SE Podcast #08

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This week, Jeff and Joel are joined live "in studio" by Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper and formerly the lead developer at Tumblr. This week's topics include:

  • What’s the proper numbering format for podcast episodes: decimal, binary, octal? There’s also an extensive debate regarding whether Marco has ever been on the podcast: everyone but Joel agrees that he hasn’t.
  • Marco talks about leaving Tumblr to start his own company (Instapaper)
  • Part of what made the move easier was that he did it on the side for about a year before leaving Tumblr (with the okay of his current boss of course).
  • By the time he left, Instapaper had become a full time job and Tumblr had become far more than a full-time job – it needed even more time and support. It became very stressful knowing that even the slightest mistakes in code could cause 1100 people per second to get error messages
  • Instapaper is also a bit easier to support because it’s inherently designed for offline use, so if the servers go down, people aren’t immediately deprived of the entire functionality like they are if your web service is down.
  • Instapaper was created by Marco to solve the problem of reading on the train and reading old articles that he had found while at work.
  • Marco is currently being confronted by the “big player” problem (aka The Starbucks Problem), now that Apple has introduced their “Reading List” feature in the newest version of iOS and Mac OSX.
  • As Marco points out though, there’s several big reasons that he isn’t really hurt by it: 1) It doesn’t solve the offline problem – it’s only online bookmarks and (2) It doesn’t clean the text to make it easier to read
  • Most importantly, it doesn’t solve everyone’s needs and at the same time, it educates the market as to the value of this type of service, thereby enlarging the entire market and creating more customers for Instapaper.
  • This tends to work really well for the small player when you’re trying to solve a big problem with lots of personal preferences – it doesn’t work well when its one simple task that needs to be completed.
  • Examples of situations that are good for the little guy: RSS Readers, email clients, coffee shops, etc. Examples of situations that are bad for the little guy: .ZIP files, regular bookmarks, etc
  • There’s also tons of successful notes and stock apps, despite Apple providing support for it natively. So many people want more functionality that it creates a whole new market.
  • Ultimately, if someone wants a bit more than what Apple provides by default, they are probably going to go to Instapaper and ultimately increase Marco’s user base.. The key to this model: you have to do it better than the big guy
  • People sometimes also choose random or arbitrary reasons for choosing products (like the color or logo or name)
  • Jeff finds that the effort of queuing things up (especially reading material) is greater than the benefit he gets from being able to read things later.
  • Marco points out that he doesn’t want Instapaper to be seen as an obligation – something that many people ultimately feel it can be
  • To combat this, he is considering a feature where he would email them saying “I noticed that you have X articles more than Y months old, do you want to archive them”, thereby giving them an ‘out’.
  • People don’t find to tend the app while searching for offline reading – they just find that as an additional benefit after they start using it.
  • Joel thinks that Facebook created the “Like” button in order to collect data about web pages that would be very good for creating a search engine
  • Marco also points out that Facebook provides all of these various embed platforms so that they get the cookie on your computer and then can see anytime you visit any of these pages and build a graph of what you (and everyone else) looks at.
  • Bringing it back to Stack Exchange: Jeff points out that we’ve been considering giving anonymous users the ability to vote somehow (currently voting is the most protected form of interaction on the site). One option is a ‘like’ or ‘thumbs-up’ button somewhere on the page. Another option is to collect the votes from anonymous users, but count them in a separate tally or as a fractional vote
  • Fun Fact: there are two important etiquette rules in New York City
    • 1) You should go through the revolving door first so that he is doing the work of pushing the door
    • 2) When getting in a taxi, you should get in first, since the first person in needs to slide across the seat.
  • We’ve rewritten the descriptions for the close reasons of subjective and argumentative to make clear that its for a question that is inviting discussion or outside the scope of the site.
  • Registration for Dev Days in all cities is now open – make sure you register and get more info at http://devdays.stackoverflow.com

Join us next week, once again live @ 4pm on Tuesday for Greg Wilson for deep insights into the communities surrounding open source software projects.

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