March 2011 Archives
As the old saying goes, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.”
Launched amid much fanfare late last week 1, 2, 3…, Color is, apparently, “a miraculous application,” and one of the first of many, new life-changing applications for the ‘Post-PC World’ in which we now live. It’s also guilty of a not insubstantial degree of hyperbole, leading to a product launch that was ill-handled, at best, and - as Mike Rundle astutely puts it - has blown it, at worst.
There’s no doubt that the team behind the company is hugely talented - comprising Bill Nguyen, formerly CEO of Lala (bought by Apple in late 2009); Peter Pham, who previously founded BillShrink; and DJ Patil, who was previously LinkedIn’s Chief Scientist – and Color might, just might, be a groundbreaking new application. If there’s one thing we can learn from the Color launch fandango, however, it’s that it’s critical to get the message right before you swiftly pull back the curtains on your skunkworks project and loudly proclaim, “Ta da!”
Color’s press page promises, “a miraculous, free application,” however, its grandiose copywriting and obscure home page proved no substitute for a good, old-fashioned simple story. The result? A world of confusion and, far from the hoped for result, thought leaders that - for the most part - were left wholly unconvinced.
If the early adopters don’t get it…
When the thought leaders - the innovators and the early adopters - don’t get it, you have a problem on your hands.
As Seth Godin points out in his excellent book Purple Cow, the best way to get a product to mass market is to be remarkable and spark conversations or, to coin a phrase we’ve been using with our students, become ‘talkaboutable’.
When a product is talkaboutable, it spreads, becoming what Godin calls an ideavirus. Conversations spread, the word gets around, and if all goes according to plan, you have a hit on your hands. In today’s world of social and conversational media the word spreads faster than ever before thanks to the FOAFOAF (friend of a friend of a friend) phenomenon, powered by Twitter, amongst other tools.
However, if the message isn’t clear, that message can quickly become one you’d prefer not to spread. Innovators and early adopters wield huge amounts of influence and, as such, should be cultivated and handled with great care. If you don’t get the message right for this market, you’ve already lost half the battle.
One such influencer is Daring Fireball’s John Gruber. A positive nod from Mr Gruber can turn a product or idea into an overnight success, equally a negative nod can have the opposite effect. Writing on the day of Color’s launch, in Color: Breathlessly Overhyped Piece of Crap, Gruber summarised his first impressions of the app as follows:
Color is a new location-based social photo-sharing app for the iPhone and Android. Or something. I installed it and couldn’t make heads or tails out of it, and even if I could figure out the app, I can’t see why I’d ever want to use such a service.
Days later, reflecting on an interview - in which Color CEO, Bill Nguyen, tried to exercise some hasty, post-launch damage limitation - Gruber (now having seen the light) stated:
So it’s a data mining trojan horse. Well, that changes everything. Who wouldn’t love that? And it’s a good thing personal photos have no “personally identifiable information” – you know, other than images of you, your friends, and your family.
Oh dear. Not quite the response one imagines Color’s founders were looking for and, sadly for them, Gruber was far from a lone voice. When it all goes hopelessly wrong, however, the one place you can counter these kinds of responses - over and above undertaking the endless media round Nguyen subsequently embarked upon - is at home, or to put it more precisely, your home page.
It All Starts at Home
In our increasingly connected culture, everything inevitably returns to the web. Confused? Check the company’s web site, surely that’s where the answers lie?
Sadly, not so in Color’s case. Despite the ongoing criticism of the app and the confusion that surrounds it, the company’s web site remains just as it was the day it launched. Vague and, one imagines, intentionally obscure; it’s a case study in how not to write clear and unambiguous copy. Witness the following:
Find someone. Take pictures together. Party. Play date. Lunch? … Just look around.
This copy is far too clever for it’s own good and, in the wake of an endless stream of questions and confusion, leads the typically confused user nowhere. “Just look around.” At what, precisely?
Worse, the web site leads nowhere, other than an equally confusing press page that surely wins the prize for most excessive claims. It’s home to the ‘Post-PC World’ claim (of which Steve Jobs would doubtless be proud 4).
The bottom line? It doesn’t matter how great you think your app is, it’s what people think that counts. Witness the slew of one star reviews the app has garnered at the App Store.
Five Star Criticism
The result of Color’s poorly managed product launch is not just criticism, but - now - outright satire. Nestled amongst the one star reviews, is a solitary, beautifully crafted five star review, titled ‘Join the Adventure!’ that has garnered links from all over the web, including: Boing Boing, Mr Gruber, and a host of others.
The copy, by the mysteriously named ‘Ghostmouth’, is brilliant and perfectly parodies the confusing nature of the app that many have criticised:
Color is a ground-breaking new entry in the new genre of MMPRLMG (Massive Multi-Player Real-Live Marketing Games).
Imagine yourself emerging from the dense forest of the App Store(™). In a clearing ahead you see a shiny new icon, a multicolor wheel. Its name is ‘Color’. In the distance you hear the marketing dogs yelping buzz. “Social!” “Find someone!” “Party!” Your press Install, and your adventure begins!
The ensuing copy, which has clearly been carefully crafted, encapsulates the Color conundrum perfectly and reflects the many comments made by reviewers upon launching the app and being confusingly confronted with what 37signals describe as The Blank Slate.
As Mike Rundle puts it, “The app has a terrible first run experience and [it’s] getting decimated in the App Store with one star reviews.” Ouch.
The $41 Million Question
Will Color succeed? Who knows. The bottom line? When you’ve secured $41 Million in venture capital investment, your first responsibility is to tell a compelling product story: lead on the product, not the funding round. It’s perhaps the fact that the majority of the stories about Color’s launch led on the latter that led to so much confusion.
$41 Million is no guarantee of success; a good idea, wrapped up in a beautifully designed package and told via a compelling - and easy to understand - story is.
Rather than do the rounds of tech and finance blogs, Color would do better to focus on the fundamentals. Before you launch, put some thought into it. Test. Test. Test. Then test some more. Make sure your launch story focuses on the product, not the finance.
As Mike Rundle puts it, “Human attention is a scarce commodity in this flashy, New Thing Comes Out Every Day™ world we live in.” You only get one chance to make a first impression, let’s hope Color’s second impression improves.
Writing on Multiple User Account Disorder, Khoi Vinh reflects on the problem of the inadvertent creation of multiple accounts with web services. Contrasting Tripit (who allow multiple account merging) and Apple (who don’t), Vinh states:
For a few years now, I’ve had two separate Appe IDs where I would very much like to have just one. Now I have some digital purchases under one account and others under the other, which can make for a frustrating experience when I have to update or re-authorize any of them.
This seems especially egregious for Apple, as their suite of products creates so many opportunities – iTunes, MobileMe, iChat, FaceTime, even registering a new Mac, to name a few – where a user might inadvertently create multiple accounts.
Given the extensive and - more importantly, different - ecosystems Apple has cultivated over the years this problem is all to easy to encounter. Worse, it’s one that only intensifies as the number of Apple devices proliferates within a family or household.
It’s staggering that a company like Apple, that is renowned for paying such ruthless attention to detail in the design of user experiences, hasn’t considered this to be a fundamental design problem to be solved as a central part of the customer experience.
With the relentless move towards digital products one can only see this problem proliferating. One hopes others adopt Tripit’s model over Apple’s.
Following the not insignificant outpouring of designer responses to the crisis currently facing Japan, johnson banks earlier this week, posed the question Disaster = Poster? in their ongoing, thought-provoking series of articles ‘Thought for the Week’.
The thoughts expressed by johnson banks are echoed in a recent article published on the Eye Magazine blog, titled Poster initiatives mean well, but what are designers raising awareness of? Both articles, at heart, pose the same question: Who is the real beneficiary of what’s been swiftly designated ‘disaster porn’ and what motivates those who create these graphic responses?
The implication in both articles is that many of the designers creating posters (or other ‘designer ephemera’ to support various charity’s efforts in Japan) are motivated more by a desire for self-promotion than by genuine concern. That’s an easy assertion to make, and as some point out in the comments 1, might cynically be interpreted as a means of driving web site traffic to those making the assertion.
The reality, as always, is complicated and the graphic outpourings we witnessed in the wake of the tragedy in Japan were probably motivated by a variety of reasons.
Weiden + Kennedy’s elegantly minimal Red Cross poster quickly set the tone, with others swiftly following, including Signalnoise’s subtle and refined Help Japan poster. Suddenly the floodgates were opened with all manner of, “Stuff you can buy – that helps Japan,” collected helpfully by PA¥ FOR JAPAN, amongst others, (broadening the range of products on offer beyond the humble poster).
Returning to the posters that sparked this debate, however, the question boils down to this: Is making a poster an appropriate response to the tragedies in Japan? (Or, indeed, to tragedies anywhere?)
When Disaster Strikes
When disaster on a large scale strikes, a natural human emotion is to consider anything that you can do – even on a small scale – to alleviate the suffering of those affected. This is an admirable instinct, and no-one in their right mind would question that ethos. However, the question raised is: What good comes from the making of a poster?
The posters sparked by the situation in Japan are by no means the first such responses to tragedy. Other examples include The Haiti Poster Project, prompted by the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, which was, in turn, inspired by The Hurricane Poster Project, a response to Hurricane Katrina.
The reality is that posters have long been employed as a means of raising awareness and their use stretches back through history, and it’s worth reflecting on this rich visual and cultural history before hastily arriving at hurried opinions.
Traditionally, the poster has been used to raise awareness and to unite people around a common cause. One of the most recent examples of this to have seared itself into the public consciousness, is Shepard Fairey’s ubiquitous HOPE poster, which widely became became synonymous with the 2008 Obama presidential campaign. This, however, is just one in a long line of images that capture the public imagination, most notably with the propaganda posters created throughout the second world war 2, 3.
It could be argued that Weiden + Kennedy and Signalnoise’s efforts are doing the same, helping to raise awareness about the situation in Japan. However, thanks to the extensive media coverage the tsunami and its aftermath has had in Japan, raising awareness is not really an issue.
Unlike the beginning of the twentieth century, in the age of the internet, awareness travels fast, not least in a world where one can watch the horrifying events unfold half a world away streamed live via the web.
Marian Bantjes’ comment on the much-commented Eye article, suggests that the first instinct – applying your craft to help – is well-meaning, but misdirected. Bantjes states:
If you really feel a desire to express yourself in a poster, I would suggest choosing your charity, and applying your kick-ass graphics to creating a free poster or project that requests donations directly to that charity.
It’s a point well put and it’s one that’s hard to argue with. Further unpicking the thinking, Bantjes goes on to state:
I would further suggest that those who are so compelled to make posters, should take a broader look at the world, decide what under-reported areas still need help, choose an NGO that does good work in that area, and make something that communicates that need and directs people’s attention to that NGO or charity.
This sentiment chimes neatly with the principles embodied in the First Things First manifesto, first published by Ken Garland in 1964 and republished by Eye in 2000, a call to arms for designers to put their skills to uses other than the promotion of mindless consumerism.
First Things First
Updated and rewritten for the twenty-first century, the First Things First 2000 manifesto was reprinted with new signatories in Eye
Designers apply their skill and imagination to sell dog biscuits, designer coffee, diamonds, detergents … and heavy-duty recreational vehicles. Commercial work has always paid the bills, but many graphic designers have now let it become, in large measure, what graphic designers do. This, in turn, is how the world perceives design. The profession’s time and energy is used up manufacturing demand for things that are inessential at best.
The manifesto went on to suggest:
There are pursuits more worthy of our problem-solving skills. Unprecedented environmental, social and cultural crises demand our attention.
Perhaps it’s here that we might draw inspiration, putting our valuable time and effort into the creation of, as Bantjes’ puts it, “kick-ass graphics,” for those charities and NGOs that exist a little further from the spotlight.
Garland’s intention when he first published his manifesto was to stimulate discussion, to question and challenge the changing relationship between design and culture. As Eye neatly summarised it: “To highlight the values, ideals and sense of responsibility that once shaped the growth and practice of design [and] to re-assert these considerations as fundamental to any sensitive interpretation of graphic design’s role and potential.” No small challenge indeed.
When All Is Said and Done
The bottom line? Whilst it’s good to see representatives of an industry that is often labelled superficial and, for the most part, concerned solely with surface, doing what they can to help; the underlying question that this debate has raised has implications beyond the immediate discussion: To what uses might designers skills be put? How might we use our abilities as visual communicators and storytellers to do more for the world than add to the visual noise?
We, as designers, should be encouraged to participate and add to the cultural debate, to raise awareness, to point out injustices. But when we do so, we have a responsibility. That responsibility includes both offering insight and acting selflessly.
When an artist writes a poem or composes a protest song, the purpose is to show the situation in a different light to the one offered by traditional media, to provoke you to look at the situation from a different viewpoint. We too, have to answer to that brief. We also - if we truly want to help - should resist the urge to blow our own trumpets, and demand no glory.
We’re delighted to have discovered in the latest Five Simple Steps newsletter that the ‘24 Ways 2010 Annual’, which we contributed to, raised a whopping £8,168 for UNICEF. Great work all round.
In other news, it would appear that the talented Mr Hicks has been signed up to publish ‘The Icon Design Handbook’ on Five Simple Steps. Who better than the gentleman behind the Firefox icon, not to mention a host of other memorable icons, to undertake this worthy task?
Credit cards at the ready, people.
Being of an age to recall the wonder years when dry transfer (or ‘rubdown’) lettering was a critical part of the design process, you won’t be surprised to discover that we love Field Notes latest addition to its long line of limited edition COLORS notebooks.
The Dry Transfer “______ Edition” are identical to the regular Dur-O-Tone ‘Packing Brown Wrap’ graph-paper memo books, but the company have left off their logo and included a sheet of dry transfer lettering, allowing you to customize them with any text you like.
As the Field Notes folks put it:
Act fast, when these are gone, you’re once again stuck with the letters F, I, E, L, D, N, O, T, E, and S, placed in an order of our choosing.
Get yours now before they fo and embrace the warm nostalgia of old.
With Apple apparently paying close attention to all iPad 2 returns during the aftermath of the product’s launch (to ensure there are no production issues) this story, via Macrumors, made us (and Swiss Miss) smile. Apparently an ‘individual close to Apple’ states:
[Apple’s] focus this week has been to troubleshoot all the iPad 2s that customers are returning to the stores. One iPad came back with a Post-It note on it that said, “Wife said, ‘no’.” It was escalated as something funny, and two of the VPs got wind of it. They sent the guy an iPad 2 with a note on it that said, “Apple said, ‘yes’.”
Offering, “half-thoughts and half truths, wholesale,” Frank Chimero’s The Mavenist, a minimal, stream-of-consciousness collection of observations, should be required mid-morning reading, daily. Mr Chimero might label it ‘wholesale’; we’d label it ‘value added’.
In a move that maybe wasn’t entirely unexpected, but nonetheless seems a bit short-sighted, Amazon has revoked the API access for Lendle, the site which allowed users of Amazon Kindle books to lend and borrow books easily.
Lendle’s API access was revoked as the site, according to Amazon, did not “serve the principal purpose of driving sales of products and services on the Amazon site.”
Jeff Croft disagrees:
Our site requires that you be willing to lend books before you can borrow them. We even went so far as to allow users to sync their Lendle accounts with their Kindle accounts, so that we could ensure anyone who borrows books on Lendle has previously purchased lendable books from Amazon. Our philosophy is: You can’t borrow if you don’t lend, and you can’t lend if you don’t buy.
Looking at the voices of dismayed Lendle users on Twitter, and considering the way Lendle is setup, one would be forgiven to think that on closer inspection, Lendle - barely six weeks in operation - would have proven to be beneficial for sales of both Kindles and Kindle books.
The average life span of a Saul Bass logo is, apparently, 34 years.
Ian Albinson’s A Brief History of Title Design – a short (2’33”) presentation video for SXSW’s ‘Excellence in Title Design’ competition screening – is Very Nice Indeed™.
If you’ve yet to pick up a physical copy of the New Adventures in Web Design Paper, now is the time to do so as Mr Collison has just called, “Last orders!” and there are a mere few hours left to order one.
Packed full of engaging content courtesy of Frank Chimero, Trent Walton, Mark Boulton, Jon Tan (and yours truly), to name just a few of the contributors, the paper is beautifully printed by The Guardian in Half Berliner format on 52 GSM improved newsprint. As Mr Collison puts it:
Just like the main event, this one-off paper packs plenty of opinion. Within the pages you’ll find specially commissioned contributions from established and notable designers, and much more besides.
Get your copy before it’s too late.
Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper, writing in Why the Quick Bar (‘Dickbar’) Is Still So Offensive, hits the #dickbar nail on the head:
It’s a news ticker limited to one-word items, lacking any context, broadcasting mostly topics that I don’t understand, recognize, or care about. It’s nonsensical. At worst, it can offend. At best, it will confuse.
Precisely. Taking a single trending topic - #michigan - that Twitter helpfully inserted into his Quick Bar, Arment goes on to outline the fundamental flaw with the Quick Bar. Namely, that it inserts content into a user’s timeline that is, at best, tangentially of interest to the user, at worst, completely arbitrary. (With the weight of probability favouring the latter.)
Arment’s commentary is, as you’d expect, deeply considered and well thought through and is well worth reading in its entirety. We’ll leave the closing comment with him:
The Quick Bar isn’t offensive because we don’t want Twitter making money with ads, or because we object to changes in the interface.
It’s offensive because it’s deeply bad, showing complete disregard for quality, product design, and user respect, and we’ve come to expect a lot more from Twitter.
We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.
PA¥ FOR JAPAN have gathered together some very tempting, “Stuff you can buy to help Japan.” Now, go spend some money.
If you enjoyed Mr Chimero’s Typographic Hierarchy walkthrough on Typekit, you really should hotfoot it over to Amazon and pick up a copy of Ellen Lupton’s excellent Graphic Design - The New Basics. A comprehensive guide to the fundamentals of graphic design it should be required reading for any aspiring interactive designer (and, indeed, is required reading on our degree course in Belfast).
Broken down into a comprehensive series of exercises – including ‘design problems’ that cover: rhythm and balance; colour; hierarchy; grids; and time and motion – it’s a perfect primer on graphic design principles.
Exercises like Hierarchy 101 are centred on the principles that Mr Chimero’s piece explores and, when undertaken systematically, can provide a solid foundation in design fundamentals that will serve the thinking designer well for many a year to come. If you haven’t already got a copy, we’d suggest you pick one up now.
Continuing their series of guest posts on web typography, Typekit’s latest educational epistle comes courtesy of Frank Chimero who imparts some words of wisdom on the topic of Typographic Hierarchy. In a thoughtfully staged process Mr Chimero shows how much can be achieved with so little (and, it has to be said, a little thought and consideration). He summarises the process as follows:
A clear understanding of hierarchy results in more beautiful, meaningful, and communicative designs that better serve their audience.
We run through a very similar series of exercises with our first and second year interactive design students to encourage them to first consider the inherent hierarchy that exists within information itself. Teasing out those hierarchies allows a great deal with very little. Getting the students to grasp that - the power and potential of restraint - can prove incredibly liberating.
Great work Mr Chimero (and the team at Typekit for encouraging and supporting these types of posts). You should go and read it now.
David Březina’s award winning typeface Skolar - already a lovingly crafted text serif (put to very good use by Jason Santa Maria in his elegant redesign of Liz Dazico’s excellent site Bobulate) - is now even better. Writing in Skolar Web Hinted for Better Screen Rendering, Tim Brown, Typekit’s Type Manager (and typographer extraordinaire) states:
Skolar’s designer, David Březina, worked through many iterations to get the improvements just right, and checked the fonts often using Typekit’s foundry review tools. It’s wonderful to finally release these new, TrueType-hinted versions of Skolar, they look great.
Great indeed. As Mr Brown puts it in a follow up comment:
A type designer’s aesthetic sensibility is crucial for hinting type.
Stem thickness, x-height, and stroke/spacing consistency are examples of aesthetic decisions that type designers need to make as they do the very technical work of hinting.
This is precisely the level of attention to detail and craftsmanship that is making native web typography so very exciting indeed (and Typekit deserve every credit for drawing attention to it). Great work Messrs Březina and Mills - who, as Březina puts it, “is the mind behind the screen optimisation” - and thanks as ever to Mr Brown for his tireless work promoting the art and craft of fine web typography.
Activated via a system-wide hotkey, ColorSnaper is an easy-to-use colour picker for Mac OS X. It’s claim to be, “the missing color picker for Mac OS X,” notwithstanding - we’ve been using Iconfactory’s xScope for a number of years now - there’s no doubt it’s looks like a useful single serving tool.
As the Twitter ToS fracas rumbles on, it’s hard to argue with Craig Hockenberry and his list of Twitterrific Firsts: first use of the word ‘tweet’ to describe an update; first use of a bird icon; and first character counter as you type (to name just three).
Proof, if it were needed, that a dynamic - and competitive - ecosystem drives innovation and helps evolve a platform.
Tomorrow’s St Patrick’s day, or Paddy’s Day for short. When celebrating said festivity, please do remember, it’s Paddy, not Patty. Don’t be an eejit. Say it right. Spell it right. Thank you.
Writing yesterday, on the Ides of March, in a much-discussed article titled Ideas of March, Chris Shiflett - co-founder of Analog and Brooklyn Beta (and an all-round gentleman) - made a heart felt plea: “We need a blog revival.”
Noting that, over the last few years, a great deal of our online conversation has shifted from blogs to Twitter, Mr Shiflett urged a re-think, or - at the very least - a reappraisal of the balance between shortform and longform writing. We agree wholeheartedly with Shiflett’s analysis: When you only have 140 characters at your disposal, in-depth analysis, debates and well-considered thoughts are much harder to forge than the typically cursory, topical repartee Twitter engenders.
There’s nothing wrong with Twitter, and it certainly has its uses, however, working longform allows you to clarify your thinking; sharpens the mind; and maps into other areas of practice.
We need to encourage a rich and varied landscape of the written word, one that encourages content across a range of platforms, content that is both shortform and longform. Shortform delivered via Twitter (or, should you feel strongly, given last week’s announcement, Identi.ca); longform via blogs or journals.
As Drew McLellan puts it: “There’s room for both - for quick headline thoughts and for more reasoned posts. I think it would be a shame to have only the former and none of the latter.”
Shiflett’s plea is simple: “If we all blog a little more than we normally would this month, maybe we can be reminded of all of the reasons blogs are great.” His reasons are hard to dispute, with longer form writing: posts aren’t immediately lost in a sea of updates, can be easily found later, and tend to be more meaningful; the conversation that surrounds a post is easier to find; and, critically, the writer doesn’t have to use truncated language to encapsulate a complete thought.
What we need, in short, is a better mix: content that is both shortform and longform; content that is both shallow and deep.
Shallow or Deep
As Shiflett points out, Twitter is extremely useful for tuning in to what’s happening. It’s a great discovery tool and, with a well-maintained and carefully curated timeline, can prove worth its weight in gold, for ensuring a consistently intelligent and challenging stream of influences and provocations.
As an inherently shortform channel, however, Twitter can tend towards the superficial and the fragmented. A discussion that unfolds over Twitter often requires a considerable degree of reverse-engineering, piecing the threads back together as voices collide and multiple, often contradictory, opinions interweave; the central message buffeted by the eddies and tides of an often cacophonous commentary.
A journal or blog, however, offers the opportunity to create well-structured thoughts, to craft words, to shape an argument, to drive home a point.
The act of writing, goes much further, however. The ability to write impacts upon the design process, helping to structure thoughts which, in turn, feeds into the ability to articulate your thinking critically, an essential part of the design process and a skill that lies at the heart of strategic thinking.
The problem with Twitter and lifestreaming lies in its transient nature. A sense of grazing the surface of life, ephemeral, but lacking the depth of a well considered post, with a clearly thought through series of ideas.
A well-rounded content mix can take many forms and needn’t involve days and nights chained to the keyboard. With a strategic approach that encompasses shortform commentary, mediumform curated content and longform, in depth, content, you can create an indispensable and invaluable resource that others’ will cherish and return to often.
Curation and Creation
Blogs aren’t one-size-all and can be used in many ways, usually falling within either the classification of curation or creation. The former, gathering and curating, sifting the vast ocean of the web for meaning; the latter, adding value, new thinking and original content. Both have their place (and occasionally combine to great effect).
The act of curation - of collecting and cataloguing existing content - can prove hugely valuable, gathering related and at times eclectic streams of inspiration. Swiss Miss springs to mind, her encyclopaedic tastes invariably make us smile. Closer to home Belfast based designer Dave Smith (who formerly curated the GrafikCache for Grafik Magazine) is always on the money with his design-focused labour of love, Collate.
The act of creation - of expressing new ideas and developing new content - is equally valuable, adding original thinking to the infinite ocean of the web. It’s here that we identify with Mr Shiflett most strongly. As educators, it’s no surprise to discover that we admire and champion writers that contribute original thinking to the canon of knowledge. Craig Mod, writing on the future of books and storytelling, is blazing a thought-trail on the myriad ways in which publishing is evolving and changing, his writing is thought-provoking and gripping in its articulation. Michael Lopp’s writing at Rands in Repose is equally captivating (and who couldn’t admire a writer that covers Management, Tech Life and… Vegas?).
Both curation and creation have their place, but it’s worth noting that without the act of creation, there exists nothing new to curate; the curated blog alone only adds to the landscape of surveyed content, adding nothing new, other than commentary.
Creating content is hard, but as with anything that takes a degree of effort, the rewards that can be reaped by publishing original content can be that much greater. Original content rewards not only the reader, but equally, the writer. Writing helps you focus your thoughts, and allows you to articulate sentiments that might otherwise only merit a cursory moment of contemplation. A good writer is a good thinker.
Back to the Task at Hand
But, like all writers, we’ve intentionally digressed….
Returning to Mr Shiflett and the task at hand. We’re delighted to participate in the Ideas of March, it’s got us thinking. It might just be the call to arms that shifts our priorities slightly, focusing just a little more on the longer, more considered pieces; posts that are more rewarding to write, hopefully more rewarding to read, and conceivably more likely to be curated.
We hope Mr Shiflett’s call to arms will get more people writing, and one great by-product of that is that it may result in more people reading.
A good sign, if we ever saw one, is that within hours of his plea, a number of others had joined the fray. We’d urge you to set aside some time, fetch a pot of a tea (you’ll need a full pot), and settle down with a welcome collection of Ideas of March from, amongst others: Jon Tan, on the fact that tyrants never last and that the real banquets are blog posts; Drew McLellan, on joining the online conversation and the importance of opinions; and Sean Coates, on the great conversations that helped build our community.
Once you’ve worked your way through those, the #ideasofmarch hashtag has you covered for the remainder of the month and, hopefully, for some time to come. We fully intend to answer Mr Shiflett’s call, watch this space for further, longform posts.
The service is courtesy of WonderProxy, who we had the pleasure of meeting at Brooklyn Beta where Where’s it up? was shown as part of the excellent demo sessions alongside a host of other tempting services.
Designed by John Caserta of Providence based studio-collective The Design Office, Flatfile is a simple web site solution for artists that combines an elegantly minimal portfolio and blog. Caserta states:
We know scores of artists who have yet to put their artwork online in an updateable way.
Flatfile, inspired by the physical storage system for which it’s named, solves this problem with options to do-it-yourself or pay-for-help, all wrapped up in a flexible and elegant WordPress theme. Lovely.
A simple idea, beautifully executed with restraint; Simon Foster’s Center Of Attention is a cornucopia of design inspiration. As Foster puts it:
Whilst record cover sleeve art has always recieved plenty of attention, I believe that center labels have been somewhat neglected, so I thought I would set up this simple and easy to use site so I could share some examples.
Should you feel the need to see some covers, fear not, Mr Foster has you covered (forgive us the pun), showcasing a series of standards in Cover Me, Im Going In.
Helping you answer the question, “Is my web site up or down?” Down for Everyone or Just Me? has you covered when your server seems to be on the blink.
We found the site useful during our very brief outage this morning; we’re sure you will too.
In the time-honoured tradition of releasing controversial news late on a Friday 1, Twitter’s Ryan Sarver - Product Manager for the Platform/API team - announced on Twitter’s development mailing list on Friday evening that the Twitter API goalposts would, from here on in, be shifting.
Writing on Consistency and Ecosystem Opportunities, Sarver announced an update to the Terms of Service for the use of the Twitter API, outlining a future where the Twitter experience would be one fully owned by Twitter. Citing the need for ‘A Consistent User Experience’, Sarver outlined the new landcape for developers as follows:
Twitter will provide the primary mainstream consumer client experience on phones, computers, and other devices by which millions of people access Twitter content (tweets, trends, profiles, etc.), and send tweets. If there are too many ways to use Twitter that are inconsistent with one another, we risk diffusing the user experience.
As The Guardian put it in its article Twitter Angers Third-Party Developers With ‘No More Timelines’ Urging:
That opening phrase - “Twitter will provide the primary mainstream consumer client experience…” - is the one that hits like an icicle in developers’ hearts. It implies that Twitter itself is going to make it harder for third-party apps to provide the same experience that it does; notably, that it may outlaw the addition of ads in prominent places (which are used to pay for apps which people can use for free, such as Echofon).
The changes outlined by Sarver not only call into question the future of alternative Twitter clients, but clearly signal that existing clients - Twitterific, Echofon, et al - are now living in a state of grace (on borrowed time…?) and that their continued existence will only be granted as long as they followed Twitter’s new, zero tolerance guidelines.
Needless to say, reaction to this change has been swift and resoundingly negative, with Eric Mill writing in the comments of Sarver’s original post:
All third party Twitter developers, no matter what they make, are now walking on eggshells, constantly at risk of offending Twitter’s ideas of how users should interact with Twitter.
If you were cynical - and judging by the reactions on Twitter and elsewhere, it would appear many are - this announcement might translate to mean: “What if you don’t see the same ‘Promoted Trend’ as in the official Twitter client, i.e. the one that someone paid good money for?”
Interestingly, in the same piece, Sarver states that only about 10% of Twitter’s users use unofficial Twitter clients, so the company’s ‘But what about the users?’ argument seems somewhat dogmatic, prompting the question: Why?
Show me the money!
So why would Twitter make this change? And why now?
One answer might be that age-old motivator: Money. Twitter have been under intense pressure to develop revenue models for some time now and, as the service has grown exponentially, the pressure to monetize it has grown exponentially.
As the number of eyeballs has increased, so the opportunities to monetize those eyeballs has increased. This, coupled with the fact that the company now serves over 140 million tweets a day, has held out the prospect of a lucrative revenue model. The real question, however, has been finding this revenue model. Queue: The Dickbar (or, as Twitter would prefer we call it, ‘The Quick Bar’).
The problem with The Dickbar - and the reason it generated such a vocal #dickbar backlash - lay in its perceived lack of honesty. In third party Twitter clients where ads exist, they clearly look like ads (and can in most cases be removed through a paid upgrade). Twitter’s Quick Bar on the other hand, purports to display trending topics, yet also displays ‘Promoted Trends’, begging the question: How can a trend be a trend if it’s being paid for and promoted?
The conspiracy theorists would have us believe that herein lies the problem: Twitter introduces The Quick Bar, quickly christened The Dickbar; a small, but vocal group of early adopters and thought leaders call out Twitter, suggesting an exodus to third party apps; Twitter severely restricts those third party apps and kills the prospect of new ones.
As David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals, in this sardonic tweet, puts it:
If nothing else, they’re speedily responding to criticism. The #dickbar was met with calls to switch to third party apps. Solution: Kill choice.
A more pragmatic way of putting it? How do we make sure all eyes are on the ads? By owning all the channels.
The truth is that the above scenario is a probably a little too simplistic, but the fact of the decree remains: third party Twitter client development would appear to be dead in the water.
On abandoning your partners when the tipping point is reached…
Whatever way you choose to interpret it, with this announcement, Twitter are disenfranchising two important groups of people: their early adopters (who may not mean too much to Twitter, though Twitter means a lot to them); and, more importantly, developers - the very people who helped to create and shape the diverse and flourishing ecosystem that is Twitter today.
As Ryan Paul, writing for Ars Techica, puts it:
What seems to surprise third-party developers more than the new restrictions and changes to the terms of service is the brazenly dismissive tone that Twitter has assumed towards a group of developers who were once the service’s strongest supporters.
It’s this dismissive tone, that so many have objected to, with one developer cited in the article stating:
Twitter started as a very developer friendly service, but as supporting those developers interfered with the ends of their investors – making money – they have become less and less welcoming. They are, of course, well within their rights to do all this, but it’s disappointing all the same, especially to those of us who were there in the beginning.
The effect of this change remains to be seen. Regardless of the reaction, however, it seems clear that Twitter has reached a tipping point, where the mainstream user matters more than the loyal groups that helped Twitter reach the point it’s reached today. Herein lies hubris, neatly summarised in the words of Jon Tan:
Hubris is… @twitter’s attitude to client apps when they’ve helped make it successful, and when Twitter’s own UX is often not as good.
Twitter, as Charles Miller puts it in Dear Twitter…, “has always grown on the back of outside innovation,” and this change looks set to threaten the very ecosystem that drove that innovation, the developers and the ideas they conjured from the underlying service. As Drew McLellan puts it:
One of the things I really admired about Twitter was that it was built as a true web service. Twitter isn’t a website, it’s a service into which you can place tweets and out of which you can retrieve tweets.
Now it has become clear that Twitter wishes to own the entire user experience by having everyone using an official client, in a move akin to CompuServe requiring customers to use their official email client. (Remember them?) Or a website only working in Internet Explorer. (Remember those, also?)
The worst implication for Twitter would be stagnation, due to the suppression of one of their greatest and most valuable assets of all: their outside developers, who have not only catered for niche markets, but have brought imagination and innovation to the service that on more than one occasion has been folded into the official distribution channel.
Where to from here?
Who knows? Perhaps the influencers - the early adopters and developers - will realise that now is the time to start looking at a different model, one where our timeline isn’t owned and controlled by the whims of a single company. A company who, and we often forget this, is a business and not a charitable foundation.
Relationships come and go and need work. Nothing - certainly nothing on the web - can be taken for granted. Maybe this move by Twitter will be the call that brings a substantial number of thought leaders to look at a more distributed model, such as identi.ca. Imagine just a few disheartened iPhone developers creating beautifully crafted apps for identi.ca… how might that change the landscape?
Instead of sending irritable tweets about issues like Twitter wrapping all of your links in measurable and sellable t.co links, or introducing a compulsory trending topics #dickbar, perhaps it’s time to look at an alternative where the control is more distributed, federated and open.
Just think how that might look.
Chartwell, by Travis Kochel, is an innovative new font family which utilises OpenType’s ligature feature to interpret and visualise data. Wonderful.
Seeking inspiration from the Situationist International, a “radical movement that sought to transform everyday life and the world through experimental forms of behaviour” the Situationist iPhone App is sure to transform your mundane existence by throwing unpredictability and thrills into the everyday trudgery.
Reminiscent of the voices in your head that tells you to shave the neighbours dog, the App is designed to make participants interact in randomly chosen situations such as complimenting a total (but participating) stranger on their haircut.
Now available for free in an App Store near you.
TEDxPortland have some lovely, and creative, scrolling action on their site. Scroll from top to bottom and witness an inventive XRD to PDX transformation. Nice, subtle work.
Microsoft would like you to join IE6 Countown and help, “move the world off Internet Explorer 6”. As they put it:
10 years ago a browser was born.
Its name was Internet Explorer 6. Now that we’re in 2011, in an era of modern web standards, it’s time to say goodbye.
This web site is dedicated to watching Internet Explorer 6 usage drop to less than 1% worldwide, so more web sites can choose to drop support for Internet Explorer 6, saving hours of work for web developers.
What are you waiting for? Join the cause!
Sadly we’re not attending SXSW this year, but if we were, we’d definitely head to Frank. Not only are they, “purveyors of artisan sausage,” serving a winning combination of hot dogs and cold beer, but they have a lovely web site to boot.
Next year, perhaps….
Designers + Mixes = Designers.MX
If data porn’s your thing, you might want to bookmark Mr Felton’s Tumblr. It’s awash with inspiration.
Coming soon from John Boardley of I Love Typography - accompanied by a stellar team of Editor in Chief, Carolyn Wood (Editor in Chief of The Manual and Article Snagging Editor for A List Apart), and Assistant Editor, Allen Tan (Lover of Pretty Pixels, Elegant Markup and Thoughtful Design) - Codex is, “a fresh new quarterly print magazine devoted to typography and lettering.”
Codex promises to include typeface reviews, interviews, type history and tips, new and notable faces, showcases, essays, web fonts, grids, type design, and much, much more. Given Mr Boardley’s inestimable track record at I Love Typography, it promises to be well worth the wait.
Demand will likely be high and we’d urge you to sign up now, to be kept informed of developments.
Tymn Armstrong Dribbbles The Internet, observing quite rightly, “It’s hard to keep up with it.” One of the nicest Dribbbles we’ve seen to date.
With one half of the Standardistas duo hailing from Hong Kong, it’s no surprise to discover we love these elegantly executed The Art of Cantonese Cuisine prints.
Featuring a careful combination of traditional Chinese calligraphy (“representing the character of the food - authentic, traditional and beautifully crafted”) and subtly integrated photography, they’re a high point in the consistently challenging portfolio of Singaporean multidisciplinary design agency Trine.
Very tasty indeed.
Naked Password, courtesy of South African consultancy Platform45, is designed to encourage users to embrace stronger passwords, ably assisted in this admirable task through interaction with a pixelated model called ‘Sally’. As Platform45 put it:
Our beautiful model Sally tastefully removes items of clothing as your password grows stronger.
The result: Tasteful softcore pixel password porn.