by Tim Van Damme

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A huge opportunity

Yesterday when the news broke Facebook had acquired Push Pop Press, I was upset, and angry. Some of my coworkers thought I’d lost it and didn’t understand my emotional reaction to what was to them nothing more than Just Another Day In Tech.

Let’s go back 4 years: Steve Jobs is on stage and announces the next big thing: The iPhone. At that time I was a web designer and figured designing websites was what I’d do for the rest of my life. I wasn’t half-assed at it and made a living having a great time. But as soon as saw the first screenshots of iPhone apps, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Even though at that time there wasn’t any way to install 3rd-party apps (and thus no way for me to get my pixels on that screen), I couldn’t stop thinking about that glorious, super-simple interface. Buttons you’d tap instead of click, swiping through long lists instead of scrolling, 2-finger gestures to zoom in and out instead of using buttons with magnifying glasses on them. My mind was blown. It was a completely different ballgame and I wanted in. But I couldn’t so I kept designing websites keeping the iPhone in the back of my mind.

I wasn’t the only one interested in getting my work on the UnicornPhone. People started hacking the device so they could install their primitive apps on it. Finally the good news came in: Apple would allow everyone to make software for the iPhone.

During all that time the websites I designed became more and more influenced by iPhone apps. There was something genius about the ones that came pre-installed, and one person specifically was responsible for a large part of it: Mike Matas. For those who are not familiar with him, here’s a small recap of what he has done over the years:

Mike first became known for the revolutionary interface he designed for Delicious Library, a Mac app that lets you organize and keep track of most of your physical belongings. The designed caused a shockwave throughout the Mac design community (back then wooden shelves were pretty innovative) triggering a new movement called the Delicious Generation. After that he went on to work for Apple and it looked like he fell off the edge of the earth for a couple of years. He didn’t, he was part of the team working on the UI for their upcoming phone. And what he did there was unheard of: He made the interface disappear. His designs are so intuitive there’s no need for buttons, you just know what to do.

His work is my ultimate source of inspiration. Not the How but the Why. Interaction Design is my Religion, Mike Matas is my God.

But he didn’t stop there; after he left Apple he started another project that launched earlier this year called Push Pop Press. In short: The book reinvented for the iPad. By that time I was ready to get a tattoo of the guy on my chest. They won an Apple Design Award and were ready to take the publishing industry by storm.

But then, the entire Push Pop Press team (except for one developer) got acquired by Facebook, and they released a statement saying the amazing digital-book-framework-whateveryouwannacallit won’t be reused for other books. What a waste of innovation. A quote from an article I linked to yesterday by Matt Drance:

A number of sub-par digital layout vendors are breathing huge sighs of relief right now.

It’s not just about the technology they’re discontinuing, the main reason I was so upset is this is yet another small company being vacuumed up by a gigantic company only to end up in the dust bag together with all Facebook’s other acquisitions. (You gotta admit that if Facebook was an actual brand of vacuum cleaners they’d be better than Dyson, they don’t leave a single grain of talent left) Like putting a bird in a cage when it’s actually meant to live in freedom.

All the rambling above was my initial reaction to the acquisition. I’ve slept on it and realized that this is a huge opportunity for Mike and his team to do what they do best: Change the world. My gut feeling tells me Facebook isn’t wasting their talents. Like I wrote yesterday: I think they’re working on their own phone and/or tablet OS. And with 500 million potential customers and an assload of talent on board, Apple might just have a reason to start getting worried.