Google strategy change pulls a Walter Ulbricht

In 1957 Walter Ulbricht proclaimed famously to “overtake without catching up”. The state council chairman of the German Democratic Republic presented a catchphrase to persuade East German citizens, that socialist planned economy is the way to gain superiority without compromise against the capitalist West Germany. Well, we know that didn’t work out.

In the fight between the two biggest advertising networks Google decided in 2017 to take on Facebook with the announcement of it’s own timeline feed within the Google app. A year later Google elevated the Discovery news feed with user interests: the new Topic Layer on top of the Knowledge Graph turned Google Search from a pure pull-medium into a hybrid pull-push-medium. The feed works at the moment without user generated content or comments in contrast to Facebook.

Google wants marketers to understand that it can be part of push marketing beyond display advertising across the web. It’s just a matter of time until Google makes native advertising a part of the new passive serendipity feature.

Instead of pushing a new social network, Google+ ahem, Google expands it’s knowledge about user interests and user behaviour into an already existing platform that has became indeed a swiss army knife of all things digital. So with Discovery it leverages the passive feed ux mechanics of social network apps without the need to “connect people”.

This time “overtake without catching up” could work for Google in terms of regaining ad budgets from Facebook – if it is relevant and less noisy for that matter.

links:
https://www.blog.google/products/search/introducing-google-discover/
https://www.blog.google/products/search/helping-you-along-your-search-journeys/

My blogging workflow and service dependencies

my mobile apps of choice for reading and writing

Update (06/22/18). Instapaper replied yesterday directly to my question when their service will be available again to customers in the EU: “Sorry for the continued inconvenience. We’ll be documenting all the changes that have been made along the way and sharing them out once the service is back and that should clear things up. We wish things were progressing faster too, but I do feel pretty comfortable saying that there aren’t/won’t be any bad surprises involving your data. Other than that, there’s been steady progress, and we’re doing all we can to sore this out and make sure this is a minor blip in the grand scheme of Instapaper and our presence in Europe, and elsewhere. Thanks for bearing with us through this.”

Instead of reflecting on current music and technology trends I’d like to write about my reading and writing aka blogging workflow today. The main reason I do this is because it’s broken at the moment. More on that in a bit. In the spirit of learning out loud I want to explain why the apps of my workflow are important to me and what I do with them.

 

Safari

The Apple mobile and desktop browser is where I read articles initially coming from posted links on social media networks. If something catches my interest I avoid the in-app browser and call Safari to show me the article in its natural web habitat. There I quietly judge the design and marketing shenanigans like “read this in our app” and newsletter overlay before I even had the chance to see anything else etc. This gives me a feeling about the source and my experience kicks in if I deem it to be trustworthy and therefore consider to subscribe their RSS feed. Based on the level of insights and also length I forward the article in Safarai via sharing extension or browser bookmarklet to Instapaper for better reading and further processing.

 

Reeder

The feed reader is my main source of reading input, this is where I organise RSS feeds into folders of interest and add and delete subscriptions. I read on a phone and on a laptop so I use Feedbin to keep my read and unread articles in sync across both devices. Silvio Rizzi made Reeder for both MacOS and iOS which I’ve been using for a long time. I like the user interface of Reeder a lot, it’s fast, feels sturdy and it doesn’t get in the way. As soon as my mind itches I skim the folders of feeds for new and interesting articles – which then get forwarded to Instapaper. Before Instapaper I’d mark interesting articles inside Reeder with a star. Important: no notification badge count on the Reeder app to gauge my action, the same is true for all other blogging workflow apps.

 

Instapaper

This service, the sharing extension (and the browser bookmarklet), its web interface as well as the mobile app quickly became my personal treasure trove of interesting things to read from the web which I saved there.

Its use to me is twofold: it strips an article to its core content and frees it from its design into a standard and very readable form. No ad interruption, no pagination, no bad design. Second it offers ways to process articles while you read them: you can mark sentences or paragraphs that are important to you, so you’ll find the interesting bits very quick when you come back later to it. Additionally you can comment on marked sentences or paragraphs to save your thoughts while reading. All marked and commented articles are collected in a notes folder for quick access to pick up where you left. Instapaper offers the ability to create article folders where you can move saved articles on different topics.

This kind of text processing Instapaper made possible became essential to me: to capture thoughts quickly when reading the article, come back later for the quotes in topic-organised folders.

 

Ulysses

The Apple design awarded Ulysses app is made by a company from my hometown Leipzig. I recommend this article in German about their history. At first I was looking for a mobile app focussing on writing and also the ability to post to a WordPress blog. I dismissed the WordPress app for mobile and desktop at first and tried Ulysses (they have apps for both mobile and desktop as well). The advantage is of course the local backup (or the cloud of your choice) of your written posts and drafts. The downside is the proprietary Markdown format Ulysses offers when you want to use pictures in your posts. To be able to edit this proprietary Markdown posts you need to opt-in for their subscription model. In my blogging workflow I use Ulysses for drafting posts and as a notebook for ideas when I’m on a train for instance.

 

Workflowy

This service had probably the most impact on me when it comes to quickly writing down and organising thoughts and outlines on a strategical and conceptual level. In Workflowy I organise also my to-dos for basically everything and not just blogging. I plan every project with it, do research and even use it as my personal knowledge base. Workflowy has great collaboration and content filtering features – still finding out about new use cases every month.

 

WordPress

The mobile WordPress app by Automattic is part of my workflow because it gives me statistical insight on the go but more and more I find myself drafting posts directly there. I don’t use the “Reader” feature to follow other blogs because I have Reeder for that. Comment moderation on the go would be of use if I had the comments feature made available on posts.

 

My current blogging workflow

I’m getting an interesting signal from my feed reader or from social media networks, then I quickly scan it via Safari from where I potentially bookmark the article to Instapaper to read it later and process it further. From notes and comments in topic folders inside Instapaper I draft ideas for a blog post, sometimes in Ulysses, Workflowy or WordPress. When I’m done drafting I press publish in WordPress and the cycle starts again. Currently there are a small number of drafts inside WordPress which will probably rot there until I delete them because I tend to work on one idea at a time rather then on several simultaneously.

 

Why my blogging workflow is broken at the moment

Pinterest owned service Instapaper shut down its service for users in Europe on May 25th 2018 “to make changes in light of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)”. I have access to all articles saved until May 25th in the Instapaper app but desktop browser access is prohibited:

instapaper-gdpr
screenshot https://www.instapaper.com/gdpr June 21st 2018

Two important parts of my blogging workflow are out of reach:

  1. bookmarking ‘n’ reading interesting articles later and
  2. organising ‘n’ processing them in a meaningful way.

I sincerely hope that the service is back online soon because I really got accustomed to the ease of use, the joy of distraction-free reading and the hands-on idea processing features.

Until November 1st 2016 I was a paying premium member of Instapaper. The service was acquired by Pinterest in Sommer 2016. The new owners decided then to make the premium tier free for everyone, because they were “better resourced” and thus “able to offer everyone the best version of Instapaper”. Back then I was surprised about this decision because it seemed a decent business model to me and I was a loyal and satisfied customer – so why make it free when software development is an costly and ongoing process anyway? This statement came to mind:

If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

Check out in which context this sentence was first made: User-driven discontent thread on MetaFilter in August 2010. Same year in November security expert Bruce Schneier was quoted in an article Facebook is “deliberately killing privacy”:

Schneier cited Facebook as the most heinous example of social networks cashing in on users’ openness toward sharing personal details. “Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re Facebook’s customer, you’re not – you’re the product, its customers are the advertisers.”.

With Instapaper I never came across ads anywhere as far as I can remember. So the time when Pinterest acquired the service they decided to fully subsidise it? Could there be another way Pinterest made money from this online service? I didn’t know and I probably put my worrying thought that “I became then the product being sold” to rest simply because the service kept going on and using Instapaper became already mandatory in my reading habit. Beside that you can’t sell my reading & processing habit to anyone, can you? (This is a rhetorical question nowadays.)

So what is actually the problem for Instapaper to make their service compliant to GDPR when they claim to „not share information with outside parties except to the extent necessary to accomplish its functionality“?

At this point I really, really hope the delay to make the service compliant to GDPR is just sloppy project management and not something else, like revealing they belong to the GDPR Hall of Shame.

And if so, what would I do? Opt-out of sharing behaviour tracking inside the service and pretend they didn’t do it before? Will I trust this service like I did when I payed for it?

Lots of speculation on my end, but that is always the case when you’re a month in the dark and your workflow is broken.

 

Why my blogging workflow might be broken anytime again

I depend on services and tools in regards to my workflow. So which parts are crucial and which are not? List goes from “no sweat” to “please Lord, do not taketh away”:

Safari – nothing to worry about here in my book as long as sharing extensions are allowed and work. Apple is not going nowhere soon and they will always improve their browser.

WordPress – Automattic is a huge company and with WordPress they power a healthy chunk of the web, so they’ll be supporting and improving the mobile and desktop app most definitely.

Ulysses – although it’s a great company I’m not a writer to use their acclaimed software to the fullest potential. It sure does help me to write without any visual distraction but I’m not reliant on it.

Reeder – this one is a bit more critical because I really got used to the interface and I know it’s just one developer behind the mobil & desktop app and not a big company. He could stop at anytime and there is no obligation to his customers otherwise. I’d pay a yearly  subscription fee to support further development though. At the end of the day and after a long mourning I’d find a new RSS feed reader app and carry on. Like using the web interface of Feedbin as an OPML/feed sync service (which I already use and there are a lot of similar services).

Workflowy – this service is not so much about blogging but thinking to me. It’s part of a creative process and blogging can be one result. The founder Jesse Patel is very committed to further development and I’m confident about it going strong for a while longer. I am a paying customer so there is at least somewhat of a binding commitment for the time being. Since it is used widely I can see a potential acquisition like it happened with Instapaper. I could look for an alternative outliner tool but I’d rather not.

Instapaper – this is originally the idea and work of Marco Ament who’s work and blog I’ve been useing and following for a long time, I respect him very much for his outspoken attitude and commitment to build things. I wished he would still run Instapaper. By now you know what I appreciate most of this service and I still can’t see myself switching to Pocket or else. This is a truly devastating comprehension: if you don’t pay for a service you also can’t complain about it when it stops working really. There is no contract going on. The users are simply depending on the mercy of the makers here. To me this is a situation comparable to July 2013 when Google Reader was shut down and there existed no alternative sync service. In other words: this is actually the worst case scenario – in action.

 

Conclusion

So I’m aware of the fragile character of my blogging workflow in regards to the services I rely on. At the moment I re-evaluate Pinboard again, I’ve used it a long time ago. This service is run by Maciej Ceglowski, a developer with a stance (read his talks). I have a feeling I could put it to good use as well.

Still hope Instapaper will be up again soon and with a clean record on privacy.

Write to me about your favorite blogging workflow if you dare, I’m interested. Email to my firstname at lastname dot de.

∞ Why the adtech bubble will pop due to GDPR

Without adtech, the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) would never have happened. Now that the GDPR enters into force on 25th of May 2018 it will harm an industry that existed because they tracked people without their knowledge, approval or consent.

In a hearty article by Doc Searl he outlined the differences between advertising and adtech, what will be left of adtech after the GDPR Sunrise Day, how Google wants to pass the buck and he comes up with three pro tips on what to place your publishing, technology and advertising bets in the future.

What it comes down to is the need for better signaling between customers and companies than can ever be possible in today’s doomed tracking-fed guesswork system. (…) When customers can operate both privately and independently, we’ll get far better markets than today’s ethically bankrupt advertising and marketing system could ever give us.

Link: http://blogs.harvard.edu/doc/2018/05/12/gdpr/

The return of the social network without ads and algorithms

You may try out Vero today, the app made by a billionaire because he was frustrated with the privacy policies of ad-based social networks. I recommend you consider micro.blog as well, a social network and publishing platform for independent microblogs, created by Manton Reece – plus it is designed for the open web:

Today, most writing instead goes into a small number of popular social networking sites. These sites became popular because they made it so easy to connect with friends and start publishing, and because they provided a timeline user experience that made everything easy and fast. But this simplicity comes at a cost: it’s impossible to move content between these platform silos, ads are everywhere, and if a company goes out of business, all the writing hosted there vanishes from the internet.

Oldschool blogs and their RSS ability are another social network without ads and algorithms, although the combination of writing and reading is not as fancy as Vero. Yet.

The Wire told you so

Almost ten years ago, in the final season of the tv milestone that is The Wire, there is a scene when the Baltimore Sun announced layoffs that were sold as “inevitable”:

 

The show was created by David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun author and police reporter. He wrote after the series finale:

We will all soon enough live in cities and towns where politicians and bureaucrats gambol freely without worry, where it is never a risk to shine shit and call it gold. A good newspaper covers its city and acquires not just the quantitative account of a day’s events, but the qualitative truth and meaning behind those events. A great newspaper does this routinely on a multitude of issues, across its entire region. Such a newspaper was not chronicled on The Wire.

In fact he documented the downturn consequences of the absence of any sustainable strategy in the publishing industry. It was a local newspaper problem then. Until 2017, when the New York Times, one of the biggest newspapers of the United States pushed massive layoffs in the copy-editor department. The publishing bubble did burst the same way it did all the years before. The Outline recently lamented The Revolution Will Not Be Proofread in regards to the epidemic bubble bursting in the publishing industry but couldn’t help to ask:

What are readers supposed to make of a media operation that is often, by necessity, just as consumed with itself as it is with the world beyond?

If sustainability is equally meant for the good of the readers as well as for the authors and editors, then sustainability has not been the first priority on the strategy side so far. It means also, whoever is in charge for local or nationwide publishing is doing the research part of the digital realm not very well. May it be missing The Wire (it’s on Netflix) or the free advice by Ben Thompson:

Popping The Publishing Bubble (09/2015)

Publishers going forward need to have the exact opposite attitude from publishers in the past: instead of focusing on journalism and getting the business model for free, publishers need to start with a sustainable business model and focus on journalism that works hand-in-hand with the business model they have chosen.

The Local News Business Modell (05/2017)

This is the crux of why many ad-based newspapers will find it all but impossible to switch to a real subscription business model. When asking people to pay, quality matters far more than quantity, and the ratio matters: a publication with 1 valuable article a day about a well-defined topic will more easily earn subscriptions than one with 3 valuable articles and 20 worthless ones covering a variety of subjects.

If your digital strategy does not include quality as a matter of sustainability, then the bubble around you will inevitably pop.