#Independentsday

Appwalls and their apps are destructive to the open web.

While browsing a website on a mobile device has come a long, long way, a new trend in business priorities is leading us all down the wrong path. Try viewing a website for a large commercial service or digital brand, and you’re likely to hit an “appwall,” a pop-up that promotes the availability of a native app experience. Some companies—Reddit, for example—require the use of a native app just to view content on their popular channels.

The problem seems to be getting worse, and I’m not the only person to see this. Ethan Marcotte writes:

Sometimes, the website wants me to install the app — no, it needs me to install the app. It’s like a paywall, but for apps. An appwall. Basically, I’m locked out of the website unless I stop what I’m doing, download their native application, and then use it to open the same content I was just trying to read. Why would a company promote a native app over their perfectly usable website?

We’d have to ask them, I suppose but it’s hard not to see this as a matter of priorities: that these companies consider native applications worthy of their limited time, resources, and money. They’re a worthy investment, to hear these banners tell it. And I can understand that. After all, the overwhelming majority of digital advertising revenue goes to just two companies . ( Or three .) Given that, I could see why a digital organization might search for revenue streams that rely less on display advertising.

Maybe those revenue streams rely on collecting other kinds of data.

But whatever the motives, that doesn’t mean these app prompts are a good experience. When responsive design first became a thing , mobile websites were peppered with links to “the full website”…which invariably contained the content or features you actually wanted to access on your mobile device. In practice, this encouraged product teams to adopt device-specific design methods: features weren’t deployed to people, but to specific types of devices.

By and large, these app prompts feel like fancier versions of that old pattern. And when new product features are built on the native experience, I think it’s illuminating when they don’t make it back to the web.

It’s also disheartening.

Too many companies are treating the web as a second-class experience to their closed systems. We fought the good fight to protect the web against this when it was just a handful of technology companies—embracing proprietary code to create proprietary experiences. Now? Our phones and tablets are littered with them. And the payoff is not there. The Reddit experience on iOS is not superior to that of the web. Considering what can be done in a native OS environment, that application should have AR sharks with lasers dancing on the furniture and acting out all of the posts in a variety of languages. Alas, most of these apps are simply a closed system of content offering nothing more than another way for a company to track your data.

Is this what we get for turning our nose to third-party cookies? Do we deserve this because the population at large does not like the idea of their every move on the web being recorded, analyzed, and used to target the sale of our material desires? Did some of us really endure WebTV just so that we ended up here? Why does Wired magazine have to be subjected to a slow and painful death in the hands of Condé Nast?

I’d suggest that appwalls are perhaps worth the effort to provoke the community to action, but sadly ye old platform Independents Day is long gone. The site is now an amalgamation of old content infused with a bizarre link list of hotels in Eastern Europe. I would stop to ask why, but I’m afraid we’re too far down the hole on this one. Maybe I’ll bring it up again in January after every nerd on the planet has watched Matrix 4 ten times, and we’re all ready to take the fight to the machines.

#comics / An overdue update coming to the comiXology app.

While the service has had a handful of improvements since Amazon bought it in 2014, the app has remained mostly the same. I write that but it’s worth noting that shortly after Amazon bought comiXology they took away the ability to purchase items within the app experience as a way to avoid paying Apple any percentage of sales. The announcement posted today says that shopping will return in addition to new features that will provide “flexible filtering and sorting, and some fun book navigation.”

#career

Finding the next “era of a new field.”

You’ve seen the post here and elsewhere—from time to time—lamenting the future while remembering the past. Specifically the early days of the World Wide Web. Super specifically towards the days when blogs were bountiful and mostly contained posts and comment threads about web design and development.

This is not one of those blog posts.

Matt Webb, creator, and author of the blog Interconnected (which you should all be following and reading), recently posted about some research he did on the early days of the industry of electricity. He shares about reading “every issue of Electrical Review magazine from the 1880s and 1890s.” It was a time when implementing electric infrastructure was in its infantile stage. Matt writes about the parallels of that world to the one we are working in—living in—now regarding the Internet.

At this time with electricity, it wasn’t clear what datapoints were salient. Was it important that the bowl was scorched in the lightning report? Unknown! So report it anyway! The scientific method: gather observations; taxonomise and hypothesise; predict and iterate. This era was step 1 going into step 2.

It’s obvious to us now that electricity does not thin the veil between this world and the afterlife – but in an era where a power used to replace crankshafts in factories was then used to transmit the written word between continents and then, bizarrely, provide artificial light, well, who is to say what would happen next.

So the boundary of electricity was as-yet undefined. Oversharing was a virtue.

I love this era of a new field. Not just the possibility of surprise round every corner, but the collective, heady nature of the endeavour. We’re making these discoveries together!

And we’re making new discoveries by wildly building new things and reporting back what happened. Theory and practice in a tight and lively knot. The best place to spend one’s days.

The best place indeed.

In the first chapter of his book The Art of Rebellion, John Couch writes about the early days of his career in the late 90’s working at the epicenter of the Internet—Wired magazine.

As I lurched forward through my career, I looked for companies that had cultivating environments and cultures that fostered creativity and provided community. I didn’t find any until I worked at Wired.

It was there that I learned how a strong vision (we were the voice of the digital revolution) could unify and galvanize a culture. It was there that I learned to love futurism: Kevin Kelly (Out of Control) was our maven; Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash) and William Gibson (Neuromancer) could be found wandering the halls. I shared an office with Douglas Coupland (Generation X) for a stint. Avant-garde tech artists like Lynn Hershman Leeson would be seen in the lobby, talking to Mark Pauline, creator of Survival Research Laboratories, famous for building massive robots and machines that destroyed each other with flamethrowers and hydraulic saws.

The Internet was new, and most of us used Netscape to navigate through this brave new world. It was the ultimate democratization wherein everyone had a voice, everyone could be a publisher, and the magazine’s techno-libertarian founders, Louis Rossetto aznd Jane Metcalfe, encouraged exploration and an ethos derived from the coding community of demo or die. It wasn’t perfect at Wired. It wasn’t a utopia (turns out no place is), but it was my graduate school, so to speak.”

John’s note about graduate school is interesting because what makes the “era of a new field” magical is the ”making [of] new discoveries by wildly building new things and reporting back what happened.” Learning and teaching are required skills during this time.

Note that in both of these accounts, monetization is not included in what makes this moment. The “Golden Hour” of a nascent technology or innovation is not predicated on revenue or growth hacking. John writes that what made the culture at Wired so great started to fall apart as soon as they tried to offer an IPO.

I write this as I look at what the next 5, 10, 20 years hold. I used to think that I wanted part of my old career back. Even though I knew it was pointless. Now, I am starting to wonder how I can find more “eras of a new field.” And another, and another, and so on. All without hearing another @#$%ing word about crypto and Blockchain. If I have to hear about one more way TechBros have come up with another way to launder money and record it in a “register,” I’m going to have to nut-kick some people.

#wow

Steve Jobs on "The Most Important Thing" in Life.

Today Apple devoted its website homepage to the anniversary of Steve Jobs passing. It is a tasteful memorial with a short film and a statement from his family. The film, Celebrating Steve begins with an inspirational statement by Jobs on life and then continues with different highlights of his journey at Apple paired with additional comments. The Apple moments are very familiar to me as I watched them all live, as they happened. Still, the statement at the beginning of the film was new to me.

When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world; try not to bash into the walls too much. But life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact and that is, everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it. You can Influence it. You can build your own things that other people can use.

Wow! If that doesn’t move you in some way then please consult a physician after checking that you have a pulse.

The quote is an excerpt from a 1994 interview by the Santa Clara Valley Historical Association. In a longer version of the excerpt, Steve continues his thought on the secret of life:

The minute that you understand that you can poke life and actually something will pop out the other side. That you can you can change, you can mold it. Thats maybe that most important thing. Shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it versus embrace it. Change it. Improve it. Make your mark upon it. However you learn that, once you learn it, you’ll want to change life and make it better because, it’s kinda messed up in a lot of ways. Once you learn that you’ll never be the same again.

Damn—if you’re not inspired by now you might be walking dead.

I can understand why Apple didn’t include the second half, but I’m glad I found it. I’ve been an avid Apple fan since 1982. I’ve watched a lot of Jobs’ interviews and all of his product unveilings, but this is a rare time where we get to see Steve being human instead of a showman and genuinely caring for the world-at-large. I wish we had more but this is going to fuel me for some time. I hope it does the same for you.

#evil

Facebook knowingly does harm to people and democracies around the world.

From The Facebook Files, Wall Street Journal special investigation:

Facebook Inc. knows, in acute detail, that its platforms are riddled with flaws that cause harm, often in ways only the company fully understands. That is the central finding of a Wall Street Journal series, based on a review of internal Facebook documents, including research reports, online employee discussions and drafts of presentations to senior management.

Time and again, the documents show, Facebook’s researchers have identified the platform’s ill effects. Time and again, despite congressional hearings, its own pledges and numerous media exposés, the company didn’t fix them. The documents offer perhaps the clearest picture thus far of how broadly Facebook’s problems are known inside the company, up to the chief executive himself.

To date WSJ has published five reports, each with a unique focus that boils down to this, Facebook is an evil company.

I don’t care how you use Facebook. If you do, then I challenge you to read the full report and ask yourself: Why do you use a platform that knowingly propagates lies and misinformation that does harm to others? A platform that does little to curb active support for anarchy, slavery, sex crimes, bigotry, racism, and misogyny. A “global community” that knowingly hosts content and discourse that question the reality of horrific historical events like the German genocide of Jews and the slaughter of children at Sandy Hook. A network that has openly fueled aggression and violence against minorities, women, children, and the people down the street.

Does this same content reside on the Internet? Unfortunately, yes, but unlike Facebook, the Internet is not controlled by a single entity. No single company or government has control or authority over the Internet at large. In contrast, everything Facebook does is controlled by the leadership within. If that leadership made the right decisions—placing the health of humanity before profit and marketshare—then everything that is bad about Facebook and Instagram would be gone quickly.

Facebook is evil. No amount of sharing photos of your kids, promoting church services, or all of those #365grateful posts about your Soy Pumpkin Spice Latte counters how bad Facebook is to the future of the human race. Stop using Facebook.

#formula1 / Lewis Hamilton wins his 100th Formula One Grand Prix.

And what a win it was, requiring a last-minute change in tire strategy three laps to the finish. It was one of the more exciting finishes in the last couple of years that I can recall. I’m not an ardent Lewis supporter, but I appreciate that today’s win has a lot of significance in the world of racing. Even if you’re not a Formula1 fan, Andrew Lawrence’s article helps put Lewis’ achievement in perspective.

Over the past 15 years, the 36-year-old Briton has won seven world championships, tying the record set by Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher — the German F1 driver who was regarded as the greatest of all time until Hamilton broadsided him from that perch. At Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix, Hamilton rallied through a late rain shower to claim the checkered flag on the way to becoming the first driver in the sport’s history with 100 career victories. And that’s besides his 100 career pole positions. As achievements go in racing, this is beyond otherworldly.

For one thing, racing isn’t like other sports. They don’t win some and lose some. Cars break down, race strategies falter, accidents happen. Confidence cracks under pressure. Drivers can go years without winning. Heading into Sunday’s IndyCar Series finale at Long Beach in California, Scott Dixon, a six-time champion and the series’ active all-time victories leader, had just one win to his name. Jimmie Johnson, the seven-time NASCAR champion who crossed over into open-wheel racing earlier this year, won 27% of the time at his NASCAR Cup racing peak in 2007 — and that’s with vastly more opportunities to try on a 36-race schedule.

In F1, 10 or 15 wins over a career are enough to make a legend. Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio, the five-time champion who dominated F1 in the 1950s, has 24 victories. France’s Alain Prost, the four-time titlist who excelled in the ’80s and ’90s, more than doubled that haul. Schumacher, the Ferrari ace, set the bar even higher, winning an unbelievable 91 times in 308 starts. Meanwhile, Hamilton’s 100 triumphs have come in a relatively breezy 281 attempts.

Lewis has dominated the sport for the last five years, but he hasn’t had it so easy in 2021. A handful of drivers have won races making the fight for world champion much more competitive than in a decade. As the season progresses towards the last race in November, both the drivers and the teams are getting more aggressive. There’s never been a better time to watch the myriad of stories that includes Lewis’ campaign to be the most decorated Formula 1 driver, the world’s best race car driver of all time.

#cycling / Harley Davidson is in the e-bike business.

Their first model, The Limited-Edition S1, is modeled after the first Harley Davidson motorcycle built in 1903. The limited-edition bike comes with “white-toned Schwalbe Super Moto-X tires, a hand-crafted, honey-colored leather saddle and matching leather grips from Brooks England, and a stamped-brass shield mounted to the front signature light.” As far as e-bikes go, this is the first one I’ve come across that was created more for collecting than riding. The company, now called Serial 1, also produces a handful of other, more affordable, and practical models.

#film / Who is the best Bond?

Delayed Gratification magazine ranks the Bonds. It is one of many infographics presented in their upcoming book, An Answer For Everything. Ranked by a number of data points that includes box office revenue and the number of martinis consumed during the film. Though it makes for an amusing chart this has to be the very worst way to rank the character. I would have loved to seen the same infographic driven by quantitative correlated with qualitative data. For example: Don’t rank the Bonds by how many martinis they consumed but add user sentiment on who portrayed the better imbiber and who would you prefer to hang with during an all-nighter.

Related: The next James Bond film will be Daniel Craig’s last. Vogue magazine jumps the gun with a look at, no less than, 17 contenders to fill the role in the future. If you’ll recall, Daniel Craig was a very controversial choice when he was announced. Kinda frumpy and decidedly blonde, his image didn’t exactly fit the casting mold the Broccoli family protected for so long. I hope that they’ll continue to shake things up by daring to evolve the character and the franchise further. Daniel Kaluuya would make an awesome 007, but giving Lashana Lynch the license to kill would be extremely explosive. Not only on film but to the many glass ceilings in the film industry.

#publishing / Monocle magazine talks with Thrasher magazine.

Though I am not a skater, I have always admired the sport. Though the equipment may have changed, the attitude hasn’t. In this interview with Michael Burnett, editor in chief of Thrasher, he shares his origin story, and it just reaffirms that the skater way is still strong.

#typography / Monotype acquired Hoefler&Co.

I’m sad to see this as Hoefler has always been a special company to me. The quality of everything they produce, even their website, is top notch. Hoefler&Co. is the epitome, the definition of “well designed” and while Monotype shares some of those values, it will never be the same. As Jonathan Hoefler steps away, I hope he’ll move into something that will give us a new expression of his detailed observation, inspired creativity, and unparalleled craft.