It's been formally requested in our office that we institute a moratorium on #beatstweets, but I've had a note to blog this post relating Apple's redesign of iOS 7 to the structure of the fashion industry since last July. The author, Shahrzad Samadzadeh, knows her stuff and her comments are more relevant now than when the post was new.
The entire post is worth reading, and please do, but I will excerpt two points here:
To paint a simplified picture of the industry, as I know it: relatively low-priced accessories like sunglasses and wallets are often the point of entry for new relationships between customers and brands. Higher priced accessories like shoes and bags become a manifestation of a tentative commitment, and the clothes themselves are an indication of a more permanent alignment between the person and the stories and products generated by the company. To put this in technology terms: UI is sunglasses, the most accessible piece of technology is shoes and bags, and the ecosystem is clothes.
Lower-priced accessories are important to the fashion industry, and they change style constantly. With every release cycle, the new model has to be so compelling that customers volunteer to adopt it. It has to make the old style look old, and it has to get people talking. Designers, especially designers of digital products, often work towards a Platonic ideal of classic design that can stand the test of time. In fashion, there is no ideal. There are ideas of what is timeless and classic, and those ideas (think “little black dress”) are reinvented constantly.
(Seriously, please, read her entire post, even if it means you're not going to finish this one! Samadzadeh worked at a fashion company, interned at Adaptive Path and is wrapping up her Masters in interaction design from Carnegie Mellon.)
During a recent Samsung/Apple trial (I am honestly not sure which one, I don't follow this stuff as closely as I used to!), several of Apple's internal memos and presentations were revealed. One included this slide, which was obviously not meant to see the light of day:
What Apple has right now is a line-up of high end laptops, iPads and iPhones all of which exhibit what Samadzadeh references above - "classic design that can stand the test of time." It's a relatively pleasant problem, but it's a real one. The meme of "Apple is becoming a fashion company" has been percolating through tech blogs, and while (as Samadzadeh notes) "A UI is not a wallet," Apple is positioning themselves as a high growth company by taking cues from the fashion industry, so we can expect Apple's product matrix to look more like that of a fashion company than a computer company.
Beats headphones make people feel cool, Apple wants people to feel good when using their products. Making people feel cool is Apple's strongest competitive advantage, and I think it's a significant one. This is most of what the Beats deal is about, and we should expect more like it over the next few years.
Maybe the Beats deal doesn't close at all, but it's not hard to extrapolate what will happen next: Improved software and services that compliment hardware acquisitions and offer multiple points of entry for new users (especially young people) to experience Apple products. Maybe Beats will be the label on a cheaper iPhone, a wearable "iPod mini" that connects to Apple's rumored Healthbook service, or an iPad that comes with streaming media services that leave Amazon and Google in the dust.
And one more thing...
Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre will hopefully be coming to Apple, but I'm actually much more curious about the next step for Ian Rogers. He's worked at Grand Royal, which was the first record label to offer streaming media on their own web site (if memory serves, they were using an exotic format: Xing's streaming mp3 servers). He was at Nullsoft where they took the desktop mp3 player mainstream, Yahoo! where they grew the subscription streaming music market several times over, Topspin where they brought to market the first end-to-end toolkit for artists to sell music direct to their fans, and now Beats.
Have you used iTunes recently? If I want to download and play a podcast, it takes at least seven clicks. Apple has been slowing peeling away the mess of features built into what was once their flagship software (Photos to photo stream, books to iBooks, etc.) but it needs a complete reimagination. Even my biggest Apple-fan friends use rdio or Spotify; I've been roundly mocked for subscribing to iTunes Match. If Apple doesn't reboot iTunes, someone else will. And the best person in the world to do so is Ian Rogers.
Why stop at music? Earlier this year, Manton Reece wrote that Apple should acquire Beats and put the team to work on the App store as well. Each of Amazon, Google and Apple's stores betray the companies' relative priorities. Amazon has an app store where they control the pricing and cheap (or free) apps and media do well, this drives Kindle sales. Google has an app store where free ad-supported apps and media do well, and paid apps do not, and this drives ad revenue and market share. Apple sells great products, and they need to shore up their flank. As an app publisher and software developer, I love this idea too.
All of these questions are variations on "Why did Yahoo! spend one-third of their cash on hand to buy a company that by all accounts is about to run out of money?" Read this post, and hopefully these questions will not need to be asked again!
Why did Yahoo! make this acquisition?
We know very little about Marissa Mayer's big goals for Yahoo!, but we know one. She wants Yahoo! to own users' daily habits. At an analysts conference recently, she classified these as "searches on the Internet, checking finance, doing your email." Yahoo! is skating to where the puck is going to be when it comes to "daily habits." The Tumblr daily dashboard is a daily habit, and by some accounts, moreso than even Facebook or Twitter among teens.
Why is this so expensive? 1.1 Billion dollars is outrageous!
Yes it is! But per user, it's actually cheaper than, for instance, what AOL paid for the Huffington Post (AOL paid $13/user, Yahoo! is paying $5-$11, depending on what numbers you believe). Tumblr's users are much more engaged than HuffPo users were even at it's peak. Flip this around: if you were given 1.1 billion dollars, would you be able to build a service used by more than ten million people for more than an hour a month? You could not. That's a bigger audience than American Idol, or for that matter anything else (except Facebook or Twitter). Even if you had the perfect product idea and a billion dollars to build it, time is a zero sum game, and it's very hard to get people to unlearn their habits.
Isn't Yahoo! going to ruin Tumblr?
Anecdotally, I have lots of friends who have worked at Yahoo! and have some really terrible stories to tell. Just awful, unbelievable stuff. But you know what? That's true at every tech company of any scale. (BTW - EVEN TUMBLR!) Acquisitions usually don't work out, and I think that Y! probably has an unfair rep as being tough on it's acquisitions. It's not like many of the web 1.0 era of startups were successful on their own, and some (in)famously have flamed out without being acquired by Yahoo! (Dodgeball, Six Apart, etc.). I actually think that some kind of Messenger or Flickr integration with Tumblr would be awesome. Many of my smartest friends say that the fungible identities on Tumblr are part of what's most valuable about it. That's true! I doubt Marissa will mess with that. So breathe easy.
Native advertising hasn't ever been successful at scale on the web, isn't this a risk?
No. Every YouTube video is native advertising. And Yahoo! doesn't have to monetize all those crummy/porny/incoherent blogs, they only have to monetize the dashboard. And I think the basic idea that Tumblr has is the right one, they just didn't have a competent sales organization. Now they do.
How can you measure the value of a social network?
Jason Goldman suggested (perhaps jokingly) that the number of faves was a valuable metric, and unsurprisingly, I agree. Anil notes a bunch of reasons that positivity is important on the Internet, and I agree with all of them, but beyond that, a like, heart or fave (or a reblog or retweet) are the documentation of the essence of blogging. You wrote something, I liked it, and this is my way of letting you know. We're all working for free on these networks, with the exception of the currency of social approval and public appreciation. Whether by accident or design, Tumblr's system of likes and reblogs is one of the most elegant there is, and I think that's a huge part of the network's success.
Why should I care what you say?
I'm one of the few people who have been involved in the business of blogging full-time for over a decade. I have been a blogger since 1999, and tumblr user since 2007, and I actually worked with David Karp and Marco Arment on their first iteration on what would become tumblr. At the time, the engine powered Serious Eats and a handful of David's other consulting clients. These guys were not easy to work with (and, in fact, their presence on other web projects was ultimately short-lived) but they had a laser focus on what they cared about — making blogging simpler and better. I also sold my own blogging company, Apperceptive, to another blogging company, Six Apart, and participated in the sale of Six Apart to SAY media. At Six Apart's peak, our software was powering a billion (or more) pageviews a month. And if you look hard enough at what we're doing over at 29th Street Publishing, you'll see that it's basically blogging with a business model. So this is more or less what I do.
There you go!
Story from the near future: foreign govt hackers launch app w/ spying backdoor at #sxsw, pwn everyone's phone data. (Maybe already have!)— elipariser (@elipariser) March 9, 2013
This actually happened in the near past, not even the near future, in either 2003 or 2004 (I don't remember which). Of course, this is when all of SxSW interactive fit in one building, the downtown conference center. The wifi networks never held up so the coveted spots in the hallway were near the ethernet ports & power plugs (a modern powerbook only had one or at best two sessions worth of power at that time, and "liveblogging" was still a thing).
Some enterprising character booted up "etherpeg" and everyone's email, flickr uploads, IMs, and blogger and Movable Type passwords were laid bare for all to see. At the time we didn't consider this a threat (remember, most XML-RPC passwords were sent over the clear, for better or for worse), and packet-sniffing was something people did when they were feeling mischievous, not because people's passwords were particularly valuable. It was an amazing few hours. To get an idea of what this looked like, here's the same software running in Bryant Park in 2005, courtesy of David Gallagher:
Brad never passed up an opportunity for a prank on this scale, and soon the network was flooded with some hardcore porn. Watching people literally jump out of their chairs when they were supposed to be paying attention to the stage is definitely one of my favorite SxSW memories. Jason and Finn helped people secure their browsing by installing stunnel and pretty soon etherpeg got less interesting.
While we're blogging memories, a few people have asked me about the picture that went around twitter & tumblr yesterday. This was an award that Mediarights won for the fifth annual Media That Matters Film Festival. I'm pleased that after twelve years, the film festival is still going, which is no small feat for a non-profit!
For the last few years I've felt melancholy around SxSW time, and that picture of Finn and me and Eli's tweet got me wondering why. I realized it was mostly because I missed Brad so much, who was always the unofficial mayor of the conference. Now I've spent an hour or so looking at old Flickr pictures and blog posts, and I'm glad I've had a little time to remember him. What a great man he was.
In its ideal implementation, the microcontent browser is a combination of a desktop software application and well-designed web services, interacting together to parse our existing HTML, XHTML, and XML documents into tomorrow's semantic web.
It feels a little bit like we're finally working on the future we imagined a decade ago — Anil wrote this essay in November 2002. Here's another hilarious thing about this essay — Anil presages Readability's business model nine years before it was launched:
There's also a host of potential business models. The microcontent client could bootstrap micropayments by being purchased on a subscription basis that included several web services as part of its basic toolset. Vendors could tap into the client's payment database to offer additional services for incremental fees. A percentage of the annual cost for the client could be allotted to an escrow fund, doling out payments to sites that offered properly-authored microcontent.
You can see the humblest beginnings of the next iteration of this model with Maura Magazine and The Awl. I think there's a huge potential in using subscription apps like ours to open up a channel with your audience, to whom you can offer other products and offers. This might take the form of a print edition (in Maura's case) or something completely different — web versions of the magazines, events, other apps, or even a reader-produced version of the magazine, Sassy-style!
For the most part we've worked from home through the last few days, I'd say at 65-75% attention, but that's to be expected. Some tools have made our work easier. Here is a list of them!
Github, Dropbox, and hosted gmail apps. It's practically table stakes to rely on these for day-to-day operations now. But I am glad I don't have to worry about email & file hosting this week, what a pain that would be. Gmail slickly rolled out some new features this week, as if to underscore the point: "Life's better here."
The still common but less obvious:
IRC (specifically freenode). We use freenode to chat, wherever we are. It's very lightweight and reliable although not without it's quirks.
Google Chrome Sync. Like the old days of MobileMe & NetNewsWire, once you have your browser state synced from home to work, including bookmarks & open tabs, you cannot live without this feature.
Asana. Asana often feels like overkill to me, especially when we're all in the same office, but it really shines in the case where everyone is working remotely. Especially when tensions or anxieties are high, I think it's fundamentally better for state of mind than simply dashing off an email.
You have this, but you may be doing it wrong:
iCloud. iCloud is much maligned but quite solid. One undersold feature is "back to my Mac," which allows you drop-dead simple access to all of your computers with a simple Screen Sharing app. Of course Apple didn't invent this, but they baked it in to every Mac sold and it works. I shipped two new builds of an app we're testing in the past four days without having to step into the office or move the build process to Amazon. This stuff matters! And it's free.
Stellar.io. Stellar is also free! And it looks (to me) like many people use it for jokes, or to power retweet-bots. But when big news hits — say a shake-up at Apple, Lucas selling Vader to Disney, or … a Hurricane, my Stellar stream is only the most important tweets as curated by the people I trust. This is completely essential to me. During these peak news cycles is also a good time to discover new bloggers (or twitterers) whose voices may otherwise get overwhelmed by the volume of the surrounding noise.
You may not have heard of these:
Droplr. Select a file or take a screenshot, and it's on the Internet behind a private URL. Simple and essential, Droplr is basically what everyone loved about skitch. They just have to avoid the trap that Skitch fell into of adding stuff. Dear Droplr, do not add any features! Thanks.
Papertrailapp is a system for aggregating server logs in one place. When you are pinched for time and servers are under duress from news events (like a hurricane!) being able to see what's going on in a simple web interface is really critical. We've upgraded our account twice in the past two weeks already. Of course, logging is such a critical part of development that the vendor lock in here is fairly ironclad. I'll never tail -f again.
tender is an IRC bot which helps us moderate our meetings in IRC (really). It's more helpful than it sounds.
Not exactly software:
Cookies-as-a-Service, electricity, water, internet. Things that perhaps people take for granted! Greg sent us cookies (delivered last Friday). They were delicious. And of course I'm grateful to be at work today, that's a luxury most people have. Blake's parents visited us today (since they have no power in their east-side apartment), and their presence, as well as that of other close friends has helped my spirits tremendously.
Tim suggests today's announcement will go as widely predicted. Totally disagree!
Smaller iPad, the ePad. e for education.
The ePad will feature Sub-pixel cameras. We know all about the screens, but one advantage of them not being retinal is that there is more room between the LEDs for cameras, which will make FaceTime truly FaceTime. I have been predicting this since the first iSight in 2003. Just as we are four years closer to Iran having nuclear weapons, we are also nine years closer to sub-pixel cameras in all Apple devices.
iBooks 3, with deeper video & iCloud integration than ever. Better payments, smoother production, epub export for iBooks creator. All of this is a no-brainer. Smaller iPad is for education. We at 29th Street Publishing are very happy to have the world of publishing go down the road of more bells and whistles while we focus on the the written word.
Apps on iTV. This isn't as far off as you think, and the reason is, as above, education. Many more schools have TVs hooked up to VCRs & DVD players than projectors, and replacing that with an Apple TV that can pair nicely with Airplay enabled ePad apps is probably among the most disruptive technologies that Apple could bring to the classroom. This is absolutely core to Apple's DNA, and you are going to hear those words come out of Tim Cook's mouth today.
Boom.Proofread by Blake Eskin
These three things rhyme:
But we still have a hole - I'd like to be able to celebrate having a good time, but also declare that I don't want my friends to feel guilty about missing it. So I'd like to humbly suggest that if you want to celebrate your friends and fun times but don't want those who missed out to feel guilty or sad, simply tag your tweets #NOFOMO. For instance:
Just as "no homo" reifies homophobia and rewards insecurity, #NOFOMO could cause a double poisonous FOMO to infect your friends. So use it sparingly!
Draw Something! is over, not because the service shut down, but because everyone stopped playing it. It's time to clear this png off my desktop. I saved it not only because it's hilarious, but also because I thought it captured the magic of the game. The canvas was a place for people to show off their sense of humor, and to a limited extent their drawing chops, but the direct connection was truly special. How many people, besides Tien himself, would recognize this as an image for "work?"
Today I was telling Jake that yours was the best designed site on the Internet.
I especially love this old post, in which some of your design philosophy is laid bare for the reader.
I still cite the comparison to a tag on a pair of jeans as a clear design metaphor. However, when you wrote the post, you were referencing the post that filled the frame. But 8 years later, the frame is gone, having been turned over a few times. Next time you write a redesign post, I recommend including a screenshot. It may appear to be so meta it hurts, but it future-proofs the design conversation.
"If y'all can't cook, this doesn't concern you."
— Kevin Garnett