I am one of the backers of App.Net, a new social network attempting to serve as a paid alternative to Twitter.
I’ll save the reasons for that for another post, but let’s just say that I am more than happy to spend a little spare cash to create a service whose users aren’t seen merely as eyeballs from which to extract advertising revenue.
Right now the network is rather small - under 20,000 users in total - and the signal-to-noise ratio has been quite good. Due to how it was funded the service skews toward an educated, active type of user and is filled with the sorts of things I find of interest (technology, iOS software development, etc).
Finding people saying interesting things has been pretty easy - you can view a Global Feed of all recently posted messages and it’s not hard to find people talking about topics of interest.
If App.Net is successful, this will not scale.
As the user base grows and diversifies, the global feed will show increasingly less interesting and relevant results. Sheer volume alone will make existing discussions of possible interest impossible to find.
The Importance of Discoverability
Twitter solves this problem, increasingly, by resigning itself to becoming a passive affair. Most Twitter users sign up to listen - not interact with - a handful of celebrities or ‘brands’ (with apologies to Marco Arment). Many of these are learned about through traditional media and advertising. What started as a discussion medium has increasingly turned into a sort of backchannel for old-fashioned broadcast media.
While this is probably fine for Twitter’s investors, it does not seem to be what App.Net users want. We want meaningful, ongoing discussion about topics we care about. For this, we need to be able to discover people to talk to.
Hashtags can solve this to a certain extent, but are too free-form and inconsistent. They may work for trending topics involving current events or clever memes with a shelf lives measured in days, but for ongoing discussion about a particular topic they fall short.
Nobody is going to mark posts with relevant hashtags every single time, and frankly it’d be rather tedious if they did.
I propose that App.Net allow users to associate their account with a limited number of interest “topics” that they find interesting and like to discuss. For instance, from the list, I might choose the following:
- Landscape Photography
- Software Development (iOS)
- Video Games
In addition to the current Global Feed, a personalized feed will then be provided to the user containing only posts from accounts associated with one or more of those same topics.
This would, in effect, provide a personalized “Interests Feed” of sorts - like the Global Feed, but easier to follow and more relevant to what a given user is looking for.
This approach does have some potential flaws.
The most obvious is that just because a user has an interest in a given topic, not everything they post will be about that topic. While I still think this will be a major improvement over the Global Feed, it’s not ideal.
To get around that, during the posting process users could be given the option to check only those topics where their post actually applies. Their own interest selections would then function as a preset, speeding up the process of associating posts with topics.
However this is designed, it’s vitally important to make it quick and painless. Optimize for speed. If posting starts to feel more like posting something to a weblog, people won’t bother. Better to have a slightly less relevant Interests Feed.
Interests should be reasonably fine grained, and users shouldn’t be able to associate a given post with more than 2-3 related topics at once. This enforces specificity and helps negate spammy behavior (although the App.Net business model already helps a lot with that).
It’s important for the App.Net developers - and the App.Net community at large - to give serious thought to improving discoverability on the service, and I believe some variation on the above approach would do that. We’re a fairly homogenous group right now (and a small one to boot), but - if the service takes off - that’s going to change very quickly.
Thoughts? Ideas? Let me know. I’m jeffc on App.Net.
Gamestop reports that, during a Comic-Con panel, Penny Arcade illustrator Mike Krahulik strongly hinted that the Penny Arcade Expo (“PAX”) may come to Austin, TX soon. This would make for a third venue, on top of existing venues in Seattle, WA and Boston, MA.
I went to PAX Prime in Seattle last year and had a blast. It was even better than the E3 of yesteryear, and if this comes to pass it’d make for a great excuse to visit Austin.
On his (always excellent) Cocoanetics weblog, Oliver Drobnik shared his Radar feature request for app and folder locking support. This would allow people to lock arbitrary apps - or folders containing apps - on their iPad.
Multiple reasons are given for this feature request, all of which are worth solving. Most notably:
- Children (often handed an iPad by their parents) can easily exit apps and begin poking around in places they shouldn’t be poking.
- Keeping track of multiple passwords results in a lousy, uneven user experience.
- 3rd party developers often work around this by creating app-specific locking mechanisms. This is insecure and inelegant for a number of reasons, not to mention a huge duplication of effort for something that could be handled by iOS.
While app/folder-specific locks would technically solve the above problems, I think such a feature risks complicating things. Having to worry about changing lock/unlock states for apps and folders entails extra cognitive load. What happens if you lock a folder and move an app into or out of it - does it keep the lock? Will there be an indication of when an unlock will time out?
Worst of all, it burdens the primary user of the device with having to enter passcodes on a regular basis - even during periods of time when their child isn’t using the iPad. It’s bad enough having to enter a passcode when waking up one’s iPad - prompting for additional passcodes during regular usage sounds like a recipe for aggravation.
As reported on The Loop, support for the original iPad - released in April of 2010 - will be dropped in iOS 6. Original iPad owners will no longer receive meaningful updates to the operating system on their device.
This was bound to happen at some point, although at a glance it seems a bit premature. Assuming iOS 6 is released this fall, the original iPad will have only received OS updates for about two and a half years. Though short life cycles are somewhat defensible for iPhones (service contracts usually run for two years, so many people trade up before this becomes an issue), it’s significantly shorter than the computers that “post-PC” devices like the iPad aim to displace.
Adding insult to injury, the iPhone 3GS - a device released nearly a year prior to the iPad - will be supported. Many have speculated that this is because Apple still sells the 3GS to price-conscious buyers. Some decry this as a form of planned obsolescence, engineered by a greedy Apple to get people to upgrade.
There is, however, another aspect of this decision to consider.
A major expansion to the turn-based strategy game Civilization V, Gods & Kings, was released today.
I love the Civilization series, although my current computer is only marginally capable of running it (actually, it works, but I hate having to turn down the graphics settings - it’s far too pretty for that). I plan to remedy this soon, and will be giving Gods & Kings a look shortly thereafter.
The expansion brings religion back to the series, allowing players to influence other cultures by way of proselytization. Additional units, new scenarios and a returning espionage element round out what looks to be a major upgrade to the already-great Civ experience.
Reviews (including this one by Ars Technica) thus far have been pretty positive. You can pick up Gods & Kings for $30 through Amazon or direct download via Steam.