Welcome to MacStories 4.0. What you see today is a brand new look for this website, a fresh start for us, and, more importantly, a better reading experience for you, our readers.
When I wrote about MacStories’ third birthday on April 20, 2012, I promised that a new design was coming “soon”. As you may have noticed, that “soon” took a while.
Two years ago, I made a bad judgement call and thought that I could finalize my thoughts on what I wanted to achieve with MacStories 4.0 in a relatively short period of time, possibly within the end of 2012. I failed you, our readers, when I promised that a cleaner, more readable MacStories was approaching, even when that “soon” was never actually in sight; I failed my team as I kept telling them that the site and backend were getting better; and I failed my own standards, which I want to believe are high when I review someone else’s software but that I couldn’t apply to my own website.
For that, I apologize.
I don’t want to tell the full story of this website again. I launched it when I was broke and without a job, and somehow it became quite popular and turned into a full-time job and career. I don’t want to dwell on the past, but I feel it’s necessary – and to an extent, therapeutic – to contextualize my actions and intent before taking a leap onto the next five years.
The decisions I took for this website were always made with MacStories’ readers in mind. When I decided that we needed to abandon daily rumor coverage and focus on actual news, opinion, and software reviews, I believed – and I still do – that readers would benefit from content that could stand the test of time. When we introduced better linked posts, we wanted to offer readers an easier way to discover interesting links and writers. When I chose to write a 25,000-word review of Editorial for iPad, I didn’t want to set some kind of record for “longest app review ever written” – I truly believed that the app deserved an in-depth exploration of its feature set.
When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 and started treatments in early 2012, I thought that I could manage to continue writing and handling the business aspects of MacStories on a daily basis. When I wrote that a new design was coming “soon”, I believed that I could spend the entire summer working on a redesign to launch later in 2012. But then I realized that I was going to be too weak to manage the entire MacStories business, so I decided that, in order to keep the site alive, I needed to at least keep writing whenever possible, postponing the redesign.
It was done in good faith, but I was wrong. MacStories needed to be torn apart and rebuilt for mobile screens and Retina devices to provide readers with a great reading experience, and instead I decided to just write because it was easier. I fell victim to a common trap: I prioritized short-term benefits over long-term improvements, and I should have known better.
I’m not telling this story to justify my decisions: these are facts, and publishing them will hopefully serve as a reminder for my future self.
I always wanted to put readers first, but I did it in the wrong way and our readership suffered for that. The support that you and my team have shown over the past few years is inspiring. Today, I would like to offer my sincere thanks and this brand new MacStories, which is both a conclusion and a starting point.
For MacStories 4.0, we wanted to get back to basics. We deleted the old design and codebase and decided to focus on what, ultimately, readers come to MacStories for: reading articles.
We realized very early on that our readers don’t need to see dozens of boxes or widgets in a sidebar, nor do they want to deal with multiple toolbars, menus, or guessing RSS feeds on their own. Readers want a readable article, not an article hidden somewhere in a cluttered sea of stuff. We redesigned MacStories with the idea of prioritizing articles over everything else, using a responsive layout to let content take advantage of every screen size.
When you read an article on the new MacStories, you’ll find essential navigation elements and website information at the top, but then it’ll be just you and the article. There aren’t (and will never be) ads between paragraphs of individual articles. Whenever possible, you’ll get Retina-quality images and photos; on the iPhone and iPad (in portrait orientation), images will use all available screen space with beautiful edge-to-edge layouts. If you use Safari for Mac, you’ll be able to configure your MacStories notifications for new articles with a dedicated menu in the footer.
We spent probably too much time trying to get many details just right, but we’re satisfied with the end result because the new design (and technology behind it) allows us to do a series of interesting things for our readers, with many more in the pipeline.
For footnotes, you’ll notice that we’re now using contextual popovers to show you the text of a footnote without jumping back and forth between a paragraph and the end of an article. Popovers work on desktop and mobile devices; they are displayed according to your scrolling position; and, they don’t break the layout if, on the Mac, you like to read with Safari zoomed into the article (through a double-tap).
In the navigation toolbar at the top, there’s a new dropdown menu with shortcuts to relevant sections of the site. With MacStories 4.0, these sections can be pages, categories, posts with a specific tag, or even posts that have multiple tags, such as “WWDC” and “2014”. Next to each section, the site will place an RSS icon with a feed for that section, so if you want to get RSS updates for posts tagged with automation or our Reviews, now you can easily subscribe to those feeds without guessing the RSS URL. And because we are in control of that menu, we can swap sections at any time.
There’s more. Timestamps for articles are displayed according to a reader’s time zone. We made it easier to see an article’s byline and to get in touch with the author via Twitter or email. Code blocks have been rewritten with better syntax highlighting and responsive layouts. Linked posts have big, red, tappable titles and arrows on the home page that still take you directly to the source website. Thanks to the rewriting and redesign, MacStories should be even faster with higher performance and shorter loading times.
Our goal with MacStories 4.0 was to reconstruct the website for modern screens with a focus on articles, and we feel like we have a new solid foundation to build upon.
Of course, we’re far from over. I have several ideas in mind on how to make the reading experience even smarter and more comfortable, and version 4.0 will let us iterate more quickly with frequent updates.
I want to mention a few of the things that we’re already working on, but that we couldn’t ship today.
- iPhone navigation menu. It’s not a bug, it’s currently missing from version 4.0. We couldn’t finalize a design that we truly liked, but rest assured – it’s high on our todo list.
- That ad at the top. I don’t like it, and I’m working on other ideas for ad displays on the site. The reason why it’s immediately at the top is simple: I wanted to let readers scroll past it as soon as possible (Note: the ad is loaded after the article text, which always comes before other resources and requests). If you’re quick enough to scroll, chances are you’ll never see the top ad; and when you start reading an article, you’ll never see any other ad in the middle or at the end. Also of note: we went from two ads displayed on individual articles to just one (the aforementioned top one).
- Image galleries. We want to offer a way to group related images together in an article, but we need to get it just right for our new design.
- Better inline GIFs. I don’t like how most websites (including this one today) display animated GIFs inside articles, and we’re thinking about ways to improve how GIFs – so important in the post-iOS 7 era – are displayed alongside text.
Starting today and for the following weeks, we’re going to monitor the performance of the new site and listen to our readers’ feedback. As with any piece of software, in spite of our best efforts to test every design change and optimize for legacy code and articles (over 10,000 existing posts), there will be bugs; if you’re having any issues with the new MacStories or would like to send us feedback privately, feel free to send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MacStories 4.0 allows us to test and deploy design changes and new features faster than the old version, so while I can’t promise a release date for the features I mentioned above, I’m confident that we’ll iterate quickly.
The Next Five Years
Looking back at the past five years, I still can’t believe MacStories has turned from a hobby into a full-time job. Or that I’m still alive. I’m lucky enough to write this post, and I can only hope that everything will be fine.
Looking ahead at the next five years and more, I want MacStories to remain a destination for quality software reviews, fact-checked news reports, interviews, tutorials, and opinion pieces based on a modern reading experience with useful features for the readers. I’m excited to work on the future of MacStories, and I can’t wait to bring diversified content and new authors to the site.
MacStories 4.0 wouldn’t exist without a few people that I want to thank in this article. Silvia Gatta, for the amazing design work on the site and our identity; Alessandro Vendruscolo, for the fantastic job on the codebase and rebuilding MacStories from scratch; Myke, Stephen, Matt, Casey, and Shawn for the useful feedback and encouragement; and the MacStories team, for believing in the project, being patient, and sticking around through the years.
But, of course, MacStories wouldn’t be possible without you, our readers. Thank you for reading MacStories and being supportive of our efforts and decisions. We’ve grown a lot since 2009, but I still feel like we’re just getting started.
Here’s to the next five years.