Short Notes on Instant Articles

Instant articles are cool. They look nice, at least the NatGeo one does.

This is a much better reading experience then the average article, especially on mobile.

It’s a little weird that Facebook effectively owns the “TV” of mobile content.

That being said, Facebook just defined the “Instant Articles” market. If people in general like that experience other apps can capitalize on this new market. Some app could unbundle that experience from Facebook.

Although, Facebook could this them selves. That’s probably what Paper is.

They could even force people to use Paper, just like they forced people to use Messanger.

This is a win for reading, a win for short-term distribution. Could be scary in the long term. Only time will tell.

Video Chat Not Weird Anymore

I don’t know about you, but video conferencing got real this year. Google Hangouts or Skype it doesn’t matter. Videoconferencing became an extension of the table versus a remote connection.

I’ve been using IM, Audio Chat, Video chat since I was a teenager. They have all felt like I was having a distant conversation. Which was still great, because without connections we lack humanity, but they we’re all cold forms of communication.

Now though, with Google Hangouts HD video, and I think a general permeation of video. I can have a conversation with another human being over video that feels as if we’re sitting at the same table. At times I can almost forget that we aren’t in the same place.

If it’s not just me, but others as well, then it could have a large impact on remote working, and tele-presence. Given that you can have real conversations now thats one less thing remote workers can’t do.

If I were to work on a distributed team in the future I would seriously consider looking at always on versions of these tools to see if you can’t also get back some of that inter-office banter.

Full stack is more then a checkbox for your startup

The words full stack will quickly be overburdened, but for now they represents an ideal. The basic premise laid out by Chris Dixon.

The new approach is to build a complete, end-to-end product or service that bypasses existing companies.

Awesome, we now have this new word, and it’s a word that is getting used a lot from fund-raising, to job listings, to internal memos. Like any new label how the hell do you know if a company is actually full stack? I think we can get more concrete then Dixon’s definition.

The definition of a full stack startup is going to change from industry to industry, so I am going to use the lens of content production to dig in to this, but I think there are some common truths that apply to all full stack startups.

One way to know is to consider the relationship between Tech and Strategy. Tech meaning the whole technical operations of a company. From senior tech leaders to the actual engineering. Strategy meaning the plan, the way forward, the core playbook the company is executing.

Let’s say you wanted to build a startup around content. Your Strategy is building an audience and selling ads. To build an audience you need to create content. You have a number of choices when starting but one of the biggest is your content management system or CMS. This will be the backbone of your operation. Your CMS will literally shape your content.

How do you choose the CMS? Given that the CMS is core to your Strategy you really need to get his right. And here is one way you can tell if a company is full stack or not, and its not by the choice they make, it’s how they make it that counts. Was Tech represented when the decision got made. If Tech was apart of the big Strategy decision then you have a full stack startup on your hands.

In the content spacne you can see this manifest in a number sites. Look at something like Grantland or FiveThirtyEight versus Vox.

Both Grantland and FiveThirtyEight use Wordpress VIP. Which, while technically sound, is effectivley outsourcing your tech. Where as here is Vox Media’s CEO Jim Bankoff describing how the product gets built:

On any given day, you’ll see our technologists, our designers working really closely with our storytellers, our journalists, to help them figure out how to express their ideas in the most compelling way.

If on the daily you’re mixing disciplines to run the site you’re pretty full stack.

As with all new words there are many shades of gray, but if you are trying to understand full stack startups I don’t think you can go wrong by figuring out if all the part of the company executing the Strategy are apart of planning the Strategy.

Markdown 2: The Second One

What is Markdown? Answering this questions is imperative to the future stewardship of Markdown.

Many see Markdown as a short hand for HTML. They aren’t wrong, but it’s not the only answer. My answer, Markdown is a shorthand for structured, linked documents.

Esoteric, I know, but think about the intended audience of a shorthand for HTML. Then, think about the intended audience of a shorthand for structured documents.

That’s the difference between people, who not only know what HTML is but also want a shorthand for it, and pretty much anyone who has ever used Microsoft Word or Google Docs.

Both answers stand on the simplicity of Markdown. To create something so simple that works is hard. To say it’s done is bold. To receive an onslaught of interest from smart people who often recommend changing it and again saying, nah, its good is audacious. And, for what it’s worth I think John Gruber made the right call in not messing with it. That said, any path to adoption has multiple inflection points. To get to each new point might require a different playbook.

I don’t think it’s crazy to envision Markdown powering many of the workflows that we already see around structured documents. Legal contracts, bills, copy editing, memos. Creating these documents is easier if everyone uses Markdown.

Ultimately, the needs of a shorthand for HTML are much different from a shorthand for structure. What the future Markdown needs now depends on which answer you choose.

jQuery probably faced something like this situation. It began as a personal project. It had a specific point of view and it was simple. As it grew it had the opportunity add in tons of features, and it did add some, but it retained its core mode of operation. One could argue that jQuery’s built its success on top of its ability to say no to change.

But, to gain wider adoption jQuery had to see it’s self as something bigger then a personal project. At some point the creator of jQuery must have realized that the stewardship of the project was bigger then one person. In jQuery’s case, Resig chose to give the copyright to an organization that could steward the project even if he wasn’t around.

As jQuery realized it was apart of a larger fabric it allowed more stewards into the process. It’s not a coincidence that it’s overall footprint grew, and continues to grow today.

Markdown is at a similar point. It’s a revolutionary-100-year idea and there is a case for stewardship. I think Atwood may have missed the mark on tone, but If Markdown is to be common it needs more then one persons lifetime to develop. It probably needs more then a few. So, it can’t hurt from a widening of its stake holders.

We need more people at the table. We need more stewards who can help pass Markdown on.

I mean, what else am I going to do with all these plaintext markdown files.

We Launched It

It wasn’t always a straight line, but after 3 months we have launched the initial version of our site All Day.

All Day Logo

I’ve learned a lot which I hope to write more about, but for now I am just happy that we launched.

On To My Next Adventure

Taken by a co-worker when was still picplz.

I’m going to assume you have read the news about It’s clearly the context for this post, but it’s not the point. I am leaving to be the VP of Engineering at new company that should have a name shortly.

Durring my time at I constantly operated at the edge of my abilities, and past them sometimes. It was alternatingly painful and exhilirating. I will be processing my stay here for quite awhile, but the main thing I learned from, that one thing I will carry forever is the relentless pursuit of the problem.

The problem shifts over time. It can be a bug in the code base, a support request, or a product decision but to fix it and to fix it right requires a relentles pursuit of the fundamental problem in question. Once you truly know what the problem is you can fix it, and fix so it doesn’t come back.

It’s not something that everyone learns as an engineer or otherwise, but engineers benfit from it greatly.

So, time to start my next adventure.

How Vox Media Creates News Products

Yesterday we got a look into how new news organization are working in a technical sense1. To my mind its one of the few detailed posts about how places like Vox Media are working to actually innovate. It was written by Pablo Mercado, Vox Media’s VP of Technology. He detailed a little bit about how they pull together all the talent needed for a project and how they coordinate that talent. From writer, editor, designer, to programmer.

New news orgs fascinate me, because they are the perfect collision of technology and domain expertise. In a sense, if we can improve journalism with technology then we can use technology to improve other fields. I’m also not talking about software eating journalism, but working with journalism to make its better, and maybe even pay for it’s self.

I don’t know about you, but I want to read more stories like this. There doesn’t seem to be a great place to find stuff like this. So, if you know any leave a comment.

Try Out The Comments Widget

A week ago (maybe two), we had an hackathon where I showed off an based coments widget. Since then a couple of us have been working an official version of the widget. Its now in a state where I would like to start beta testing it. If you would like to test it out PM me on (@voidfiles). I have also embedded the current version on this page.

All the things: Paper vs Unread

When Paper and Unread launch in the same week its hard for me to not compare the two. The obvious comparison is that they are both news readers1. Its like they both answer the same question with wildly different answers. Paper is all the things to all the people, because Facebook. Where as Unread uses the same things to make something equally spectacular, but for far less people. As much as I wish I could teach everyone in the land to use a reader (because its better), they aren’t going to listen to me.

Secondly, it’s exciting just to watch people invent the ways we are going to interact with our world. Both apps have a great native touch experience. The people who made these two apps understand their medium. Think about what this says about software, innovation, iOS … blah blah, Jared Sinclair is one dude and his apps are as good as Facebooks’. He understands the medium just as well as they do and because of it his apps feels just as innovative.

So here’s what I am going to do. Buy the app for 2.99, pay 30 dollars a year for Feedbin, and another 24 dollars a year to Newsblur because I want these things to exist.

Hopefully as long as enough of us continue to think they are worth our money they will continue to exist. And these lone individuals will continue to listen to the crazy people, the people who read (a lot), because they love the things we love.

  1. reader is a funny word to use to talk about Paper, but thats what it is.

A Newspaper of Images

While looking at the launch of Paper I was struck by the lack of words. The apps name, presumably an homage, suggests a certain sense of wordiness but instead everything is focused on images.

Paper is certainly picking up on trends built by popular apps like Flipboard, and it’s entirely possible that what people want is an even more visual experience, but you loose something when you depend so largely on images. The average blog post is going to look horrible next to the glossy layouts. Proabably adding one more nail the lone blogger coffin.

Look I don’t fear for the literacy of our future selves or anything like that, but if you are looking for a better news reading app this probably won’t be it. Even if it’s is a huge success, there will still need to be a place for words.