Ryan Singer of 37 Signals fired off an interesting post about the need for a killer magazine production tool for iOS and other tablets. Lots of people have great ideas and killer content, he says, but getting into (say) the iOS Newsstand is a job for programmers or organizations that can afford expensive toolchains, not lone creatives with an idea. He compares the potential for such an app to Movable Type’s impact on the web:
Remember the web before Movable Type? If you wanted a blog you had to program one. You had to know databases and webhosts and PHP or Perl. If you were “just” a web designer, or a writer with ideas, you had to hire an in-demand web programmer to make it happen.
I think he’s onto something, but there are a couple of problems that stand out.
First, the nitpicker in me has to point out that blogging, and blogging software in general, existed for years before Movable Type. Pyra Labs released Blogger more than two years before Movable Type hit the streets. It was different, of course – you logged into Blogger.com, wrote your post, and it would FTP the rendered HTML files to your server, ready to be included in your presumably hand-coded HTML site.
Movable Type put the concept of a templated blog with self-hosted administration tools within reach of mortals (at least, ones who could get a Perl app up and running on shared hosting), but even Blogger itself was the hosted manifestation of an already-emerging trend. Frequent updates to a web page, displayed sequentially, acting as a sort of diary, had been around since the first days of the web. The term “weblog” was coined in even earlier to describe something that was already taking place – even my archives on this blog go back to 1997, when I was making crude hand-edited updates to the “Latest Thoughts” page on my AOL-hosted “Home Page.” The rise of tools to support the activty was a trailing indicator of something new and interesting rather than the trigger.
That ties into the second problem I have with his theory: that the gaping hole in the current Tablet landscape is the difficulty of publishing content effectively.
Writers would love a way to push serialized content straight to tablets, and the experience would be a boon to readers. Tablets are the best way to read, and Newsstand is the equivalent of RSS for non-geeks.
It’s critical to remember that blogging was birthed when the web was a much younger, much different, much smaller place. Blogging gave a generation of writers a way to speak with their own voices, and it also gave a generation of technically-minded tinkerers a structure in which they could explore writing in the public view. It encouraged individuals to fill gaps in the web’s spotty content landscape, and to do it in a way that led naturally to continued participation.
Today, the landscape is a lot different. If people want their voices to be heard, there’s no shortage of ways to shout from the digital rooftops. In fact, the problem isn’t finding tools to do so – it’s finding an open spot on said roof to elbow in between all the other shouters. The hole that blogging filled is not the same hole that the iOS Newstand fills, despite its interesting potential.
Rather than looking back at specific tools that emerged in that period of the Web’s maturation, I think we should look back at the practices that emerged. People started blogs because it gave form to something they had previously approached in a haphazard way. It gave a name, a structure, a direction to the new and sloppy and sloppy practice of “making a home page.”
Rather than ask what the Movable Type of Tablets would look like, we should reflect on the underlying needs and voids that blogs filled. What is the ‘blogging’ of a media-saturated, multi-device world?