MacStories 4.0

Viticci and co. have unveiled the long-awaited redesign of MacStories, and I must say, it looks great.

“We spent probably too much time trying to get many details just right, but we’re satisfied with the end result because the new design (and technology behind it) allows us to do a series of interesting things for our readers, with many more in the pipeline.”

The new design is much more readable and a pleasure to navigate, so I'd say it was worth the extra work.

"Conversions Are Not People"

Andy Beaumont explains why he created the awesome Tab Closed; Didn't Read Tumblr:

“This kind of belief in numbers is exactly what got us into this mess. [...] Analytics will tell you that you got more “conversions”. Analytics will show you rising graphs and bigger numbers. You will show these to your boss or your client. They will falsely conclude that people love these modal overlays.

But they don’t. Nobody likes them. Conversions are not people.”

I couldn't agree more. The modal overlay advertisement is currently one of the most user-hostile behaviors on the web, often appearing and requiring dismissal before the user even has a chance to check out the content they clicked through for. Who the hell would willingly sign up for your lame marketing newsletter before they even know what you're about?

Almost nothing will make me leave a site faster than these ads do, and I'm not likely to ever return. How's that for your analytics?

'Instant Gratification'

Daniel Jalkut:

“No more waiting for permission to share your thoughts, arts, or inventions with the world. And no more excuses for holding back. Got something to give? Put it out there and see what sticks.”

The slow extinction of 'gatekeepers' – publishers, record labels, banks, book stores, et al – is one of my favorite things about the web these days. It's never been easier to make yourself heard around the entire world, and all it takes is the press of a button.

It's both terrifying and liberating at the same time.

A Guided Tour of Brett Terpstra's Blog

I honestly had no idea that so much work has been put into all the little nuts-and-bolts that run Brett's site. It's basically a mix between a blog and a webapp, which tickles the geeky side of my brain.

Currently, I'm just enjoying what happens when I hover my mouse cursor over the 'Donate' button at the bottom. Sometimes it's the little touches.

The New Instapaper is Live

The beta is over, and the new design has been rolled out to instapaper.com proper. I still love the way this looks, and according to their blog post about the new design, reading progress now syncs on the web. This has been one of my longest-running wishes for Instapaper's web client (the iOS versions have had this capability for a long time).

My Squarespace 6 Wish List

As you may know, Unretrofied is a site powered by Squarespace 6. There are a whole lot of things to like about the service, but it's certainly not without its faults. Considering the way Squarespace seems to be keeping the entire podcasting industry afloat with all those ad-spots and sign-up offers, it would appear that a lot of people are still switching to the service in droves.

I think it's only fair that they know what to expect after signing up, don't you? So what I've done below is write something of an open letter to Squarespace, asking them to fix these basic issues that have been lingering around for months and months.

Now, I should note that I have absolutely zero information about what the developers are working on behind the scenes. For all I know, they could already be ironing out at least some of the issues I'm about to list. This is just my list of complaints as it stands right now.

Instapaper Web Beta

From the Instapaper blog:

“When the [Betaworks] team sat down with Instapaper’s creator, Marco Arment, back in April to get a download of his ideas and to-dos for improving Instapaper, the first thing on his list was to update the Instapaper website. Well we’ve done it, and it’s now ready for you to check out and test.”

I've only been using the beta for a few minutes, but I already dig the new visual style and layout. It's very exciting to see that Instapaper's still being actively developed and improved after Marco sold it a while back.

If you'd like to check out the beta, just head over to beta.instapaper.com and log in with your Instapaper credentials.

Some Options for Backing Up Your Google Reader Subscriptions

Well folks, this is it — the last weekend before Google reader shuts down for good. By now, you've probably already chosen a new RSS setup to get you through this tragic time, but you should still go ahead and back up your Google Reader data while you've still got a chance.

Luckily, there are several ways to do that:

Feedly Cloud

From the Feedly blog:

“Feedly cloud is now live, providing a fast and scalable infrastructure to seamlessly replace Google Reader. Feedly cloud also comes with a completely stand-alone Web version of feedly, that works with all major browsers. Finally, we are please to announce the first nine applications built on feedly cloud, that allow you to expand your feedly experience.”

With only 10 days left until Google Reader bites the dust, this is great news indeed. Feedly has been one of my top choices for Reader alternatives (especially since Reeder supports it), and I'm glad that they're working to make the transition as painless as possible.

Relatedly, IFTTT just announced a Feedly channel.

'Designing Blogs for Readers'

Matt Gemmell discusses the way his blog's design has changed over the last decade, and lists some ground rules for making your own site more readable.

“I don’t think there’s any reasonable way, or any need, to separate vanity and ego from a personal blog. Writing is inherently about its author, and is a product of their personality and opinions – that’s not something to be shy about, and we shouldn’t try to change it either. So, write for yourself – and hold yourself to an appropriate standard, because you’d better believe that others are judging the person as well as the piece – but as soon as you publish your views, you’re inviting readers to take a look. I think that the needs of the reader and the author are more aligned than many blogging systems seem to believe.”

I went through the list and discovered that Unretrofied meets many of the criteria Matt calls for, which I'm kinda proud of because I'm not a web designer by any stretch of the imagination.

I've just always strongly believed that sites explicitly meant to be read should not be designed so as to interfere with anybody's reading experience. That would be stupid, and I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks so.

There are a few little things that could be changed to meet his standards (such as making visited links more obvious), along with some items that have always bugged me but I haven't gotten around to fixing yet (like the way my Fusion ad can interfere with other elements on mobile devices), but overall I'm glad to know I've tinkered my way into a fairly readable site.

'The One-Person Product'

Marco Arment details what it was like to help Tumblr grow into what it is today, and puts the rumors about his newfound "riches" to rest:

“As for me, while I wasn’t a “founder” financially, David was generous with my employee stock options back in the day. I won’t make yacht-and-helicopter money from the acquisition, and I won’t be switching to dedicated day and night iPhones. But as long as I manage investments properly and don’t spend recklessly, Tumblr has given my family a strong safety net and given me the freedom to work on whatever I want. And that’s exactly what I plan to do.”

Great piece full of lovely behind-the-scenes photos. Go check it out.

Flickr Relaunches with 1TB of Free Space

Almost as if reading my mind after this morning's post, Yahoo! has relaunched Flickr with a new interface and 1TB of free storage for free users.

Pro accounts are being phased out, but existing Pro users get to keep their unlimited space, ad-free browsing, and statistics (for now). In place of Pro accounts, Flickr is now offering paid upgrades for either going ad-free ($50/year) or doubling your space to 2TB ($500/year).

The revamped UI takes cues from other social platforms like Twitter, App.net, Facebook, Google+, and Path, in that it allows you to upload a cover photo and displays your profile in a similar manner to those services. It's not wholly original or anything but I think it looks great. At least it doesn't look like 2006 anymore.

Photo pages are also much nicer, with images displayed in full resolution and shoving all the related info (description, comments, etc) below. It gives the photos a chance to breathe, which I love.

I need more time to play with this new interface, but I'm already really liking it so far. Kudos to Marissa Mayer and the Flickr team for shipping such a fantastic update.

Here is my Flickr page if you'd like to check it out.

On Stock and Flow

I recently came across a 2010 blog post written by Robin Sloan called Stock and Flow that really resonated with me. As it turns out, I'd apparently been living under a rock until now because this piece has influenced some of my favorite writers on the web.

The idea is simple:

“Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist.

Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.”

This, in a nutshell, is how I've tried to run Unretrofied: writing longer, column-like articles now and again, and keeping up the momentum with link-posts in between. Shawn Blanc explains this practice perfectly:

“[...] there’s just no way I could write the sort of original content I do often enough to keep the site updated on a near-daily basis. I spend a lot of time reading and researching, and I love to pass along links to the things I find of value.

If I were to shift the time I spend posting links to be time spent on original articles instead, it’s not like there would be a new article every day. Because I would still be spending time reading and researching and working behind the scenes. And I’d still be discovering the same stuff I am now — I just wouldn’t be linking to it.”

While the idea is simple on the surface, finding the balance between stock and flow can be difficult at times. Making both types of content great is even more so.

Most writers will be familiar with the difficulties of writing stock often and well. With any article of lasting value, there is always a certain amount of research to be done, data to be gathered, thoughts to be articulated, phrases to be turned. This is where the majority of our energy is devoted, and rightfully so.

Flow is another matter altogether. It can still be well-written of course, but it feels less like capital "W" Writing and more like a conversation with friends. It's only natural for us to share awesome stuff with like-minded people in our lives, and that's kind of how I view link-posts.

But here is where the difficulty lies: you wouldn't purposely share crappy stuff with the people you care about. You want to point them only to the good stuff, and there is a lot of it out there to sift through. You also don't want to overload them with this stuff, because if they're your friend, they're likely more interested in your story than all the cool stuff you happen to find.

And trust me, it's all too easy to get caught up in linking to cool stuff when you should be writing more stock.

So again, it's all about finding a balance. People read your blog because they want to see the things you write about, and maybe some occasional tidbits of things that are on your mind (but not too much). This is why the term flow is so perfect. It's about telling a story.

I realize that I'm about to link to Shawn's site for the third time in this piece, but one bit that came up during his interview with John Gruber several years ago is too fitting to pass up:

“As for what I link to and what I don’t, it’s very much like Justice Stewart’s definition of obscenity: “I know it when I see it.” There’s a certain pace and rhythm to what I’m going for, a mix of the technical, the artful, the thoughtful, and the absurd. In the same way that I strive to achieve a certain voice in my prose, as a writer, I strive for a certain voice with regard to what I link to. No single item I post to the Linked List is all that important. It’s the mix, the gestalt of an entire day’s worth taken together, that matters to me.”

So you see, there's definitely an art to all of this, one that I'm continually trying to improve on for myself. There is no formula, no perfect ratio, no right or wrong answer. But it is good to create some guidelines for yourself as a writer, in order to create a better balance.

Using What's Already There

Chris Bowler:

“My confidence and trust in free services is at an all time low. [...] So in the arena of read-it-later services, I've been thinking about options where I would be considered the customer.

I realized that one company that I do trust, for whom I am the customer, offers such a service. But it's one I never gave any consideration since it launched, I suppose because I was already enjoying some other service at the time. This company is Apple and the tool is Reading List.

Chris makes some excellent points in this piece. I will remain an avid Instapaper user for the foreseeable future, but if the service were to ever shut down, I would probably give Reading List a shot over something like Pocket.

Instapaper Acquired by Betaworks

In a surprising move (to me at least), Marco Arment has sold his majority stake in Instapaper to Betaworks.

“Instapaper is much bigger today than I could have predicted in 2008, and it has simply grown far beyond what one person can do. To really shine, it needs a full-time staff of at least a few people. But I wouldn’t be very good at hiring and leading a staff, and after more than five years, I’d like an opportunity to try other apps and creative projects. Instapaper needs a new home where it can be staffed and grown, but I didn’t want to give it to a big company that would probably just shut it down in six months.”

This seems like a bittersweet deal to me. While I don't doubt that Betaworks can do well with Instapaper, I've always enjoyed the fact that it was always a one-man operation that could go toe-to-toe with the big guys.

I was a fan of the service anyway, but I got a certain enjoyment from rooting for the underdog. And I only say 'underdog' because of the huge explosion in popularity for Pocket, which not only has a staff that outnumbers Marco 9-to-1, but also seems to have become the market dominator, if the anecdotes I've read all over the web are any indicator.

Still, I congratulate Marco on his years of success (4 or 5 of which I've been a customer for), and I'm thankful to him for making such a fantastic utility. Instapaper literally changed the way I interact with the web, and the ideas behind its text-formatter likely encouraged many websites to adopt a cleaner experience.

I think the web would be a very different place without Instapaper, and Marco should be proud of what he accomplished with it. I look forward to whatever he comes up with next.

New RSS Feed

Hey guys, just a quick update about the Unretrofied RSS feed. I've set up a new feed over at URI.LV, an awesome service that was built as an alternative to Feedburner (which is likely to die soon, if Google Reader is any indication). Here's the new feed url:

http://unretrofied.com/feed

Why do this? A few reasons:

  • Squarespace still has yet to re-implement RSS tracking. I say 're-implement' because it was a supported feature during the Squarespace 6 beta (and also existed in Squarespace 5) before being dropped.
  • The old feed URL was ugly and more difficult to remember (http://unretrofied.com/blog?format=rss)
  • I want a feed I can control, not one provided by my webhost.

I would appreciate it if you would update your RSS reader to use this new feed, although you don't necessarily have to at the moment. As long as I'm on Squarespace 6, the previous feed will work as it always has. But I may decide to move this site elsewhere someday, and if you update to the new feed now, any future transitions should hopefully be smoother for you as a reader.

Thanks!

'How To Add iOS Touch Icons to a Squarespace 6 Website'

Will Kujawa put together an awesome little walkthrough and code snippet for changing a Squarespace 6 website's bookmark icon (the one that gets saved to the iOS home screen) from an ugly screenshot to something nicer. Preferably a logo but you could technically use anything you want.

I just went through the process myself and it worked perfectly.

The Verge Interviews the Man Behind Flickr

Markus Spiering, Head of Product at Flickr:

“I can’t talk about the things that are coming up. But if you think 2012 was a big year, 2013 will be bigger.”

As I discussed not long ago, I'm excited that Flickr is making its way back into the web photography discussion, and it looks like Yahoo feels the same way now that Marissa Mayer has become CEO. I'm looking forward to what they've got in store.