Marco Arment recently released an API to Instapaper with a slightly alternative business model and has gotten some nice praise around the web for it. Basic idea: API access is only available for Instapaper users that have a paid account (I’m one of them).
However, there’s one thing about his rational that doesn’t sit well with me—so I have to write about it here so he’ll read it because he doesn’t believe in comments. Marco wrote:
Instapaper has nontrivial operating costs. If a large number of people used it exclusively via someone else’s API app, and never saw the Instapaper website’s ads or purchased the Instapaper iOS app, I’d lose a lot of money supporting those users.
Now: what about all the publishers that are generating content that has non-trivial creation costs (and don’t scale up nearly as well as Instapaper) having their ads—their revenue model—stripped for display in Instapaper? It seems, at best, a hypocritical position.
Dueling Phrases: Over the Transom
It’s probable that you’ve heard the phrase ‘over the transom’ before. If you’re a sailor (particular a sailor of small, classic boats like the Herresshof 12 1/2), it’s probable that you thought this always referred to the way that water spills over the back of the boat (the transom) as the boat starts heeling sideways.
However, the lexical usage always seemed to be more along the lines of: let’s see what spills over the transom (or let’s see what comes over the transom). It turns out that people have been mixing phrases for a while. Because when people use that phrase, it seems like they’re waiting for some sort of windfall gift and have a positive expectation. Water coming over the transom in a sailboat isn’t a gift; it’s thrilling, but you have to pump it all out later (and you often end up with wet gear and wet feet).
As it turns out, the actual roots of the phrase have more to do with the way that mail used to be delivered. Spilling over the transom is a bastardization of over the transom. A transom is also used to refer to the crossbars and windows above doors. In particular, hinged windows that were often left open in hot summer months prior to air conditioning. It seems that the original meaning referred to things being thrown over the transom window.
So, now we’ve got people throwing things over windows. Why would that come to mean: we’re hoping for something that we think is a good thing but we’re not quite sure what we’re going to get so let’s just wait and see what we get? Well, it turns out that is also a combination of different groups of people using the phrase. In the early days of the Copper Kings in Montana, bribes for legislators and officials were not unknown and would often be thrown over the transom windows into expectant hotel rooms. Alternatively, the publishing world also evolved the phrase as writers often used to throw their unsolicited materials over the transom windows of publishers in hope of printing.
And so today we now have an amalgamated phrase built up of the expectations of sailors, corrupt legislators, and beleaguered publishers.