Opportunity lost or no appetite for paid services?

In the recent weeks there have been a number of people (read tech nerds) seem to be moving away from Google services. This is happening for a plethora of reasons from personal preference, perceived or real violated trust or the creepy nature in which Google appears to be moving. There have been articles and podcasts all over the place about this vary topic. One of issues that seems to be the hardest to move away from is Google Reader. Even if you are not using Google Reader on the web, almost[1] all of the RSS application readers regardless of platform require you to have a Google Reader account. The primary reason for this is to be able to sync already read items from one device to the other. From the research I have done the only exception to this is Fever. Fever is a self hosted RSS account that allows you to bypass Google altogether. But I think the vast majority of people reading in RSS readers do not have the resources in order to pull this off. Better put this is not a consumer ready product this is more for the tech savvy user with their own hardware to pull this off.


The Google Reader service has created a very simple way to sign up, store your OPML file, and watch what items you have read so that you can grab another device and pickup where you left off.

I am sure it is not an easy feat to accomplish. I am sure it requires tremendous resources to do this but I can’t help but feel like there is a huge opportunity here for some company to take advantage of. There is a model in place now works and could still be improved on. Something things that I would love to see or would be willing to handle to move off the platform.


  • Simple and easy sign up process
  • The ability to import your existing OPML file
  • Cross device / Platform support
  • Support from popular reading clients. (Reeder, Flipboard, Pulse etc.)

In my mind a simple and easy signup process does not mean just creating a sign-up process that asks me for my Facebook or Twitter credentials login credentials. I actually hate sites like these that hand over your information to others. I am looking for basic account sign up, username, emails address perhaps a preference question about my preferred reading device. End of story.

Since OPML files are very common don’t make me re-subscribe to every site I read to get it into your system, allow me to just import my list.

I live in the Apple world but not everyone does. As the sync provider perhaps you don’t have to worry as much about the client device as much as the developer support. RSS has been around long enough that it should not matter. Providing developers with a good API so that you are able to get great platform support from the variants of RSS readers out there.

Things I would be willing to give up

  • A web version
  • A limit on the number of syncs a day (or a regularly updated sync schedule- every hour)

Perhaps I am in the minority here but I rarely use the web version of Google Reader. I have in desperation but I usually have a device with me to allow me access to my feeds if I really needed them. Worse case scenario is I could visit the 4–5 must read sites via the web in a pinch. I think if you build a rich enough system the web becomes a nice to have not a mandatory like in the past. Look at Instagram. There is no web site – only a link to render one particular page if something is shared with me. The site continues to grow.

If bandwidth is an issue perhaps capping the number of syncs you can do a day would be a way to initially limit the a user. I know this would not work for everyone but it could be a start. I find with work and other activities I am generally refreshing my devices 3–4 times a day and then sitting down to sift through the information.

Things I be willing to would do

  • Pay for this service ! In a membership or subscription model for the application.

I wonder if the biggest reason an alternative service like this does not exist is because of cost? In a world of free, freemium and other advertising models no one wants to pay for anything.

If your service is completely free you are probably going the VC route to get huge and tell everyone you have 1 billion users! (oh and by the way those users are costing me a fortune and I am not sure how to recoup my money so I would like some of yours). The next logical step for most of these providers is the second oldest occupation in the world – sell ads[2], sell your data etc. Ruin the experience. We dont have to look far to see examples of this. Facebook, Twitter promoted ads, Gmail and the list goes on.

I admit at one point I was probably one of your clients. But the more you disrupt my user expereince and take me away/distract me from your core goods or service, the sooner I am likely to leave your service. I also have recognized where there is huge value in paying for the service. I admit that my preference many times is to a demo and make sure it fits in my workflow before I commit to it but I am more than willing to pay for the service.

One one of my favorite applications that I use daily is Instapaper. Instapaper is a paid application. It sells in the App store for $4.99. Done. No issue. I am very happy to support independent developers who make beautiful and wonderful functioning applications. I think Marco Arment (@marcoarment) has done just this. Not to long ago Instapaper added the ability to search your archives. This was not a service that Marco could take on and eat the cost of for his X number of users. So he instituted a paid add-on. So for $1 a month you have that ability to search all your saved pieces if you need it. I paid for the application initially and now I needed the other service so I was willing to pay for it. It means that much to me. I don’t want to see the application go away and I want to support independent work.

Starting a business with no clear way to make money still confounds me. Clearly it works, but it is not the type of business I personally would want to start. Once you start offering everything for free, to get the user base to move to the paid model is disruptive at best. Some customers will feel like it is a bait and switch tactic.

I wish someone would created an alternative to Google Reader account. If you do please let me know as I will be one of the first customers to sign up.

  1. Net Newswire is an example of an RSS reader that can work independently as a stand alone reader or with Google services. I think you just do not get the benefit of the read articles across various devices without using Google.  ↩
  2. I don’t classify Ads via the Deck in the same group as everyone else. Their model is more specialized and by invite only. Only one small add will appear on the website and they are well designed and generally pertaintnent to the user.  ↩

The Home Work Podcast

I had the opportunity to listen to episode one over the weekend and was really pleased to see the direction it will be going. Dave works at home full time on outside and personal projects, Aaron is a full time home worker on his own thing.  I occasionally work at home but most of the time it is on my own projects.  Looking forward to any new tips that I can learn.

The show is the newest on the 70 decibels network.

The Home Work Podcast:

A new show from friends Aaron Mahnke and Dave Caolo about working from home. I work from home, and love it. Though it has some great benefits but also some very unique challenges (and there will be even more of those challenges once Noah grows past his “sleeping for 18 hours a day” phase). And so I’m very much looking forward to this new podcast from Aaron and Dave.

✚ Permalink

(Via Shawn Blanc)

Please can I have my free drink — electronically

If you have not seen the Starbucks iPhone app I am not sure what rock you have been living under.  I have been using on my iPhone for probably a year now.  It is a very simple app that allows you to pay for your purchase just like using your Starbucks card.

When the product first went in I was a little skeptical that the scanning on the barcode would be iffy at best. I had used several loyalty card apps that store your member number and barcode and it worked in about half of the stores I tried them. Of course you would walk into one store, be in a huge line and not have it work only to hear the cashier sigh heavily before they had to enter in the barcode number manually. Aside – I always want to say hey there was a time before the scanner where you had to to this for every transaction. The Starbucks card works every time.

There are lots of nice things you can do with in the application itself. I can send eGifts to other people via email . Built in as well is the ability to reload your card. You can reload your card when:

  • on demand from a credit card or bank account
  • reload it when your balance falls to a certain dollar amount
  • add a fixed dollar amount to the card every X days

which are all great options.

The application also allows you to track your point status until you reach 15 points triggering Starbucks to mail you a postcard for a free drink of your choice.

This is the part that got me thinking. Why does Starbucks mail the postcards? There is an obvious printing and mailing fee associated with this process. I imagine the post cards all have to be printed on demand as the frequency that each person gets one will vary widely. It seems very old school for a company that has this progressive payment application to manage rewards delivery via the postal service.

In general retailers love gift cards and gift certificates and coupons. Think about it from their stand point. Cards are prepaid up front and inventory is generally not leaving the store at that moment. Several possibilities are also in favor of the store:

  • customers loose the cards
  • never use them
  • leave some money on them
  • allow them to expire without taking advantage of it (depends on the type of card)

Its a game, a bet. Not with obvious malice intended but calculated risk/reward.

Could this be why Starbucks[1] does not add my “free” drink to the app when I reach the goal level for the reward? They already know how many times I use my card, what loyalty level I am designated, what I drink or eat on a repeated basis. I am sure they know how frequently I actually use my free drink cards as well.

If I register my card (the Starbucks plastic one) and I loose it, they will provide me another card and transfer what my remaining balance was to the new one. But I can’t have my free drink eletcronically?

Using the application on my iPhone or swiping my member card also gives me a discount on “add-ins” that the drink might be made with, like falvored syrups or soy milk. The register will ring up the full price of the drink, I hold up the bar code on the screen and the discount is applied and removed from my balance. But I can’t have my free drink elecronically?

If I receive an eGift from another user via email, I can click on the link and the balance instantly goes onto my card, so clearly there is not a technology issue in play here. But I can’t have my free drink electronically?

As a registered member one of the “benefits” I receive are occaisional marketing emails that I gave permission to send alerting me of any special sales or new products at the store once in a while. So getting me into the store is not really an issue to spend more money. But I can’t have my free drink elecronically?

Starbucks long ago created the “third place” where you could go to hang out and relax or work. They created a culture of baristas knowing your name and anticipating your drink order. My hope is the compay is working on this process now. I have no idea if they are or not. I am trying not to be a cynic.

When I think of a membership or a reward program I think there should be benefits for both parties. Be it access, discounts, advance screening, or knowledge of my purchases. It is “quid pro quo” system. But in listing out all these points I am wondering if its really a false reward or a double dip. Even though they are providing this reward to you – it is in the format that is probably the most inconvenient for you, and they still hope you don’t use it. This takes away some of the trust that we have invested in our favorite stores. Please can I have my free drink electronically!

  1. I am using Starbucks as an example but they are not the only one who does this same thing.  ↩

Working with a professional

Learning your strength’s and weakness’s as early on in life as you can is a tremendous value.  You can always improve on both, no matter what.  Knowing when to hire a professional is very important. I have been slowly working on a personal site rebranding. Trying to indentify both the voice I want to use as I write and the look and feel. Having graduated college with an art degree in photography I assumed (we all know that that means) redesigning the site and my logo would be a piece of cake. Take note here… epic fail. So after hearing Myke Hurley of 70 decibels and Patrick Rhone of minimalmac speak so highly about working with Aaron Mahnke from wetfrogstudios.com I decided it was time to investigate hiring a professional.

I reached out to Aaron via his contact information on the web to see if he would be willing to work with a small blogger like me. He was super nice and explained all the various design packages I could choose from. After an initial deposit, I was sent the form to explain what I was looking for. It was similar to a creative brief. But it was brief! I was not sure I was able to provide Aaron with enough information to guide him in the design process. After submitting I waited for an email that would say something like:

sorry Austin you information is far to vague for me to help you. Please move along.

Instead a couple of days later I received 2 great logos! Both were amazing for different reasons. Two unique takes on what I was trying to convey. Now the tough part deciding. I expected one would resonate with me but both did. I was impressed with what the first pass looked like based on the very limited set of information I provided. I had explained types of imagery I liked, colors and general attributes for how the logo should appear. For the color combinations I detailed blacks and greys. I slept on the designs and offered my comments to Aaron including a few color options that I might like to see for comparison sake. In short order I had the revisions. (Aarons entire process is well laid out from scheduling to how to comment on the scenarios he sends to you).

Original Colored with full “T”My final decision rested with one small detail. All the original designs had the “T” breaking through the “D” just a little bit (see rev 2b with tip of “T”). I like the concept because it gave full recognition to the letter in a way that was truthful to the font.

But when I showed it to others, with no design background, everyone said

what’s that little smudge at the top of the letter?  

I suspected I would be answering that question over and over so I asked Aaron if he could revise it for me. The final version is below now the one current on the site.

Final Logo

I could not be happier with the logo. I am slowly working on the site making tweaks and modifying the CSS. If you recognize you are ready for professional help with branding and identity, or print and web services I highly recommend you contact Aaron Mahnke (@amahnke) from wetfrogstudios.com.

How small can you go?

Normally with a title like this you would expect me to be posting about my desire to scale down my computer even smaller to the 11″ MBA. While this is still true this is more about small living spaces and optimization of space and utility.  “I had never heard the term “LEGO Apartments” but after watching this video I totally understand the name.  Building this tiny apartment as test project was a great learning tool for this company.  The narrator shows all the places that they were successful and missed.  I love the example of the built in ottoman – that becomes permanent built in.  As a person fascinated by the use of space seeing this as was a cool project.

LEGO Apartments — Shoebox Dwelling | Finding comfort, style and dignity in small spaces:

(Via shoeboxdwelling.com)