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Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

The Best of 2019 as told by me

At the end of the year I like to sit down and make a rather random list of the “best” things I’ve seen that year. I do this almost entirely from memory but I also peruse my browser history and look through my Unmark archive in order to uncover some of the things I appreciated throughout the year.

You can review previous years: 2008, 2009, 2017, 2018.

At the tail end of December I sat down and made this list and since then I’ve taken some time to cull through it and make the list you’re reading now.

Best Blog: Gurney Journey by James Gurney

James Gurney, who I interviewed for The Watercolor Gallery, has kept a blog for a very long time. This past year wasn’t necessarily a stand-out year for his blog – it has always been very good – but I believe his blog and his YouTube channel deserve recognition this year.

Runners up: Waxy’s links, Kottke as always.

Best (new to me) Blog: AOWS

Since I’ve really been going all-in on my photography this year I’ve stumbled across a lot of photographers. In fact, I’m well over 100 photographers on my private Photography Twitter list (I’m @cdevroe there). I’m very glad to have found AOWS. See also the Instagram account.

Runner up: Chris Sale.

Best place: Kentucky

Jim Beam Distillery

Last year I said that we’d likely return to Kentucky and we did – that must say something about it. We enjoy the entire state, the distilleries, horse farms, and rolling hills. See posts.

Runner up: Cape Cod – This was our first trip to Cape Cod and I enjoyed the whole feeling there. Likely because so many people are either retired or on vacation. I’d like to go back and make more photographs in the future.

Best book: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.

I didn’t read nearly as many books as I’d like this year. But I’m trying not to beat myself up when I miss self assigned goals like number of books to read. I did a lot of fishing, photography, and even started a podcast this year. So I need not read books.

Dark Matter was a nice change of pace from other things I’d read this year. I always like a book that has time jumping. And this book sort of did.

Best service: OneDrive

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but OneDrive – for the most part – holds up very well for my needs. I have nearly half of a terabyte stored there and it isn’t skipping a beat. I use it mostly as a cloud-based backup of all my photos and videos. I also use it to transfer things to/from my computer and phone which worked well when I was on so many different platforms; Android, Windows 10, iOS, and Airdrop wasn’t possible.

Runner up: Disney+ just for The Mandalorian.

Best song for working: Morning of – Colin Stetson

According to Spotify I listened to this song, and the album it comes from, a lot while I was writing code.

Best album: Benton County Relic – Cedric Burnside

Love the old style jazzy/bluesy feel of this album.

Best company: Disney

I wrote a bit about what they’ve done with Lucasfilm since they acquired the company. But, when you look at the scope of Disney – and watch some of their documentaries about how it all came together – they really deserve a round of applause this year.

Runners up: Microsoft is still killing it and I think 2020 looks interesting for them. Apple for finally fixing their laptops.

Best hardware: Canon 400D

Me w/ 400D, recording my podcast

I shot nearly as many photos on this camera as I did on my phones (Pixel 2 XL until October and then iPhone 11 Pro Max) and the camera is 13 years old. It is rugged, has a lot more features than I ever knew it did, and I’m satisfied with the results I’ve been getting.

I have the feeling that next year a film camera may win this category and I’m very excited about that.

Runners up: iPhone 11 Pro Max – the battery life alone deserves an award, iPad Pro – I still use this every single day, in fact I’m writing this post on it right now and I’d say I do greater than 75% of my photo editing on the iPad.

Best desktop app: Firefox

Rather than keeping Firefox in just the browser category, I’m going to give it the best desktop app award. I really, really like Firefox and it has improved greatly this year in terms of speed, privacy, feature set. I simply cannot live without Containers at this point.

Runner up: Lightroom CC.

Best mobile app: Anchor

If it weren’t for how relatively easy it is to create a podcast using Anchor I don’t think I would have done it. Though I am looking forward to my podcast getting a bit better with some desktop-based editing apps. If you have an idea for a podcast I suggest at least giving it a look.

Runners up: VSCO, Twitter, Pocket Casts, Cash.

Best tool: Photoshop CC

Adobe has made very big updates to the entire CC suite of apps. I feel like they deserve a nod as a result of that.

Best podcast: BirdNote

The podcast is just so simple. I love it.

Runners up: ATP. I go back and forth on whether or not I should listen to ATP. Very good information, they were even nice enough to answer one of my questions, but the constant hypercritical (see what I did there?) take on things can sometimes be draining, and so I take long breaks from listening. But that is the entire point of the podcast so I don’t begrudge them of the style. I just always try to look at things positively is all. Also Cal’s Week in Review.

Best YouTube channel: Nick Carver

Nick has easily has the largest impact on my approach to photography this year. His channel is also very entertaining even when he’s discussing very nerdy photography topics.

Special second place: Joe Rogan Experience – I have to cherry pick episodes that I’m interested in, mostly with scientists and outdoorsy people, but the interviews and long form style are refreshing compared to the bit-sized bits we get through TV these days.

I watch a lot of YouTube. Probably too much. Not probably. Actually too much. It is how I learn, am entertained, waste time, etc. In fact, I watch a lot less TV because of YouTube. So this isn’t an easy category to choose.

Runners up: Morten Hilmer, Jack Black, MKBHD, Kevin Nealon, Rainfall Projects, The Lion Whisperer, Zimri Mayfield.

Best Twitter account: Todd Vaziri

Behind-the-scenes and background information on special effects in TV and movies. Fascinating stuff. The amount of work for just a few seconds of video is amazing.

Runner up: Adam Savage.

Best Instagram account: Luke Beard

Luke shares a ton of photos via Stories from his town of Atlanta. It is inspiring the number of photos he’s able to take, process, and publish and has really gained a following in that area. He’s also super gracious in his responses whenever I’ve asked him how he did something.

Special second place: captain.solo – I can always appreciate when someone creates their own style and sticks to it – it isn’t easy to do either of those things. This account has.

You can also follow @cdevroe on Instagram where I frequently share accounts and photos I like via Stories.

Runners up: Dan Rubin, PPP Repairs, Clyde Butcher, Brad Baldwin.

I hope you enjoyed this year’s list. Whenever I sit down to make the list I always under estimate the amount of time it takes to create it. But I’m always glad that I do so that I can look back on it in the future. So this post is more for me than for you.

Ryan Barrett switched to Twitter Lists

Ryan Barrett:

A few days ago, I unfollowed everyone on Twitter, added them all to a list, and I now read that list instead. It’s shockingly better. Only their own tweets and retweets, in order. No ads, no “liked by,” no “people you may know,” no engagement hacking crap. It’s glorious.

I do not believe I’d be able to use Twitter without Lists.

See also.

Richard Bernabe on Twitter

Richard Bernabe, in an otherwise good interview on his photography, says this about Twitter:

I like Twitter, even if it does represent both the best and worst the Internet has to offer. If you’re there to argue politics with other humans, it most certainly is a dystopian hellscape that will make your life a dark, dark place. Don’t do that, ok? But even if you’re not a content creator, it’s the best and easiest way to consume news and information that touches on your life’s interests. Just remember to stay narrowly focused on the things that make you happy. If you want to wade into the planet’s biggest virtual town square and discuss world events, do so gently and don’t take anything too personal.

Ooof. He isn’t wrong though. And at over 1M followers, he knows.

I still get value out of Twitter but I have to work very hard to get it. I have a private and public account. I create Lists and hand curate them based on my interests. And I’m able to interact with companies very easily. But, again, it is work to avoid the dark shadows.

Twitter Lists are having a moment

Twitter recently released an updated UI that allows you to “pin” Lists you’ve created to your Home timeline view. This makes it possible to swipe between each List quickly. It is a nice feature – especially for those with only a few lists or for those just starting out with them*.

Since this update was released I’m noticing more and more people mention Lists. So I believe this update is working how Twitter wanted it to.

Here is something I wrote about Lists 7 years ago:

I suppose my favorite part about using lists is that I can check Twitter whenever I want without the feeling that I’ll be overwhelmed and distracted by tweets. I can choose when I want to be distracted. When I want to sit down and catch up on Twitter I can go through a few of my lists depending on my mood.

This remains true today. If I’m in the mood to catch up on some outdoor activity lists – fishing, hiking, kayaking – I can dip into that List and catch up. But if I’m in the mood to catch up on technology – I can scroll through that List. It sort of reminds me of reading a particular section of the newspaper, rather than skipping around the newspaper randomly. It allows me to focus a bit more.

Also, Lists do not suffer from the Home timelines terrible algorithm. For that reason alone it is worth building a List or two.

One List of mine that has stuck around is the idea of a “Scratch” list. Today I call it “Heap”. Call it whatever you want, but this allows you to add random accounts to this List and see if they stick. If they do, it is worth taking the time to categorize them.

Not all accounts fit into a category. People, for instance, tweet about all sorts of things. So I find that my relationship with them ends up becoming the name of the List. And for everything else, I have a List called “Lump of People”. I have no idea where I get these names.

I cannot imagine using Twitter without Lists. So I’m glad they are investing in the feature rather than removing or ignoring it.

If you haven’t tried Lists on Twitter I recommend you give them a spin.

Now, if only Instagram would give me some way do to this same thing I’d use it a lot more.

Those who share, receive (or, how to get noticed or get work)

I touched on this topic in 2017 in How do you get work?. But let me just pull one sentence from that post:

The clear way to get work is to share work.

The same thing goes for getting “noticed” if that is something you want or need. You have to put things out into the world, and keep doing so, in order to be noticed, build an audience, or have opportunities come your way.

I have two recent, but altogether very different, examples that come to mind.

One is David Sikabwe. On Twitter he shared a rap he wrote for Frank Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon. It has blown up on Twitter and, if you read through his recent tweets as of this writing, you will see he has a flood of attention from some very, very big names. He also has some people sharing new works using his work.

He mentions that he wrote the piece 1 year ago and he had it in his Notes app and simply didn’t share it. Would it have been as big of a hit if he had shared it a year ago? Who knows? But, the point is that he did share and it did get attention and now there is a big possibility this young talent finds his break into the industry (if that is what he wants).

The second example is Timothy Smith with Kickstarting Bokeh (which I previously mentioned). Two years ago he wrote on his blog about his experience being interviewed for a job and ultimately not getting it and feeling self-doubt. In that post he ended it with this:

I’m done letting these insecurities win. I’m done trying to get validation that I shouldn’t need. I’m me and I’m awesome.

And guess what? Now he is putting something out into the world. Giving it a shot. And it is being noticed. Manton Reece mentioned it. He was interviewed on Micro Monday, Ashley Baxter mentioned it, DPReview mentioned it, Jeffrey Zeldman mentioned it, and on and on.

These two examples are just the latest proof that if you put stuff out into the world you will receive attention or work if you are seeking it. It may take time. Sometimes even a long time. But it will never, ever happen if you do not share.

Hiking in March 2018 (audio)

Recorded March 11, 2018.

A photo I took while hiking this same day.

A little over a year ago I went for a short hike in the snow just after returning from a trip to Kentucky and just before starting my job at Jujama.

Side note: I record tons of these audio bits that I never get around to publishing. They are awesome to look back on regardless if I publish them or not. I need to record a lot more audio.

My interpretations of announcements by Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter

Apple pre-announcing something: “We’re excited to get this in customer’s hands late next year”. My interpretation: “We never pre-announce things. Why are we doing this? We’re terrible at it. In fact, we make fun of other companies for doing it! Steve Jobs would never allow this! (mostly) We must be doing this because some group of people is really angry with us. Oh, and this product will likely never ship and we’ll tell you about it after the market closes on a Friday”

Apple reassuring their customer base of an upcoming update (read: late in whatever next year is) to a beloved product by a small set of people: “We love the Mac”. My interpretation: “Crickts.” (E key didn’t work)

Apple announcing something that is available today: “We think our customers will love it. Available today. $PremiumPrice”. My interpretation: “Yes, other companies have tried to build this. Yes, our’s is much better in nearly every way. We’ve perfected it. And it is made of diamond and leather and unobtainium. Hence the price. Enjoy.”

Facebook, calling a mea culpa: “We didn’t intend for this to happen. And it happened only to # of users.” My interpretation: “We totally intended for this to happen. We just didn’t intend to get caught. But I don’t know why because we ALWAYS get caught. Oh, and it actually happened to many multiples of # of users. You’ll find that out in a few days.”

Facebook announcing something: “We are connecting people all over the world.” My interpretation: “Our massive drones are really to collect even more information about people than we already collect and sell to that information to people we say we won’t sell information to. Oh, and to misinform people about just about every topic possible.”

Google announcing something: “Here is our brand new cloud-based service that is free to use” My interpretation: “Here is our thing. We consider it beta but it is actually pretty good. Go ahead and use it. Fall in love with it. The moment you come to depend on it we’ll shut it down because we only make money on Google Ads. But you knew that and you fell for it anyway!”

Bonus: Microsoft, announcing a new cloud-based service. “Containers! Buzzword acronym, buzzword seamless integration acronym, buzzword, Kubernetes Docker.” My interpretation: “There are organizations in the world that pay Microsoft incredible amounts of money to license Windows on sub-par hardware, to use Windows Server to manage web applications and services that use far too much RAM, and to use Azure (which is actually quite amazing) to do literally anything they ask it to do.”

Bonus: Twitter announcing a much needed feature. Wait, Twitter hasn’t built any much needed features since 2008.

Zuckerberg’s note on privacy on social networks

Mark Zuckerberg published a note on Facebook last night outlining his thoughts around privacy and social networking.

I find it a fascinating read for several reasons. It reads like an internal memo – or even a draft of an internal memo – in that he repeats himself (sometimes verbatim) several times within the note. The realizations he’s come to are surely far overdue. He, and Facebook, were usually ahead of the market on so many things – and on privacy they are far, far behind (on many of their platforms apart from WhatsApp). And given the mutilated reputation of Facebook it seems these adjustments are being forced upon them.

I also find it interesting that both Twitter and Facebook are swimming upstream trying to figure out what in the world to do. They are global communication networks, founded in the US, that are being used and abused in ways – and at scales – that simply have never been seen before. This is new territory and whatever our opinions of the company’s motivations, the job they have ahead of them is monumental and fraught with pitfalls. (see also, this interview with Jack Dorsey, Vijay Gadde, and Tim Pool)

I wanted to pull a few quotes out of Zuckerberg’s note to comment on them.

I understand that many people don’t think Facebook can or would even want to build this kind of privacy-focused platform — because frankly we don’t currently have a strong reputation for building privacy protective services, and we’ve historically focused on tools for more open sharing. But we’ve repeatedly shown that we can evolve to build the services that people really want, including in private messaging and stories.

I could spend a lot of time parsing every single word he writes. An example would be “open sharing”. Facebook is hardly open in the sense we use the term when we refer to the “open web“. What he means is “public”, I suppose. But I won’t spend the time parsing each word – you’ll have to take the context of the terms for what they are and balance them against what you know about Facebook.

That being said, it is compelling to think of Facebook making this large of a shift from public first to private and encrypted and ephemeral first.

People expect their private communications to be secure and to only be seen by the people they’ve sent them to — not hackers, criminals, over-reaching governments, or even the people operating the services they’re using.

My guess is that most people wouldn’t even think that Facebook can or would read their private messages to one another. But, as of today, they can (except on WhatsApp supposedly).

If you watch the aforelinked video you will see a portion where Joe Rogan asks Twitter’s Vijay Gadde if Twitter can read people’s private messages to one another. She responds “I don’t think so?”. Her role isn’t technical, so I do not blame her for not having a direct response (though, she probably should have prepared talking points for this). But I do blame Jack Dorsey for remaining mute. Which, to me is an admission by omission. Twitter can, and does, read private DMs.

Governments often make unlawful demands for data, and while we push back and fight these requests in court, there’s always a risk we’ll lose a case — and if the information isn’t encrypted we’d either have to turn over the data or risk our employees being arrested if we failed to comply. This may seem extreme, but we’ve had a case where one of our employees was actually jailed for not providing access to someone’s private information even though we couldn’t access it since it was encrypted.

This, too, is fascinating. Facebook hasn’t built in privacy from day one into their platform for the sake of the user’s that use it, but now they are considering it because they are starting to see that data as a liability. They need encryption as much or more so than their user base and that is the impetus of this change. Facebook’s interests are their own.

For example, messages could be deleted after a month or a year by default. This would reduce the risk of your messages resurfacing and embarrassing you later. Of course you’d have the ability to change the timeframe or turn off auto-deletion for your threads if you wanted. And we could also provide an option for you to set individual messages to expire after a few seconds or minutes if you wanted.

This paragraph is the one that reads, to me, like a “hey y’all, this would be a great idea right?” internal message to his product team. We could do this! Or this? Or maybe we could even do this?

Either way, it’d be a welcome change to Facebook no doubt.

Then Zuckerberg explains “interoperability” within Facebook’s messaging platforms. He describes being able to send a message to someone – and regardless of their platform of choice – they’d be able to receive and send messages back.

To me, this reads like he’s explaining email.

You can imagine many simple experiences like this — a person discovers a business on Instagram and easily transitions to their preferred messaging app for secure payments and customer support; another person wants to catch up with a friend and can send them a message that goes to their preferred app without having to think about where that person prefers to be reached; or you simply post a story from your day across both Facebook and Instagram and can get all the replies from your friends in one place.

This is email. Yes, there would be other features like video chat, audio calls, payments, etc. etc. But – by and large this is what email does. You can email someone and it doesn’t matter what service or app they are using – they can receive and send a message back and iit can be done securely if they chose to.

The entire note is fascinating to me and worth a read regardless of how you feel about Facebook. Make no mistake, what they end up implementing (or, not) from this new found desire for privacy will echo throughout the other services of the web. For better or worse Zuckerberg just moved the goal posts.

Twitter isn’t going anywhere

Stephen Hackett, at 512 Pixels:

Regardless of all of that, I think it’s clear the leadership at Twitter has no idea what they are doing, and I think the network’s time is ticking away faster than ever.

Not to be contrarian but I disagree.

Update January 24, 2019: I must have misread Hackett’s post. I thought he was writing that Twitter wasn’t long for this world as a result of their leadership. But, based on this comment thread, it seems more that he meant that he wasn’t long for Twitter. My bad.

Taken cumulatively, Twitter’s leadership has always been objectively bad. The product decisions have been objectively bad. The policies and the enforcement of them have been objectively bad. In a way, Twitter’s leadership has tried everything they possibly can to kill the platform and the business. And yet it still exists.

Somehow Twitter has embedded itself into the world in such a way that I do not think it will go away. It is nearly an internet utility.

It is unlike the other social networks. Facebook has diversified itself enough (Instagram, Oculus, WhatsApp, Messenger, and so much more) that it can survive based on its breadth rather than its depth. But Twitter’s depth is what will save it. I think as of today it is an indispensable tool for politicians, journalists, organizations, and even celebrities to share their message.

So while individual users may get sick of the leadership, the product, the hate — as a whole it is only becoming more important. I don’t know exactly how it will stick around but I think it will.

RSS is not dead. Subscribing is alive.

Sinclair Target, writing for Motherboard:

Today, RSS is not dead. But neither is it anywhere near as popular as it once was.

This isn’t the first nor the last article to cover the creation of the RSS standard, its rise to relative popularity with Google Reader, and its subsequent fall from popularity.

But the big point that many of these articles dismiss lightly or directly omit is that RSS is still used as the underpinnings of so many widely popular services today. Apple News, Google News, Flipboard (each with likely tens of millions of users or more) and many others use RSS it is just that people do not know it.

We should likely stop talking about RSS. We need to simply start calling RSS “Subscribing”. “Subscribe to my blog” is the only thing we need to say.

Also, tools like Inoreader, Feedly, etc. should create far better ways to surface content for readers from their active subscriptions. When people subscribe to more than just a few sites it quickly can be overwhelming to people that don’t like to wake up to “inboxes” with 300 unread count. People just abandon those. It is why Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. all use algorithms to select which content people should see when they open the app. I’m weird. I want to see everything in reverse chronological order. But “most people” want to see something interesting for the few moments they devote to reading their subscriptions.

RSS will never be as popular as Facebook. Let’s all get over it. But please do subscribe to my site. 🙂

Twitter fixes their timeline

YES!!!!!! The Verge:

Twitter has made a surprise change to how it shows tweets to its users, following a viral thread earlier today that discussed ways to reverse the platform’s algorithmic timeline. Now, when you uncheck the settings box reading “Show the best tweets first,” Twitter will completely revert your timeline to a non-algorithmic, reverse-chronological order, which is how Twitter was originally designed and operated for years until the company introduced a default algorithmic model in early 2016.

I saw this tweet last night and immediately turned this on. Now with this new setting I don’t need it. Please keep this Twitter. Please!

Manton Reece on smaller social networks

Manton Reece:

Many people are looking for “the next Twitter”, but it’s not enough to replace Twitter with a new platform and new leadership. Some problems are inevitable when power is concentrated in only 2-3 huge social networks — ad-based businesses at odds with user needs and an overwhelming curation challenge. This might be Mastodon’s greatest contribution: getting people used to the idea of many smaller, interoperable communities.

I agree with this far more today than I have in the past. I too was looking for the next Twitter. But now I’m glad there won’t likely be a replacement but that we will divide our time and interests across many communities. It will likely keep them all more civil and better.

Leo Laporte leaves Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook

Leo Laporte:

Yesterday I deactivated my Twitter account and kicked Tumblr to the curb. A couple of weeks ago I did the same with Instagram. A month or so before that I killed Facebook. And I survived. No, thrived!

I had deleted my Twitter account in the past and lived. And while I haven’t deleted my account again I am on Twitter far less than ever. I spend much more time in my RSS reader (like in 2003 era), dabble on Micro.blog, and now on Mastodon a bit. It feels so much better even if decentralized.

Real Twitter

Over the weekend Andy Baio tweeted a URL to a search result that shows Twitter the way it used to be:

This magical link shows your Twitter timeline in true chronological order—without retweets, liked tweets, or any algorithm nonsense. (On mobile? Click “Latest.”) Enjoy!

Erin Sparling owned realtwitter.com and pointed it to that URL now.

Keeping a record of your thoughts and media and owning it

Go ahead and read Matt Haughey’s post on why he left Twitter. But I wanted to pull out this bit:

I didn’t like that everything I wrote ended up being hard to find or reference, and even hard for me to pull up myself when I wanted, where a blog makes it pretty dang easy to see everything you wrote about in the past.

If I’m analyzing my reasons for blogging and/or microblogging on my own domain this is likely #1. I love having a history of my thoughts, guesses, observations, and photos. And I love that I own it.

So Brent is done and so is Matt. Even if all of us very early Twitter power users (I was user 10,000 or so) left Twitter it wouldn’t matter to them at all. Brent is correct. Saying Twitter is bad is better said with your feet than your fingers. I rarely tweet these days and write here much more. I think I’ll continue for 30 more years at least.

The Android apps I use every day

From the time I switched to Android in late-2017 (more here) I’ve been installing and uninstalling apps and services from my phone – trying to find the right mix for me. I expect the apps, preferences, and everything about my mobile experience to continue to change but lately it seems to have settled a little. So I thought I’d share what I’m currently using day-to-day.

My current Android home screen.

Pocket Casts – I have a 25-minute commute to and from work every day so having a podcast app that I like is very important to me. I’m so glad that Pocket Casts exists because Google’s default podcast app, called Google Play Music (for now) is not very good.

Pocket Casts’ Up Next feature is very well done, in that I can create my own playlist using the currently downloaded episodes, or cherry picked episodes, from any podcast I want. I set aside a moment once or twice per week to curate that list and Pocket Casts does the rest.

It also looks very nice in split-screen mode with the other app I use daily while driving Waze.

Waze – I had heard about Waze for years before I tried it in earnest. When I first downloaded it on iOS and tried it I thought it looked like a game. (And, yes, I suppose it is.) But, it turns out to be very useful in many ways. Like Google Maps it can give you directions from A to B, but that isn’t really what Waze is made for. Waze is made to make your morning commute faster and safer. The Waze-using community can report problems like traffic, accidents, police, etc. and anyone behind them can be warned in advance of these things. It has made a huge difference in my morning commute and helped tremendously in longer trips like our trip to Kentucky earlier this year.

Clip Stack – This little utility saves clipboard history and allows you to manage your clipboard. An app like this, on any platform, comes in handy more often than you’d think.

JW Library – My Bible and research/study app for all things biblical. Not only does it have tons of different Bible translations it also allows for notes, highlighting, video/audio, and more. The app has continued to improve since it debuted a few years ago.

Lose It! – I’m on a diet for the rest of my life so I use Lose It! to track my calories every single day. The app is updated often and is improving a lot each time.

Snapseed – It takes a little while to get used to this photo editing app. But I love that I can save my own “Looks” (or sets of photo edits). I use it on my Pixel 2 XL and also on my iPad. Nearly every photo you’ve seen from me since December 2017 has gone through Snapseed.

Flamingo – Unfortunately, if you don’t already have this app you can no longer get it. Flamingo is a sane Twitter app that records your place on the timeline and shows tweets reverse chronologically.

Spotify – I love Spotify. After trying Apple Music for a few months I can say that Spotify’s playlists just absolutely blow Apple’s offering out of the water. There is no comparison. I can understand why iOS users would use Apple Music due to how it is built into everything – but there is no reason to use it otherwise. Spotify is just better.

LaunchBoard – I use this app to quickly launch any app that isn’t on my home screen full time. You tap it, tap the first letter of the app you want, and launch the app. Think of it like using Spotlight on iOS. Same number of gestures too.

WordPress – Short status updates and some of my photo posts are created, and sometimes drafted sometimes published, using the WordPress app. It was unusable on Dreamhost but now that my site is hosted on Digital Ocean the app works great. Something I didn’t realize was that I can use this app without activating the bulky JetPack plugin. So I’ve done that and my site is much happier as a result. In fact, I’ve reduced my site’s footprint dramatically recently and I couldn’t be happier.

Chrome – One of the main reasons I switched to Android was being able to have a desktop and mobile browser of my choice. So I’m able to use Chrome (or any other browser) as my default. I also use Micro.blog via Chrome since that is the only way I can currently.

Messages – Pixel’s default SMS manager is called Messages. It works fine for what I use it for. I’m not looking forward to the updates coming to “Chat” that I’m reading about. These updates feel like HTML email – they are fun, but I don’t need those things. SMS works just fine for me. I wouldn’t mind, however, end-to-end encryption of all messages.

Voice Recorder – I record my audio bits using Voice Recorder. I haven’t be publishing many lately but I’ve been recording them still. This is a great way to capture content and ideas.


A few more apps that I have installed on Android that, while I may not use every single day, are great apps to have:

Wikipedia – I read a lot of information on Wikipedia. Mostly on my iPad. Having an app dedicated to it is very nice to save pages for reading later, doing research on multiple topics, etc.

Inoreader – I generally do not read RSS subscriptions on my phone unless I’m killing time. But, when I do I like having Inoreader on my phone. Feedly would work fine too.

Notable mentions are Microsoft Teams and Slack, Google Pay, Twitter app (for Moments when something happens), Dark Sky (though, I’ve been using this less lately since Google updates me on the weather), Google Photo Scanner, Trello.


Also, an app I use daily but that I didn’t have to install is the Camera. The Camera app is actually quite good for my use.

Any Android apps that I should check out that are not on my list?

What I would write about Vero

Colin Walker wrote his hot take on Vero and it is exactly what I would have written (only his post is far more eloquent than mine would have been). Go read the entire post but here are a few highlights.

As soon as I saw what Vero was all about – the idea it “makes sharing online more like real life” using selective audiences I was immediately taken back to the promises of Google+ and its circles.

This is an apt comparison. As he rightly points out, managing ones Circles on Google+ and deciding who to share what with is exhausting to the user. On paper it seems like an excellent approach. But on every social network that has this feature – Facebook included – it is rarely used. Who wants to move people from one list to another only to move them back again when your relationship with them shifts?

Although Vero promises an algorithm free feed and no ads (it will monetise using subscriptions and charges for selling via the platform) I’m not sure that jumping from the frying pan of one silo straight into the as yet unproven fire of another is what we really need right now.

I thought about this when I signed up. However, it doesn’t take much for a platform like Vero to support the open web and be less of a silo than Facebook or Twitter. An open API, data portability, and support for one’s own domain are the main features. I can’t presume that no other platforms will support the open web eventually. In fact, imagine if Twitter did this like Medium has? Then what would people think of Twitter?

I wish them well and hope they prove me wrong but, while I think the noise about Russian developers and the CEO being the son of a former Lebanese prime minister is stupid and tantamount to inciting racial hatred, I’m afraid I won’t be signing up.

I’m very glad he brought this up. When I saw the drivel on Twitter about these details about this platform I was saddened. Are we saying all Russian developers are bad? Or all Lebanese billionaires? I would always urge caution when signing up to brand-new platforms but to think we’d all call these people out simply based on where they were born is… well Colin already said what it is.

Eliza and I poked around with Vero as much as we could while the app crashed and timed out. It won’t stick. Not because of the scaling issues – most platforms have those. It won’t stick because it will be far too noisy for users right out of the gate.

When Instagram pivoted from a check-in app to a filtered photo app it exploded because it made photo editing and publishing one simple step. It did one thing well. Slowly it has added other features but this primary feature is still the foremost one today. Vero has photos, music, links, books etc. Once the hype settles down people just want to post photos. Instagram should be scared of whatever comes next. Obviously people (including me) do not like the current algorithmic feed. But Vero is no Instagram killer.

Jack Baty on follower counts

Jack Baty:

Years ago on Twitter, I would use follower counts as an indicator of authority or perhaps as a way to gauge someone’s impact on a community or topic. With so many followers, he or she must have useful or interesting things to say, right? That probably wasn’t a great way to think about follower counts even then, but it worked as often as not.

I quit Twitter with thousands of followers. Many of which I’d say were bots. Accounts with millions of followers also have a huge percentage of bots following them. I restarted my account from scratch and now only have dozens. Follower count means nothing about the person behind it.

Reminds me of this 2014 post.

An interview with Manton Reece of Micro.blog

I have fond memories of the very early days of WordPress (when it had just been forked from b2/cafelog), of Twitter, of Brightkite, of App.net, of Mastodon… just to name a few. The early days of any platform or so important to what they will become. They are the most fun to watch.

The early days of any platform can be frustrating too. Services sometimes go down, features aren’t released as quickly as you’d like, and small bugs can hamper your workflow.

I liken it to watching art be created. It can be a bit messy, it can sometimes confuse you, but when you see the final product you have the privilege of knowing how the platform got to that final state.

Yesterday I volleyed back and forth via email with Manton Reece, the founder and creator of Micro.blog. Micro.blog is in that same relatively early stage where new features are released with regularity, where the community is growing steadily, and where the users have the strongest voice.

He kindly answered a few questions. But here are a few highlights that I plucked from his answers:

  • Micro.blog is both an aggregator of blog posts and a blog/site hosting platform
  • Features on Micro.blog are rolled out slowly on purpose, to be sure they won’t disrupt the principles behind the service. And they often come from what users are already doing on the platform.
  • Native support for audio and podcasts are already part of the plan
  • Many users that use the hosting feature use their Micro.blog-powered site as their primary web site
  • Community support members for curation, help, etc. will be the primary area the team will grow, outweighing engineering

Here is the interview and his responses in their entirety.

First, thank you for making Micro.blog. For me personally it is surfacing some excellent independent microbloggers that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. Now that Micro.blog is open to the public, is there anything that you see happening on the platform, either now or during the beta period, that has surprised or delighted you?

Thanks for being part of the Micro.blog community! I’ve loved how people not only embrace the platform, but in many cases get back to writing at an old blog that they had accidentally neglected, or get inspired to start up a new microblog at their own domain name. So many beautiful photos have been posted, which we like to highlight in the Discover section, and the tone of conversations has remained thoughtful and respectful even as the platform has grown.

I’m also happy to see that many Micro.blog users have warmed up to some of the early decisions we made to not copy every feature from other popular social networks. For example, not showing follower counts or worrying about how many likes a post has received.

People seem to really enjoy the new emoji-based topics we introduced recently, to collect posts about books or music or sports. Little experiments like these are a reaction to what the community is already doing. The best thing we can do is build features that support what people are posting about — to encourage the kind of posts that make Micro.blog a nice place to be — and then see which of those features resonates.

Have you been surprised at all by the number of photos that people are posting? Or, did you always think that Micro.blog would be a great place for people to share photos? And, do you think you’ll see audio or video shared more on Micro.blog in the future?

I’ve always thought photo-blogging would be a perfect fit for Micro.blog, and we’ve tried to build good support for it in the iOS app, such as having built-in photo filters. Many people are frustrated with Twitter and Instagram and want to post photos to their own web site again. But I was still happily surprised to see so many photos. There was also some help from the community, such as Doug Lane running a 7-day photo challenge.

Our plan was to start with photos, with good photo hosting, and then expand to natively support audio and podcasts. After that, video. I think video can quickly become kind of overwhelming and busy when shown in a timeline — especially with auto-playing video, which we don’t want to do. So I’m comfortable expanding this support fairly slowly to make sure we get it right.

I see Micro.blog as two parts: 1. A community of syndicated microblog posts that are populated by people’s independent web sites using RSS or JSON feeds. And, 2. A blogging platform that allows you to create a simple blog (with an emphasis on microblogging). Is this the right way to look at Micro.blog now and into the future? And if so, why tackle both problems rather than simply #1?

That’s the right way to think about it. What I found while developing Micro.blog is that just building a more open social network-like platform wasn’t enough. If we wanted to encourage people to blog more, we needed to make blogging itself much easier. The best way to do that is to also offer to host someone’s blog for them directly on Micro.blog.

Blogs hosted on Micro.blog started with an emphasis on microblogging, but they have improved significantly since we initially launched, and now offer many features competitive with other dedicated blog hosts. There are Micro.blog users who have their full web site hosted by Micro.blog because it’s just more convenient.

This second part of Micro.blog is also very important to grow the service as a business. I want to run Micro.blog for decades to come. The only way to do that — to pay for all the servers and other supporting services — is for Micro.blog to be profitable. Since we never want to show ads, offering paid plans such as blog hosting is a great way to go.

Would you be willing to share any interesting stats? Some that I’d personally be interested in tracking would be the most number of posts in an hour, the greatest number of signups in a day, stats like that.

And as a follow-up: As the platform (meaning the software, hardware, underlying services, backup routines, databases, etc.) become more complex surely you’ll need to expand from being the two-person team Micro.blog is currently. What position do you think the next full or part-time team member of Micro.blog will fill?

I don’t currently have many stats to share. We have been so busy improving the platform that we haven’t built anything to track things like spikes in the number of posts. There is a 500-user limit on new registrations per day. When we opened it up to the public, the limit was just 100 which was reached pretty quickly as people would share a link to their friends.

There are so many areas that we could use a larger team for, like system administration and planning how to scale the platform. As you noted, the first person to join Micro.blog was Jean MacDonald, our community manager. I hope that the community will continue to grow such that we’ll need additional curators to help manage features like the Discover section.

Facebook recently announced they were hiring 10,000 moderators, and I know Twitter has a large staff as well. I expect one mistake that these larger social networks made early on was hiring too many programmers, and not enough curators. For Micro.blog we always want people who can interact with the community and stay ahead of any issues.

Discover has already seen a few iterations. First, it was a simple list of users. Then it expanded to include photos posted by the community. After that, a human-curated list of posts was added. And now, hashtag-like emoji’s allow you to find posts on topics like books, music, and football. Did I miss anything? This must be a fun part of Micro.blog to tweak and see how the community responds. I know I’ve found it to be very fun to have open a few times during the day. Can you share a little about how posts end up in the Discover tab? Who is making those selections and what are the next steps?

I feel like the current iteration of Discover is by far the best yet. There were a couple problems with just featuring a list of users. You can only feature so many users, so we randomly selected users to show from the featured list. Those users would get a lot of attention but unless we continually update the list, it might not be enough people to fill your timeline with interesting posts if you just pick a few people to follow. The list got stale quickly as new people were joining the platform.

Now, throughout the day we skim through posts and replies and put them in Discover. This is a better reflection of the activity on the platform. It’s not all posts, but it’s a good snapshot of the kind of things people are posting about. It looks good and isn’t overwhelming. It’s a great way to find new users who just joined Micro.blog, too.

Emoji topics are a little different. Whenever Micro.blog sees a new post, it checks it for emoji and adds it to a collection. If an inappropriate post shows up, we can just remove it from the collection without effecting anything else about that post or user on Micro.blog. There are a limited number of emoji, which keeps everything simple. I don’t think it will get out of control like Twitter hashtag search results often do.

One aspect I’ve always loved about microblogging was that it could be consumed and participated with in realtime. A few examples that come to mind are backchannels for live TV events like awards shows, or for conferences and meetups, etc. Is this something the Micro.blog team thinks about much? Are there any apps, features, or other considerations that would be made specifically to foster realtime interactions for things like this?

I agree this is a natural fit for indie microblogging. Something like live sports might not appeal to everyone, so it would be useful for both tuning into those feeds or filtering them out. Over the weekend, we put the football emoji in the Discover section for people who were posting about the NFL playoffs, as a simple experiment for making current topics more discoverable.

There are myriad other things we could talk about like Pins, third-party applications, indieweb building blocks like Webmention, and the all new Micro.blog logo and app icon. Is there anything you’d wish to highlight? If so, please do. And lastly, what is something you wished I asked but didn’t that maybe you’d like to make sure people reading this interview know (feel free to allow this to be nothing)?

The third-party ecosystem and larger IndieWeb community are both really important. There are several third-party apps for Micro.blog in development now, for iOS and Android. When I was designing the Micro.blog API, I based it on JSON Feed, Micropub, and other common APIs so that third-party Micro.blog apps could also be adapted for other platforms. And likewise, Micro.blog benefits from many existing IndieWeb tools and open source software like WordPress. The more we can push forward the user experience for indie microblogging, making blogging more approachable, the stronger the open web will be.

Thanks Colin! It was great to have a chance to share some of our thoughts behind Micro.blog.

Thanks to Manton for taking the time to write thoughtful responses. If you haven’t yet given Micro.blog a try head on over to there and give it a whirl. You could very well make an impact on the type of place it becomes.

You can follow Manton on Micro.blog at @manton. And I’m @cdevroe.

Fred Wilson on owning your content

Fred Wilson:

I would never outsource my content to some third party. I blog on my own domain using open source software (WordPress) that I run on a shared server that I can move if I want to. It is a bit of work to set this up but the benefits you get are enormous.

The above quote is coming from someone who was a major investor in, and active user of,  Twitter. You can have both. You can tweet and enjoy using Twitter. You don’t have to boycott it to own your own content.

Over the last few months I’ve found the right balance for myself. I’m not syndicating anywhere* but publishing on my blog. I tweet from time-to-time, I post some photos to Instagram and Facebook from time-to-time, but I do all of that manually. I do so full-well-knowing that any of that content can disappear at any time. And I’d totally fine with it if it did, because everything I want to last is here on cdevroe.com.

* All of my posts do end up on micro.blog but that service is simply ingesting my RSS/JSON feed. I do not have to do anything special for that to work. If Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram did that I’d likely turn that on there too. But I’m tired of trying to keep up with their platform changes to write my own plugins, or even use plugins to do so. So I choose to manually POSSE and keep my sanity.

Repost: Cabel Sasser re: Apple update caching

👉 Cabel Sasser on Twitter:

macOS 10.13 Tip: have lots of iOS / Mac devices in your house? And a Mac that’s usually on? Turn on “Content Caching” in Sharing prefs, and updates will be downloaded to all your devices from your Mac, saving time and bandwidth. LINK

Threads now officially supported on Twitter

Sasank Reddy, on the Twitter blog:

Now, hundreds of thousands of threads are Tweeted every day! But this method of Tweeting, while effective and popular, can be tricky for some to create and it’s often tough to read or discover all the Tweets in a thread. That’s why we’re thrilled to share that we’re making it simpler to thread Tweets together, and to find threads, so it’s easier to express yourself on Twitter and stay informed.

I am not a fan of threads. They are ungainly, hard to follow, and a terrible reading experience.

That said, you cannot control how people will use a platform that you create. You can try to stop things you don’t like. You can attempt to ban a behavior. But that usually doesn’t work. Or you can make adjustments to make it a better experience. Like when Instagram introduced Stories to cut down on people making second accounts. Twitter has chosen to try to make threads on Twitter a little easier to do and hopefully a little easier to follow.

Before I pass judgement on how they’ve done this, I’ll let them iterate on these new features a few times to see if they can get it right. But, overall, I’m not a big fan of threads so even if they build an incredible UI for them I still do not believe I’d like them. But, again, (I can’t write this strongly enough) people are going to write threads on Twitter whether or not Twitter supports them.

As Manton Reece mentioned, I do not think threads are good for the web. But I don’t think they can be eradicated. I like how Micro.blog chooses to turn longer posts into “blog posts” (whatever that means these days) but that wouldn’t be right for Twitter. It is very right for Micro.blog.

I wonder? If I didn’t have a blog – and also didn’t really know how to set one up or had no desire to do so – would I appreciate this feature? I’m thinking I would. Or, I would write longer posts on Facebook and link from Twitter to those posts. Shiver.

Follow Hashtags on Instagram

Instagram:

Today we’re introducing the ability to follow hashtags, giving you new ways to discover photos, videos and people on Instagram. Now it’s even easier to stay connected with the interests, hobbies, passions and communities you care about.

This is an excellent feature. I won’t even go into all the ways Twitter should have been first to things like this (seeing as the hashtag was invented there).

If you’re building a platform that supports hashtags you may want to consider doing something like this too.

Doug Lane on Microblogging tone

Doug Lane, on thinking a bit more before publishing on his own site than he would on Twitter or Facebook:

If I let moments of anger or frustration sit for a bit, one of two things will happen. Most likely, I’ll move on to something more meaningful without shoving valueless negativity in anyone else’s face. Or, if something negative is still on my mind after some time has passed, I still have the option to post about it. But it’s likely that whatever I post, even if it’s still negative in tone, will be more thoughtful and constructive than a vent in the moment would have been.

I’ve recently jumped back into the fray. This is something I’ve notice immediately. I’ll post absolute drivel on Twitter whereas I curate and sensor myself far more here on my blog. Though, some of you likely wish I did that a bit more.

It also reminds me of an opinion that I have about Snapchat. I’ve mentioned it in the past. I think that it is totally fine that you feel a bit more free on Twitter or on Snapchat to post things that you may otherwise think are worthy of the bin. Because they are made for that. I actually like having the separation.

Colin Walker “be careful what you wish for”

Colin Walker:

I spent years blogging about social media, trying to think about ways to drive mainstream adoption. When we reached the tipping point I had to ask “what now?” but still managed to find things to write about for a while.

But, for the last several years, I have become increasingly disenchanted with social networks, and the way they operate, leading to the deletion of my Google Plus account and shuttering of my Twitter profile.

This strikes very close to home. For years and years I beat the social media drum. In fact, I’ve personally installed Twitter on people’s phones and signed them up to the service. But then, when I deleted my Twitter account, people thought I was nuts.

Wanting any social network to “take off” falls squarely in the “be careful what you wish for” department. If “everyone” was using your favorite network – you may not like it anymore. That is the case with Twitter*.

* Twitter problems are myriad. But a big one is that their community is full of wolves.

Twitter’s new character UI

Josh Wilburne, Designer at Twitter:

With this in mind, we designed a system that defines two types of written languages, dense and non-dense, and expands the character limit for non-dense languages. By grouping languages this way, we can give people writing in non-dense languages like English and Spanish the same space to express themselves as people writing in information-dense languages like Japanese. This will make sharing thoughts and ideas on Twitter a lot less frustrating for many more people, while maintaining brevity on Twitter overall.

Twitter’s recent character count increase isn’t as simple as 140+140 (even though Jack tweeted thus). They seem to have done this thoughtfully. I think once the #280characters meme dies down a little things will settle in nicely for Twitter. I’ve already seen some great cases where it was used.

I also very much like the UI they’ve designed for showing you your progress which Wilburne covers in his post.

Rob Weychert reflects on 10 years of tweeting

Rob Weychert, reflecting on 10 years of Twitter usage, and the next 10:

I don’t know how the positive experiences I’ve had with Twitter stack up against the harm it’s caused, and I don’t know if I’ll be writing another post like this ten years from now, but I’m glad to have had the opportunity to collect these thousands of tiny moments over the last decade, and to have this milestone to reflect on them.

See also.

Side note: I downloaded all of my tweets before I deleted my Twitter account. I’m unsure if I’ll ever bring them back in any form but I’m glad I have them all.

Mike Monteiro on Twitter

Mike Monteiro on Medium on Twitter:

Twitter today is a cesspool of hate. A plague of frogs. Ten years ago, a group of white dudes baked the DNA of the platform without thought to harassment or abuse. They built the platform with the best of intentions. I still believe this. But they were ignorant to their own blind spots. As we all are. This is the value of diverse teams by the way. When you’re building a tool with a global reach (and who isn’t these days) your team needs to look like the world it’s trying to reach. And ten years later, the abuse has proven too much to fix.

We all miss the old Twitter. But it is gone and isn’t coming back. Many of us bloggers have covered this for the last few years. We all need to move on. But I’m glad Mike took the time to write about it. It is cathartic.

Jason Snell on Twitterrific for Mac

Jason Snell:

I started using Twitter because of Twitterrific for Mac. When the Iconfactory first released the app, I signed up for a Twitter account and started chatting with my friends. That was ten years ago.

Ditto. I actually started using Twitter via SMS in 2006 then saw it bloom at SXSW in 2007 but then when I saw Twitterrific in 2007-2008 it became a daily (heck, hour-by-hour) habit.