Anil Dash Calls Foul

Anil Dash responding to criticism of Readability writes:

But, foolish fanboy enthusiasm on both sides has got people choosing “sides” between the apps and turning legitimate feature debates into some sort of moral judgment of the people building the tools.

That’s three sentences into his entire argument and he has already discredited himself (in my opinion) by dropping the term “fanboy”. But let’s see what else he has to say.

First, I should loudly and clearly disclaim: I’m theoretically conflicted all over this. I am an enthusiastic and proud advisor to the good people at Readability and consider them friends. I am a long-time fan of Marco Arment’s from even before Instapaper was created, and whenever we’ve seen each other socially, I’ve been really impressed by his thoughtfulness.

Actually, there’s nothing “theoretical” about his conflict: Anil Dash is an advisor to Readability and therefore has a vested interest in the success of Readability. That he is a “fan” of Marco Arment is a “theoretical” conflict, but in no part is there anything “theoretical” about his bias towards Readability. There’s nothing wrong with bias — we all have it — but to pretend it only “theoretically” exists is bullshit, pure and simple.

I consider Marco a friend, and for that people have said that I only am defending Instapaper because of that friendship. I can see how people get there, but let’s go into some background on this:

  1. I became friends with Marco because I love Instapaper — so my defense and love for Instapaper predates the friendship.
  2. I am the loudest and biggest critic of things out there and doubly so if they are a friend. I can’t verify that, but I am sure anyone who listens to Shawn Blanc and I talk every week can verify my critical nature.

That’s my bias and I own it. I do not, however, think it comes into play with my main complaint about Readability: that they are collecting money in the names of other people, without the consent of those people. That’s not a complaint about popularity or competition — it’s a legitimate complaint about ethics behind such a model.

Back to Dash:

And, since I’ve been through this kind of stupid fanboy battle before and know exactly what it costs, I want to explain what I think is at stake and why we’re headed down a dangerous road.

There’s that word again, a word meant to belittle the situation via negative connotation without having to provide a strong argument why. This is not, in my eyes, a “stupid fanboy battle” this is a select group of publishers very clearly stating that they do not, and will not stand for, someone else collecting money in their name without entering an agreement with that person first. The only reason that Instapaper is mentioned is because it is a popular competing service that does not commit this egregious act of collecting money in the name of others.

The way I see it: this is akin to emailing someone asking for permission and stating in the email that you will assume permission is granted if no response is received. Again, this is a bullshit move.

Dash goes on to list out some of the arguments and here’s what he lists as one of the “debatable” issues:

Apps like Readability offer a system where a subscription payment holds the majority of its revenues (in their case, 70%) for publishers, but requires the publisher to register with the app in order to receive their payment. Some people consider this objectionable because it’s opt-out instead of opt-in for the publishers, and because it’s not clear enough what happens to unclaimed payments.

Firstly, it’s not clear at all what happens to the unclaimed money. I have heard it was intended to be donated to a literacy charity and if that is really the case, how hard is that to setup and write a blog post about? Secondly, it’s not just that the system is opt-out, it’s that unless the publisher opts out the user has no way of knowing if their money is actually going to the site they hope it is going to.

This isn’t so much an issue for sites like the New York Times, but imagine if a reader only reads two sites and wants to contribute to them, but neither site is signed up, or opted-out. The reader has no way of knowing this, but every month has to pay the subscription — where is that money going and why not tell the reader if a site is signed up?

I saw a number of critical posts which (falsely) described Readability as “VC-backed” or as a “big company” swooping in on the little guy.

I’ll take ownership of making that mistake and I do apologize for alleging that Readability was VC-backed.

Lastly Dash alleges:

Because if we succeed in vilifying Readability for trying to figure out a publisher payment model, Instapaper is going to go down with it for charging for its app. If we succeed in attacking Instapaper for providing ad-free views of content within its app, Readability is going to go down with it.

I agree with the latter statement, but the former makes no sense to me. How is Instapaper hurt if Readability’s business model doesn’t work — they are two separate and distinctly different business models.

This is a long post on a subject that many of you are losing interest in (I am sure), but the fact is that the argument keeps getting twisted.

There is one major argument: We do not want Readability collecting money in our name, without our permission.

I can’t say it any more clear.

Lastly, there’s two questions that I feel Readability must answer:

  1. Why does Readability feel it is OK to collect money in another’s name without that persons permission?
  2. What, specifically, happens to the unclaimed money?

I think users and publishers deserve answers to both of those questions.

UPDATE: I missed this post where Readability CEO Rich Ziade states that all unclaimed money thus far is still in an escrow account. That’s great, but doesn’t change the fact that we don’t know what will happen to that money.

UPDATED 2: At some point Readability did add a check mark to indicated sites that are “signed up” to get payments. That’s a very welcomed feature.

Originally posted for members on: April 2, 2012
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