Category Archives: Main

Don’t want your nude photos leaked on Internet? Set up two-factor authentication on your iPhone

You don't want to be an iCloud photo sharer.

You don’t want to be an iCloud photo oversharer.

It’s terrible that hackers have stolen nude photos of famous actresses and are sharing them on the Internet, but hackers will try to steal anything and everything that isn’t bolted down.

By default, Apple saves every photo you take with an iPhone to the cloud. It’s a very dangerous phone to sext with, particularly if you haven’t taken good security measures before you start sexting.

A password is not enough. Most of you use really weak passwords, and thus they are kind of worthless. Even if you use a really strong password, social engineering can allow a hacker to reset your password. Those security questions that websites have begun requiring for extra security are either worthless or counter productive.

This is a disposable security code that acts at the second level of authentication for my iCloud account. Once used, the code no longer works.

This is a disposable security code that acts at the second level of authentication for my iCloud account. Once used, the code no longer works.

But two-factor authentication is the real deal. In order to log into an account with two-factor authentication you need both a username and password and a second authentication, usually a code sent to your mobile phone. Even if a hacker has managed to get your username and password correct, they almost assuredly won’t have access to your mobile phone, and without access to your mobile phone to grab a one-time pin, no one can access your account.

iCloud is a great way to automatically back up iPhones and iPads. It, however, backs up everything, even nude photos. If you’re going to be taking nude photos, you should enable two-factor authentication immediately. Even if you aren’t into sexting, I highly recommend using two-factor authentication wherever possible.

I want to make this clear that iCloud’s automatic backups are a great thing. Most of you are very bad at backing up your data. But please take better security measures; there are some very bad people out there, and you deserve better.

Here’s how to set up two-factor authentication for iCloud and your Apple ID:

  1. Go to My Apple ID
  2. Manage your Apple ID
  3. Password and security
  4. Two-step verification
  5. Write down your recovery key and store it in a fire-safe box or somewhere else safe in your house

Dropbox increases consumer storage plan to 1 terabyte

dropbox

Dropbox announced a big storage increase on its entry-level Pro plan from 100 GB of storage to 1 TB (1,000 GB).

Dropbox increased storage a few years ago, but it was only a bump from 50 GB to 100 GB. Another storage bump up was expected but not to this extent. This changes how you can use Dropbox. Now most users can use Dropbox both as a syncing service and a backup service, whereas 100 GB of space was not enough to back up many people’s home computers.

Because of the lack of storage space, I was planning on canceling my Dropbox Pro account. It’s not enough storage to backup even my laptop, and Apple’s new iCloud Drive will handle syncing for me (even to my PC). I imagine a lot of people were considering the merits of Dropbox lately.

Dropbox has been facing increased pressure from backup services such as Backblaze, and syncing and storage services such as Microsoft’s OneDrive and Apple’s iCloud Drive. For online backups, a dedicated service like Backblaze is still superior (especially if you’re not fastidious with where you store your files), but at least Dropbox now offers enough storage for most people.

Dropbox is also rolling out new features such as remote wipe in case a device is lost or stolen and much more robust sharing controls. These power-user features may be enough to entice users to choose Dropbox over the built-in OneDrive and iCloud.

iCloud Drive is launching this fall and now every iPhone, iPad and Mac will come with this online storage and syncing service built-in. The only way Dropbox can compete with that and Microsoft’s OneDrive is on price and robust cross-platform compatibility.

I do wonder if this will cause Apple to bump up the storage on iCloud Drive before it launches this fall? In particular, Apple should offer more free storage to have parity with competitors. Apple is going to offer 200 GB of storage for $3.99 a month, which is a much better deal for your average user than Dropbox’s new plan, but quite a bit more expensive per GB than what Dropbox is offering.

Will these new plans and features be enough for Dropbox to keep me as a customer? That will depend on how good iCloud Drive is. Price isn’t everything, and Dropbox has worked very, very well for me over the years. And these new features and pricing have gotten my attention.

Thoughts on Vox.com, Ezra Klein’s new website

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 8.48.50 PM

Ezra Klein’s Project X is here, and now it is called Vox.com.

This is what he and several of journalists left The Washington Post for. It’s early, but I’m impressed. There is still much work to done, however, to really make this new news organization stand out.

Here are my early thoughts:

  • The design is simple — There is nothing about the Web design of Vox.com that is eye popping. The site is clean, simple and easy to use. The design probably took less time to build than a lot of metro newspaper websites. Good design is about saying no, not yes. When you look at most journalism websites, it looks like no was almost never said no, except when it came to trying new things. Vox.com isn’t cluttered with random crap that most people don’t want. That’s the beauty of its design. Also, the design works very well on mobile, which is key to harnessing social media traffic properly. I also imagine Vox.com is aimed at a lot of educated, urban users who will read stories on their way to work on public transportation or at coffee shops on breaks. This website is perfect for those kinds of users.
  • The content is delicious and slightly esoteric — Naturally I’m a fan. Vox.com is a general interest site, except it’s not. It’s a general interest site for people who share Ezra Klein’s taste, just as Daring Fireball is a general interest site for those who share John Gruber’s taste in tech. It’s a site aimed at educated, urban, urbane readers who care about policy. Frankly, it’s a website that  appeals more to your typical white-collar DC-area worker than the Washington Post does.  I think general interest news sites are a tough business when they try to appeal to everyone. That’s what metro newspapers have traditional done, and while it worked in print, it’s a tougher sell online. Vox.com is a general interest website aimed at a niche audience. I think it’s the only way general interest can work on the Web. I also would think that advertisers are pretty excited about this site.
  • I love the Vox Conversations videos — There is nothing fancy technologically about these videos, just a big heaping of taste. The quality is high, and the videos are well thought out and edited. This isn’t smartphone journalism. This is video that would make Charlie Rose and TED proud. Lots of news organizations could do the same thing, but video like this takes time to build. These conversations are the kind of videos, however, that will be relevant for a long time to come, like TED Talks, which allows you to have higher production costs. The idea of producing tons of journalism each day is incongruous with high quality. These videos showcase that.
  • Cards are Wikipedia-esque way to explain large stories — I’d suggest firing this feature up on a mobile device to really get the full effect. Essentially cards are a way to explain by topics, such as the Ukraine Crisis, in more manageable chunks. Think of it as a more approachable Wikipedia that is more tightly edited on current hot-button topics. This is also a way to give context to stories. And Cards are a nice way to present ads to users every few clicks and swipes without detracting from the main content. Cards are kind of a high-brow way to do slideshows on important topics. Every news organization that has covered what is going on in Ukraine should have an explainer feature about what is going on. Just reporting on the day-to-day goings on with Ukraine and Russia doesn’t educate users on the why. News organizations should care more about the why. Cards are all about the why. The true value of cards, however, won’t be realized until they can be linked to additional reporting.
  • The lack of comments and community features is disappointing — News websites feel dead without community. Even though Vox.com features a nice design that works well on all my devices, and has stories that speak to me, the inability to read what people think and share my own opinions leaves me detached from this site. I don’t comment on most journalism sites that I read, but just reading the comments that are left (at least on the sites that build strong communities), enriches the experience and makes me feel a part of something bigger. The comments on nytimes.com, for instance, are fantastic and often extend the story significantly. I hope we see community features added soon, because Vox.com just doesn’t feel complete right now.
  • Excellent use of charts and data — I’m not talking about big data or fancy data-drive projects. I’m talking about putting in easy-to-read charts and graphs when they help tell a story. Does your story involve data of some sort? It should have at least one data visualization. That could be as simple as an Excel chart.
  • I dig the yellow color — Yellow is not a common color for websites. I’m grown weary of seeing so many blue websites or black and white color palettes for news organization. The yellow works well on several levels. Not only does Vox.com feel fresh like spring, but the yellow also reminds a user of highlighting a college textbook. Vox.com is a general interest news website, but it also wants to be educated and wonkish. The yellow color and the way links look like underlines in a textbook really underscore that. They even made links look like a real highlighter went over them by not being symmetrical. It’s a nice touch.
  • Text could be bigger — The text on Vox.com is bigger than most news organizations (some news organizations seem to want to make reading as difficult as possible), but I’d still like to see it bigger. Larger text is easier on the eyes, making reading easier for longer periods of time. For a site that wants to be wonkish and bookish, bigger type would help accomplish that. Bigger type is also easier on older eyes and people with vision issues. Medium does the best job of any website with text. I love the size and font choices they made. I’d like to see Vox.com adopt something similar.
  • Look Mom, no Flash! — The videos are viewable without Flash. Every news website needs to do this. It’s no surprise that a tech-focused company like Vox would use HTML 5 for everything, but it’s still worth mentioning.
  • I’d like to see higher resolution video — This is also a complaint that I have with another Vox property, The Verge. I’d love to be able to see some of their videos in higher resolution. The initial Vox Conversations video is soft and highly compressed. This keeps costs down and helps with loading times, but I’d like to see an option for at least high quality 720p video. Heck, I’d probably chip in $10 a year just for this feature. A lot of people won’t care about this, but it’s a premium feature that some may enjoy.

For those wondering, we’ll be launching a new responsive design this summer for the Interchange Project. This design was hastily hacked together. I’m excited to put all of my previous Web knowledge together with everything I’ve learned in my Human-computer Interaction master’s program.

Twitter is the reason to watch television live #HIMYMfinale

himymfinaleI’m a binge watcher.

I don’t watch a lot of television live, save for sports. I don’t have cable, and Netflix is how I watch most television shows. But Twitter pulls me back into live television.

There is nothing that cable companies and channels can do to pull me back into live television, but technology and the communal experience can. Twitter is so much better than the day-after water-cooler experience. You discuss and share experiences in real time, as new developments happen over the course of a show.

Twitter is the only reason I watch the Oscars. The show itself is kind of boring and bloated, but all the discussion about the host’s jokes, who won what award (or should have won), etc. makes it enjoyable. Oscar watching parties are still popular, and a good way to go, but with Twitter you don’t need a party to experience a live event with lots of people.

I binge watched How I Met Your Mother with my wife starting about a year ago. We eventually caught up to the final season about halfway through (eight seasons in a year is a hell of a way to watch a sitcom). And I’m glad we did for the finale, even though the show is much more enjoyable to binge watch than in 22-minute chunks.

With the second screen experience and Twitter, watching television becomes a communal experience, where as share our thoughts and theories.

As we were watching the HIMYM finale, I couldn’t take it anymore. I opened up my laptop and went on Twitter. I had to see what people were saying, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The #HIMYMFinale hashtag was the top one in the U.S. I went there and was able to vent and share my feelings. About half way through the finale I began tweeting my own thoughts.

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 12.06.14 PM

As this point, I none of us knew the Mother would die (although I expected her to for several weeks), and that Ted and Robin might be a thing again in the future. And then people began responding to me. Some thought there was no way this could happen.

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 12.08.33 PM

After the final was over, and it was clear what had happened, I sent out one of my final tweets.

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 12.10.13 PM

If I hadn’t caught up to real time with the show, I would never have sent this tweet out, and had all the interaction I had with people all over the world that night and for the next week. People will still be upset by the finale (or continue to love it) for years, but the energy around the finale was when it aired. Imagine the snark that would have happened when Seinfeld’s finale ended if Twitter were around. I almost want a time machine and Twitter to make that happen.

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 12.11.35 PM

Of course, you have to avoid Twitter if you want to avoid spoilers, and there is no way to segregate tweets by region. West Coast HIMYM fans could watch the finale when it aired and still have it spoiled by East Coast viewers and their reactions. That’s a flaw in the current broadcast television model that will only cause more people to go to streaming.

Not showing shows at same time everywhere is the issue — an anachronism from a pre-social media time. The social experience around a television event shouldn’t be limited to people who get to watch the show first.

This is one of the big strengths of Oscars and live sports. These kinds of events are shown everywhere at the same time and work very well for social media. Scripted television will need to adapt.

Binge watching is great. Most of the time it is better than watching a 30-minute show filled with commercials once a week. But binge watching kills the social experience. This will have to be rectified.

But traditional television models are bad at binge watching and the social experience. Viewers don’t really benefit at all from the traditional television model, which is user hostile.

One day when all content goes over IP, this won’t be an issue. Imagine being able to watch a television show when it airs on CBS in your time zone or being able to stream it at the same time everywhere. West Coast viewers could tune in at the same time as East Coast viewers.

But the more I binge watch, the more I realize that the current model really harms the viewing experience and the show themselves. Sitcoms really drag when you are given about 22-minutes of new content a week surrounded by ads. Game of Thrones, with each episode being a weighty 50+ minutes, sans ads, still works in a once-a-week format, because the show is so dense that it’s hard to binge watch more than a few episodes in a week.

I don’t think sitcoms like HIMYM do that well. The show was more enjoyable when I could binge watch it. You can get in about three episodes of HIMYM in about an hour on Netflix. But, again, binge watching can’t be nearly the social experience. All you can talk about with binge watching are the broad strokes of a show.

So, what’s the solution? Perhaps we need more hour-long shows with fewer episodes per season. Or, maybe every episode except for the last few in a season should be available on day one. This way people can binge watch the show over a few weeks and then come together for a big finale together as a community.

House of Cards is a great show, and it’s fun to binge watch, but it lacks a strong social community around it.

The MacBook Pro (or PC laptop) that I would bring to college

Starbuck falling asleep while studying. The laptop and tablet combo is a good one for college.

Starbuck falling asleep while studying. The laptop and tablet combo is a good one for college.

The topic of what computer to take to college comes up often here. Jeremy and I may not fully agree on this (he’d say MacBook Air), but here is my advice.

I’m specifically highlighting which Mac I would recommend to take to college (with some equivalent PC options as well), because this is a recent question we were asked. I also use a MacBook Pro for graduate school and had to make this very decision two years ago.

Price certainly matters. Form a budget. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll need this computer to work well for at least four years, and I know many people who bought cheaper computers and had to replace them before college was over.

A good computer could even last you through graduate school.

Computers have gotten a lot cheaper over time, and there may be some temptation to get a random laptop for $450, but that could be a big mistake. I spent about $3,000 on computer for college, and that wasn’t abnormal at the time.

One of the big reasons that computers have gotten cheaper since I was in undergrad is that quality has dropped a lot. It was much more difficult to get a really cheap computer that was filled with poor compromises.

I’m not suggesting you need to spend $3,000 on a computer, but I’d hesitate to go cheap with this decision. It’s important.

Displays matter. Go HiDPI (Retina)

If you’re going to be doing a lot of reading or writing — and this is a lot of college students — I’d really only look at laptops with HiDPI displays. The most famous is the Macbook Pro with Retina Display, but there are several PC options as well. We explain how HiDPI displays can reduce eyestrain and make reading easier.

HiDPI stands for high dots per inch. It means more pixels and smaller pixels. It means fonts so clear that you can no longer see the pixels (your eyes will thank you for this). It means images that look like high-quality prints. It’s kind of the difference between an HD and non-HD television.

HiDPI is the future of computer displays, and it is already the present on smartphones and tablets. There is no reason not to get on this bandwagon now, and you’ll thank yourself for doing so in a few years.

I get many of my textbooks as Kindle ebooks. This is usually cheaper and much lighter and space conscious. I can often read these books on my iPad and iPhone too, making it easy to sneak in a few minutes of reading here or there. But sometimes I don’t want to carry an iPad or Kindle with me.

My MacBook Pro hooked up to my external monitor. It's a great way to do heavy-duty work.

My MacBook Pro hooked up to my external monitor. It’s a great way to do heavy-duty work.

There is also a Kindle Web app. Normally, I wouldn’t want to try to read a book on a low-resolution computer monitor, but now that I have a HiDPI display, I can also use my laptop for book reading.

Trust me, this makes a huge difference. I had a bad case of eye strain during college, largely from working on the student newspaper, and HiDPI displays are a way I manage my eyestrain today. My computer, smartphone and tablet are all HiDPI, and I’ll never buy a non-HiDPI display again.

This is why I do not recommend the MacBook Air, despite it otherwise being perhaps the best general college laptop around. Text isn’t as sharp on the display, and it will fatigue your eyes faster. The 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina is 3.46 pounds, and while it is not MacBook Air light, it is plenty light enough to carry around campus. I have the 15-inch MacBook Pro, and with the right bag, its 4.46 pounds doesn’t bother me.

The MacBook Air may go Retina as early as this year, and as soon as that happens, many of you may prefer the MacBook Air. The MacBook Pro is a more powerful machine, but the MacBook Air should appeal to more college students with its lighter weight and lower price. The lack of a HiDPI display, however, is not worth it to me, unless you are in a major that doesn’t require a lot of reading and writing. Or if you’re in a major that doesn’t require a lot of computer use

There is no such thing as too much ram

I would go with the maximum amount of ram you can afford. I’d also go with additional ram over a faster CPU any day of the week. This may not matter now, but it may come in handy 4-6 years from now. Newer applications and operating systems tend to use more memory over time, and this will leave you better prepared for tomorrow’s applications.

I believe in using computers for years and years and running them into the ground. I had an eight-year-old PowerMac as my daily machine for awhile. I plan on using this MacBook Pro for many years.

A lack of ram will hurt your ability to use a machine for a long time. A hundred dollars or so now could mean several years of additional life out of your machine later.

As of March 2014, I’d recommend going with at least 8 GB of ram. You probably won’t notice the effects of anything above that, but going with more ram will provide greater future proofing, which may come in handy post graduation when you can’t afford a new computer.

SSD all the way

I never want to own a computer again with a traditional spinning hard drive. Everything is faster with a solid state drive (SSD). Applications spring to life in an instance. You can go through hundreds of photos without hiccups.

SSDs also use less energy, allowing for longer battery life. You don’t want to rely on bringing a power cord to class because many classrooms don’t have power outlets. It’s usually my classmates with traditional hard drives that are crowding around the power outlets during class.

SSDs are also more durable, especially to drops. College students drop stuff. An SSD hard drive could save your data and your grades.

All MacBook Pros with Retina displays and MacBook Airs come with SSDs standard. But if you’re going to get a PC laptop, get an SSD. This is what my Windows 8 laptop has, and you’d be shocked at how fast it boots up and wakes from sleep. Spinning hard disks are for big storage needs, and you can always get an external hard drive if you need more storage.

With external hard drives with 2 TB of storage less than $100 now, don’t worry about internal storage. Speed, durability and reliability are more important for your internal hard drive.

Consider an external monitor

I’m writing this post with two monitors right now. I have my text editing window on my MacBook Pro, and I have websites and resources that I’m looking up on my 22-inch external monitor. Having two monitors makes you more productive and cuts down on errors.

Here is a very good 22-inch LED monitor for $150. The other advantage of an external monitor is that it allows you to go with a smaller laptop, because if you ever need more screen real estate you can just plug in your external monitor.

Most college students would be best served with a 13.3-inch laptop such as the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display. I think this size is the best balance between power and portability.

Now, I do have the larger 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display (partly because there was no 13-inch version at the time), and there are advantages. The 15-inch version is quad-core and can support a dedicated GPU. If you don’t know what this means, you probably don’t need them.

Students doing video editing, photography, 3D animation, computer science (for compiled languages, not Web development), graphic design and perhaps a few other areas would benefit from the increased power. But for writing papers and doing research  — what the vast majority of college work is for most students — a 13-inch laptop is fine. And frankly, you can do all of those things I mentioned above on the 13-inch MacBook Pro, just a little slower.

It is very hard to find a HiDPI external monitor, however. This issue will be sorted out in a few years, but right now your best option is to get a 22-inch 1080p monitor. It’s not HiDPI, but it will be fine for a secondary monitor as long as you do most of your work on your HiDPI laptop monitor.

Look at all of your computing and technology needs together

Form am overall budget to spend on computing and technology. If you want to do photo journalism, for instance, budgeting for a decent digital camera would be wise. Many of you like using an iPad or Kindle for textbook reading. Budget for that as well.

ipad

Reading for class on my iPad.

You may get more enjoyment and productivity out of going with a cheaper laptop plus a tablet than you would out of a more expensive laptop. I would encourage you to think of your technology needs together and form an overall budget.

I do a lot of my reading for school on my iPad and Kindle, both of which I received before graduate school, but if I had nothing right now, I would budget for a tablet and a laptop. This would require me to make sure my laptop didn’t eat up my entire budget.

Unless a paper book is a lot better than the ebook (this does happen with more graphical textbooks), I go with the ebook.

Backup, backup, backup

I would be remiss if I didn’t remind you to backup your data. There is no excuse for a college student today to lose data. If you do, it’s because you didn’t prepare ahead of time.

The most important kind of backup that anyone can have is remote. Local backup is an added layer of protection that I’d recommend, but remote backup handled by a company who specializes in data integrity is a must.

I would either go with Backblaze, Crashplan or another similar backup-everything-for-a-fixed-cost-every-month service or with Dropbox, if you need syncing and the ability to pull up files for class. You can even go with a combination of the two services by utilizing the free Dropbox account for storing smaller amounts of data. Several of my classes have used shared Dropbox folders, and it is a great tool even if you don’t use it for backups.

Backblaze and Crashplan are dead simple to operate. They backup everything on your computer in real time. They are always running and always backing up your data. If you have an Internet connection, your data will be backed up. Both are around $50 a year or so.

If you go with a Mac, I’d also suggest using Time Machine. A simple USB 3.0 hard drive will do just fine, and it will provide fast, local backups for under $100. The benefit of a local backup is that they are much faster for retrieving lost data. It can take a considerable amount of time, sometimes days, to get all of your data back from a cloud backup service.

Time Machine also does versioning. Sometimes you just want to get back a file you deleted, and Time Machine will provide daily backups for at least the last month. You’ll want your Time Machine hard drive to be at least twice as big as your internal laptop hard drive so that it can handle doing many versions.

Don’t forget your academic discount!

You don’t need to go through your college or its technology center to get an academic discount. Most major computer makers offer educational discounts through their online stores.

Don’t buy a random laptop; a computer is more than just specs

The quality of a laptop goes far beyond specs. You can have two laptops with identical specs, and one will be great and the other will cause you to pull your hair out. In particular, there is huge variance in the quality of keyboards and trackpads.

If you want to get a laptop that I don’t specifically recommend here, at least read reviews elsewhere to get a good idea of what you’re getting into. Using a computer in store is a good option too. I’ve used countless laptops with virtually unusable trackpads. Do you really want to carry a portable mouse with you everywhere (and be almost unable to use your computer when you don’t have it)?

There are some really bad keyboards out there, especially on thinner laptops. Some are very hard to type accurately on.

Every Apple laptop has an incredible trackpad. I’ve never seen a PC laptop with a trackpad that is anywhere near this quality, and I never feel like the trackpad doesn’t meet my needs.

Macs have very good keyboards too. I’d say the keyboards on Lenovo ThinkPads are the best, and they generally have good trackpads too. My No. 1 PC recommendation is usually to check out a ThinkPad first.

I have a Toshiba Windows 8.1 laptop, and it is virtually unusable without an external keyboard and mouse. Yes, it is light, relatively fast and has an SSD and all the modern specs, but its keyboard and trackpad is atrocious. It’s hard to believe that this was allowed to be shipped, and this experience is not that uncommon for PC laptops.

A good keyboard and trackpad is worth hundreds of dollars.

My MacBook recommendations

Every computer listed below has distinct strengths and weaknesses. The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is the most balanced, but you need to ask yourself what your needs are. I felt having a lot of CPU and GPU power was important for the kind of work I do, and that’s why I went with the 15-inch MacBook Pro.

13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina for most college students

  • 8 GB of ram and a 256 GB SSD are fine for most students. I wouldn’t be opposed to upgrading the ram to 16 GB and the SSD to 512 GB.

15-inch MacBook Pro for power user college students

  • This is a little more confusing. There are two distinct versions here. Most just have integrated graphics, but one model has dedicated graphics. This makes a big difference in price. If you need a dedicated graphics card, this model has a loaded CPU, GPU, lots of ram and a big SSD. It should last you many years. It’s the model I have, and I highly recommend it.
  • If you’re not going to get the version with a dedicated graphics chip, the main reason to get it is for the bigger screen. You have to ask yourself if a bigger screen is worth $500. I’d say that for most of you, the 13-inch version with an external monitor is the better option.

11-inch MacBook Air

  • The 13-inch MacBook Pro and 13-inch MacBook Air are similar in size. I think most students would be better off just going with the Pro, unless money was a big issue. In that case, the MacBook Air is a solid option.
  • The one thing a MacBook Pro can’t compete on is really small size. If you want a really portable laptop, the 11-inch MacBook Air is compelling. It still has a full size keyboard and a great trackpad. You can still hook it up to a big external monitor and all of that. But it is really small and light. You can basically take it anywhere. If you envision yourself always with your laptop, typing away in all sorts of nooks and crannies, this might be a compelling option.
  • This laptop will be a writer’s dream when its a Retina display.

My graduate school computer setup

15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display

  • 8 GB of ram
  • Dedicated graphics chip
  • External 22-inch monitor
  • External keyboard and mouse for heavy duty work at my desk
  • OmniOutliner for note taking in class
  • Ulysses for writing reports
  • Microsoft Word for formatting written assignments
  • Coda and Sublime Text 2 for writing code
  • Photoshop, Illustrator and Pixelmator for graphic design

iPad with 32 GB of storage

  • This is the main way I read textbooks and PDFs (we read a lot of journal articles).
  • Kindle textbooks work well and sync back to Kindle, phone and Web.
  • It syncs to OmniOutliner, allowing me to read and edit notes that I take in class.
  • I have the 9.7-inch version, and I think it works better for many textbooks than smaller tablets, but if you mostly read novels or text-based books, the iPad Mini and similar smaller tablets may be a better option.
  • I have the wifi-only version, and most college campuses are covered with wifi. I wouldn’t worry about getting a version with a data plan.

iPhone 5 with 32 GB of storage

  • I mostly just use this for email and checking in on our online learning system.
  • I also read Kindle books on this. If you’re going to read Kindle books for class, I’d recommend getting a smartphone that has the Kindle app. It’s more useful than you’d think.

Kindle

  • I’m talking about the basic black and white E-ink Kindle here. It has great battery life, is durable with a cover on it and is very, very easy on the eyes.
  • This is how I read textbooks right before bed so that the blue light from my iPad doesn’t keep me up late. It is not recommended that you use an iPad right before bed. The same goes for any laptop not running software such as Flux. Flux is a free utility that I recommend every computer user run (when not doing color sensitive work). You will sleep better with this installed.
  • I have the version “with special offers.” It saves money, and it doesn’t impact the user experience.

Recommended PC laptops

ThinkPad T540p with solid state drive

  • This is a 15-inch laptop with a HiDPI display.
  • It also has an optional dedicated graphics chip for more graphics-intensive work. This is the closet thing you’ll get to a 15-inch MacBook Pro from a PC.
  • It’s heavier than I’d like at almost a full pound more than 15-inch MacBook Pro.

ThinkPad X1

  • This is the closet thing to a PC MacBook Air. It’s very well made, and it weighs less than 3 pounds.
  • A HiDPI display is optional for $150. I think it’s money well spent. But, again, if you don’t think you need a HiDPI display, you can forgo it and this is still a great laptop.

Acer Aspire S7-392-6807

  • Considered one of the best Ultrabooks around.
  • Very nice design.
  • Is not a HiDPI display, but it is 1080p. It’s similar to a MacBook Air.

Thinkpad T440 with solid state drive

  • It doesn’t have a HiDPI display, but if you feel you don’t need one, this is a very good, reasonably priced Windows laptop. Great keyboard too.

Leave a comment below if you have questions about what you or your child should bring to college. We’ll do our best to give you answers based on your needs.

For more on technology in the classroom and thoughts on what to bring to college, check out Episode 101: Technology in the classroom.

Apple unveils CarPlay — hopefully cars are about to get smart

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Apple finally unveiled more of its plans to bring iOS into the car with what it is now calling CarPlay.

CarPlay will allow iPhone users to plug their iPhones directly into a car and use iOS to control their cars navigation and radio, while also providing hands-free calling and texting support. What is exciting about this isn’t what you can do with it, but rather that it comes from a company that develops some of the best software and user interfaces anywhere in the world. Car navigation and entertainment systems are notoriously bad, and the fancy ones with touchscreens and GPSes are usually over-priced messes.

Users will also be using the same apps in the car that they have on their phones. This will give users less to learn and make the experience more seamless. The idea of having a separate digital life for the car never made any sense, and car makers aren’t good at writing consumer software.

Smartphones are powerful personal computers with lots of wireless radios. In the past that power sat idle while users were forced to use poorly implemented systems by car manufacturers.

What are the advantages of this over getting one of the many navigation and entertainment options already available directly by car manufactures?

  • Always have what you need — Our phones are our personal assistants. They are truly personal computers. We have them loaded up with our favorite apps and our preferences. Why have a totally separate solution for the car? Why not plug in a device that already has everything you need right on it? Your music. You maps with your favorite places already in it. Your contacts. It just makes sense to have one device that you can always have on you.
  • Voice, touch or knob control — CarPlay gives you Siri voice control in the car. Very few cars have voice control, and the ones that do don’t have very good voice control. You’ll be able to send text messages with your voice, control your audio apps and control your navigation and more with just your voice. This may be the first good hands-free technology to go into cars. But CarPlay cars will also come with touchscreens, a natural fit for iOS and the apps that will integrate into CarPlay. Most cars, even if they have a touchscreen, still have knob fallbacks for temperature and audio, and these knobs will work with CarPlay. Users will be given a variety of ways to control what they are doing, and the different input methods will fit in nicely depending on if a driver is stopped or moving (or has a passenger).
  • Maps are constantly updated, improved and have real-time data — Navigation systems in cars are notoriously poor because they go out of date over time, and they aren’t connected to real-time data — both because of a lack of a data connection. CarPlay will give you navigation with real-time traffic data and alternative routes. It will also give you the ability to find restaurants and other landmarks, something that many dedicated GPSes already do, but these will again be updated. What’s the point of having a list of restaurants and coffee shops from seven years ago? Apple Maps has Yelp integration, which is very handy for finding good restaurants, the hours of restaurants and even telling you if a restaurant is still in business.
  • Radio is dead — CarPlay will allow you to control your favorite audio apps. While you can currently hook up an iPhone to a car stereo through an auxiliary input, that makes controlling the audio very difficult and at times dangerous. Now you’ll be able to control your favorite audio apps in a much more native and seamless way in the car. I’m looking forward to being able to natively control Spotify, Downcast and Audible in the car. Cars are probably the only thing keeping FM radio on life support, and that’s only because streaming audio hasn’t been integrated well into cars. That’s about to change in a big way.

The devil will be in the details, however. Apple will have to deliver a level of stability and reliability that they haven’t with their recent operating system software. iOS 7 was launched almost six months ago, and it’s still buggy. We’re all desperately waiting for the iOS 7.1 update to refine the OS and tackle some major bugs.

OS X Mavericks is getting more refined, but it too could use some more work. The difference here is that an occasional app crash or even system crash isn’t a huge issue with a smartphone or even a PC, but it would be a big deal if it happened in the middle of driving a car.  Apple will need to deliver a level of refinement and stability for CarPly that they haven’t with some of their other software.


Here is Volvo’s video introducing CarPlay for their cars.

The quality of Apple Maps is also a concern. It has improved considerably since launch, and it’s reputation is probably no longer deserved, but it does lag behind Google Maps — at least in car-based navigation. I prefer Apple Maps on foot, but Apple CarPlay is all about the car.

Apple needs to make a big commitment to making their maps app as good as any mapping solution out there. Beyond that, it would be nice to allow third-party maps apps work as well. Not just Google Maps, but specialized navigation apps for when you’re visiting a national park, for instance, or maps that provide guided tours of cities.

Apple is allowing a variety of music and podcast apps to work through CarPlay, so I have hope that we’ll see additional navigation options in the future. And maybe CarPlay is another sign that Apple is taking mapping seriously.

With an expanding family and an aging car, I’ll be looking to get a new car within the next few years. Any car that doesn’t support CarPlay (and without a several-thousand dollar upgrade) will automatically be off my list. I’m tired of driving dumb cars that have bad navigation systems and even worse audio options.

Let’s make cars smarter.

Microsoft should split Windows into two separate OSes

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This is Windows 8’s Metro mode. It literally doesn’t have windows anymore.

Microsoft is trying to walk back some of the polarizing aspects of Windows 8 with updates to the OS, but the real issue is the fundamental mistake of trying to make one OS that can run on traditional desktops and laptops, while also running on tablets and smartphones.

Microsoft needs to split Windows into two separate OSes. Windows 9 should look and feel like Windows 7 with new features and refinements. Forget Windows 8 and 8.1 entirely.

The Metro mode (the entire look on Windows smartphones) should be spun off into its own OS without the Windows name. It doesn’t have to be called Metro, but Microsoft needs to come up with a fresh name for its mobile OS.

I use Windows 8 every day at work. It’s not that bad as some would have you believe, but I like it less than Windows 7. Shouldn’t every release be more enjoyable and better? I consider Windows 7 to be the best version of Windows ever. It has a pretty clean windowing UI, it’s stable and secure and generally just works.

Windows 7 is an OS that really appeals to Microsoft’s core audience. Why mess with it?

I have my Windows 8 machine set to boot straight to desktop mode, and I have the start menu back; so it’s pretty similar to using Windows 7. But every now and then you accidentally open up an app or file in Metro mode, and it’s a really disorienting experience when one of my monitors is in metro mode and the other is in desktop mode. It really is one of the worst and most inexcusable computing experiences you can have today.

The core issue of Windows 8 is that it tries to merge two pretty good UI concepts together, and in the process makes both worse. I like Metro as a tablet and phone UI. I like the Windows 7 UI for desktop computing. It’s when you have to use Metro on a desktop or Windows 7 windowing on a tablet that it all goes to hell.

This is a pretty nice phone UI. I would not want to use this on my dual-monitor desktop in my office.

This is a pretty nice phone UI. I would not want to use this on my dual-monitor desktop in my office.

Microsoft has a new CEO. He doesn’t have to save face like Steve Ballmer might have tried to. He can simply say that Windows 8 was a mistake , and we’re going in a different direction.

The time is now to end this failed experiment to create one OS to rule them all.  Make Windows 9 the best traditional Windows it can be. Aim it at businesses and people who want to use the same OS they use at work at home. Focus on networking and cloud support (integrate OneDrive even further into the OS as a major selling point), improving multithreaded support (make it easier for developers to harness 4-12 and more core computers) and improving the file system.

The UI concepts of Windows 7 are pretty good. You can iterate on the UI and add new features like Apple does with OS X, but there is no reason to get away from windowing for desktop computing. It’s a conceptual model that works well, particularly for power users and work that benefits from multiple-monitors and multitasking.

Microsoft should then spin off Metro into its own OS without the Windows name, while still using the Windows kernel. This is what Apple does with iOS, and it works very well. Apple executives have recently come out and said that merging iOS and OS X into one OS would be a waste of time.

The needs of a user vary drastically by context. When someone is trying to edit two spreadsheets side by side his needs are very different then when they are trying to get directions while walking around a city. There is no reason to believe that tablets will replace laptops, so why not an OS that assumes that?

I use OS X at home, and think Mavericks is what Microsoft should be aiming for, not Windows 8. Mavericks is the best desktop OS I’ve ever used, and, while I really like iOS, I wouldn’t want to use iOS on my desktop computer.

Apple has shown Microsoft the path forward. Make the best desktop OS with windows you can. Make the best mobile OS without windows you can.

It’s that simple.

A look back at The Facebook in 2004

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It’s always interesting to see what people thought of technology when it first launched. Here is a New York Times take on the site back when it was still known as The Facebook:

LIKE many addictions, it begins innocently enough. A tentative experiment here, a repeat visit there. Before too long, only the strong survive.

“At the beginning of the year you had people checking every five minutes to see if they had any new friends,” said Isabel Wilkinson, a Princeton University freshman from New York City. “I like to think it’s subsided a little, but it’s still heinous in terms of procrastination or wasting time. Last night I couldn’t sleep, so I went on for a half-hour or 45 minutes.”

I joined Facebook in 2004, and it would remain exclusive and college-only for several years to come. It was incredibly addictive. The exclusivity didn’t hurt either, and it was a really different experience when it was just a bunch of college kids making friends and sharing stories.

In many ways, Facebook is even more addictive than ever. It’s a testament to the staying power of the site and the additional work that has gone into the site that people still find it addictive 10 years later. Ten years is a long time in Web years.

Yes, Facebook users are aging, but the site is growing up with us. Where we used to share drunken stories and try to check out people of the opposite sex, we now connect with family all over the country and stay in touch with our college friends.

It’s hard to describe what Facebook was like when it first started if you weren’t there, but it took off like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life. Most people don’t get Twitter at first. Everyone got Facebook the moment they saw it.

Within days of it coming to Lehigh, almost all of my friends were on it. Everyone just had to have it. It made my last two years of college a lot more memorable.

When Facebook first launched, it was a lot wilder. It was just college kids, and there was no way for outsiders to see what we were doing. You could also see what classes people were in and even where they were checking into Facebook from.

If you met someone at a party at night, you just had to check them out on Facebook when you got back to your dorm and friend them. When I look back at the messages we exchanged back in the early years, they really crack me up. Now everyone is scared of employers seeing what they do on Facebook, but before those issues cropped up, it was kind of like hanging out in a pub.

The magic of Facebook now is that it allows adults to stay in touch with each other when they move around the country. I get why that appeals less to teens, but Facebook was built for Zuckerberg and his friends when they were in college and now they are all grown up.

There is demand, however, for a new Facebook — an exclusive social network just for college kids. I don’t know if that will ever happen again, but it was a blast. I’m sorry kids today won’t get that experience, and that privacy is one reason many might be flocking to Snapchat.

The Facebook of today is not a great tool for irresponsible high school and college kids. On the other hand, when they graduate from college and really start their lives, they’ll really like what Facebook has become. It’s an indispensable tool in my life.

I only see my nieces and nephews a few times a year, but thanks to Facebook, I get to see lots of photos and videos. I can quickly say high to one of my high school or college friends and see what they are up to. It helps make the distance seem smaller.

Why I am so happy that I chose Flickr over Instagram for my photo of the day project

day 52.

Day 52. Hailey hanging out with her grandmother in the morning. I snapped this while drinking my morning cup of coffee. This was shot wide open on my Canon EOS M and 22mm lens combo. It was shot at f/2.0, a shutterspeed of 1/100 and 1600 ISO.

This post originated on my blog, The Journalism Iconoclast.

If you want to learn to be a better photographer, skip Instagram and head over to Flickr.

Forget the filters. Skip the smartphone.

If you want to become a better photographer, even when you use filters and smartphones, dedicate a week, a month or even a year to carrying around a dedicated camera everyday and capture everything interesting that you see. And promise yourself that you’ll never use filters as a crutch.

(Here are all of my photo of the day photos and here is my feed with them plus b-sides.)

A filter can give a photo a mood or a certain feeling (many, if not most, movies are color graded to give a movie a particular mood, but it’s much more subtle than your typical Instagram filter). When filters, however, are used as crutches to make poorly shot and conceived photos look more interesting, they do nothing to make you a better photographer.

I am about a fifth of the way through my photo of the day project. I have carried a dedicated camera with me almost everywhere. I am a much better photographer today than I was a few months ago. And I am someone who has taken photos professionally in a vaerity of situations (but not as a main job). There is a big difference, however, between covering a specific event and attempting to capture a photo worth sharing for 365 straight days.

A b-side photo that didn't quite make the photo of the day cut.

A b-side photo that didn’t quite make the photo of the day cut. I shot this with the Nikon D40 and the 35mm prime lens. It was shot at f2.8, a shutter speed of 1/320 and 200 ISO.

When I began to think about this project and the amount of time and energy I would spend on it, I wanted to focus on creating and sharing photos that would be worthy of printing and hanging on my apartment walls (I’m creating a collage with all 365 photos in order). I also wanted to create photos worth sharing on their photographic merits to strangers.  Some of my photos of the day may not have ultimately met this bar, and I have a few regrets, but by and large I’m sharing much better photos on Flickr than I was on Instagram.

I think there is a real possibility that many people will one day regret filtering all of their photos. A lot of Instagram filters intentionally make photos looked dated and aged. Are we going to look back a decade or two from now and wonder why everyone intentionally made their photos look old and aged? I hope people are keeping original copies of all of these photos they are sharing on Instagram.

One of the primary goals of a photo of the day project is to make one a better photographer. If that is your goal, you owe it to yourself to focus on online communities (DP Review is a great place to be too) that can help improve your photography. I also share my photos to Facebook, where I get the most feedback, but the compression and resizing that Facebook applies to photos makes it less than ideal as the only place for this project.

What makes Flickr so much better than Instagram for learning photography? It’s a site dedicated to the art and practice of photography and is filled with people who are good at photography that you can learn from. Following people and looking at their photos is a great way to learn to become a better photographer and to get impression for different kinds of shot to attempt. I have started following a bunch of new people on Flickr for inspiration, and one of the best features of Flickr is the ability to see a photo’s EXIF data (data embedded in every digital photo about how it was shot).

If you see a photo you like on Flickr, take a peak at the EXIF data and see which camera and lens it was shot with. Also look at the aperture and shutter speed. You might be wondering how someone was able to shoot a photo in such low light without a flash. A quick peak at a photos’s EXIF data might reveal that the photo was shot on a large DSLR sensor at an aperture of 1.8 (which lets a ton of light in for low-light shots).

Part of what makes a photo of the day project a strong learning tool is that if you force yourself to publish a photo each day, you’ll regret every bad photo you publish. And the only way I get a bad photo is if I don’t try to get a good one. Some days I’m tired and lazy or maybe just traveling a lot in the car, and those are usually the not-so-good photos of the day.

To make a photo pop on Flickr and get people to view it and share it, you need to focus on lighting, composition, depth of field and all those things that make  for good photography (and even simple things like a clean lens, which is an even bigger issue with smartphone photography).

I upgraded from the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 5 for the better camera, thinking it would be good to have for this project. But early on I realized that if I wanted to improve all of my photography, I needed to concentrate on taking purposeful photos. The iPhone 5 and similar smartphones are good at capturing quick photos, and any camera is better than no camera. It is impossible to take a good photo of something that you don’t even take a photo of. But there is so little manual control on smartphones that you really limit the kinds of photos you can take.

Photos with shallow depth of field are difficult to do on mobile. Photos in low light are difficult to do on mobile. Photos where you intentionally want some motion blur are hard to do on mobile.

This project is making me a better mobile photographer, but it is also making me a better photographer with any camera. Your composition, lighting and shot selection (what to shoot and which ones to keep) will improve over the course of a photo of the day project.

There are other considerations to keep in mind with Flickr. It doesn’t compress your photos, and you can store full resolution versions on the site. Flickr is essentially a free photo backup solution that has social features and a community around it. Instagram shrinks and compresses photos. The same goes for Facebook, Twitter and many other social networks.

Because Flickr doesn’t compress photos and most users don’t use filters, a photo has to stand out as its naked truth on Flickr. My Flickr news feed is a sea of memorable photos from photographers all over the world. To stand out in that crowd, I need to have photos that are memorable too. Many of the photographers on Flickr are simply better than me and use more expensive equipment, but trying to capture photos that stand up against their work makes me work harder.

I've spent a lot of time trying to get better at low-light photography to more accurately capture moods. A flash in low light almost always kills the mood. This was shot with the Canon EOS M with the 22mm lens at f/2.0, a shutterspeed of 1/50 and 1600 ISO.

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get better at low-light photography to more accurately capture moods. A flash in low light almost always kills the mood. This was shot with the Canon EOS M with the 22mm lens at f/2.0, a shutter speed of 1/50 and 1600 ISO.

This isn’t to denigrate Instagram, which has successfully brought photography to lots of new users. It has made mobile photography more popular and interesting, and I cannot deny that mobile photography will be the dominant form of photography moving forward.

But when I looked at the overly compressed photos with more care put into filter selection than composition, I began to be turned off by Instagram. A good photo is about capturing a moment, an experience, a feeling. Too many of the photos I see shared by my friends on Instagram (and then reshared on Facebook and Twitter) are about the filters and trying to make a photo into something it isn’t.

Some of the filters absolutely baffle me, seemingly serving no other purpose than to make a photo look bad. There even has been a backlash against filters on Instagram, with the #nofilter hashtag becoming popular. Part of that movement is that people are saying look at this photo on its merit and not on how it interacted with a filter.

I was an early Instagram user and was guilty of many of these transgressions. Over time I began to use less and less filters. When Instagram first came out, Flickr was dying. It wasn’t worth most people’s times.

But the Flickr of mid-2013 is worth your time. It too has a great mobile app. The new design for Flickr looks great, presents photos beautifully and creates memorable photostreams of users to get lost in. The ability to store 1 terabyte of uncompressed, full resolution images is incredibly valuable.

If you’re looking for a community of people sharing mobile photos, Instagram is a great place to be. If you want to embark on a journey to learn to be a stronger photographer, I highly suggest Flickr and a dedicated camera instead.

You can find all of my photos on Flickr, including the ones that didn’t make it into this project.

 

Thoughts on nytimes.com redesign

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The new nytimes.com website is not the kind of design I would give a news website, but it is a big step forward for the news organization.

I’ve waited a few weeks to do a critique of the new nytimes.com design because I wanted to give it some time to sink in and really spend several hours with it. Additional time spent with the new design has made my opinion of the site more favorable. The site is universally better than the one it replaces and is better than most websites from traditional news orgs. 

I’ve come to appreciate some of the design choices more with time, although there are still some things that should be changed. It’s a cleaner, smarter website, but it at times tries to mimic print too much and still doesn’t embrace good design enough.

Below are some of my thoughts on what I like about the new design and some things that I think could be tightened up. I didn’t do a usability study with live users like I’ve done with other news sites, nor did I run tests to check for accessibility (this may come in the future). Below are my impressions based on my expertise, but additional studies and testing would be advisable before making big changes.

What I like

  • Small headers — There is no reason to push your content half way down the page with a huge header and navigation system. I particularly like how article pages get a smaller logo than the homepage. This let’s users get into actual nytimes.com quicker and makes pages feel more about content and less about a corporate brand. One issue with a huge header and navigation system is that it can raise your bounce rate because it takes users longer to figure out what is going on.  Remember, the vast majority of visitors to news websites come in via search engines and social media referrals. These users more likely have less of an idea of what they are about to get into then someone who has navigated to an article from a homepage of a news website. Even a few moments of confusion is enough to cause a user to X out of your webpage.
  • No more side navigation — The main navigation system has been moved to the top of the site from the left-hand side. This allows for the homepage, article pages and section pages to be more dynamic and allows for many more article page template optins. It gives more pixels to what really matters on a website. It also puts the navigation in the same place on desktop, tablet and mobile, which a side navigation cannot do (navigation really needs to be at the top on mobile to be usable for users). The only reason to have a left-hand navigation is if you’re doing a dynamic news river with real stories with compelling headlines. Having a side navigation with links such as news, sports, opinion, etc. is a waste of space and should be immediately redone.
  • Cleaner article pages — For all that is going on on nytimes.com article pages, they are surprisingly clean. There is text, images, video, graphics, related links, additional stories to read, comments, etc. Despite this, the site feels clean and airy. This is good. The New York Times was smart with how it paced different design features on article pages. Some websites try to cram everything below on article page or in a right-hand column. The new nytimes.com starts at the very top and works its way down to the bottom. The much smaller header and navigation on article pages also really helps here too. The pacing of website features and story content feels very natural.
  • More entry points to additional content — Getting a reader onto an article page is not enough; most users will leave your website after reading an article if they aren’t presented with interesting articles to read next. You need to present users with additional stories to read and photos and videos to view. The new nytimes.com does a fantastic job of presenting lots of different entry points for users, while not making article pages feel cluttered and cheap. The top of every article has editor’s picks stories. The bottom has top news, additional stories from the section you’re reading and the most emailed stories.  Sections such as news, sports, health, business and opinion are not entry points. Actual stories with compelling headlines are. The nytimes.com redesign does a good job of presenting lots of additional options without bedazzling the page in cruft that detracts from the user experience. It’s a fine line to walk, but the nytimes.com redesign does it as well as anyone.

What needs improvement

  • Why aren’t photos and graphics bigger? — In general, I don’t get why news orgs insist on putting small photos and graphics into article pages. There is no real use case for this, and this seems like a print anachronism that page designers insist on bringing over to the Web. Big photos and graphics look better and are easier to understand. The worst is when an image is placed into a story at a small size and can’t be enlarged and because of that you have no idea what’s going on. There is no use case for that. There will never be a use case for a news organization showing photos and graphics that are indecipherable. The nytimes.com redesign usually lets you make photos and graphics bigger but not always. I don’t know why the behavior isn’t consistent, but it should be. This is particularly and issue for charts that have small type and keys on them.
  • Text needs to be bigger —  News orgs have a big issue with small text. I have to assume that designers think it looks better, but it’s hard to read, and if you make something hard to read, people often won’t read it. Reading is a fundamental thing that users do on news websites. Text should be big, feature a high quality font (particularly for HiDPI displays) and have a good contrast. The new nytimes.com has bigger text, but it could still be 25-50 percent bigger. There are two reasons for this: A) bigger text is easier on older and tired eyes and B) bigger text is more enjoable for everyone to read, making it more likely that people stay on your text-heavy site longer. People used to claim that people don’t like to read as much on the Web, and because of this, writing on the Web should be shorter. This is false. The issue is that Web text is often small, poor contrast, with low-quality fonts. Of course people don’t enjoy reading that. Part of this had to do with display technology and we had to make certain affordances for poor, low resolution display technology, but HiDPI displays (what Apple calls Retina) are taking over the market. They make text look as good as printed text. A good display will certainly encourage users to read more, but Web designers still have to do their part with high quality typography. Last year I wrote how Retina/HiDPI displays will reduce eyestrain and should lead to more reading. It lays out why this new display technology, which most mobile devices have and increasingly laptops have, is making Web reading easier (my phone, tablet and laptop all feature a HiDPI display, and I love reading on them). This is also allowing for higher quality, print-caliber fonts, which also make reading more enjoyable. Medium does the best job I’ve seen of using typography for Web writing. It’s just an enjoyable reading experience for years. That’s what all news orgs should want. Traditional news orgs are some of the best producers of the written word in the world. They need to start making the written word more enjoyable to consume on the Web.
  • Not enough nods to what users like — One of my favorite new navigation features is trending topics, where underneath the main navigation is a set of topics that are getting the most traffic on the website. I’m not surprised The New York Times wouldn’t hand over navigational control to the crowd, but it’s still a missed opportunity. Users like to know what other users find compelling. Topics, as opposed to stories, are a good way to let people delve into bigger issues too (there isn’t just one New Jersey bridge scandal story, for instance).
  • The homepage is bland and forgettable — It is true that design time should be spent on article pages and not on homepages and section fronts, as the majority of traffic comes to individual article pages, but the cluttered and boring homepage design for the new nytimes.com is still disappointing. It still features small photos. It still features small headlines. It still has trouble driving a users eye to a main story or any story for that matter. The New York Times can get away with this for tradition’s sake, but almost every other news organization can’t. It’s not just that it looks too print-like, it’s also that it doesn’t even function well. Frankly, everything kind of just blends together on the NYT homepage, making it hard to pick out anything to read. I rarely find myself going to the nytimes.com homepage anymore, partly because it’s such a frustrating user interface for discovery. Instead, I find almost every nytimes.com story from social referrals.
  • Having trouble viewing mobile website — On my laptop, I can view mobile.nytimes.com and see the new homepage on mobile. On my phone it takes me to the desktop homepage. This is a bug that should be easy enough to fix, but it does need to be fixed. The desktop homepage is virtually unusable on mobile.