Category Archives: Technology

The Three Things #30

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and I share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

Why I stopped caring about the numbers — 512 Pixels

Michael on Success: All too often, we’re so obsessed with how we’re doing we tend to forget to focus on the work. We fall into a rhythm where all that matters is the stats. Instead of doing the work we’re meant to do, we do what we see is working. We water ourselves down hoping for one more link or one new subscriber. I’m as guilty of this as the next person, but thankfully this week Myke Hurley was here to remind me (and all of us) what matters most. It’s not how many people you can reach but how much you care about those you do. A great post and a great reminder.

Clean, Safe and it Drives Itself

Howie on the Future of Cars: I can’t wait for a car I can sleep in while it drives or makes pancakes or martinis. One that never crashes and reduces traffic. Oh wait. I live in a town where there are no traffic lights or interstates or even double-lane roads. I’m really just excited to not have to drive.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Gini on Perspective: While I was on vacation, I finished reading The Stand (finally), read Dark Places, and read We Need to Talk About Kevin. The story is about a mother who sees all sorts of sociopathic tendencies in her son, starting as early as birth when he refuses to nurse, through high school when he pours Liquid Drano in his sister’s eye. He goes on to kill several kids, a teacher, and a janitor after school one day and the book deals with the aftermath, from his mom’s perspective. Written as letters to her husband – Kevin’s dad – it’s a compelling look into how a family of a murderer has to deal with society scorn. I finished it as the manhunt for the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings was coming to an end and it left me haunted. I highly, highly recommend it, if only to give you a different perspective on the human beings who are supposed to love these kinds of people.

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Drafting a Review of Draft in Draft

Draft is a new service that’s meant to revolutionize the way we collaborate on documents. Since there’s no better way to stress test a new application than by trying it, I reached out to my occasional editor, Jason Rehmus, to work on a collaborative review.

Neither of us has used the service, yet. In fact these are the first sentences I’ve written in it.

Setting up the account was easy. I hit the Try button, entered a username and password, hit New Document and here we are.

New Document in Draft

Now comes the fun part… I’m going to invite Jason in and see what happens.

Share in Draft

Share Link in Draft

Jason here. Michael sent me a link to the document he’d created. All I had to do was click the link, log in to Draft with the username I’d already set up, then click Edit. So simple.

Edit in Draft

At that point I was looking at the draft Michael had already started. I clicked (tapped since I’m doing this all on my iPad Mini) on the document, placed the cursor where I needed to tweak some things, and made changes. Then I clicked You’re Done Editing and sent the changes to Michael. He’ll be able to view my additions then choose whether or not to merge them.

Done Editing in Draft

At this point, I received an email back telling me that changes had been committed. Jason may have been a bit overzealous to commit his changes as I received three messages in the span of minutes (he’s very diligent). This may just be the learning curve, but I can see this getting annoying with regular use and a diligent committer. Once I saw that he was no longer editing, I was able to approve his changes (one-by-one or all-at-once) and correct one of his typos (few things are more pleasing than editing an editor).

Edit Confirmations in Draft

The one thing I didn’t think to do was reject one of his changes… Jason, do something stupid so I can reject it… (Note: Rejecting does not seem to be an option, hope to see this in a future update.)

Ok… as you may have noticed, this isn’t in italics and is still me. I ran into my first problems with the service. These could very well be user error, but I’ve been banging on it for a few minutes now trying to figure this out. The first is a relatively minor issue: there doesn’t seem to be a great way to let Jason know that I have more changes ready for him to review. I had to jump into IM to let him know. (Note: Looks like I was wrong here, more on this later.)

There also seems to be issues with what I’m writing now. Even though I can make additional changes to the document, it seems to be treating this text as Jason’s changes rather than my own additions.

Editing Problem in Draft

It also seems to be struggling to save them. When I approve the changes (which are actually my own additions), it seems to swallow the text. I’ve even tried to use the beautiful looking multi-draft review feature and it seems to be giving me some grief. The text I’ve written is there, but I can’t seem to save it as the main draft.

Multi-Draft Editor in Draft

I’m going to log out and see if that fixes things…

Hmm… it still thinks these are edits and not additional writing. I’m going to save here, invite Jason back. Let’s see what happens.

After Michael let me know he was ready for me to jump back in, Draft displayed a helpful message, updating me on the document’s status:

Draft Update in Draft

Now I can continue editing the document, just as I did before. I agree with Michael, though. It would be nice for me to be notified when he’s ready for me to take another look.

Ok, things seem to be back on track now. I was able to accept all of Jason’s edits and things are working as expected again. I also noticed that there is a comment window where we can both leave notes and I can ping Jason. They may want to make this a bit more prominent…

Comment Window in Draft

So, what do I think? I’m excited to see where this service goes. Traditionally I work with Jason through a combination of Dropbox and Kaleidoscope. The process works, but it’s clunky as I compare his edits in Kaleidoscope, his notes in a separate document and then work on the actual file in Byword. Draft has the potential to bring this all into one tidy little package.

My bottom line: Draft seems well thought out despite a few rough edges and missing features (remember, this is a new service). At the moment, I’d have no issue doing a single edit using the service. I liked it when I wrote, Jason edited and I approved. I’m a bit reticent to pass things back and forth as I ran into a few of those rough edges, most of which centered around reviewing Jason’s changes after I made additional revisions. Once I get familiar with its quirks, I may feel differently as I really like it when things work well, especially now that I discovered the comment panel… Jason, any parting thoughts? This is what you do for a living after all…

I love it! I do have a pretty smooth workflow for my editing clients, but Draft removes even more friction. Keeping all of our collective work in one place, easily reviewable at any time, is great. By the way, I did all of my writing, editing, and screenshots on my iPad Mini and had no trouble at all!

Now I just need to teach more people the benefits of writing in Markdown!

Note: If you’re yet to give Sweating Commas – Jason’s editing service – a try, now is the time as he is having a sale and is an amazing editor.

The Shame About The Mac App Store

On the latest 512 Podcast, Myke Hurley and Stephen Hackett offered their thoughts on the state of Apple. It’s one of the better and more sensible conversations on the subject, especially when it comes to how Apple is serving the users that come to them through iOS. They also cover some of the amazing workflows that power users, like Federico Viticci, have created for their mobile devices.

Despite the fact that I’m writing this on my iPhone, I’m still more of a Mac power user than an iOS guy. And while I may write it on my phone, I will edit and format it on my laptop using a variety of applications working in concert. I see myself continuing to do most of my heavy lifting on my Mac for a long time to come. That said, they did an excellent job summing up how Apple is catering to new users—especially those who arrive at the Mac through iOS—while still allowing geeks such as myself to do as we please.

Mac App Store, Sandboxing and Discovery

The problem for me, however, still lies with the Mac App Store (MAS) and the current approach to Sandboxing. This is Apple’s method of “protecting systems and users by limiting the resources an app can access”, but the extent of these limitations is cutting applications out of the Mac App Store. I understand the need to keep users safe. But I struggle with the idea of making it harder for them to find powerful and useful applications.

I recently spoke about Sandpaper Apps here on the site. These are the applications like LaunchBar, TextExpander, Keyboard Maestro and Hazel. They are the applications that make my workflow and my overall computing experience better. Initially I was concerned that Sandboxing was the beginning of the end for apps like these. I admit this was panic. As time goes on, it is becoming clear that Gatekeeper will provide a way for geeks such as myself to have whatever experience we please.

But there is still a problem. While it doesn’t seem like they are going anywhere, none of my beloved Sandpaper Apps are in the Mac App Store. This doesn’t make them any less usable, but it makes them far less discoverable. While the MAS will not be the only way to purchase applications, it’s unlikely that new users who are accustomed to only purchasing through Apple’s own store will ever find or seek these kinds of applications. I understand that Apple’s current approach is meant to protect users, but they also protect them from a better way of doing their work.

At this point, applications can either live outside the premier venue for selling Mac apps or developers can kneecap their applications in order to comply with Apple’s current approach. This mean that applications have to become less discoverable or less useful. An application like TextExpander would have to exist outside of the store or limit functionality in order to comply. Either one is not a win for developers and is not a win for Mac users, old or new. It leads to less innovation and less financial motivation to continue making a great app even better.

Yes, You Can Still Get These Apps, But …

As Myke pointed out during the episode, apps that choose to live outside the ecosystem can still be purchased directly through the website. I worry that this is akin to saying that a musician still stands much of a chance by only releasing their new album at record stores (ask your parents). While there may not be a perfect answer, I still hope and believe that there is a better one than Sandboxing. Apple still tests every app that goes into their store and could easily create a “warning” similar to the explicit tag in iTunes.

None of this is likely to make a difference to Apple’s bottom line. The Mac App Store is doing just fine in light of recent changes. It’s just unfortunate that useful applications that make the overall Mac experience better are now harder to find and therefore less likely to be created moving forward.

Am I Overreacting? Probably, But …

I agree with Myke and Stephen that the problem is being blown out of proportion, but I still think it’s important to voice these concerns. Is Apple being evil? Of course not. Is it going to change how a user like me uses my Mac? Not one bit. But it will make it harder for the next guy (and it would have made it harder for a guy like me who arrived at this platform a few years back) to find the best way to get things done on a Mac. And while this probably isn’t going to change, it’s still a shame.

There’s a better way, and while Apple certainly doesn’t need to find it, let’s hope they find a way to keep the platform safe while allowing it to be as powerful as possible.

Time for a Backwards Thinking CMS

Ben Brooks recently offered a look at what he would like to see from the next wave of CMS (or content management systems for you non-geeks). He provides a fairly comprehensive list of what he would like to see. Sites like Squarespace seem to be making headway in many of the areas he identifies, especially with their latest offering, Squarespace Commerce, but we’re not yet at a point where it is simple to turn a blog into a business.

Ben points out the very real problem that most of us who create content aren’t necessarily geeky enough to easily monetize the work we create. We either need help from others (which can get costly) or a service robust enough to meet our needs (which doesn’t always exist).

The list he provides would offer a robust tool for a blogger who, like Ben, sells his own advertising, runs a membership and sells their own products. It also touches on his own personal concepts with the need for a paywall. My goals are different, so is my interest for the next wave of content management systems. So what do I really want from a CMS? One place to house my content and multiple mediums with which to leverage it.

The words I create on this site are often meant to be less timely. I hope that what I write is relevant, but I want much of it to be useful a year from now, five years from now or possibly even ten years from now. As I write this article, there are currently 673 posts on this site. Most of them, 480 to be exact, were created after April, 2011, when I finally started to find the “voice” for this site. Of those posts, I’d like to hope that somewhere between 100 and 200 of those posts are still useful, especially with minor updates.

We’ve recently seen bloggers like Patrick Rhone, Mike Vardy and Nick Wynja create books from their blogs. I believe the trend will continue as the “Trade Paperback” approach to packaging content seems to be a great way for writers to highlight their best content while creating a method for new readers to jump on. It’s in this area that I’d like to see our content management systems do more. I can’t help but think that the greatest value a CMS has exists not in finding ways for people to support what I will write, but in offering more efficient ways for readers to enjoy what has already been created.

I’ve created logical options for readers. RSS and email subscriptions provide ways for people to see what will come next. My start page serves as a jumping off point for those who want to look back. It’s not ideal and at the moment, I have no incentive to keep hundreds of posts on my site current. There are certainly ways that I can improve navigation using existing options, but I haven’t found a great solution. It’s in leveraging the content on a site like mine where I believe the largest opportunity lies.

Since Ben did a wonderful job on the forward-thinking side, I thought I’d take the opportunity to offer an equally thorough glance in the opposite direction. Here’s what I’d like from a content management system:

  • Group posts together into collections
  • Leverage existing tags and collections to filter posts
  • Edit the posts within a collection with the option to either:
    • Change only the post within a collection
    • Change both the collection and original post
  • Reorder a collection into a logical reading order
  • Add “posts” into the group to allow for unique intros, outros and section breaks
  • Offer free or paid (either one time or recurring) access to the content in these collections
  • Serve up the content in order, starting at the beginning, through a variety of mediums:
    • RSS
    • Email
    • eBook (for completed collections or as a wrap up for lapsed subscriptions)
  • Provide standard templates for email or eBooks while allowing for customization
  • Offer forms that let users buy or subscribe to a collection
  • Allow the reader to set the frequency at which RSS or Email posts are sent
  • Use tags to automatically add future content to ongoing collections (i.e. Best Of, Geeky Posts, OmniFocus Posts)
  • Allow readers to change how they’re reading (i.e. switching from RSS to Email midway through a collection)

The Thinking

There’s a lot to like in Ben’s list, it just doesn’t offer the one thing I really want: a better way to serve up the useful information I’ve created and financial opportunity that can be created in doing so. This is something I’ve wanted for my own site for some time and something I’d love from others as well. Imagine visiting a site for the first time and having a logical way to catch up rather than what is often a difficult, if not futile, experience.

Like Ben, I want an easy way to sell things via my site, but more than that I want a site that helps me create those products. Products that give regular readers a way to say thanks and offer new readers a way to get caught up in a medium and at a pace of their choosing. This may be less conventional than what Ben is suggesting, but I don’t believe it’s any less viable or any more difficult. There’s no doubt that managing multiple time-shifted feeds is challenging, but it’s already being done.

In the next few years, we’re likely to see lots of innovation in how people monetize their sites. I just hope a few of them do more than look forward, because when you look back, there’s a lot to be excited about and a fair amount worth selling.

The Three Things #21

The Three Things, is a weekly series where Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks, Howie Goldfarb and myself share the one thing that captured our attention and that we believe to be worthy of yours.

There’s No Romance in a Mouse Click — Curious Rat

Michael on Technology: Despite disagreeing with a fair amount of it, this cautionary post from Harry Marks is well worth the read. Harry and I love to disagree on the Internet. I don’t care about many of the things that he cares deeply about and Harry doesn’t care about much of what matters to me. But that doesn’t matter. What matters (at least to me, as I’m betting Harry will feel differently) is that we both care. It’s probably why I enjoy our squabble as much as I do. Harry’s right, our technology is a dangerous thing that can isolate us from the world. He’s also wrong as it’s an amazing tool for connecting people. All that really matters is how you care to use it. There’s as much “romance in a mouse click” as you care to put into it, but to Harry’s point, it is all too easy not to care.

Rebecca Marino Quits Tennis because of Social Media Bullying

Howie on Bullying and Social Media: This is outrageous and sad. It is why so many use aliases and why Facebook is shameful for forcing real names. It’s shocking to learn how often bullying happens online. Why would a celebrity or sports figure want to be on Twitter? Bad enough reading the news about you. In 2009, when healthcare reform was going on, I found some hashtags used by the teaparty and GOP conservatives etc (#tcot, #sgp, #orca) on Twitter filled with racist and hate tweets. So guess what Twitter and Facebook advertisers? Unlike TV or radio or print, your brand’s ads are showing up next to hate-filled bullying and racist content perfect for your brand image. Maybe if the social networks had no ad support they would take this more seriously?

3D Pen Launches

Gini on Technology: This is the coolest thing you will see all week. Heck, maybe all year. With the 3D printing technology, 3Doodler launched on Kickstarter and raised all the money they needed (and then some) to bring a 3D pen to you. I can’t describe it well enough to do it justice, so check out the video in this article. You’ll scrape up the $75 it costs, even if you have to rob your kid’s piggy banks.

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How Will Apple Change The Watch Business?

While I rarely talk about it on this site, I work for a jewelry company. A company that, from time to time, has created watches. It’s why I keep obsessing about the impact of Apple entering the space. If there’s anything to be learned from the entertainment and phone industries, it’s that Apple tends to irreversibly change a market. If the rumors are true and they unveil a watch, it will most certainly change my industry. As a geek, I’m excited about what an iWatch could mean. As a jeweler, I’m concerned. Even though we only dabble in watches, I have a lot of friends and colleagues who make their living selling them. As the iWatch rumors grow, I find myself wondering how it will change an industry and an accessory that I love.

The Form

Our technology choices are often a personal statement, but watches are a public-facing statement of style. Much as Apple may offer different colors or even different watch straps, a predominantly screen-based approach will change the extent to which a watch is a fashion accessory. Assuming the screen will remain dark when not in use, a watch will become more a tool for the user and less a statement to the world. Much like our phones, our watches will begin to look more and more alike.

To those excited about functionality, this won’t matter, but it’s important to remember that jewelry is different than technology. Think about iPhone cases rather than the iPhone itself. Much as we make fun of them, the case is how many people turn their phones into accessories. There’s little doubt that the introduction of an iWatch would lead to watch straps that serve the same purpose, but this won’t be enough. When it comes to a traditional watch, the strap may help emphasize things, but the face is the statement. A screen-based watch with mass appeal may change this for many, but for some, it will not replace what most people look for in a watch: their own statement of personal style.

The Function

It’s very possible that Apple looks to do to watches what they’ve already done to phones. That their goal is for the traditional watch to go the way of the “candy bar” phone. If they embrace the watch industry, rather than only trying to supplant it, the impact of a connected watch could span a lot farther than an iWatch.

I’m excited about the possibility of the iWatch, but as a jeweler, I’m intrigued by the possibility of an API. If Apple releases a watch, it will have a point of view and offer a specific experience. If they also offer an API, it will allow for watches to interface with an iPhone in a range of ways. It would allow Apple a way to offer their vision while empowering luxury watch brands to push classic designs forward, much in the same way they pushed car manufacturers forward with iPod integration.

Why would Apple want to do this? Why wouldn’t they want to own it all? Why not dominate the watch industry as they have so may others before it? Because even if the iWatch becomes a dominant player, it’s unlikely to be someone’s only watch. Unlike phones or music players, watch customers, especially luxury watch buyers, tend change things up. They change their watches to suit their mood or to suit the occasion. An API would allow Apple to be a part of the collectors everyday life rather than only on the days where they choose to wear the iWatch.

Finding The Right Mix of the Two

By offering ways in which other watches could interact, they empower users (or wearers in this case) to prioritize their needs while still benefiting from various levels of integration with their iPhones. Some, like me, may want full control over notifications and would enjoy the possibilities that a touch screen would allow. We’ll gladly give up unique form in favor of robust function. Others would still prefer what they consider a luxury watch. For them, fashion will continue to come first.

An API would allow for various looks with multiple levels of integration. It would also empower watchmakers to create unique blends of analog and digital technologies, helping to define and inspire the watches that are yet to come. A combination of an iWatch and an API would allow watch lovers to have it all.

By creating an iWatch, Apple will certainly give geeks like me the watch to wear. Providing an API will help ensure that even when someone isn’t wearing an iWatch, they’ll still be wearing an Apple watch. And it may give a few jewelers a reason to stock a few iPhones, which can’t help but make a jewelry loving geek like me smile.

The Case for an iWatch

The Case for an iWatch

There’s been a fair amount of back and forth among us geek folk about the need and want of a watch from Apple. Having spent the last week with the Pebble, I see myself heading more in the direction of wanting Apple to go down this path. While there’s no way to know if Apple plans to make this a reality or what approach they would take, I see where this could fit into my life.

Pebble Problems

As I said in my Pebble review, the product is flawed but shows potential. While they are hard at work trying to integrate the watch with the iPhone in the most logical way possible, there is a real challenge, and it’s one they may struggle to overcome. Unless Apple decides to create a watch specific API, the Pebble, and products like it, are trying to do something that Apple clearly does not want them to do. They’re attempting to use Bluetooth integration to “hack” watch functionality. I’m optimistic that they will overcome many of the limitations, but to some extent—unless things change—watchmakers will always be fighting against them.

But One Thing Is Clear

The interest in the Pebble combined with the array of watch straps for the previous generation Nano seems to have taken hold for many. While I doubt either circumstance turned Apple on to the possibility of a watch, or will even drive them to create one, I can’t imagine they’re ignoring it either (then again, this is Apple). Love it or hate it, there’s something here. A watch may not be necessary (as some have pointed out, an iPhone is essentially a watch in your pocket), but done right, it could be useful.

Boiling Down

I don’t want to get into the limitations of iOS or veer into the debate of it being for “consumption or creation”, but one thing has always been clear: when creating the iPhone, Apple started by looking at what users want from a phone and what they want from a computer. Then they considered the restrictions and made the most logical product possible. Rather than try to put a computer in your pocket, they made a computer for your pocket. That may seem like a distinction without a difference, but by embracing limitations, they created a product that surpassed them. When Apple released the iPhone it was neither phone nor computer, but was something new. I believe they can and probably should do this again with the watch.

Boiling Down Even Further

Some of the mockups I’ve seen try to take what’s best about the iPhone and figure out what it would look like as a watch. How do we watch videos on the watch? How do we respond to texts? How do we check our email? Can we make calls on it? I think we’re making a mistake when we do this. It’s not about how Apple will bring the iPhone to a watch. If they decide to make a watch, what I look forward to is seeing what Apple comes up with when they embrace the limitations. When they take the best of a watch and an iPhone and make something new.

Limitations Will Be The iWatch’s Strength

I obviously have no idea what Apple will create or if they even will create it, but I hope they do. Much as I’m enjoying the Pebble, I want to see what Apple would do. To really thrive, the integration between watch and phone needs to be deep. There’s room for interaction. I’d love the ability to reply with a pre-defined message or remind myself to return a call later without ever taking my phone out of my pocket. Deep as that integration can go, Apple’s best suited to determine how deep it should go. As I said in my review, what I’m loving most about the watch is that it’s a bit hobbled at the moment. Rather than having a firehose on my wrist (in addition to the one on my phone), the restriction of text messages, iMessages and calls is helping me to see the benefit of a focused experience. Rather than trying to do everything, I’d want the iWatch to show what’s most important.

Where The iWatch Fits

When we use a computer, it’s with the intent of doing something, even if that something is just surfing the web. As our phone becomes more powerful, the same is proving to be true. It’s difficult to take our phone out just to see one thing and not end up doing something else (or in my case, going down a half-hour rabbit hole). I hope the iWatch can serve as the place where we see things, but do very little. I hope it shows me only what’s essential rather than attempting to show me everything. Would I like it to do more than the Pebble? Absolutely, but if Apple goes this route, I hope they do what they do best: take something we might not need and make it useful in a way that we would never expect.

Note: For a great and far more abbreviated take, check out Dave Caolo’s thoughts on the potential of a “watch” from Apple.