I'm excited to share ForceRank, an app to make group decisions simpler. Think of it like "doodle for priority setting." It aims to avoid the pain of spending too much time in a meeting hashing out what is the next important thing to do. Built by Jeff Dwyer and myself, more details can be found on the launch post.

Personally I'm interested in the emergence of lightweight, team interaction tools, such as 15five or Tinypulse. They are typically asynchronous and seek to compliment existing processes rather than entirely replace them. For example, 15five has led to much higher quality one-on-ones in my experience to date. (And certainly the rise of distributed teams increases the need for better alternatives to more meetings.) My hope is that ForceRank saves people time and makes their teams a little more efficient. As software-eats-the-world it would be a worthwhile life's mission to rescue people from dreadful, poorly run meetings.

It is time for the annual new album roundup! This is the one thing I consistently write about it seems. The following are the new albums I listened to most in 2013. I made a Rdio playlist of selected songs from them as well.

Like 2012 I purchased zero albums and listened almost entirely via Rdio (and sometimes in Spotify "private" mode when too embarrassed to share a pop obsession). We added a Sonos Play 1 to the mix at home since 95% of the music I listen to is in the cloud, although I still drag around a giant iTunes library.

10. Drake, Nothing Was the Same - This one grew on me, not as much as "Take Care" but still found myself listening to it a lot. I appreciate that his sound is different than a lot of other hip hop.

9. The National, Trouble Will Find Me - I think they are at their best when they have different dynamics in the same song, like on the great "Demons". Found this a solid album for driving-and-thinking (and maybe trying to lull the kid to sleep too).

8. Ra Ra Riot, Beta Love - I got into this late in the year but was hooked by the pop/dance infectiousness. The title track is uber-catchy.

7. Jay Z, Magna Carta...Holy Grail - While he doesn't have a struggle to rail against and has supremely made it, still highly entertaining on tracks like "f*ckwithmeyouknowigotit". Also, the "Legends of the Summer" concert was great and by far the largest show I've seen.

6. Daft Punk, Random Access Memories - I listened to this album enough to make myself slightly sick of it but "Instant Crush" and "Doin' It Right" were on repeat for a long time.

5. Haim, Days Are Gone - Apparently it was a good year for me liking girl bands. This album feels like a more rocking version of Tegan & Sara on tracks like "Falling", which is a-ok by me.

4. CHVRCHES, The Bones of What You Believe - Great rock album with an interesting synth sound. The song "Lies" was the standout track for me, and in my head for days.

3. Pusha T, My Name is My Name - Having really liked him as part of Clipse and on "New God Flow" I liked the diversity of great tracks on the album. "Numbers on the Board" and "Nosetalgia" are highlights, especially Kendrick Lamar's contribution on the latter.

2. Lorde, Pure Heroine - An enormous amount has already been written about Lorde and rightly so. "Royals" is fantastic and the rest of the album impressively lives up to it.

1. Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City - I loved this album, and feels like their best to date. I really liked "Graceland" as a kid and this has a modern take on what I loved about that.

More often blogs and content sites are de-emphasizing the temporal nature of what they publish [1]. In broad terms they are moving to be a collection of published articles, and publishing timely content on social networks.

Winer's original definition of weblogging was:

"A weblog is a hierarchy of text, images, media objects and data, arranged chronologically, that can be viewed in an HTML browser."

Primarily being "arranged chronologically" is becoming less important [2]. Sites like Medium or corporate blogs like KISSMetrics or Intercom make the timestamp less obvious. It isn't in the URL, nor often prominent on the page. I believe this is happening for several reasons:

  • RSS is dying. People no longer re-visit sites frequently to check for what is new, nor have robots do that work for them. They are discovering content in different ways, primarily through social networks, and coming in the sidedoor of sites.

  • Social networks have won the war for short-form, timely content. Those micro-blogging platforms are largely time-ordered and that is what people choose to publish there.

  • Downplaying the timestamp attempts to make the content appear more evergreen. There is often an (unfortunate) positive association between being new and being relevant. For some publishing the timing is highly relevant, but many other subjects don't change in weeks or months. Calling out that it is, say, tenth months old might prompt readers to look for a newer answer elsewhere.

The takeaway is that there is an opportunity for platforms and authors to better structure their content. If most readers are arriving on individual posts, how can they be lead to other relevant material? Perhaps it better in categories, dynamic suggestions based on the content, or personalized recommendations based on the reader. The criteria should be about relevance and quality, not just freshness. There have long been plugins for "related posts" or "popular posts" that seem simplistic compared to how content could be organized or recommended.

As a thought exercise I have long wondered why media publications have not built such a system to tailor my reading experience. Instead they have largely continued to ape their printed roots in their digital products. As an example, I subscribe to the New Yorker in both magazine and iPad form. They present the list of current articles each issue. It would be better if they learned that I will read any Atul Gawande or George Packer article, and would want them to highlight one that I missed. While some of the magazine's coverage is time-sensitive (e.g. unfolding events in Syria) much of it is not. Despite my years of reading and expressing preferences they have learned little about me, similar to the New York Times or Boston Globe. I have a small hope that Jeff Bezos will bring some of the Amazon's personalization to the Washington Post. In the meantime some of the newer publishing platforms are experimenting with a different way to explore.

Thanks to Meghan Keaney and Anand Rajaram for reviewing an earlier draft of this post.


[1] Ironically, this blog and post follow none of these trends. Nor will many others.

[2] Perhaps this means they aren't technically blogs, just pages. I think they serve a similar function but don't have a proper name.

I've been a fan of George Packer's writing for a while so I was interested to read his newest book "The Unwinding". It is a non-fiction narrative telling the individual stories of Americans navigating a time when they are more on their own. It is an upsetting but worthwhile read.

Through the people he follows Packer explores the last 30 years of America where institutions have faltered, and left many vulernable. The book humanizes and chronicles much-discussed symptoms of income inequality, loss of middle-class jobs, the corruption of Washington, etc. The story of Tammy from Youngtown, Ohio is particuarly compelling. Her personal story reflects Youngstown's difficult history, and is a challenge for those who would propose simple solutions. Packer does not set out to solve the issues he sees, but rather more clearly illustrate them. He revisits the failing of large institutions -- business, government, banks -- but in his storytelling there is also a frequent absence of extended family, church or community groups.

The power of this book is the vividness of the story-telling, and giving a face to a set of problems we all see. I tend to agree with Brooks' that our politcs hasn't caught up to reality. There are many proposals that would not have been out of place 20 years ago, and the rehashing of threadbare arguments (e.g. big govt vs small govt). I hope this partly informs what needs to be solved.

I'd recommend the book. Packer has also given several good talks on his book tour such this one at Google.

Last week I decided to update the design on this (rarely updated) blog for a few reasons:

  1. Changing the design is fun, and often easier than actually writing.
  2. I wanted a mobile-friendly, single column layout. I read a lot on mobile/tablet and a lot of sites/blogs format poorly.
  3. In the last couple years I've come to really like photos shown as large as possible regardless of medium. I think so many photo sites get this wrong. Recently Bijan Sabet's photos have been particularly inspiring to make this switch (as well as wanting to buy a Leica M240).

To do that I overhauled my Jekyll-on-S3 blog (via this method) to remove an old blueprint grid system and replace it with a customized version of "Up", a Bootstrap-based Jekyll theme. Overall it was 90% of what I wanted (clean, minimalist single column) although getting it just to my liking took some overriding of their built-in styles.

Specifically changed to a fluid layout with a max-width, and some padding on mobile/tablet (hat tip to Jonathan). I'm trusting the browser to scale the images (max-width: 100% ala this) which seems to work well in relevant browsers. I took the above photo on a trip to Paris earlier this summer, and think it is much more interesting large. Then tested and tweaked it all using responsiView to make sure it looked good on different resolutions.

Hopefully all of this will get me to actually finish more half-written drafts...

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