Subcompact Publishing

Craig Mod does a much better job than I did a few posts back in articulating what is so special and revolutionary about Marco Arment’s The Magazine, which Mod cites as an exemplar of what he dubs Subcompact Publishing.

The clarity of The Magazine is exciting. It’s doubly exciting because it’s precisely the sort of app at which incumbent publishers balk. This is expected. Again, from Christensen:

Generally, disruptive technologies underperform established products in mainstream markets. But they have other features that a few fringe (and generally new) customers value. Products based on disruptive technologies are typically cheaper, simpler, smaller, and, frequently, more convenient to use.

We are the new customers: The new readers, the new writers, the new publishers. The Magazine is indeed cheaper, simpler, smaller, and more convenient than most other publishing apps.

Read the whole thing here.

Free swim in the workplace: 37signals gives over June to creativity

One of my favorite companies — 37signals — just moved up another notch in my estimation, declaring the entire month of June as an opportunity for experimentation and, apologies to Merlin Mann, blue-sky imagineering. 

This June will be a full month of free time to think, explore, mock up, prototype, whatever. People can go solo or put together a team – it’s entirely up to them. This is a month to unwind and create without the external pressures of other ongoing projects or expectations. We’re effectively taking a month off from non-essential scheduled/assigned work to see what we can do with no schedule/assignments whatsoever.

Some companies are famous for their 20% time where employees get 1/5th of their time to work on their own projects. In spirit I like this idea, but usually it’s executed by carving out a day here or a day there – or every Friday, for example – to work on your own projects.

But all time isn’t equal. I’d take 5 days in a row over 5 days spread out over 5 weeks. So our theory is that we’ll see better results when people have a long stretch of uninterrupted time. A month includes time to think, not just time to squeeze in some personal work around the edges.

The culmination of this month of free work time is Pitchday – the first Thursday in July. That’s when everyone will get a chance to pitch their idea, mockup, prototype, or proof of concept to the whole company. The better the pitch, the more likely the project will happen.

Awesome idea, and a bold (and expensive) move. I can’t wait to read about what comes out of this.

Photo: By Ville Miettinen. Creative Commons license.

User Experience is important: Reason #65398

I have a last-minute trip to New York this week. Because this is the season, apparently, of $750 hotel rooms when you book them late, I decided instead to save some money and make it an up-and-back trip in one day.

Which means I wanted an early train. So I searched for morning trains on the Amtrak site:

…and found that the earliest train possible got me from Baltimore to NYC by 8:44:

I thought I’d remembered earlier trains, but guessed that they may have been sold out, given that I was traveling at the last minute (UX note: See how quickly I assume I’m doing something wrong, instead of the site). But this morning, as I pondered the mad 20-block dash to get to my meeting a half-hour late, it struck me as impossibly odd. So I searched other dates into the summer, all with the same result of no trains before 6 a.m.

I downloaded the official Amtrak Northeast Corridor timetable (updated March 2011) and it confirmed my suspicions: there were earlier trains. So why weren’t they showing up on the Amtrak site when I was looking, I thought, at all morning trains?

I called to talk to a ticket agent. While I was on hold, I did what all flummoxed web users do: I clicked on random things. Finally, I hit on the secret combination: Instead of selecting “morning,” I should select a particular hour in the morning. 5 a.m., for example.

When I finally got the friendly Amtrak web support person on the phone, I asked her why the choice of “morning” did not, in fact, display all of the morning trains. She didn’t know, but her guess (and I think she’s correct) was that the site designer assumed that most people meant 6 a.m. when they said morning.

Assumed.

Most people.

Dangerous words.

Anyway, I got what  I wanted, I suppose. And now I’ll be setting the alarm for 4:30 a.m., instead of the comparatively luxurious 5:30 a.m.

“What problem are you solving?”

Link

This is a link to the most useful post I’ve read in ages.

Ostensibly, it’s about how Mark Wahlberg “cut some corners” to make his magnificent “The Fighter” movie. But it’s really about how to focus on what you’re trying to accomplish, and whether the methods to get there you’ve been told are the right ones really are the right ones.

It ties in with another great question to ask: What problem are you solving? The goal was to make the fights seem real. Not to make them look good. To seem real. Focusing on that changes the requirements.

And that leads to another good question you should always come back to: Is there an easier way? The HBO fight crew is made up of experts at filming fights. They don’t need to be taught how to make it look real. They’re used to capturing a fight in one take — and that’s without knowing what will happen beforehand. Shooting this way is a piece of cake for them.

And maybe the most important question: What’s the opportunity cost? The whole film had a shooting calendar of 33 days. Filming it the HBO way means the movie gets made. A longer, pricier approach might have doomed the film and prevented it from ever being shot in the first place.

Most of us aren’t filming fight scenes. But the way Wahlberg and his team challenged assumptions and questioned traditional “best practices” is something that can be applied to all kinds of arenas, not just boxing ones.