48 hours with Apple Music

I’ve been a subscriber to rdio for a couple of years, streaming music isn’t anything new to me. So I was very interested to check out Apple’s implementation.

Here’s my take after using it for the last couple of days.

The Good

Playlists:
The curated playlists are feature I didn’t expect to use much, but I’ve spent more time listening to these than anything else. Apple is doing a great job of both selecting playlists I’d be interested in based on my music preferences and selecting tracks.

The only weird thing is that the playlist seem to skew heavily towards older music. I’m not sure why this might be, I don’t typically listen to a lot of old music.

Library:
The selection of available artist and albums is comparable to rdio. I have yet to look for something I couldn’t find.

Streaming Tech:
Apple is doing a much better job of varying the stream based on available bandwidth. We have a few mobile internet dead zones near our place that always trip up rdio, Apple Music has not had any problems in these zones.

Apple Music also seems to be doing a good job of buffering. There is no delay in switching to the next track.

The Bad

Desktop Client Does Not Work: 
I can’t get Apple Music to work in iTunes, period.

App UI:
Rdio has a really great mobile app. Apple, not so much. I find it really confusing and hard to use. More on this in a future post (maybe).

Beats 1:
Beats1 plays the ultra poppy music you’d expect a beats wearing teenager to eat up. It’s not for me.

 


How To: Tweak Disqus CSS for Twenty Fifteen Theme

After installing the twenty fifteen theme I found that disqus’ comments were butting up against the edges of the layout.

You can fix this by adding the following Custom CSS

 

@media screen and (min-width: 59.6875em) {
	#disqus_thread {
		margin-top: 8.333%;
		margin-left: 8.333%;
		margin-right: 8.333%;
	}
}

@media screen and (min-width: 38.75em) {
	#disqus_thread {
		margin-top: 7.6923%;
		margin-left: 7.6923%;
		margin-right: 7.6923%;
	}
}

Is Wil Wheaton’s Table Top just a reality show for board game geeks?

Yesterday Wil Wheaton wrote a blog post (and corresponding reddit post) in which he apologized for “completely screwing up the rules” in at least half (10 out of 21) of the episode of Table Top Season 3. IMHO his apology is a text book example of how not to apologize. He spends the majority of the post singling out and publicly shaming a specific producer on the show – the “rules guy.” The way he’s handling this has made me lose a lot of respect for the guy, but Reddit thread covers that ground pretty well, that’s not what this blog post is about…

By placing so much blame on this producer and taking very little responsibility himself, he has revealed a lot about how the show works and I’m beginning to think it’s more reality show than documentary.

Ostensibly, Table Top is a show were Wil Wheaton plays his favourite board games with his friends. He presents each and every game with such passion, knowledge and excitement that it is not a much of a logical leap to assume that he’s played the game a few time and is at least familiar with the basic rules. In fact, he’ll often throw in a pro-tip, a specific strategy that he likes to employ during a certain point in the game or a funny antidote.

I no longer believe this to be the case. In light of his blog post, I now feel like Table Top is more like a reality show where Wil Wheaton the actor, plays the character of Wil Wheaton the board game geek.

If Table Top was authentic, if Wheaton was actually into the games, if he knew the rules; then he wouldn’t be blaming a producer so heavily. Sure the gamers might make little mistakes here and there, but anyone familiar with the rules should be able to catch the bigger mistakes. If not on the first or second round, then maybe a few rounds in and definitely when reviewing the episode.

The fact that they employee an expert to review the rules really demonstrates the “show-ness” of the show. I don’t think someone outside of the Hollywood film & television industry would even think to hire someone like this. They would rely on the combined expertise of the team.

Not only that, but throughout the series Wheaton really strongly presents himself as the expert. If this was actually the case, having another expert on the team should be completely redundant. But the huge amounts of blame levelled on this one producer implies an opposite and equally huge amount of distance between Wheaton, the games and the production process.

I would not be surprised if the games instruction consisted of hand-holding Wil and friends through game between takes. “Roll the dice, then draw a card and … action.”

Phewf.

That said, I think the show is still a great introduction to the world of modern gaming. It’s certainly much more accessible than something like The Dice Tower or Shut Up & Sit Down. But I don’t think I’ll be watching the series again…

On Winnipeg Free Press’ Pay-Per-Article Paywall

Last week, the editor of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote an article making a (rather poor) case for their upcoming “innovative” paywall experience. Harvard’s Neiman Journalism Labs even picked it up and wrote a great article breaking down the nitty gritty. Simply put the Winnipeg Free Press plans to charge every single reader $0.27/article (billed monthly). Nobody in North America is doing this and nobody in the world has tried anything quite like this, so in that regard, it truly is an innovative idea.

However, there is a fine line between an innovative and a bad idea.

As far as I can tell based on the information they’ve released, Freep’s plan falls on the bad side of that line. Whatever committee makes these decisions at The Free Press seem to be misunderstanding some fairly basic principles about how the web works.

User Experience

For starters, any sort of road block that requires a user to create an account before getting to content is a significant barrier to entry. As usability pioneers Neilsen Norman Group put it “Login walls do not belong in the initial experience.” If a user clicks through to a news article from social media and is presented with a login wall, that user will just leave, period. I have a hard time believing that the Free Press’ research would show otherwise. The news market in Winnipeg has a lot of viable free/ad-supported content. Three daily newspapers, a vibrant sub-reddit and blogging scene. If someone wants to find out about something on the internet, they are going to visit the first site that actually displays information without making them jump through hoops.

There is a reason that successful paywalls like the NYT’s show users X number of free articles before ever asking them to sign up or pay. It’s not because these papers don’t need to maximize their online revenues. Precisely the opposite, they understand that presenting a paywall to every; single; drive-by visitor is going to do more harm than good.

Micro Payments

$0.27/article is hardly a “micro” payment.

$0.27/article is outrageous, maybe even just plain greedy!

Anybody who’s dealt with online advertising can come to this conclusion fairly quickly. The revenue earned by a individual webpage (ie. the cost to advertise) is calculated in CPM (cost per thousand views), $0.27/article works out to $270CPM. The going rate for the an ad on a highly popular website with a good audience in a desired demographic $70 – $100CPM, possibly upwards of $150 – $200CPM for a large takeover type ad. When The North Face advertises on wired.com, they’re looking at advertising budgets in that ballpark. On the other hand, an ad on Facebook or Google AdSense will cost an advertiser $0.50 – $5.00.

If I had to guess, the rates for advertising on winnipegfreepress.com are likely in the $50CPM range. So from that perspective the Winnipeg Free Press is attempting to charge their readers 2-5x as much as they charge their advertisers!

When compared to other media/entertainment the Free Press’ pricing model doesn’t make a lot of sense either. In the article, the editor writes “If you are a Winnipeg Jets fan, then you can assemble a month’s worth of game stories and Gary Lawless analysis that will cost you as little as $8.00.”

One month’s worth of hockey analysis costs as just shy of a Netflix or Rdio subscription. The pricing is totally out of whack.

Ad-Support. You’re the Product.

When a business is based on an ad-supported model, the reader is not the customer. The readership is the product, the advertisers are the customers. When you read an ad-supported website, you may not be handing over any money, but not getting the content for free either. Every time you load a page you are handing over valuable demographic information. I think most people understand this by now, but it’s worth reiterating.

Normally, when an industry experiences increased production costs, they pass those costs on to the customer. When the price of fuel goes up, airlines increase the costs of fares, grocery stores increase the cost of produce.

If a business is losing revenue, will try to present their customers with new and innovative products. Charging readers for access is doing nothing to create a more innovative product for the Free Press’ real customers, the advertisers. If anything, it’ll turn potential readers aways, decreasing the Free Press’ ad inventory.

Obviously I realize that newspapers and magazines have always cost money for as long as they’ve existed. But I had always thought that those costs were covering the cost of printing and distribution. In the past, newspaper ads paid the larger fixes costs of producing news, running a large company and lining the pockets of their investors. At least until Craig’s List came along and killed classifieds.
I understand that quality news-gathering costs money. If the Winnipeg Free Press’ cost are anywhere near as high as the exorbitant per-article rates they are rolling out, then they really are in trouble. And that’s too bad.
I wish them luck.

Encryption, The Best Feature of iOS8

With today’s launch of iOS8, Apple has begun to encrypt all your things. As detailed in the new “privacy” section on apple.com, all iCloud data is now encrypted end-to-end. On Apple’s servers, in transit and presumably on your device. In other words, it’s technically impossible for Apple to comply with government or legal surveillance requests. And more importantly to the average law-abiding-citizen, a phone thief will not be able to access the data on your phone, through any means, without your passcode or finger print.

In my opinion, this definitively ends the Google vs. Apple war, period. At least until Google can change their business model such that it’s not dependant on collecting your personal information to target you with ads, etc.

Good show Apple, good show.