Tag Archives: Blogging

Trying Drafts Again

(Note: I started this post back in February but never published. It’s now April and Drafts 5 has just recently been released!)

First, I’ll say that I make it a point to not clutter up my devices with apps I don’t use. There’s a balance to be found finding apps that work and sticking to them but also remaining open to discovering new apps. Early on with iPad then iPhone I tried lots of apps that I didn’t use for long and then I gradually settled to a fairly small subset that fill most of my needs. But being a nerd there is a constant pushback. Reading and listening to Federico Viticci makes this even more difficult. He’s constantly experimenting. So much so that I don’t know how he get’s any sleep given what he produces. He had a recent write-up on new automation in Things 3.4 which I sorta use and in it he also touched on the up-coming Drafts 5.

Drafts. This is one of those apps I bought but that I never use. It fits into the territory of Notes and Evernote. A few years back I tried Evernote for a few months but gave up on it. Why? Notes. I’ve always gravitated back to Apple Notes. And it’s even better now with scanning, searchable pdfs, images, etc. That said Drafts has a few advantages for just working with text, particularly Markdown. But then it crosses over into territory that is also occupied by iA Writer which is what I use for blogging and podcast transcription. So, it becomes a case of is there really a place for it or is it just clutter?

The key in determining if it will be useful for me will be the actions it is capable of. The primary purpose behind Drafts is that it is meant to be a place for quickly capturing text which can be built on or sent on to another app. Certainly, the quick capture is true. When I tried it in the past I looked at the automations and thought yes, they would be useful but most seemed to be basic feeds to other apps. Which is the point and which also had me questioning the usefulness. Why not just start and finish the email in Mail? Start and finish the post in Micro.Blog? The tweet in Twitterrific. The event in Fantastical. The to-do in Things. Again, that is the whole point of Drafts. It is for people who want to go to one place to start every action. Hence the name. You start a draft which you then send on to its final destination. Finally, the light goes off in my head. It took too long and it’s pretty dim. But there it is.

Okay, okay. So, now that I finally get this simple point and purpose, will I fit it in? I admit I’m curious. Over the past couple days I’ve made it a point to try. I added a couple of items to Things via Drafts. I added a couple of items to my calendar via the Drafts to Fantastical action. I even created a blog post which I saved to my iA Writer directory on iCloud. I hopped over to iA Writer and opened it and posted to WordPress. I’m going to make an effort for the next week or so to start with Drafts. That should be enough time to make it a part of the routine and better get to know the app and what it is like to use and whether it reduces friction or increases it. Some of these actions are the sort of things I increasingly accomplish with Siri. When I added the events to my calendar using Drafts I had to deliberately stop myself from using Siri. Fine for the purposes of evaluation but day-to-day I’d likely just use Siri.

April 19th update. Well, I wrote the above but never published it. Did I use Drafts much in the 50 days since writing the above post? Some but not much. The final version was just released yesterday so of course it’s all over my RSS and Twitter as the nerds go nuts for the latest text app. I spent some time reading the review by Tim Nahumck over at MacStories. I’ve read a few other things and watched a couple videos. I decided that to give it a fair shake I needed to move it into the Dock where it now sits by iA Writer which would be the app it would potentially replace.

Comparing iA Writer and Drafts Both apps have very pleasant writing environments. Both have features the other does not so there will be trade offs as is always the case when choosing between apps of any kind.

I use iA Writer to write and publish to my two WordPress blogs and for podcast transcripts which get exported to pdf and html. It works very well for those tasks. How does Drafts do? With Drafts I can print to pdf and export to html (both are actions downloaded from the action directory). There is no built in blog publishing other than sharing via the share sheet to the WordPress which is very limited. That said, there is an action to copy as rich text. From there it is a simple step to switch to Safari or the WordPress app, create a post and paste. When I use iA Writer I’m taken to Safari anyway for a final check before I post from within Safari. So, either way, it’s essentially the same.

Document storage is another consideration. Here I give the edge to iA Writer which autosaves and stores all of it’s files as text files in iCloud which is a huge plus. Also, iA Writer documents in the app can be stored in folders and those folders also exist in the Files app on iCloud. By comparison, Drafts keeps its documents in its own synched database and does not offer folders other than the default four which are Inbox, Flagged, Archive and Trash. Organization in Drafts can be accomplished via tags though and that’s potentially very useful and potentially even more powerful than folder-based organization. If I need to I can save my documents as txt to any location which is an added step by comparison to the native text files used by iA Writer but it’s a pretty simple step.

The greatest benefit to using Drafts would be the more customizable interface and the extensibility of actions. The whole point of the app (originally) was a place to start text so that it could then be used in a variety of ways via sharing. I’ll add that getting text into Drafts is much easier via other apps’ share sheets. I often want to share text from Safari for a blog post. With Drafts I can select text and the share sheet gives me that selection as well as the markdown link at the top. Very handy. With iA Writer this is not possible. I find it hard to believe that the developers of iA Writer have not enabled receiving text from other apps via share sheets! I can copy/paste or drag and drop but it’s extra work. A big plus for Drafts on this.

Of course, there is far more to both of these apps, I’m only touching on the most obvious features in regards to my typical usage. I really like the feel of both of them. Very pleasant to write in and easy to use. They both stay out of the way but provide enough interface to make formatting markdown easy.

Subscriptions Done Right

Pricing on Drafts 5 has definitely gone up regardless of the subscription. Version 4 has been on sale for 3 to 4 years at $5. Cost now is $20 a year which is still more affordable than Ulysses but 4 times the cost of the previous version. Given that it is per year, it would be $60 for 3 years compared to $15 at the previous rate (assuming $5/per year). I think a part of the negative reaction to subscriptions is that they seem to be price increases at the same time. Every user will have their own line based on usefulness and budget. For my I purposes of blogging and transcripts I could just as easily rely on Pages or Notes. This kind of app is optional for me and I wouldn’t want to pay more than $10/year. The previous price of $5 was too little especially given it was a one time purchase. I think this time he’s jumped just a little too far the other direction. But that’s my judgment from my perspective.

All that said, while Drafts 5 is a subscription I actually like the way it’s being done. I can use the nearly full functionality of the app without a subscription. All the essential stuff works and some of the “extras” too. The pro subscription is for the advanced feature set that I may never use. For those that use those pro features the subscription is a great way to support continued development. If I find myself using the app, even just the basic functionality, I’ll likely subscribe for at least a few months to contribute to the development. I like that I have the option to drop out of the subscription and continue creating with the app. With Ulysses’ subs I felt locked in, restricted to viewing and exporting only, and so I stopped using it the day they switched to subscriptions. Yes, I know I could have continued using the version I had till it stopped working with a future iOS update. But I didn’t see the point of it given my eventual departure. Why lock-in all my writing when the end result would be the same thing: moving to a different app.

A Good Problem to Have

It’s great that there are so many fantastic apps being developed for iOS. I’d much rather have too many to choose from than not enough. I’m looking forward to spending more time with Drafts. I’m curious to see if it becomes a habit. I’m used to going to apps and I suspect I’ll continue to do so. That said, I see the merit of having one place to start all text which then get’s pushed out to other apps. Time will tell.

iPad Journal: Looking for a new writing & blogging sweetspot

A couple weeks ago the developers of Ulysses took the app to a subscription model. I don’t do subscriptions. So, I said my goodbye. Then I began my move back to Byword for writing and publishing to WordPress. It works pretty well. There are a few quirks. For example, while it is possible to publish a post with an image the image must first be uploaded to the web and a link inserted for this to work. Compared to Ulysses which took care of uploading the image during publishing. Not as convenient but still not worth a subscription.

Another, when working on something of several pages, Byword lacks the ability to quickly jump to the beginning or end of the document with a keyboard shortcut. I often do podcast transcripts of many pages so this is important and a bit of a hassle when it’s lacking.And, on the note of trying to navigate through many pages with keys, I easily loose track of the cursor and have to tap the screen. Not the end of the world but just one of those little oddities. Byword still has not added the overlay for displaying keyboard shortcuts. As far as I know,there is no shortcut in Byword to easily add a link. Not the end of the world but just another little annoyance.

IMG_0140

Enter, iA Writer
So, with reluctance I’ve purchased yet another writing/publishing app: iA Writer. Reviews are good and, like Ulysses and Byword, it offers publishing to WordPress. At $3.99 it’s certainly worth a try. The way I see it, it’s still far less expensive than locking into a Ulysses subscription.

My initial impression is that it is certainly a solid app, pleasant enough to work with. Whether little annoyances such as those I mentioned about Byword begin to show, well, more time using the app will bring those to light. I’m not sure what I think about the font choice for writing but it’s not changeable. Something lacking that I was hoping for is an option to share text/urls from Safari. Currently, I can send such things to Drafts or Notes as a go between. Or, just as likely, I’ll use Clips. With iOS 11 around the corner it may be that I’ll be getting in the habit of dragging and dropping text and urls.

What I like:

  • The blue cursor and highlight are nice and easier to see than the dark gold used by Byword.
  • Set-up for publishing was very easy. It publishes as a draft and then opens up the page via web which is perfect. From there I can set the post type and add keywords and categories.
  • I can select text then use the Command-k shortcut to turn the text into a link with the URL currently in the keyboard. It’s a little thing but one I really like.

What I don’t like:

  • I’ve tried uploading an image with this post and I get an error that the request timed out. So, that’s a bummer.

Time will tell.

Back to Byword

Getting Byword set-up again for blogging. Haven’t used this app in over a year and I think I’ll settle back in just fine. As comfortable as I was with Ulysses, the interface between the two is not all that different.

iPad Journal: Writing more with iPad

It was around this time last year that I began my shift toward an iPad centered and preferred workflow. I'd taken on a new gig transcribing podcasts and spent much of March, April and May fine tuning that workflow. It began with a Mac and iPhone using Pages and the Apple Podcast app. After a few weeks I realized I could work faster with just an iPad in split screen mode with Pages and Podcasts. Over the course of around 110 days I churned out 29 transcripts for a podcast that averages about 45 minutes. Of course transcribing is not writing but I was really enjoying the time with an iPad and bluetooth keyboard. Two things happened as a result.

First, I was finally using and understanding the benefit of the split screen feature. Second, I'd started using more keyboard shortcuts. I'd always used the most obvious shortcuts on the Mac: Copy, Paste, Save, Find, and a few others. What I'd not used, surprisingly, were the shortcuts for navigating around a page of text and along with that the selection of text via keyboard. The combination of iPad and external keyboard lends itself to this because there's no trackpad or mouse next to my keyboard. While I wouldn't say that my arms tire when reaching up to the iPad, but it is simply faster to use the keyboard for selecting text. It would be faster than a trackpad on a laptop too but because the trackpad was easy enough I never bothered to learn. Using the option or command keys with the arrow keys (along with shift for selecting) are great time savers. If you're not using the keyboard to navigate text in a document do yourself a favor and give it a try.

In early May as I was working through the transcripts I realized I'd not posted on this blog in seven months. So on May 15 I wrote a short post and set a goal of more frequent posting. Up to that point I'd only posted 22 times in the roughly two years1 that the blog had existed. Not great. In the 10 months since that May 15 post? 55 posts not including this one. That's a nice increase. I also still write semi-regularly on my other blog, Beardy Star Stuff. I've posted there 39 times in the past 14 months. That's a blog I've had going in one form or another since April 2003 with a total of 796 posts. Wowza. That's just shy of 57 posts per year on that blog. That's not too shabby. As I recall I'd actually been keeping a blog starting in 2001 but I forget the name of the system I used2 and I didn't bring those posts with me when I transferred my blog to TypePad.

So, that's 14+ years of blogging most of which was done using Mac laptops from my first iBook to the PowerBook to the MacBook Pro to MacBook Air, using web interfaces or apps such as MarsEdit. Good times.

Now I find myself using the iPad and Ulysses and this feels like the best workflow I've ever had. While the Mac in conjunction with an app or web-based environment always worked well enough I don't think I've ever enjoyed the process as much as I do now. But I have to say just how important Ulysses is in this equation. I'd previously tried several apps for blogging on the iPad and was never satisfied. I'd been hosting on WordPress and Blogger and there were a couple apps that could publish to both, the best of those was Byword but it seemed a bit flakey and was too minimal. The web interface for Blogger was terrible on the iPad but the WordPress app was okay and even the WordPress web interface was tolerable so I moved Beardy Star Stuff from Blogger to WordPress. Having both of my blogs on one platform was much better and for a while I made do with the web interface and WordPress app. It was better. By this time my writing on the Mac had dropped to near zero and I was using it only for graphic design.

It was around this time that many folks were praising the recent release of Ulysses for iOS but I already had too many writing apps and had determined I wouldn't buy anymore unless I had very good reason to. Ulysses looked great but what I really wanted was a better way to publish to WordPress. When Ulysses added WordPress publishing I jumped and it's been fantastic. Ulysses and the iPad are the perfect combination for blogging and for the first time since owning an iPad, it is easy to say that this is the best blogging experience I've ever had.

I don't really consider myself a writer so much as a person that likes to share and the sharing often takes the form of writing just as it often takes the form of photos, videos, and lately, even "paintings". What I'm noticing now is that because there is no friction in this Ulysses/iPad combination I am far more likely to actually write and publish. Not only is there no friction, but I actually enjoy the process. Of course I seek it out when I have ideas brewing but, more interesting, I sometimes find that I've opened Ulysses before I have any particular idea. Rather, I have an urge to write, to start with a blank white page. It is a more basic desire to create for the sake of creating rather than a practical, utilitarian expression of an idea that I've had that I want to share.

This is all to say that over the past few months I've really been enjoying writing and that I'm looking forward to doing more of it in the coming year.

  1. The first was December 31, 2013.
  2. It was some sort of manual, text-based deal.