Episode Ninety Three: Email Is Still A Killer App; Dubya Dubya Dee Cee

by danhon

0.0 Station Ident

It’s 10pm on a Monday night, and I’ve been typing for coins. And I thought it would be *easy* to type for coins today but I completely forgot about nerd Christmas.

1.0 Email Is Still A Killer App

Occasionally, I meet people who read this, or people who know that I write a newsletter and then we all have this weird conversation which is all funny ha-ha and goes a bit like “so, newsletters! Aren’t they a bit artisanal 90s! And you live in Portland!” to which I have to say something like, “well, funny you say that, but…”

So here’s the thing. I now have <checks> 1,093 subscribers to this. I’ve been doing it every weekday since 23 January this year. My “record” is 5,229 words. I am astounded, *literally astounded as in you would not believe the astounded look I have on my face*, by the people who subscribe to it, because I do not understand why they do, and yet (whispers) they’re still here.

Let me back up a bit.

I started blogging back in 1999. It wasn’t even called blogging then. It wasn’t even called web logging. It was just… a thing that people did on the internet. And, for a few years, I blogged a lot. And by “blogged”, I mean: wrote on the internet. About pretty much anything. And then I stopped. Funnily enough, most of the friends I made during that period (mainly people I met in 1999/2000, when you could make a list of “all the people in the UK who were web logging” and the length of that list would be countable using the digits a relatively average person would have on their hands) also stopped blogging.

One of the reasons – and I hear this concern from others, who have similarly stopped writing online – is that: man, is there so much writing online these days. Oodles of it. It’s almost as if we were at risk of using the internet to commune with each other and then some supreme being like Ev Williams decided: No! You shall not speak person unto person! Instead I will give publishing tools to each and every one of you so that you may all speak and never listen to each other! And then we will invent *comments*, which were like a proto-form of YouTube comments only they weren’t quite as nonsensical and not quite as mean (apart from some of them), and then, just to confuse you, we will invent *trackbacks* and then someone will have to come up with rel=nofollow and then we will all use Blogger for a bit and then it will be bought by Google and then we’ll use Movable Type for a bit and then some of us will use Blosxom and then some of us will use WordPress and then some of us will just give up and use Tumblr and then just when we think we have it all sorted out Ev will go and invent Twitter and then we’ll all truly be fucked because who has the time to write medium/long-form content on the internet anymore when you have to spend the whole day being witty in 140 characters and pretending you’re in an episode of the West Wing.

So, this: there’s a lot of writing on the internet these days. Anyone can do it. Anyone does do it. So, if you’re a reasonable person, why bother doing it unless you’ve got something interesting to say? And that chap Moore, with his law, only went and made it cheaper and easier and faster for *everyone* to get on the internet, not just the somewhat reclusive people in the mid to late 90s who were looking for other somewhat reclusive people.

But no, when *everyone* could get on the internet (for certain values of “everyone”), then it wasn’t just enough to have an opinion or a reckon, because it might turn out that someone who actually knew what they were talking about could *also* post their opinion. And then what would yours be worth?

So one thing that stopped me from blogging was performance anxiety and no longer feeling like a big fish in a small pond, or even just a fish in a pond, as opposed to the reality, which was being plankton in an ocean the volume of Jupiter.

That part was easily dealt with by, honestly, drugs and a whole bunch of therapy. Now I don’t care. I just write.

But, email.

See, the thing about email is this. Even though you could just click or tap or home-button away at any moment, you don’t. Because email is in a different context, even though it’s just the same binary bits rendered through HTML (apart from if you read this in Gmail for iOS on an iPhone in which case the formatting is really terrible. Sorry about that.)

But there’s something about email where I can capture your attention. Where you won’t go away. Where I don’t embed links throughout the text so you can just leave. And maybe there’s also something about the way and the tone and the manner in which I’m writing where, honestly, it’s all a bit stream-of-consciousness and verbal as opposed to written.

And yes, there’s the argument that Google killed RSS when it killed Reader and that newsletters are where blogs are going but that’s not really true, because yes, RSS is pretty much dead now apart from the RSS aficionados who trade tips on working readers and feeds like people who’re into vinyl excitedly discovering a new store.

But email and this newsletter gives me a different sense of relationship because I get identity data from my subscribers. I know, in a way, who these people are, in a way that I never did with RSS. All I ever got was a number of times my feed was hit, or maybe a number of RSS subscribers through a service like Feedburner. But with a mailing list, I get personal subscribers. Unless I assume you all have assistants who print this out for you and leave it on your desk, in which case, I have relationships with all of your assistants.

And it’s not just about the editing interface: because the editing interface for Medium is so much better. But this mailing list, this newsletter is a bit dark web – it’s on the web, but you have to kind of look for it. It won’t really show up unless you know it’s there. It’s a bit Platform 9 3/4 that way. And comments, too: whilst I publish archives of this newsletter on a subdomain at my site, the only real way I invite people to reply is through email. Which isn’t visible, and doesn’t get published so, bluntly, I don’t get crazy people leaving comments all over the place. Or comment spam. And I don’t need to worry about WordPress being vulnerable. (Apart from the archives, of course. Hey, Tinyletter: you should provide archive export and archive publishing for $).

So, this is the thing. Don’t write off email. It does things the web doesn’t do. And because of that, it’s a unique, viable platform.

2.0 Dubya Dubya Dee Cee

Apple kicked off their WorldWide Developer’s Conference today, in case you hadn’t noticed. I’ve got two short reckons here, about Health/HealthKit and HomeKit.

First off: the keynote didn’t actually give much meaty information about either Health{Kit} or HomeKit. But it wouldn’t do: it’s a keynote, and that’s not the place to divulge all the awesome stuff. Because what both Health and HomeKit are, are under-the-hood things that will take a few years to get ready, rather than something that’s more quickly grokkable, like the fancy Swift demo with a playground.

First, Health. I haven’t spent much time thinking about this yet, but I’m curious as to how this is going to play out and in what direction. By that, I mean: will doctors trust self-reported, self-recorded data? I mean, they trust it when I use a medical device they give me, that’s regulated by the FDA, and then they pull the data off themselves. They even trust it when I use a regulated device and write down the numbers (which I could be lying about) and then fax them back over.

The other way around is: man, you know how I feel about dashboards. Too much information that I don’t care about, that I don’t need to see. Honestly, if the quantified self people went and designed a car you’d never get around to driving it because you’d spend the whole time looking at graphs of data over time like, ooh, isn’t piston number one doing well, see how its performance has been doing over the last six months when: I DON’T CARE, I JUST WANT THE ENGINE TO START.

So I’m not convinced that we *need* to see all the data that’s presented in Health all the time, but the nice thing about Health, the app, I suppose, is that you don’t *need* to look at it all the time. And as a system application, Apple has no incentive for you to keep checking out your blood pressure every thirty seconds. Or for you to constantly be looking at your sleep patterns.

HomeKit, then. Again, not much about this in the keynote. And, frankly, not much more other than the promise of being able to control a cluster of things using some sort of *automation* that enables spooky action at a distance like turning on lights and so on. Again, I’m not entirely sure what the value of this is, and whether it’s a thing that will totally catch on like people setting up whole scripts of actions to be accomplished when they leave the office geofence on their way home from work. Like, I don’t know, tell the Roomba to hide its embarrassed ass. Or tell the microwave to, I don’t know, microwave something empty because it can’t put a frozen dinner for one inside itself without human assistance.

Anyway. More as I noodle on it.

Send notes. I eat them. I haven’t had many lately, so you should all feel bad.

Best,

Dan