New policy

Today, users have received an email which says that after mid October, there will be a new paid offering : “This means that our free offerings will be for working in public and sharing with the community, and our paid offerings will support working in private as well as in public”. I’m not sure to understand what it means. Will still be possible to have draft notebooks without choosing the paid offering? Is there any difference between a draft and a private notebook? I think it’s relevant to keep draft in the free offering. Users need to have a draft before releasing a notebook.

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Hi @pac02

All notebooks created in the Free tier will be public from the moment they are created. We understand that this will create a situation where there will be many ‘unfinished’ notebooks visible on the platform. We are working on ways to indicate that a notebook is still a work in progress, so hopefully that will alleviate this concern. We also believe that it would be beneficial for people to share work in progress notebooks. Not all notebooks need to be perfect and complete. In fact, it is often during construction of a notebook that you can get the most benefit from feedback and ideas from others. Making the notebook public during construction could open up new ways for people to collaborate.

We hope people will adjust their workflows and perspectives and rally around public collaboration.

Note: The email is also posted in the #announcements channel here on the Forum.

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Thanks for your answer.

I understand that Observable needs to find a business model but I regret this decision.

With Observable, users work directly online. If notebooks are public from the beginning, we will find many unrelevant drafts in the list of public notebooks. This will in my opinion create a big mess. For instance, the list of recent notebooks will be full of uninteresting drafts. It’s necessary in my opinion to keep a distinction between creation and release of a notebook. It would be a pity to lose your fantastic community with such a feature.

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Great points, @pac02.

We are also planning features to allow our users to promote their notebooks and use that as a way to showcase them on the recent notebooks page and other explore pages.

In fact, we just added a page called ‘Most liked last month’ which is part of that plan.

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As someone mostly comfortable working in public, I’m basically okay with it as long as drafts are prominently marked as “unfinished draft,” rank very low in searches if they appear at all, and maybe are listed in a separate section of your profile page. When I’m looking for examples, it seems doubtful that I’m going to want to read other people’s unfinished drafts.

Under the publishing settings, there is an “unlisted” option under “visibility.” Is that likely to change?

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Thanks @skybrian

Your thoughts on marking drafts as such is definitely planned, and making it rank lower in search is a great suggestion.

About the ‘unlisted’ option. We find that it is often (mis-)used as a way to work in ‘private’, which could be dangerous, since it is not private at all. It is just not shown in search results and other places on the site, but is accessible by anyone with the URL (even anonymous users). We will continue to not show ‘unlisted’ notebooks in search results, but planning on keeping that feature for our Pro users only.

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I think that nobody will start a notebook if it is public from the start. Especially beginners will not do it. Would it be possible in the free offering to have a “budget of draft notebooks”. Imagine you have 3 or 5 draft notebooks for free. You need to release a notebook to start a new notebook and you cannot use draft as private notebooks since you’re limited to 3 or 5 notebooks. What do you think?

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This sounds reasonable: “Unlisted” is a feature for Pro users. Because if I share an unlisted notebook, I do it to collaborate with someone.
But the inability to create a private notebook seems very limiting. There are tons of use cases when the notebook is useful for me only, or when it has sensitive data, API keys, etc.
If I were a new user without private notebooks, I would not have a chance to discover the joy of frictionless rapid prototyping which Observable provides.

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Thank you all for the feedback on this topic. We are not responding to each of the comments, but wanted to let you know that we are definitely listening to all your comments here.

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Wait what?! I didn’t realize the implication that the fee tier was going to lose draft notebooks and unlisted notebooks. That is crazy. Are all my existing notebooks going to become public? Or just new ones I create? Existing notebooks better not just become public overnight. And what happens if I edit an existing notebook? Does it become public then?

I really like the unlisted notebook feature. That’s a bummer it’s going to become a paid only feature. We won’t be able to curate our work on this platform anymore and decide what’s shown on our profile, etc.

What about secrets for notebooks? Those aren’t allowed in public notebooks. So are secrets only going to be allowed for paid users? What happens to existing notebooks and secrets for free users?

It’s very chaotic to change the fundamentals of how product works so late into its lifecycle, especially when the core DX is immature and never finished (like how you make a custom control).

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I don’t work at Observable but I’ve spoken to several folks there about these issues. So, in the interest of answering your question quickly, here’s my understanding.

No, definitely not. Private notebooks will stay private. Free account holders will lose the ability to edit private notebooks or to create new ones, however.

That’s correct, only paid users will be able to create private notebooks to use keys.

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Thank you @mcmcclur
We created an FAQ and pinned it to the ‘Latest’ and ‘Announcement’ categories in the forum.

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Observable’s raison d’être is to collaborate and share. That’s why I think this strategy is a really bad news for the community. There are several reasons for this.

A creative process is always built in several phases. First, we think. Then we test things. And finally we produce. I’m not sure if these 3 phases should be done in a public way. In any case, forcing people to test things publicly under the eyes of the community is rather likely to prevent creation.

Second, it will discourage beginners. Indeed, it is not easy to write your first lines of code knowing that what you do can be seen by everyone. I would never have started working on Observable if I had to do it publicly. Today, I spend my time convincing colleagues to come and work with me on Observable. But if I explain to them that what they are going to do will be public from the start, they won’t come. No doubt about it.

Finally, the fact that everything is public will be very annoying to see the new interesting productions. Every day, I look at the recent notebooks. If most of these new notebooks are tests or work in progress, it won’t be interesting at all. The interesting stuff will be drowned out.

Proposals:

  • Restoring private (or unlisted) notebooks for free users

If no:

  • Restoring private (or unlisted) notebooks for free users in a limited number (5/user)
  • Separate very clearly the drafts notebooks and the public notebooks. Adda a banner “work in progress” for draft notebooks. Exclude them from the list of “recent notebooks” and “trendings”. Have the possibility to change status.
  • Why not add a button [I wish to collaborate / I work alone for the moment] to respect the different phases of the creation. If you check “I work alone for the moment”, the notebook should not be visible to others. If you check “I wish to collaborate”, the notebook could be visible on a new section on the website.

Conclusion

The choice that has just been made is very bad news. For the sake of the community, it can’t stay the way it is.

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I feel the same way. I’m glad I’m not alone.
If I discovered Observable now, I wouldn’t start using it as much, and I wouldn’t grow into a pro user.

As a pro user and fan, I’m happy to start paying, but I feel forced to.

And as “Republish” button is gone I’m also forced to relay on the fork feature (which seems undeveloped, unintuitive, awkward, and sometimes broken) in my own notebooks just to make some edits.

I expected the Pro plan would introduce larger limits and early access to new features to shape the future product, but instead my favorite tool in my hands began to morph into a social network.
I’d rather pay to keep it the way it was.

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Not getting into changes for free users, the removal of the “Publish” button on “public (unlisted)” notebooks seems to me like a really bad development for pro users too.

We have a pro team with many “public (unlisted)” notebooks in production, and now it just got much harder to do edits on these notebooks without potentially breaking production. I agree with @oluckyman that the fork feature doesn’t work very well, and to me it generates much more friction when updating public notebooks.

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I raised pretty much this exact issue in this forum post. I hope this issue improves.

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Totally agree with bernardol

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@neocarto, thank you for your thoughtful feedback and suggestions. We take all your feedback seriously and will certainly be monitoring and evaluating what changes we need to make to be true to our raison d’être. Collaboration and working together with data is a very big part of this.

There are certainly trade-offs in the recent changes and our thinking is evolving. We will consider all these suggestions seriously as we evaluate the next set of changes to the platform.

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@oluckyman we will look into the merge bugs. We think we found the reason for that ‘Oops’ error, but if you can remember what sequence of events caused that for you, we will continue investigating.

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I share the many of the concerns that have been expressed in this thread. I definitely hope that the company considers how publishing works in Pro accounts and how all users might want to experiment at least some in a non-public context. I also have to acknowledge being a little disappointed myself when I first heard of the changes. I suppose I was happy with the way it was.

Having said all that, Observable is a company with an awesome product and 40 or so employees living mostly in an area that I’ve heard is not cheap. I think the company is taking reasonable steps to become profitable. Venture capital won’t last forever, after all.

To put it in perspective, another way to make a big old pot of money would be to sell the platform to a large company. How would we like it if Google purchased the platform? I wonder how addictive the Trending Menu would become?

It’s also the case that the company contributes to a ton of open source code. The big one is obviously D3, which itself is used in plenty of other projects. There are others, though, like TopoJSON, Vega, and Vega-lite. I imagine there are quite a few more. Of course, they’ve created new open source tools too, like Plot. I’ve worked for a company in the past that didn’t respect the open source mentality. This ain’t that.


I don’t mean to sound dismissive of some of the concerns brought up here. On the contrary, I think some good points have been made. I just think those points need to be balanced against some other concerns as well.

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