June 26, 2015 Last Updated 7:36 am

Google’s mysterious update for InBox; Medium’s mysterious mission statement

Random updates, redesigns and shifts in strategy often has app users confused and frustrated with developers and publishers who too often remind us that they own their products, not us

The Gmail app for iOS was updated today by Google. Called Inbox by Gmail, the app description for the update simply repeats the same copy that was submitted for the previous update released last month, so who knows what the update is about.

Inbox-iPhoneBut reading through the mostly positive user reviews for the app, I was struck by one users comment about the app. They complained that a previous update renamed a folder they were using, previously known as Travel, and also reorganized the emails inside it.

This seems to me the biggest danger with using many apps being released by the big platforms: each year a new design and format is introduced making it difficult for many users to adjust. Those of us involved in digital publishing and technology often fail to remember that most readers, most users are not as familiar with the way developers think, the way digital publications are constructed and readers are supposed to navigate.

The thought is that that readers and app uses will adjust and get used to the new versions. But many getting frustrated that each year they seem to have to start all over again. I know a number of people who are iPhone users who wait almost a full year before updating the operating system of their smartphones out of fear of what they will encounter when they do. This behavior is reinforced each year to the point where they are becoming less likely to upgrade each year, not more likely. Like an abused person, they are tired of the constant updating, the constant need to readjust.

After three and a half years of the Newsstand, many readers still forget that when they download a digital magazine or newspaper the icon will end up in the Newsstand folder. Soon it won’t anymore, and another adjustment will have to be made. Publishers should keep this in mind come September.

A brief update to this story on Muster Magazine. Sergio Ortiz of the magazine reached out today to thank TNM for the write up and to let me know that their new app, while now live in the Apple Newsstand, is still a work in progress, with the issue inside not completely finished.

I will admit that I’ve never really understood the attraction of Medium. The new platform created by Ev Williams, the co-founder of Blogger, seemed to me to be a pared down, featureless version of a blogging platform, one designed for journalists too lazy to consider art direction important.

Medium-logoOf course, many writers and media companies immediately gravitated to it. Two and a half years later I’m still waiting for Medium to feel like an important platform for me.

Then last month Williams wrote a post on Medium that flatly proclaimed that Medium is not a publishing tool. Nate Hoffelder from Inks, Bits & Pixels links to a post from Baldur Bjarnason that riffs on the original Williams post.

Rereading Williams’s post from May, I find I still have no clue what Medium wants to be, and what Williams is talking about. He tries to explain why he created what is clearly a publishing platform and then goes on to say that it is not.

“That’s why I say Medium is not a publishing tool,” Williams writes. “It’s a network. A network of ideas that build off each other. And people. And GIFs (yeah, we have those, too — not our specialty, though, to be clear).”

I’d like to imagine him saying this in some meadow, late in the afternoon, to some poor venture capital guy – and watching the guy scratch his head, and nod as if he understands what the hell Williams in saying.

Speaking of random, unexplained changes… have you noticed the dialog box that pops up now in Photoshop when you close a file? What is with that, and what was Adobe thinking about? How do you stop it from popping up?

The more I use subscription software the more I see that the companies want to bash us over the head with reminders that we no longer own our software, we rent it. I am reminded that we will never again feel as comfortable using their software and we once did when we owned it, that they will believe they free to change anything they want, when they want it, and we will just have to live with it.

I think this is also true of those devices we buy where the company delivers advertising as part of the deal – such as Amazon tablets. No matter how long ago it was that we bought the tablet or eReader they will always feel it is their right to shove some ad message down our throats. We don’t really own the tablet, we just leased it, and our last lease payment will never be paid so we’ll never be free of the advertising.

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