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PenFM: Returning as an Engineer (pen.fm)
47 points by neoveller 1850 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 35 comments

Why do you squeeze your content into a tiny fraction of my preferred reading size (the browser window)?

Instant close-tab.

A wall of text is often more a reason to instant close-tab, especially with our short to long form target content lengths.

Where do all you dickheads come from?

Try to give a little constructive feedback instead.

I believe that was constructive. I told him that his layout decision severely narrows his target audience.

THAT was constructive.

Giving constructive feedback like "give a little constructive feedback instead" usually goes better when you don't refer to the individual you're directing it to as a "dickhead".

I'm sure they're thanking you for that feedback. Do you mind reopening that tab and giving it another shot? I'm sure they didn't purposely try to piss you off. It's a new product.

It really is good feedback.

I didn't come to HN expecting sunshine and rainbows as a response--but it was nice to see. I'm not going to be shy about taking harsh feedback constructively. It seems people want an option for a reading/layout mode. Not hard to do.

By the way, for me, the reason that I really prefer a single-page version of any wall of text article is that I can select all and make the TTS read it aloud while I do something else. Although you did explain how to get the single-page version (set User Agent to iPhone within Developer Tools), a single link would be a bit simpler.

Sorry, I should clarify: I really wasn't being sarcastic.

His advice was valid, but his delivery could have been better. I guess it depends on whether he actually instantly closed his tab, or wanted to tell them he would have done that if he weren't trying to be so helpful right now.

The instant close-tab comment seemed like an exaggerated hypothetical response to a probably minor concern (assuming you're more than casually checking out the product) instead of a legitimate reaction. Because of that it came off as more mean than legitimately helpful, and meanness isn't the same as harshness.

What I got out of this:

1) This guy is a product/marketing wizard and wins hackathons on the regular. Recruit him for that rather than just for his JS skills.

2) His dad is a programmer, this to me greatly shades his "taught myself to program respectably in six months" story. Still cool, but I am unsurprised to find a supportive programmer in his life.

3) There is no three.

What I got out of it was a demo of parts of his pen.fm interface (while there are some rough edges, frankly most e-reader apps I've seen are substantially worse than this...), in the form of a cute little story that illustrates how different the reality of starting a company can be from how budding entrepeneurs often picture it.

(I went at it from the opposite direction of this guy when I started my first company: I could program, but had no clue about sales, marketing, finance or any number of other things, but eventually found myself doing phone sales, sales meetings, ordering print ads and negotiating with suppliers)

For the site in question it seems like re-introducing it by immersing us in what it is about - writing stories - is a much more interesting approach than throwing up some glossy brochure-ware site.

#2 is very fair, but I'll also note that growing up as a kid with two parents who had masters degrees in mathematics (from Warsaw Polytechnic), it was actually near impossible to learn math from them. I think it's also very difficult for me at this point to really help people learn to code. I recall a time when I was in the middle of learning where I could really communicate with people on both sides and bridge that gap of understanding, but I'm afraid that I've now surpassed that point. My dad was a great resource in learning, but mostly in the confidence arena where I knew if I got stuck, I would have someone to turn to. That being said, I school him on JS now.

I've always had a soft spot for side-scrolling text layouts. I think the way such layouts break "Skim-The-Page, Extract-the-Juice, Run-Away" behavior on the web is interesting. It focuses one on the text; getting people focused on a text is useful, if you want them to contribute to an ongoing story.

That said, the UI needs a lot of work -- obviously, because this is new and different and rough. Finding ways to balance your UI's dualistic requirements (reading vs writing) with the accessibility requirements of diverse writers on diverse platforms is clearly going to be one of your major challenges going forward. Good luck!

Thank you!

couldn't figure out how to get past the first page ... went away. Hopefully people don't copy this horrible interface.

I thought I made it clear how to navigate (why you would want to go to page 2 if you hadn't finished page 1?), but I guess you're right. I'm pushing navigation arrow buttons live right now. Sorry about that--Internet connection at my place is currently dying every minute. Pushing now!

Sorry, but if you need a paragraph of text to explain to your users how to navigate, you're doing it wrong. The "individual tiny pages, turned one by one so each has no context" metaphor, while a necessary evil for printed books, is pointless and broken on the web.

Most Web users, especially those drinking from firehoses like HN, don't actually read pages end to end, they skim them looking for interesting bits worth reading. This is why they're skipping page 1 without reading it, and since your navigation system doesn't allow "skimming", you're seeing people giving up in frustration.

Another way of looking at it: I still have no idea what pen.fm is trying to do, and the only thing I'll remember about it is the broken navigation system. This is probably not the first impression you want to give people.

Good catch. Beta release will accomodate all the things then, including a clean view that may or may not still include social feedback components.

Even more fun, the bigger scheme includes the ability to export these stories directly on-demand to different e-reading formats (epub, mobi, pdf). So, if you want PDF, you'll get it. With enough content in the network, we'll take on content discovery in a big way so we make sure you don't waste your time having to skim so much.

Just as a thought experiment, how would you feel about reading a very thick magazine in which each page was blank except for a single sentence? After reading a sentence you could flip to the next page, which would also have only a single sentence. You could read all the same material, but only see one sentence at a time. Would you enjoy reading like that?

This UI is the lite version of that magazine.

Very broken in IE10, I think I'm seeing the mobile version.

Yep, IE still doesn't support css columns, so until I focus on compatibility I'm giving you the interfaceless mobile version.

I think IE10 does support CSS multicol.

Thanks for that. I looked it up and it seems they declare it a bit differently, with grids. Worth adapting, though!

"You can navigate through this story using either your scroll wheel, or arrow keys. (For mobile devices, I cut out the interface for now and left you with text)" ... Didn't work for you?

The scroll wheel thing is tricky: I could only use the wheel if the cursor was not just on the virtual "page" but inside the margins, where the text was. Took me a bit to figure out. (Chrome on Win7)

Awesome site. Just awesome. The page transitions and text reflow are brilliant.

That big box on the right full of whatever that is (chat/twitter/whatever) is just a void that not only doesn't interest me, but means what I am reading (which is why I would be on the site if this wasn't a well-played usability test ;) is off to the side. I guess you'll iron out these kinks as time goes by, but yeah. That box on the right is just an ocean of who cares, to me.

Also there is a bug: when you are editing text in the chat box, it flicks pages back and forth.

Anyway I'm off to donate to your IndieGoGo campaign. Good luck with the rest of the project!

edit: had another look - I guess that box makes sense when you're collaborating on a story, but pure reading mode might be good as a default?

I've actually started implementing a similar idea several times since 2004. My working title has always been Idea Novella. I envisioned it as kind of a github for stories. People could work together to build up a story, and it could take different branches as it progressed.

What happened to it?

Nothing. That's the problem, really. :) I did get a little bit of interest among friends, even had one get a seed story started.

I have other projects[0] keeping me busy these days. Maybe some day I'll revive that dream.

[0] http://robotrising.org/2012/09/operation-stratosphere-overvi...

It says chapters at the top of the page but I can't find any table of contents. I want to skip between chapters without going through each page, am I missing something or just a missing feature?

There appears to be a bug.


Browser? Steps to repro?

Let's get serious, this is not "engineering" in any sense. It sounds like pretty basic web development, with a very mild amount of back-end development.

The situation described here sounds more like assembling a prefabbed shed from Home Depot. Yeah, something was built, but it doesn't make the builder an "engineer".

You're probably right. Better Home Depot (node w/ express) than IKEA (RoR). In my defense, my full time positions labeled me an engineer. On that note, I don't use any prebuilt front-end libraries.

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