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20Nov 2012

"Matter" fail, part two.

After decrying the failure yesterday of Matter, the new long-form science journalism site, to deliver a story to my Kindle or to give me any help, I found a place at a different website--Matter's blog--where I could leave a comment. (I could find no place to contact Matter on its main website.) I left a comment complaining about my Kindle problem and my inability to find help files or contact Matter.

I got a response to the comment last night from Matter's Bobbie Johnson. He pointed out that there is a help file. It's just not part of the site's main navigation bar, which contains the following:  

about / articles / blog / account / sign out

Below that, in smaller type, was the help link I'd missed. It looked like this:

(copyright) 2012 MATTER. All Rights Reserved. / Terms and contitions / Help

I'm afraid that when I start seeing copyright notices and "terms and conditions," I stop reading. I never got to "help," which, in any case, should have been in the main nav bar, along with "contact." 

Regarding the Kindle problem: Matter's home page says stories will be delivered as ebooks "for your Kindle or iPad," and the members page elaborates on that.

But it's not true. From Johnson's comment:

As for the Kindle issue, that's something we are about to address: right now we only deliver *new* stories to your Kindle if you're a Member (not ones that have already been published), but thanks to a lack of clarity in the way I worded it, we've sparked some confusion re the Kindle delivery option.

Johnson asked that I try the site again, because there are still "a lot of wrinkles to iron out." He didn't say when.


-Paul Raeburn



The reason I felt it was fair to call out Matter on its technical problems was because they were substantial and, in my view, they went to the heart of what the site claims to be about: buy and download stories to your e-reader. Which turns out to be difficult. Do I want a .mobi file or an ePub file? I don't know. Can I get both?

I'd like to be able to read Matter's stories on my Kindle, my Kindle apps on my iPad and iPhone, and my laptop. Can I? To me, that doesn't seem to be a detail that should be worked out after launch. It should have been central to the development of the site. 

As I said in my comment to Bobbie, the point of my criticism, which is sometimes gentle and sometimes harsh, is to improve science journalism. I would like to see sites like Matter succed. I would hate to see technical issues doom the idea before it can take off.

Regarding the technical details at the Tracker, again, as I said below, I don't know the reason for them, and I'm always pressing for improvements. Yes, stuff happens. 

Matter's technical issues are a nuisance for me; they could be fatal for Matter.




I'm now more confused than ever about whether it's possible to view Matter stories on the Kindle. The website says yes; in your email you said no, I thought. And now you say yes--if, that is, I'm familiar with what you call "the rather mangled internal processes that Amazon has in place for synchronising files and so on."

I'm not.

I see that some of this information is available on the help pages, which I couldn't find.

This is the first time I've heard about buying your stories through Kindle singles.

And, as I said, I would have contacted you if I could have found a "contact" nav button.

In sum, I think it's important to remember what we're about here. The Tracker is interested in promoting and encouraging good science journalism. A public calling-out is one way to do that, even if, admittedly, it can be harsh.

Regarding the problems you had with the Tracker, I plead guilty. Yes, we have problems with registration. I don't know why, nor is it my job to fix it. I refer complaints to the appropriate folks.

I agree with Bobbie that calling out Matter on platform compatibilities and user interface (twice in two days) was picayune. I would rather have seen you make one note about that, Paul -- "Hey, here's something you can improve when you have time" -- and then go to the easy-as-pie web interface, read Anil's remarkable story, and comment about how fortunate we are to have a new crowd-funded site for in-depth reporting (or whatever your unclouded conclusions might have been).

I'll also note that to post this comment, and one other one today, I had to re-register at KSJ Tracker. My years-long username and password apparently vanished in the transition to your new platform a while back, even though I kept getting daily notices at my email address. Ah well. I just did it. These things happen. Yes?

Hi Paul

The reason I never told you that it was possible to do what John said was because you said you didn't want to visit the story page on our website. If you'd done that, you would have seen a downloadable Kindle-compatible file as well as ePub and audiobooks; when you download that file, you can then sync it to your Kindle or Kindle app.

I thought it better to address your specific questions (why doesn't it do anything when I enter my Kindle email address? Why can't I find the help page?) than the general one, since I have no idea what setup you have, or how familiar you are with the rather mangled internal processes that Amazon has in place for synchronising files and so on.

Of course, the *really* short answer is that if you only want to read our story on your Kindle and not bother with any of the web stuff, it's readily available from Kindle Singles:

Hey ho. You live and learn, and while I would of course appreciate it if you'd managed to get in contact with us to ask about solving your problem, rather than using your own platform to call us out in public as a fail several times, those are the things we have to learn to do better.

Building out a product like this is all a learning curve, and we're constantly improving (I think we've deployed new code every day since launching to try and iron things out where they need it) but of all the contact/comments we've had you are honestly the first person who came up with this combination. Hadn't expected to have anyone who registered on our site but didn't really want to use our site!

Happy Thanksgiving in advance


(ironies: I tried registering to leave this comment but the Knight Tracker service didn't send through my confirmation email. So then I tried emailing the info@paulraeburn address on your website, but it bounced back. Eventually the Knight email came through though, so all's well I suppose.)

If that's the case, I wonder why Johnson didn't tell me that. I tried synching, and that didn't help. But thanks for the input, John.

For what it's worth the story appeared on my Kindle (on my phone--will check my physical at home tonite) without any trouble. I just had to "sync" my phone for it to show it in the archive and then access it on my phone.

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