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Superverticals 12 years ago

Technologies that provide new experiences are truly amazing. People watching movies for the first time, for example, were said to be terrified by things like trains appearing to be coming straight at them on the screen. That's incredible. The best example I can think of in my life was the first time I used the Internet. I literally could not believe it. It was love at first sight.

However, many of the successful applications and services that have become huge companies in the last few years have NOT been things that create new experiences. In fact, a great many have simply been this: improvements on applications that came with standard hardware. I find this neither good nor bad, but I do find it astounding the consistency with which this is the case. I've heard these paths called Superverticals before so that's the term I'll use for them, and we can see this just by examining companies that have no become huge by improving the apps that come standard on the iPhone. Apps that have done this for me include:

Camera - Instagram. Filters + easily integrated swipe to share made it replace the iOS Camera for me instantly.

Evernote - Notes. Evernote is just a more flexible version of Notes to me (and to many others) that syncs. I use it BECAUSE it replaces Notes in a way I like, not because it adds a new experience.

Spotify - Controversial, but I don't use iTunes anymore - I use Spotify. It's just iTunes where you rent all the music in the world for me ultimately instead of having to own it.

To me, those are the obvious ones based on apps I use on my phone to replace core apps that came on iOS. However, I'd like to add a last, more controversial, group:

Text and Email - Twitter, Facebook, and Path. These are different because they do not REPLACE email and texting (in a way this is kind of amazing to me), but rather replace many use cases where I would have used texting/email and now use Twitter, Facebook, and Path. Path's CEO Dave Morin actually said at TechCrunch Disrupt recently, "Our competition isn’t what anyone else is doing in the social networking world, it’s actually SMS and email".

In my opinion he's right, but I think the same was true for Twitter and Facebook: Facebook started (again, for me) a more personal, less formal way to email and become a different kind of interaction over time. Twitter started out as a more frictionless way for me to text my thoughts when I just felt like I needed to get that thought out there to someone. Before Twitter, I would (seriously) just text a random friend who I thought may find the thought interesting. Now I "text" Twitter using my Twitter app.

I think text and email, having not been totally replaced by anything, are still wide open Superverticals. How do I think it can be done? That's for another post, but let's just say this: I'm workin on it.

What Makes a Great Trivia Question? 12 years ago

My father has been consistently giving my family, and anyone else who happens to be in the car, trivia quizzes known as "The Questions" during car rides since I was about 4 years old. My two sisters found these quizzes largely annoying and embarrassing for years, but I always loved them. As we got older, it became apparent that these quizzes weren't embarrassing: our friends fucking loved them.

They begged for them. They would actually would request to ride with my father despite the knowledge that he (a terrifying man when he wants to be) might tear apart their very existence at any moment with his words, just for the chance to answer "The Questions".

Now he sends us a series of questions daily via email, and I've started posting them at and at - and predictably my friends are delighted.

But why? Why his questions? People like trivia, but they LOVE his trivia. The answer, according to my father, is simple:

"The goal of a trivia question is to elicit exactly one reaction: 'Oh, shit, I know this... hold on.....' Whether they ultimately get the answer is immaterial: designing questions that can elicit that reaction is all that matters."

His questions get that reaction a lot. "Which US President was born the farther South," for instance, is an easy question to answer once THINK OF the answer. But before you think of the answer, it is maddening. If you don't think of the answer and then hear it (I'm embarrassed to say this is what happened to me) you will kick yourself for not knowing it, further increasing your thirst for more trivia.

This is making something people love, making something that draws people back. I've been seeing this since I was 4: I just didn't know.

Follow me @istommydrunk HN Discussion here

(It's Barack Obama. )

Click and Drag XKCD and Productivity: The Best Window Gaze Ever 12 years ago

If you haven't played around with the map view for today's XKCD, first read it

Then play with it

I'll wait, seriously. Go ahead. I've got time.

Ok good, now you've probably spent the last 20 minutes (or 20 minutes earlier today) playing around with it, and you've found it amazing. Inspiring. Beautiful. But you're worried you've wasted your time: you didn't LEARN anything and you didn't DO anything. SHIT! Better get back to work! Better get productive.

Slow down. You might have done the most productive thing you could possibly have done.

Many people, notably (for me) Timothy Lister in the book Peopleware have contended that physical windows to the outside world, and ideally with as long of a view as possible, are incredibly important for creative work (which is basically all work). The reason? Problems that don't have obvious solutions require a kind of thinking that is facilitated by having as open a mind and as large of a view as possible. Walls inhibit this kind of thinking.

My contention is that today's XKCD is the largest and most beautiful window you could possibly have. I'm in a unique position where my work is whatever I want it to be for the next few weeks. After playing around with today's XKCD, I reached out to an old friend, found out he needs a show booked in my hometown in October for his band, reached out to 5 venues and got a good lead, made contact with the company I most want to work for that was positively received, wrote this blog, and am now going to a meeting I just set up about one of my side projects I've left for too long. I became instantly productive on solving problems I wasn't even thinking about before I read the comic.

What did you do after you read it? (Seriously I want to know)

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