Talking of services with two tiers of users, Twitter is making life nicer for its elite “verified” users:

Quality filter allows verified users to hide tweets in notifications containing threats, offensive or abusive language, duplicate content or that are sent from suspicious accounts, similar to the old “filtered” option users had previously. The renamed feature appears to be still rolling out.

Useful for depriving trolls of some of the response they’re looking for - namely “big” names seeing their bile. But as yesterday’s online fracas shows, non-verified users get abuse, too. Just a first step there, Twitter.

[via The Next Web]

A rule of thumb for Medium

Marco Arment, 18 months ago:

Treat places like Medium the way you’d treat writing for someone else’s magazine, for free. It serves the same purpose: your writing gets to appear in a semi-upscale setting and you might temporarily get more readers than you would elsewhere, but you’re giving up ownership and a lot of control to get that.

Still good advice

Welcome to medium Matthew Butterick:

Among web-publishing tools, I see Medium as the equivalent of a frozen pizza: not as wholesome as a meal you could make yourself, but for those with out the time or motivation to cook, a potentially better option than just eating peanut butter straight from the jar.

He’s talking about typography - appropriately, given that his site is called Butterick’s Practical Typography and is stunningly lovely to read - but it applies just as much to running your own blog or site as opposed to just publishing on Medium.

And sure enough, he explores that idea:

Rather, because gentle scrutiny reveals that these systems are powered by a form of human fracking. To get his fracking permit on your territory, Mr. Williams (the multi billionaire) needs to persuade you (the writer) that a key consideration in your work (namely, how & where you offer it to readers) is a “waste of time.”

If you really believe that, then by all means, keep using the billionaire’s typewriter.

Make no mistake - the team behind Medium aim to make money from the service. And they’re already in danger of building an ecosystem of lords and serfs - those who get paid for their work, and those who don’t, those who get their own domains, and those who don’t - an elite of established content creators and the hoi polloi of mere users.

We’re a very long away here from the sense of the democratisation of publishing that blogging used to hold.

That’s not to say that Medium isn’t a useful tool. Or indeed, that this is inherently a bad thing, which it’s not. It just requires you to be careful in where you commit your time and effort; caveat auctor, if you like. Be sure you understand the value exchange you’re participating in. Your words will help Medium make money.

How is publishing them at Medium helping you achieve the things you want to do?

If you don’t have a clear answer to that, you’ve just been fracked because you like the new, shiny thing.

Medium continues to evolve at a fair old clip;

But the most interesting - and possibly telling - move is the arrival of custom domains on the platform:

We’re starting out with a very limited beta for a select few publications. We are delighted to have partnered with New America to bring you, with Midcentury Modern at its new home, and with Substance at Rounding out our list of launch domains is Medium’s very own comics publication You can learn more about these publications here.

Your publishing brand, on Medium

So, now you can run your publication on Medium on your own domain name, so you’re not trapped on the platform forever. That’s an encouraging move.

The problem? It’s a curiously top-down approach. We’re seeing only established publishers given access to these tools first. Now, if Medium continues with its existing patterns of behaviour, this will eventually be available to everyone, but that could be a year away.

This is very different to the models of publishing platforms we’ve seen in the past. They’ve tended to support and celebrate the independent publisher who grew an audience on the platform, and then later see existing brands join the party. Here, the existing brands get first play, and the rest of us wait. In effect, Medium is starting where Twitter has evolved to: as a two tier service, with existing publishers getting a better service than the general mass of the user base.

Some might see that as a good thing - but I can’t help worrying that this is severely restricting Medium’s potential to be a home for innovative publishing experiments.

Another argument for not just owning your content - as you do even if you publish on Medium - but owning the space you publish on, too.

Can we design for more time?


Here's a good question:

If digital technology saves time, how come so many of us feel rushed and harried? Technological utopians once dreamt of the post-industrial society as one of leisure. Instead, we are more like characters in Alice in Wonderland, running ever faster and faster to stand still. Is digital technology at once the cause of time pressure and its solution?

The (proposed) answer is that we're making conscious design choices with our technology that need to be challenged - and changed.

Food for thought on a Sunday morning.

(And yes, I'm aware of the irony that I'm blogging at quarter to nine on a weekend morning)

Corporate bureaucracy kills the network, says former MySpace VP, Sean Percival:

“The analogy I use is like you were the half-time [basketball] coach, and I walk in and it’s half-time, and you’re down by 100 points … They had been beat down by that corporate bureaucracy, they knew they were about to lose to Facebook. They knew that the end was near. They could smell it.”

Short version: News Corp internal bureaucracy slowed site development to a crawl, making it unable to challenge Facebook. But the long version is worth reading.

No wonder Zuckerberg was so keen to keep Facebook independent.

[via Post*Shift]

Naming that GoPro tune

If you watch a number of GoPro-type extreme sports videos, you’re probably deeply familiar with this track:

This tune is indelibly marked in my head as the “Le Web tune”, because as I sit in the main stage area, finishing liveblog posts, high-energy GoPro videos are often playing with that track in the background.

For me, Crystallize by Lindsey Stirling, from her self-titled album, will always be of Paris (although, ironically, I met Lindsey in London.

But, for most people, it’s the GoPro music, and James Trew has gone to great lengths to understand why it’s so used in those videos:

Professor Joydeep Bhattacharya lectures on the neuroscience of music and emotion at Goldsmith’s University, London. Unsurprisingly, he says it’s complicated. “When a musical piece is chosen to go along with a visual scene, what’s needed is the congruency of meaning across both dimensions — musical and visual,” he says. “The answer lies, in my view, not just in the music, but the various ways that meanings emerge out of the video.” The trouble being, that meaning is a deeply subjective thing.

It’s a fascinating look at how something so subjective can lead to remarkably uniform results.

Markdown guide image

One of the single best investments of time I’ve made in recent years was learning Markdown. This sums up why:

Once you get the hang of Markdown, it’s an incredibly powerful writing tool which will allow you to write rich content for the web far faster than almost any other method. To get to that point, however, there’s a little bit of a learning curve.

And to help, the nice people behind the Ghost blogging platform have put together an Ultimate Guide to Markdown that really smooths the process of learning to write in it. If you’re serious about time-efficient writing or the web - take a look.

Gigaom logo

Surprising – and unpleasant – news to wake to this morning:

Gigaom has come a long way in the decade or so I've been reading it. It started as Om Malik's personal blog, and evolved into a media startup in 2006. And in the years since it carved out a distinct niche for itself, not in competing to break commodity news in the tech sphere, but in being the first to publish a really good analysis of what that news meant.

In particular, Mathew Ingram's analysis of the tech/journalism intersection was essential reading for me. I didn't always agree with Mathew, but I always found his work challenging and useful. I hope he lands somewhere else quickly, because a world without his analysis will be a poorer one.

Fall of the house of Om

However, once the shock passed, something niggled in my head, and I think that John Gruber nailed it best:

This surprised me. Then I thought about it, searched my entries in Movable Type, and realized I’ve only linked to Gigaom once in the last six months, and four times in the last 12 months. I used to link to reporting at Gigaom a couple of times every month.

And I realised that there was some truth in that. Bar Mathew's stuff, my attention had drifted elsewhere in recent months. And if you looked hard enough, signs of trouble were there. Kara Swisher:

The site, which was one of the first prominent tech blogs to launch in 2006, has recently hired new management, including an interim CEO. It has, in recent years, focused on its more lucrative research business, more than its Web news operations.

It would be interested to know if that shift away from the free news content was a sign of problems - or a cause of them. Certainly good, free-to-air content can be a compelling sales tool for expensive business products. Shifting away from it to "focus" on the research content might have starved the research operation of oxygen, reducing sign-ups. Customer acquisition is always a challenge for paywalled media.

Of course, it could be both: the decision was a response to problems, but accelerated a decline.

A loss to all media

Whatever the cause of the sudden failure of Gigaom, anyone who is interested in serious, thoughtful journalism should be sad. In a tech press increasingly obsessed with huge volumes, and chasing them with clickbait and "me too" tech stories (how many Apple Watch stories have you seen today already?), Gigaom dared to be different - to take a slower and more analytical approach to the news, and position itself as a more serious place.

If businesses like that cannot survive this transition, journalism might be in worse shape than we thought.

Sad though this particular loss is for many of us, failures in experimental media, however skilled their staff, and however well-funded they are, seem inevitable.

As the old saying goes, pioneers tend to end up face down in the dirt, with arrows in their back. In a sense Gigaom has already has its casualties. Om himself suffered health issues:

I think one of the biggest problems I had as a first-time entrepreneur was an inability to let go; I was always second-guessing every decision not made by myself and was obsessed with minutiae. Three months on, having seen the Giga Gang at work, I realized what a mistake that was. You empower people, and in turn they power you to do good things

In the end, he retired from journalism to embark on a career in venture capitalism over a year ago. With the benefit of hindsight, you can't help but wonder if that was another sign of trouble at the company.

Gigaom's legacy

Some of the concepts at the heart of what Gigaom did live on in other sites. Vox's "explainer journalism" certainly has many things in common with the Gigaom approach - but applied to a broader canvas than tech.

Om Malik himself has suggested that this isn't the time for a post-mortem:

There will be time for postmortems, but not today.

It's important that we have one, though, because the lessons learned from what worked - and what didn't - at Gigaom will be important for all serious digital media strategy in the future. Om's project had always carved out a different course in the new media landscape, and its loss is a profound one for all of those who believe that the internet can be home for serious journalism.

Making good life choices

This morning I am mainly questioning my life choices. I just received this through the post:

A box from Blizzard

What’s inside? Why, a statue to celebrate the fact I have been an unbroken subscriber to World of Warcraft for a decade:

The 10th anniversary of World of Warcraft statute

He’s staying on my desk - just to remind me to check that I’m making good decisions about what to do with my time…