A curious hybrid of IT geek, marketer and road warrior, not forgetting proud dad. Work for @bmcsoftware, opinions my own.
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Crystal Will Not Kill Media

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There’s been a lot of talk about content blocking lately, in the run up to the public release of iOS 9 with its built-in support for content-blocking Safari extensions. Straight from the horse’s mouth:

Content Blocking gives your extensions a fast and efficient way to block cookies, images, resources, pop-ups, and other content.

This is something people have been doing on the desktop for a long time. I used to run ad blockers myself, but as I wrote,

I feel that [ad blocking]meets my moral definition of theft. Companies put out content with the expectation of being paid for it, so it seems churlish at best for me to enjoy the content but refuse them the chance to make a fraction of a penny from their advertisers off my enjoyment. There is a line, but nowadays I am more likely simply not to visit offending sites than to try to bypass the ads.

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Jean Louis Gassee believes that the consequences of widespread ad blocking will be disastrous for media companies.

This is going to be painful for those whose ad-supported business model is in danger of breaking. There will be blood.

I think that may well be true. The current state of ad tech is not ideal, but it’s what we have, and what a lot of people are paying the bills with. However, while we have become used this state of affairs on our desktops, it’s a different story on mobile. On even a single-digit-Mbps home broadband connection, the additional impact on a page load of the ads, analytics and tracking muck is not hugely significant. Our fixed connections are fast and not really metered on a scale where we are watching the individual megabytes.

Neither of those factors holds true on mobile devices. There, connections are slow, unreliable, and strongly metered. Dean Murphy has created a pre-release iOS content blocking extension, and his benchmarks are eye-opening.

On average, pages loaded 3.9x faster with Crystal and used 53% less bandwidth. Just by having Crystal installed, I saved a total of 70 seconds and 35MB of data on these 10 pages.

On mobile, that’s huge. Everyone will want to install Crystal (or similar extensions) for those sorts of gains.

This is without even getting into some of the other aspects of ad tech. Privacy is the obvious one, although for most Muggles it doesn’t seem to be a huge priority. Nevertheless, if you want to scare yourself you can try using the Lightbeam add-on for Firefox to see just how much tracking is happening behind the scenes of even major web properties. That has been true for some time on desktop, though, and hasn’t caused any widespread outrage.

What is different on mobile, apart from connection speed and bandwidth constraints, is the interaction itself. Ads on the desktop take up a relatively small proportion of the screen real estate. On mobile, ads can take up the entire screen when loading the front page of popular web sites. Users have to scroll down an entire screen just to get to content!

In addition, users have been running their own content blockers on their wetware for a while now. I don’t even see standard ads any more, because I have developed reflexes that cause my eyes to scan right by them without ever taking them into my conscious awareness. To force their way past this problem, ad tech developers (one rung up from actual malware developers IMHO) have come up with all sorts of schemes, from interstitials, to CSS-based “popups" that hover in front of the content, to things that zoom out if you inadvertently roll your mouse cursor over them, and no doubt even more heinous variations are in the pipeline right now.

The thing is, on the desktop these things are only moderately annoying. I don’t have Flash installed on this machine, which already cuts down on the potential irritation, and the rest I deal with by simply not visiting especially grating web sites.

On mobile devices, these things are horrid. My wife, normally a sweet and well-mannered person, was reduced to incoherent rage this morning when an ad on a web site she was attempting to visit on her phone kept redirecting her to another site. This was no doubt intended as some sort of grey-area pop-up spawning thing, but iOS simply interpreted it as a straight redirect. Result? That website may have got the one visit and its ad-load, but it will never get another from either of us.

Bottom line? I will continue not to run content blockers on my Mac, but on iOS, I’m installing Crystal as soon as I get my hands on iOS 9.

After the initial period of pain, I don’t think it’ll even be as bad for publishers as they think it will be. I have no doubt that there will be disruption, and some of it will be painful. Some web sites will go down, and while my rational response is that they will be getting their comeuppance for a crappy business model, I do feel sympathy for the writers who will be out of a gig through no fault of their own.

My point is different: as with much of this Big Data nonsense, I have a sneaking suspicion that nobody is actually using any of the data that are collected. My personal experience bears this out. Sure, the gathered data are used in some limited sense, but no truly innovative deep analysis is carried out that you could not have done on the subscriber rolls of the Readers’ Digest back in the day. Dumber web advertising will do just fine without all the tracking and analytics that are de rigeur these days.

Relax and enjoy the resurgence of simple banner ads.


Image by kazuend via Unsplash

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dwelling
1803 days ago
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Test - sharing my own blog post.
Airports, usually.
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Eff Your Review

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And another one:

If I wanted to leave a review of our app I would have.

I’ve long considered a public campaign against this particular practice, wherein I’d encourage Daring Fireball readers, whenever they encounter these “Please rate this app” prompts, to go ahead and take the time to do it — but to rate the app with just one star and to leave a review along the lines of, “One star for annoying me with a prompt to review the app.”

(Via Jim Younkin.)

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dwelling
2434 days ago
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I'm in too!
Airports, usually.
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4 public comments
the7roy
2436 days ago
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I have to disagree. The worst thing has been apps that crash when I tap a button. Bugs happen, I know, but if you're asking me what I think of your app you better be on your best behavior right then so test the heck out of it. Both Glympse and Audible have crashed on me in this way, and under normal circumstances I enjoy them enough I might actually forgive the dialog and leave a nice review. But crashing here is unforgivable.
Mountain View
aaronwe
2436 days ago
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I'm on board with this.
Denver
rokar
2437 days ago
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Good idea. I will do it.
Germany
rafeco
2437 days ago
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The worst thing is that for pretty much every app, "No thanks" turns out to mean, "Remind me later."

Underscore Price Dynamics

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Every iOS developer needs to listen to _DavidSmith’s most recent podcast episode, Real World Price Dynamics with Lauren Smith (it’s just 22 minutes).

Lauren is just one anecdotal data point, but you would not believe how many people I’ve met over the last few years who have said the exact same things to me. This is definitely the majority opinion:

  • Everyone outside of the immediate Apple tech sphere assumes, since I make apps for iOS, that I work for Apple. People with iPhones and iPads. Professionals, including my lawyer, accountant, and doctor. Relatives. Everyone.

    It’s therefore non-obvious why I need to charge money, and it’s not widely understood that I get most of that money.

  • Nobody thinks iOS software is worth more than a few dollars, if even that much. It’s “just” a little app on a phone.
  • Almost everyone, when presented with a paid-up-front app, will first seek a free alternative. (Usually, they’ll find one.1) Many people with iPhones and iPads full of apps have never bought a single paid-up-front one.
  • Customers hate the current method of paid “upgrades” (pulling the previous version from the store and putting up a new, separate paid-up-front app).
  • These objections don’t apply nearly as much to in-app purchase.

I’ve gone back and forth on what Overcast’s business model should be. I’m definitely charging customers directly (rather than venture-capital or ads), but I’m still debating where, how, and for what.

I’m sure of one thing, though: the market for paid-up-front apps appealing to mass consumers is gone. If you have paid apps in the store, you’ve probably seen the writing on the wall for a while.

That model made sense when there were fewer apps available, but now that there are plenty of free and good-enough versions of almost anything, it’s a different game. Apps targeting niche markets can still find enough paying customers to stay alive if they’re much better than any free alternatives, but the number of apps in that situation is always shrinking.

I’m going to have a hard time justifying an up-front purchase for Overcast — that’s the fastest way to ensure that nobody outside of our upscale-geek world ever uses it. (Quick quiz: What would you guess is the most popular podcast app on iOS besides Apple’s? Check the footnote for the answer:2)

This is the real reason why Apple doesn’t care about upgrade pricing: there’s no demand from customers. The market has shown that free apps will be downloaded at least an order of magnitude more than paid-up-front apps, and smart use of in-app purchase in a free app is likely to make more money. Over time, this trend has only become stronger and more clear.

Paid-up-front iOS apps had a great run, but it’s over. Time to make other plans.


  1. This is why killing Instapaper Free actually increased Instapaper’s sales: I removed the closest, most “good enough”, free alternative to the paid app. But that only works as long as you don’t have much free competition.

  2. You probably guessed Instacast, since people like us have talked about it for years. Nope. Maybe you guessed Pocket Casts, since they just had a big, well-reviewed update. Nope. For as long as I’ve been paying attention, Downcast has outsold both of them by a wide margin in both quantity and gross.

    But the most popular podcast app besides Apple’s, by far, is Stitcher. And it’s terrible. But it’s free. And I’ve had people in real life tell me, over and over again, that they “just use Stitcher because it’s free.”

    This is the real app market.

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dwelling
2505 days ago
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In-app subscription also solves the problem of eval versions. I used #Evernote for ages before ponying up, so I was very comfortable that I was getting a good deal out of the constellation of Evernote apps. Sadly for @marco, I listen to very few podcasts, so I'm unlikely to buy #Overcast, but I'm a longtime #Instapaper customer and a first-edition The Magazine subscriber, so there's that.
Airports, usually.
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2 public comments
samuel
2506 days ago
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If you want to survive, the key is to offer a service where recurring revenue is a possibility.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
sredfern
2505 days ago
A version of this was given to me by a previous employer, "The trick to wealth is to make money while you sleep"
LonelyBob
2502 days ago
REally? "Everyone outside of the immediate Apple tech sphere assumes, since I make apps for iOS, that I work for Apple. People with iPhones and iPads. Professionals, including my lawyer, accountant, and doctor. Relatives. Everyone." Maybe I'm out of touch with the everyday person then, but my parents understand the difference between developing apps for a device and working for the company that makes the device.
MotherHydra
2506 days ago
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Depressing. On so many levels.
Space City, USA

Planes (dir Klay Hall 2013)

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Nightmarish stuff. The world of the film is recognisably our world, but all human life has been eradicated, and the conquerors have appropriated our infrastructure and architecture, pulling down the Statue of Liberty and replacing it with a giant statue of one of their own.

In the immortal words of terrified-Millhouse: 'if petrol is their food, then WHY DO THEY HAVE TEETH??'
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dwelling
2547 days ago
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Some made the same point about Cars... If you opened the doors on one of them, what would you find inside?
Airports, usually.
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→ Microsoft’s new Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard

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As a big fan of its predecessor, the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, this is very interesting.

The 4000 had two major flaws: its keys were too mushy, and its right side extended out so far that I practically had to keep my mouse in New Jersey, which isn’t great for ergonomics. After years of using the 4000, I switched last November to the Kinesis Freestyle 2 for Mac since it appeared to fix both of my problems with the 4000.1 It’s good, but not great — the size and keys are both decent but not overwhelmingly better than the 4000, and the physically separate halves easily scoot around the desk and get misaligned from my ideal position. I subconsciously realign it all day. (And, like most other non-mainstream ergonomic devices, it looks like medical equipment.)

The Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard looks nice, is wireless, wireless via Bluetooth, 2 and appears to fix the size issue by splitting off the numeric keypad, but those keys have me worried: they look like cheap laptop-style scissor keys, and have a good chance of being too mushy.

I’ve preordered one anyway. I’ll let you know how it goes after I’ve had a chance to use it for a while.

(I have no opinion on the mouse. I used the Natural 4000’s weird associated mouse for a while, but it was pretty bad. I don’t think Microsoft has made a good mouse since they switched to mushwheels in 2004, which is a shame, because they used to make the best ones.)


  1. That’s the direct link to the frame for that page. The Kinesis site still uses frames.

    Frames.

  2. The Natural 4000 eventually had a wireless version (via proprietary USB receiver, not Bluetooth), but it was terrible, frequently skipping or repeating keystrokes, so I switched back to wired.

    I was able to make my wired version appear wireless by overhanging the curved front lip off the desk slightly, running the wire out from under it, and taping the wire to the underside of the desk.

∞ Permalink

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dwelling
2551 days ago
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I'm also a big fan of MS ergonomic keyboards, so I look forward to @marcoarment's review of the new one.
Airports, usually.
vl
2551 days ago
If you really need ergonomic keyboard - get Kinesis Advantage, never look back. If not ergonomic - Das Keyboard. Really, for device that is used all day there is no reason to get anything else.
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The Big Idea: Michael J. Martinez

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Ever crash a ship into a planet? No? Well, then, Michael J. Martinez has one up on you with The Daedalus Incident. But to hear him tell about it in this Big Idea, that’s not even the coolest thing in the book. Think about that for a minute, why don’t you.

MICHAEL J. MARTINEZ 

So…I’m crashing an 18th century frigate into 22nd century Mars. While that is certainly a rather large and important-ish idea in my debut novel, The Daedalus Incident, it’s actually not the Big Idea.

The Daedalus Incident is, in part, a historical fantasy in which the Age of Sail plays out amongst the planets of the solar system instead of the seas of Earth. And that was a great deal of fun to write, let me tell you. It’s got that big, noisy, whiz-bang vibe you get from swashbuckling, adventurous space opera. There’s lizard-people on Venus. Mysterious aliens on the rings of Saturn. Alchemy. Benjamin Franklin. Someone described it as Master and Commander meets Spelljammer. (I rather liked that one.)

And there’s a creaky, hardscrabble mining colony on Mars in the year 2132 that, I suppose, addresses the other half of my fan-brain. It’s a hard SF setting, with corporate mining operations, astronauts in dead-end jobs, laser drills, earthquakes, quantum physics and shuttle crashes. It’s the Future, right down to the holographic televisions and tofu-based diet. That was fun, too.

As you may suspect, the two settings come crashing together. Mad alchemists and nefarious evil are involved. There’s adventure and excitement and all the things Yoda says Jedi aren’t supposed to crave, but do anyway. Yes, even more fun.

But what’s it all about? Where’s this crazy yarn go?

I’ve often pointed to two different groups of influences on my writing. The first is the Napoleonic era naval literature of C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian. Aside from the obvious influence, these two writers are, in some ways, cousins of SF/F writers, because they write about men haring off on missions of war and discovery into a great, big, scary unknown. The other group includes classic science fiction writers like Arthur C. Clarke, whose work often involves those same themes: coming face to face with the unknown and, in some cases, unknowable.

The common thread I discovered in the process of writing my own book was that these influences have, at their heart, ordinary people. There aren’t any Chosen Ones, or children of gods, or genetically engineered supermen. Nobody gets a dragon egg or a sacred gemstone or a magic sword. (Well, OK, there’s an alchemically treated sword in my book. Totally different though. It wasn’t stuck in a stone.)

The works that truly influenced me are about ordinary people facing the finality of death and the enormity of the unknown, and they do it out of duty, or love, or knowledge. Simple motivations, perhaps, but they spawn innovation, brilliance and courage. I think that’s why I liked them, because it made the characters incredibly identifiable to me.

That’s what I found in The Daedalus Incident as I wrote and revised it: the notion of ordinary people facing incredibly strange, dangerous and terrifying things because it was the right thing to do. It actually wasn’t an intentional theme at first – sometimes, I’m told, writing happens like that – but when I found that Big Idea in there, I definitely nurtured it as best I could.

I still liked crashing the frigate into Mars, of course. I mean, who wouldn’t?

—-

The Daedalus Incident: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow him on Twitter.


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dwelling
2552 days ago
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This was on my wish list already, but every time I read about it it sounds better and better.
Airports, usually.
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