Muting

One of the most poisonous elements of modern technology is the ability to mute both content and people. 

On the surface, it sounds perfectly acceptable. You grow tired of a certain topic or the exhaustive sharing habits of certain friends, and, without going all the way to remove them from your day-to-day experience, you simply quiet the portions of noise that bother you the most.

In a world of highly-curated opinions, deeply polarizing and heavily-politicized views, and rampant tribalism in the consumer sphere, however, the ability to simply remove certain opinions that are not adherent with your own is irrefutably dangerous. 

You ought to know — and embrace — opinions divergent from your own. Moreover, if you respect someone, you ought to listen to all that they have to say, rather than selectively censoring them.

On a more trivial level, muting discussions during a conference or live event is marginally palatable. But, in my eyes, it's still troublesome. Is it really so difficult to contend with a flowing river of collective discussion over a mass-consumption event? Surely not. 

Knowledge is frequently defined as a justified true belief. The justification portion is one of the most important, as it requires you to have circumstantial awareness of opinions both supportive and conflicting.

Without apt justification, we can easily fool ourselves into a false sense of knowledgeability on a vast spectrum of topics. In the technology world, for instance, we can pay attention selectively to analysts, writers, or publications — all of which skew toward one brand or another — in order to seemingly justify our particular allegiances and habits.

The danger is, obviously, minimal. Nevertheless, it does pose significant damage to intelligent and measured discourse.  Without circumstantial awareness, it's far too easy to succumb to extremist opinions and flagrant unintelligence regarding certain — frequently important — topics.

For all of this I mean to simply argue that when you're next confronted with an opinion you disagree with on Twitter, a website, or another such outlet, do not simply tune it out. Equally, do not reflexively attempt to counter. Instead, simply absorb and consider. Keep it in mind. 

Obviously if someone's expressing outrageously offensive opinions, this does not apply. But, in the realms of business, politics, and artistry, I cannot stress enough how important and conducive such tolerant and rational behavior can be. 

Removing people and opinions from our daily experience for the sole purpose of alleviating our own anxieties and insecurities of our own opinions — or, worse, for the sake of expressing superiority over someone else — is destructive. And, in a world of highly-curated content, it can result in us missing important information and circumstantial awareness, thereby fostering disjointed beliefs and ever-worsening extremes in opinion.

Muting ought to be used extremely sparingly, rather than as a means to support your comfort.  If you don't like what's being said, I daresay there's plenty more constructive means for you to contend with such rhetoric. And if you don't appreciate an event that's happening, just avoid Twitter (or similar) for an hour.

We have more power than ever in terms of shaping the way we comprehend our world — business, media, politics, or otherwise — and, although it might take more work, I'd say opening yourself up to opinions outside of your own is of the utmost importance.

Instapaper Acquired by Betaworks

Marco Arment:

I’m happy to announce that I’ve sold a majority stake in Instapaper to Betaworks. We’ve structured the deal with Instapaper’s health and longevity as the top priority, with incentives to keep it going well into the future. I will continue advising the project indefinitely, while Betaworks will take over its operations, expand its staff, and develop it further.

Coupling the pace of Instapaper's venture-funded competition with the success of The Magazine, the acquisition makes perfect sense.

Marco's repeatedly articulated his resentment toward competitors like Pocket, particularly focusing upon their lack of monetization and reliance upon venture funding. Of course, although he has moral objections to these aspects of Pocket's business model, that's not to say they haven't built a compelling product. Moreover, it's one that lacks the typical friction of a business relying solely upon traditional revenues.

Accordingly, it's clear that an increasingly uphill battle against a company unburdened by revenue requirements would likely be unattractive to Marco. Pocket is doing a lot of things right and — given his time constraints — Marco simply wouldn't have the time or means to continue fighting on such terms.

Beyond Pocket and Instapaper, however, Marco's focus has been divided. Boasting Pulitzer prize-winning authors and a huge amount of support from the community, The Magazine has grown far beyond its initial offering as a small-time bi-weekly publication. And Marco's genuine enthusiasm and recognition of this fact has certainly not gone undocumented.

For Betaworks, as they turn toward Digg Originals and their own RSS reader, Instapaper abides by their future vision almost too perfectly. They've shown a dedication to clean, curated, and positive content and, with today's acquisition, they'll have further weapons in their arsenal to fight in that industry.

So, in all, the move makes plenty of sense.

I will say, however, that it's surreal to watch Instapaper — a product entrenched in a thoroughly anti-contemporary business mentality — find its way into a venture-backed company with no pre-existing means for revenue. Although Marco argues that Betaworks is a perfect fit — and I don't disagree — I am left to wonder whether the competitive aspect of the equation was outweighing the positive allure of The Magazine.

As a further note, it's odd to witness the outpouring of enthusiasm and excitement for this acquisition from a community well-known for its apprehension toward such deals. Obviously this deal doesn't have all the hallmarks of a Silicon Valley acquisition (or acqui-hire), but it is irrevocably an acquisition by a large firm with no focus upon revenue. That's not to say that Instapaper won't live on successfully, but there's an unmistakable double-standard on display today that's worth keeping in mind for the future.

Nevertheless, speculation aside, it's a very positive and forward-thinking deal for Marco. I applaud him wholeheartedly for making it. I know it mustn't be easy to let go of one's baby in such a manner, but it seems it's for the betterment of the product. Moreover, with Glenn Fleishman running The Magazine's editorial side, I'm hopeful that this might free Marco up — with, presumably, some cash infusion — to experiment with some new concepts.

As a final — less journalistic — aside, it's important to recognize the impact and genuine value of Instapaper. When it was first introduced, it utterly redefined the way we thought about consuming digital content and, in my eyes, aided in the resurgence of long-form content online.

And for that we ought to all feel very grateful.

Bloomberg: Amazon Set-Top Box Coming Fall 2013

Brad Stone, Bloomberg Businessweek:

Amazon (AMZN) is making e-readers, tablets and will likely soon introduce a smartphone. As it works to build all types of connected devices, that leaves a natural next step: a television set-top box. The e-commerce giant is planning to introduce a device this fall dedicated to streaming video over the Internet and into its customers’ living rooms, according to three people familiar with the project who aren’t authorized to discuss it.
They say the box will plug into TVs and give users access to Amazon’s expanding video offerings. Those include its a la carte Video on Demand store, which features newer films and TV shows, and its Instant Video service, which is free for subscribers to the Amazon Prime two-day shipping package. The Amazon set-top box will compete with similar products like the Roku, Apple TV and the Boxee Cloud DVR, along with more versatile devices like the Playstation 3 and the Xbox. An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment.

Given Netflix's high-flying performance and positive press this week, the timing of this rumor's arrival is certainly not unintentional.

First things first, Amazon's on-demand video service is a fringe offering at best. It's integrated selectively with television and mobile devices, available most beneficially only to Prime members, and lacks some of its competitors' ambitious content partnerships. Simply put, Amazon's offering simply does not strike me as holding critical value or awareness.

Obviously, though, Amazon's invested in providing a window onto its storefront in whatever capacity possible. Furthermore, in the case of Amazon, they're not simply providing streaming, but also video purchasing. So, in an environment primarily characterized by devices like the Apple TV, Roku, and Xbox 360, I can certainly understand the lure of a hardware device wherein it can control end-to-end purchasing and the like.

Also, unlike Netflix, Amazon is selling an ecosystem. Thus, it is naturally precluded from the Apple TV and its interactions are difficult on a great many mobile devices. Accordingly, producing a proprietary product makes some sense.

Still, regardless of the inherent logic and rationale, I'm skeptical concerning the long-term viability and value of an Amazon-branded set-top box. Although Amazon is largely uninterested in margins and would, therefore, likely be fine with mediocre sales of its product, I cannot avoid the thought that such a device would be arriving at an extraordinarily transparent "me too!" moment.

Amazon's original programming is reportedly "terrible" and its media library is poorly differentiated from those of Apple, Microsoft, or virtually anyone else. On top of that, Roku — and others — already provide a robust window onto the Amazon ecosystem.

In releasing their own box, it'd be framed as a move against Apple, but I think the greatest victim would be Roku. Traditionally, Amazon has heavily promoted Roku — a smaller, more agile firm. Accordingly, Roku has become the de facto device for those wishing to interact with Amazon services. In this move, Amazon would sacrifice such a partnership, whilst ostensibly starting from scratch in the world of devices and media clout.

Of course, this would presumably allow Amazon to sell more media without any notable detractions. But is the business reasoning — "We might as well?" — sound? I'm skeptical.

So, as I say, perhaps the move makes sense in terms of gaining direct branding in the living room, but I fail to recognize the true differentiating potential and allure of such a device over its competition. Of course this is little more than unsubstantiated rumor at this stage. So, it'll be interesting to see what Amazon might provide should this product make it to market.

(Beyond "terrible" shows, that is.)