1. Linus Edwards:

    I don’t see an easy way to solve this problem. It seems users have this conflicted nature of wanting both simplicity and complexity, and app developers can’t keep both sides happy.

    A great article and idea from Linus, but I found myself shaking my head by the end, not because I think it’s a bad argument (I don’t, of course) but because I see this “churn” as a blessing rather than a problem.

    It reminds me of something Steve Jobs said in his famous Stanford address:

    Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.

    As it is with life, so it is with software. The cruft of the old is swept away by the new and fresh, “unbruised” as Shakespeare might have said and unburdened by the cares of the past.

    But unlike life, at least unlike human life, software evolves at breakneck speed. The accruing complexity of an app like Castro or an operating system like iOS, is near enough to the mistakes of its forebears to learn from them.

    Simplified writing apps (about which I know a little) tend to add complexity just like any other app does. But not even the most complicated and poorly managed will ever end up with the monstrosity that is Word’s Ribbon Interface. And even though my guess would be that most of Microsoft’s designers hate the Ribbon just as much, they are faced with being the crufty and old. Their customers would never allow even a mild simplification, let alone the steps necessary to make Word into a pleasant user experience. Look no further than Windows 8 (and furthermore 8.1) for your evidence.

    It took the compound complexity of Windows and OS X to spur the development of iOS (and Windows Phone). Designers must follow the branches of the complicated in order to create the essential versions that come later.

     


  2. Ben Brooks:

    The answer to what immediate loss Apple suffered seems pretty obvious to me: the reality distortion field is gone.

    It’s not just gone, it’s been obliterated.

    I don’t always agree with Brooks, but when I do, it’s bells ringing, full chorus agreement. This is one of the best things I’ve read on the topic of post-Jobs Apple.

     


  3. Recommended: OmniOutliner 4

    When I’m not writing this site or teaching high school students, a large portion of my time is given over to fiction. After several years’ work, I have a novel (possibly two, depending on what one considers appropriate length) which I’ve been shopping around to agents for the last six months or so.

    In writing said novel, I primarily used three1 applications. Two of these I could hardly consider writing another book without. One is Scrivener. No review I could write would do that program justice. Let it suffice to say that Scrivener is the tool for serious writers. It has a significant learning curve, but the capabilities are well worth the investment of time and laughably small (relative to its utility) amount of money.

    The second app essential to my fiction writing process is OmniOutliner. And though Scrivener has an outline function that I also use, sometimes a tool built for a specific task is just the right choice no matter how good your all-purpose tool is. With the recent release of OmniOutliner 4, now seems like a great time to give a recommendation.

    Some minds think linearly while others are more spatial. I’m a linear thinker. If you’re anything like me, you’ll likely find OmniOutliner an indispensable application. Take a look at the last piece of fiction you wrote. Sure enough, there’s likely a timeline in the notes. Whether it came into being as the words flowed onto the page or was painstakingly constructed before the drafting process began, every story has a point A from which to begin and a point B at which to end. OmniOutliner helps writers plan the spaces between.

    Essentially, OmniOutliner is a program that creates topics and subtopics. Like most well-made software, it boils down easily to its primary elements. Why would you want a tool that seemingly does so little? Well, as ever, it’s all in the details.

    Navigating lists and topics happens quickly and fluidly. The new version leverages many of the graphical bells and whistles of modern OS X applications, though never just for the sake of the flourish. Sub categories slide in and out of place, aiding the user in visualizing hierarchy and order. Controls for customizing the look and feel of each item and sub-item do everything from color code for organization to stylize for print or electronic publication.

    The entire list system is drag and drop friendly. Just click an item and place it anywhere within the outline at any hierarchical level. In fiction, this is an incredibly useful feature. For every planned story beat, a half-dozen more sprout up as the characters move through their journeys. In such cases, a quick drag and drop reorders the events and helps to visualize areas of the story that drag or are unnecessary. Sort, resort, collapse, expand. Everything is smooth and serves the purpose of the writer.

    OmniOutliner surprises as note-taking application as well. Items can even be assigned check boxes for task-oriented users. In addition, any list item can take on an attachment: an image if you happen to have a photo or video to take the place of a description, even an audio note recorded on the device or attached from elsewhere. Personally, my outlines are text only, but the app allows much to be done by those who would utilize all of its features.

    And though it’s been a pleasure to use, and a tool I’d rather not write without any time soon, there are some shortcomings. The Omni Group’s applications tend to stay fairly close to the Apple defaults; Outliner is no exception. Unfortunately that means window placement is only stored and refreshed if the user has opted to restore all windows from the previous session in the OS preferences.

    I use OmniOutliner for fiction primarily, but I also have a handful of documents that I use in my job as a teacher. Restoring from last session is useless for me, causing far more grief than convenience. So I turn it off. Then, when the weekends come along and I have more time, I open up my writing environment (which an Automator script handles as there are a number of applications and files). Before version 4.0, I was able to keep my several Outliner windows positioned such that I could easily switch between current story outline, timelines, character spreadsheets (in Numbers), and others. Now that positioning has to be laid out each time I sit down to write. It’s an annoyance more than anything, but a seemingly unnecessary one. Even Apple’s own iWork apps remember window state. It’s an extra inconvenience for the user, and a company as good about user experience design as The Omni Group should recognize this.

    Despite this, and a few other lesser quibbles, OmniOutliner is still an excellent application and downright essential for writers who think and write well in a classic category-sub category format. Pick it up for $49.99 in the Mac App Store2.


    1. The third is Pages, but Scrivener has fully taken over as the app where I do all of my drafting and editing. 

    2. Or for iPad, though I do not own and have not used this version. 

     


  4. On this week’s Critically Speaking podcast: Time will outlast us all, if it even exists, but in gaming, time is often a tool or a feature or altogether absent. What happens if games focus on time in a different way? In life, we grow, we live, we build families and communities, and then we die. The story doesn’t end there. Future generations carry on the legacy. Could the same be made true for our in-game selves?

    Check it out at DYHAMB? or subscribe in iTunes.

     


  5. Over the last week or so, the conversation around podcasts turned to the question of ads and editorial integrity. I’ve stayed mostly out of it, but then I read Jaime Ryan’s impassioned piece from this weekend. In his own words:

    Much of the conversation centred around podcasts and whether or not the host(s) of a podcast would be able to freely discuss a topic that may potentially paint a sponsor in a bad light. As far as I’ve seen this is all still hypothetical because nobody actually has a solid example of where this has already happened.

    As he explains further, I don’t have any skin in the game insofar as Critically Speaking doesn’t run ads, but I do in the sense that I record a show every week, consider my audience, and hope some day to generate income from my online content creation efforts.1

    For me this argument is not, and never has been, about editorial integrity. Audiences are difficult to acquire, difficult to maintain, and extremely fragile. The trust a writer builds with his or her audience is possibly the most important factor in creating a successful online presence. Betraying that trust is very different from when similar conflicts happen in other media. Often in such cases, show hosts, reporters, and columnists have massive audiences maintained by the monolithic, old-media outlets for which they produce content. Unless the whole audience (or at least an enormous segment) is offended, these producers have little to worry about. This is not the case on the web, especially with podcasts.

    In podcasting, the audience shows up every week for the particular voice of the host(s). And not just in the physical sense. The best shows, the ones that not only make it onto my devices but those that actually get played, have a personality and connection to the audience unlike any other medium I’ve ever experienced. In addition, aside from a few massive shows, the audience numbers are much smaller overall with podcasts, so each individual is more present as an audience member than with other forms where the subscriber count is higher.

    So what does that mean for ad-driven podcasts vs. ad-free? It boils down to this. It is my opinion that some people simply hate ads. They spoil site designs, add elements of unpredictability from a user (and sometimes creator) perspective, are often repetitive or only loosely connected to the content of the show, and generally represent the established, click-obsessed web. The question of integrity is merely an additional item in this list, another reason for certain creators to keep ads at arms length—especially when they hate all of the others listed above.

    In the end we’re dealing with a question of user experience. As a content creator, podcaster or otherwise, do you want your audience to hear a handful of (sometimes overlong, sometimes repetitive) ads in return for a viable monetization strategy, or do you want to preserve the (perceived) cleanness and clarity of an ad-free production while somehow generating money through other avenues or by producing your show for free? Either way, the acceptance of ad revenue does not implicate any sort of editorial bias. It does create the possibility, just as it creates the possibility of a listener dropping the show on account of ad fatigue. And, it does not mean that the ad-free show chose to stay as such solely because the host is afraid of having their editorial voice placed in jeopardy (whether they claim it or not).

    The possibility of bad behavior does not guarantee its inevitability. Both models are design choices and, as long as the producer has the audience in mind (and the importance of audience trust only further ensures that it will), both can provide great material.


    1. All things I assume we have in common, though he is already generating revenue.