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Introducing Air Mail

I’m thrilled to announce a new venture I have been working on for a good part of the past year: It’s called Air Mail. Air Mail is a weekly publication covering the world of politics, business, arts, travel, and much more. Each Saturday we’ll be sending out an email newsletter at precisely 6am Eastern Time with highlights of the week’s stories. Behind the newsletter is a website containing the full complement of articles and shorter pieces for the week.

We’ve published a few beta issues internally thus far and the goal is to launch to the public starting this summer. The writing and editorial work that is going into this is phenomenal. My friends Graydon Carter and Alessandra Stanley are two of the most wonderful people you will ever meet and their work is second to none.

Air Mail’s branding and style pays homage to a bygone era of postal service design with strong reds, blues, and imagery from when air travel was considered new and thrilling.

On the technology side we have created a publishing platform that is designed for the modern web and the world of mobile devices. This technology will allow our small team to manage everything that goes into publishing a weekly issue including copy editing, photo rights management, editorial approvals, and the layout of the issue itself. We’ll also begin taking subscriptions later this year so a full suite of billing features is also in place. I’ll go into some more detail in future posts about this platform. I’m very excited about it.

Air Mail was officially announced in The New York Times a few weeks ago and we’ve started taking signups on our website. There is a lot to be done before we’re ready to start publishing, but we’re well on our way. I’m looking forward to sharing more about the work soon, but for now, it’s just a ‘coming soon’ announcement. If you’re interested, you can sign up to receive the first few issues for free once they are ready for the world to see.

Oh God, It’s Raining Newsletters

Craig Mod, with an excellent piece about email newsletters:

Newsletters and newsletter startups these days are like mushrooms in an open field after a good spring rain. I don’t know a single writer who isn’t newslettering or newsletter-curious, and for many, the newsletter is where they’re doing their finest public work.

His new newsletter is called Ridgeline and it’s wonderful. 

Publishers Chafe at Apple’s Terms for Subscription News Service

Benjamin Mullin, Lukas I. Alpert and Tripp Mickle, for The Wall Street Journal:

In its pitch to some news organizations, the Cupertino, Calif., company has said it would keep about half of the subscription revenue from the service, the people said. The service, described by industry executives as a “Netflix for news,” would allow users to read an unlimited amount of content from participating publishers for a monthly fee. It is expected to launch later this year as a paid tier of the Apple News app, the people said.

The rest of the revenue would go into a pool that would be divided among publishers according to the amount of time users spend engaged with their articles, the people said. Representatives from Apple have told publishers that the subscription service could be priced at about $10 a month, similar to Apple’s streaming music service, but the final price could change, some of the people said.

I’ve been spending a lot of my time lately working in and around the publishing industry. As a whole the industry’s concerns are almost always tied to declining revenue, legacy high-costs, and therefore reduced or non-existent profits. I find it difficult to believe that any publisher is willing to take a 50% cut on revenue. Apple would need to deliver a massive upswing in subscribers for this to even be a conversation.

The Meaning of Tony Romo, Super Bowl Psychic

Frank Bruni, with a nice piece about Tony Romo ahead of tonight’s Super Bowl:

Romo, 38, previously spent more than a decade as a quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. He was great but he wasn’t great, and with him as its leader, the team never went all the way. In a twist that’s testament to second acts in American lives, he’s doing something as a star for CBS that he never did as a star for the Cowboys: going to the Super Bowl. I suppose that’s fitting, because he’s more than great in his current gig. He’s peerless. And he’s a sensation.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey: The Rolling Stone Interview

Speaking of Jack Dorsey, it looks like he is making the PR rounds this week. He’s also featured in a nice piece at Rolling Stone.

I liked this bit where he responds to Seth Rogen’s concern that racists were being verified on Twitter:

That was heartbreaking. I DM’d him, and we got on the phone together. He said to me, “I’m surprised at myself for not hanging up…But I think you have the right intent. But you all are terrible communicators.” I agree, we have been bad at communication, we haven’t been as forthright as we need to, we certainly haven’t been as transparent. We do care deeply. But we need to do it in scalable ways. This work doesn’t happen overnight.

Bill Simmons interviews Jack Dorsey

I really enjoyed this interview with Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, by Bill Simmons. Twitter is still a fascinating company to me despite its problems. Bill Simmons pulls no punches asking tough questions about harassment, Twitter’s role in politics, Trump, and controversial features like editing tweets.

There’s also a nice trip down memory lane with discussion of Twitter’s early days and how it came to be. (I remember vividly using the text message version of Twitter at SXSW in 2007. A simpler time.)

Slack’s New Brand

Slack:

Today we’re launching a new logo, as we start to refresh our look in general. We loved our old logo, and look, and know many felt the same. And yet, here we are to explain why we decided to evolve it.

The design work was done by Pentagram.

Change is hard, and I’ve been so used to seeing the familiar Slack icon for years that this will take some getting used to. The logo itself doesn’t bother me near as much as the awful dark purple background behind it.

Related:

On React Licensing

It has been an interesting couple of months in the open source software licensing world. A few weeks ago, there was some controversy over Facebook’s use of a BSD + Patents license on its open source contributions. While this patent grant was not new, it has gained some publicity over its use as applied to React.

Adam Wolff at Facebook tried to clarify the issue a few weeks ago:

As our business has become successful, we’ve become a larger target for meritless patent litigation. This type of litigation can be extremely costly in terms of both resources and attention. It would have been easy for us to stop contributing to open source, or to do what some other large companies do and only release software that isn’t used in our most successful products, but we decided to take a different approach. We decided to add a clear patent grant when we release software under the 3-clause BSD license, creating what has come to be known as the BSD + Patents license. The patent grant says that if you’re going to use the software we’ve released under it, you lose the patent license from us if you sue us for patent infringement. We believe that if this license were widely adopted, it could actually reduce meritless litigation for all adopters, and we want to work with others to explore this possibility.

It seems reasonable when explained this way, but that didn’t stop many organizations from removing React from their future product development roadmaps.

Matt Mullenweg wrote about how the WordPress team would no longer use React for its new ventures:

We had a many-thousand word announcement talking about how great React is and how we’re officially adopting it for WordPress, and encouraging plugins to do the same. I’ve been sitting on that post, hoping that the patent issue would be resolved in a way we were comfortable passing down to our users.

That post won’t be published, and instead I’m here to say that the Gutenberg team is going to take a step back and rewrite Gutenberg using a different library. It will likely delay Gutenberg at least a few weeks, and may push the release into next year.

Then, last week Facebook released another update changing the license for React and other projects to the MIT license starting this week:

Next week, we are going to relicense our open source projects React, Jest, Flow, and Immutable.js under the MIT license. We’re relicensing these projects because React is the foundation of a broad ecosystem of open source software for the web, and we don’t want to hold back forward progress for nontechnical reasons.

This is great news. I think the entire community was very surprised to see this change. This is a credit to the way the open source community should work, and it’s wonderful to see that Facebook is willing to be open minded and participate in what’s best for the community.

I spend a lot of time working on React-based projects for startups and larger companies so I’m happy to see that this should no longer be an issue.

AtF Spark

AtF Spark is a font that allows for the combination of text and visual data to show an idea and evidence in one headline. This builds on the principle of Sparklines defined by Edward Tufte and makes them easier to use. Sparklines are currently available as plugins or javascript elements. By installing the Spark font you can use them immediately without the need for custom code.

This is lovely.

Nestlé Takes Majority Stake in Blue Bottle

Michael J. de la Merced and Oliver Strand, in the NYTimes:

Under the terms of the deal, Nestlé is acquiring 68 percent of Blue Bottle; the coffee company’s management and employees will own the rest. Neither side would disclose financial terms.

Although Blue Bottle is one of the most important players in the third-wave coffee sector, it has distinguished itself from its rivals in significant ways. It has spurned many of the hallmarks of high-end shops – barista competitions, lengthy travelogues about journeys to find the perfect small coffee farm – while emphasizing the aesthetics and experience of a well-prepared cup.

Blue Bottle has also helped drive trends within the industry, particularly in the case of cold-brew iced coffee.

The company’s approach has fueled enormous growth. Blue Bottle expects to nearly double its store count this year, to 55 outlets from 29. And it has continued to develop ready-to-drink products, as well as an online subscription business for its roasted beans.

How about with this new backing we get some stores in Texas?

Designing for iPhone X

After yesterday’s announcement of the new iPhone X, Apple posted some new Fall “WWDC” videos about how to design and build apps for the new phone.

The Human Interface Guidelines have also been updated:

Avoid explicitly placing interactive controls at the very bottom of the screen and in corners. People use swipe gestures at the bottom edge of the display to access the Home screen and app switcher, and these gestures may cancel custom gestures you implement in this area. The far corners of the screen can be difficult areas for people to reach comfortably.

Don’t mask or call special attention to key display features. Don’t attempt to hide the device’s rounded corners, sensor housing, or indicator for accessing the Home screen by placing black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. Don’t use visual adornments like brackets, bezels, shapes, or instructional text to call special attention to these areas either.

Allow auto-hiding of the indicator for accessing the Home screen sparingly. When auto-hiding is enabled, the indicator fades out if the user hasn’t touched the screen for a few seconds. It reappears when the user touches the screen again. This behavior should be enabled only for passive viewing experiences like playing videos or photo slideshows.

The UI Design Resources have also been updated to include a Sketch file (or Photoshop if that’s your thing) with all of the new UI components for iPhone X.

Indie Blogging

Manton Reece, on last week’s A List Apart announcement:

It’s a good post, but I see his conclusion differently. The solution isn’t fewer link blogs, but more of them. By taking microblogging back from Twitter, we create a natural place for traditional blogs to grow. Indie microblogging is the gateway drug for long-form content.

To everyone reading Zeldman’s post about A List Apart and nodding your head, retweeting the link, clicking the like button… Dust off your blog and actually post about it. A better web is built one page at a time.

A List Apart

Jeffrey Zeldman:

As A List Apart approaches its 20th anniversary–a milestone in independent, web-based publishing–we’re once again reimagining the magazine. We want your feedback. And most of all, we want you.

We’re getting rid of advertisers and digging back to our roots: community-based, community-built, and determinedly non-commercial. If you want to highlight local events or innovations, expand your skills, give back, or explore any other goal or idea, we’re here to support you with networking and backing from the community.

I’ve been following A List Apart for nearly 20 years now too. Time flies. Count me in.

Think before you grow

Dan Counsell:

When you say you run your own company people always ask how many staff you have. The higher the number, the more impressed people seem to be and I can understand that. I fell into this trap myself, the trap of thinking bigger is better.

I thought to be classed as a successful company I needed to grow. I needed to get a bigger office, hire more people, and why not. The company was making enough money, so I just went with it.

Then one day I looked up and I was responsible for ten full-time employees, a whole host of freelancers, and an office big enough for 30+ people. Unchecked, a business can take on a life of its own. I didn’t plan for it to be like that, it just happened. I never stopped to think about what I really wanted.

More on the App Store Changes

Michael Tsai:

Assuming that any app could use subscriptions without restrictions, what would that mean? Subscriptions are definitely controversial. Customers generally don’t like them, though they may end up being the least bad option. One issue is the loss of control. It feels better to look at what’s in a new version and decide whether it’s worth it, rather than keep paying just to keep using what you already have. However, the trend is clearly toward everyone running the latest version, rather than supporting old versions. Simply maintaining an app takes work, and it makes sense for payments to reflect that. The other main issue is the overall cost. Subscriptions can really add up, and people will need to think more carefully about budgeting and saving in order to maintain access to key apps if their circumstances change.

I agree with his point about customers not liking to pay for what they already have. Paul Haddad, of Tapbots, makes a great point:

I’d probably be fine with a subscription model, if they degraded nicely. Stop paying, app still works but no more upgrades. That seems fair.

Glenn Fleishman, in Macworld regarding the use of this new system for free trials:

Does this change allow apps to offer a free trial?

Sort of. Apple lets developers optionally offer a free trial for in-app purchase subscriptions, which range from 7 days for a one-month recurring subscription to one month for a one-year term. If an app requires a subscription to use at all, then a free trial of the subscription effectively translates to a free trial of the app. An app that has some features and sells the rest with subscription can also offer a free trial just of those added options.

However, most apps will remain free or sold for a fee with or without IAPs, and work under the old rules, which don’t allow trials and demo versions.

David Sparks posts a great argument against the ubiquity of subscription-based software models from the customer perspective:

I understand why developers want to move in this direction. However, in order for this to work there has to be participation from consumers. Frankly, I’m not so convinced that will happen.

I think, in general, it’s easier to pay $12 once then the thought of paying one dollar every month going forward. Now multiply that times the 20 or 30 apps that you really love and things just get crazy. I’ve already received several emails from readers and Mac Power Users listeners complaining about the idea of subscriptions for all of their favorite apps. Put simply, I’m not sure consumers will cooperate with this new model. I would like to be proven wrong but developers may find that subscribers are a lot harder to come by than they think.

The updates to the App Store have definitely touched a nerve. I still think the changes are overwhelmingly positive, and mean very good things for app developers. I’m excited to see things begin to evolve this fall and hopeful for where this takes us.

The New App Store

Yesterday, a few days before its annual WWDC keynote and conference, Apple released the welcome news of some very interesting updates to the App Store.

App Subscriptions

From Daring Fireball:

Until now, subscription pricing was reserved for apps that served media content: streaming audio and video, news, etc. Apple is now opening it to apps from any category, which effectively solves the problems of recurring revenue and free trials. Even better, Apple is changing the revenue split for all subscriptions: for the first year of any subscription, the revenue split remains 70/30; after the first year, the revenue split changes to 85/15.

These subscription changes are great news. One of the main struggles with the App Store has been the ability for very well-crafted apps and services to be sustainable in the long term. The “purchase once, free updates forever” model of the App Store isn’t conducive to most small businesses. The additional option of recurring revenue via subscriptions should open up some new opportunities.

The revenue split after year one is also a nice nod to developers. Although, waiting a year for more revenue after an initial customer purchase probably isn’t going to fix any developer’s revenue issues in the short-term. Still, it is great to see some flexibility in the 70/30 revenue split that has been in place since day one of the store.

Unsurprisingly, it also sounds like Apple is trying to do things properly when it comes to the customer’s perspective of subscriptions too. From Jim Dalrymple at The Loop:

Developers will be able to choose one of over 200 subscription price points, and they can create territory specific prices, making subscriptions even more flexible. If a developer chooses to increase the subscription price, customers will be notified and they will have to authorize that increase. No customer will ever be charged a higher rate without first authorizing it, explained [Apple’s Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing, Phil] Schiller.

Customers will also be able to upgrade, downgrade or even side grade subscriptions, if those options are available to them. Developers can also keep current subscriptions at one price, but charge new subscribers a different price.

The options for the new subscription model seem very well thought out.

Paid Search Ads

The current state of App Store search isn’t great. Even if your app title is the exact words that someone searches for, often times your app isn’t the first result. Or worse, a competitor has stuffed their keywords with your app’s name to rank higher than you. This has mostly been solved in traditional web search, but for some reason the App Store hasn’t caught up.

Apple is now introducing the ability to bid on placements at the top of search results to promote their apps for relevant search terms. Back to The Loop:

There will only be one ad on the search results page and it will be clearly marked as an ad, according to Schiller. What’s more, the content of the ad will be exactly the same as the content of the app on the App Store. In other words, no spammy ads. Apple will only accept ads from developers in the App Store—they won’t have any third-party product ads in the store.

Schiller said the ads are done through an auction system for the developers. There are no minimums, and there will be no exclusives, so small developers can get in on the action as well. The ad system will roll out as a beta this summer and Apple will be watching to make sure the system is fair for all developers.

In keeping with its focus on privacy, Apple will not track users and will not share data about users ad clicks with developers. Developers will get reports, but no user data. Apple will also not serve ads to people 13 years old or under, if it can determine that from the device.

Developers will be able to sign-up for the search ad beta and there will be no charge to them during the beta period. When it does go live, after the beta period, it will launch in the U.S. first.

Sounds on the surface like a great addition to the store.

Faster Review Times

Lastly, but most importantly for those of us submitting app updates often, the time it takes for Apple to review an app has been dramatically reduced from over a week average review time to now less than 2 days. This has been happening over the past few months, and it is great to hear from Apple that it is not an accident.


If these great updates were the ones that didn’t make the cut for the WWDC keynote next week, I’m looking forward to it even more now.

Related:

The Curse of Culture

Ben Thompson in this week’s excellent Stratechery article:

[…] culture is not something that begets success, rather, it is a product of it. All companies start with the espoused beliefs and values of their founder(s), but until those beliefs and values are proven correct and successful they are open to debate and change. If, though, they lead to real sustained success, then those values and beliefs slip from the conscious to the unconscious, and it is this transformation that allows companies to maintain the “secret sauce” that drove their initial success even as they scale. The founder no longer needs to espouse his or her beliefs and values to the 10,000th employee; every single person already in the company will do just that, in every decision they make, big or small.

As with most such things, culture is one of a company’s most powerful assets right until it isn’t: the same underlying assumptions that permit an organization to scale massively constrain the ability of that same organization to change direction. More distressingly, culture prevents organizations from even knowing they need to do so.

Android Instant Apps

During its annual IO keynote last week, Google only really touched on one major new user-facing feature of Android: Instant Apps. The basic premise is that instead of leaving your current context to download an app that you may only use once, a piece of the app is “installed” behind-the-scenes and you can use native features right away. This is a great solution to the problem of not wanting to install native apps for single use. If done properly, it could also be huge for mobile commerce.

I’m very excited to see where this goes.

Also, XKCD nailed it.

The Maker of Things

Michael Lopp on Medium:

In the late 1800s, the Brooklyn Bridge was built with no power tools, no heavy machinery, and only a basic, evolving understanding of how to make steel. It’s not these facts, but the stories surrounding the facts that inspire me when I take a good, long stare at a suspension bridge. But first…

Archiving a Website for Ten Thousand Years

Glenn Fleishman in The Atlantic:

Hi.co, a website that allows its users to post “moments” with a photo and annotation, plans a similar trip to the distant future. The operators, Craig Mod […] and Chris Palmieri, announced today that the site will freeze service in September 2016. However, all posts present in the site’s database at that time will be microprinted onto a two-by-two-inch nickel plate. The entire site-2,000,000 words and 14,000 photos-should fit on a single disk. Several copies will be made and distributed across the globe; the Library of Congress has already been secured as a repository. The plates have a lifespan as long as 10,000 years, and they may be viewed with a 1,000-power optical microscope.

Three Years in San Francisco

Mike Davidson wrote about his recent career move to Twitter in San Francisco. I could quote the whole thing, but you should probably just go read it.

Here’s one of my favorite bits about managing vs being an individual contributor:

One of my favorite rules at Twitter – at least within Engineering, Product, and Design – is that there is no such thing as a “promotion into management”. If you want to become a manager of people, it is always a lateral move. For example, if you are a senior designer and you decide you want to manage people instead of pixels, and leadership deems you ready for it, you can become a Design Manager. That move, however, does not “level you up” in the system, nor come with a pay increase, nor put you on any sort faster career track. You’ve simply moved from concentrating directly on product problems/opportunities to concentrating on people problems/opportunities. I believe some other companies have this rule as well, but it’s really fantastic for what it encourages: people should do the type of work that is most fulfilling to them and most valuable to the company. A fantastic I.C. (Individual Contributor) is just as valuable as a fantastic manager, and the system should reward and encourage both career branches equally.

The Slack Platform Roadmap

On the Slack API Blog:

We know that being a developer is hard, and building on a platform is not a decision to be made lightly. Many platforms have burned developers and we frequently see that risk highlighted. This is our response.

This kind of transparency from a platform provider is fantastic. Refreshing compared to a few recent events.

Being tired isn’t a badge of honor

Jason Fried:

Lately, I’ve been hearing something that disturbs me. A lot of entrepreneurs onstage have been bragging about not sleeping, telling their audiences about their 16-hour days, and making it sound like hustle-at-all-costs is the way ahead. Rest be damned, they say – there’s an endless amount of work to do.

I think this message is one of the most harmful in all of business. Sustained exhaustion is not a rite of passage. It’s a mark of stupidity.