Slimming down the domain-portfolio

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Unrelated picture of sausages
Unrelated picture of sausages

It’s 2016 and this is my first blog post of the year. I’m writing it on this blog that served me so well for almost 13 years. The domain, which I bought after realizing that that’s what the grown-up blogs do, was the first domain-name I bought, but it definitely wasn’t the last.

The second one I bought was for a web-service that lived only in it’s concepts, which in itself were not far more than a few notes scribbled in a text-editor. No surprise it never came to fruition. I kept the name for a year, then realized it was a bad idea anyway and slowly let it lapse.

The next ones I bought were kept for longer. When the tumble-log craze of the mid 2000s came, I bought Back then I thought it was a fun idea to jot down the notes, quotes, pictures and whatever else I stumbled upon on my travels through the web. I attached it first to a tumblr account, then a account, but after years of rather willful neglect more or less forgot about it. Still, I kept it around, attached it to a few other blog ideas I had, which again, rarely ever made it off the ground.

At the end of the last year, I let this one lapse too. Compared to my ill-fated webservice, I felt some hesitation when I decided not to renew it. It had belonged to me for a while and even though nothing great came of it, ever, I liked the name (even though I don’t anymore think it’s as witty as I thought it was). But I simply saw that I had too many domains.

It’s a funny thing with domain names. As with the two above, they’re always the first thing you buy when you have a great idea. Getting projects off the ground is hard, thinking up domain-names isn’t – it’s actual fun! And once you’ve bought it, you attach it to a blog or a “coming soon” service and feel elated. The rude awakening comes a few weeks, months or years later when you realize that you’re still paying for this name that never went anywhere.

It’s not always that tragic, though. Another of the names I bought was, a media-watchblog I founded with a friend in the mid-2000s. The project went strong for three years, until we both one day noticed that we’re sick of reading crap newspapers. But the site is still up, for posterity’s sake and as a vigil to the accumulated weeks I spent  going through said newspapers finding crappy stuff they wrote in their crappy articles. Finding these things wasn’t exactly fun, but it was satisfying in the way popping a pimple feels. But I am digressing.

Earlier last year I made the decision to consolidate my online-outfits. I conceded to the cold, hard truth that most of the blogs I had running were being shamefully neglected and in order to remedy this, I’d have to find out which ones I still needed, which ones I didn’t and which ones I could easily transfer into this blog right here.

After a bit of hemming and hawing, I finally decided that my tech blog would have to be the first one to go and imported all my old posts into this blog. You can now find those under the category tech-stuff. Ironically, that’s how the tech-stuff posts started out, and for some reason I deemed it necessary to create a separate blog for all the things focusing on the tech world. Nowadays I’m more relaxed about it, so if someone reading up on my favourite podcast app happens to read about my visit to the Styrian alps, I don’t have a problem with it.

The next blog I’m planning on incorporating into this blog is my food blog. The name, as a play on death by chocolate, was fun when I came up with it, and even though I still like it, I feel it’s run its course. Also, when I created my food-blog, there was still some fun in it. Today it’s yet another niche that’s less about the initial topic and more about how to make money writing about that topic; a tendency that will befall every successful niche sooner or later.

Within my own kingdom of blogs that will leave me with the dukedom of, which I suspect will soon be incorporated into this blog as an aside category.

Then, there’s still, a hidalgo of sorts and a domain I bought on a whim and which will probably at some point helm my broadcasting empire. But that, as so many other of my projects, will have to wait until the world is ready for it. Until then, the domain is parked somewhere on my webhost’s server.

I have to admit that while getting rid of domains is instilling a feeling of sadness akin to giving away a dog you’ve had for years but can’t keep anymore because you’re moving into a place that doesn’t allow dogs, it’s also kind of liberating (sorry, dog). I can concentrate on the actual content and I don’t have to face the fact that whatever projects I had in mind buying these domains have failed or never gotten off the ground. Also, it’ll be cheaper.


An ode to Pocket Casts

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The web-version of Pocket Casts. It's not free, but it's great.
The web-version of Pocket Casts. It’s not free, but it’s great.

I’ve been listening to podcasts, on and off, for the better part of ten years now and while in the early days it was quite a bit cumbersome to get your latest episodes onto your portable player, nowadays it’s one of the easiest things out there. Not least due to a plethora of apps and services that help you with just that. After using quite a few of them, I’m now quite sure that the best is Pocket Casts. It’s available for not just Android and iOS, but Windows Phone too (for the 1%ers, so to speak).

The UI is easy on the eyes, it’s fast, it syncs everything between whatever device you want to use it on and best of all, it’s even got a web interface (which you can see above). But hey, that’s not all. Here’s their very own feature list: 2015-12-10 17-23-28

Variable speed is something I’m quite fond of. While, for example, I really enjoy Hardcore History’s Dan Carlin and his way of telling history, I sometimes am pressed for time and it’s absolutely possible to listen to him at twice the speed.

A word about the web version: while it’s not free, it’s only 9 USD, and they let you try it out for free for 14 days. I tried it for a few minutes and bought it. Because hey, it’s a steal.

And by the way, I’ve also made the jump from listening to creating and am now part of a podcast myself. It’s called Zeitsprung, it’s about history and I’m one half of it. The other half is my friend and longtime co-conspirator Daniel of Codinghistory fame. So if you do install Pocket Casts, make sure to add us to your queue.

The demise of the add-on service

Reading Time: 4 minutes
A screenshot of Carousel. Yes, I take pictures of food.
A screenshot of Carousel. Yes, I take pictures of food.

A few days ago users of Mailbox and Carousel, two very different services, saw e-mails in their inbox telling them about the impending sunsetting of said services.

Mailbox was a rather innovative approach to e-mail inboxes, allowing people to do fun stuff like deferring mails and having them return to their inbox at a pre-set, hopefully more opportune time.

Carousel on the other hand was an app that worked like a phone’s gallery, allowing users to share their pictures with friends and family. It was a good app, even though it wasn’t, even by a long shot, the only contender in the field.

So what did both those apps have in common? They both belonged to Dropbox, the massively successful service that allows people to upload their files to a remote server, both as a backup and collaboration tool.

Carousel was announced only about a year and a half ago, and to me it was a rather logical kind of thing to have for Dropbox. Dropbox has facilitated the automated upload of pictures taken with your smartphone for a while now (I think it actually was the first service to do that – now everyone and their grandma begs you to allow them to upload your pictures into their cloud – from Google Photos to Facebook and Flickr). It made sense then to have a mobile app that worked well with the pictures uploaded to Dropbox, simply because Dropbox’ own mobile app didn’t let you do much with your photos.

Mailbox, on the other hand, was a bit of a head-scratcher. The app saw light as the product of a company called Orchestra, and as Wired noted two days ago, Dropbox bought the app before it was even fully released (according to them for a whopping 100 million USD). I never saw why users of Dropbox would want to use an e-mail app, simply because Dropbox bought it. But, some people did like it.

Now, a few years later, Dropbox realized that they weren’t really interested in offering these kinds of services anymore, and both of these apps will see their early demise in February and March respectively.

Admittedly, for the companies that get bought and taken along for the ride, even if it ends prematurely, it’s not that bad. Because, hey, early exit and maybe even a job on the side at the company that bought them (at least until their options get vested). That’s not too shabby. For the actual users of the products: well, tough shit.

Instead, Dropbox says they want to focus on Paper, a service that’ll be integrated into their service and promises to provide new ways of collaboration (it’s currently in a closed beta). Definitely a nod towards their enterprise goals, even if it’s to the detriment of the above apps more geared towards their consumer clientele. As to its actual use: Really too early to say, but I gotta tell ya, there’s already a ton of collaboration tools out there, and Dropbox will have to fight an uphill battle to actually get customers to use it over the likes of Google Docs, Microsoft Office 360 and the plethora of smaller tools that basically do the same thing. Abandoning smaller, but well-liked apps for that seems like a gamble. But again, if it doesn’t work out, they’ll probably just shutter that too in a year and a half.

But, that’s not all: there’s other examples of add-on services that get shutdown after a short while. I’m not even going to start with companies like Google or Yahoo!, simply because they’ve sunset so many apps and services, it would make this already unbearably long blog post even longer.

Let’s look instead at a company of similar size (and popularity) as Dropbox: Evernote! Evernote is this great behemoth of the note-taking services. And it’s that for a reason. It’s multi-platform (even though it steadfastedly refuses to support Linux), it innovates at a reasonable pace and it’s just hugely useful for anyone who likes to collect notes, texts, ideas, pictures or simply whatever you want to throw at it. So, in 2011 Evernote created an add-on service called Food. Right on time, no? The foodie-craze was just sweeping across the lands and instagramming meals was the hot new shit. I, too, loved the service. You could take and store pictures of your food, but you didn’t have to share them. Instead the app would find out where the pictures were taken (geo-location, yeah!), and then you could archive all that in your Evernote account. It was great for someone who liked remembering when and where they ate what, without having to abandon their careful craftet anti-social persona. Through the years it underwent a few iterations, and got the added functionality of becoming something like a centralized recipe vault. I wasn’t too much into that, but still, I liked the effort.

And then, in August this year, Evernote announced they’d shut down the app. Not surprisingly, their main reason cited was their desire to move more towards the workplace and business uses of Evernote. To hell with the pesky consumer and their obsession with food. It’s time to focus on those yummy spreadsheets instead!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I see where these companies are coming from. Once they reach a certain size and their Armada chests are filled with all that investor money, they go and either develop or buy apps that might work with their core service. I like that they do, because I, like most of their customers, trust these services to provide a good product, so they get my trust when it comes to all that other stuff they want me to use.

So what exactly is my problem with what’s happening? Doesn’t it make sense that a company would focus on these parts of their businesses that promise the most profit? Sure. But in the case of Dropbox and Evernote, who were built on the trust they received from their consumer-base, I feel side-lined as one of those consumers myself, the above mentioned trust in them abused. In the case of Evernote’s Food, I actually spent time curating my collections, which now barely exist somewhere deep inside my Evernote archives, never to be looked at again, but still there, resentfully lingering in this worst kind of user created content limbo.

But hey, at least I wrote another blogpost, bumping my total number to 996. And in contrast to Mailbox, Carousel or Food (the app, not the actual sustenance), this thing here won’t go away anytime soon.

PS: I noticed that apps that use dictionary words as names happen to have a really short life: Disco, Color, Carousel, Food, Mailbox, Hello. Coincidence or conspiracy? You decide!

One list to rule them all

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I have a thing for using apps that seemingly make my life easier, but which ultimately just take a large chunk out my day. And I mean every day.

Here’s an example: A few days ago I was notified by Remember the Milk, my goto todo-list app, that my pro account is about to run out. So, being the fickle customer that I am, I started checking out similar apps, to see whether some of them were cheaper (not that their price tag of $25 is exceedingly high) or had more features (of which I usually use about 10%) or were maybe a tad prettier (yeah, sorry).

After a few hours of research, I managed to whittle down the number of contenders to just two more. There’s Todoist and there’s Wunderlist.

Now, in my heart of hearts I know that in the end, it doesn’t really matter what app I use. As long as I can put in some tasks and then mark them as done, all is well.

But I get easily dazzled by the promise of work done more efficiently, so I suddenly think that having a desktop app for Windows 10 is super important (Wunderlist and Todoist have those, RTM doesn’t).

Or I can’t get over the fact how smooth Todoist’s natural language processing is, even though I’ve never actually wanted to add a task that said: “Pick up my dry-cleaning every second Monday starting next Monday” (Todoist would totally know how to parse this, RTM and Wunderlist would struggle).

Or I’m thinking that Evernote, the heap onto which I throw everything, hoping it’ll all just magically not turn into utter chaos (it doesn’t), needs to be integrated with my todo-list. RTM has Evernote integration, and even though I get easily confused by having tasks both in Evernote and in RTM, and have therefore rarely used it, I suddenly think I probably couldn’t live without it anymore (Wunderlist and Todoist integrate with Evernote via intermediaries, like IFTTT, but that’s a tad cumbersome).

Now, all this research into a little app that could probably be replaced by some pen and paper, but I’m not even done yet. Since I’ve been an RTM customer for a few years now, I’ve grown somewhat attached to the company. They’re those good people from Australia who started out with this dream of creating a great todo-list app and who am I to stand in their way over lack of a Windows 10 client?

Wunderlist, on the other hand, was bought out by Microsoft recently, and if the purported numbers are correct, they’re now millionaires. I don’t think they’ll need my money (which might be the reason why their free plan has all the features of their pro plan, minus some extra wallpapering. I give them that).

So in the end, I’m back where I started. I’ll stick with RTM, despite their shocking lack of a desktop client (seriously, what an oversight). I’ll pay them their money to get all the pro features (of which I’ll use 10%). And I’ll feel good about it, because I know it’s the right thing to do.

I think.

PS: If you can’t decide on a new todo-list app, drop me a note. I now know everything about them. Everything.