Why I’m Joining Quartz, In One Handy Chart

Starting this Friday, I’ll be the new Tech Editor for Quartz, an excellent, newish business news site from Atlantic Media.

Why? Here’s the quick version:

Quartz Chart

A little more on that middle part about City Notes, the mobile startup I’ve been working on with my friend Mark Dorison. We’ve spent this year designing and building a new app that we think you’re really going to like — we’ll show you more when it’s ready. It’s the kind of thing that I hope we’ll still be working on many years from now, with a strong business, brand, and team. For now, I’ll be putting my evenings and weekends into it, with the plan that it will eventually become my day job. Why not raise a bunch of VC money and go nuts? We might do that, someday — but we’re waiting for the right time and the right partners.

What about this site, SplatF? If you’ve been here since the beginning, I started SplatF almost three years ago as an experiment in self-publishing. I’ve learned a lot! For a while, there, I was even making a real run at it. And I’ve loved seeing others flourish on their own: John Gruber’s always-sold-out Daring Fireball sponsorship now costs $9,500 a week — when I started this site, it was $5,500.

But three years doing the Stay-At-Home Brooklyn Writer Thing was enough for now: I’m actually really, legitimately excited to be in an office again, getting dressed before noon, having a bunch of interesting coworkers, and working on things with other people. There’s a real market gap in what I’d call “interesting tech stories that actually matter” and chasing that sounds a lot more fun — to me, at least — than selling podcast sponsorships. More soon.

The Dropbox OS Is Taking Shape

If you control storage and sync, you control a lot. (There’s not much left but apps, media, and the pipe.)

Dropbox has storage and sync, and now a growing collection of apps: Mailbox, which is expanding to the desktop, and now Carousel, a photo- and video- sharing app. Expect more of these consumer and business productivity apps — both homemade and via acquisition. The Dropbox OS is taking shape.

Given the choice, I’d probably rather someday buy a Dropboxbox than a Chromebook.

Previously: “Dropbox Acquires Microsoft For Patents — Future SplatF Headline”

The Real Beauty Of Twitter’s New Profile Page

Twitter’s new profile page — more photos, featuring your best tweets, etc. — isn’t really about copying Facebook or making a simple service more cumbersome. Rather, it seems to be about establishing your Twitter page as your main profile page on the entire Internet. And that I’m excited about.

In my case, no address on the web offers a better picture of who I am than my Twitter stream — not my LinkedIn profile, not my Facebook profile, certainly not my two infrequently updated blogs, nor any biographical page from previous jobs. I’ve never set up an About.me page, and probably never will.

But linking someone to my current Twitter page is also a waste: Beyond the Follow button and two-sentence bio, there isn’t much utility there. My visible tweets, sorted by recency, are mostly out-of-context replies to other people. No one is going to get the right idea about me by reading those.

But it’s easy for Twitter to fix this, and it seems to be on the right page. The most obvious things to display at the top of my ideal Twitter profile are some of my best tweets, whether they’re picked by me or by Twitter’s algorithms. (If you’ve ever seen Twitter’s analytics feature, you can already filter your stream to identify “good” and “best” tweets.) Twitter could also highlight the most popular links I’ve shared, my best photos, and maybe even my most interesting followers or the people I chat with the most.

That’s a page worth sharing, and one worth referencing as my homepage/profile page across the Internet.

Thinking Out Loud About Secret

For the past few days, I’ve been obsessed with a new app called Secret. If you haven’t tried it yet, it’s basically a simple feed of anonymous “secrets” that people are posting in public, with only a tiny hint who’s sending it — a “friend” (someone in your phone’s contact list), “friend of friend”, or someone further away.

While many of the posts are boring or tacky — I kinda love how the Silicon Valley community has immediately displayed how shallow, petty, and defensive it is, despite endless claims to the contrary — some are shockingly compelling. Many are funny, some are scandalous, and some are touching. One guy in New York just posted a photo of an engagement ring, with the note “She said no.” Who knows if it’s real or fake — that’s part of the fun — but it makes you think.

Secret is easily the fastest-growing social app I’ve ever used. Judging by the double-digit “loves” and comments many of my posts have already received, it’s growing way faster than Instagram did.

The billion-dollar question is whether Secret will still be a vibrant, growing community in a few months. It could totally be a fun, quick fad, à la Chatroulette or Dots. Or if people keep posting and commenting, it could go on to become one of the great social networks.

One big thing Secret has going for it is the relative freedom to post stuff you’d never post on Twitter — thoughts about your job, relationship, friends, whatever — without the concern of being outed or fired. (All of this assumes that Secret’s security isn’t compromised, which is never a guarantee.) This is always going to be an asset that Facebook or Twitter can’t easily copy. But by definition, Secret must also leave out many great features that public social networks have: The ability to build a following, get credit for your best posts, share your secrets more widely, or see who’s communicating with you. Before you smirk, these aren’t just features of Twitter or Facebook — they’re basic traits of human nature.

On Secret, you’re not building your personal brand or any digital relationships — you’re building Secret’s brand, and blowing off some steam. On a short-term basis, for most people, that’s totally fine. But for the long run, it’s not clear whether people will put much effort into Secret once the novelty wears off.

I’d Pay For: Twitter Blog Comments

I’ve gone back and forth on Comments here on SplatF. On one hand, it’s idiotic to ignore the fact that there’s a community around the site, with interesting — often dissenting — voices that make good complements to my posts. On the other hand, typical blog Comments sections are frequently a disaster zone, especially on posts that get a bunch of traffic from outsiders, who take a quick dump on the site and then never return.

I’ve hoped for a while that Twitter would try to help solve this problem. (I should note up front that I have neither the budget nor the time to properly moderate any sort of Comments section, so this whole thing could be a non-starter.) Facebook’s Comments plugin seems nice enough, but knowing my audience, Facebook is not where we hang out — it’s Twitter by a mile. Many of my favorite readers either don’t have Facebook accounts or go by pseudonyms, where Facebook isn’t helpful at all.

Twitter itself has done a decent stand-in as a community gathering place for SplatF readers, but it’s disconnected. If we have a great discussion about a post on Twitter, yes, it’s happened, but I’d have to manually note it here, and it’s still awkward to link to or embed individual conversations. Some sort of plugin, which gathers the best replies and tweets about a post would be awesome. This would encourage comments in someone’s usual tone — supporting their Twitter persona and reputation, not the sudden-jerk-syndrome typical to blog Comments — while also allowing me to present them on the same page as my text.

My guess is that this isn’t likely to happen, at least from Twitter itself, which is too bad. Twitter has every incentive to drive activity and traffic to Twitter, not to fragment it. And the company seems busy enough already. So I’m not going to get my hopes up. But I’d love to be wrong.

‘Peak Mac’ Revisited

Three decades in. How many left?

Apple’s Mac business recently celebrated its 30th birthday. In an era where entire products, companies and platforms seldom last more than one decade, three is exceptionally impressive. And not only is the Mac alive, despite massive industry change — it just put in its second-best year ever, with 17.1 million shipments in 2013.

But 2013 also marked the second year in a row that Mac shipments didn’t increase, after a significant growth period last decade. Annual shipments peaked in 2011, shy of 18 million, and quarterly shipments peaked two years ago, with 5.2 million in the December 2011 period.

The real story, of course, is the growth of the iPad. Apple’s “computer” business, combining the Mac and iPad, just reported its best quarter ever, passing 30 million units for the first time ever.

But it’s still worth studying the Mac on its own. Have sales truly peaked for good? All signs point to yes: The declining PC industry, the gradual shift from desktops to notebooks to tablets, and the increasing longevity of Macs, requiring less-frequent replacement cycles. It seems more likely than not that we’ve seen the one and only 5+ million-Mac-shipments quarter in its history.

That said, there’s still some wiggle room. This past quarter’s 4.8 million Mac shipments marked a surprising growth acceleration, and was within 10% of the all-time record. A repeat, combined with some special circumstances — and perhaps a dramatically compelling new MacBook Air — could potentially set a new high-water mark.

Anyway, this is mostly an academic (and nostalgic) exercise — Apple’s future success and growth probably has nothing to do with the Mac, at least not directly. Apple has long graduated from being the Mac company, at least in sales and profits. All signs still point to a slow, steady — noble? — decline.

Peak Mac Revisited

Previously: Peak Mac?

How Will Apple React To Google’s $3 Billion Nest Deal?

Probably by doing nothing differently.

Just because Larry Page is on an aggressive investment rampage — Waze, Über, now ex-Apple exec Tony Fadell’s Nest — that shouldn’t change the Apple playbook: Say no a hundred times more than you say yes, maniacal focus, mostly tack-on acquisitions, etc.

Does that limit Apple’s potential influence on society and potential sales growth? Sure, I guess. But not more than one more iPod/iPhone/iPad-level product could change things. And while Google’s spending spree is fun to watch, and Google is generally great at acquisitions, Motorola is still, for example… Motorola.

The big, long-term risk is if all of these new Google things work together so well that no one wants to buy anything Apple makes anymore — a true, zero-sum platform monopoly. A more immediate risk could be that Google suddenly becomes such an exciting place to work that no one brilliant wants to work at Apple anymore. Neither of these seems imminent. (And now that pre-exit Nest stock options are no longer on the table, there goes that brain drain, too?)

Google, it seems, wants to be everything. Apple just wants to be Apple. I could actually see them playing better together this way than before.

Also: Nest And The Apple-Fication Of Everything

Dear Hollywood, This Is The Problem

WTF is this?

I can’t remember a time when there were more movies in theaters that I actually wanted to see — you’ve still got it. But this consumer tech stuff… still way too unfriendly.

Ultraviolet Spam

Mini Beats Air

But what I really want now is a 6-inch iPhone and a big-ass kitchen iPad.


It’s been about a month and a half since I upgraded my iPad Mini to the new retina variety. Apple was also kind enough to loan me an iPad Air to re-test my theory that the iPad Mini is “the real iPad”. I’ve enjoyed using them both, and each has its highs and lows. The colors on the Air’s screen, for example, are noticeably more colorful. But a page of crisp text on the retina Mini is one of the most beautiful digital simulations I’ve ever seen.

The bottom line is that the Mini, not the Air, is still the ideal size for almost everything I want to use an iPad for. Being able to hold an iPad comfortably with one hand, or type easily with two thumbs, is still something the Mini offers best. Reading in bed in portrait mode is still much more comfortable on a Mini — less stretching to do. And even though the Air is impressively lighter than my long-gone iPad 3, the fear of a smashed nose from snoozing hasn’t gone away.

I splurged on an LTE Mini this time, and I wouldn’t want to go back to a wi-fi-only world. There’s a surprising difference between tethering to an iPhone and being able to pull out an iPad and be instantly connected, and it changes the way I use it. It’s now a viable device for iMessaging, when iMessage wants to work right. I’ve even re-thought a few of the apps I keep on my home screen. For instance, Google Maps, which I previously only really used on my phone, is now equally useful on a persistently connected iPad with GPS.

While I bought a Verizon iPad Mini, I’ve mostly used the T-Mobile SIM card I picked up in the store for $10, which comes with 200 MB of free data per month. I really like what T-Mobile’s newish CEO John Legere has been doing, and in many cases, its LTE network has actually been faster and more reliable than Verizon’s. Either way, it’s nice to have options. Verizon’s noticeable decline in superiority — along with bullshit charges like a $35 iPad “activation” fee to add it to my shared-data plan — is exactly why I’m considering switching everything to T-Mobile. Being able to sample T-Mobile’s network this way for free is brilliant.

But this exercise has also pushed me further down the line of rethinking my ideal device sizes. Carrying an iPhone, iPad Mini, iPad Air, and MacBook Air at the same time feels a little ridiculous. Ideally, I think I’d want just two: A bigger iPhone (5-6 inches?) that can take over many iPad duties and an even “airier” retina MacBook Air (13) that does double duty as a big-ass kitchen iPad. Without the touchscreen. Ok, still working on this.

Anyway, for now: Mini beats Air.

Previously: 300 Days With The iPad Mini

Long Live The #Shortread

Among its other accomplishments in 2013, Twitter ate this site. But now I’m taking it back.

What I mean by that: Last year, when I had a fun or interesting thought, I almost always just tweeted about it and moved on. Who could blame me? Twitter is unbelievably fast, the feedback is seamless, and with a more pressing job on my mind, why bother sitting at a computer and writing it out? (We’ll discuss WordPress’s better-but-still-not-good-enough mobile tools another time.)

But while some parts of Twitter are satisfying — getting retweets, faves, and especially, interesting new followers — others aren’t. It’s difficult to elaborate on ideas there. It’s hard to point to a permanent record of your thoughts, if you can even find them. And the character limit, while amazing for one-liners and solid for simple ideas, doesn’t leave much room for nuance. I probably wasted as many good ideas on Twitter than I got across well.

(Twitter is also amazingly distracting. So distracting that I’m going to force myself to have it open less this year. Which makes publishing there even trickier.)

Another problem I had with SplatF last year was the feeling that a good post needed to be a longish post. My current layout inadvertently champions the “longread” — big-ass headlines, a subhead, wide paragraphs, large photos, and lots of text. This creates even more pressure: If I can’t afford to put a couple hours into a post, I’ll end up putting it off until it’s no longer interesting.

But I’ve actually never really enjoyed reading or writing long posts. It’s ok if you do, but I just don’t. I’m at a point in my life where I’d rather spend an hour exploring ten new ideas, even if superficially, than one in great detail. So that’s how I’m going to write. (I don’t have time to tweak the layout now, but that’s up for consideration, too.)

My goal for 2014, which I’ve already wasted on Twitter, is to write 200 new posts. In theory, they will be published here. (I’ll reserve the right to write on a different site if things get too off-topic. Also, I’m not including the “quote” posts in the 200. Those are bonuses.) I will hold myself to a limit of 500 words. Unless something radical happens, that’s more than enough from me on a topic right now. Let’s move on with it. Thanks for sticking around.

Update: Looks like my pal and former news-chasing rival MG Siegler has already scooped me with a similar effort. Thanks to Jay Yarow for bringing his post to my attention. Great minds? One more before this becomes a NYT Sunday Styles-worthy trend? I guess we’ll have to keep each other in line now.