know that wasn’t true, and I was not involved in any of it, but to be honest, having it said to my face in the fanzine room took the glow off the weekend a bit. Not even getting hit up by the groupies who were attempting to tag their dance card with as many hugo nominees as they could that weekend could fix it (for the record, I turned her down, and introduced my wife to her. She told me my wife was welcome, too… god, I do love and miss fandom some days).
One reason I know this bloc voting ‘thang’ had little or no part in OtherRealms finally getting on the ballot was because it had been a close call on the ballot a couple of previous years, and in one previous year the con committee decided, rather arbitrarily (and against my arguments) that if it was nominated onto the ballot, OtherRealms would have to qualify as a semiprozine (and therefore go up against Locus and Charlie Brown and lose).
During this time the mailing list SF-Lovers was growing in prominence and size, and by the late 80′s the membership and message volume of the list was likely larger than all of paper fanzine fandom worldwide added together, but it was ruled ineligible for the ballot for various reasons like not existing on paper and not having countable subscribers (or too many, depending on how you wanted to look at it, which would have stuffed it into the semiprozine category).
So this fight was going on literally 30 years ago and some of the folks involved are involved in this new fight, at least peripherally. Ultimately Noreascon 3 invented a special award that was given to Saul Jaffe for running SF-Lovers, and Noreason 3 (unlike previous ConComs) stopped finding reasons not to let OtherRealms on the ballot. OtherRealms complicated that argument because I had really fallen into paper fanzine fandom as well as online and it was a legimate hybrid with a legitimate paper version as well as an electronic version — and by that time I was not only pubbing OtherRealms, but I’d joined FAPA and I was involved in a number of “real” fanzine activities (we can blame Ben Bova, Arthur Hlavaty and a couple of others for igniting that bug. Thanks, guys).
The good news is, OtherRealms, which had a significant online audience (my guess: 20-25,000 at its max) made it onto the ballot. the bad news was that it made it onto the ballot because of the paper edition, which had at the time 6-700 paper subscribers. It’s going to be hard for modern online folks to understand this, but this was before HTML, before the web, before PDF, before you could embed images or even bold text in an email, so the two really were unique and different editions with similar content. So in practice, the paper edition was what was put on the ballot, even though most of the nominators and voters were readers of the electronic version.
And guess what. It happened, I finished above No Award (which was my hope) and the universe didn’t fall into a black hole. Neither did the Hugos, and neither have the fan Hugos. They’ve chugged along for 30 years doing pretty well, unless you happen to be one of those old school types who really want us all to go back to black and white TVs; um, paper fanzines. It always amazes me when I see people heavily involved in Science Fiction, whether as authors or fans, as absolutely resistant to change and progress and some of them are.
Dear old school fanzine fans: the world has changed. Get over it. Speaking as a former member of FAPA (and proud of it), there’s a lot of really good crap going on in online fandom, too. Quite whining about it, join in. Heck, even Mike Glyer has a web site for File 770 now, although from what I can tell, he seems to wish it didn’t exist some times…
this proposal is nothing more than the stars that were famous in silent movies attempting to tell everyone to kill the Oscars rather than award them to those horrors called talking pictures (because they haven’t been able to find work since the silents went away). It should be treated as the silly crap it is and quickly sent to the shredder and forgotten.
It is, frankly, terribly sad to see people still trying to fight a battle that was lost 30 years ago, and demeaning the work of a much larger group of people who are doing really good and interesting work, just because it doesn’t fit their idea of appropriate. Guess what, folks, not only do movies talk these days, they do it in color, too. You might want to try a few. you might like it.
(to the rest of the universe that’s not stuck in a time loop set 40 years ago, please don’t tell them about surround-sound or 3D or IMAX. Their nervous system might not be able to take it…)
Some days I really, really miss being actively involved in fandom and fanzine pubbing. But not today. Now I feel kinda sad for those that are that fights like this are still going on…
Have you been acting like Scarlett Oâ€™Hara when it comes to the impending Google Reader shutdown? â€œIâ€™ll think about that tomorrowâ€¦ Tomorrow is another day.â€ Well, there are only a couple of tomorrows left; and if youâ€™ve sworn, as God as your witness, youâ€™ll never go hungry for RSS feeds again, youâ€™d better get a move on.
The issue raised by Googleâ€™s decision to drop Reader isnâ€™t with reading, itâ€™s with syncing. Most of us read our RSS feeds on more than one device and we want a syncing service that allows us to pick up on our iPhones where we left off on our laptops. There were a few non-Google syncing options before Googleâ€™s announcement in March and more have arisen to fill the void since then. How do you decide which one to go with?
My answer was for the most part “none of the above.” When Google made this announcement, rather than wait until the last minute, I decided to deal with it early and be done with it. Rather than find a replacement feed reader, I decided to see if I could just kill off RSS feeds altogether.Â
I came close. I found, when I looked at it, that about half the things I had in my RSS feed I also had sitting in my Twitter stream, and I was effectively seeing the same content in both places. Easy decision; the RSS feeds got whacked.Â
With everything that was left, I first asked “do I want this?” and “when was the last time I got something interesting/useful off this feed?” and “why did I subscribe in the first place?” — and if I couldn’t answer the questions, I nuked it. A lot of stuff was in there because at one point, one article caught my eye forwarded from someone, and I put it in my feeds to see if more interesting articles followed it. Not surprisingly, lots of the time, that didn’t happen, but I was too lazy to set up an “under evaluation” process where I weeded them back out later. So I did it as part of this migration.Â
If the feed passed that test, I then looked for where I could land it: Do they stick it in twitter? (much of the time, yes). Is it tumblr? G+? Facebook? Do they show up in my Prismatic feed?Â
When I was done, I ended up with 23 feeds that I felt I could only read via RSS. For those, I set up a Feedly account and stuck them in, turned off Google Reader, and haven’t touched it since. Of those 23 feeds (now 17, as I decided I could live without a few when they weren’t part of a large firehose of articlesâ€¦). Feedly works fine. I like it, I don’t love it. It has its quirks, they keep working on improving it, and I feel no need to find a different service. That said, I’m only spending about 5 minutes a day in it now, and at least five of those feeds I could get in Prismatic now, too, but things are comfortable this way.Â
I spent maybe four hours making these changes. As a result, I’m spending about 30-40 minutes a day LESS trying to keep up with the firehose, and not only do I not feel like I’m missing anything, I feel like I’m actually seeing the most interesting stuff more easily.Â
So my suggestion: don’t just find a place to dump your google reader feed and keep doing it the old way. Spend a little time, rethink what you’re doing, and use this as a reason to invest and upgrade who you manage this firehose of data.Â
My other suggestion: If you run a blog or web site that does NOT have content announcements posted onto Twitter, you are an IDIOT. Just saying. And if you (like me) are someone who tends to be a chatter mouth on Twitter, it’s trivially easy to set up a second twitter feed JUST for site content for people who don’t want the noise. And it worksâ€¦Â
The internet has moved on from Google Reader. Don’t stick yourself in the Black and White TV days of managing your content by simply replacing your old Google Reader with some “new” clone. A bit of time invested here thinking and tweaking may well save you that second cup of coffee you’re needing just to wade through all of this. It did for meâ€¦ (and then you can use that second cup of coffee on other things!)
(Also see Marco’s comments on this)
A quick update on what I’ve been looking at for replacing Google Reader, for people looking at options.
I know a lot of people simply want to swap something out that does what GR does and not think about it. I decided instead that this was a good opportunity to rethink how I browsed and consumed data rather than just swap in a new version of the old thing. Knowing that most sites these days are involved with social media in various ways, I figured that if I tracked down those alternatives, I might be able to merge many of those feeds into other services rather than swap in a new feed reader. The goal for me became seeing if I could shrink the number of services I had to touch to browse this content, not find a replacement.Â
When I started, I had 360 feeds in my Google Reader subscription list. This was down significantly from when GR was my primary browsing environment and I would typically have 450-500 feeds in it. If that doesn’t explain why Google is dropping GR I don’t know what would; my subscription list had shrunk about 25% without me even realizing it.Â
Since so many sites autopost site activity to their twitter feed (hey, I do it, too. and I just set up a feed JUST for the site, so you can follow it without all of my chatter), I decided my primary goal was to move as many feeds to twitter as I could. If I couldn’t replace a GR subscription with twitter, my second choice was Google+, third was Tumblr, fourth was Facebook. If none of those worked, then for now I’ve kept them in GR until I make a final decision what to do.
The first surprise: Many of the sites on my GR subscription list were also already in my twitter lists, and I was effectively following them twice. That I was doing this wasn’t a surprise, that close to half of the subscriptions in GR were already in Twitter surprised me. That’s a lot of duplication. Much more than I expected. Â I was also right in thinking many of the subscriptions could be moved to twitter for browsing. Overall, of those 360 feeds, 160 were duplicated in Twitter and another 70-75 I could shift to Twitter (which I did).Â
That left about 140 feeds.Â
Google+ is useful for many things (don’t listen to the people who don’t use the service telling you it’s a ghost town), but as a replacement for Google Reader, not so much, primarily because it still hasn’t released the APIs that would allow for setups like Hootsuite to build auto-posting environments, so much of Â the content has to be “hand carried” over to Google. As such, it doesn’t have the content streams of material that show up as auto-posted updates that you see in Twitter and Facebook (and to a lesser degree Linkedin). At this point, G+ is really more self-referential than a funnel for outside content — and honestly, I kinda feel that’s an advantage. I also know it’s temporary and at some point, this will change. But for this task, I ended up not moving any feeds to G+. Now, once the auto-post APIs hit the service and people crank up the content, don’t be surprised if I move a hunk of my Twitter activity there. But not now.Â
So, tumblr. I’m still experimenting with Tumblr, to be honest. But I had about 20 Tumblr sites that I didn’t migrate from GR to Twitter, so I now follow them on Tumblr, and I’m starting to see the attraction to how Tumblr makes it easy to, well, stay on Tumblr. Some interesting design going on here.Â
And that leaves 120 feeds. And Facebook.
My relationship with Facebook is marked “it’s complicated”. I use it. I interact with people on it. I funnel content onto it so it’s shared with people I interact with there. And I keep thinking that it’s only a matter of time before Facebook gets disrupted, because it’s just not a fun site to use. I don’t like it’s “sticky finger” policy on information, which is why I funnel things onto it but create almost nothing directly on the site — most of my interactions there are reactions to other people’s actions, not initiation of actions. That and reposting funny stuff from George Takei. But there were a few sites where it made sense to follow them by liking their pages, but to be honest? I’d say 95%+ of the sites who’ve adopted Facebook as an information channel have also adopted Twitter. It makes sense, frankly, since nobody with a brain is going to manage these sites without help and automation, and anything that supports Facebook can basically give you support for Twitter with little or no extra effort. So I’m happy to say that Facebook took on very little of my Google Reader list.Â
If I were Facebook, that fact ought to worry me. My view of Facebook is that they’ve built a really successful business around being the place you water cooler with your friends, but the primary reason most of us are on Facebook is because everyone else is on Facebook, not because Facebook creates some really essential reason for being there. That means that what Facebook has ultimately done is reinvent AOL for the 2010′s, and that it’s ripe for disruption by someone who convinced those people to be on a different service. Facebook is about critical mass, not great services, and that’s a dangerous business model if you ask me, especially if some service has Facebook targeted and is willing to take a long-term, slow-growth view of the attack rather than worrying about doing it overnight (and THAT sounds a lot like Google+’s strategy to me, not that I’m saying they’ll succeed. butâ€¦.)
So that leaves me 110 feeds I haven’t placed.
Except it really is 26 feeds. Because along the way, I started looking at what was in my subscription list and thinking “why am I subscribing again? Is this really here because it’s useful? Or because it’s a habit?” — and so I started parsing out and deleting feeds that were either moribund, boring, unoriginal or just generally not worth migrating.Â
And so without really trying hard — I’m not joking when I say I’ve spent maybe four or five hours over lunch or evenings in the last couple of weeks bringing up feeds, visiting sites, seeing where else they post content, and then setting up the changes — about 75% of my “google reader” problem has been resolved. A big chunk of it literally disappeared when I realized how much overlap already existed between GR and twitter. I have a few sites that don’t have an easy replacement but also I don’t want to give up on. What to do?
For now, I’m waiting to see. A number of groups have announced plans to put replacement services in place. The one that interests me the most right now is Newsblur, but frankly, they’re still fighting to scale, so the best thing I can do for them is be patient and let them (so I am). there are at least half a dozen others charging into this space as well. And I can afford to wait until closer to the end to decide where to land. So I will. But even today, I’m only hauling out GR a couple of times a day, and only seeing 20 articles in it when I do, instead of it being a constant companion in my dock. By effectively compressing my media browsing into one fewer service, I’ve been able to squeeze about 45 minutes a day out of the time I was taking to “keep up”, while not feeling like I’m actually missing anything I’ll regret not seeing. I’m still seeing everything I want to see, and spending less time finding it. I win.Â
I also have Prismatic in the mix, but I haven’t quite decided where it fits in all of this. I really like Pristmatic as a discovery tool for browsing, not as a subscription setup. it seems to me they could easily add a “only your subscribed sites” mode to suck in Google Reader equivalent functionality and blow a bunch of this out of the water by doing both well, but it kicks serious butt as a way to find stuff you didn’t know to look for. It’s a key reason I’m being more liberal about purging subscriptions there were in the “just in case they say something interesting but mostly I ignore them” category. (I’ve tried Flipboard. I think it’s an awesome piece of technology; it just doesn’t click with me. That’s not their fault.)
There are lots of options out there that change the dynamics of content browsing, which is what this is all about. And Â that’s the reason I suggest everyone consider seeing this as an opportunity to rethink how you consume, not just shift your reader list to a new service. Get over the “I might miss something on the internet” mentality, purge the crap out of your lists, slim your time commitment to all of this,Â
I’ve found only one real loser in all of this, and it’s their fault. I’ve kept various RSS feeds from the San Jose Mercury News which help me see what’s going on in news, both locally and with a wider scope. The problem is, the ONLY places they want to let me see their content is via these RSS feeds, on their web site, or in their stupid iPad App. And in the latter two, they want me to see what they tell me to look at the way they want me to look at it; customization of the feeds to my preferences? Hell, they know better than I do what I want. Or so they seem to think.
So over the years, I’ve hacked together a set of RSS feeds off their site that customizes what they deliver to a rough version of what I’d like to see. there’s no way to duplicate that any other way. I have been, therefore, looking into options. Some of the content I can find replacements for easily, with things like @breakingnewsÂ (and I have). The sports info is pretty easy to replace, since the local teams have figured this out and have built out their own content teams.Â
But (surprise. sigh) local news is still an issue, especially if you’re trying to track down to police reports or restaurant openings and closings. There are some sites trying to grow into this space, like Patch, but nothing I’ve found that solves me problem in a way I want to adopt. So the search continues. But in the meantime I also decided, when I started looking closely at the feeds from the Merc, that the quality of them really sucked, and I was sifting through a lot of noise for very little signal. So I ended up deleting them. I’m still watching for a replacement for that data – but I’m also finding out it was stuff I didn’t really need and don’t miss much.Â
The news sites keep screwing it up, frankly, by trying to force us into their old models (“we’ll tell you what to read and how to read it”) instead of adopting new models that are tied towards creating/acquiring content and distributing it in ways where I can customize it to my interests, not their preferences. They also keep making the old mistake of trying to pretend that their redistribution of syndicated content is somehow something they can convince us is unique and special (and worthy of us giving them money for). I’d happily pay for really good local coverage in a form I can manipulate and filter. I’m not so interested in paying for a repackaged Reuters feed when a dozen other sites are already doing it betterâ€¦. That’s a rant for another time, I guess. But this exercise is showing again how services like this are still heavily fighting the last war, not the next oneâ€¦Â
My stance on this hasn’t changed. As far as I’m concerned, the tech blogosphere has collapsed into a largely worthless echo-chamber filled with idiotic babble about Apple’s share price and moronic product rumors. As a result I’m officially re-launching The Angry Drunk in the way I first intended to run it almost six years ago. I’ll expand on my intended content changes below and the technical changes in a later post. I suppose the easiest way to explain my intended vision for the content here is to start by explaining what The Angry Drunk will not be. The Angry Drunk is not:
If you want to know why I’ve lost most of my interest in writing about tech and Apple, Angry Drunk pretty much nails it.
There are just too damn many people chasing too few really interesting stories, and what’s become important is to be fast and first, not insightful — or even correct. I could build a pretty successful career around making up rumors and pushing affiliate advertising, but I need to sleep at night, and I’m not interested in turning into yet another rumor site. It’s sad that I don’t even have to be right, I just have to tell people that I have sources, and they’re never held accountable for vein wrong; everyone just rolls off to the next damn rumor and starts drooling again.
Apple, of course, is held accountable for not living up to the rumors. But the rumor inventors keep getting pageviews. even the big name rumor mongers — the ones who write for “legitimate” sites (like forbes, or the financial industry) don’t get held accountable for being wrong. They just get press for their next round of ‘analysis’. Frankly, I got pretty sick of the whole mess, and I found that my entire set of tech-oriented postings were turning into “that’s bullshit… He’s full of crap… it’s all bogus….”
you know what? I don’t enjoy being a negative suck.
But I’ve been thinking long and hard about what I want this place to be about, and the kind of stuff that rolls through the geek blogosphere these days isn’t it. I’m not trying to drive pageviews. I’m not interested in doing the Gizmodo troll thing and posting 30 articles a day, each 100 words of original content or less. My interest is in studying a topic, understanding what I want to say about it, and then writing about it, and writing about it in some detail. In other words, something diametrically opposite to what seems to be the trend in tech blogging.
Although I’m starting to see a reaction to the short-fast-first, and I think it’s going to grow, and if it hits critical mass, it’s going to make some blogging sites rather unhappy. There’s a growing interest not in quick hits and fast reactions, but in actual thought and analysis, and I see the long-form content becoming fashionable again.
Fashionable or not, I don’t care. It’s what I want to write, and it’s where I’m pointing this blog. Not posting every day? Horrors. I guess I’ll survive — but I’d rather post less often, but when I post, it actually says something interesting and informative. That’s what I’m trying to do now.
And if you prefer “first post!” stuff, well, plenty of places to get that. Just not here.
Because of the announcement to retire Google Reader, I’ve been visiting web sites to understand what (if any) contact points those sites have other than RSS.
I’ve also been working on some updates to my own web site (again), and spending a fair amount of time looking at how other people do various things to help decide what to do about mine.
The results are not pretty.
Beyond this basic reality, of course: when Google Reader retires in a few weeks, a lot of people who current subscribe to your site are going to lose access to it. Are you working on alternatives for them? Are you going to make it easy for them to switch to a different setup? Or are you assuming that they are going to simply moves to one of the other RSS readers? Or even know they have to? If you don’t tell them what options they have and what they can do to continue watching your site, what percentage of your readers will go dark when Google Reader does?
Seems to me anyone who depends on an RSS feed for subscribers ought to be working on a plan to help their readers transition.
But beyond that, there are a lot of web sites that seem mostly interested in convincing me not to use them or subscribe to their content. Here are some common highlights. Am I talking your site here?
Are you hiding?
Are you on twitter? Facebook? Pinterest? If so, why are you hiding that from me? It’s amazing how many sites don’t mention what other places the site has a presence. Or if they do, they stick it in a random place. sometimes it’s on the “about” page. Sometimes a “social media” page. sometimes the footer. Sometimes they put in in author pages, and sometimes it’s just stuck on a random page somewhere for laughs. Lots of times it’s missing. And far too often, it’s promoting a link to something that’s broken.
With Google Reader going away, making it easy for readers to find a way to stay in touch with your content other than RSS is going to be increasingly necessary. So IMHO, your key points of presence (twitter, Google+, Facebook) need to be on the front page, above the fold — in other words, in your header, preferably on every page. And then list all of them on your about page, or on a social media page easily found from the about page or about menu. As the non-geeks figure out what it means to have Google Reader go away, they’re going to want options. Don’t hide them.
Don’t get in the way
Why is it that so many sites thin the first thing they should do when I go to their site to read something is prevent me from reading it? I don’t care if it’s because you want me to download your app (no! just let me read this article!) or subscribe to your newsletter (no! just let me read this article!). Or you stick up an interceding ad for me to watch before I’m allowed to read the content (this, actually, I have some sympathy for, because I know you have to pay the bills. Except for the sites that won’t let me skip past the ad; that’s greedy, and rarely do I wait). You get special bonus points if you don’t take no for an answer, and push this on me every time I visit the site. Except after a couple of times of visiting the site and getting hit up like this, I stop.
And consider sharing links to sites that do this? Don’t hold your breath… the reality is, when you and your site put your interests (sucking my information out of me so you can market at me) ahead of my interests, what you really do is make me not want to read your content. And depending on how annoying you are, I won’t. So you may think you’re doing something positive (“look how many subscribers I’ve added to my mailing list this month!”) and lots of SEO pundits suggest these techniques as ways to drive that stuff — have you ever pondered how many potential subscribers you lose by being so pushy? How many link shares you lose from people who refuse to send friends to sites like that? And it’s unnecessary. There are less intrusive but useful ways to do this.
I mean, seriously. How often do you enjoy shopping at stores that require you to swipe your credit card as you enter and not when you check out? think about it.
Are you using your site’s page space effectively?
Speaking of links, have you stopped to consider just how much of your site’s screen real-estate you’re giving over to those social media sharing buttons? And how wonderfully they clash with your carefully built site design? When was the last time someone actually referred an article of yours to Stumbeupon? Or Reddit? or Digg? Six months ago? Never? In reality, you probably can’t tell me because you don’t know — so why are you giving those buttons VIP-class real estate on your site? Or promoting links to sites you don’t use and may never have actually visited. Do you know if getting a wave of users from Reddit visiting you is a good thing? Or just lots of useless pageviews?
Are you a ghost town?
Sometimes I think people never actually visit their own sites, or clicked on links on their site.
What does it say when I click a link that takes me to your twitter account, which you haven’t used in six months? (or replace twitter with Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, or name whatever trendy fad thing you stuck on your site that you got bored with a week later. Or which fell over and died, and now you have a link to, well, nothing. All you’re doing is convincing me you’re not really active and that your site content is old and stale. Now that’s a solid marketing message, right?
If you’re not active on a service, don’t promote a link to it.
I’m not even going to talk about sites that still heavily promote Google Friend Connect. Forever god, why is 20% of your site front page filled with content about it?
Is your contact mode telling me to email you at fred at gmail dot calm? WHY? That is so 2002. Why make it hard for users to contact you? Worried about spam? Here’s the hint: your mail provider has spam figured out, or you need a new mail provider. And those “obfuscated” email addresses were figured out by spammers long ago, if they remotely cared to. This is one of those techniques that long ago stopped being useful, but people keep doing it. Why? Because, well, someone somewhere told them to.
Just cut it out. It’s like copy protection on software: it doesn’t stop the people you want to stop, but it gets in the way of people you actually want to contact you.
Those are the highlights of my recent tour. Have I missed any of your favorite site mistakes?
All companies cancel services and abandon apps. The difference with Google Reader is that they’ve canceled something beloved.
Almost every service cancelled has fans that loved the service.
The true difference here is that Google Reader was a service beloved by high profile bloggers and media types who have a platform to complain about it where people actually listen.
Honestly, I’m still not convinced that (a) it didn’t deserve to die, and (b) that by finally pulling the plug, Google did everyone a long-term service by removing the thing that it no longer was investing in but was preventing anyone else from attempting to innovate in this space. Given the reaction of various companies since the announcement, instead of complaining about this, I think maybe Google deserves our thanks for finally getting out of the way and letting this market space bloom again.
Last November, our friends at Infoworld reported that Apple’s iCloud email system silently blocks emails containing certain phrases. And that hasn’t changed in the intervening months, as Macworld UK reports. Granted, the phrases in question may not be the kind that you’re likely to exchange with your correspondents. Through our own rigorous testing, we’ve managed to confirm that emails containing the phrase “barely legal teen” are simply never delivered to iCloud inboxes. In fact, we found that even emails with the offending phrase contained in an attached PDF—even a zipped PDF—were blocked. Even if you, like us, would almost never receive a legitimate email with such a phrase, this could still be problematic.
Back in the day when I was designing and building the original lists.apple.com (oh my god…. see note below), one of the things I wanted to do was try to limit the ability of those occasional disagreements from flaring up into full-fledged flamefests (this is, of course, still one of the holy grails of community management). I decided to try to see if we could catch them as they escalated by adding a “PG-13″ filter to the incoming email; the idea being that when the language started escalating into profanities that things were probably getting out of hand. The hope was that if users got their nasty words bounced back it’d make them back off and think twice. Or at least give the admins some warning and time to wander in and see what was going on and intercede.
The filter was pretty simple regex checks, looking primarily for the “seven deadlies”. And it worked pretty well, except when it didn’t.
I soon got to know a great Mac programmer by the name of Igor Livshits. We had a number of great conversations about the strengths and weaknesses of simplistic pattern matching in spam filtering. I started tweaking the filters so that Igor could actually use the mailing lists again (you DO see the problem, right?) — and spent time over the next few months testing and tweaking and tuning. And ultimately, I removed all filters except for the Big One, because there were just too many false positives.
And that’s the problem. Users hate spam, and want it to go away. Until their email starts disappearing or being rejected by over-aggressive filters. And then everyone learns that the only thing worse than spam are false positives. So if there’s any questions about legitimacy, the email needs to be let through — and honestly, reputation systems have really solved this problem to a couple of decimal points.
So filters like this seem like a good idea, but if they start trapping real email, they need to be turned off. And blackholing emails makes it even worse. Yes, it’s a hassle and a resource suck to reject and return as bounced spam emails, but if you don’t, then you lose any chance of a feedback loop to let you know when your system is throwing these false positives. And that’s bad.
And the bottom line? be really, really careful building systems where there aren’t good metrics on accuracy and feedback loops that can tell you if the system is misbehaving. Even if this filter is 99% effective in trapping spam, blackholing that other 1% is a really bad thing because it impacts the reputation of your entire service. And since you don’t have feedback loops in place, you don’t know, until way too late…
(note below: taking a look at lists.apple.com for the first time in many years, I see — it’s still basically the setup I built and handed off, including using Mailman 2.x. Part of that is sad, because the reality is email systems simply haven’t been innovating much over the last 15 years or so, but mostly, I think this is neat, because it’s rare and awesome to see a system you built still humming away years later where nobody saw any big urgency to rearchitect or throw it out and replace it — when stuff just works, that’s the best result you can hope for…)