The environment was if anything even more dysfunctional than you would expect of a dying industry. We played out all the rituals of Scrum, with none of the spirit. We had "standups" where everybody waited until the standup was over so the de facto status meeting (the "parking lot") could begin. During the "parking lot" (status meeting), managers sat and everyone else stood. This frequently happened in the actual "standup" as well. Things got worse. At one point a developer kicked my desk with no warning and then smiled innocently at me in the creepiest way. The job ended when I lost my temper with somebody and emptied a bottle of cream soda in their face.
So when I see the hate that newspapers get from certain corners of the Web, I understand. When I hear that newspapers are dying, I'm less upset than some people. But now matter how awful my personal experience was, I'm not dancing on the grave of the newspaper industry either. I think there are a lot of people on the Web right now throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
And the baby is kind of beautiful.
The typography and layout of a newspaper add a complex, structured hierarchy to the information in the text and photographs.
Let's geek out on this sucker and turn it into an outline.
- Tony Blair faces defeat
- Labour rebels shred his plans, challenge his future
- More detail
- A sidebar highlighting his terrorism plan's failure
- Child prodigy
- Sketch: Hubbub then humiliation
- Shit that matters less
Compare that to Hacker News.
- Geolocation DB
- TC Tablet
- Neural networks
- Sorting algorithms
- TC Tablet
I personally never read the newspaper, but I read Hacker News every day (and frequently complain about it). Actually not every day. I have a love-hate thing with Hacker News. When I'm not reading it every day, I have it mapped in my
127.0.0.1to prevent myself from seeing it at all. But that's not the point. The point is: compare the outlines. If you are a geek, you are probably consuming information in a less sophisticated structure then your non-geek peers.
For all the bells and whistles in this UI, there's nothing to connote the information's structure, other than a plain, unadorned vertical list.
April's miniapp fixes that problem, or at least a subset which was for me particularly aggravating.
It uses a resizing-friendly CSS grid setup called Typogridphy. The grid leverages the hundreds of years of honed and refined typographical knowledge that most news sites on the Web ignore - even newspaper sites - and since the CSS is done well, you can zoom the page out to tiny font sizes.
Even at tiny font sizes, the top three or four headlines on Hacker News are actually still more readable on Hacker Newspaper.
It's faster, too. It's much faster. Hacker Newspaper runs on a cron job. Every hour, it uses a Python script to download the RSS feed from Hacker News, plus every page that the feed links to. It then uses a Ruby script to parse the feed, pass it through a template, and produce flat HTML.
It serves the HTML statically, which makes it much faster than Hacker News, which runs dynamically in real time on Arc. It is a faster, compiled alternative. Y Combinator has millions; I'm running Hacker Newspaper off a $20 Slicehost account. But switch to Hacker Newspaper for one day and you'll never go back, because Hacker News is a slow-ass beast.
Hacker Newspaper is a superior user interface for Hacker News. It's more performant, more readable, it doesn't turn visited links damn near invisible for some insane reason, and it makes it much easier to skim the headlines and avoid getting into useless, time-wasting blather. As is usually the case with my monthly miniapp side projects, I created it to scratch my own itch, but you are more than welcome to use it too. You'll enjoy it best if you have the classic Bodoni SvtyTwo ITC TT on your machine, but it degrades gracefully as well.
This might fall on deaf ears, but if there's anything Web geeks could use more of, it's typography. Imagine how much nicer it would be to read log files if your log file reader automatically reformatted your log files to emphasize the information you were searching for, not in a garish, clumsy way but in an elegant, readable way. Imagine how much nicer Google searches would be if they exploited the sophisticated structure of newspaper-style layouts. A lot of what people on the Web are doing with typography reinvents a smooth, polished, and very round wheel. Since it's existing knowledge which loads of people have failed to notice, you can get a technological edge on your competition using technology invented in the 1800s. We might be done with the printing press for day-to-day news, but disregarding the craft of typography is a ridiculous mistake.
Update: Hacker Newspaper's on GitHub.
Update: Any links to TechCrunch articles on Hacker News automatically get turned into null links on Hacker Newspaper.
Update: Hacker Newspaper now just skips any links to Coding Horror or TechCrunch. It doesn't set them as null links any more, it just skips the stories entirely and treats them as if they weren't even there. The same is true for skorks.com. In general, you should consider Hacker Newspaper a biased and curated version of Hacker News. For instance, when the iPad was released, I briefly banned any stories with "iPad" in the title. There were simply too many.
Update: Hacker Newspaper looks pretty great on an iPad, btw.