March, 2008

Mar 08

thoughts on kindle

I’ve been meaning to write this for a bit — I’ve had my Kindle now for about 3 months (since Christmas) — and wanted to write down some of the things I think about it.

The most interesting observation, I think, is that it’s simultaneously one of my favorite things, and also mostly invisible in my life. I use it every single day for at least 15-30 minutes and some days for considerably more. Since the new year, I’ve read probably 8 books this way, compared with 3 or 4 traditional form books.

A few random observations:

  • the industrial design is, as people have noted, sort of ugly — but not ugly enough to really get in the way, and it does tend to disappear when I’m actually using it
  • but the forward & backwards buttons are just too big & easy to hit — I do unintentionally flip pages pretty frequently
  • the keyboard is fine, and doesn’t particularly get in the way — to the contrary, it gives me a place to keep my thumb when I’m reading
  • it’s great great great for reading with one hand — much better than a traditional book
  • to my eyes, it is basically like reading paper (although not as contrasty) — but long passages don’t fatigue my eyes the same way that my laptop or iphone do

The most important thing about the Kindle, though, is the content, of course. About 60-70% of the books that I tend to read are available (albeit with DRM) through Amazon, and it hasn’t taken me long to get to my typical state of affairs in the physical world: a backlog of about 10 books that I’ve read the first chapters of. It’s incredibly easy and gratifying to pick up the Kindle, not see anything I want to read, pull up the Amazon store, and buy a new book to read — delivery happens nearly instantaneously — takes under a minute. There are big problems with this type of device/software/service/content lock-in (er, “integration,” I mean), including the tendency to buy/read the things that are available conveniently, instead of what I’m interested in more broadly.

The display works great — the resolution is not quite what I expected, but not bad at all, and is fine for reading even over a long period of time. I think they could have done a better job with the typography, with more tweakability in terms of fonts and layout preferences. I routinely change the type size when I’m reading, depending on how tired I am, etc. Book layout gets screwed up pretty routinely, especially in books that have any images at all. Not totally debilitating, but distracting, certainly.

UI-wise, I think it’s good enough, but not fantastic. The designers were pretty limited by the screen refresh characteristics of eInk — so had to do some decidedly indirect things for many of the interactions. But on the whole, it’s fine. I’ve been highlighting passages in the books I read in order to go back and look at them when I’m done — that’s a really neat feature — but it’s in an embryonic state at the moment. I’d like to be able to access them via the web, not just my Kindle, and would like to have them be more like a database than a text file, which is what they are now. Being able to search in books is theoretically neat, and I’ve used it a couple of times, but not really all that useful so far.

I really thought that I’d miss the physicality of books, but I’ve been surprised that I don’t miss it one bit. I thought I’d miss the feel of the pages, the images on the cover, etc — but I don’t. On reflection, I’ve realized that most of that stuff is marketing — not the intent of the author at all, in general — and as a result, I’ve found myself paying much more attention to the text, and feeling closer to the authors.  Surprising to me. What I think I’ve discovered is that while I thought I loved books, what I actually love is reading.

The weirdest side effect of doing most of my reading through the Kindle is that people don’t know what I’m reading — that’s great on airplanes and in public, but I like it less at home — my wife doesn’t know what I read now, so doesn’t ask as many questions about it. That’s disappointing, since I like talking about the things I read. I still bring up things I’m interested in, but I miss the other direction. Thinking a few years down the road, I’m certain that our son will use some sort of eReader for text books for school — and as parents we’re going to need to know what he’s reading — that’s an opportunity for someone, of course!

The related problem, for me, is that I tend to lose track, visually, of some of the more interesting books I read. I’ve been getting tired of having shelves and shelves of books at home, but I pretty routinely find myself looking down one shelf or another, and noticing books that I read a while back that I want to re-read, or to think about again. WIth the Kindle, you can browse through what you’ve read, but it’s a little bloodless, so it’s making things like Delicious Library seem sort of appealing to me. But I’m not 100% sure that’s the right solution, either.

Sharing is another disappointing aspect – I’ve read a few books the last couple of months that I’d really like to just hand to my friends. There’s no way to do that, and it’s disappointing.

A million other thoughts about the system, ranging from big picture (I wish it were more open and less DRM-ed, for example) to small (the unit seems almost designed to show dirt on the casing; the dictionary — while fantastically useful — could be easier to use) to mostly irrelevant (not a good web browsing experience — IMHO they should have just left the browser out).

But on the whole, while I don’t know that the Kindle will be the device that ultimately wins, I do know that the advantages of electronic, networked books are too significant not to become ubiquitious over time. It’s early days, and this is really just the 2nd generation or so — but for a broad, broad set of uses, it’s obviously the way things are going to go.

Mar 08

WordPress 2.5

I just upgraded to WordPress 2.5, so let me know if you notice anything wackier than usual happening on the site…looks great so far. Most of the upgrades are in the admin UI.

Mar 08

a little local, a little global

Drove up to Marin for a board meeting (for PCF) this morning, and found myself in a really great mood — one of the nicest places to drive in the world, I think — up the peninsula, through the City, across the Golden Gate Bridge, through Marin — just reminded me that I’m very lucky to live here.

But also realized that as cool as the local area is, this morning I’ve been in contact with people who are in France, Denmark, Japan, China, Canada, and other places in the US. The global nature of the Internet is something that I constantly marvel at, and the ability to not only stay in touch with folks, but also work with people around the world from a house in rural Marin, always blows me away.

Mar 08

the gift that keeps on giving

(photo credit: wikipedia)

Well, hmm. Featured on Fake Steve Jobs today — my dad will be so proud. No, seriously, Dad loves Fake Steve. Not sure how to respond to someone who’s wishing you a big dose of crabs — case of crabs? not sure what the word is there — so I’ll just go with “Hey, thanks!”

Anyway, lots and lots of interesting conversations going on about this the past few days — Mozilla is in an unusual position in that we are a mission-driven organization, but also have an actual product in the market that does compete with commercial organizations. Because of that competition, I think much of what we do & say gets viewed through a revenue/marketshare lens, regardless of intent. It’s easy to fall into that line of thinking — the world is geared towards it. And so it’ll continue to be a challenge for us, as Mozilla, to point out practices that are troubling in products that are competitive.

I think that no matter what we say, we’ll get articles and blog posts written about our motivations and whether they’re related to revenue.

But we’ll continue to make decisions and build products based on user experience first and let folks make their own minds up regarding our motives. That’s the way Mozilla has always been, seems to me.

update:  beltzner points out that Zoidberg is really more of a lobster-oid. To quote the good sideways-walking doctor himself: “Now Zoidberg is the popular one!

Mar 08

on competition

Lest anyone be at all confused about my motives in writing my recent post about Apple Software Update, I’ll say this unequivocally: it isn’t about competition. [I wrote what I meant in my post — there’s no subtext at all — it’s all on the page, so I won’t rehash it here.]

To the contrary: competition is good — necessary, actually. Competition — or, more the point, the ability of people to choose what tools and services they use — is essential, and without it nothing gets better.

As a consumer, I want more competition. I want things like to put pressure on Intuit, for FriendFeed to put pressure on Facebook, for Netflix to put pressure on Blockbuster. And for other browsers (like Safari) to put pressure on IE, and, yes, Firefox. And I want competition in my role at Mozilla, too — competition makes everyone work harder to listen to what people are saying about what they want, and to work harder to deliver something that is great.

Firefox is better because there’s competition from Safari and others — that’s great, because it means that normal people can find the software that works best for them and make their own choices. Firefox 3 is an incredibly great browser, I think, and competition has helped that, resulting in things like our amazing memory footprint and the incredibly useful AwesomeBar and literally thousands of other improvements.

Competition — and choice — is central to everything we do; without it, we’re nowhere.