Hamish McKenzie noted that Medium had become significantly more of a curated experience in its recent facelift. But I think in his positioning of Medium and Flipboard as two competitors for our attention, he misses something important. He wrote,
Medium rearranged the furniture yesterday and in doing so changed the way we should look at the whole house.
It’s not just that founder and CEO Evan Williams has finally declared Medium to be a “platform not a publication” – an important distinction that was revealed in a correction note on a Fast Company article. And it’s not just the fancy new clothes that “Medium 1.0” comes dressed in, which include full-bleed cover photos and new layout options. It’s also that Medium now has more emphasis on user-curated “Collections,” such as one called “Human Parts.”
That shift puts Medium squarely in competition with Flipboard, a smartphone and tablet-focused reading app, which in March gave its users the ability to curate their own collections, which it calls “magazines.”
Medium’s further additions of a “Top 100” leaderboard and a “Reading List” feed of suggested stories hammer home the message that “This is a place you come to read, and, please, stay a while.”
But Flipboard is often used as simply as a reading tool for feeds: like the way I access my Twitter stream, or updates from Wired. In that way Flipboard is more like the successor to Google Reader.
No, the product to compare to Medium is Tumblr, where the curated topics pages collated the most interesting and compelling content, as judged by a battery of editors, and each with its own ‘top contributors’. (See me down there at the right?)
I find it interesting that Tumblr seems to be changing so slowly — hardly at all — since being acquired by Yahoo. And one of the obvious ways to draw more interest to Tumblr would be the simple avenue of making the curated topics a/ public and b/ better looking. Right now they look like the (relatively unappealing) Tumblr dashboard, and there is little or no room for advertisements.
But I have made several of the curated topic feeds — like Tech and Design — a part of my central daily practice. I have not done that with Medium, although I do use Flipboard every day, too.
Since the launch of Flipboard 2.0, more than 2 million magazines have been made about every topic imaginable, from immigration reform to neon works of art toSherlock Holmes. Now, for the first time, all of those magazines can be experienced on the Web. Starting today, when you share a Flipboard magazine via email or social media, anyone who clicks on the link can read it, whether or not they use Flipboard.
The Web magazines were uniquely designed for desktop browsing, all with Flipboard’s signature look and feel. Each magazine has an expansive, full-bleed cover, and pages can be “flipped” from left and right, just like on mobile devices. Curators can continue to add content to their magazines from the Web and other Web magazines, but now they have a significant new way to grow readership.
Never took a real look at Flipboard ‘magazines’ because they didn’t publish to the web. Now I have to give it a go.
Google has announced the deadpooling of Google Reader:
Urs Hölzle, Official Blog: A second spring of cleaning
We launched Google Reader in 2005 in an effort to make it easy for people to discover and keep tabs on their favorite websites. While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader. Users and developers interested in RSS alternatives can export their data, including their subscriptions, with Google Takeout over the course of the next four months.
Google Reader established — along with Bloglines, shut down in 2010 — the paradigm of ‘blog post inbox’.
I never liked being a ‘RSS readerer’, stuck in an always overfilled inbox of posts shouting ‘Read me!’ As a result, although I have a Google Reader account, I haven’t been there in years.
The biggest alternatives that have pulled me away from any consideration or active use of RSS have been Twitter and Tumblr.
“Twitter ushered in the shift to our social networks as ‘engines of meaning’ and a rejection of the mechanistic, steampunk, media plumbing model.”
Twitter has become my primary source of linkage. The big shift here has been the transition to following people as curators, instead of following blogs. Twitter ushered in the shift to our social networks as ‘engines of meaning’ and a rejection of the mechanistic, steampunk, media plumbing model. And RSS is going, along with it.
For a long time I intentionally limited my Twitter follows to under 500, then under 1000, and I tried to step into the stream frequently to keep my feet wet. I adopted the ‘let it stream’ mindset, which means that I never felt it necessary to read all tweets, anymore than its necessary to look out of all the windows in my house.
Flipboard has shifted my Twitter use drastically. I now rely on a Flipboarded experience of Twitter, and hardly ever directly read my incoming Twitter stream, and so I can let the number of folks that I follow rise past the point of productively ‘following’. I respond to stuff that floats to the surface at Flipboard’s Twitter experience, but not the stuff below that. I also use the meager 20 lists that Twitter allows me for topical searching for things from the inner circle of contacts. And my Twitter client is open on ‘interactions’ all day.
[Why doesn’t Twitter buy Flipboard, by the way?]
The second — and just as profound — transition away from RSS and from the archaic ‘blogosphere’ for me has been Tumblr. Tumblr’s open follower model creates a user experience that is at least ten times better — maybe 100 times better — than reading blog posts in an RSS reader. While I don’t agree with all the user experience decisions of Tumblr, the overall experience is awesome. The addition in recent years of curated ‘topics’ has ratcheted up the value to me, considerably. I just wish that there was a general mechanism for ‘following’ non-Tumblr information sources in Tumblr. Tumblr had — once upon a time — an RSS import capability, but it just doesn’t work reliably (see Fossilized Tumblr Feature: Importing Via RSS). Still, most media companies have taken it upon themselves to create a Tumblr account and to post abridged ’tumbles’ of stories on their official sites, so an informal, tumbled social fabric covers most everything I care to connect to.
So, RSS is being phased out through disuse, and the dominance of the open follower motif embedded in social networks. The old RSS steampunk model is going away, and feels as old as the pneumatic tubes in Terry Gilliams’ Brazil.
Flipboard is an invaluable tool in my curation, but it’s a strange thing to be limited to my iPhone, and sending all sorts of interesting pointers to Pocket.
I learned today that there is an android emulator called BlueStacks App Player for Mac OS X and Windows, and the android Flipboard app runs on it. Aside from having to switch to ‘natural’ scrolling (backwards from what I am used to), it just works! I downloaded Flipboard, logged in, and it all works. So now I can do Flipboard on my Mac. Sort of.
The controversy over Twitter’s efforts to close down non-Twitter clients and disable ‘find my friends’ capabilities raise a few questions.
Twitter wants to make money on advertising — sponsored pages and the like — which is reasonable. Let’s leave aside the idea of regulating how third party apps would present Twitter data and ads, which is probably too hard to manage, and would block the third party app vendors from innovating.
So Twitter has to control the user experience, and the third party client apps are the victims of this slow motion train wreck.
As Matthew Yglesias pointed out last week, Twitter isn’t an open web protocol, like email: it’s a company vying against other alternatives, like Facebook, Google+, and now, App.net. The fact that it is pivoting into a closed configuration shouldn’t surprise anyone, especially given the Twitter Platform’s Inflection Point post by Fred Wilson in April 2010, and Ev Wilson’s Twitter For iPhone post the next week. The wheels have been slowly turning, and after several management shakeups, Costolo and company have taken the final steps toward where they said they were headed.
Twitter seems unlikely to start charging us to access the service, so that source of revenue is closed. However, the Hootsuites of the world make money from companies tapping into Twitter. Aren’t they the next to go? Or shouldn’t they be paying a large slice of their revenues to Twitter? Likewise Flipboard and the other social journals?
I also wonder about the big data side. Today, Twitter seems happy to let all sorts of companies get access to the torrent of data flowing through its plumbing. But what if analysis of that stream is where the biggest value lies? Will they close that down? Will Radian6, Nexalogy, Klout, and the others get a cease-and-desist order? Or will they be paying millions to access the data?
Where will Twitter draw the line?
Twitter is definitely changing the rules of engagement in the social media sphere. Last month, it blocked Instagram access to finding Twitter contacts, and yesterday it did the same for Tumblr, leading Tumblr to removing its find Twitter friends feature, too.
Tumblr responded to an inquiry about this state of affairs by Matthew Panzarino:
To our dismay, Twitter has restricted our users’ ability to “Find Twitter Friends” on Tumblr. Given our history of embracing their platform, this is especially upsetting. Our syndication feature is responsible for hundreds of millions of tweets, and we eagerly enabled Twitter Cards across 70 million blogs and 30 billion posts as one of Twitter’s first partners. While we’re delighted by the response to our integrations with Facebook and Gmail, we are truly disappointed by Twitter’s decision.
Next is likely to be Flipboard, who is stepping on Twitter’s toes in the social journal market space. I personally use Flipboard on my iPhone as an alternative Twitter client: it’s the only thing I use it for. I presume that means that Twitter will come up with something like Flipboard’s UX, and shut down Flipboard’s access to write to the Twitter stream.
I’m looking forward to more innovation from Twitter on the user experience side, not just this defensive API denial. Twitter needs a strong release with compelling new features to show where they are headed in their reconfiguration as media hub.
I don’t know if Twitter can become the ‘still center of the turning world’ but they have the best chance of all the players out there.
Twitter releases a new Discovery tab — yes, the tab you never click on because it is basically useless. Is it still useless? Mathew Ingram says its been despammified, but not much else:
Mathew Ingram, Twitter’s big problem: It still needs better filters
In my initial use of the upgraded one (which is being rolled out to all users over the next few weeks), I found things somewhat improved, but only in the sense that the obvious spam was gone.
The twitter Engineering Blog spells out what is supposed to happen:
Behind the scenes, the new Discover tab is powered by Earlybird, Twitter’s real-time search technology. When a user tweets, that Tweet is indexed and becomes searchable in seconds. Every Tweet with a link also goes through some additional processing: we extract and expand any URLs available in Tweets, and then fetch the contents of those URLs via SpiderDuck, our real-time URL fetcher.
To generate the stories that are based on your social graph and that we believe are most interesting to you, we first use Cassovary [Cassowary?], our graph processing library, to identify your connections and rank them according to how strong and important those connections are to you.
Once we have that network, we use Twitter’s flexible search engine to find URLs that have been shared by that circle of people. Those links are converted into stories that we’ll display, alongside other stories, in the Discover tab. Before displaying them, a final ranking pass re-ranks stories according to how many people have tweeted about them and how important those people are in relation to you. All of this happens in near-real time, which means breaking and relevant stories appear in the new Discover tab almost as soon as people start talking about them.
At this moment nearly all the stories in the Discover tab make sense. I wrote about American Football yesterday (see Should College Football Be Banned? Or Just Ban The Armor?) so the sports story about Eric LeGrand, a Rutgers defensive tackle who was paralyzed by a game injury is reasonable. But the Montreal Canadiens getting a new manager, no.
All the tech stories — Spotify, Caterina Fake, iPad, Pebble Watch, Moz — fit my profile, and so does the story about sardines, because I write a lot about food and the environment at Underpaidgenius.com. Online black markets? A good fit. Even the story about London mayoral elections fits because I wrote about Boris Johnson a few times (like this freakish accident video, showing a truck almost killing the mayor).
I will now officially look at Discover daily, like I do Flipboard, News.me, and others.
I wish there was a way to help it learn faster, though, like voting a la Zite and Prismatic.
Mathew Ingram, responding to new research from Pew, in If you have news, it will be aggregated and/or curated via GigaOM
Jeremiah Owyang wants to declare the end of the golden age of tech blogging, or, even more portentously, he says
The tech blogosphere, as we know it, is over.
This could be interpreted in a number of ways, but at face value — and leaving aside for the moment the specifics of his argument — I agree. The ‘blogosphere’ — that mid ’00s concept of a community of bloggers writing for each others and cross-linking through trackbacks and threaded comments — that communitarian vision has been superseded by other ideas of what is, or should be, happening, online.
However, I don’t want to adopt the metaphor that is used by people that fear the future, and long for a halcyon past. I won’t go along with the ‘golden age’ rhetoric, which is generally employed by those arguing a fall from a better past into a less virtuous present. (The concept comes from ancient Greek mythology, with its Golden, Silver, Bronze, Iron ages, and then the present, debased age.)
I prefer Winston Churchill’s trope:
Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
Churchill was, of course, referring to a turning point in the struggle with Germany during World War II, while we are discussing the transition from a more primitive and less social phase in the web revolution, into something more complex and, ultimately, more rewarding.
The points that Jeremiah makes to support his argument are very tactical, not looking at the strategic changes going on technologically or societally. His ‘trends’ aren’t really trends, but narrow extrapolations from recent events masquerading as business advice. They are these, in brief:
Trend 1: Corporate acquisitions stymie innovation
Trend 2: Tech blogs are experiencing major talent turnover
Trend 3: The audience needs have changed, they want: faster, smaller, and social
Trend 4: As space matures, business models solidify – giving room for new disruptors
These observations are interesting as far as they go, but aside from the ‘faster, small, and social’ I don’t think these are major, in any sense.
I’d like to offer a few trends that may be implied by Jeremiah’s lists or by the comments of various bloggers that he cites, but aren’t really characterized very well in his post.
It’s obvious that Jeremiah is caught up in the issues confronting three groups of web denizens posting their contributions posting on technology platforms based on a now well-established model of web publishing, which we call blogging. This is unexamined in his piece, but the model of a website made up of chronologically ordered posts with comments in a thread on each piece, and a variety of navigation or advertising widgets in the margin may be getting tired, and may not gibe with other modern advances in online media dynamics. At any rate, Owyang’s concerns seem to be directed toward three constituencies:
He doesn’t seem particularly concerned about the problems of major media companies, which continue to be deadly serious, nor does he refer to the notable advances that media companies like The Atlantic have accomplished. Nor does he spend much time talking about the technology companies — like Tumblr, Twitter, and Flipboard — that are involved in the tectonic changes going on today; changes that make the ebb and flow of small-potato business models surrounding tech blogging look like the scrambling of ants underneath the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Yes, we are veering into a new era of web media; and it’s about goddamned time.
Here’s a few of the most powerful trends, in summary:
Obviously, Owyang and those leaving comments on his post weren’t necessarily treating these trends. The post was ostensibly about the changes in the world of tech blogging, after all. But I don’t see how you can meaningfully explore that niche without the larger context.
Brian Solis sees the larger context as necessary as well:
I recently wrote about my thoughts on the state and future of blogs, which is of course far grander than the world of tech blogging. And as you can see, blogging is alive and clicking.
Yes, micromedia, video, and social transactions/actions are breaking through our digital levees and causing our social streams to flood. And, yes, Flipboard, Zite, and the like (get it?), are forcing our consumption patterns into rapid-fire actions and reactions. You have a choice. You are either a content creator, curator or consumer. You can be all of course. But, think about this beyond the mental equivalent of 140 characters. What do you stand for and what do you want to become known for? The answer is different for each of us. But, content, context, and continuity are all I need to learn, make decisions and in turn inspire others.
I don’t buy the consumer angle — after all, every person is curating for at least one person, themselves — so I consider it a cardinality distinction: curating for one is not appreciably different than curating for two or ten. All curators — of whatever degree of discernment — started by curating for themselves. But Solis clearly gets the big picture, and I agree totally that what is bubbling up today will make the web a place where we continue to come to learn, make decisions, and connect with — and perhaps inspire? — others to do the same.