My Love Affair with Betaworks

sweetheart confetti

If you’ve been anywhere near me on Twitter in the past few weeks, you’ve probably noticed one thing: I can’t stop raving about how much I love Betaworks.

Have you ever played Dots? Have you shortened a link with bit.ly, saved an article for later reading with Instapaper,* used the new Digg, clipped a quote with Findings, or chased down a much sought after GIF on Giphy? If you have, or you’re crossing your fingers and toes in anticipation of their Google Reader replacement (because I am not down with Feedly, oh HALE no) you’ve used or hoped for a product in the Betaworks family, one of my most favorite ever companies that builds and ships beautiful, beautiful products. (Note: Instapaper was a Betaworks acquisition, and thus was not a product of their own creation. Thanks for helping me keep the facts straight, Allen!)

When we think of engineers, we very rarely speak of them in the same terms that we use for people commonly accepted as creative– artists, musicians, architects, writers, etc. Most of the reasons that we don’t consider our engineers and coders creative, however, have to do with the incredibly poor state of web literacy, and a widespread miscomprehension of the basic underpinnings of the web and the many technologies we use as a part of it every single day.

The building and shipping of technology products is both an act of creation and a creative act. Every bit of technology that we use on the web was created by a person– or by many, many persons. There is very, very much creativity there, behind the scenes, though that creativity is not signified through the commonplace tools that serve as tokens of an artist or creative. Instead, the invisible tools that solve the problems of a technologist– Python, C++, PhP, Javascript, Coffeescript and Node.js– are all unspoken languages filled with the awkward use of semicolons, parentheses, brackets and quotation marks that mean next to nothing to the rest of us, yet power so very many things that have become necessary parts of our daily lives.

When it comes to technology companies and the products they build, it is no surprise that I am full of opinions. Being on the technologist side of the equation– I’m forever teaching myself to code, though I’m not quite there yet–  I am the first to analyze the hell out of a product, a company, a terms of service agreement or a privacy policy to determine whether it is good for users. One of the first ways I can tell whether technologists care about their userbase is through product and Ui/UX design; a well thought out user experience and feature set can tell a user everything they need to know about the people behind the product they’re using. (The second way to tell whether technologists give any fucks care about their users is through security– given my propensity for security engineers, however, that is a whole ‘nother post for another day.)

All of that being said, it’s incredibly, incredibly rare for me to develop the kind of affinity I have developed for Betaworks for any company, and yet they have absolutely won my heart. Every single Betaworks product I’ve used (even the ones in beta!) I’ve loved, and every time, I still walk away thinking “Damn, that was good.” That they care about their users in the most important ways is easy to see. And as an avid reader, how could I not love a company that has this to say about the act of reading?

“We believe that reading as an activity still matters: the display and delivery may change (from paper to big screens to small screens and tablets, from human carriers to wires to wireless), but reading remains one of the most wonderful parts of civilization. We’ve bet on reading in the past and we’re going to keep making those bets.

No startup nor codebase nor user interface nor user experience is perfect– they are the work of humans, after all– but together, these things can be studied and analyzed to determine whether an idea, a company or a team are deserving of the time a user may invest in their product. When it comes to technology, the better the design and the user experience (and the better the security), the better the chance that the technologists behind the product care about their users.  When it comes to Betaworks, more than any other group of builders I’ve seen out there, they just get it– they nail it every single time, even when they’re experimenting and rebuilding and launching, and even when they pivot a product entirely. I won’t say that they can do no wrong– everyone, everywhere can still come up with a way to do something wrong– but I have absolutely fallen for their artistry, their creative spirit, their cleverness because it is all so very prevalent in everything that they do. I’m incredibly proud that (because they funded the company that I work for) that they are somehow part of my startup family tree, though they may need to apologize to Couple for blowing my mind and rendering me useless if I uncover another artist-inspired dots badge, say… one by Damien Hirst for getting a score of eleventy million.

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