I Finally Understand Bias

Last week, amidst the frenzy preluding Apple’s impending iPhone event, I posted an article titled Instapaper 5. I did not have early access to a beta or any insight as to the direction Betaworks planned on taking the service; instead, I merely wished to put forth a possible launch strategy for the upcoming update and outline a number of improvements I had been considering. I posted the article with minor expectations, thinking it would attract the usual eight to twelve pageviews; what came next took me completely by surprise.

Four days later, completely out of the blue, I unlocked my phone to find that I had an unread Twitter mention. Someone named Brian Donohue had read and enjoyed my article, it seemed; I was flattered. Later, when I remembered to open Tweetbot and actually read the message, I was surprised to see that he wished to speak with me. On the phone. Who does that anymore? But his request had piqued my interest, and I agreed.

We set up a call for Sunday afternoon. When the time came to finally dial Brian’s number, I couldn’t help but feel slightly apprehensive. I had climbed atop a lofty pedestal and presumed to tell this large software company all the ways in which they had failed, after all; who was I to speak with any authority? I didn’t know what to expect, so when Brian nonchalantly answered the phone after a few rings I did my best to present a calm and collected facade.

Ironically, just then the call dropped.

After reestablishing the connection, Brian picked right back up where we had left off. Over the next half hour we talked about Instapaper, its website, and the iOS app; about my article, how much he had enjoyed it, and how the “higher-ups at Betaworks” found it interesting as well; and most importantly, we talked about the direction Betaworks had Instapaper heading in: design decisions, where the company’s focus lies, and the avenues Instapaper’s developers were actively exploring. And then, as if all this — details and anecdotes1 I would have expected out of an Instapaper tell-all book that will never get written — was not enough, Brian offered me access to the beta.

I couldn’t say “Yes” fast enough.

The entire interaction — some of which I have chronicled above, and some of which I have left out; the more significant portion, however, I have refrained from sharing just yet — gave me an incredible feeling of gratitude towards Brian in particular as the one who had reached out to me, but Betaworks as well for giving him the green-light to bring me into the loop. Brian could have left it at that: after taking the time to talk about Instapaper and then giving me access to the beta, I could not have asked for more. A few minutes after our call ended though, I got a cheery email from Brian with credentials to the beta and then, at the end, an offer I still have a hard time believing: citing two particular lines of my blog post, Brian offered to add a feature to Instapaper for me. In my response, I struggled against the urge to proclaim my eternal gratitude should he choose to implement it.

After all this, how could I not feel indebted to Brian and, by extension, Betaworks? He had gone above and beyond the call of duty in offering to add a feature to one of my favorite apps, and asked for nothing in return. After all this, I wanted to do something in return. Specifically, I wanted to show my gratitude by doing the thing I do best: write, and write positive things about Betaworks and its products. And just as that thought went through my mind, it finally clicked: I finally understood why people accuse John Gruber and Jim Dalrymple of coloring their opinions concerning Apple. When a seemingly faceless corporation reaches out, it’s hard not to feel indebted to them, just as I felt a great debt of gratitude towards Brian and Betaworks as I imagine so, too, did Jim Dalrymple and John Gruber once upon a time. Experience and time allowed them to temper that emotion, however, as I must now temper the same sentiment in my own writing concerning Instapaper in the coming weeks and months.

How the new Instapaper website had come about, for example, and the design decisions that went in to its creation.