New and improving

You spoke, I listened, and now I'm going to try a few things. And, for the first time ever: "Also worth your time..." (Instead of "7 other things worth a click.")

Craig Newmark was once asked why Craigslist (which he founded) didn’t just fill up the white space on its pages with programmatic ads. Given their traffic, it’s like leaving millions of dollars on the table.

His answer was basically: We don’t do that because users don’t seem to want it.

I was thinking about that quote this weekend after I asked readers how you feel about me linking to sources behind paywalls. It’s the number-1 complaint that I get, but I wanted to be sure this wasn’t selection bias at work.

Muscle memory

No ambiguity here: It seems you don’t like it. One reader put it very succinctly: “Paywalls suck.”

I don’t want Understandably to suck of course, so I started to think about how we got here and what to do about it.

I’ve been in digital media for about a decade now, and most digital media is supported by ads. So, I spent years teaching myself to get people to click on articles, without crossing the line into “clickbait.”

Millions and millions and millions and millions of clicks last year alone. Honestly, it’s reflex and muscle memory at this point. I have to think about it not to do it.

But, to channel Newmark: Has that habit led me to create a result on Understandably that users actually want? Or am I getting in my own way?

The fix

That question answers itself. And it isn’t really out of the blue—I’ve been thinking about it, obviously. So here’s what I’m going to try:

  1. Cutting down on paywall links. There will be some times when a paywall source is really the way to go, but it will likely be less often.

  2. Adding this little symbol where there might be a paywall or meter or something: “[$].” (These things don’t treat all visitors the same way, so I sometimes can’t be sure. Let me know if you find paywalls that aren’t marked.)

Finally, I’m going to change how I write some things. Example, I included this link one day last week:

Today I learned why candidates say they're “suspending” their campaigns rather than ending them. (The Washington Post)

I admit, that text is designed, 100%, to try to get you to click the link. But why? It’s clear now it’s not adding value the way I want it to.

It’s also like running a coffee shop where you work very hard to encourage your customers to go to a much bigger coffee shop next door. Kind of silly on my part.

So, what if we did it like this, instead:

Ever wonder why candidates say they're “suspending” their campaigns rather than ending them? Today, I learned it’s so that their delegates stay pledged to them rather than being released to vote for whomever they want. That could make a difference in a close race. (The Washington Post [$])

It’s a good article, and if you want to click through and learn more, great. But if not, you’ve learned at least a bit.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you guys know that (a) I listen, (b) I’m grateful for the feedback and the way it got me thinking, and (c) I’m going to be trying some new things here.

Let me emphasize “(c),” as I’m going to be trying quite a few big new things.

But I’ll save those announcements for later in the week and the month.

It’s exciting stuff, and I think you’ll like most of it. But I’ll keep that Newmark-inspired question in mind as I roll it all out.

Also worth your time…

O.K., given everything above, I guess I’ll have to rename and reformat this section. If you're new here, I've been wrapping up with "7 other things worth a click." Consider this, “new and improving.” (Also, 7 seemed kind of long today. Work in progress.)

Black swan

Millions of people are being quarantined in Italy over the coronavirus epidemic, the U.S. military stopped soldiers from going back and forth to South Korea, and my feed is full of reports of closures: Stanford University, the University of Washington, Columbia University, the public school systems in several New York-area communities, and many others.

Amazon, Apple, Google and other tech companies are telling some workers to stay at home; SXSW is canceled. I truly can't keep up.

In the U.S., we’ve officially gone from “containment” as a government goal to “mitigation.” Meanwhile, a Reuters poll says Americans are divided on political lines over whether they think the coronavirus poses an imminent threat to the United States: 40 percent of Democrats, and just 20 percent of Republicans.

I pray to God that one day we'll look back on this the way we look back on Y2K—a problem that we all got panicked about that turned out to be less than we'd feared. But the biggest non-epidemiological problems we have right now are lack of information and lack of trust.

(Comic relief: Weird Al Yankovic says he’ll resist the temptation to do a song called My Carona, to the tune of 1979 hit, My Sharona.)

Aligning the Dots

Over the weekend, I ran an article on about Philippe Bouissou, an Understandably reader who wrote for us a few months back about his experience working for Steve Jobs.

We had a great phone conversation afterward, and now Philippe has a new book out about the framework for successful business growth he's come up with after 30 years in Silicon Valley. It's called Aligning the Dots.

I'm behind on my reading so a proper review will have to wait, but I'm happy to bring it to your attention. Congratulations, Philippe!

The minimum wage is too low

That’s not me saying it; it’s President Trump’s HUD Secretary, Ben Carson.

Official Trump administration policy, it is not. And, Carson didn’t want to offer a specific number.

But, he told Axios he thinks there should be an indexed federal minimum wage that goes up (or down, one supposes) with inflation and other conditions:

"I don't have any problem with raising the minimum wage. My personal opinion is that it should be indexed. You determine what the minimum wage should be, but when conditions change, it needs to change with it, it needs to be indexed. Then you don't keep having these arguments every 10 or 15 years."

I don’t think this is going anywhere in Washington anytime soon. But it’s an interesting take from Carson, and one I didn’t expect.

Photo credit: JD Lasica on Flickr. Ideas and feedback actively solicited. If you haven’t subscribed, please do so! (You can also just send an email to

If you liked this post, please share it!


One-click review and feedback:

  1. 1 star ⭐

  2. 2 stars ⭐⭐

  3. 3 stars ⭐⭐⭐

  4. 4 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐

  5. 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐