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You, The iPhone App

Iphoneapps Life seemed much simpler in the pre-Twitter days. You found a blogger you liked and you grabbed their RSS feed.  These days, if I want to follow someone I still do that but I also need to keep an eye on their tweets, their Facebook updates as well as a host of other specialty networks they might be part of.  To tell you the truth, the more social networking evolves the more distant I feel from the people I (try to) follow.

That's why I look forward to the day when we'll be able to say, stealing Apple's catchphrase, "yeah, there's an app for that."

I read a great quote by Albert Einstein recently that applies here:

The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.

The source for this idea was an ad I saw in the latest issue of Wired.  The ad is for an iPhone app I was previously unaware of...then again, thanks to the ongoing discoverability issue with the App Store, this isn't exactly surprising.  The ad's headline is "Our Killer App" and it promotes the All Things Digital app, featuring Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher.  I immediately downloaded the free app and I love it.  I've always enjoyed reading Mossberg and now I have a single place where I can quickly and easily keep up with him; no more hunting through countless feeds.

So what does this have to do with publishing?  If you're an author looking to build your platform I'd argue you should consider creating an iPhone app that's all about you, your work, your observations, etc.  Why not give your readers a single tool they can use to keep up with everything you have to say, show and report?

Publishers should have their own iPhone apps as well.  We've released several books as iPhone apps at O'Reilly but we haven't created a single "O'Reilly iPhone App."  I think we should though and it ought to contain a number of different elements including new release summaries, excerpts, articles, industry information and more.  The base app could be free but there could be a paid subscription option as well that offers much more premium content.

What would a typical author's iPhone app look like?  It too could have multiple levels with the free version including the type of information currently shared via blogs, Twitter, etc.  The paid version might have more content and a chance for readers to speak directly to you from time to time, for example.  I'd pay for one of these from Thomas Friedman or Nassim Nicholas Taleb, for example.  These are just a couple of authors I frequently read but they probably get swamped with reader emails.  Imagine a premium iPhone app by either one that gives you direct access to them, sort of like when they speak at a smaller corporate function.  How cool is that?  Every author can't command this sort of model but the big ones certainly could and the next tier could do the same but at a lower price point.

You know how all those industry pundits say that the publishing industry needs to learn from the music business and figure out how to monetize something other than the book (like they're doing with concerts, t-shirts, etc.)?  Maybe this app model is a step in that direction.

Let's not stop with authors and publishers though.  How about conferences?  Shouldn't there be an iPhone app for every conference and trade show?  I recently attended OSCON and I could see where an iPhone app for that show would help "keep the fire burning", as my O'Reilly colleague Allen Noren likes to say.  The same goes for pretty much every other conference out there.  Why limit the event to a once-a-year activity when an iPhone app could make it year-round and encourage even more participation (as well as drive more revenue)?

The iPhone app dev world is still in a gold rush mentality.  It's a seller's market as good developers are hard to find and even harder to negotiate with.  The apps I'm describing don't all have to be different though.  They could use the same common framework, levels of functionality and be easily skinned to meet individual branding and look-and-feel requirements.  It seems like a terrific opportunity for a smart iPhone app developer to step in and corner the market with something that's both powerful and flexible.

I can think of several individual, corporate and conference-based iPhone apps I'd immediately download, several of which I'd be willing to pay an annual subscription for.  How about you?

P.S. -- I recently read that Bill Simmons, aka "The Sports Guy", is retiring from his ESPN The Mag column.  I'd buy an iPhone app featuring Simmons.  The same goes for Steve Rushin.


Josh Clark

Interesting! If you've got a handful of premium authors/people you want to follow, then this kind of single-purpose app could indeed be a great way to keep up with them. If you have a bevy of gurus you want to keep up with, though, it would be more useful to have an app that could follow all at once -- a kind of souped up FriendFeed for iPhone.

You make a great point, too, about how apps like "All Things D" could be skinned and used as a platform by many authors/publications. It seems that NewsGator, the gang behind NetNewsWire, is thinking along the same lines. Developer Brent Simmons recently wrote of his forthcoming NetNewsWire 2.0 iPhone app:

Along the way we discovered it was generalizable and that there’s a business doing private-label apps based on the same foundation that will power NetNewsWire 2.0. The highest-profile example is All Things Digital — if you use it, you are in a way using an early version of NetNewsWire 2.0.

You're onto something!


Omigod. I would KILL for a Bill Simmons and a Steve Rushin app. When both of them were gone from Sports Illustrated, I gave it up.

Bill Seitz

It seems to me like it would make more sense to have a multi-source RSS stream.

FriendFeed is definitely the existing solution that comes to mind.

But some other service that lets you pick a bunch of existing RSS feeds (that you *create*, not read), and make a union-of-stream single feed for people to subscribe to, makes a lot of sense. Maybe FeedBurner should do it.

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