Screen Time with iOS 12

Screen Time is Apple’s take on the growing trend of operating system level features that help you discover how you are really spending your time with your digital devices. These features and metrics provide you the baseline information to understand where your time is going, and give you the power to make changes to your habits. You are in control of how you use your device, and Screen Time, like Android’s Digital Wellbeing, will not inherently force you to act in a certain way. The tools can shape your behavior, but it is not Apple or Google prescribing how you should use your time. You are still the one making the choice to eat your vegetables.

So how does it work?

There are four main features (and one minor) under the “Screen Time” setting: Device Screen Time, App Limits, Downtime, Content Restrictions, and Bedtime.

Device Screen Time

Device screen time gives a detailed look at where you spend all your time on your Apple devices. You can see your daily and weekly usage trends, your most used apps, how often you pick up your device, and how many notifications you get.

In the last week, I’ve used my iPad for 10 hours and 45 minutes, with over and hour of that time coming during my defined device downtime. You can tell I spent some time organizing my calendar last weekend.

The average length of time per device “pickup” isn’t displayed (nor is most common amount of time), but a quick calculation given the weekly time spent and total pickups shows roughly 2 minutes and 45 seconds per interaction with my iPad. I’m wondering how this compares with others, and how many meaningful interaction people have with their devices in a day. Lowering the number of times we glance at the time or check for notifications could increase the average time, but is session length is not necessarily an indicator of time well spent.

It’s fun to see all this data, but there are no recommendations of how to use your device more intentionally. Apple lets you do all the analysis and any subsequent action you decide to take is entirely your decision.

App Limits

Once you’ve decided you need to take action, App Limits let you reign in your usage of certain apps.

You can set limits for individual apps or categories of apps.

Apps will act the same way whether or not you have screen time limits enabled. While you have time remaining, you can keep using the app, but once time runs out, that’s it. No more for today. You can always go through the block, but Apple tallies up all the times you were bad.

Interestingly, because my time on Twitter and Outlook is a scarce resource, I now find myself using the entire time limit every day. Previously, I would only go on Twitter once or twice a week, but when I did, I found myself engrossed in the content for a while. I figured Twitter would be a prime candidate for trying the new app limits. I wasn’t wrong, but now, since I know I’ll only be there for at most five minutes, I find myself spending time on Twitter every day.

Downtime and Always Allowed Apps

Downtime is the more interesting feature. While screen time limits are opt in for certain apps you think you use too much, Downtime is default opt out for every app on your device. Enable Downtime and you will be locked out of all your apps from the start to end time.

You can individually toggle on apps you want to use an app during downtime. This is a two part set up, first by enabling the Downtime setting, then returning to the Screen Time menu and selecting Always Allowed apps to select the apps available during Downtime.

This feature triggered the most significant, and positive, behavioral shift for me. I start Downtime a little while before I generally go to sleep, and end it a little after I generally wake up. I only enable apps where I most intentionally create and consume content. For me, this means I can read the articles I set aside for myself earlier in the day, and can write what’s on my mind. That’s it. (Phone, Messages, and FaceTime are also enabled by default). Since I installed the iOS 12 beta on my iPad, I’ve stopped watching YouTube hours on end before going to sleep, and I’ve stopped immediately checking notifications right after waking up.

Parental Controls to Block content and set a Screen Time passcode


These are also under the Screen Time setting, but it feels like they were just moved here because they make sense in relation to the other settings . Nothing too interesting, but you can set a Screen Time passcode for your self if you really want to lock your self out of some apps.

Expanded “Do Not Disturb” settings with Bedtime mode


You should really create your own Bedtime mode using Downtime as I described above. The new Bedtime mode toggle under the Do Not Disturb Setting will dim the lock screen, silence calls, and send all notifications to notification center. It’s really only an extension on the existing Do Not Disturb mode. Nice to have, but not a major improvement compared to the other Screen Time features.

Not so final thoughts

Apple’s Screen Time features are available now in the iOS 12 public beta but you may just want to wait for the general release this fall before trying everything out (it’s telling I accidentally typed “bug” while trying to write “public” just then). Betas allow developers to fix issues in software before the official release, and running beta software can cause some headache when your main device does not work as expected.

Tuesday’s Links and Quotes

Today I explored the internet. There was no common thread other than reading stories and articles from various people of interest to me. Just some divergent thinking to spark new ideas and connections.

Cosmik Debris from Kneeling Bus

“Let little bits of your daily existence dissipate into the air rather than having them vacuumed up by a global machine that will alchemize them into advertising gold.”

How to Avoid Card Skimmers at the Pump from Krebs on Security (also All About Skimmers)

“look for fuel pumps with raised keypads and horizontal card slots. And keep in mind that it may not be the best idea to frequent a particular filling station simply because it offers the lowest prices: Doing so could leave you with hidden costs down the road.”

Map of Bay Area Memespace from Julia Galef

“Business in general is good real-world rationality training: you test your theories, you update your models, or you fail. And startup culture in particular promotes a “try things fast” attitude that can be a perfect antidote to the “sit around planning and theorizing forever” failure mode we’re sometimes prone to.”

“You take the thought as something your brain produced, which may or may not be true, and may or may not be useful — and this ability to take a step back from your thoughts and reflect on them is arguably one of the building blocks of rationality.”

 

How Asia (and social networking) Works

After over three years on the bookshelf, I finally picked up the Bill Gates recommended, How Asia Works by Joe Studwell. The review sparked my interest in the book then, but the intrigue was rekindled recently when I discovered Strange Parts on YouTube (don’t ask how it took me so long to find Scotty). Seeing another side of technology, the technological fringe, so to speak, I was fascinated by how the electronics manufacturing and recycling industries worked. So looking for a more worldly view, and with years of anticipation, I started reading How Asia Works.

And then, still in the roman numerals, I put the book down because I was so surprised at how taken aback I was by this comment.

“If a country does not trade and interact with the world, it is all but impossible to get ahead in the development game” – How Asia Works, page xx

The idea was not meant to be a large part of the story, as it was literally telling why Studwell would not be including further discussion about countries low on the United Nations Human Development Index, but the impact of the implication in today’s globally networked world really struck me. It’s silly, but I haven’t been able to continue reading the book because the thought has been on my mind for the last week. I had to make sense of this line before moving on to the next.

I am having trouble reconciling the positive benefits of networking in the digital age with the draining effects of the attention economy.

Will those who abstain from social networking share the same demise as the “politically and economically introverted” countries Studwell mentions? Or is it still possible to develop when withdrawn from our hyper connected society.  Existentially, does this mean I am going the way of these disconnected countries? I have a Facebook account, but I don’t use it, and I rarely post on Twitter.

Cal Newport on Social Networking

There is a way to connect digitally with others, and Cal Newport calls it the Social Internet from his post On Social Media and Its Discontents.

The social internet describes the general ways in which the global communication network and open protocols known as “the internet” enable good things like connecting people, spreading information, and supporting expression and activism.

Social media, by contrast, describes the attempt to privatize these capabilities by large companies within the newly emerged algorithmic attention economy, a particularly virulent strain of the attention sector that leverages personal data and sophisticated algorithms to ruthlessly siphon users’ cognitive capital.

I support the social internet. I’m incredibly wary of social media.

So do I. I am trying to contribute to the social internet, but it is difficult to be found without the leverage of the social media’s network effects. Newport has thoughts on this too:

The tricky question, of course, is how exactly one enables a useful social internet in the absence of the network effects and economic resources provided by the algorithmic attention economy.

One intriguing answer is the idea of augmenting the basic infrastructure of the internet with social protocols.

In short, these protocols would enable the following two functions:

  • A way for individuals to create and own a digital identity that no one else can manipulate or forge.
  • A way for two digital identities to agree to establish a descriptive social link in such a way that outside observers can validate that both identities did in fact agree to form that link.

There are few serious technical obstacles to implementing these protocols, which require only standard asymmetric cryptography primitives. But their impact could be significant.

This has glimmers of dana boyd’s Faceted Id/entity thesis, but the key point of Newport’s idea is this:

In this ecosystem, many different applications can leverage this distributed social graph to offer useful features to users. By eliminating the need for each such social application to create a network from scratch, a vibrant competitive marketplace can emerge.

Ben Thompson talks about open sourcing Facebook’s social graph all the time, more from the perspective of fostering competing services, but still the idea is similar:

All social networks should be required to enable social graph portability — the ability to export your lists of friends from one network to another. Again Instagram is the perfect example: the one-time photo-filtering app launched its network off the back of Twitter by enabling the wholesale import of your Twitter social graph. And, after it was acquired by Facebook, Instagram has only accelerated its growth by continually importing your Facebook network. Today all social networks have long since made this impossible, making it that much more difficult for competitors to arise.

via Manifestos and Monopolies and here and here

Strategies and Future Developments

Blockchain could flip the internet paradigm on its head, creating a decentralized network akin to Pied Piper, which could solve the online identity problem.

For all their brilliance, the inventors of the open protocols that shaped the internet failed to include some key elements that would later prove critical to the future of online culture. Perhaps most important, they did not create a secure open standard that established human identity on the network. Units of information could be defined — pages, links, messages — but people did not have their own protocol: no way to define and share your real name, your location, your interests or (perhaps most crucial) your relationships to other people online.

via Beyond the Bitcoin Bubble

So while we wait for blockchain to save us, what are we stuck with for the time being? We can “change [our] relationship with these services to shift from compulsive to controlled use“. Or, how about some slightly ironic info about how to use Twitter, from someone on Twitter. It’s actually quite optimistic and intellectual:

Follow weird stuff. Follow unusual corners. I enjoy Nigerian tech twitter. I enjoy short-story twitter. I enjoy urban design twitter. I enjoy the zillions of clever bots . I keep meaning to get into opera twitter, but never quite manage it.

via @michael_nielsen

Hey, at least he’s contributing to the network.

That’s all for now

I’m still thinking about all this, but I had to get some initial thoughts out of my head so I can keep reading the book. I’ll let you know what happens after the introduction.

One more thing, here’s John Oliver on the subject of China.

The Genius of Fortnite’s Business Strategy

Fortnite is all the rage right now. It came out a little less than a year ago considered nothing more than a free PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) knockoff, but in that time, Fortnite has come to dominate the gaming industry. Some background for the non-gamer types, Fortnite is a free to play video game which means a majority of the game is available to play at no cost. There are many variations on free to play business model, but for Fortnite, the full gameplay functionality is available to everyone. There is one map and one game mode that all people play no matter what you’ve paid for the game. While you don’t need to pay money to play, costumes and skins for your character are available for purchase. These features aren’t too intriguing on their own, but when combined with a uniquely designed quarterly season pass, called the Battle Pass, the package becomes a multimillion dollar a day phenomenon.

BATTLE PASS

The Battle Pass is a $10 opt in quarterly subscription that is tied to “seasons” in the game. Every three-ish months Fortnite gets a huge update that comes with changes to the map, different character skins, and a new Battle Pass. While everyone is still playing the same underlying game, the pass unlocks new challenges and a leveling system with rewards that adds a reason to keep playing Fortnite. On top of that, everyone’s level resets at the start a new season, so it’s a chance to rank up again to collect all the new items, emotes and experience points. It’s amazing this setup makes any money at all because there is still no need to purchase anything to play the game the exact same way with everyone else. Everything you can purchase is purely for looks**.

Once players buy in to the Battle Pass they are more inclined to continue paying because the game loses some of its intrigue without the content unlocked from the pass. Fortnite reverts to a singular leveling system without much of a goal to the game other than to keep winning and just have fun. You can keep playing on the free tier, but for many (which is quite a lot of people judging by the sales figures) the point of the game is to unlock more content for your character. And what’s the way to do it? Keep playing the game. Keep buying the Battle Pass.

Aside from the joy of almost winning, there is not as much feeling of accomplishment in the free tier. Yet the paid tier continues to be fun because there are just more things to do, even if all sense of additional achievement is fake (not sure what that says about playing video games in general). But the irony is all players are still playing the same base game whether they are paying or not. The progression is purely superficial.

RARITY VS ACHIEVEMENT

And quantity vs quality

The Fortnite development studio, Epic Games, understands their position of reliance on in game purchases, and the Battle Pass for the new Season 4 doubles down on the business strategy. The same leveling and unlockable content system continues to exists from previous seasons, but now there are two skins (Carbide and Omega) than can be upgraded by playing the game more. With the introduction of these upgradeable skins, Epic has created two categories of unlockables based rarity and achievement. In reality however, both tie back to how much you play the game.

fortnite1.png

Because there is no visible ranking in game, to show prestige players can either purchase skins or spend time leveling up their character models. This balance of rarity and achievement serves a dual purpose for the individual player and the entire player base. For the player, upgrading your character visibly reinforces how they stack up against other players in the game. Because there is a time limit to each season, the sooner players have a new upgrade, the better they are assumed to be at the game (or they just played a lot).

fortnite2.png
The green cost line, for context, and not entirely to scale. For that matter, if we’re going to put disclaimers everywhere, this graph is purely a visual aid and has no scientific grounds.

For the rest of the community, this creates a “Stars Upon Thars” environment where those without skin feel inferior to those with the upgraded look. In the game, if you see someone coming at you a rare skin, you shudder at the thought of their skill, even though their character’s costume has nothing to do with how good they are at the game. Nevertheless, new players are naturally drawn to want better looking skins because it feels like once you have them, you will somehow play with improved performance. At that point, Epic only needs to convince new players that Battle Pass is the most economical way to get the skins, and they are swept up into the money machine that is Fortnite.

As an aside, it would be an interesting psychological experiment flip the dynamic by giving new players rarer skins and force experienced players to use the default skins just. Would the better players who were brought up with the skin prestige dynamic experience a role reversal? Maybe give new players a random rare skin for their first few games for a psychological boost against other players (and an advertising boost for Epic).

fortnite3.png

For Epic, building a leveling system into the paid version of the game is a genius idea. For players, it’s akin paying for your own soma holiday. The underlying game you’re playing does not change whether you decide to pay or not. What does change, however, is your perception of the game you are playing. The new layer of intrigue and achievement gives a reason to keep dropping in, playing game after game, and trying to win the base game does not afford. The Battle Royal genre of games has proven to be exhilarating, and Epic built a psychological goldmine on top of the core concept that reinforces itself and keeps people playing Fortnite instead of PUBG (and any other game for that matter). If you want to build a character, why not just play Sims?

BUSINESS MODEL

Many successful services in other industries employ business strategies where plans start with a free tier to get people on board and only pay as they scale. This benefits both those entering the market as they begin using the service with a few users and the service provider as successful clients are locked in and pay more overtime. There’s a similar funnel for Fortnite. Since the game is free, the sum total of people who know about the game is the mouth of the funnel. These people get to play the game but don’t see much additional benefit. Moving down the funnel, Epic needs to convert as many of these people into paying customers to profit on their investment. How does Epic do it? They increase the value for players as players decide they want to invest more time in the game. People want to pay more as they play more. It’s an amazing phenomenon.

In principle, Fortnite’s business model is simple: release a free to play game for everyone to try, include fun character outfits with no effect on the core gameplay, let players buy the outfits individually or through a leveling system. In practice, Epic executed the strategy to give all players from the most frugal to the most invested a way to play the game the way they want.

You don’t have to buy the Battle Pass. If you just want skins, you can pay for them individually. Although, the rarest can cost upwards of $20 and only a few are available per day, adding to the allure and impulsiveness. For the more frugal gamer, investing in a Battle Pass just feels like the better option. It includes many more items and gives players V-bucks, the in game currency, just for playing. If you are patient, you could purchase one Battle Pass and use all the V-bucks collected from playing the game to finance the next season’s pass. But with so many cool new things to purchase, how many players are really going to pass the marshmallow test?

Buying in to the Battle Pass unlocks an entirely new experience, reserved for those in the “elite” class who are truly invested in the game. While you can play without a Battle Pass alongside your friends, listening to them rank up and go for challenges can make you feel left out. For Epic, this desire to be “part of the club” is bolstered by the fact that Fortnite is the most popular game to watch on Twitch, and when people aren’t playing Fortnite, they are watching their favorite streamers use literally every new skin in the game. From a marketing perspective, Fortnite generates so much value that the free advertising from watching streams of the game is even a multi-million dollar enterprise. With this level of attention from such a captive audience, it’s crazy we haven’t seen Fortnite repeat Apple’s In App Purchase fiasco from years past (you can now refund Fortnite purchases).

COMPETITION

For many games, micro-transactions are unsuccessful and linked to abusive gambling techniques. Recently there has been a large backlash against micro-transactions in the gaming community. For these games, the additional transactions are added on top of a paid game, making it seems as though your initial purchase only unlocked a piece of the full game. Plus the core gameplay provides replay-ability that does not require additional enhancements to stay fun.

I mention this up because the old behemoth, Call of Duty, recently announced a battle royale mode, called Blackout, in its upcoming Black Ops game. CoD isn’t going to rip out its tried and true multiplayer prestige system and replace it with a free to play system like Fortnite’s. There is too much history of success riding in the existing $60+ a year model. Instead the game will remove it’s single player campaign opting instead to bundle Blackout with the purchase of the game.

Psychologically, spending $60 upfront more feels like a greater investment than spending $60 in $10 or $20 increments. So while Blackout could be popular, the initial investment narrows the funnel of possible players and limits the number of people who might be willing to pay less than the sticker price. For a direct comparison with the previous battle royale king, PUBG sells for $30 and is losing ground to Fortnite.

GAMING PSYCHOLOGY

Everyone is playing Fortnite because the core of the game is a blast, and Epic is making boatloads of money because the paid model adds a level of replay-ability that keeps the core gameplay fresh. This is why the Battle Pass is genius. The game is fun, and people want to keep playing, but on its own, the game gets repetitive over time. Epic developed a solution. Pay $10 to have fun, play more, get hooked and pay more in the future. Once bought in, players become invested in their progress and will continue paying to maintain their status. Plus going back to the free tier is boring, so why do that? The intrigue of the game is baked into the business model.

With all this said, I still can’t get over the fact that there are two versions of Fortnite. One that you pay for and one that’s free. The one you buy into feels more fun and engaging because you have a sense of purpose in addition to just trying to win games. But once you jump in and start playing, there is no underlying difference between the free and paid game. Truly a testament to the nuance of human psychology. Epic is playing us at an entirely different game than we think we’re playing.

 

*Disclaimer/skin in the game: I bought the Season 4 Battle Pass and wrote this while waiting for the Battle Bus.

 

Why I Switched to WordPress.com

(Insert generic inspirational quote here)

I spent the entire weekend trying to sort out why changing my WordPress theme brought down my site. There was this error and I just couldn’t figure out what was happening. I exported my data, moved to a temporary free WordPress.com account as a backup, and re-installed WordPress on my self hosted site.

Before we get to far into it, to clarify, WordPress is a technology that lets you create blogs. You can either run WordPress on your own server (in the cloud) or let a company manage your installation. WordPress.com is a company that manages WordPress installations, so you can blog away and let WordPress.com handle the technical details of running the site.

Getting back to it, I reinstalled three more times because each time I ran into a different problem. I think the issue came down to a database incompatibility, but it was just one in a series of problems I’ve encountered over the last few years while running my own site. My site was “defaced” via an exploit in an out of date version of WordPress, was unable to connect to Jetpack services, and needed to be re-installed one too many times. This iteration was the last straw. I needed to switch from site maintenance mode and get back to blogging.

Self Hosting

There’s a lot you need to keep up with when running your own WordPress install. I enjoyed learning all the details over the years of running my site. Finding the pieces and putting them all together was fun and made for fulfilling work when the site decided to play along. Although, when something went wrong, managing this workflow and disjoint accounts brought my progress writing posts to a complete halt.

Here are many of the pieces required to run a WordPress site (all of which WordPress.com will handle for you):

Hosting

Your site needs to live somewhere (search for “WordPress hosting” to find a few options)

Domain Name

A site needs a url, so you have to ensure your domain name registration is up to date every year, AND linked to the WordPress install. The latter is a constant source of struggle. (Namecheap, Google, GoDaddy, Hover, etc)

Certs

Want that green lock on your site? You’ll need an SSL certificate. Site certificates let people connect securely and communicate privately with your blog, so it’s important that your has the correct certs. (Let’s Encrypt, Comodo, Namecheap, etc)

Backup

Site backups are crucial in case anything every goes wrong (which through my experience seems common), but they are costly, unintuitive, and require manual configuration.

Updates

WordPress must be kept up to date, with a self-hosted site, you need check for updates. It requires active engagement. I try to write posts on a weekly cadence, but sometimes there would be long stretches of time I didn’t go on the site. You can configure auto-updates to the WordPress core, but there are many caveats. In either case, it’s another task you need to keep in the back of your mind, using up resources I could allocate elsewhere.

Customization

Do you spend way too much time setting up your video game character, even before starting the game? You’ll do the same with WordPress site customization. While seemingly a differentiator, a site’s look is not nearly as important as it’s content. (Ironically, switching from a highly customized theme to the default Twenty Seventeen theme kicked off this whole ordeal)

In then end, all this mental overhead was cutting into my time and creativity. Running the technology distracted from what I wanted to do with my site. And with that, I handed over the keys to WordPress.com.

Going Forward with WordPress.com

Note, this is not a review of WordPress.com. I’ve only used the service a couple days, so I’m still deciding if it’s the right fit. However, I had five accounts to manage everything related to my website, and now I have one.

Blog spectrum of User customization and control to One experience fits all (Doing my best Stratechery impression)

WordPress.com sits in the middle of the blogging platform spectrum of user control and one experience fits all. I can still modify my the site to make it feel like my own, but I don’t have the same level of configuration as a self-hosted site. It’s a good first step to building a focus on writing, because I don’t want bells and whistles anymore. I want to write and develop something new.

Technology works best when it’s invisible. I am optimistic that getting the site administration work out of the way will free up headspace to think and give me time to create more.

My site has a history on WordPress, so there is some lock in to the technology. As I searched for a platform that just lets me write, switching to WordPress.com was an easy first option to explore. Since it’s easy to transfer WordPress data from one hosting service to the next, I brought all my posts with me to WordPress.com.

With that said, I am going to keep iterating, with new formats, platforms, and mediums. I am now a customer of WordPress.com. If I decide their services improve my ability to create, I will stick with them. Otherwise, as WordPress.com says in their own words “You own your data – take it anywhere”.

Medium.com leans further towards the one experience fits all side of the blogging platform spectrum. On Medium, you get a title, and a story. That’s it, but it’s amazing. The focus is on the content of the words on the page, not the theme of the website.

I have a Medium account with zero posts (until know). Starting today I will be cross posting longer form thoughts like this under the Medium Partner Program (and I checked, this is allowed by the Medium Content Guidelines). All my posts will still be on my site, but I want to experiment with Medium to learn how the different communities interact.

So let’s see how this goes. The content of my blog has changed over the years from small ideas (Seth Godin-style), to connecting things I read/hear/watch, weekly reviews, back to connections, and now a news feed. I can already tell this latest iteration is working well. It’s easier to get back to writing and integration with email updates, social media, and reader feedback is better overall. There’s less in the way of getting things done, and I’m hopeful this new format will keep my momentum going strong.

Be on the lookout for a future post explaining “Why I’m Staying with WordPress.com” or perhaps “Why I Switched to Medium”.

Intentional Technology

Would it be easier if we carried around devices devoted solely to one function instead of our multifaceted gadgets? There’s no reason we couldn’t go back to pocket calendars, contact lists, photos, wallets, and pens, other than that it wouldn’t be quite as convenient. Video game consoles are great at just playing video games, and we still put up with them. You wouldn’t be distracted by mail delivered to your door when writing down the date of your next dentist appointment, so why should you settle for that experience in a phone?

Katie Reid wonders if we can relearn to live without using smartphones. What will it take for us to feel comfortable being bored? We gotta think of some weird slow activities to fill the time.

My smartphone obviously helped me with a great number of cognitive tasks. It communicated with my friends. It managed my finances. It delivered work emails. It alerted me to emergencies in the area. It reminded me of appointments. It captured and stored memories. But this sudden and overwhelming awareness of its physical absence indicated that it had become just as important to my body as it had to my mind. If I’m honest, much of what I did on my phone could be characterized as mindless. I can’t count the number of times I pulled out my phone just for the feeling of unlocking the screen and swiping through applications, whether out of comfort—like a baby sucking her thumb—or boredom—like a teenager at school, tapping his fingers on a desk. In those cases, I sought not mental stimulation, but physical release.

Dear iPhone—It Was Just Physical, and Now It’s Over by Katie Reid

It can be fun to mindlessly watch YouTube videos for hours or scroll endlessly through your friends’ Instagram feeds, but when the action becomes habitual and reactive, it can be problematic. Reading the New York Times is a similar experience online and in print, but did anyone ever self distract themselves by picking up a newspaper and scanning the headlines for 30 seconds? There’s a more intentional decision making process to read the physical paper. It’s a single task you mindfully opt into for the course of reading a few articles (or cover to cover).

What happened is that the internet stopped being something you went to in order to separate from the real world — from your job and your work and your obligations and responsibilities. It’s not the place you seek to waste time, but the place you go to so that you’ll someday have time to waste. The internet is a utility world for me now. It is efficient and all-encompassing. It is not very much fun.

I Don’t Know How to Waste Time on the Internet Anymore by Dan Nosowitz

Maybe it’s time to stop wasting time on the internet and start using the tool to accomplish what we want to do. In their own ways, people are beginning to realize the many of the most popular services online have been designed to keep us amused rather than help us develop.

Here’s the reality:

– there are more interesting independent blogs now than there were pre-Facebook/Twitter. Maybe less “per-capita” of total online usage, but there’s still a higher volume

– every single person is capable of making an online community using cheap tech, and using corporate social media to promote it; way easier than it was in the past

– developers are still “allowed” to make sites in plain HTML/CSS that look great and load fast

Comment from Hacker News

It ironic how engrained these services are in our lives that companies trying to help us be more mindful are leveraging the same platforms they warn us about.

The addictive qualities of these platforms make them the best place to reach potential new customers or fans. Kindred notes that she’s proud of Mindful Technology’s Instagram account. “It’s blowing up,” she says. “I think a lot of people like me are fed up and over it.”

Tech Addiction and the Business of Mindfulness by Erin Griffith

 

But they still provide some overly simplistic tips for dealing with tech overload.

Conveniently, they have five tips for mindful sharing on social media. For starters, don’t just suddenly drop into phone-mode around other people. Tell your companions, “I’m going to do a social post right now,” and step aside. Next, tap into your inspiration, asking yourself, “What about this feels special to me that I want to build up as part of my world?” Don’t forget to check yourself. So much of posting on Instagram can be an exercise in vanity and proving one’s self-worth; instead, pause and “find the place where you’re inspired.” The fourth tip – “have fun with it”—seemed obvious, but Instagram can be an anxiety-inducing place for many. And lastly, let it go. “There is a nice moment where you can say, ‘I kinda don’t care if anyone likes it … I’m just gonna I hit send and then move on,” Pettit says.

In your mind, will telling your companions you are going to do a social post right now really fix your social media concerns? What about following another account on Instagram. I don’t think so. We need steps to remember how to leverage technology as a tool. It’s meant to help us be more productive, connect with people and build new things. Perhaps the internet really is just a utility that isn’t so much fun anymore, but we need to be intentional about our use of technology instead of slipping into mindless habits. We can use the internet to create and not just consume.

Workplace Design

Coffee mug and open notebook on a wooden desk

My team is moving back from open to private offices, so it’s an opportune time to find inspiration for the new space. There are all sorts of studies about collaboration and productivity level in open space vs closed offices, but Joel Spolsky and Anil Dash from Stack Overflow and Fog Creek have perspectives from the lens of software engineers that still hold nearly fifteen years later.

Office space seems to be the one thing that nobody can get right and nobody can do anything about. There’s a ten year lease, and whenever the company moves the last person anybody asks about how to design the space is the manager of the software team, who finds out what his new veal-fattening pens, uh, cubicle farm is going to be like for the first time on the Monday after the move-in.

Well, it’s my own damn company and I can do something about it, so I did.

Bionic Office by Joel Spolsky

Mindset

Building great office space for software developers serves two purposes: increased productivity, and increased recruiting pull. Private offices with doors that close prevent programmers from interruptions allowing them to concentrate on code without being forced to stop and listen to every interesting conversation in the room. And the nice offices wow our job candidates, making it easier for us to attract, hire, and retain the great developers we need to make software profitably. It’s worth it, especially in a world where so many software jobs provide only the most rudimentary and depressing cubicle farms.

The New Fog Creek Office by Joel Spolsky

Just take a look at the long list of requirements for the office space:

  • Gobs of well-lit perimeter offices
  • Desks designed for programming
  • Glass whiteboards
  • Coffee bar and lunchroom
  • A huge salt water aquarium
  • Plenty of meeting space
  • A library
  • A shower
  • Wood floors, carpet, concrete

The link to photos of the space is broken, but not because the space didn’t work out; Joel’s ideas on workplace design outlasted Picasa. Luckily the NYTimes article on the Fog Creek office still has a few thumbnail sized images. Plus street view is still a thing.

They used bold, playful colors and bright common areas to foster in-the-trenches camaraderie and created private soundproof offices where the programmers can go to get their jobs done.

A Software Designer Knows His Office Space, Too via NYTimes

Spolsky wanted a space designed intentionally for deep work and collaboration, and he put a considerable amount of thought to ensure he built a productive environment for the people at Fog Creek. It paid off.

Results

Spolsky has a treasure trove of knowledge on his blog that spills out amongst others on his team. The rich history is pervasive across those he influences.

With a private office, you’re in control of your space and attention: you can choose when to close the door and avoid interruptions, and when to go play ping-pong, talk with coworkers or work out of the coffee bar. In an open office you’re at the mercy of the people around you: if they’re talking, the best you can do is crank up your headphones and hope to drown them out, and if they’re playing foosball then good luck.

Everybody has their own rhythm. People come in at different times, take breaks at different times, need to socialize at different times, and have their most productive hours at different times. Management’s job is to accommodate that and create a space where all those conflicting needs don’t congeal into a persistent hum of distraction — not to enforce some top-down ideal of openness and creativity. Private offices put the people who do the actual work in control.

Why We (Still) Believe in Private Offices by David Fullerton

Fullerton’s post shows how teams can create a “magnificent culture of non-distraction” by using technology to keep people in control of how they work. At first, the idea typing out a chat, going back and forth seems less efficient than tapping someone on the shoulder for help, but leveraging technology as a tool to help people stay in the flow actually makes sense.

Whenever we get a new hire in the office, I make it a point to sit down with them in their first week and explain that they should not go to someone’s office when they have a question. Instead, ping them in chat and then jump on a hangout. The result is exactly the sort of culture that open offices are supposed to promote but better:

  • If someone else sees the message, they can chime in with the answer
  • If someone else is interested in the discussion, they can jump onto the hangout
  • And, crucially, if someone is working heads-down and doesn’t want to be distracted, all they have to do is close the chat window.

But what about marketing and design? And how about expanding teams?

We don’t actually even give everyone private offices: some people are doubled up in offices, and the sales and marketing teams sit in larger open spaces because they feel that’s an important part of how they work.

Evolution

Putting employees first is always at the heart of how we create great places to work.

In 2017 Fog Creek moved to it’s fourth headquarters (1, 2, 3, 4). They could have recreated a bigger version of their office 3.0, but instead they reflected on their team dynamic and arrived at a design that allows people to work in a variety of ways. With a largely remote workforce and a larger percentage of people in non-technical roles, Anil Dash (Fog Creek CEO as of December 2016) understood the existing office design could be enhanced.

The new office also includes a variety of work spaces that accommodate different work modes. Anil mentioned personal offices for standalone work, but they also work well for collaborative work like pair programming. There are workstations for independent or individual co-working, and phone booths for external communication such as sales calls or podcast appearances. There’s also our conference room — known as the “quiet car” — which can be used across a number of different work modes. And true to the nature of our office being flexible and experimental, we are already re-configuring some of these spaces based on how we use them.

Beyond Open Offices: The New Fog Creek Headquarters by Maurice Cherry

Fog Creek treats their office like any other product they produce. With Spolsky at the helm, the company researched best designs, planned with it’s people in mind, built it’s ideal vision, and iterated on the product, improving with each new update.

As the company has grown and changed over the years, so has our office space. Joel’s grand visions for what a work environment should do for employees have been part of Fog Creek from the very beginning, and we have tried to honor that legacy. We also have plenty of plans for the future, and look forward to continuing our tradition of incubating new teams and ideas from within our company and beyond.

Inspiration

For those of you looking to revitalize your open space or bring the aesthetics of open plan spaces to a private office from Design Milk 2017 Where I Work Year in Review. Since these aren’t Fog Creek offices, the productivity may not be at the same level, but they look cool.

All the links

View story at Medium.com

View story at Medium.com

Edge Computing

Self-driving cars are, as far as I’m aware, the ultimate example of edge computing. Due to latency, privacy, and bandwidth, you can’t feed all the numerous sensors of a self-driving car up to the cloud and wait for a response. Your trip can’t survive that kind of latency, and even if it could, the cellular network is too inconsistent to rely on it for this kind of work.

But cars also represent a full shift away from user responsibility for the software they run on their devices. A self-driving car almost has to be managed centrally. It needs to get updates from the manufacturer automatically, it needs to send processed data back to the cloud to improve the algorithm

What is edge computing? via The Verge

The decision to avoid an obstacle or slam on the brakes needs to happen instantaneously. A self driving car does not have the luxury of time to wait for a decision to beam down from the cloud. A car must have the latest decision-making ability available on board, so it can react to inputs using it’s current understanding and update the model in the cloud to enhance the driving capabilities of the entire fleet cars.

Further reading/viewing:

The End of Cloud Computing by Peter Levine

Aggregation and Integration

breaking up a formerly integrated system — commoditizing and modularizing it — destroys incumbent value while simultaneously allowing a new entrant to integrate a different part of the value chain and thus capture new value.

Why aggregation matters is that it is the means by which new integrations are achieved:

  • Netflix leveraged its position as an aggregator of video content into the integration of the customer relationship and content creation, undoing the integration of linear channels and content creation
  • Airbnb/Uber and other similar services integrate the customer relationship with the driver/homeowner relationship, undoing the integration of cars/property with payment
  • Google and Facebook integrated content discovery with advertising, undoing the integration of editorial and advertising

Zillow is embracing a model that, should it be successful, tears down the status quo: this will not only enrage Zillow’s customers, but also endanger Zillow’s primary revenue stream.

Thompson outlines evolving his method of explaining trends in technology. While his initial thoughts on aggregation theory captured most of the story, Zillow’s recent news expanded his thinking such that aggregation must leverage integration to transform value chains. This pivot does not discount his previous mindset but gives an opportunity to reflect on older insights and use the new frame of reference going forward.

Zillow, Aggregation, and Integration via Stratechery