For parents of young kids, like my wife and me, photos have become an inextricable part of how we think about our family, both within our household and amongst all of our relatives. Photo documentation for the benefit of all of our loved ones — grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, family friends of all kinds — is now a part of raising kids in a way that it never was before the advent of the digital camera.
In some ways, it’s easier than ever for us to get images of our kids to those who care about them most, but in other ways it’s still much harder than it should be, too. I know for a fact that the sheer number of venues for sharing has made it difficult for my parents and in-laws to keep up with the images that Laura and I post to Facebook, Flickr, Instagram and other services. And truth be told, even I frequently miss some of the photos that Laura posts, too.
I started thinking about this problem last fall; why shouldn’t it be possible to knit these services together via email, the most universally accessible channel that we have? All we’d really need to solve this problem would be an automated service that rounds up all of the kid-related content that Laura and I post each week and then sends it out in a summary email. It wouldn’t require either of us to post to any new services or change our current sharing behaviors, and it would only ask our relatives to do something they’re already doing: check their email. It seemed like something that really ought to exist.
After talking this problem through with my friends Matt and Mike and finding that everyone we asked thought it was a good idea, we decided to go ahead and build it for real. Today we’re pre-announcing Kidpost, a service which bundles up your kid-related content from your social network accounts into a private, weekly email that gets sent to family members and friends of your choosing.
We’re deep in development for it right now, but our ambition for Kidpost is to build something incredibly simple and lightweight. Once you authorize Kidpost to access your various accounts, it will simply watch for posts that you tag appropriately, and will aggregate them automatically. That’s all you have to do. As the account holders, parents control the content of the emails and who receives them — you can add as many people as you like to your email group, and the recipients don’t need to sign up for new accounts or download apps or visit a new service of any kind.
Kidpost will be ready this spring, but as we build it we want to solicit feedback from interested parents and relatives. If you sign up on our home page now, we’ll give you early access, and we’ll also give you a discount on the paid plan when it launches. Just head on over to Kidpost.net. And watch this space for future updates!
Even as tablets get ever more popular, it still strikes me that we’re not fully tapping their inherent, unique potential to get people making things. To some extent, the early indictment that they are primarily consumption devices is more true than I thought would be the case four years after their debut.
We tried to change this perception with Mixel, but we didn’t make nearly as much progress as I had hoped. That’s why I was so excited when my friend Mark Kawano started a company with the express purpose of transforming the iPad into an intuitive, powerful, emotionally immersive storytelling platform. Today, Storehouse debuts in the App Store and it’s beautiful.
Storehouse bills itself as “The easiest way to way to create, share, and discover beautiful stories.” It lets you pull in your images from everywhere and arrange them into superbly elegant narratives — all within one of the most amazingly supple editing environments ever built on iOS (and that’s saying something). It’s a total joy to use.
Full disclosure: aside from being a friend of Mark’s, I’m also an advisor to Storehouse Media Inc. But that shouldn’t stop you from downloading it and deciding for yourself, because Storehouse is completely free.
We’re starting to roll out preview builds of our iPhone app at Wildcard. If you’d like to get your hands on one, sign up for access on our home page and we’ll add you to the list.
Distributing previews of iOS software is notoriously difficult and has gotten only incrementally easier over the years. There’s no method that anyone would call elegant or even low-friction, TestFlight, HockeyApp and corporate IT-brewed solutions included.
Worse, the logistical complexity of getting a preview build on a device that belongs to a novice user can often spoil the mindset of that tester. If you’re building an app that’s ostensibly trying to make life easier for someone, yet the very act of installing it on that person’s device is fraught with points of failure, you stand a pretty good chance of losing their faith in your product.
This happens so often that at Wildcard we decided that the least we could do was to explain how it works with much greater specificity, to try and fill in all of the gaps in the process. My colleague Steve Meszaros put together this preview installation guide, which includes detailed instructions and screen grabs from the key UI elements to be found throughout the whole, convoluted process. We revised it several times, and will probably keep revising it, as we try to make it as helpful as possible for our users.
Still, as we worked on it, we were practically laughing with incredulity that something like this was even necessary. It seems to me that Apple’s desire to keep developer-distributed software on a tight leash, which is at the root of the complexity in this process, is in no way inherently opposed to the idea that a test user’s installation experience can be simple, elegant, even delightful. Things should be much easier than this.
Earlier this week, my former employer The New York Times launched a major redesign of its Web site. There’s an interesting article about it over at Mashable, including comments from The Times’ digital design director, Ian Adelman.
It’s really hard, if not impossible, for me to offer any objective opinion about this redesign. I still have many friends at the company, including Ian. Also, perhaps as a function of having drunk its Kool-Aid as an employee, I still believe that The New York Times is something special, that it’s indisputably unique, and that comparing its actions with other news outlets or brands is often a counterproductive exercise. Finally, the most prejudicing of all reasons: I’ve seen what it takes to get things launched inside The Times, for better or worse, and this knowledge tends to make me alternately more forgiving and more critical than the average person might be.
A quick rundown of last year’s big events in my life: on 9 Jan, Laura gave birth to our twin boys Lafayette and Thiebaud, and all of a sudden we became a family of five. That really changed up the calculus of daily living for me, but it also made life so much sweeter. We were more exhausted and more frenzied than ever before in 2013, but now we have three amazing kids and, well, when it comes to parental pride, all the standard clichés apply.
If it was only that much change that the year had in store for us, it would have been enough. But it was just the beginning; within the first twenty-four hours after the boys were born, while we were still in the recovery room, I found myself signing deal papers for Etsy, Inc.’s acquisition of my company Mixel — on my phone, no less. By the end of January, I was a full-time employee at Etsy.
At Christmas, we flirted with a Sonos sound system in my household, but ultimately decided to return it. I know smart people who adore their Sonos systems, but when I’ve played with the hardware and software in the past I’ve never been more than mildly impressed. So when it came time to commit to installing another technical system in my household — the Sonos meant more plugs, more boxes, more management — I just couldn’t muster enough enthusiasm to outweigh the hefty price premium that Sonos charges.
Frankly, we’re an Apple household, so by my reckoning, we already get most of the benefit that Sonos offers from the AirPlay system that’s in the house already. We’re heavy users of our Apple TV for all kinds of video — iTunes movie rentals, Netflix, Hulu Plus, even ripped MP4s streamed from other computers in the house — and we rely on it heavily for audio, too. It’s hooked up to a pretty powerful Onkyo home theater system in the living room and out of the box it streams my entire music library from iTunes Match, which is what we listen to most often.
It’s rare for me to be able to find the time to write at great length these days, but when I do, I’m stingy about posting that content anywhere but here, at Subtraction.com. Still, after turning over in my head an essay about streaming music for months and months, when I recently found the time to knock it out, I decided to give Medium.com a spin. The result is “What Streaming Music Can Be,” a rumination on the potential innovations that services like Spotify and Rdio have within their grasp, but have yet to achieve. Here is an excerpt:
“The interesting thing about a copy of an album on a streaming service is that you don’t have to think about it as a copy of an album at all. It can be the canonical version of the album, a centralized, networked experience that pulls together its own audience, a gateway into supplemental experiences. Through that lens, all sorts of DVD extras-style content starts to make sense: music videos, remixes, alternate takes, commentary, and more, all housed exactly where the album ‘lives’ in the cloud. Even better, the album can become a hub for those listening. It can host blogs, tweets, photos, discussions between fans and artists — and between fans and other fans. The centralized album can show us who is listening, and where, when and what else they’re listening to.”
The experience of writing on Medium itself was fascinating; its emphasis on simplicity is something that lots of publishing systems aspire to, but that Medium has somehow obtained. Like a lot of folks, I’m still not sure what Medium actually is, but after having used it, and after having read this insightful post about the service by my friend Anil Dash, I feel myself warming up to it considerably. (Full disclosure: I’m friendly with some of the Medium team here in New York, and I got a little special attention from Kate Lee, who kindly edited my essay.)
One gift that I won’t be giving to loved ones this holiday season is music, sadly. In the age of streaming services like Spotify and Pandora, music has become so readily available that it’s lost its thingness, that meaning and scarcity that makes wrapping it up and stashing it under a tree special. I know it’s possible to give a subscription to Spotify, say, as a gift, but somehow that’s not the same as a record or compact disc that has been sought out and acquired and then becomes owned, an object to be kept and identified with oneself.
Physical media’s ship has sailed though, and I’m certainly not making a case for its restoration. Streaming music is clearly here to stay. But when I think about Spotify, which I subscribe to currently, and Rdio, which I’ve subscribed to in the past, I wonder what it is that prevents me from feeling that sense of ownership over the music that these services make available so readily?
Is it streaming music’s lack of physicality, the absence of actual discs and packaging? Actually, no. When I look back at my old collections of vinyl and CDs, my stomach churns a bit. I spent all of that money on all of those albums, and now they occupy a greater share of the real estate in my home than I can reasonably justify, like old chests full of sunk costs. In truth, I don’t miss records as objects at all, and don’t aspire to own any more of them.
Love it or hate it, the wispy, thread-like aesthetic of iOS 7’s icon language is here to stay, at least for a while. Designers of stock icons are embracing it too, and if the sheer volume of new icons they’re turning out is any indication, this visual vernacular is probably not the most laborious style to work within.
This is going to seem churlish of me, but I can’t help but think that it would be more in keeping with Mandela’s legacy if, rather than waiting until a truly great black man dies to put his image on their home page, Apple could routinely allow a worthy living black man to appear on this page: