Trusting Apple’s services

I read with interest Ryan Christoffel’s article on MacStories about Apple’s services. His stance is that it’s time to revise their poor reputation, because in recent times they’ve actually been better and more reliable than they used to be.

You can draw your own conclusions from this story, but mine is that Apple’s services get a bad rap they generally don’t deserve; the company’s reputation for not doing services well is outdated. Are things perfect? Of course not. But they’re a lot better than the common narrative says.

Nick Heer comments:

I don’t blame anyone for their skepticism of Apple’s cloud services offerings; for a very long time, these services were entirely deserving of their lacklustre reputation. Next to Google’s established and reliable offerings, Apple was playing a fast game of catch-up in public, and it showed. Despite their presently-good state, however, I get a wary look whenever I recommend many of Apple’s services to someone who asks. A lot of people have been burned before by bad experiences with Maps or iTunes, and are reluctant to trust in more Apple services.

In the past, I had occasional issues with Apple’s services, but nothing terribly catastrophic. I remember I was not thrilled by iPhoto losing a few dozens pictures back when I tried switching to it. And I lost several emails when I was a .Mac subscriber due to what Apple support described to me at the time as a ‘server glitch’. (On the flip side, quite interestingly, I’ve been one of the few who had absolutely zero issues with MobileMe — no data loss whatsoever, no sync-related disasters, nothing). What happened, however, was that right in the early days of Apple’s cloud services, I used to do a lot of freelance consulting and tech assistance. And while nothing terribly catastrophic has ever happened to me as a user, I’ve seen plenty of catastrophes happening to many of my clients back then. Enough to make me quite sceptical of the reliability of Apple’s services in general. 

As a consequence, I’ve never gone all-in on Apple’s services like Christoffel and Heer have. There are services I don’t use because I simply don’t need and never needed them: iCloud Calendar syncing, iCloud Photo Library / Photo Sharing, and Reminders, to make just a few examples off the top of my head. I also don’t have an Apple TV and don’t find it appealing enough to add it to my Apple ecosystem.

Then there are services I don’t use because I find third-party solutions to be better implemented or more reliable: 

  • Instead of iCloud Drive, I’m better served by Dropbox and Box.
  • I only use Notes.app on the iPhone for very brief notes I need to check locally, so I ignore the sync capabilities completely. My notes’ synchronisation system revolves around Simplenote and Notational Velocity, and it’s been very reliable over the years.
  • I use Google Maps instead of Apple Maps: my experience is very much similar to Michael Tsai’s. Where I live, Google Maps is basically flawless when it comes to displaying updated, correct information. The same cannot be said of Apple Maps: there are still instances where if I don’t type an address in the exact form Apple Maps expects me to, I will be directed to a similar address in a completely different city.
  • I’m an early-adopter Spotify premium customer. Spotify has served and continues to serve me very well, so I have no reason to switch to Apple Music. I briefly tried it on iOS and was utterly underwhelmed by the experience. And considering how many iTunes libraries have been screwed up by Apple Music, I never activated it on iTunes on the Mac.

Then there are services I’ve tried to use and warm up to — like Siri and iMessage — but:

  • Siri is still a hit-or-miss gimmick for me, and as Nick Heer aptly remarked, “remains painfully obtuse when it comes to following context”. I’m fluent in three languages, so believe me when I tell you I tried communicating with Siri in more than one way. The result is that Siri is useless to me because a) its responses are unpredictable; great when they work, a waste of time and patience when they don’t, and b) it’s still not fast and responsive enough to make me prefer using voice commands over simply tapping or typing my requests.
  • There’s nothing wrong with iMessage, but with my small circle of family and friends, the preferred apps to exchange messages are Telegram and Signal. The last additions to ‘spice up’ iMessage have had the opposite effect on me, and I’m now even less interested in using it.

I don’t use Apple News for the simple reason that it’s still not available in my country.

I don’t use Apple Pay for the simple reason that none of my current Apple devices support it.

In the end, the few services I do use and can’t complain about are:

  • Safari’s Reading List and iCloud tabs: very reliable, very handy.
  • iCloud Mail: never a problem (apart from the aforementioned loss of emails circa 2005).
  • Contacts syncing: it has always worked fine for me (not that I have tons of information to sync anyway).
  • App Store: overall the experience is positive. Sometimes it’s buggy on the Mac, and for mysterious reasons updating apps on my iPad 3 with iOS 9.3.5 has become a painful process, with the device often hanging (especially when updating multiple apps at a time) and needing a force-reboot.
  • iTunes: yes, iTunes. Perhaps surprisingly, I’ve never had issues with iTunes, but that’s because I’ve always taken maniacal care of it. I use it mainly to listen to my local music library, and I do the occasional syncing and backup of older iOS devices and iPods. Always with cables.

iCloud has indeed got better over time, but perhaps the main reason that’s still keeping me from going all-in with it is that the service is too out-of-the-way, too invisible to the user, while I require a certain degree of transparency from a service that’s supposed to sync a lot of my files and information over the air. Yes, it’s nice that iCloud feels like magic when everything works. The problem is that ‘magic’ becomes ‘black box’ when something doesn’t work. With other cloud services, like Dropbox, Box, Cloud.app, I often have some kind of feedback when they’re doing stuff behind the scenes. They have interfaces that, while not perfect, are good enough in displaying what’s going on, what’s changed, what has been updated. iCloud doesn’t — or at least that’s my impression. Worse, iCloud can at times be confusing and unreliable in handling important information.

I’m in a bit of a weird position: on the one hand, I trust Apple much more than many other tech companies, mostly thanks to their position on customer privacy; on the other hand I’m still reluctant to completely let go when it comes to trusting Apple’s services in full. I’m certainly not the only one, though. I think that Apple’s problem in getting people to trust its services — or winning back the trust of long-time users — is that even positive experiences from people heavily relying on Apple’s services feel anecdotal, and those people come across as ‘lucky’. With this kind of perception, reversing a reputation is always hard.

Category Software Tags , ,

The move, part 2: 18 days without Internet

These past weeks I’ve been more silent than I wanted. Yes, as you probably imagined, a move takes a lot of your time: there’s the part when you have to look for a new apartment; the part when you go and visit several possible candidates; the part when you start packing your stuff (which overlaps with the search, of course); the part when you begin moving stuff to the new place (we took a ‘slow and steady’ approach for this, making one or two trips per day over a period of three weeks and a half); the part when you finally start unpacking and ‘rebuilding’ your spaces in the new place; and then of course the least fun part — dealing with all the bureaucracy related to a change of residence.

This last aspect includes transferring our phone landline and Internet services from the old address to the new one. Given that the last Internet package update from our ISP included the purchase of the router (as opposed to its rental), switching the service from the old apartment to the new one — where the necessary hardware and cabling from the same ISP is already present, mind you — should have just been a matter of plugging the router in, notifying the ISP of the change of address, requesting a rerouting of the services and waiting for that ‘Online’ LED light on the router to finally stop blinking. In a reasonable (not even ideal) world, that would take 48 hours tops. In reality, it’s taking more than two weeks, dozens of calls to the ISP’s customer service, and the final solution of actually changing ISP to be hopefully back online next Tuesday or Wednesday. We never had problems with this provider in 12 years (it was ONO before, and Vodafone/ONO now), but our experience has certainly affected this provider’s credibility and reliability in our eyes.

A few highlights of this little saga of cluelessness and customer-care-or-lack-thereof:

  • When we first called to request the phone line and Internet service transfer, on 27 March, the ISP’s Pawn №1 told us they would send a technician at the new address on 31 March, between 4 and 7 PM. No one came.
  • When we called a second time, Pawn №2 told us that no, no technician was necessary, because since we have our own router and there’s already an installation in place, ours is simply an ‘auto-installation’, and we should have Internet in 48 hours, tops. Just plug everything in and wait. Days passed, nothing happened. Maybe Pawn №2 meant we should wait for Godot?
  • We called many more times, and talked to other Pawns (some more difficult to understand than others — certain South American accents are hard to understand if you’re accustomed to European Spanish) but for a while the song appeared to remain the same: ‘You should have Internet in n hours’ (where n was a number ranging from 3 to 48). Of course, nothing happened.
  • One night, just for kicks, I tried calling our phone landline from my iPhone. I thought, If there’s a transfer in progress, surely they’ll have temporarily deactivated the line, and I’ll get an alert when I try calling my home number. What I got, instead, was the sound of a phone ringing without answer. Around 12 April, Pawn №10 (or something, I was already losing count), told us that in fact our line and services were still active at the old address, and that there was some unspecified ‘technical failure’ preventing the switch from one installation to the other.
  • What Pawn №10 told us reminded me of what another Pawn said some calls before: that there was a ‘conflict of orders’ (‘send a technician’ and ‘auto-installation’) preventing things from progressing.
  • Basically, every Pawn we have been speaking with has either told us a different thing from the previous Pawn, or failed to mention things another Pawn had told us, or made promises he/she clearly could not deliver. The overall impression has been that we’ve been fed an appreciable amount of bullshit. Generated more by incompetence rather than malice I’m sure, but sadly with the same outcome: no services, and nothing done. Even the visit to an actual brick-and-mortar shop was ineffectual. Pawn №12 (or something) told us that usually such a transfer “isn’t a quick process” (I wonder why, though. Is there some plumbing involved? Do several workers have to physically push the data to the new location? Who knows), and that everything was proceeding correctly. “Things should be in motion by tomorrow. I’ll personally check the situation and send you a message. I’ll personally try and speed up things,” she said. We received no message and nothing happened, of course. The only thing that got moved around was some more bullshit.
  • So we decided to ask for a complete cancellation of all services, and of course the ‘customer care’ tactics came into gear. Calls got longer, my wife got transferred and bounced from one department to another, every time having to identifying herself to yet another Pawn and explain the reasons why we were asking for a cancellation. Some Pawns said that at this stage a cancellation was not possible because there was a ‘service transfer pending’, while another Pawn appeared to proceed with the cancellation without asking questions.
  • When we decided this was frankly enough, we went to another ISP (Movistar) and asked for a complete number/service portability. Let the two providers sort things out between themselves. As soon as we signed the new contract, my wife started receiving calls and messages with the usual, shameless offers (“We’ll give you our firstborn, a huge discount, and a new phone if you stay with us!”). Meanwhile we also received the bill charging us for the whole month of April; because, you know, both the phone line and Internet service are still active — or “pending a service transfer” maybe, or… whatever — at the old address.
  • The award for Most Moronic Behaviour and Customer Carelessness must go to Pawn №15 (or something, I lost count). She asked my wife why we wanted to cancel everything. My wife — understandably fed up with all this — bitterly answered: “Are you really interested in knowing why?” This seemed to upset the Pawn, who replied: “Of course! It’s my job to care about these things!” My wife then, with the patience of a saint, started recounting our misadventures… and the Pawn hung up on her. No comment.

Since I need some Internet connectivity for work, I’ve been using my iPhone as a personal hotspot these days, but in less than 10 days I’ve already consumed 97% of the data allowed by my mobile provider’s data plan. I thought speed would simply be reduced after I reached the limit, but an alert from the provider said that they charge for all traffic in excess instead of reducing speed. My readers know that I’m all for disconnecting every now and then and lead a less Internet-dependent life, but being disconnected not by choice is a whole other matter. These 18 days (so far) without Internet at home have had a serious impact in different ways, and this matter is actually starting to cost us money, not just time lost and a bad mood.

I really miss writing, updating this place more frequently, and generally being more present socially online. I also have several (tech- and fiction-related) projects on hold due to the combination of this move and being without Internet at home. I’ve basically ‘lost’ three months of 2017, and I look forward to the ending of this kind of unwelcome disruption in my routines and tech life. Meanwhile, thank you for your patience and understanding, and a huge thank you to all those who have been supportive during this unpleasant period.

Category Tech Life Tags ,

Tablets are bicycles

At the end of an overall good article, Ben Bajarin writes:

I’m still as bullish as ever on the tablet’s potential. However, my concern is consumers may be extremely stubborn and lean heavily on past behavior and familiarity with PCs instead of going through the process to replicate the workflows and activities they did on their PCs and transition to tablets. This is a year where Apple needs to take great strides in software around iOS for iPad if they want the iPad to become more than it is today and truly rival the PC in the minds of the consumer. While tablets have no doubt grown up, they still have a little more growing to do if they want to truly challenge the PC and Mac.

I don’t understand this insistence on having to transition from a device to another. Why PCs/Macs and tablets have to be an either/or proposition? In my view, “leaning heavily on past behavior and familiarity with PCs instead of going through the process to replicate the workflows and activities [consumers] did on their PCs” isn’t a matter of stubbornness, it’s just common sense. Especially when ‘replicating the workflows’ actually means ‘going through a series of new convoluted steps to achieve on a tablet something resembling the original workflows on the computer’. For some (many?) people, it’s just not worth it. The scenario in which one uses both a traditional computer and a tablet is still much preferable, because you get the best of both worlds and you can be productive with much less friction (apologies for the use of trite tech buzzwords here).

Joe Cieplinski put it better and more succinctly than I ever could:

I stopped thinking of iPad as a replacement for anything a long time ago. It’s a device you use in specific ways for specific things.

Yes, for many users, an iPad alone can be all the computer they need. Apple sells a ton of iPads to these people. But replacing your PC is not the only use for an iPad. It’s not even the most interesting one.

I use my iPad in places where a laptop wouldn’t be as good. I use my laptop in places where my iPad wouldn’t be as good. I have no desire to get rid of either of them.

Everyone knows the famous Steve Jobs’s metaphor when he first talked about the ‘Post-PC era’, comparing traditional computers to trucks and tablets to cars. I have another metaphor for you, which I think best describes the situation at present: traditional computers are cars, and tablets are bicycles.

There are certainly a few advantages in using a bicycle instead of a car: it’s more portable (you can take it into your apartment when you get home), it has fewer parts that may break down, you can carry it almost everywhere, it doesn’t pollute the environment, in certain situations it’s more practical than a car and you can actually get to work in less time if you live in a particularly traffic-congested city. But a car better protects you from the elements and in case of impact with another vehicle, a car runs faster and you don’t have to push it yourself to make it go; a car gives you comfort and many other conveniences; a car can carry more people at once, plus luggage; in a car — provided you do so responsibly — you can more easily multitask than on a bicycle; and so on and so forth, you get the idea. 

So, while there are people who can easily transition from using a car to using only a bicycle, that doesn’t mean everyone can. Or should. If one can easily carry their family and luggage on holiday by fitting everything and everyone on a car and reaching a faraway destination in a reasonable amount of time, why should they ‘replicate the workflow’ by putting each family member on a bicycle, splitting the luggage among bicycles, and painfully pedalling for days and days until they reach their holiday destination? Bicycle fans will tell you that it’s actually awesome and you even get to exercise and it’s good for your health! Yeah, sure. Or they’ll tell you: I’ve done it, it’s totally possible; if I did it, anyone can. Okay.

That’s how tablet-only advocates often sound. And back to the tablet: a full transition from a PC or Mac to just a tablet would make sense if the advantages vastly outweighed the downsides (or annoyances, or impracticalities), but as a heavy user of both a Mac and an iPad, I can say that, today, it’s still not the case. Every day I find myself doing something on the Mac that, while not impossible to perform on an iPad, is objectively faster and simpler to achieve on a traditional computer. Then there are tasks that are easier to perform on the iPad, of course, so I grab the iPad. This is my idea of ‘continuity’ when working. This gives me a fair amount of efficiency because I combine what’s effortless on the Mac with what’s effortless on the iPad. I don’t waste time, energy, productivity, in forcing square pegs into round holes.

Is mine some kind of laziness? Not really. When I have time, I like to explore what iOS can do in scenarios I’d go to the Mac first. But when I have time, not when I need to finish an assignment and the deadline is looming. What tablet-only advocates seem to not get about non-geeks is that they treat tablets (and phones) like appliances. They follow the path of least resistance. They typically enjoy the device up to the point where the learning curve starts getting steeper. They recognise whatever is simple to do on a tablet, they quickly learn how to do it, but when it’s time to actively extract additional functionality from the device, they rarely have the patience to research specific apps, learn how these apps can interface with others, put together a workflow that involves too many steps or jumps from app to app. To be honest, I can’t blame them. To make a tablet act like a traditional computer — and to become equally efficient and productive on a tablet like one is on a traditional computer – is still more complicated than simply putting the tablet aside for a moment and using the computer for the tasks it typically excels at. 

Making tablets even more useful by wanting to add ‘more pro features’ is great and all, but the balance between outward simplicity and under-the-bonnet powerfulness is a delicate one to preserve. Apart from some minor feature discoverability issues, I think Apple has done a nice job so far with iOS in this regard. But feature creep is a serious threat to iOS’s simplicity and approachability. That’s why I think that, going forward, the difference between ‘consumer’ and ‘pro’ iOS devices has to grow. This way, an iPad Pro can afford to have a slightly more complex operating system, with additional gestures, features, support for specific pro peripherals, etc.; the target audience won’t mind the added complexity if it brings much more power and versatility. While those consumers who just need a friendly, general-purpose appliance, can safely shop for a ‘regular’ iPad and enjoy the low learning curve and immediacy that have been the main reason of the iPad’s (and iOS’s) success.

This way everyone wins: those who want to rely solely on a bicycle can get a pretty powerful one; those who are happy with the flexibility of having both a car and a bicycle can get a nice, lightweight bicycle when they want to grab one.

Category Handpicked Tags , ,

The move

I usually refrain from writing ‘Sorry for the lack of updates’ blog posts because, as my most loyal readers surely remember, my policy has always been to write posts and articles only when I felt I had something to say, not to just keep this place updated for the sake of it. If I make an exception now, it’s because of an exceptional situation. In this past month-and-a-half, I had indeed things to say, things I wanted to talk about, but my concentration and focus have been shattered first in mid-January by the news that my father was not well and had to be hospitalised for heart-related issues. (Thankfully he is now better, they had to change his heart medications and the new therapy is making him feel much better than before, but I was worried because we live in different countries, about 1,500 kilometres apart, and it was impossible for me to just catch the first available plane and be there.) 

Then, at the end of January, our landlord called my wife out of the blue and told her that his son and his fiancée want to come live in the apartment we’re now in, and that we had a couple of months to find another place to live and move out.

When you rent a place instead of owning it, you know the day may come, the day when you’re made aware that the owner has other plans for the place you’re living in. Sometimes you’re lucky, like my grandparents, whose landlord was a single man who owned several apartments and was very happy to rent them long-time. Then I have friends who had to move, like, five times in three years because they haven’t been able to find a stable living solution yet. My wife and I have been living in this apartment for the past twelve years, we never had problems with the landlord, and our contact with him has been truly sporadic. The last time we spoke with him was probably sometime in 2015, so this latest development really caught us by surprise.

If you’ve ever experienced the situation where you have to find somewhere to go on a relatively short notice (as opposed to choosing to move someplace else when you see fit and on your own terms), especially when you’ve been living in the same place for a long time and it truly feels your home, you’ll understand how suddenly my wife and I couldn’t think of anything else except browsing apartments for rent on specialised websites and talking with estate agencies. There were days when the inability to write while at the same time being consumed with the need to write was truly killing me. But what can you do when time is short, and you have to 1) find a suitable place with enough room for your stuff and your needs, and 2) take into account a few days to pack, move your stuff, and clean the place you’re leaving behind?

Fortunately we have found a new apartment, and next week the moving process will start for good. We are now in the sorting phase, when you start going through your stuff and do a bit of a spring cleaning ahead of schedule. Since we basically have all March to move out, the idea is to pack and move a few boxes at a time, bring them to the new apartment, take things out and put them in place, then return to the old apartment with the empty boxes and fill them again; rinse and repeat. This is to avoid having to deal with dozens of big boxes and move everything at once, and then having to deal with a new apartment so crammed with boxes you can’t move around, like it happened last time.

As you can imagine, all this is time- and energy-consuming. Now I feel less stressed than a month ago, because the initial uncertainty is gone now that we’ve finally found a new place. But there is indeed a lot of stuff to pack, a month passes quickly, and I want things to go as smoothly as possible. We don’t have much furniture to move, thankfully. The apartment we now live in came mostly furnished, and the one we’re moving to is fully furnished, but still we own a sizeable amount of books, CDs, vinyl records, cassette tapes, DVDs, personal papers (a lot of written material in my case: old poetry and prose), then there are clothes, home textiles, kitchen utensils, and so forth.

A move is especially painful if you, like me, like to collect and use vintage computers and devices. Fortunately I’ve managed to keep my collection of vintage Macs and peripherals at a manageable size, so it’s not going to be a huge problem moving it out. There are other things, however, which are taking too much space and are too bulky to carry around. It was sad to bring my trusty 17-inch CRT Belinea display to be recycled, but the flat Eizo display I acquired to replace it weighs almost three times less and is six times less bulky. And, with impeccable timing, my old workhorse of a printer, a 23-year-old HP LaserJet 4L, decided to give up the other day. I’m sad, but from a pragmatic standpoint, it’s another bulky thing I won’t have to pack. I’ve been asked what I plan to do with beasts like the Quadra 950 and the Power Mac G4, which are currently not working, but my motto is ‘Leave no Mac behind’, so they’ll come with me and I intend to fix them eventually, especially the Power Mac G4.

Another unwelcome consequence of having to move not because you choose to, but because you’re forced to, is the financial impact. Having to pay certain expenses upfront and all at once, ending up in a place which is way better than this one but is also going to cost a slightly higher monthly rent, plus paying either for the services of a moving company or for the rental of a van, all these (and more) are costs and expenses we didn’t plan for. What we were planning for just before our landlord called and gave us the news, was to upgrade our aging computers and devices, and buy a new set of tyres for our car, among other things. While we’ve been mostly able to weather the storm, so to speak, this move is definitely solving my dilemma regarding my next Mac upgrade (desktop or laptop?) — I won’t be able to upgrade anything for a while. 

You know me, I’m not one of those people who change Mac or iPhone or iPad every year. Technically, my 2009 MacBook Pro, third-generation iPad, and iPhone 5 are still capable, dependable devices. But my Mac officially doesn’t support Sierra, my iPhone 5 will certainly not be supported by iOS 11, my iPad is already stuck at iOS 9. For work I sometimes need to test apps: I dread the moment when I’ll have to decline an assignment because an app I have to localise or test won’t even work on my devices. Further, I dread the moment when the software I need for work won’t run on OS X versions older than Sierra. If you have newer devices than those I have, and could donate them or at least sell them at a reasonable price while allowing me to pay via regular instalments instead of all at once, that would be a great help. If you simply want to support me while I’m dealing with this difficult period, you can purchase my ebooks of short stories, or just send a contribution via PayPal. It’s truly appreciated.

In March I’ll try to update this blog whenever I can. If Apple introduces new iPads — as the current rumour goes — I’ll certainly have something to write about. I hope I will also have the time and opportunity to do so. Thanks in advance for your understanding.

Category Et Cetera Tags ,

ADN shutting down in March — A love letter and a rant

Yesterday evening, while checking my App.Net (ADN) timeline, I learnt that on 14 march 2017 ADN will shut down. Yes, the common reaction outside of ADN has been, What? Is ADN still around? Why yes, and I’ve been a proud, active user since subscribing in November 2012. Although I was aware that the day may come (ADN has been in ‘maintenance mode’ since May 2014), nevertheless I am very sad about the shutdown.

When ADN launched in 2012, I had my share of scepticism. Like others, I superficially viewed ADN as a sort of Twitter alternative. Many were unhappy with Twitter at the time, but I wasn’t, so I could very well have ignored ADN. I know that the service was more ambitious and aimed to offer many more interesting features that went beyond the social superstructure, but still — and despite my being fine with the experience I was having on Twitter — I decided to give it a try and signed up. I chose to pay monthly, so that if the first months weren’t satisfactory, I could leave and be done with it. But after a few weeks something clicked. I was loving the place. I thought the first interactions and mutual follows would involve people I knew (and knew me) from Twitter; instead I was welcomed by others I didn’t know from anywhere. A sense of ‘community in the making’ was quite palpable.

And things only got better from there. I’m speaking about my experience, of course. ADN felt like the early days of Twitter, possibly even better. A basic feature like having 256 characters available in a post, instead of Twitter’s 140, turned out to make a huge difference. Conversations lasted longer, got deeper, and with longer posts, people could explain themselves in a much better way than the average quipping in Twitter’s exchanges. Private messages, too, could be longer (2048 characters). The whole atmosphere was different than Twitter’s. To me, it felt more like certain close-knit forums or mailing lists or user groups driven by people who share the same passions, willing to help and have a conversation. I felt a level of camaraderie and ‘tight ship’ I never really experienced on Twitter. ADN felt like a place where people paid attention and cared, not a social network where basically everyone shouts and spills sarcasm from their pedestal, broadcasting themselves more than having a real two-way conversation, like on Twitter (with exceptions, sure, but I have to generalise here, you understand).

Perhaps it was easier, given the small scale of the ADN user base, but another aspect of ADN that positively impressed me was its self-policing. Spam on ADN never became an issue (thanks to the fact that there weren’t free accounts, at least at the beginning); the few people who engaged in questionable behaviours were soon marginalised (if I remember well). In short, morons on ADN didn’t last long. On Twitter, on the other hand…

I have loved the ADN community these past four years, and I’ve done my best to support it. Since I’m not a developer, I haven’t been able to contribute to it in an operative/creative way, but (a) I kept paying for the service monthly instead of annually, so that I could give ADN a little bit of extra money; and (b) I’ve been purchasing and using most ADN clients and related apps over time as a way of showing my support and saying thank you to the various developers who invested their time and energies to provide different ADN-based solutions. 

I’m presently too irked to sit down and analyse what went wrong, but one thing that has always annoyed me during ADN’s run was a certain generalised defeatism in how ADN was viewed and treated on the outside, undoubtedly fuelled by the lukewarm reaction and commentary of many prominent tech pundits. Their scepticism didn’t help ADN at all, and it has eventually become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When ADN went in maintenance mode in 2014, in App.Net is not over, I wrote:

…And their attitude doesn’t help, either. Mind you, I’m not saying they’re wrong (they’re not). I’m just saying that their contributions — promptly popping up little after Dalton Caldwell’s announcement — are limited to being negative remarks, an occasion to reiterate their criticism towards App.net, but offer very little in the constructive department. Telling their readers See, I told you App.net was doomed only emphasises the perception of how doomed App.net is, instead of spreading a message like Look, App.net is facing a critical moment. Mistakes were made but it’s a platform that deserves support, which is certainly a more helpful attitude. Because, let’s be honest, if you’re not on App.net but you trust the opinion of Gruber, Arment, and the like, would you want to join after reading their commentary?

Everyone, of course, is entitled to express their opinion and criticism, yet I can’t help but feeling that this kind of attitude is wrong and a bit unfair. 

[…]

Yes, maybe over time App.net has lost some of the initial focus; maybe it lacked a strong campaign to invite people to join the platform, either as users or developers, but I also think that many people (prominent pundits included) made the terrible mistake of viewing App.net and Twitter as an either/or proposition. Joining App.net didn’t — and doesn’t — necessarily mean leaving Twitter behind. They could have taken the opportunity offered by App.net to expand their network and extend their reach, instead of trying to replicate their Twitter experience. (For what it’s worth, it’s what I did. I’m both on Twitter and App.net and try to actively participate in both networks. I appreciate differences and what ultimately matters is people and where the conversations are.) 

It’s interesting how everyone seems to complain about Twitter (and Facebook) on a daily basis, wishing for a better product, a better network, a better and less abusive place, but no one or very few people really gave ADN a chance — ADN, which has been a better network and offered a better experience the entire time. It’s a bit disheartening to see just how ADN could have thrived had people been more supporting, shown more commitment, been less cheapskates, and so forth. Sure, ADN wasn’t perfect, but again, it’s interesting to see how, at the first sign of things not going 100% well, everything immediately translated into a failure, which in turn generated more talk about how ADN was doomed, which in turn drove more users to abandon the platform, in a sad and stupid chain reaction. While many, too many users are willing to put up with how bad Twitter has become because, uh, they don’t want to compromise the great exposure it gives them? And similarly, too many users are willing to put up with all the shit that comes with Facebook because they have apparently no other way of keeping in touch with their friends or following the news. Really, I find it hard to understand the Twitter and Facebook complainers who never quit the networks they seem to loathe so much. It’s like witnessing people in an abusive relationship or (not) dealing with substance addiction.

And yet, despite not being an engineer or software developer, I don’t think building an alternative is that difficult. The collective brain power and skills of a small percentage of the people I follow would be enough. 

I’m hoping that in these two last months of ADN activity, something new, a new project, a new initiative, even a temporary place, will come up. Something big and interesting enough to keep the last group of hardcore ADN users together, avoiding a social network diaspora. I have accepted an invitation to join 10Centuries, just in case, and pnut is another effort worth mentioning. 

I’m also keeping an eye on Manton Reece’s latest initiative. Micro.blog looks like an interesting and well thought-out project, whose spirit doesn’t seem very different from ADN’s. Reece is one of the ‘good guys’ and is respected by the Circle of Cool and Influential Pundits, and that certainly is going to be a good push towards success. Snark aside, I do hope Micro.blog succeeds and becomes another great place as ADN has been.

My sincerest thanks to Dalton Caldwell, Bryan Berg, and everyone who contributed to make ADN such a great network. Thank you to everyone I’ve met there, for the conversations, discussions, pieces of advice, humour, support, and attention.

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