In the interview below, Jason Fried makes a new announcement about the next project from 37signals. The company plans to launch a magazine called The Distance, next year. It's unclear if it will be online or offline, but he says they have already hired a journalist to help run it. The focus of the magazine will be profiling private companies that have been around for at least 30 years. Sounds pretty cool if you enjoy reading about businesses.
As someone who just had to (and I mean had to) go through the process of finding a new car, the quote below from a Fortune interview with Marc Andreessen was really eye-opening. Andreesen (an investor in Uber) does a great job of talking through the specifics of how and why there could be mass adoption of car sharing among everyday people. It really does seem entirely possible that in the next 10-20 years, the number of cars needed will be drastically reduced as people rent them only when they need them. Thanks to Fred Wilson for pointing out the interview on his blog.
Fortune: Speaking of cars, you've talked about a shared economy where people will share cars. They won't own cars. You see a little bit of that today, but is that really the way the world's going?
Andreessen: So this is when I get really excited. This is another example of the impact of information transparency on markets. We are 90 years or so into cars. And we drive our cars around. And we own our cars. And then when we're not in our cars they sit parked. So the average car is utilized maybe two hours out of the day. It sits idle for 90% of the time. The typical occupancy rate in the U.S. is about 1.2 passengers per car ride. And so even when the car is in motion, three-quarters of the seats are unfilled.
And so you start to run this interesting kind of thought experiment, which is what if access to cars was just automatic? What if, whenever you needed a car, there it was? And what if other people who needed that same ride at that same time could just participate in that same ride? What if you could perfectly match supply and demand for transportation?
Taken a step further, what if you could bring delivery into it? Two people were going to drive between towns, and there was also a package that needed to go. Let's also put that in there so we can fill a seat with a package. Just run the thought experiment and say, "What if we could fully allocate all the cars, and then what if we could have the cars on the road all the time?"
And of course the answer is a whole bunch of things fall out of it. You'd need far fewer cars. The number of cars on the road would plummet by 75% to 90%. You'd instantly solve problems like congestion. You'd instantly solve a huge part of the emissions problem. And you'd cause a huge reduction in the need for gas. And then you'd have this interesting other side effect where you wouldn't need parking lots, at least not anywhere near the extent that you do now. And so you could turn a lot of parking lots into parks.
Recently, two separate e-books about tech titans were released by competing publications. The first is from Business Insider and is a detailed biography on Yahoo's Marissa Mayer. The second is from Fast Company and is an inside look at the Apple design process and culture. The two carry many similarities in that they're backed by prominent publications, handled by premier writers from each organizations, boast serious access, and weigh in with some heft (the BI profile is more than 20,000 words and the Apple book is 91 pages). The fact that two news organizations are devoting resources to this type of digital effort is exciting and a relatively new development.
However, the most interesting about the books may not be in what they share but in how they differ. One is free and the other is not.
The BI profile hit the web last week and was immediately free of charge for all 20,000+ words. The Fast Company had an excerpt on their site, but for the full story, it needed to be purchased on Amazon for $1.99 or through a $5.99/month subscription to Byliner, the publishing partner of the story. BI is only making money from the story through impressions on the ads served next to it while Fast Company is taking the approach of charging for the work.
The numbers are just coming in, but BI claimed more than 900,000 pageviews within a couple days of releasing the story. A quick look at the social sharing stats shows that the free BI article has been tweeted more than 4,000 times and shared on Facebook more than 15,000 times. Those are some impressive stats and in addition to converting to ad dollars should also help to strengthen the BI brand to someone who is capable of creating meaningful, longform journalism. A reputation they don't really have at the moment (although they do rock at slideshows...).
The Fast Company e-book has only been out for today, but the shares on the article are only at 300 and 200 for Twitter and Facebook, respectively, well off the pace to catch the BI post. Additionally, the Amazon link hasn't had many shares, but perhaps that will change as people actually read it.
This post isn't to pass judgment on which approach is better, and quite frankly I'm not sure. It will be interesting to see if BI tries this approach again in the future and to see how the Fast Company piece does in the Amazon market. Either way, it's exciting to see different publications experimenting like this to try and find new, interesting approaches to content and generating revenue from their work.
This past weekend, I was exposed to two very interesting looks into the world of indie video game development. I am by no means a gamer (very much by choice, as I'm terrified of becoming addicted to a game), so it's not a space I know that much about. I am familiar with runaway hits like Halo or freak indie successes like Minecraft or mobile blockbusters like Candy Crush, but my knowledge doesn't go much deeper than that, and I certainly didn't know much about the behind the scenes of the indie game world.
Even if you're not a gamer, I highly encourage you to check these two out, as they're simultaneously entertaining and interesting looks into a unique industry; additionally, each covers broader themes that apply to the world far outside gaming. One is a profile on the creators of Dwarf Fortress in Gamastura and the other is the documentary film Indie Game (it's on Netflix streaming). A little bit more about both below, but you should definitely go read/see the full pieces.
The first was a profile on the creators of the game Dwarf Fortress. I was unfamiliar with the game until I read this profile. The game is notoriously one of the most difficult games to learn for new visitors, as it offers no tutorials on the nearly infinite actions you can take in the game and really lacks in graphics.
The lack of tutorials are considered a feature, though, by the game's founders, the brothers Zach and Tarn Adams. By not investing valuable time in building out tutorials or designing graphics, it has allowed them to dive deeper into building their fictional world. This quote pretty perfectly sums up the brothers' view on features:
"A lot of the updates don't matter either -- I mean, I spent a month on beekeeping, but you're not confronted with beekeeping, and you don't need to learn how to do it, but if you want to make wax crafts and honey, then it's an avenue you can explore."
An interesting perspective for sure. They're focused on building a game and world they love rather than something that just suits new players. Additionally, the brothers are quite clear in the article that they view this game as their lives' work. The main focus of the profile is them thinking about how they're going to develop the game over the next 20 years. They have already decided that building this game is what they'll be working on for the coming decades, and they've already spent the better part of the last decade on it.
The game's only revenue is through donations, bringing in a total of 250k over the past 5 years (25k/brother/year). They're willing to forego financially greener pastures (one of them holds a PhD in Math from Stanford) to be able to continue focusing on the game, and throughout the article they're more concerned with physical aging getting in the way of game development than financial constraints.
To see anyone, especially nowadays, be taking such a long view of a single project is really unique, and I think it makes for a really interesting story and profile. Be sure to go check it out.
The second was the film Indie Game. Indie Game had popped up on my Netflix for the past couple months, and I had read some nice reviews, but it was really the Dwarf Fortress article that motivated me to finally watch it.
Indie Game is a look at the entire indie video game industry, but it really focuses on two games, Fex and Super Meat Boy. I don't want to ruin anything, so I'm not going to go into the plot or any of the twists and turns, but just know that the movie is well worth the watch. Not only is it a really well done documentary, but it nails some of the same themes of the Dwarf Fortress article, looking at the passion these developers have for their games, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. The movie streams on Netflix with an account and can also be bought on the movie's website.
It seems my effort to not play games to avoid wasting time in addiction took an ironic turn this weekend when I spent a significant amount of time devoted to learning about games. That's the way it goes, I guess. Definitely check these out.
Recently, my grandpa picked me up at the airport when I was visiting family in Cleveland. After some brief conversation about the flight and North Carolina weather, he quickly asked me, "Can you help me get Google Chrome on my computer?" I was taken aback. My grandpa is definitely tech savvy for his age (he texts, emails, uses Excel, does research on the web, and more), but he was also content using a 10 year-old computer and had never previously brought up a browser to me.
I told him I would help out and agreed that Chrome was a great choice for him, but I wanted to know why he all of a sudden cared what browser he used and how he chose Chrome. The answer was simple: Gmail.
My grandparents had recently upgraded to AT&T U-Verse and changed to Gmail in the process, because their old email addresses had been linked to their previous Internet Service Provider. Gmail would be easy to use, is the fastest growing email service, and they wouldn't have to worry about space. It was an easy recommendation and both the installation guy and I pushed it to them. Similar transitions have been happening around the world since Gmail was released in 2004, building the service to more than 400 million active users as of June, 2012.
Gmail originally just seemed like a novel email concept, allowing people to have unlimited space and an intuitive web-based email client, and something Google was doing to make the web a better place for people (especially us nerds). Then, it became an important part of Google's ad business as they (controversially) started to serve ads into your inbox. Now, second to Google search, it is likely the main way people interact with the Google brand and its services. So, in their quest to dominate the web experience and your web existence, Google is using Gmail as a beachhead to get users to use their other web tools.
Trying send a big attachment? Load it up through Google Drive. Want the best and fastest email experience? Upgrade your browser to Chrome. Curious about the contact you're emailing with? Check them out on Google Plus (well, maybe that one hasn't worked yet...).
It's a smart model and seems to be working great (it's a primary reason I'll use Drive to store big files). Google chose a specific web services niche, email, executed extremely well and has now used that strong position to push farther into web services. It lets them gather your data, target advertisers ads, and continue to make gobs of money. And it lets my grandpa have a better web experience.
For the past year, I have been trying to run at least a few times per week. I've always been interested in the fact that I'm not very hungry after a run or a game of basketball. In fact, not only am I not hungry, but I usually want nothing to do with food for period of time (probably around an hour). I always thought this was some personal trait, likely connected with my experience as a high school wrestler and the necessity to avoid food after a workout in order to make weight.
However, I was pleased to see the New York Times detail a small study that explains the science behind this feeling and that it's fairly common. For others who also have wondered why they're not hungry after a run, I've put the relevant part of the article below; the study is comparing the post-workout appetites of runners and walkers. It's pretty interesting!
The walkers turned out to be hungry, consuming about 50 calories more than they had burned during their hourlong treadmill stroll.
The runners, on the other hand, picked at their food, taking in almost 200 calories less than they had burned while running.
The runners also proved after exercise to have significantly higher blood levels of a hormone called peptide YY, which has been shown to suppress appetite. The walkers did not have increased peptide YY levels; their appetites remained hearty.
So, this study shows that running triggers a hormone known to suppress appetite. Maybe the body is in a kind of lock-down mode due to the running and trying to focus on the task at hand or it is afraid of getting disturbed and hurting performance if it ingests food? A scientist I am not, but I can certainly imagine some reasons this would happen while your body is under the stress of quickly burning energy.
I encourage you to read the full post on The Times' Well Blog, as it looks at why runners seem to remain thinner throughout their lives compared to walkers who burn a similar amount of calories in their exercise routines. For me, it was cool to discover that I'm not alone and there is a scientific reason for having less appetite after a run.
At the recent Google I/O conference, Google announced an exciting new app to replace Google Talk/Chat, Google Hangouts. Some of the promises of the new app were having a unified messaging system across devices, the ability to easily integrate multimedia into chat, and being able to spin chats out into video chats like the original Google Hangouts.
I was excited for the new app. During my recent trip to Costa Rica, I had been surprised to discover that there was no official iPad app for Google Talk/Chat, forcing me to download a third-party app, Talk Lite, to g chat with co-workers while I was abroad. While the app performed adequately for short bursts of use to catch up with colleagues, it lacked features like multi-tasking support or good notifications that would be necessary to consistently use it to communicate with others. So, on the release-day, I downloaded the new Hangouts with a sense of irony that this was the very app I needed just three days prior.
At first, Hangouts seemed great. I installed it as an app for Chrome. It pinned conversations to the task bar on my Windows computer, letting me chat with people even when I did not have Gmail visible. The new design seemed nice and fun. And of course, it boasted the cross-device support I desired, which would allow me to seamlessly carry conversations over to my iPhone or iPad. Those new features were all great, but after playing with the service for about a week, it seems that Google (mistakenly?) took several steps backward, in both large and small areas, which ultimately make the product weaker than the original.
Voice calls. The big elephant in the room was that the new Hangouts lost the ability to do voice calls from G Chat from your computer. Considering that the phone icon was one of just two prominently available icons on the version of G Chat before Google Hangouts, it seems like a pretty big oversight to leave it out and like one that must have been intentional. I use my cell phone for 99% of my calls, but I know others who rely on being able to conduct voice calls from G Chat over their computer. Also, it has been a savior to me during times when my phone has died or been broken (I have a long history of iPhone accidents), and I need to hop on a call with a client. Losing this feature already made the new Hangouts less valuable to me, but there was more...
A useless copy and paste layout. I frequently used the copy and paste function on the old g chat. Whether it was to share conversations among colleagues about a specific project, remind someone of a past conversation we had about something, or share silly conversations I had with friends. G chats were easily searchable in email history and a lot of my communication with co-workers and friends was done through the service. The original g chat had the perfect layout for copy and paste: [Chatter's Name]:[What they said]. The new service inexplicably tries to model the conversation with a text message design, which lacks who sent the message and focuses more on the time it was sent, leading to hard-to-decipher pastes where you're trying to solve a puzzle of who said what. Not being able to easily share g chats or decipher past conversations hurts the motivation to have conversations through the medium rather than email (which is already naturally cross-device ready). (Update: It appears this may have been fixed when looking at past Hangouts, now, but still is an issue during a live one).
Messages being sent while I'm away not getting emailed to me. This bug seems like it could be related to a setting I have, but I haven't been able to solve it. In the old g chat, if you weren't signed in and someone sent you a chat, that message would get emailed to you. It was a nice way to make sure you didn't miss something if you abruptly signed off or if someone mistakenly thought you were online. It prevented things from getting lost. Since I've had Hangouts, I've found several messages in the History of a conversation that I never received. For example, I was chatting with a co-worker and quickly signed off to run and do something else. Two days later, I initiated a different g chat with that co-worker and saw they had sent me a message right after I signed off the other day, and I never was sent a notification. In this case, it happened to be a question that the co-worker must have thought I was ignoring. I've had this happen in several other instances. I'm not sure if it's due to there being a delay between my signout of Gmail and Hangouts (I make sure both are signed out) or if Hangouts is assuming I'm using it another device (it is not installed on any others). No matter the reason, it has caused me to miss chats, which again defeats the purpose of chat vs. email.
Lost functionality within chat window. Compared with the other issues, these are small, but things you'd still imagine Google would've fixed before shipping the product. The first one that popped out at me is that you can't right click on a link. I have no idea why that is. For some URLs that are g chatted to me, I'll right click to quickly copy the link if I want to share it or if it is a file link that I need. That function now doesn't work. Also, in the old g chat, you were able to bold words by encompassing them with *'s. *Bold* would show up as Bold in the g chat window after being sent. That's no longer the case, so it appears there is no way to bold something within a message.
Overall, it seems like a lost opportunity to launch this product when it was missing key elements, and with people reverting back to the old system, Google is going to be tasked with selling Hangouts all over again sometime in the future. Poor execution leads to future headaches.