And between then and now, T Campbell and I have had some mostly unnotable miscommunications. So I’m hesitant to write negative things, because in general I prefer not to be misunderstood and it might seem that I’m making a personal attack (which, I promise, I’m not).
But I can’t worry about that – I have to write what I think needs to be written.
ClickWheel, as it stands, is not providing any value to the end user.
None. There is nothing that ClickWheel itself is providing that gives me, as a reader, any reason to come back.
I said I would follow-up on ClickWheel when I’d given it a fair trial, and looked at the comics on the iPod screen. I’ve done that, but I can’t say I gave it a fair shot. I couldn’t.
The download process takes too long.
Flat out, it takes too long and involves too many non-intuitive steps. If I want comics on my iPod, I want them there for the same reason I want everything else on my iPod – for later use. And unlike movies or videos, I can’t imagine reading the same three-page gag strip more than… twice. So the only thing that I’m going to put on my iPod is stuff I haven’t read yet, that I want to read later. Like on the bus to school, the train to work, at the airport waiting for a plane, etc. But I don’t want yesterday’s comics, or comics from last week. I want today’s comics. And I don’t want to spend twenty minutes copying them all to my iPod, one at a time and manually – because I’ve got to catch that bus!
The process of copying a comic to your iPod is as follows.
- Go to ClickWheel.
- Find the feature you want, and the episode or set of episodes you want.
- Click the download button.
- Receive a zip file, or perhaps on a Mac an archive in a different format.
- Unpack the zip file.
- Import the directory into your iTunes photos.
- Sync with your iPod.
At least, this is what I’ve had to do. Nowhere on the ClickWheel site, or in their forum, have I found actual instructions for the end-user.
Everything I see is focused on the comic creator, not the reader. The FAQ is focused on the creator. The marketing message is focused on the creator. The end user appears to be an afterthought – if we build it, they will read?
The only value that ClickWheel provides at all to end users is the content. And there are some big names providing content, so a lot of it is probably pretty great. But it’s too painful to get at. How many of you would read as many webcomics per day as you do now, if you had to manually download and extract each strip?
But here’s the thing I’ve realized. ClickWheel is Beta. It says so right there on the main page! It’s not the modern bazaar style open source development use of the word beta – where beta means “The things that work, they work the way they are supposed to and everything else doesn’t break anything”. It’s the old-school use of the word beta – use at your own risk and let us know everything that breaks, cause we’ve still got a lot of work to do.
So the problem I have is mainly expectations.
I expect that someone with a name as wide-spread as T Campbell won’t waste that name by rushing to grab mind/creator share before there’s something of use and substance. Although, let’s be clear, T Campbell is only the editor of ClickWheel – so he’s not responsible for the technology. He’s responsible for helping creators explore this new and possibly valuable channel for their content – or whatever it is that a webcomics “editor” does these days.
And I expect that something that claims to be “a whole new way of using your iPod, and a whole new way of reading comics” would actually have some technology behind it above and beyond basic CSS/HTML, with some RSS thrown in. (And the RSS doesn’t seem to be sufficient for the RSS reader in iTunes to respond in a more natural way – perhaps because of the archived format of the content?)
Neither of those expectations have been met, but that’s because I read “Beta” with the new meaning, not the old meaning. In the old days, nobody ever installed anything that was labeled “beta” unless they got paid for it, and had an extra computer.
So I’ll follow-up with ClickWheel again, when they are out of beta.
In the mean time, I wonder what the creators who are signing up are expecting? If someone like me, who is very technical in many ways, finds this tool so cumbersome to use… What are the regular iPod users going to do? How many comics readers who got a shiny new video iPod for Christmas are going to use this to explore the new (to them) world of web comics? And how many regular webcomic readers are really going to go through all the hurdles to make the jump here, when the content is so frustrating to get at?