The drop-in audio feature looks like it can succeed with or without Clubhouse

David Pierce, writing for Protocol, on the newly acquired by Spotify app, the Clubhouse competitor Locker Room

Locker Room was born out of an app called Betty, which founder Howard Akumiah created as a way to make live sports predictions with his friends. Betty got a little too close to sports gambling for his tastes, and Akumiah realized the most fun part of the product was the live chat that was happening during games. People were coming to Betty when the game was on, because they knew there would be someone in the app talking about it. The real impetus for Locker Room as we know it today is actually sports talk radio,” Akumiah said.

Sports talk radio is famously one of the best use case of Clubhouse: you watch a game, you tune in to Clubhouse and discuss with other sports fan about what you just saw. With this drop-in audio feature, anyone can participate and mimic what we are familiar with from years of listening to this kind of shows on radio.

I didn’t know about Locker Room, but acquiring it seems very smart on Spotify’s end: they obviously won’t buy Clubhouse (either too expensive for Spotify, or currently overpriced1), so they buy another player in the field, and one that seems to have focus and an interesting vision. If Spotify manage to tune this app into something more than sports talk radio (I can see this kind of format being popular with all sort of live events: Oscars, elections, TV shows, breaking news, etc.), they might have something interesting to add to their growing collection of audio services.

For Clubhouse, it has to mean some sort of danger. If they can’t figure out in time what their app and network is good for outside of the drop-in audio feature, they will soon be relegated as what Snapchat is for Stories: made it popular, almost defined the platform for a while, and now every app has stories, even LinkedIn for crying out loud.2

But Snap is still a very successful company, because deep down they always really were about messaging, not stories, and [financially they are still doing extremely well][6] focusing just on that. But if the Clubhouse-like drop-in audio feature is implemented on other platforms like Spotify, Twitter, Facebook, Slack… what is left for Clubhouse — the company — to remain interesting, special, worthwhile, and competitive? Privacy-related issues aside of course.

  1. Not that Google Trends mean anything, but I thought this was interesting.↩︎

  2. Since I don’t use the LinkedIn app, I admit that I’ve not seen a LinkedIn story yet. Am I missing something?↩︎

Medium joins the new publishing platform battle for independent voices

Ev Williams, in an email sent to Medium employees yesterday, talking about the fate of Medium in-house publications:

The bet was that we could develop these brands, and they would develop loyal audiences that would grow the overall Medium subscriber base. What’s happened, though, is the Medium subscriber base has continued to grow, while our publication’s audiences haven’t. There are many potential reasons for this, which we could debate.

I think a significant factor is that the role of publications — in the world, not just on Medium — has decreased in the modern era. I don’t mean the role of professional editorial, but the idea of an imprimatur that establishes credibility or trust. Trust is more important than ever and well-established editorial brands still have meaning. But today, credibility and affinity are primarily built by people — individual voices — rather than brands.

Williams doesn’t say the word, but I think we can all read it between the lines: Substack. Of course it is not only Substack’s success that has ruined Medium’s publication efforts. As Williams says, the role of publications has decreased, and individual voices never had access to so many great tools to monetise directly via their audience.

Substack — just to mention the most talked-about platform — embodies perfectly this new era of opportunities for writers and journalists wishing to go independent. Substack has almost become a common word for subscriber-only independent newsletter” whether or not the actual platform used is Substack, which says a lot about the success of the brand.

Where Medium tried to pay writers with money earned through a single centralised subscription to Medium itself, and tried to obtain more subscribers by launching these good quality publications, Substack and others went the other way, to the direct-subscription model, where readers subscribe to an author rather than a brand.

About this model, Williams adds:

In fact, that describes the vast majority of what people read on Medium. […] For the foreseeable future, we will focus […] on supporting independent voices on our platform. This means identifying writers — both already on Medium and not — and offering them deals, support, editing, and feedback to help them tell great stories and find their audience.

Between Substack, Medium, Twitter’s upcoming Super Follow feature, the latest Ghost update which includes membership and subscription options, tools such as Memberful and of course Patreon, there is a now a healthy competition in this publishing platform business, where each one of them tries to get more writers and independent voices for which readers are ready to pay.

Medium was maybe one of the first big players in this field — even if they might have been a little too early — but they kind of lost themselves juggling between being a CMS, acting as a platform, and promoting publications. Hopefully for them it won’t be too late to catch up with the others.

The implicit and recent differences between the meanings of “follow” and “subscribe”

James Cridland, writing on Podnews:

Apple Podcasts will no longer use the word subscribe” in a few weeks. Listeners will be invited to follow” their favourite podcasts instead. The new wording will be in iOS 14.5, which should be released later this month (and is available in beta). We expect Apple to communicate further with creators, and listeners, when this version of iOS is released.

For me it will feel weird for a few months, but in many ways, this change makes sense, as the word follow” sounds easier, less intimidating, and surely less of an obstacle than the word subscribe,” which sounds like it requires more engagement and effort from the user. When you subscribe to a newsletter, a service, or a magazine, you may have to enter your email, sign up, log in, and sometimes even have to pay, whereas a podcast subscription is usually one click away, and usually free.

Spotify already uses the word follow” for podcasts, and if I wonder what impact this change of vocabulary will have on RSS readers — do you subscribe to a feed or do you follow a feed? — I have no doubt that the other podcast platforms and podcast players still using the word subscribe” will eventually adopt follow” too.

If follow” implies easy and free, and subscribe” implies more commitment and maybe the involvement of a payment, I wonder if subscriber-only podcasts like Dithering will keep using the word subscribe” (maybe this is another thing we will see on Apple Podcasts?), and if Twitter’s upcoming feature Super Follow — essentially a subscription service — will end up being called Twitter Subscribe” to avoid confusion.

The quest for the perfect writing tool

Jason Snell, writing on Six Colors:

In trying out different writing tools on iOS, I’ve discovered that I actually have a checklist of features that I want. And of course, the frustrating thing is that different apps check different boxes, but none of them do it all!

I’ve been through the same thing last year, in my quest for the perfect text editor. It took me a while to find what I wanted:

So I kept looking. I was looking for an app with a fair amount of speed, a satisfying way of managing files, a few Markdown-specific tools, decent enough looks, and not trying to be a replacement for Apple Notes, which I still use and love as my go-to notes app.

I now use Drafts. I even explained recently how I use the app and what Drafts actions and shortcut I use. Reading Snell’s article, I completely understand why he doesn’t use it: the lack of a file syncing option through Dropbox or iCloud Drive. I get it: I think this is precisely the reason why I stopped using iA Writer in the first place, as I kept accidentally creating new entries in the Dropbox folder synced to my blog. Drafts creates this separation that I need to avoid creating new posts from unfinished drafts. Like I said last year:

Drafts is working for me, and it may not work for you. The journey of finding the best app for yourself is what’s interesting, and there are so many great apps available, especially on the Mac. I could still use iA Writer, and probably be happy with it, but again, I am a curious tech enthusiast, and trying out all those new apps was a satisfying, energising process.

My main conclusion reading Snell’s piece on which iPadOS writing app use, and reading again my own posts on why and how I use Drafts, is that MacOS, iPadOS, and iOS are incredibly rich app ecosystems. You can spend hours and even days just trying new apps, configuring them just the way you like it, looking for that gem that fits your workflow perfectly, and even having the luxury to be able to choose among several good options.

I use a Windows PC for my job, and even if my workflow is completely different from what I do on the Mac, the app situation is terrible in comparison to what you can find on Apple devices,1 and I’m not just talking about writing apps here, but many other daily apps like todos, mail, and calendar apps. From my experience, you can find a one or two decent options, but that’s pretty much it.2

  1. I would also say the same thing about Android. I used to have an Android phone back when I worked at Xiaomi, and before that too, and, to give just one example: good luck finding a good calendar app that is not Google’s.↩︎

  2. iA Writer has a good Windows app, but I think it lacks the polish of the Mac app, and some features are also missing. I may give it another shot soon to see if it improved since the last time I tried it. Currently I use Notepads.↩︎

A tool kit for the conspiracy-curious

Ross Douthat in his column in the New York Times, A Better Way to Think About Conspiracies:

[…] An excellent rule for anyone who looks at an official narrative and thinks that something seems suspicious: In following your suspicions, never leap to a malignant conspiracy to explain something that can be explained by incompetence and self-protection first.

The quote above is one for the ages, but it still doesn’t do this column justice: I found it brilliant, very precise and clear, very quotable. I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

Platforms are now mimicking the way we share content on platforms

Will Oremus, writing in his article, The New Era of Social Media Isn’t About Feeds, on OneZero:

New digital media products are focusing on low-volume, high-attention relationships rather than high-volume, low-attention feeds.

Ten years ago, when we saw something interesting, fun or worth-sharing, we shared it on Facebook. From there, our friends, family members, coworkers, former colleagues, and roommates, could all see the post. It felt like centralisation was the way to go, and this way of sharing things was more efficient in terms of volume of people reached and efforts made.

Today, We might share the same kind of content, but instead of doing it on Facebook — if we still use Facebook — we share it on a few WhatsApp groups, maybe a Slack channel, a DM or two, and an iMessage. A certain amount of social media maturity drove us to this expertise” in who will enjoy our links, videos, and animated gifs the most. This way of sharing stuff feels more intimate, more personal, more targeted, more efficient in terms of impact.

I think this is what companies are looking for nowadays: impact rather than volume. By mimicking how we have learned to behave on social media, these new digital products” stopped trying to target everyone indifferently (us on Facebook in 2011, trusting the algorithm to work its magic), and aim for more targeted communities, engaged individuals (us on our chat groups, across several apps, showing a good old human intentionality).

Sharing is caring.

How I use Drafts as my text editor

Drafts is a well-known app that sells itself as being the place where text starts.” The app’s strength is its ability to become a launcher for many text-based actions towards other apps. Want to add a new todo list item in Reminders or Todoist? Type it using Drafts. Want to add a new calendar event in Fantastical, or post a new tweet? Drafts. You get the idea. Drafts has a directory of actions” that you can download and customise so that your initial text entry in the app becomes the starting point of many of your daily operations.

These actions” can also be used for customising your writing experience within the app itself. This is how I use Drafts. For Reminders, Calendar events, tweets, and all other things, I prefer to start with the corresponding app. For writing entries in my blog, I use Drafts, as a text editor only, like I previously used iA Writer, Byword, or Dropbox Paper.

Besides being very fast and looking good both on the Mac and on the iPhone,1 Drafts can be finely tuned. I’ve already explained why I use Drafts as my go-to text editor, but not how I use it.

On the Mac I hide all the toolbars (see screenshot here) and operate through keyboard shortcuts: I only use 3 main Drafts actions, for which I’ve configured these keyboard shortcuts (on iOS, these are available as buttons above the keyboard, as you can see here on this screenshot)

  • Export ⌘⇧S • allows me to export a text file in my Dropbox folder — the one used to publish on Blot — while automatically naming that file using the title of the post, and appending the date to the filename.
  • Markdown links ⌘⇧H or ⌘⇧K • inline link or reference link, depending on my mood or how many links are in a post. If I have an URL copied in my clipboard, it will automatically add it in the URL field.
  • Footnotes ⌘⇧J • adds a footnotes reference and moves the cursor to the footnote area.

On the Mac, I also use these custom shortcuts:

  • ⌘⌥- • to show/hide the main Drafts window
  • ⌘⌥^ • to show/hide the Capture window (for quick notes without losing sight of what you’re reading for instance)
  • ⌘⌥P • to preview Markdown in rich text (on iOS it is another action shortcut).2
  • ⌘⇧: • to launch Gruber’s service: Open URLs in Safari Tabs
  • ⌘⇧D • used in Safari to share a selection to Drafts (on iOS it goes through the Share menu), creating a new entry with the selection as a quote, and the link of the source already referenced in the draft (see what it looks like on this screenshot here).

That’s it. That’s the setup. I think I only use around 10% of what everything Drafts can do. I can’t believe it took me so long to find a writing app that does everything I need, and does it so well and is so fast.

Thanks for reading.

  1. Each writing mode can be customised separately: font, colours, space between lines, etc.↩︎

  2. I just wish using the shortcut again would hide the Preview window.↩︎

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