Fluent looks like a great new email service, created by ex Googlers:
The three of us left Google to form Fluent out of a desire to create a communication product that is design-led, fast moving and — most importantly — pushes email into the future. A tool that accurately reflects how people communicate today and will adapt to what they want tomorrow.
They say their unique take on email is based on these principles:
Seamless experience for desktops, small screens and touch devices
Communicating in the best way possible
I'm not normally one that gets excited about the latest web app and cute-looking service, but check out the video. The email UI is, for once, different. It's an uncluttered stream of messages stripped of all unnecessary information, focused on people, topics, and actions. Images can be viewed inline. Messages can be removed from the stream. It looks like Fluent wants to be a beautiful layer for email, a service built on top of it with the ultimate goal of making you more efficient by dealing with conversations and people rather than the usual burden of Gmail. It's promising.
More importantly, it sounds like the developers aren't afraid of charging for this and they have an actual plan to evolve the platform. I like developers with a business plan.
I look forward to giving Fluent a try, and see if it can improve my email workflow (I have a problem with it, just like everyone else). Also: this would look great on an iPad.
Most of what is written about the tech world — both in blog form and old school media form — is bullshit. I won’t try to put some arbitrary label on it like 80%, but it’s a lot. There’s more bullshit than there is 100% pure, legitimate information.
The problem is systemic. Print circulation is dying and pageviews are all that matters in keeping advertisers happy. This means, whether writers like it or not, there’s an underlying drive for both sensationalism and more — more — more.
In November, I was forced to stay out of the office for a month or so, but that didn't mean I couldn't read and catch up on the news from my iPhone and iPad. I, too, gained some perspective in watching tech news and commentary unfold from a bird's eye view that, because I wasn't forced to “be first” anymore, allowed me to reflect, and understand what's wrong with the majority of tech news these days.
As MG says, a large part of news is bullshit. Especially when it comes to Apple-related news, my RSS is filled every day with linkbait, misinformed opinions, inflammatory blog posts, and just plain wrong articles. People that don't even bother getting the actual facts right. Rumors, silly speculation, “exclusives” put to rest by a simple “Nope” after a few hours. I've been guilty of insane rumor reporting as well.
I just finished watching “I Love You, Man”, and in the movie there's a line that stayed with me – it goes along the lines of “Don't say you're trying, say you're going to do it”. Personally, I have been trying – thanks to the help of my team – to give MacStories a more in-depth perspective of Apple news in the past months. We have been focusing more on editorials, reviews, and “curated news reporting” with the sole intent of cutting out the bullshit you see on Techmeme and bringing our readers quality material that we can be proud of. Because, trust me, I came to the point where there was no fun anymore in waking up in the morning and having to write about rumors and others' EXCLUSIVES because of the pageviews. Screw the pageviews – I wrote in an email to my team last year – I don't want people to visit our site for that kind of content. Sure, pageviews are our business after all, but I want them to be quality pageviews, I want them to translate in readers that we can trust they'll come back and they'll send us an email because they care.
I have been trying; now I know I am going to build a better site. You can like it or despise it – all I can say is that my team is happier, I am happier, and the pageviews are stable since we started applying this new “policy”, showing signs of growth in the past weeks. Our readers seem to be happier.
As a brief follow-up to MG's post, I don't think the tech news scene is doomed (he didn't say that, but he sounds pretty pessimistic). MG speaks for experience, and I respect his point of view, but I believe there are still some good guys doing great work out there. The folks at The Next Web aren't afraid of voicing their opinions; iDownload Blog does a great job at covering Jailbreak material and showing that they are doing it because they love what they do; iMore does some spectacular in-depth reviews and videos; TUAW provides the right balance between news and commentary; The Loop is, well, The Loop. Macworld is another publication I admire. And then there are the “independent writers” – guys like Shawn, Ben, Stephen, John, Gabe, MG, Dave, Marco, Horace. These guys do great work. In fact, I have a theory that, eventually, most people that are obsesseded right now with tech news (like I was) will stop reading the Bullshit™ and will get their news by simply trusting websites that care about doing the hard work, plus the voices of independent writers. We'll see. But I'm a firm believer that hard work always pays off.
I remember my friend Dave Caolo once said: “If you want to be a blogger, prepare to work your ass off for a very long time”. I know there are some people that are doing exactly that, and I hope that eventually they'll get the proper recognition they deserve.
In Italy, there's an old saying that, roughly translated, goes something like this: Nobody wants to work for glory alone – it implies that, ultimately, money – the business – matters. In our case, the tech news, money is fundamental, but I believe there's a better way to increase pageviews, and likely money, than write Bullshit.
Path's Address Book controversy got me thinking about sharing and privacy. Specifically, this piece by Justin Williams raises an interesting point:
Tossing up another dialog asking for user confirmation doesn’t solve the problem users are faced with. It just puts a band-aid on it. At the core is a more fundamental problem in how iOS handles permissions and access to data. Basically, I have no idea what sort of permissions or access an app wants until I download it and launch it the first time. Moreover, I really don’t to see another dialog pop up in my face as I’m using an app.
Justin is right about the App Store needing a way to inform users about privacy upfront. But I want to focus on another aspect of the story.
As the web moves forward, new technologies are implemented, and mobile devices get more ubiquitous and powerful, I believe we're only going to see more of those dialogs. Want to share your location? Dialog. Want to match email addresses with the records on our servers? Dialog. How about we access your camera roll? Dialog. And your browsing history? You get the point.
Coming up with a dialog for confirmation every time will prove a stressful solution for developers and users over time. As Justin says, it is just a band-aid for a problem that, I think, lies deeper in our social behavior and the way we approach new technologies and trends.
As the web evolves, we're going to share more information and different bits of data. First, it started with text updates and photos. Then videos. Then we began sharing our location. Most recently, Facebook started allowing users to share what they are listening to in real time. The increase of sharing happens, I believe, for a series of reasons. First off, companies like Facebook and Google obviously benefit from the growing amount of data at their disposal, which they can sell to advertisers. On the flip side, there is no data like more data, and some applications can work better if they know more about you – think how Zite can recommend articles based on your tastes or a weather app can automatically configure itself based on your location. But I also think that we, as human beings in this new Web era, ultimately tend towards sharing more about us because we feel the need of having our Instagrams seen and tweets read. We want people to know what we are doing. The problem is, how do we want companies like Facebook or Google to pipe this desire into a frictionless and clear social networking platform?
I don't think associating every social or data-gathering function with a dialog box is the right way. Don't get me wrong: being honest and transparent about privacy and data collection is a fundamental requirement, and that is not going away anytime soon. What's going to happen when developers will figure out a way to leverage our email patterns to improve their apps? Or our App Store purchase history? Or our alarm clock settings and FaceTime call data? Will we have a dialog for each of these functionalities?
From an implementation perspective, rather than asking for a dialog every time a new functionality catches on, I believe we should also expect today's apps to be social by design, and accept the fact that legitimate sharing has become the foundation of how we interact with each other, and with our devices.
It is my pleasure to announce that I've joined the fine selection of writers over at Read & Trust for their Premium Newsletter project, which I'm also subscribed to as a reader. It is an incredible honor for me to be mentioned alongside such talented people, and hopefully my writing will be worth of the Read & Trust name. David Sparks is joining today as well.
For those who haven't heard of Read & Trust before:
Since its inception, the goal for Read & Trust has been to bring quality content to as many people as possible. There’s an over-abundance of media to consume each day, and it’s hard to find those perfect nuggets than can enrich our lives and help us grow as human beings. The writers that make up the Read & Trust network are all committed to crafting regular, high-quality content that stirs the mind, tugs the heart and pushes the boundaries.
Read & Trust is committed to gathering together the best independent writers available—the ones recommended by the writers you read and trust.
For some, “news logic” may elicit success, but for others, it merely fosters a dangerous tendency toward stifled, ego-centric decision-making. Decision-makers are far better served by focusing upon building a product worthy of the adulation of its users, rather than attaining complimentary press. Envisioning the pleasure of the end user – let’s call it “user logic” – forces the idea to undergo development until it is something good. If the idea is good, it will make its way onto the coveted blogs that Harrington speaks of. Focusing upon the potential for praise and attention alone makes way for the rise of negative headlines and critical responses.
In the past three years, I have been trying to apply the “news logic” to everything I do, write, and say. I often find myself asking “Is this something worth writing for my readers?” or “Do I really need to talk – is my opinion needed at all?”. Needless to say, this frequently leads to silence, which, however, I believe is always better than “me too” talking or writing.
I think many executives, no matter the company, should cut the marketing bullshit and ask themselves if they, and their users, are ultimately satisfied. If it's not good, don't ship it.
I've seen a lot of people I read and respect making the switch from Google to a search service called DuckDuckGo, so I've decided to give it a try as well.
For me, this experiment isn't really about being concerned due to Google's new privacy model as much as it's about tweaking and experimenting and genuinely being curious. I admit I didn't even bother going through Google's privacy changes yet because a) I'm waiting for Graham to write one of his in-depth analysis and b) I'm still going to be forced to use Google on a daily basis anyway (with Gmail, Google Reader, Google Apps) so it's not like I can pretend I'm ditching Google entirely. Sure, Google has been doing some weird stuff with Google+, Search Plus Your World, Twitter and Facebook, and Eric Schmidt. Unfortunately, Google is one of those services that has become so connected to our personal lives and data that I, like many others, can't wake up one morning and decide I'm not going to use it anymore. And yes, I know Google is using me already as a product to sell. It sucks to depend on something you can't change (that's why people use their own email servers, write their own docs, host their own search services. Well I'm not sure about search services – maybe he does).
I've been using Google Search since I first got on the Internet, I think, so being curious and willing to try a new search service is more than justified. For the majority of Internet users, Google is the Internet, as they have associated that colorful logo and search box with their concept of the Internet itself (*find stuff* and websites). Remember, these are the same people that type URLs into Google Search. I'm not one of them, yet I think trying a new search service that's not Google feels like being single again after a 7 years relationship. Everything's so new and promising.
As I said, I'm giving this DuckDuckGo thing a try. The name is…*particular*, but it's not like Google didn't sound strange in the first place. What really has me hooked, at least for now, is the zero-click results feature, which thanks to deep integration between DDG and services like Wikipedia and Wolfram Alpha extrapolates data from the results you are looking for, presenting information without forcing you to click through. Like this. Or this. Or even this. The resulting user experience is pretty good, especially when combined with DDG's clean interface and relatively fast loading times (keep in mind that DDG is fast but still slower than Google, and unlike Google they don't offer suggestions or real-time updating results yet). I'm surpised a search for this on DDG doesn't return any meaningful results (from a zero-click standpoint).
So far, I'm impressed by DDG's clean design, zero-click results and focus on data coming from other services, integrated right into search. Google should do this. It's the little touches like “Official Site” next to Tapbots' website on DuckDuckGo that can keep users engaged in a search tool they can trust and rely on.
Obviously, DuckDuckGo can't return as many results as Google does. I've been getting good (if not great) results with queries for recent content (let's say the past year) when searching for articles I remembered the headline for; things started to get a little bit tricky when I didn't remember the title, and the content was a few months old (I was looking for this: compare Google to DuckDuckGo). Maybe “we don't do SEO right” at MacStories and all that (honestly, I couldn't care less), but the behavior I'm observing is that Google Search still feels like magic when you don't remember the exact words of an article, but you know where you first saw it/what it was about. DDG is clearly focused on “fresh” results with recent content and, believe me, I like its focus, but I won't deny I need Google's capabilities when I'm putting together a piece for MacStories and I want to look up our old coverage…on Google. Which works amazingly well for that.
As for how I'm using DuckDuckGo: I've set Alfred's fallback search to use it instead of Google, and some of my favorite iOS apps like Grazing and iCab Mobile support DDG searches out of the box. DDG even has an official iOS client available on the App Store, and even though it's not great (at least not as good as Google's own Search app for iPad), it gets the job done. In Google Chrome, which I use, I still keep Google as my default search engine easily accessible from the Omnibar.
I won't lie, I like DuckDuckGo. I like its design, how features are explained to the user, I like the zero-click implementation and I like this whole “indie” aura that somehow surrounds the service these days. But switching from Google's cluttered-yet-reliable search results is a big deal to me, and a week isn't enough to properly judge DDG.
Google may be evil, but it still gives me good results. DuckDuckGo is the good guy, but it needs to grow.
I’ve struggled with questions concerning online friendships in the past. This week, I learned that people I know from the Internet are real people and – more importantly – that our friendships are real, even though we don’t see each other most of the time.
I should have gone to Macworld this year, but couldn't make it. After having seen hundreds of Instagram photos from the people mentioned above, and read posts like this, I'll just have to be at WWDC this year (assuming Apple doesn't change anything, that is). June can't come soon enough.
Last week, my Twitter account reached the (at least for me) impressive milestone of 40,000 tweets sent. I don't know when it happened, exactly, as I was probably busy tweeting, writing, or both.
I signed up for Twitter three years ago, In February 2009. That was a few months before launching MacStories with its own domain, back when I was “blogging” with a site hosted on Wordpress.com that doesn't exist anymore. I had no idea back then both MacStories and Twitter would become such an important part of my life.
Unlike most web services I try every day, I have an emotional connection with Twitter. Like an Apple product, the essence of Twitter transcends its commercial nature of social network to become a lifestyle, a people network, which for me is inherently different from simply social.
40,000 tweets isn't important as a number in itself; I might as well have written this post when I had 20,000 or will have 100,000 someday. But the fact that I reached this figure just in time for my “Twitter birthday” helped me realize how Twitter went beyond 140 characters and #memes and posting pictures of what you're having for dinner (I'm still doing that by the way). For me, Twitter is the place where I easily get to connect with friends and co-workers, people around the world who are probably busy doing something else, yet decide it's worth engaging in a conversation with you about anything that's going on in a particular moment. I'd take Twitter over my website's comments any day, and that's exactly what we're doing.
But it is not just about the feedback to my articles or commentary about the latest Apple news. I went to Twitter when I found out I have cancer, and I am keeping my followers posted about it every week. Because I don't see them just as “followers”, they are people interested in what I have to say. I value those people. I got to know all the members of my team via Twitter, and I'm sure we wouldn't have find in each other's way otherwise. They are basically my second family now. I had the privilege of starting conversations with amazing developers and designers and writers thanks to Twitter over the years, and new connections happen every day, in this precise moment as I write this. Like the Apple community, Twitter has taught me that the things we do and say and share online can have an impact on real life. Because it's all real life in the end.
So I look back at these three years of Twitter, and I look forward with excitement and genuine curiosity to the years ahead. I was there when the service changed its focus, when they officialized retweets and introduced lists. I was there when Twitter went mainstream and bought Tweetie. I was there, but it's not as important as the people that were with me. Online, tweeting, sharing 140 characters at a time.
Apple recently updated its Developer docs to include various formatting improvements and better rendering in iBooks. So, for instance, if you download the latest iOS Human Interface Guidelines as PDF and import into iBooks, you'll get a nicely formatted cover page, improved table formatting, better handling of headers, and more.
I got my Doxie Go in the mail this morning. I bought it last week from Amazon UK as soon as they went back on sale – the Doxie Go was apparently sold out worldwide for a few weeks. The model I bought isn't the new Doxie Go + WiFi bundle, which is a clever way of selling a WiFi-enabled Doxie Go with the addition of an Eye-Fi wireless SD card. I plan on buying an Eye-Fi soon.
The device itself is tiny and elegant. It's made of plastic, but it feels pretty solid and sturdy in hand. The Doxie Go is almost the same width of my MacBook Air keyboard – I don't know yet if I'll be able to fit this in my Tom Bihn Ristretto bag, but at least it comes with its own carrying bag that's big enough to put an USB cable inside as well.
Setting up the Doxie is a relatively straightforward process: you have to charge the device the first time completely, wait for its batteries to reach 100%, and download the Mac desktop utility that you will use to import scanned images from the portable scanner. I haven't really played with the Mac app – I just imported a few scans to see if it was working – but from what I've seen it seems relatively nice-looking and functional. One minor gripe I had with the initial setup is that the software tells you to “calibrate” the device first with a dedicated piece of paper, and I thought the Doxie would scan that as well. So I connected the Doxie, but the Doxie app wasn't “seeing” the device, and the Finder showed an empty Doxie volume mounted in the sidebar. It turns out, the “calibrate” image doesn't get scanned as the Doxie simply uses it to, well, actually calibrate itself. Now you know.
I'm playing with the Doxie right now and it's pretty fast when you scan at 300 dpi. I look forward to going completely paperless and finding the right software setup for the job.
I'll have a review of the Doxie Go on MacStories next week.