I love reading two blogs – EggFreckles and Marco.org. Both these blogs talk about technology but are highly personal, reflecting the blogger’s perspective on topics.
Yesterday, I read a recent Marco Arment post talking about his latest offering – The Magazine. The Magazine is a high quality biweekly that has the unique distinction of being an iOS only app. Notice how I’ve used the words magazine, app and biweekly in the same sentence. That’s because this new service, like everything Marco touches, has created a new space for itself. It’s not just a print magazine being published on the web/mobiles *also*. It’s not just an app that has articles, that’s a job for the Kindle or the Instapaper apps. It’s not just a news stream or a ragtag collection of articles from all over the web.
The Magazine publishes articles that have never been seen before, passing through the hands of an excellent editor into the iPhones and iPads of people the app itself describes as “geeks and curious people.” There is no print version, there are no ads, there is no crazy sharing, linking or tweeting involved. It’s just for reading and this makes this service very, very unique.
In the post that I’m referring to, Marco asks people to stop thinking of the Magazine as the next big thing. He says that it’s not a game-changer, there’s no Master plan to take over the world of publishing or even talk to print publishers about a license of this service. He doesn’t want people to copy the style or the format of the app or for the App Store to be flooded with cheap imitations that just glean money from users, leading to some disgruntled users who won’t even pay for The Magazine after that experience.
But here’s the thing. No matter what you do, you can’t really expect people to not copy you. If you’ve got a great product, you’ve got an opponent in the making somewhere, even if it’s an open source alternative or a Chinese fake manufacturer. This process of copy pasting good ideas is going to keep on happening as long as people are innovative. Marco shouldn’t worry about what others are doing as long as he’s out doing himself with every iteration. That’s all that matters.
I mentioned EggFreckles at the top. I was reading an EggFreckles article about the iPhone 2G, ostensibly the first iPhone in the market. Thomas Brand describes it as the best of anything. It was the first smart phone to break the shackles of the haptic keyboard and the first one to give you a capacitive touch in an irresistible package. Even though the earliest iteration of the iPhone could barely do more than any other phone of its time, the shine and the quality of the product was unmatched. There was no other competing mobile OS in the market that could take on iOS and there was no other product that was truly, worth it. Today, there’s an iOS clone being released by the multiple Android loving companies every week. Samsung, Nokia, Asus, HTC and Acer come out with a new offering of a substandard device every other day. But what matters is that somewhere along the line, Apple forgot that it’s job wasn’t just to be a market leader, but to be a game changer. The challenge now, should Apple choose to accept it instead of sitting on their Billions, is to take on the now common concept of a smart phone and change it all over again. That’s where the next $100 Billion lies, not in selling the same old locked-down, crappy interface with incremental updates and continual harassment and shunning of jailbreakers. Apple should either learn to embrace ideas like widgets, alternative keyboards and easily customizable OS or they should break the cycle of releasing those incremental updates and think 5 years ahead and make a new market for themselves. Think LeapMotion if you have to, but get out of the rut Apple!
There’s one more example which, if you’re sitting on the cross-section of blogging and technology, you’ll be well aware of. That of the Svbtle network. Svbtle started out as an idea of a shared blogging platform between friends but soon, the maker Dustin Curtis, realized that it was more of a status symbol than anything else. He chose to limit the ‘membership’ to people who, according to him, wrote excellent blog posts based on their experience or knowledge and teased the world to just look on. Svbtle is a great product and any number of people would like to have it as a theme for their WordPress or Tumblr blogs or as a platform in itself. But Curtis decided otherwise and snubbed all. Within 11 hours, a product called Obtvse and a WordPress theme called wp-svbtle came out, showcasing the ease with which an idea can be copied. What cannot, however, be copied, is talent. Dustin Curtis posited that Svbtle was a symbol of excellence and anyone browsing those blogs would instantly know that the material would be high quality. Conversely, anyone using one of these themes without being a part of the actual network of bloggers would be tarnishing the image of the Svbtle writers and thus, the theme should be taken off the air. The only response of Obtvse maker Nate Wienert was that he was disappointed that Curtis had showcased his brilliant product and then immediately shut off all hope by saying that it was an invitation only product.
It doesn’t matter than Nate copied Dustin, that Android copied iOS or that someone might copy the Magazine to make a similar product. What matters is the quality of the content. People still sigh looking at Svbtle, hoping to be a part of the network some day and knowing that nothing can replace the real thing. Android has taken over the world because it is more forgiving in terms of licensing and hardware than Apple is with iOS and iOS has fallen from grace because Apple is seeing too much gold and letting their ideas stagnate. The Magazine will be the only app that “geeks and curious people” will download to find out what makes Marco Arment’s mind tick, instead of going for a third-class alternative.
There’s no replacing the gold standard. There’s no replacing the one who continuously innovates and creates, letting his ideas speak for themselves. Marco Arment should know this because no matter how many services like Readbility and Pocket come along, Instapaper is not going anywhere. He should know that as long as he keeps The Magazine fresh, his investment is safe.