Helpful App: Thunderspace 5K

The last few weeks have been just a tad stressful. Needless to say my sleep schedule has taken a massive punch in the balls. Over the past few days I’ve been using this app, Thunderspace 5K, at night as almost a white noise machine. It’s been a revelation. It might be growing up in Oregon, and having spent many a night falling asleep to the sound of rain on the wood deck outside the window of my youth, but this app has replaced podcasts when I finally find my way to bed.

WhatsApp Turns on Encryption

Cade Metz, writing for Wired, tells the inside story of WhatsApp turning on end-to-end encryption.

More than a billion people trade messages, make phone calls, send photos, and swap videos using the service. This means that only Facebook itself runs a larger self-contained communications network. And today, the enigmatic founders of WhatsApp, Brian Acton and Jan Koum, together with a high-minded coder and cryptographer who goes by the pseudonym Moxie Marlinspike, revealed that the company has added end-to-end encryption to every form of communication on its service.

“I’m Not Wearing Hockey Pads”

Boston Dynamics have released a new video of their robot, Atlas, which can walk on two legs, open doors, stack boxes, and handle being pushed around by dudes with sticks. I had two thoughts while watching this: First, “oh great, like the robots aren’t going to remember this one day.” And two, that maybe I’d been watching too much Humans, because I felt this ping of empathy for what I know is a machine.

Bill Simmons Announces ‘The Ringer’

Last week Bill Simmons announced his upcoming new website, The Ringer. Today his partnership with Medium for the publishing of said website has been announced. Edward Lichty’s post about the partnership is filed with PR platitudes but one line in particular set off my bullshit detector:

We eliminate the need for any investment in tech, provide access to a growing network oriented towards meaningful engagement, and deliver constant, always-on innovation from a world-class product development team, whether you’re a single blogger or a large commercial publication — all for free.

I think Medium is a really interesting product and a great environment for hosting medium to long form text — and I’ll continue to recommend it for a certain set of writers. But any company promising this sort of thing for free is really saying for right now. The other shoe drops eventually. I’d recommend a read of David Winer’s “Anywhere But Medium” for the counter argument.

Cool App: Fluid Browser

Sarah Perez, writing for TechCrunch:

One of the better features to emerge in iOS 9 is support for picture-in-picture mode on the iPad. But when you’re trying to surf the web while watching Netflix on your Mac, it’s not as easy to do – you often end up moving separate windows around on the screen, or switching back and forth between the playing video and other browser tabs.

A new floating browser app for Mac called Fluid solves this problem by offering a way to view your work alongside your media content from places like YouTube, Netflix, Vimeo, Hulu and more.

As I’m writing this I have Plex running and playing The Social Network in the corner. Pretty great.

More on Apple and the FBI

More news, and some great analysis, has surfaced over the Apple vs the FBI situation I posted about a few days ago. I’ve rounded up some of the best articles I’ve come across on the subject from a variety of angles.

Rich Mogull, asking if we have a right to security:

The FBI wants this case to be about a single phone used by a single dead terrorist in San Bernardino to distract us from asking the real question. It will not stop at this one case, that isn’t how the law works. They are also teaming with legislators to make encrypted, secure devices and services illegal. That isn’t conspiracy theory, it is the stated position of the director of the FBI. Eventually they want systems to access any device or form of communications, at scale. As they already have with our phone system. Keep in mind that there is no way to limit this to consumer technologies, and it will have to apply to business systems as well, undermining corporate security.

The Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens

Elspeth Reeve, writing for the New Republic, looks at the secret lives of “Tumblr Teens,” the back alley monetization schemes, and the story of some of the most popular accounts being terminated. It’s an in-depth profile on a faction of the internet, and youth culture, that I seemed to just miss.

Each social media network creates a particular kind of teenage star: Those blessed with early-onset hotness are drawn to YouTube, the fashionable and seemingly wealthy post to Instagram, the most charismatic actors, dancers, and comedians thrive on Vine. On Facebook, every link you share and photo you post is a statement of your identity. Tumblr is the social network that, based on my reporting, is seen by teens as the most uncool.

Grab some pizza, or if you’re my age: a beer, and dive in.

Teenagers and Snapchat

Ben Rosen interviewed his kid sister about Snapchat for Buzzfeed:

I’m mesmerized. What’s even the point of sending snaps to each other if you don’t look at them? Am I crazy? That seems so unnecessary. Still, this is adult-brain talking. If I wanted to be one of the teens, I needed to just accept it and press on.

That moment when you know you’re old and things are happening you don’t get? Yeah. That’s right now with my five whole views on my “story.” Look at me, the NARP.

Behind Spotify’s “Discovery Weekly” Playlists

Nikhil Sonnad, writing for Quartz, looks at the technology behind Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” playlists.

“We now have more technology than ever before to ensure that if you’re the smallest, strangest musician in the world, doing something that only 20 people in the world will dig, we can now find those 20 people and connect the dots between the artist and listeners,” Matthew Ogle, who oversees the service at Spotify, told me recently. “Discovery Weekly is just a really compelling new way to do that at a scale that’s never been done before.”

Although I am a professed album lover, I think these playlists are the best thing Spotify has been doing recently. It’s the kind of personalization that is only going to get better, and the trick of finding someone that next band they love is going to put me out of business.

The Website Obesity Crisis

Maciej Cegłowski has posted up a transcript and slides from a talk he gave last year at the Web Directions conference. It looks at the “Website Obesity Crisis” and lays out an argument against the growing trend in giant, and I mean giant, homepages.

Let me start by saying that beautiful websites come in all sizes and page weights. I love big websites packed with images. I love high-resolution video. I love sprawling Javascript experiments or well-designed web apps.

This talk isn’t about any of those. It’s about mostly-text sites that, for unfathomable reasons, are growing bigger with every passing year.

While I’ll be using examples to keep the talk from getting too abstract, I’m not here to shame anyone, except some companies (Medium) that should know better and are intentionally breaking the web.

A number of websites have become almost unusable. The cruft, trackers, and garbage is packed on top of social dialog pop-ups, sinful scroll-jacking javascript, and page sizes that are bigger than mp3 files we used to share.

Uber’s New Icon and Logo

Armin Vit, writing for Brand New (not the band, sorry), looks at the new Uber logo and app icon:

The new one fixes the usability of the logo by going bolder and tighter. On that aspect alone, the logo evolution is a success. Beyond that, there is nothing else nice to say about it but also nothing negative. Okay, well, maybe a couple of things: the inner curves on the bottom halves of the “B”, “E”, and “R” are very awkward and the elliptical (because they are far from rounded) corners are also strange and give the sensation that the letters have been stretched. Overall though, it’s fine. It could be a lot worse, it could be a lot better.

I mostly agree — the wordmark is better, the app icon is shit.

Is SoundCloud Worth More Than Spotify?

Alex Moazed, writing for TechCrunch, on why SoundCloud may be more valuable than Spotify in the long run:

SoundCloud has a platform business model where its content is created by its network of users, not acquired through licensing deals. For SoundCloud, the more audio producers that join the network, the more listeners will want to join. This increase in users, in turn, incentivizes more creatives to post their music or podcasts on SoundCloud, and the network effects continue to build from there.

In contrast, Spotify is primarily a reseller of music inventory owned by record labels and publishers. It’s simply a distributor for the latest releases, sort of like a Walmart for music streaming. Most of the songs on Spotify you could find on Apple Music, Pandora or another streaming service. As a result, Spotify lacks the network effects that SoundCloud enjoys.

But what if Spotify, or Apple Music (or Facebook, or YouTube), adds in the features that SoundCloud currently provides? Does SoundCloud have a monetization strategy that can scale or do they risk being a just a feature in someone else’s business?