This article makes me a hypocrite. I’m telling you about a site of mine — promoting it, basically — and at the same time telling you that it’s a site I don’t talk about.
Hopefully this will make sense to you by the end of my story.
I have a lot of sites and apps. I think somewhere around 30 or so. Most I am very happy to pump, like my funny picture site, my site for talking about paychecks, or my site for my e-book series on practically applying Agile in your team. But this site is a special case.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about what many are now calling “technology addiction” The problem is that many web sites are using psychological, social, and gaming tricks to pull readers into more engagement than they would naturally give. Facebook is a great example — it uses your own friends to suck you into the site. But there are others. Instead of a place for textual information that links to other textual information, the web is becoming a few addictive sites doing anything they can to get you to stay and/or click on ads. That’s not where we wanted to go, and it occurred to me my problem can be restated like this:
There is a finite amount of text I want to consume from the web each day. Perhaps I scan 30-40 editorials. Instead of chasing down these editorials on various aggregation sites, then clicking through and using something like readability to remove the graphics, it’s in my best interests to have a computer assemble all of these in one place in plain text format. No ads, no graphics, no commenting, no nothing. Just the text, please. That way I can consume much faster. Over time, perhaps I can train the system to order this list. Also it would be nice if it all was client-side so I could continue to consume without an internet connection, say on an airplane. Using AI to reduce the article size to a paragraph or two would also be nice
And so newspaper23 was born.
Newspaper23 isn’t much to look at. It’s really kind of a dull app with all that plain text and all. That’s kind of the point. But I’ve been using it daily for over a year now, and each time I upgrade I make a little tweak to it. Right now it only provides opinions: sports, religion, politics, world, science and miscellaneous. And it doesn’t count voting (although the only graphic I allowed myself was a neat voting animation) or reduce the article size. But I could expand. Add voting. Do some Bayesian ranking. But I remain conflicted about the app.
Why? It should be pretty obvious to most startup readers. Alarm bells should be going off. Web content providers do not want to provide me with content like that. They do not want me using first-click, or readability, or any other kind of tool to get just the text of the article. They want to build a walled garden and have me come and play in it. Perhaps stay there and poke around. Play a game or two. Exactly the opposite goal that I have. I don’t blame them. After all, creating these sites requires a lot of work. And I have no desire to hurt anybody or upset the apple cart. To me, the only thing I’ve done is automate a bunch of clicking I was already doing.
Yet the problem remains: this is a useful app which many people will not like.
I remain very conflicted. On one hand this is not something I want to promote to a mass audience. On the other hand this is something that I have found very useful and I am sure many more people would as well. But they’ll never get the benefit unless I say something about it. It’s an app many will like and many will be uncomfortable with — and these could be the same people!
My current solution is to make this into a club for people who, like me, have attention-span problems on the net. I’m not sure if this is satisfactory. But it’s the only thing that makes sense right now.
I hate both to talk about this site and to not talk about this site. Hence it’s the site I don’t promote.If you've read this far and you're interested in Agile, you should take my No-frills Agile Tune-up Email Course, and follow me on Twitter.