How to Fix Mobile Messaging
May 16, 2013
With the recent release of the Google Hangouts messaging app, and the impending multi-platform release of Blackberry Messenger, the world of messaging apps is growing ever more convoluted. I already juggle around text messaging, iMessage, and Facebook Messenger trying to figure out who to contact through which service. It’s frustrating, but I know there are people out there who “have” to deal with an even larger variety of messaging apps.
And there are plenty to choose from on iOS alone. Just a quick search of the App Store reveals a selection of messaging apps; AIM, Yahoo! Messenger, Kik, WhatsApp, Skype, MSN, and SnapChat just to name a few. There are also a bunch of “text-for-free” apps, and various other social networking apps with messaging built-in, but I’m talking about pure, standalone messaging apps.
Including the newly-released Hangouts, and the upcoming Blackberry Messenger, I’m counting 11 potential ways to message people with my iPhone. All 11 use completely different protocols, and while they are mostly cross-platform (with the obvious exception of Apple’s iMessage), they are not compatible with each other. Having no common backend is a major problem with these types of services.
Let’s have a look at email. No matter if you use iCloud, Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, or any of the other email services out there, you can send messages to anybody regardless of who’s hosting their account. It’s simple, and It Just Works™ (most of the time). So why not just adopt email as the messenger of choice on smartphones?
Email was born in a very different era, and was built to support the needs of the time. If you were connected to a computer network, you were at a hefty machine, hardwired into the wall. There was no WiFi or 3G (imagine that kids!), and the desire to send quick, poorly composed messages to your friends just wasn’t there. Email served as the best form of communication over these networks, and later the Internet, because it made the most sense.
In today’s world, most of us are carrying mobile devices in our pockets, usually a smartphone of some variety. Email is great to have on these devices, but it’s not the most convenient thing if you just want to shoot your friend a message like; “hey sup bro”. In the world of smartphones, messaging is king. It’s no wonder there are so many services out there fighting for a spot on your home screen.
Despite the vast differences between then and now, I think we can learn a lot from email on how to make messaging much easier for everyone. Instead of having 11 different messaging apps with incompatible protocols, why not build a universal messaging system that any app can build upon, much like email?
Of course, there are a few issues that would need to be sorted out:
How would we deal with the inevitable surge of spam? Open protocols like email make it easy for spammers to take advantage of the system. What steps can be taken to reduce this issue with minimal user frustration?
How should addresses be handled in a user friendly manner? Email addresses tell your email system which email server to connect to, and who on that server should receive your message. How do you communicate similar information in a different, and more user-friendly manner?
How could existing services switch their current users over with minimal headache for everyone involved? Companies wouldn’t want to put too many resources into a move like this, and customers wont want their accounts to get all screwy.
Would there be a way to fold SMS messages, a staple of pretty much every cell phone ever, into the mix? It would be a mistake to neglect people who don’t carry around smartphones. Is it even technically, or legally possible?
These are issues I believe can be solved though. The only reason I can see for why this hasn’t happened yet is that the current system is pretty firmly rooted. Change is hard, even when it’s good change.
As more and more mobile messaging apps pop up, it becomes more and more clear why we need an open protocol. In today’s market, which app you use is entirely dependent on what your friends are using. But if all apps can get you in touch with your friends equally, then it becomes a race for who can provide the best user experience. In the end, everybody wins. Except maybe Facebook.
May 09, 2013
I amuses me whenever I get a letter from Cox practically begging me to sign up for their TV service. I’ve been getting these pretty regularly since I moved into my own place 3 years ago, when I signed up for their high-speed internet service (which has steadily been getting more expensive, but that’s another story) Each offer gets progressively better, but nothing they can offer beats the price and convenience of what I already use. (Hint: it’s not piracy!)
Thanks to iTunes, I have all the current TV I could ever want to watch. For less than a month of cable, I can subscribe to an entire season of a TV show, and watch (and re-watch) each episode whenever I’d like to. I’m not beholden to the schedule of BBC America if I want to catch up on the latest Doctor Who, I can watch the episode whenever I have an hour to just veg. That, for me is a much better value than anything a cable TV subscription could offer. And without those annoying advertisements!
Netflix is also a great service for watching older TV shows (and older seasons of current TV shows). For $8 a month I can watch as many episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia I want. Sure, there are plenty of other shows too, but when you have those you really don’t need anything else. Again, like iTunes, on-demand content, with no ads!
Of course, there is the dilemma of availability. What do I do for shows that I’d like to watch, like Game of Thrones, that doesn’t offer a Season Pass on iTunes, and isn’t available for streaming on Netflix? I just don’t watch it. I could pirate it, but I think that sends the wrong message to the content creators.
Before I go off on a tangent, I honestly think the value and convenience more than makes up for missing out on a few good shows. Why should I care when there is other great content out there delivered in a convenient, and relatively inexpensive package? As long as I’m getting value, I shouldn’t.
I spend less than $200 a year on consuming TV shows, not counting what I pay my ISP. I can watch whatever I’m interested in, whenever I’d like, ad-free. Compare that to the over $700 a year I’d be paying for a cable subscription, which offers no advantages beyond having access to more content, 99% of which is total shit anyway. Sure I could DVR everything that interests me, but that just adds another $100 to the yearly figure.
So yeah cable TV, you can keep your Game of Thrones, and I can be $500 richer and watch Adventure Time whenever the hell I want.
May 05, 2013
Like many people, I was disappointed to learn that Marco Arment has sold Instapaper to Betaworks. We’ve all seen app acquisitions go south in the past, resulting in a product that’s merely a shadow of its former self. Sometimes even leading to the product being no more. So it’s fairly easy to jump to conclusions when it comes to the buyout of Instapaper. I for one decided to hold off on writing it until I could get over the initial emotion, and also to hear what Marco had to say.
I don’t have an incredibly long history with Instapaper as I only started using it late last year. When I finally started using it I found that it solved a very real, personal problem for me. I have sensory processing issues, which means that I’m easily overwhelmed visually. It makes it super hard to read text on a webpage with animated ads and pictures plastered everywhere.
I’m super grateful to Marco for making this app, but I also realize that it’s not easy to make and maintain an app, especially for one person. I totally understand that he simply can’t keep up with it anymore, and I’m glad to see someone will be maintaining it rather than it just falling into neglect. I just hope it will keep the things that make it so useful to me, and so many other people.
Strawberries and Grapes
Mar 27, 2013
The issue of same-sex marriage, while usually a heated topic, is a particularly hot issue as of right now. Generally, I like to keep this blog politics-free, but I personally feel this issue is more one of human decency. I will likely alienate a few of my readers with my opinions, but I really encourage you, especially if you’re against gay marriage, to read this with an open mind. I’m not here to disrespect anybody’s beliefs, but be warned I’m not the type of person who likes to sugarcoat things.
So I’m what you call “straight”, meaning that I am physically attracted to members of the opposite sex. Despite my limited success, I’m comfortable with who I fall in love with. Somehow this is supposed to make me “normal”, but anybody who knows me knows that I am far from it. Personally, I believe it’s just who I am, and I wouldn’t be any more or less normal wether I was in love with someone named Rebecca, or Steve.
I’ve come to the conclusion that same-sex couples don’t affect my life in any way. Perhaps I find it easier to accept since I don’t have any belief that tells me that it’s unnatural, and wrong. I just can’t see how allowing marriage equality is going to hurt us as individuals, or as a whole.
That being said, I understand that there are many people who believe that love (and therefore marriage) should be between a man and a woman. I am respectful of that belief even if I do not agree with it. But I draw the line when that belief turns into intolerance, which it so often does.
Let me tone down the politics a bit, and use a fairly innocuous example to illustrate the point I’m trying to make. Imagine you like to eat grapes, but there’s a vocal group of people who think people shouldn’t eat grapes, but should eat strawberries instead. They start talking about how eating grapes is wrong, and unnatural, and ask questions like “how are we going to explain to our children that there are people in this world who eat grapes?!” How would you feel?
I don’t imagine you’d feel that great. In fact, you’d probably feel pretty persecuted. You’ll wonder how your preference for grapes affects the people who prefer strawberries (hint: it doesn’t). Now, the preference between grapes and strawberries isn’t exactly a defining lifestyle, but I hope the analogy helped me get my point across.
Same-sex marriages aren’t going to destroy the so-called “sanctity of marriage”. If marriage is such a wonderful thing, then why deny it to couples that loves each other just because they happen to share the same private parts? If anything, denying marriage to same-sex couples is destroying the “sanctity of marriage” (along with the glorification of divorce).
I can respect differences of belief, but the respect has to go both ways. I’m not trying to convince anybody that same-sex marriage is perfectly fine, I don’t really care which anyone believes. All I care about is that the people who do believe it’s wrong grow up and realize that their world view, like anybody else’s, shouldn’t be forced upon others.
Same-sex marriage doesn’t affect the lives of anyone, except for those who want to get married to someone of the same sex. For everyone else, it’s life as usual. So what’s the harm in allowing more people the right to enjoy a happy life with somebody they love?
On Google Reader
Mar 16, 2013
I’ve been thinking about this for a couple days, but I really don’t know what to say about Google Reader’s imminent demise that hasn’t already been said, or that’s not total nerd bitching. Yes, this is such a stupid move on Google’s part, and yes I am as outraged as one might imagine. I’m just at a complete, and utter loss for words.
Like many people, I’ve come to rely on Google Reader for news. Similar to what watching the televised news, or reading the newspaper are to some folks, Reader was my line to the goings on in the world at large (and will continue to be until July 1st rolls around, or I find another suitable service). It’s engrained itself into my daily internet usage, and is as instinctive to me as checking email.
Thankfully, we’re seeing companies jump on creating new alternatives to Reader. Even the social news site Digg, which has been struggling for relevance in recent years, may be poised to make a comeback as they’ve announced development of their own Google Reader replacement. In addition, many developers of desktop and mobile RSS applications which use Reader to handle their backend have stated that their products will not die.
So yes, while this turn of events is extremely upsetting to those of us who have relied on Google Reader for so long, I think we will all end up benefiting long-term. With the RSS reading juggernaut out of the way, the door is wide open for new, and better products. And let’s face it, Google Reader wasn’t Google’s best effort.