Month: June 2016

Never Dupe Your Readers

I normally stay out of the fray when somebody in our industry does something stupid — because it happens so often — but what Jason Calacanis did to his readers on Twitter last night and this morning is as clear an example of pomposity and disrespect as you’ll ever find:

Jason, with a good-sized Twitter following of over 90,000, began sending out tweets with details about Apple’s new tablet before it was officially announced this morning. He claimed to have been given one by Apple, for press purposes, and began reeling off details in separate tweets, such as:

“Does Jason Calacanis really have an Apple Tablet? What do you think of his specs? : http://(link to Jason’s company: mahalo)”

“Also, the apple tablet is really amazing for newspapers. Video conferencing is super stable, but nothing new.”

“Yes, there are 2cameras: one in front and one in back (or it may be one with some double lens) so you record yourself and in front of u.”

“Off to bed, but I assure you I’m not joking and the specs are real…. Most of all that this is best gadget ever made and NOT overhyped.”

You get the picture.

Several media outlets including TechCrunch, the Wall Street Journal, and thousands of individuals picked up Jason’s tweets and that’s how I found out about them (I don’t follow Jason). Upon inspecting the tweets, I immediately knew how this was going to end: badly. As someone who’s followed Apple closely for most of my life and also someone who doesn’t really give Jason Calacanis credit for much of anything besides incessantly promoting himself, I knew Apple would never give a guy like that a device in advance under any circumstances, for any reason.

Sadly, and predictably, however, Jason was able to fool thousands of others. He’ll be the first to try and convince you his tweets were too absurd to be construed by any reasonable person as true, but we’re not just talking about country bumpkins who were duped here. Look no further than Robert Scoble’s first comment in the comment thread on CrunchGear (or any of his comments on Twitter). He doesn’t appear to think it’s a silly joke upon first read. Neither did Neil McIntosh at the Wall Street Journal. And neither did many thousands of Jason’s “followers” throughout the world.

Let me see if I can make this as clear as possible:

Never dupe your readers.

Never dupe your readers.

For someone who seems so dead set on being a lot more influential than he actually is, it’s the height of irony that Jason would do something like this. The fact that it occurred only on Twitter and was a lot more believable than it could have been if it were really just an altruistic joke really tells us all we need to know about the motivations here. It went something like this:

  1. There’s a huge Apple event coming up and nothing stirs press like a huge Apple event.
  2. I have an ego, a Twitter account, and a company to promote (probably in that order) so I’ll post some fake, but borderline believable stuff and see what kind of linkage/followership I can get.
  3. If things get out of hand, I’ll make my tweets increasingly outlandish and just claim it’s all a big joke and anyone who believed it is an idiot.

Well, mission accomplished, I suppose.

This sort of thing makes me shake my head because I’ve seen it before and it just never turns out well… and it’s never forgotten. I remember a few years ago in our little corner of the tech industry — web design and development — two reasonably well known colleagues started a high-profile fight on their blogs, each accusing the other of “borrowing” various design elements and outright creative theft at times. It went on for a few blog posts and some of us began taking sides in the comment threads, trying to defend the good names of our friends. After a day or two, both people revealed that the whole thing was not real and meant to “illustrate a lesson” about creative license. As you can imagine, we were all pretty livid. Not even necessarily because it was a waste of our time or anything, but because we had been purposely duped by people we trust. It didn’t matter that the intentions were not evil. Nobody likes to be duped.

Which brings us back to our story about Jason and the ruse he pulled on his followers. I’ve felt this way for a few years now, but there are many people in our industry who think they are a lot more important than they really are. Some examples that come to mind are:

  • The majority of tech writers. If you’re in the minority who are actually really good journalists, please don’t take offense to this statement. You’re doing a great job. But some of these “lifelong pundits” who’ve never created a damned product in their entire life and want to tell you their thoughts on “gestures” or “lifestreams” or “the future of {insert-overhyped-technology-here}”? Please consider writing in a diary instead.
  • Relentless self-promoters. This is the group Jason fits into. I’ve only met Jason once, when I worked at ESPN and he worked at Weblogs, Inc. I posed a question to him on a panel about when Engadget would start to put more advertising on their site. He claimed never, which of course turned out not to be true. I respect Jason for one thing: selling Engadget to AOL. That’s a great accomplishment. That’s about it though. Everything else I know about him is based on what he puts out there for everyone to see: someone who loves the sound of his own voice, will say anything to get ink, and has very little regard for the truth.
  • People who measure themselves by false metrics such as Twitter followers, Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections, or any other data that doesn’t actually measure the amount of good you’re bringing to the world.

If you want to be influential, lead by doing, not by talking, and certainly not by duping. If what you create is really good, other people will talk about it for you.

It’s perfectly ok to talk about your own product and do some promotion when appropriate, but what it’s never ok to do is dupe your readers. Don’t make the same mistake yourself. If you want respect, be respectful first.

Do You Want To Work At Newsvine?

I just opened up our first ever dedicated interactive design position this week. If you’re just a little bit crazy, you might be perfect for it.

The official way to apply is by sending an email to (which you should do if you’re interested), but if you’re a Mike Industries patron, feel free to contact me as well.

Slate of Hand

Well, it’s January, and as has become commonplace over the last several years, the public is abuzz with anticipation over a new Apple device. This time it’s a tablet.

I think the single most interesting thing about this unannounced tablet is how pumped everyone is about it, despite its lack of obvious value proposition. When we get new Mac models, we get lighter, faster, and prettier machines. When we got the iPod, we got a whole new paradigm for consuming music. And of course, when we got the iPhone, we got the ability to replace multiple devices with a single, all-in-one device that did everything much, much better.

With this tablet thing, however, I feel like I’m much more skeptical than the press, the fanboys, and everyone else who thinks it’s such a slam dunk to change the world. It’s like the greatness of the iPhone has everyone thinking Apple is somehow going to top that level of revolution with each new market they enter. There has always been a magical quality to the company’s development and introduction of products under Steve Jobs, but I wonder if expectations are a bit too high at this particular point in time.

In my opinion, even if the Apple tablet succeeds, I can’t see how it will have nearly as much impact as the iPhone, the iPod, or the Mac; and if it fails, it will be end-of-lifed or morphed into something else within a few years. I don’t think it will replace the laptop and I don’t think it will totally re-invent anything we currently do on our computers. Whereas the multi-touch interface enabled us to do things we’d never dreamed of doing on pocket devices before, I’m not sure it will do the same for bigger screens.

This, from a guy who sleeps in rose-colored Apple-shaped glasses.

In trying to square my lack of enthusiasm with what I’ve been reading about this thing, I keep coming back to the question: what’s it for?

First of all, I think this device is almost entirely for consumption, and not production. It will be borderline unusable for writing essays, designing posters, making movies, and even sending emails. When you want to produce something, you will not do it with this tablet.

With consumption and severely limited production as the premise, what sorts of things could you do with this device? I see four possibilities that could be construed as compelling:

  1. Television tethering
  2. E-publication reading
  3. Portable video viewing
  4. Video chat

Television tethering

This is probably the only thing on the list that would singlehandedly cause me to purchase an Apple tablet. I haven’t heard anyone talk about it, but this is how it would go: the tablet comes with a dongle that can connect via RCA/component/HDMI to any television. The tablet communicates wirelessly with the dongle to both send video to it via 801.11N (or whatever shiny, new, faster wireless interface is next) and also to control the TV watching experience. In this scenario, you could use it to relay things like live Hulu streams to your TV or display stored video you bought from iTunes or “borrowed” from somewhere else.

There is also a chance this could be done in concert with Apple TV instead of a dongle, but the clear problem it solves for me is “how can I easily display on television the video that is currently playing on my computer?” Right now, the answer to that is to carry my laptop over to my TV, plug it into an extra input, pop the video player full screen (if I even can), and then walk back over to the laptop every time I need to control something. It’s the critical link that is keeping Hulu and similar services from being a much bigger part of my life.

My feeling is that Apple TV has never done as well as Apple hoped, but also that it is not something the company is going to give up on anytime soon. Part of me wonders if the tablet, among other things, is just a much better form to stuff Apple TV functionality into. If it is, I’m probably in.

  • E-publication reading
  • Almost everyone who has a Kindle loves the hell out of it. I probably would have bought one awhile ago, but I just don’t read enough books to justify it. Aaron Swartz, on the other hand, with his 132 book per year reading pace, could probably justify owning three (sidenote: WTF Aaron!) (sidenote #2, WTFFFFF JOE!!!). If the Apple tablet did e-books plus a few other things in this list, however, I might be a buyer.

    To me, the biggest clue that Steve Jobs cares about this market is that he says he doesn’t. Jobs famously said a few years ago, in response to a question about entering the e-book reader market:

    “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore.”

    Not only is that statement preposterous, but it flies in the face of the positioning Apple tries to bestow on its products: that they are for intelligent consumers. Guess what is strongly associated with intelligence? Reading. Particularly books. What Jobs really meant by his statement was:

    “People are reading fewer and fewer books because they are less convenient than other types of media.”

    The first statement is terse, dismissive, and meant to throw the press off Apple’s scent. The second statement is what you will probably hear at the launch event.

    Another clear clue that e-publication reading is a large part of the Apple tablet is the flub by Bill Keller of the New York Times a few months ago. Keller’s unauthorized reference to the tablet all but guarantees they have a deal with Apple to display New York Times content on this device. It could be something very simple and uncompelling like a Times Reader app that is offered for free, but what if it’s something more substantial like the New York Times actually subsidizing the tablet if you sign up for a two year subscription to the e-NYT? I’m actually less interested in what the New York Times (and other) content looks like on the tablet and more intrigued by what the economics behind this sort of content delivery look like.

    Another question I have about this tablet — if it’s going to compete with the Kindle — is what its equivalent of E Ink is. The Kindle enjoys a whopping one week battery life largely because it doesn’t require a backlight to operate. Currently, all of Apple’s screens are backlit, and unless the company has an answer to that, it may have problems competing head-to-head with the Kindle on pure e-book reading. Or has Apple invented a way to overlay an E Ink screen on the same surface as an LCD screen? That would be ridiculously awesome.

    Portable video viewing

    There aren’t a whole lot of really great solutions out there for watching video on the go. An iPhone is too small for most people, while a laptop is probably overkill. A tablet with 15-20 hours of battery life and the ability to stand up like an easel might fit the bill perfectly for viewing on a bus, on a plane, in a car, or elsewhere on the go.

    I don’t think this benefit alone would sell a lot of tablets, but it would help justify a purchase for some people.

    Video chat

    I’ve never been into video chat as I find it extremely awkward, but I understand it’s big in the grandparents’ set and every other set where people are potentially far away from loved ones. While I mentioned above that I don’t expect a lot of content production to be done on the tablet, live video capture and broadcast could be a notable exception because it requires you to do nothing but look into the tablet and speak.

    A few thoughts on form factor

    A lot of my skepticism around tablet computing stems from my belief that the form factor just isn’t as beneficial as it seems. Besides when sitting in a cramped airline seat, I don’t recall many situations in which I wished the bottom half of my laptop would disappear. When I have, it’s always been for high-volume consumption: long form video and long form text. In other words, things that don’t require me to do much of anything besides staring at the screen. Does a market exist for a device that does just these things and not much else? I think the Kindle has proved that at the right price point, the answer is yes. I guess I just don’t consider that as world-changing of a product as other people do. I guess we won’t know until we see it though, right?

    As far as actual form-factor goes, I expect something significantly more klutz-proof than the iPhone. My guess is an all-aluminum body with an aluminum panel that covers the device’s screen when closed and folds open to double as an easel when you’re using the device on a flat surface. I expect a solid-state drive as the only storage option but would like to see an SD-card slot as well. 801.22N (or better) wireless is a given, but if this thing has 3G/4G connectivity, it’s not going to be through AT&T. If I had to bet one way or another, I would be on wifi only. If this device is successful, it’s another bargaining chip for Apple when it renews iPhone negotiations with carriers, and I don’t think this sort of connectivity would sell many more units right now.

    So anyway, that’s all I have for now. I expect a device that will sell a decent amount of units but fall short of the world-changing expectations placed upon it by people who think Apple will never release another product that doesn’t top its previous one.

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