RIP Digg Reader

Me, last month:

Why I’m using an RSS reader again. (Specifically, Digg Reader, which promised fixes and additions years ago that haven’t been implemented. This is going to end well.)

Digg, today:

Digg Reader is shutting down on March 26, 2018. Bummer, we know. Export and download your feeds and folders from and you can add those to another reader product. Don’t worry! You can grab your feeds after Reader is gone.

This played out exactly as I expected. On to Feedly.

Red dots & metrics

John Herrman at the New York Times writes:

When platforms or services sense their users are disengaged, whether from social activities, work or merely a continued contribution to corporate profitability, dots are deployed: outside, inside, wherever they might be seen. I’ve met dots that existed only to inform me of the existence of other dots, new dots, dots with almost no meaning at all; a dot on my Instagram app led me to another dot within it, which informed me that something had happened on Facebook: Someone I barely know had posted for the first time in a while. These dots are omnipresent, leading everywhere and ending nowhere. So maybe there’s something to be gained by connecting them.

I have been trying out a new approach to social networking lately: not using them  – at least not using them the way they are intended. I’ve installed Facebook News feed blockers on both my phone and my work computer. Still, even when I get the impulse to visit Facebook, even though there’s no feed greeting me, there’s that little globe at the upper right corner of the screen with a red badge affixed to it. A news organization went live hours ago, an event is coming up today and two of my friends are going, someone posted in “cool pizza group” (a cool group devoted to pizza).

These badges really do represent a disregard for the user; they promise something that needs addressing but rarely represent that. They are advertisements for users to keep using their phone.

Twitter, for its part, is egregious in its use of badges to spur engagement. If one stays off of Twitter for more than two days, reopening the application presents a numbered badge, but doesn’t usually show engagement on the user’s tweets. Rather, it shows stuff that happened on Twitter. A person one follows just liked another’s tweet. Things like that. If someone is highly engaged, Twitter does not think to show users these things: It knows you are a captive audience. As someone’s who has been off the service for more than a month, I shudder to think of the things Twitter thinks I want.

(Also, for a brief period of time on Twitter’s iOS app, years ago, the app made it so users could not even disable the application’s system-level badge from notification settings. How this was even possible from a development standpoint puzzles me.)

David Zweig at the New Yorker wrote about a tool that removes metrics from Twitter. The badges remain, but retweet, like, follower counts and tweet age are all removed. In this new, metric-less world, Zweig found relief and comfort of not seeing the popularity contest that the social media site often is.

These sort of user-facing metrics that encourage are nothing new: Internet forums, pre-social media, showed number of posts and rewarded users based on post count, often with a new user title. However, there is something insidious about how the modern websites that eat up so much of our time exploit its users’ attention in the name of financial gain.

Anyway! Thanks for reading! Please like and share.

February 18, 2018: Teele Square to Davis Square

A well-timed glance at the horizon affords a view of Boston’s Back Bay: At night, a blue-LED-lit crane draws attention away from the Prudential building. Soon, the decline of Holland Street and bare trees obscure the view. Two gentlemen jaywalk and talk, their presumed destination is the watering hole just across the way. The ballpark remains unused, and would be this late anyway; a tattered sign hangs implores drivers to “Think ODD” when parking in a snow emergency. There is no snow emergency today: The not-insignificant snow that had fallen the night before had all but melted, and one could trade their snow boots for sneakers.

Blogs I’ve thought about doing while having writer’s block

A few days ago I got a domain renewal notice, which reminded me that I have a blog. Well, I did some rearranging and now this is my new blog. What will I write about? Here’s a brainstorm of topics I thought about?

  • Not being able to blog. (I did this in 2012 or something.)
  • What’s the point of a blog in 2018? (Kottke did it.)
  • Television broadcasters’ sporting event graphics, a personal obsession of mine. (NBC’s new NFL graphics debuted during the Super Bowl are great, and an excuse to extend the Thursday Night Football style to Sunday nights, especially since NBC gave up rights to Thursday nights. It’s also further legitimizes ESPN’s Monday Night Football big graphic approach. I love Rogers Sportsnet’s NHL graphics, even though it’s a few years old. AT&T SportsNet’s hockey graphics are nice, too. The international English Premier League graphics are compact but have a lot of character)
  • My favorite songs of 2017 (“Love Galore,” “BagBak,” “Perfect Places,” “Turtleneck,” “The Bus Song,” “Passionfruit,” “Happy to Be Here,” “Despacito.”)
  • Favorite albums of 2017 (Ctrl, DAMN.)
  • Same thing for 2016 (because I didn’t blog anything).
  • An unordered list of things I thought about while not blogging.
  • Anything but a meta post about deciding to blog again.
  • Posts researching a cool thing about the neighborhood I live in (Somerville, for now.)
  • Why I deleted Twitter and stopped checking Twitter on my work computer (as cliche as leaving New York).
  • Why my writing was never Awly enough (I never pitched The Awl).
  • Weather reviews, but in Boston. (Too Awly.)
  • How will people know to read this if I’m off Twitter?
  • A thing about social media. (I just use Instagram, really.)
  • Why I’m using an RSS reader again. (Specifically, Digg Reader, which promised fixes and additions years ago that haven’t been implemented. This is going to end well.)

Blog soon!

Beats 1 Is Pretty Cool

Frank Ocean’s radio show is a nice reintroduction for Beats 1.

Friday afternoon’s — or Friday morning’s, or evening’s depending where in the world you were — big music news was a two-hour block of radio called “Blonded Episode 001,” a Beats 1 radio show from Frank Ocean.

The episode featured tracks from Prince, an interview with Jay Z (an indication of a thaw between Tidal and Apple, which have fought over exclusives and have had stalled acquisition talks, or just Ocean doing his own thing?) and very few, if any, words from Ocean himself.

For many, this was the first time that many music listeners had decided to tune into Apple’s radio-station-cum-advertisement-for-Apple-Music perhaps since Drake dropped a new track called “4 PM in Calabasas.” It was fascinating to see music publications light up with the news, which tend to ignore major artists presenting shows. But Frank Ocean is elusive, so it’s big news when he pops up.

At two years old this June, Beats 1 has become a bit of a sleeper hit — in the way that the most famous company can have a sleeper hit. The station has led to a few of my obsessions of late (Christine and the Queens and Anderson .Paak to name two) and is always an entertaining listen when I tune in.

For the uninitiated, Beats 1 has about 8 hours of anchored programming to start Monday-Thursday (at 12 p.m. Eastern time), with Zane Lowe, Judie Adenuga and Ebro Darden. These three DJs really drive the network, premiering songs from up and coming artists. Their playlists are diverse, but tend to skew toward pop and hip hop that is generally adjacent from what’s played on terrestrial radio.

After that, there is a request hour, followed by artist-driven programming. Elton John has a show, St. Vincent had a show, Run the Jewels has a show, Ryan Adams has a show. Each show is mainly an hour of music, perhaps with a few interviews interspersed. You get the idea.

I find that the best way to listen, for me at least, is just to jump in on my commute. This means I usually hear the end of a playlist hour, followed by Ebro Darden’s show. Darden’s show is almost always upbeat and irreverent. But maybe you will find something else to love about Beats 1, like its quirky shows and other DJs.

It’s, of course, not perfect; like the rest of Apple Music, it suffers from faults. There are some things Beats 1 could improve on itself: even more live programming at around 8 a.m. Eastern would be a nice start. It’d be cool to have an East Coast drive time playlist, rather than a repeat of last night’s programs, which is what usually airs. It could also never play 21 Pilots’ songs ever again and it would be the greatest station on earth.

The Music app itself could be a lot better at promoting Beats 1, too. The radio tab does display what’s live and offers on-demand content (provided users have an Apple Music subscription). But maybe the app could notify users when a particular artist they “follow” or have played in the last year are appearing on the program? Setting up show-specific alerts would be cool, too. (Something like this has definitely been proposed before.)

Despite these minor complaints, Beats 1 is worth checking out. It’s zany and fun, and very of the moment. It might be a walking billboard for a music subscription (“You’re on Apple Music. This is Beats 1” is a very common bumper slogan on the network), but its original programming is unparalleled from other streaming services.

Listen to Beats 1, you might just find a song you love.

The Best Beer Is Jack’s Abby House Lager

Framingham, Massachusetts, brewery Jack’s Abby has long committed to lagers as its go to style of beer. It’s had some bona fide hits: Hoponious Union is one of the most complex beers I’ve ever tried. But what happens when a craft brewery goes for Superior Drinkability™?

Jack’s Abby House Lager. It’s the best beer. I don’t really have any sort of basis for this ruling, but it’s the best beer. Let’s start with the name: House Lager conveys a very specific kind of beer you’re getting; the watering hole near your home is almost guaranteed to have it in its fridge. It’ll come in a tallboy can. Or it’ll be on tap (and you’ll wish it was in a can — more on that later).

Pour it from the can into a glass and bask in its golden body. It’s such a good looking beer.

What does House Lager taste like? Familiarity. If I could compare it with one “shitty beer,” it’d be Narraganset lager. Let me clarify: House Lager does not have the overly sweet notes that Narraganset has, but it is indeed sweet. It also has a way better taste profile. It’s drinkable, it’s crisp, it’s got the perfect amount of sweetness.

In a world where every beer strives to truly change the notion of what beer can taste like (Chocolate stouts! Bacon! An assault of hops! Gimmicks upon gimmicks!), House Lager is a beer that should be on the shopping list for every house party. Seriously. Consider replacing that 12-pack of Sam Adams Boston Lager with something way better: a 15-pack of Jack’s Abby House Lagers.

When you’re out a bar perusing the beer menu, among the beers with the intimidating names like “Persnickety” and “Angry AF” and “Hippity Hoppity,” you might see Jack’s Abby and think, “Is a beer with the name ‘House Lager’ adventurous enough for me?” In a word: uh yes. However, if it’s on draft, maybe go with something else? The House Lagers I’ve had on draft have tasted a little off. It may be a little watered down compared with its in-the-can counterpart. Or maybe it’s a thing with the tap lines at the bars I’ve been to with it on tap. Again, I’m not an expert.

Anyway. House Lager. It’s the best beer in the universe. If you’re in the Boston area, seek it out. I hope it’s everywhere soon. Jack’s Abby is the best beer. Thanks.

Twitter for iPhone: A history

A 2008–2011 retrospective of Twitter’s flagship iPhone application, with bonus commentary.

Twitter for iPhone 4.0 was released to the general public on Thursday [Dec. 8, 2011] to widely mixed reviews. Some hailed it for its simplicity and others felt betrayed by the app for not sticking to its roots.

What were Twitter for iPhone’s roots? It started with a company called Atebits, run by Loren Brichter.

Tweetie 1.0

Released: November 18, 2008 | $2.99

Courtesy of

The first version of Tweetie emerged when there was a small field of Twitter clients for the iPhone. The most popular app at the time was Twitterrific. Tweetie set itself apart with a few game-changing features.

Chief among them: endless scrolling to load more tweets. Yes, it seems trivial now, but in the nascent days of application development for the iPhone this feature was killer.

One of the big knocks against Tweetie was its SMS-style interface.

Tweetie 1.1: To tweet a link

Released: December 15, 2008 | Price: $2.99, free upgrade from previous versions

Tweetie 1.1 added a URL scheme that allowed users to take a URL from Safari and paste it into a Tweet sheet. By adding “tweetie:” at the front of a URL, the application would open with the URL pre-populated. This was especially important, because iOS did not support copy and paste at the time.

Tweetie 1.2: Swipe to reply

Released: February 16, 2009 | Price: $2.99, free upgrade from previous versions

The killer feature of Tweetie was finally here. No, I’m not talking about PEE. Swipe to reply allowed users to reply directly from the app’s timeline view. When the user swiped, they could visit the profile directly, favorite and reply to the tweet.

The visual design of the app had also gone through a visual overhaul, opting for a dense view.

Tweetie 1.3: Left off the store, then left in the dark

Released: March 10, 2009 | Price: $2.99, free upgrade from previous versions

Courtesy of

Tweetie 1.3 was held up in App Store hell. It was rejected because a trending topic displayed inside the app had featured a curse word. Brichter took to Twitter to complain:

Not long after, Tweetie 1.3 hit the App Store and brought along with it a whole bunch of bug fixes and new features. App users long had clamored for additional themes and Tweetie 1.3 delivered a dark theme.

Tweetie 2: Pull to refresh

Released: October 9, 2009 | Price: $2.99, new and existing users

Just 11 months after Tweetie first hit the App Store, it was time for a rebuilt, completely new version of the app to hit. With that, came a minor backlash from Tweetie 1 buyers. Brichter believed that Tweetie 2.0 was enough of a revamp of the app that it warranted a whole new purchase.

That didn’t stop Tweetie 2.0 from being a stellar app. From my review, regarding the best new feature at the time:

Not only that, but there’s a great new change for reloading your Twitter. No longer do you have to scroll up, click the refresh button and wait for updates. Instead, just scroll up by gesturing down and hold it until you get feedback that it is reloading.

Pull to refresh became one of the most widely adopted metaphors among apps that work with timeline views. My iPhone currently has 15 apps with the feature. Facebook’s iPhone app required users to shake the phone in order to reload the view. Now, like dozens of other apps, it conforms to the UI metaphor Brichter invented.

The app also aggressively used caching, which meant that the app remembered where the user left off, making up for the lack of a dedicated multitasking feature on iOS.

Tweetie 2.1: Project retweet, location-based tweeting, gap detection

Released: November 29, 2009 | Price: $2.99, free upgrade from previous versions of Tweetie 2

Back in the old days of Twitter, retweet didn’t exist. Well, it existed as a form of syntax inside of a tweet. Now, it’s a feature widely used. Tweetie 2.1 was one of the first iPhone apps that took advantage of the new format.

It also had location support, which let users search nearby tweets. Add on Twitter lists, which had just been introduced to organizes different groups of users.

Remember when Tweetie 1.0 was one of the first to feature endless scrolling? Tweetie 2.1 took it one step further with gap detection. When you reopen the app after quite some time away, Tweetie 2.1 recognized a gap between tweets. By clicking on the gap, it populated the area with the tweets it missed.

Tweetie 2.1.1: Foursquare support

Released: March 12, 2010 | Price: $2.99, free upgrade from previous versions of Tweetie 2

Tweetie 2.1.1 was a minor update, but it’s worth noting, because it’s the last major feature upgrade. It added Foursquare support, which showed place information when a user posted from Foursquare.

Less than a month later, Twitter announced that it had acquired Atebits’ Tweetie and that Loren Brichter would join the team at Twitter.

Tweetie 2.1.2: The last version

Released: April 28, 2010 | Price: $2.99, free upgrade from previous versions of Tweetie 2

Courtesy of TheNextWeb

With Tweetie joining the Twitter flock, there was one last upgrade to do. And it was in the form of a game. It teased the new version of Twitter, which would be made free for all users.

Twitter for iPhone 3.0

Released: May 18, 2010 | Price: Free

Courtesy of

Twitter for iPhone continued the impeccable design of Tweetie for iPhone. It reorganized search, added signup options right inside of the app and let users without an account browse Twitter.

What went missing from the app? URL shortening from services like Twitter began using its shortener, instead.

Twitter for iPhone 3.2: Push notifications

Released: November 16, 2010 | Free

Courtesy of Mashable

Before push notifications made it to Twitter for iPhone, users turned to Boxcar, which was a handy solution for Twitter developers who couldn’t build the infrastructure to support push notifications. Now, however, Twitter itself could support it for notifications about mentions and direct messages.

Twitter for iPhone 3.3: #Quickbar, the #Dickbar

Released: March 3, 2011 | Price: Free

Courtesy of Marco Arment

Quickbar. Oh, Quickbar. This “revolutionary” new feature lasted less than a month after it was released. The feature put trends (including promoted trends) at the top of the timeline and annoyed users to no end. It was quickly dubbed the “dickbar” by tech pundits, because of its lack of value to the user. Some upgrades lessened the “impact” of the bar, but by version 3.3.3, it was gone for good.

Twitter for iPhone 3.5: iOS 5, Twitter photo uploads

Released: October 11, 2011 | Price: Free

Twitter for iPhone 3.5 took advantage of Twitter’s deep integration with iOS 5. It could automatically access the user’s Twitter account without having to ask for login credentials, provided the user input them in the Settings app.

It was the last major Twitter for iPhone release Brichter was a part of:

Twitter for iPhone 4: A whole new look

Released: December 8, 2011 | Price: Free

Twitter for iPhone 4.0 is a significant departure from previous versions of Twitter and Tweetie. Some of the design elements remain, particularly the blue indicators for new tweets and the pull-to-refresh feature. Everything else has undergone a significant refresh.

It’s unclear whether development of version 4 is the reason why Brichter left the company, but it has been largely panned in the tech press, while some praise it for its simplicity:

Twitter for iPhone has had a long history and with the iterative nature of the company, it’s doubtful that it will rest on its laurels and be ignorant of user feedback. With Brichter missing, those looking for the Tweetie experience would probably have to go elsewhere.

Post Script — Dec. 10, 2014

Three years after writing this piece for my personal website, I realize now that it’s probably my most widely-read and bookmarked piece of writing. All these years of being on Twitter finally paid off.

Today, Twitter is on version 6.18. Direct messages are back to being a first-class citizen and the app experience is very much geared toward the everyday user. It’s not as “broken” as the furious power-user responses on the release of version 4. Discovery is a finely tuned-experience, in-app notifications are pleasant and search now encompasses the entire history of tweets.

Federico Viticci linked to the original piece in his comprehensive rundown of Twitter apps for iOS. It’s a must-read to learn the current state of affairs with third- and first-party Twitter applications. Viticci argues in favor of a diverse third-party client ecosystem. In the end, he comes to the conclusion that Twitter for iPhone is the best, if flawed, experience on mobile devices.

Originally published at on December 8, 2011. Email the author —