Posts From April 2011

My thanks to Lithium for sponsoring the RSS feed this week to promote their SNMP monitoring software. Lithium is built for Mac and iOS users in need of professional-grade monitoring of their server, network, and storage. It is feature rich, highly customizable, keeps tabs on your devices and applications, offers alert notifications, and more. Not to mention Lithium has well-designed and native apps for your Mac, iPhone, and iPad, plus an attractive web interface.

Yours truly is also a guest on episode 29 of the Minimal Mac Podcast.

You’ve got to drive fast to survive.

Using the iPhone As My Only Camera

Though I love to snap photos I don’t pretend to be a photographer. I own two cameras: an older digital Kodak point and shoot with a dead battery and my iPhone 4.

I don’t know if this is a new trend or if I’m just one of a kind, but my photographs and snapshots seem to have a shorter lifespan than they used to. I don’t print out my photos anymore. Instead I text message them or email them to my friends and family. I upload them to Flickr and I share them on Twitter. It used to be a big deal to print out all your photos and archive them into an album. People do that digitally now using iPhoto I guess, but I don’t even use that.

They say the best camera is the one you have with you, and I always have my iPhone with me. In fact, I haven’t used the digital Kodak since June of 2007. This is fine by me because, like I mentioned above, I am at most just a snapshot enthusiast.

However, there is a huge shortcoming to using my iPhone as my best camera: some of the most memorable moments are also the ones where you do not want your iPhone anywhere near you.1

Anna and I are currently on vacation in Hawaii. Yesterday we spent the afternoon at Hapuna Beach which has been called one of the most beautiful beaches in the United States. Hapuna Beach is gorgeous. The water is all shades of blues and greens, and to the south side there is a gorgeous volcanic rock wall with several coves.

But our camera (my iPhone) was locked up in the rental car. There was no way I was going to bring my $400 iPhone down to the beach to get sand in it and risk it getting stolen while Anna and I were out bogie boarding.

If the best camera is the one you have with you then the worst camera is the one you refuse to take. Funny how that can simultaneously refer to the same device.

In many ways the iPhone punched massive holes into the inexpensive digital camera market. But there are some instances when the iPhone is the worst option for a camera. Because there is something to be said about the fact that there are some places where you really want a camera yet you are not going to take your iPhone into that situation.

This is why I think the Flip video recorder still had a good market and why digital point and shoots also have a place: they are inexpensive, easy to replace, and they don’t carry all your personal information on them.


  1. Not counting the fact that the iPhone doesn’t come close to using a high-end Nikon or Canon DSLR.

I love it when Jason Kottke writes pieces like this.

Same idea as Greg Reinacker’s aforelinked plugin, except Tyler Hall’s will notify you based on certain domains showing up in your referral’s list (such as Digg, Slashdot, and Daring Fireball):

Why the name Holy Crap!? Because that’s generally the first thing you say when your website hits the front page of Slashdot.

And coincidentally, today is the 3rd birthday of Tyler’s plugin.

This is a great idea for a plugin from Greg Reinacker. You set a minimum threshold for how many pageviews per minute would be “big” for you, and then if your site exceeds that threshold you get an email. It’s a clever way to wean yourself from that awful habit of checking your Mint stats every 15 minutes to see if you’re getting a spike of unusually high traffic or not.

And, if you don’t want to start checking your email every 15 minutes instead of your Mint stats, set the “send alerts to” email address to your cell phone provider’s text message address. This way you’ll get an SMS if you’re site starts getting lots of traffic, and so in the downtime you can stop thinking about it.

Yours truly is a guest on the latest episode of the Enough, the Minimal Mac Podcast. It was a blast recording this show (mostly because Patrick and Myke seem to catch all my dry, cheesy jokes).

Lithium is an SNMP monitoring app for IT professionals with a Mac or iPad who want to be sure their servers, network and storage are always performing at their best.

Over the past two years Hunch.com has collected info from about 700,000 users. Yesterday they posted this infographic analysis of how of the Mac vs. PC crowds differentiate based on 80 Million answered questions.

And waddayaknow? I actually do have some hummus and San Pellegrino in the fridge right now.

Many thanks to The Escapers for sponsoring the RSS feed this week to promote Flux, their Mac web-design app. Flux is both a text editor and WYSIWYG editor for building and designing web sites.

A few other apps by The Escapers include Stor, a MySQL editor, and Stuf, a clipboard manager which syncs your clipboard history across different Macs on the same network.

For a limited time you can use the discount code “SHAWNBLANC” and get 20% off any of their apps.

Ben and I talk about News.me and related topics. This isn’t as fast-paced of an episode as we usually record, but it’s a very interesting one. We discuss a lot of thoughts on the topics of news publishing, personal curating, micro-patronage, etcetera.

Episode 9 is sponsored by United Camera.

Beautiful video.

Marco Arment on News.me:

The best part, to me — except the Instapaper integration in all of these, of course — is that this is a brand new market, created entirely by the iPad, that significantly benefits everyone involved: readers can easily find more content from a wider variety of publishers, publishers get more readers and a potential alternative to advertising revenue, and the market is so large that there’s plenty of space for many services to successfully connect them.

John Borthwick on the development of the News.me iPad app, including the the “see what your friends are reading, too” feature:

For the first version we wanted to simply take your Twitter stream, filter it using a bitly-based algorithm (bit-rank) and present it as an iPad app. The goal was to make an easy to browse, beautiful reading experience. Within weeks we had a first version working. As we sat around the table reviewing it, we started passing our iPads around saying “let me look at your stream.” And that’s how it really started. We stumbled into a new way of reading Twitter and consuming news — the reverse follow graph wherein I get to read not only what you share, but what you read as well. I get to read looking over other people’s shoulders.

News.me: The Amalgamation of Two Rising Trends

News.me launched today. It’s an iPad app and an email service.

If you sign up for the free email service you get an email each morning with a handful of links to articles that News.me thinks you’ll be interested in. The list is based on a combination of your Twitter stream and what links are most popular on the bit.ly servers.

The iPad app is the bigger news, however. It’s free to download, offers a 7-day trial, and then will cost you a $.99/week subscription fee.1

Part of your weekly subscription fee will go directly to publishers — similar to how Readability works. Each time a web page is viewed within the News.me iPad app then that publisher gets paid by News.me. In order to get paid you have to sign up as a publisher and license your content to News.me.

From my brief use of the app today, the idea is quite similar to Flipboard (News.me even has similar “folding” transitions as you navigate between headlines and articles). I think it’s obvious that this is the direction things are going with news — as readers we want to know what our friends are interested in and what they are reading. But it’s not a Flipboard clone. News.me is bringing a few new ideas to the table:

  • Using some sort of bit.ly algorithm certain links and sites are given more weight and thus more likely to show up in your news stream. Meaning, it’s a bit more than just a list of the links in your Twitter stream.

  • You can scroll through the Twitter stream of others and see what their suggested reading list looks like.

  • Publishers get a kickback when you read their stuff.

So, in short, the advantages of News.me over apps which are similar to it are: (a) it’s supposedly smarter; (b) it lets you “look over your friend’s shoulders” at what they are reading; and (c) you’re financially supporting the sites you read.

What I like most about News.me is that it’s an amalgamation of two rising trends:

  • Our desire to curate our own news feeds via our social networks.
  • Our desire to support the sites we read.

  1. They say you can subscribe for a whole year at only $35, but I didn’t see that option. Perhaps the annual discount is only visible once you’ve tapped on the $0.99/week sign-up button.

I like it. You can find a few more photos on VW’s site here.

Brett Kelly wrote a script that solves the aforementioned request for use of random snippets in TextExpander. Works like a charm.

App Emails

Developing an app is only half the battle. Once you’ve shipped it you have to sell it. And changing hats from developer to marketer can be hard.

Marketing is a very different skill set than developing. Marketing is much more than buying an ad or a sponsorship. Marketing involves storytelling, connecting with others, getting the word out, building conversation, and more.

Perhaps the biggest difference between developing an app and marketing it is this: control. When trying to market and promote your app you simply do not have the same control as you did when you were developing it.

As the developer you have 100% control of your app. The design, functionality, user experience, feature set — they are all within your control and are simply a matter of building and implementing. Some aspects of development come easier than others, but even if you hit a brick wall you at least have the confidence you can conquer it even if by sheer force and man hours.

Marketing, however, is not fully in your own hands. You don’t have that same control to get what you want or need in terms of exposure, sales, adoption rate, positive feedback, etcetera.

I remember the morning I published “Beginning” — the announcement that I was taking shawnblanc.net full time. I remember sitting there with my mouse cursor hovering over top of the Publish button for about 5 or 10 minutes. I just sat there. Because up until that moment my plans and ideas for taking the site full time had been 100% under my control; they were bulletproof. But, as soon as I made my announcement, then it was no longer under my control. It was in the hands of all the readers and potential members.

Shipping your idea is scary. Marketing can be intimidating, frustrating, and cold hearted. The best way to tackle it is with honesty and gusto. Stop worrying about what you can’t control, and go full-steam with spreading the word about your app in the most personal, thoughtful, and inviting way you can.

There are many possibilities, ideas, and dynamics that go into a successful marketing campaign for apps. So much so that entire books have been written about them.

I want to focus on just one element: emailing online media sites to let them know about your new app.

Once you’ve launched your new app, you should at least start by emailing your friends and family. Ask them to check it out, and let them know that next time they’re in town you’ll buy them lunch in exchange for them buying your app and giving it a good rating in the App Store.

The more downloads and positive ratings that your app receives from users then the better the chances of being automatically promoted from within the iTunes App Store. Also, new and potential new buyers will look at the average ratings and read the reviews before they buy.

Once your friends know about your new app, you’ll want to let blogs and online media know about it. This is perhaps the single best thing you can do in terms of marketing. And in my experience a lot of developers do it wrong.

I regularly get email from people letting me know about their new app or service. These emails can be summed up into three general types:

  1. The Copied and Pasted Email

    You can spot these from 30 feet away. The biggest giveaway is how my name (“Dear Shawn,”) will be in one font and then the body of the email is in another. These emails usually are too long, too impersonal, and are wanting me to do a review.

    I understand that sending personal and specific emails, one at a time, is time consuming. But sending impersonal emails is flat out a waste of time.

  2. The Personal but Shy Email

    This is from the developer who feels like they are inconveniencing me simply by emailing me. They are shy about their app and a bit embarrassed to promote it.

    To them, I simply say that it is okay to be bold and excited about your app.

  3. The Sincere, Personal, and Bold Email

    This one’s just right. The email is personal and thoughtful. They know who I am (or at least have done enough homework to fool me), and they are very excited about their app.

Here are my recommendations for best practices when pitching your new app to someone via email:

Start with your favorite bloggers and podcasters. Write personal, thoughtful, and specific emails to each of them. Give them a promo code (or two — one for themselves and one for them to give to a friend). Tell them why they might like your app and give a few quick points about why. Don’t give an entire feature list, simply mention some previous articles of theirs and touch on why you think your app would be interesting to them in light of what you know they have already written about.

Don’t shy away from pitching it to the seemingly small guys. A lot of the writers and editors who work for the mega-sites (such as Macworld, Ars Technica, Engadget, TUAW, Mashable, et al.) are just regular bloggers who happen to read the smaller guys’s sites.

In The Social Network the way Facebook got adopted by Baylor was by not allowing Baylor students to sign up. Instead they opened up access to the smaller, surrounding schools and once the friends of students at Baylor were getting access to Facebook then the Baylor students wanted in, too.

Once you’ve emailed your favorite sites, find the rest of the larger, influential sites. Write them specific and thoughtful emails as well. As Craig Mod suggests:

Be thoughtful. The goal is to appeal to editors and public voices of communities that may have an interest in your work, not spam every big-name blog. A single post from the right blog is 1000% more useful than ten posts from high-traffic but off-topic blogs. You want engaged users, not just eyeballs

Which is why, at the end of the day, the single best thing you can do is make an app that people will want to use.

Good marketing gets people to show up the first time; a good product will get them to show up the 2nd time and the 3rd time.

I’ve thought about packing up the laptop and heading over to the local coffee shop to work for a while, but it seems so cliché. I’m hesitant to put myself into such a stereotypical scenario: being the dude at the coffee shop with his cappuccino sitting next to his moleskin that’s sitting next to his laptop as he writes for his blog. I suppose I could not order a cappuccino.

(Via Rands.)

If you work at your computer, and your work involves typing at all, TextExpander is a must-have utility. Today’s update to this fine app includes AppleScript support and more.

(Side note about TextExpander: I was chatting with Patrick Rhone yesterday and we were talking about TextExpander, and we had this idea for a cool feature: random snippets. For example (and here is where I give away a secret), I get a lot of emails about typos on this site. I love these emails because I love to discover and fix typos. I have a TextExpander snippet for replying to people when they point out a typo.

I type “ttypo” and it auto-expands to:

Good catch. Fixed now. Thanks!

— Shawn

However, there are a handful of folks that are “regulars” at emailing me with typo discoveries. I don’t like replying to them with the same words every time. It’d be neat if I could assign 3 or 4 different variations of the above thank you note, and every time I typed in the TextExpander abbreviation “ttypo” a different snippet would be generated.)

Fascinating and extremely detailed analysis from Craig Mod about his Kickstarter project for re-publishing Art Space Tokyo:

A mere five years ago it would have been unthinkable to use social media to drum up $24,000 for the republication of a book. We accomplished not only that, but have been able to price the book sustainably, launch a publishing think tank, sell direct to our audience and buck traditional distribution channels. We are, undeniably, in an era shaping the future of publishing — how it happens, with whom it happens, and on what terms it happens.

My hope is this article helps at least fifty other creators accomplish something similar.

Craig wrote this article last July, but I’ve only just now discovered it via Chris Bowler. It’s jam packed with facts, figures, ideas, and good advice.

Kevin Kelly:

Everything, without exception, requires additional energy and order to maintain itself. Not just living things, but the most inanimate things we know of: stone gravemarkers, iron columns, copper pipes, gravel roads, a piece of paper. None will last very long without attention and fixing, and the loan of additional order. Life is maintenance.

Most surprising to me has been the amount of sheer maintenance that software requires. Keeping a website or a software program afloat is like keep a yacht afloat. It is a black hole for attention. I can kind of understand why a mechanical device would break down after a while — moisture rusts metal, or the air oxidizes membranes, or lubricants evaporate — all of which require repair. But I wasn’t thinking that the intangible world of bits would also degrade. What’s to break? Apparently everything.

Frank Chimero’s setup:

For writing, I use TextMate or TextEdit. No frills: just give me a blinking cursor. I’ve tried things that create a “distraction-free” writing environment, but I found that switching and fiddling just became another distraction for me.

CaféTimer is the quintessential example of an app that does just one thing well. It’s a coffee timer for people who make French Press. That’s it. You launch CaféTimer and it immediately starts counting down from 4 minutes.

Ben and I talk about Tweetbot. Also we talk about Seattle and how it is, in a way, not unlike Narnia was during the days when the White Witch had her way.