After reading a lot of posts about finding and hiring designers (and after doing a bit of that myself), I’ve been thinking a lot about the other side of things. Particularly, after searching high and low for designers the last few weeks, there are a few things that keep cropping up that stop me from reaching out, as well as a couple that make me totally stoked. So, for what it’s worth to you designers (or aspiring designers) out there, here’s that list in no particular order:
A Dribbble profile is absolutely not a portfolio
Look, you make pretty things. That’s awesome! I love pretty design work! I love Dribbble (and use it to source potential design hires). But there is so much more to our profession than that. I guess you could use a Dribbble profile to show UX thinking and link to front-end code, but let’s be honest: that’s not Dribbble’s strong suit (at the moment).
Have a web site, that you designed
There is no better way for me to get an instant feel for your style and ability to write front-end html/css. While it’s okay to implement html/css frameworks (like bootstrap or something), if your web presence is a pre-baked Tumblr or Wordpress theme you should really consider designing and writing your own stuff.
And for the love of all that is holy, if your web site link currently goes to a GoDaddy landing page, take it down until you put something up. I can’t believe that’s even a thing amongst designers.
There is nothing more powerful than linking to live products
I do a lot of wishful-thinking design on my own. I even keep some of it displayed on my personal site (though to be fair, we did have a working prototype at one point). But what I primarily want to talk to you about isn’t your new idea for an email app or your latest Weather visualization. I want to talk to you about how your designs have held up against real word usage. I want to hear about that time you launched a design and found out you’d missed something vital. I want to view source on some html and css and ask you about that nice CSS3 transition and what fallbacks you’re using for inferior browsers.
I’m not saying don’t display your personal projects (it’s awesome when people love what they do so much). Do it! But focus on the products I can see, sign up for and mess around with.
Be clear about your role on projects
If you present a product as part of your portfolio, make sure to let me know exactly what parts you owned (on the phone or when we’re emailing is fine if it’s not on your web site). Did you own everything because the product team was tiny? Did you have a UX specialist doing most of the wires while you concentrated on the visual language? There aren’t any wrong answers. It will just help me ask the right questions and prevent any surprises when we bring you in for a loop.
For the love of god, be responsive
If we’re emailing, my personal goal is a maximum of 48 hours turnaround time (usually it’s instant) for candidates, even if the reply is just to say I need a little more time to gather whatever feedback I need on your portfolio. And look, I know that we designers are hard to come by and the onus is on me to put forth the effort. But if you don’t respond for a week at a time when we’re setting up time for a phone call it not only makes you look kind of disorganized, but it sends me the message that you really don’t care about chatting with me. If you’re actually interested, acting like it goes a long way. If you’re not, no problem, just shoot me a thanks-but-no-thanks email (we’re all professionals here). Which leads me to my last point.
Above all, be honest
Is the position not quite right? Tell me and maybe we can work it out. Have concerns about the next step in our hiring process? Let’s iterate on that process together to find something that works for both of us. What I’ve found to be most true is that finding and hiring designers is a collaborative activity between us and you, the candidate. The way we interact during that process is, in a lot of ways, the way we’ll interact when we’re working together. In that spirit, push back if it feels like the right thing to do. Ask lots of questions. Make sure you’re finding the right fit for you, and not just finding a job.
And, of course, if you’re interested in designing at Etsy. Let me know.
This past week it seems like everyone in my stream is trying out Twitter’s newly acquired-and-relaunched app, Vine. For those uninitiated, Vine allows you to take and string together a series of short video clips with your iPhone camera and publish the result as an animated gif. While the results have thus far been… entertaining, it seems not only possible, but likely that Vine’s novelty factor will simply wear off in the next couple of weeks, leaving the app a ghost town and Twitter wondering what to do next.
The thing is, I’d argue that Vine failing quickly would actually be the best possible outcome for Twitter. If it fails quickly, they can devote fewer resources to that and focus on the product moat they should be (and, at least on the web, are) digging to insulate themselves from future contenders. If Vine’s death is prolonged by even mediocre usage (by Twitter standards), it will be all too tempting to try iterating the app out of mediocrity. This means not only keeping the current team working on Vine, but probably hiring more people as the app grows more complex with each version. It means expending more time, money and resources on a product that isn’t Twitter.
And if the app actually takes off and explodes in popularity… I mean, I guess that’s great? Twitter will have a monopoly on the personal animated gif vertical? Surely that moat cannot be worth the distraction from defending the crown jewel.
A lot of people will (and have) compared this to Facebook buying Instagram. However, Facebook’s purchase of Instagram was in defense of their own product’s moat. Before Instagram, Facebook owned personal photos on both mobile and web. As Instagram started making massive gains in how people take and share mobile photography, Facebook saw the threat and, instead of trying to beat them head-to-head, joined forces with Instagram, strengthening their position as the #1 place to share personal photos.
Twitter acquiring and releasing Vine does nothing to protect their core product. If Vine had been released outside of Twitter, it gaining popularity would not have been a threat to Twitter’s value proposition. Buying and releasing Vine only serves to distract some folks at Twitter from doing work that strengthens the product and the company long-term.
It’s kind of crazy to think that, even a few years ago, I felt I was getting a lot of value from the service. I never took a job sourced from LinkedIn, but I certainly had a few interviews that blossomed out of Inbox messages. It also served (and still does, honestly) quite well as a résumé replacement, allowing me to spend less time tweaking my work history and more time preparing portfolios and for interviews. In fact, in leaving, that feature is the one I’ll miss the most.
But then again, I’ll get to avoid the LinkedIn recruiter spam, letting me know about exciting system operations positions (because I have familiarity working around coding languages) or sending obvious form mail designer inquiries. I’ll also be free from the totally random “Add me to your network” emails from people I’ve never met or worked with (mostly recruiters, but definitely not limited to that). And, mostly, I’ll never again receive the latest LinkedIn email they’ve signed me up for on-launch. I won’t have to ever sigh that “this is bullshit” sigh, login to LinkedIn and disable that latest email subscription.
I considered just filtering all LinkedIn emails to my Trash, but then what’s the point of having LinkedIn?
Maybe I’ve just outgrown the service, but I think it’s something else. When it started, LinkedIn was about connecting you and the people you know (and endorse) professionally. It was the answer to not wanting to add your boss on Facebook. It was a place to source potential job candidates through your professional network. Getting a message from someone on LinkedIn meant that you were pretty closely connected to each other. It was personal. Useful.
Then they sold all of that to the recruiters. And as the usefulness of your Inbox went down, the “update” emails from LinkedIn became more numerous and varied (like trying to plug a dam with your fingers and watching more leaks spring up). I guess that’s what it takes to take a company public and to keep it profitable. It’s just sad the things we do to our lovely, useful products in order to take them to the next level. There must be another way.
Much has already been written about Twitter and Flickr’s recent forays into photo filters. In particular, my friend MG wrote today that adding filters to Twitter and Flickr is a misguided attempt to catch up to Instagram:
But let’s not beat around the bush: both Flickr and Twitter have rolled out these updates thinking filters will somehow make them more competitive with Instagram. These are purely reactive moves that show a fundamental misunderstanding of why Instagram is what it is.
To add some color here, I’d guess that the addition of filters to Twitter and Flickr (and every new photo app that launches) is a result of believing they are table stakes for mobile photos. Launch without them, and your photo-taking app starts off at an immediate disadvantage. For Twitter and Flickr, filters must seem like a base requirement if they want to have a hope of converting Instagram users, who have already come to expect photo filters as a core feature.
In my career I’ve been in dozens of meetings where the term “table stakes” gets dropped in. Maybe it’s by a designer defending what they feel is a non-negotiable element of the user experience. Maybe it’s a PM trying to keep the product feeling relatable. I’ve even heard the term batted around by engineers who are thinking about how the feature relates to the rest of what they’re building.
Whatever the reason, time and again I see that term win arguments. You say “table stakes” and everyone stops and nods because, hell, it’s usually true. It seems pretty obvious that launching an app without photo filters means you’re at a competitive disadvantage. I’ve also heard this term referred to as the back-of-the-box comparison. If someone held up your feature bullet points and compared them to your competitor, what points don’t you match up against?
The problem, as MG points out, is that focusing on table stakes isn’t how innovation happens. Can you imagine if Instagram had tried to match Flickr feature-for-feature? 30 second videos, albums, collections, tag clouds, groups. Arguably, at the time Instagram launched, these features would have been considered table stakes by most people building photo competitors. It would have been easy to assume (and hard to argue against) that without these features, your fledgling photos product would be crushed by the well-established and feature-rich Flickr.
The reason Instagram won (and continues to win) is because they didn’t base their product on table stakes. They didn’t use their competitors as a baseline. They didn’t battle with Flickr, or Twitter, or even Facebook. The reason Instagram is succeeding (and by all accounts winning) is the same reason every majorly successful startup ever wins:
They started playing an entirely different game altogether.
Was having an interesting conversation this morning with Om and Hunter about the recent firing of Richard Williamson from Apple over the Maps debacle. Hunter posed a question that, in hindsight, seems like such an obvious one to ask:
How does that make rest of co feel? Enforces ‘only ship quality’ or makes people risk averse?
After thinking about that for a little while, there seem to be two forms of risk aversion Hunter’s identifying:
An aversion to proposing new initiatives and making big bets on unproven technology.
This is the worst kind of risk aversion and you see it all the time in big companies. Microsoft, in particular, seems to be struggling with this aversion. Even in Windows 8, which placed a big bet on the Metro-style, they mitigated risk by shipping Windows Classic as part of the operating system. Even in the face of it being a terrible user experience on a touch screen, there’s an obvious fear that not including old Windows would a) cause people not to buy Windows 8 and b) threaten the career of whoever made the call to ditch it.
Aversion to big bets means you stop innovating (and fall behind), or that you ship half-measure products that are afraid to commit to a direction.
Aversion to shipping sub-par products.
On the face of it, being averse to putting half-baked products (like Apple Maps) out into the wild isn’t the worst problem to have. It means that you only release things when they’re truly solid and ready for primetime. Apple is historically known for this sort of attitude, though it can easily be argued that they ignored those instincts with MobileMe, Siri and Apple Maps.
The problem with this aversion is that, unless you have a strong hand at the wheel, it’s easy to slip ship dates or, in bad cases, never ship. The beautiful thing about shipping as early as possible is that having a product out in the world forces you to focus on improving it quickly. There’s nothing that lights a fire quite like knowing that real people are struggling with your product.
It seems fairly obvious that Apple letting Williamson go only serves to reinforce the second point. And to be honest, Apple’s track record of releasing not-quite-ready apps and services isn’t awesome, so maybe they need that realignment internally. Regardless, it will be interesting to see what these recent changes mean for overall software and service quality going forward.
Lately, it seems like every company is presenting themselves as design-driven. They tout accomplishments like hiring a designer as part of the first set of employees, striving for simple and straightforward user experiences and deploying visually beautiful sites and apps that garner first-glance kudos from Dribbble and the tech press. This promise of design-led culture is pushed with high frequency on design job boards and recruiting emails. Join our team, they say, we really care about design.
The problem is that being design-driven doesn’t simply mean caring about user experience or stunning look-and-feels. It doesn’t mean hiring as many designers as possible. It doesn’t mean more wireframes or user research or having a design blog.
Being design-driven means treating design as a partner (and a leader) in the product creation process. Look at your feature roadmap right now. Are there major initiatives and ideas that were generated directly from your designer or design team? If yes, was design in the room when the other items were created and prioritized? Congratulations, you’re design-driven.
The reality is that many companies hire designers, but still treat that part of their product as a resource instead of a thought-leader. And even if a company starts out as design-driven, it’s all too easy to lose that as you grow the team. Hiring designers is a tough business (especially today), not to mention it’s hard to predict how a designer will scale against engineering and product orgs. If you’re not vigilant, you’ll find your designer not only struggling to keep pace, but (because they’re so constrained) also unable to contribute meaningfully to the product vision and direction. And while you may not feel the results of that initially, you certainly will later down the road.
When I worked at Zoosk, there was a lot of concern from my CEOs that I would accidentally become a resource. They pushed hard for me to have free time to blue sky and generate new ideas and features for the product. And while ideas and features certainly originated from all parts of the company (as they should!), there was a high value placed on the time I allotted to imagining the future of the product.
Part of this is because they valued perspectives from all parts of the organization. But I think the bigger reason is that designers are in a unique position when it comes to holistically understanding products. Whether it’s because there are typically few designers per product or because of something innate to the design process, designers are naturally 10,000-foot-view people. They view every feature they work on and every idea they have as part of a larger whole. They view changes not just through the lens of the present, but also looking into future iterations. They think about version 5.0 while working on version 1.0.
This sort of perspective is invaluable when building products. Keeping design deeply involved and connected to the heartbeat of your company won’t only make you truly design-led, but will also greatly benefit your company, your product and your users.
The high school I attended is trying to raise $25,000 for a new computer lab and to provide students with a class in mobile app development. This is seriously awesome and I’m hoping the Internet can help make it happen.
Go here to donate. Make sure to write in Mobile App Development in the description line. Even a few dollars would make all the difference.
The slightly longer version:
My family moved to Louisiana from Portland, Oregon when I was thirteen years old. Beside it being a hard adjustment culturally, the most difficult part for me (and my siblings) was that the schools in the town we moved to were woefully behind the ball. The under-funding was such that students were required to bring enough cleaning supplies to keep the school clean for a year (Windex, paper towels, tile cleaner, etc.). Textbooks were out of date, school supplies were mostly non-existent and the teachers, bless them, just didn’t have the resources available to be as effective as possible. The result was either students who weren’t challenged enough or students who needed more attention but couldn’t get it.
In tenth grade, my English teacher, Mrs. Sullivan, pulled me aside and told me that she was submitting me as a prospect for a public school in Natchitoches, Louisiana: The Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts. The school is publicly funded and at the time only cost about $1000 per year (half that if the family was in a lower bracket, and totally free if even lower than that). Students live in dorms together on a college campus and attend classes taught by people with PhDs and Master’s degrees. The school was four hours away from home for me, which meant I’d only come home once a month or so. Basically, it was college before college. I told Mrs. Sullivan to send in the Handicapped Student form to the state (this was how you applied to LSMSA back then) and went home to convince my parents.
Luckily for me, they needed very little convincing and I was allowed to attend. From day one, the school changed everything for me. I was no longer bored. I never skipped class. I was never the smartest kid in class. I learned how to do my own laundry, to manage my own time and, I think most importantly, I learned how to learn. Before that school, my view of learning was mostly memorization and regurgitation. I’d gotten so good at that, that I nearly washed out in my first semester at LSMSA. Not one class required it. I remember getting my first English paper back with a big red ’D' on it (along with very detailed line-by-line notes from Dr. Babcock and simultaneously being elated and scared out of my mind. At the end, he wrote something about five paragraph papers being bullshit.
I worked harder in the two years I was at LSMSA than I’ve ever worked academically. I’d even pit those two years up against the four I spent in university afterwards. Being publicly funded, they do a lot with the little they receive. Faculty and staff regularly interact with students - office hours, providing home-cooked meals and even taking students to doctor’s appointments, grocery stores, etc. It’s an amazing place and without it, I’m not sure I’d be anything close to who I am now. I owe it a huge debt.
That’s why I’m donating to help fund the new Mobile App Dev class they want to start. That and the fact that developing mobile apps is on the verge of becoming a required skill, not just to program, but to start companies. And if there is one place that’s likely to generate entrepreneurs, it’s LSMSA. The students there are bright, curious and, to be honest, are already probably teaching themselves how to develop and design for mobile. This is a chance to give them a boost. Your donation will go a long way toward equipping the next generation of engineers and startup CEOs. Please consider donating.
I’ve been thinking about writing a recruiting post for a couple of years now. For obvious reasons, I’ve been thinking about it even more lately, but tonight finally pushed me over the edge. I’d just gotten home and saw I missed a call from a number in Louisiana (where half of my family live). I called the number back and after a couple of rings Andrew from Crappy Tech Staffing Agency Dot Com picked up and, before I could figure out who I was even speaking to, started pitching me on “opportunities.” I interrupted him to ask how he got my number and after an awkward pause he stammered, “Research.” I asked him again what company he works for and then told him I would be sure to never work with that company in the future.
This experience, as I understand it, is not uncommon. In fact, Andrew seemed surprised that I was unhappy with being cold-called at home. “This is industry standard,” he argued with me.
No wonder everyone who works in tech hates recruiters. We’re constantly bombarded by LinkedIn requests, emails for positions that don’t even come close to our skill set (I’ve personally been offered Server Ops positions at reputable startups all because some recruiter searched for “Ruby on Rails” and I popped up) and now phone calls. We need an intervention. So here are a few rules-of-the-road for how to recruit without being an asshole:
1. Only use publicly-available contact methods
My phone number is definitely not publicly listed (at least not by me). I’m not sure how I got into whatever database Andrew is using, but I have never posted it online for the world to see and use. The thing is, I’m not hard to contact otherwise. On my personal site I provide links to Twitter, LinkedIn, Dribbble and even my email address. If I have a public profile, you can contact me through it. Unlike some people, I don’t even find cold-emails offensive, since I list that openly on my portfolio. But it’s really creepy to have my phone ring and immediately sets me on the defensive. Use the approved contact methods or don’t even bother.
2. Read the profiles. Know who you’re contacting
Like I mentioned above, I regularly get recruiting emails talking about how I would really love this open Sys Ops position or that SDE role. Yes, I have experience working around Ruby on Rails, PHP, Python, etc., but one look at my web site, LinkedIn resume, Twitter account bio, etc. and you’d know I’m a designer. This is pure laziness and shows you’re playing a numbers game. It not only makes you look like an idiot, it makes the company you’re working for seem either inept at recruiting or inept at hiring good recruiters.
Startups, I’m looking at you here. I know that outsourcing recruiting is the way it pretty much has to be up to a certain point. But be very careful about who you hire to do your recruiting. Check on their methods often. Spot check the lists of people they’ve contacted on your behalf. They’re representing you and should be doing so with care and class.
3. Tell candidates what company you represent
It really does not make you more appealing to hide what company you’re pitching. Let me save you some time: No, I would not love to come interview at shadow company X.
4. Have the hiring manager cold-contact candidates
The companies I typically respond to are the ones that only use recruiters to identify potential candidates (or don’t use recruiters at all). Getting an email or @reply from the CEO/Creative Director/UX Lead/etc. is so much more effective than the form email from Andrew@CrappyStaffSolutions.com. It a) let’s candidates know you’re serious. and b) shows them you’ve actually taken the time to filter them prior to reaching out. You’ll save yourself a ton of time, because instead of phone screening candidates your recruiters found, you’ll instead only be dedicating that time to candidates you’ve personally reviewed and reached out to. I know in a startup that’s asking a lot, but believe me, those first hires will make or break your company. Be as involved as you can be.
5. Don’t be a dick
This is sort of all-encompassing. Just don’t do it. Be cool. If you’re cool, even if I’m not right for the position, I’ll gladly refer others to you who might be. If you’re a dick, no one will work with you and they sure as hell won’t refer anyone to you either.
That’s about it. To be honest, the entire recruiting industry needs to be shaken up. It’s so crummy that I’d imagine a solid, people-focused recruiting startup could easily gain traction and tear down this numbers-driven staffing plague currently engulfing the technology industry. If you’re working on something along those lines, let me know, I’d love to shoot the breeze.
Let’s get this out of the way up front: Apple directly compares themselves to competitors all the time. In fact, I can’t actually recall an announcement in which they didn’t contrast their products or numbers with the competition’s. Not only does it make sense for them to do so, but most of the time it would be silly not to. Today, even, their web traffic comparison between iOS and Android was brutally effective. When they draw comparisons from a position of strength, the result is compelling.
With the iPad Mini, it seems clear that they’re attacking the market from a position of weakness. Their offering suffers from a couple of disadvantages (I use that word very lightly):
Lower resolution than the smaller Nexus 7
An $80 price gap between the Mini and Nexus
Neither of these things, in my opinion, necessarily makes the Mini a don’t-buy. The price point, while a bit higher than I think everyone hoped for, is still $170 less than the entry level 10-inch iPad. And while Retina displays are fantastic, the fact is that the user experience doesn’t suffer without it (made obvious by the millions of non-Retina devices out in the world). Not to mention that the Mini has access to the greatest advantage of all - Apple’s App Store. If you’ve already bought into the ecosystem, switching is pretty difficult. And if you’re a first-time buyer, Apple is still fielding the most compelling app ecosystem out there.
But they didn’t bring any of that up today when announcing the Mini. Instead, Phil Schiller focused on the Nexus being heavier (all 0.07 lbs.) and thicker (fair) with a smaller (but wait, higher resolution) screen. He also then took Android applications to task for simply doubling their resolutions instead of writing natively for the hardware. The crummy part of that is that, for most Android developers (many of whom also write apps for iOS, I’d imagine), reflowing instead of rewriting is simply the nature of the platform. It’s one thing to say “developers are forced to reflow their apps instead of write them natively because the hardware is so inconsistent” and certainly another to dump on app developers/designers for choices thrust upon them. It’s a bit like taking iOS devs to task for using Apple’s less-than-perfect Maps API. Sure, they could do it differently, but really it’s Apple’s weakness, not theirs.
It’s disappointing to see that, instead of taking the natural strengths of the Mini and highlighting them, Apple decided to try covering up their product’s weaknesses by saying (at times dishonestly) “but we’re not as bad as these guys over here.” Confidence is highlighting your own strengths, rather than putting the spotlight squarely on your opponent. And while there’s little doubt that the new iPad Mini is a solid product, you wouldn’t have known it by the way it was sold to us today.
The newspaper was invented and gained traction because it solved a common user problem. People needed to share and consume information and keeping up to date with the goings-on in (and outside) of a community was not only tough, but, as the population grew, nearly impossible. In ancient Rome, the government took to posting the Acta, daily news briefs, in public places so people could stay up to date with political and social happenings without relying solely on word of mouth. The creation of a printed, periodical news brief increased the efficiency of communicating important events to a large population. People who previously didn’t have time to go around town to find out what’s new could simply stop off, read the paper and pretty quickly get a sense for what was happening around them.
As the world got bigger, the value of the newspaper rose as well. Instead of only needing coverage from our local communities, we now needed access to news from thousands of miles and, eventually, oceans away. This necessity not only propelled the publishing industry forward, but also technology (the printing press is easily one of the most important inventions of the 15th century). With each technological advance, trading information across vast distances became easier and easier. And although we discovered audio-visual ways to exchange news, the time-bound nature of radio and television just couldn’t compete with the asynchronous convenience of the printed page which can be consumed at the reader’s leisure.
Then, the Internet. Holy crap the Internet. That gigantic world of ours shrunk in a fraction of the time it had taken to expand. Large media conglomerates (in the form of the music, film and news industries) either disregarded or just weren’t savvy enough to be aware of just how earth-shattering a change the Internet brought with it. And once the revolution began (Napster is my personal inflection point), it wasn’t only impossible to stop, but it totally mystified and angered the established brands. What do you mean people are aggregating and exchanging news online for free? Why would people want their music and video on their computers? Instead of riding the wave, the media industries paddled against it. Even now, every forward step is a struggle as old media are dragged kicking and screaming onto the web.
This inability to detach from the old ways of news publishing is exactly what’s killing the industry now. Instead of solving user problems (like they did with the first newspaper), publications are instead solving publisher problems. That’s why you see so many newspaper web sites and mobile apps that look exactly like their physical counterparts. The question they’re attempting to answer isn’t “How has the medium changed our readers' content desires?” but rather “How can we shove all this content into a smaller space?”
The reality is that while smartphones have made accessing information more convenient, they’ve simultaneously created a rift in usage patterns. With so much more information at our fingertips, we actually have less time to filter and consume it than when we were simply browsing the daily paper or monthly magazine. Communicating broad swathes of information requires smaller, digestible chunks of data (with the option to dive deeper). On the other hand, narrowing the scope and number of articles makes room for an initially deeper experience. The thing is, newspapers and magazines as we know them do both simultaneously - we browse headlines casually and then read the articles that appeal to us, while also at times dedicating time to reading an entire section in full (the Sports section, for example). But in the end, this duality simply hasn’t been successful on the new medium. And instead of adjusting the way they disseminate information, publishers have insisted on simply shoehorning the current model through a smaller lens.
And that worked for awhile. I’d argue that’s only due to the tech industry focusing primarily on content aggregation rather than creation. Products like Google Search, Digg, Reddit, Flipboard, etc. are concerned with finding and displaying existing content either as a ranked list of what’s popular/relevant or as a revisualization of that content. They don’t compete directly with existing publishing orgs, in fact enhancing them by driving traffic and providing content-centric design where there is none. Pure aggregation, it turns out, serves to reinforce the existing models.
With Circa and The Magazine, however, a shift toward content curation and creation is emerging. With Circa, we’re finally seeing editorialized news delivery. Instead of just pulling RSS feeds from major news outlets and providing link lists, the folks at Circa take the time to curate and distill content. The result is a broad list of topics, each containing a limited number of bite-sized facts and information. Links to sources provide additional, deeper data, but are definitely not the primary (nor secondary, I’d say) display. The innovation here feels very obvious: Circa realize that if you want to go broad with your content, the display of that content needs to be shallow and digest-able, with the option to dive deeper. They treat news stories as living entities instead of articles, allowing for shorter, more focused bursts of information. Instead of giving you a 1500 word article on the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, they offer you the important bits of the story, updating with new small chunks as the story evolves. And now, with Push Notifications, story updates are as simple as text messages. Circa is, without a doubt, the mobile news app.
As for long-form articles, Marco Arment’s new publication, The Magazine, sets the new standard. In stark contrast to Circa’s broad-and-bite-sized approach, The Magazine chooses a narrow topic and provides a handful of focused, in-depth pieces (four in the first issue). Instead of having a stack of unread New Yorkers piling up in your living room (or on your Kindle, as I do), the tight and limited number of articles along with a reasonable, twice a month, update schedule make The Magazine feel, at the very least, possible to complete. Have ten minutes on the bus? Read an article. Do that twice a week and you’ll be ready for the next issue. The notion that we’d rather consume less (but complete what’s there) is refreshing.
This isn’t to say that publications like The New Yorker don’t provide quality content. Rather, it’s that the sheer amount and weight of that content is simply unsustainable (and honestly, more overwhelming) going forward. Editors must be more brutal and publications much more sharply focused. The hard, honest truth is that the news and magazine businesses, as they stand today, cannot and will not exist in the long-term. Rather, it will be publications like The Magazine and news resources like Circa that will define how we gather information and choose topics for deeper exploration. The era of the giant, mega-news-corp is slowly but surely giving way to smaller, focused and more nimble players. And while they busy themselves blaming the Internet and Google and the rise of mobile for their troubles, they’re falling further and further behind.