Lowering Friction

Last Friday morning, I arrived at Heathrow airport outside London after traveling on two flights after more than 13 hours of travel. Although I had slept for about 3 hours on the trans-Atlantic flight, I was tired! The shower and breakfast at the Arrivals Lounge helped me wake up a bit, then, I headed to my hotel. Or, more accurately, I tried to head to my hotel.

In most cities, hotels near the airport have shuttle bus service. In some cities, like San Francisco, multiple hotels team up and share the same shuttle service. At Heathrow, though, that's not the case, although it may seem to be. There are two bus lines that serve the hotels: London transit and the Hotel Hoppa by National Express. While the hotel web sites say the London transit buses are free, I was unable to find them in the area for the hotel busses. Rumor has it there's a bus station somewhere in the airport, but I gave up trying to find it. I just wanted to get to my room.

The Hotel Hoppa, on the other hand, is relatively easy to find, but you have to find the right one for your hotel. That can be a challenge. Signs are limited, and the bus marques don't show all the hotels. I did eventually find the right one, though, and got on and put down my bags. The driver asked if I had a ticket.

Um... No.

How would I get one? I have no idea. He said he could also take cash. However, he couldn't take a credit card, or the London Oyster card, or anything else I had. So, off the bus I got after collecting my bags and headed for the cabs.

Since the hotel trip was such a short distance, they would only take cash, too!

Frustration!

So, I schlepped my stuff back into the terminal, found an ATM, got some cash, went back out and got in a cab and went to my hotel. Still frustrated, and now tired, again.

Think about how hard that was for a customer of the hotel! Heathrow caters to many travelers from all around the world who, like me, who come off an international flight and want to find respite at a Heathrow hotel. Why not make it easier?

Think about this in your business: it is easy for your customers to do business with you? How many hurdles do they have to cross before you serve them? Do you give your customers opportunity to be frustrated or do you deliberately work to eliminate challenges before it causes you to lose business?

Take the time to figure out the answer, and then reduce that friction to be as low as possible. How many customers give up before they get to the end?

How to Reveal Future Features

As the sun set over London recently, I sat by the window in my hotel room overlooking Heathrow airport having a conversation with a friend who is a start-up CEO. She was navigating a tricky situation with competitors and industry thought leaders. As we talked, the topic of all the things the product could do in the future emerged, and we discussed how it didn't do nearly all of the things she envisioned. This is a typical challenge for those with vision and a clear understanding of the value their product can bring as its capabilities expand.

However, as a member of a product or services team, do not even consider communicating futures to anyone. When it comes to what the product will do in the future, ask questions, take notes, and communicate gratitude for their input. Be prepared to communicate with customers your recognition that there is so much more you are planning to do without being specific. Be sure to draw clear lines between reality (what's available today) and futures (what may be available down the road). Honesty, clarity, transparency, and listening all go a long way to developing long-term customer relationships.

Having your conversations be about the customer's success, prioritizing value you plan to deliver according to their needs, and aligning as much as you can with what they need and want in the priority order they need and want it will lead to success for both you and them.

Shifting focus from who you are and what you do to who the customer is and what they need and want is hard! It's so fundamental to building a successful business, but it's also incredibly rare.

Do it in your business and watch what happens!

It's Your Own Fault!

The age of the Internet, with always-on ubiquitous connectivity to everyone, has created a friction-free path to exposing the worst of people: attacking others for their own failure. It's ugly and mean, but ultimately only smears the person doing the attacking. I saw an example just today posted to a support site for an app I really enjoy. The smear didn't just complain about the app, but used an expletive and called it the "worst ... app ever." Now, this is obviously an exaggeration. And the expletive just gave it a bigger barb to do greater damage to the indie developer who wrote the app. It worked. The developer was hurt by the attack, although he responded with grace and humility in the best way possible, and that's really hard to do. I already respected him. I now respect him even more.

That said, what's behind this is an attitude that may be missed, so I'd like to underscore it: many people today want to blame others for the consequences of their choices, but only when they don't like them.

So, in this case, for some reason, the customer bought the app but doesn't like it. I'm not sure why. I love it. But, to each his own. Regardless, even though he can easily get a refund from the Apple App Store, he chose to blast the developer and the app on Twitter. Instead of owning that he bought something that he doesn't like, or going on to the developer's (very active) support site to get help, he just slammed it on social media.

When I read it, I just thought, "Here's a guy who isn't willing to accept the consequences of his choices and expects others to agree that they are wrong and then fix them when he doesn't like it."

This isn't healthy. It hurts the one who is using it to feel better. It represents an abdication that cannot actually be made: your life is your life. Your choices are your choices.

"I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day." --James Joyce (1882-1941)

When we try to blame our consequences (regardless of how harsh or challenging) on someone or something else, we give up our power. We convince ourselves that we cannot control the outcomes of our lives. Instead, we try to stay risk-free and "undo" the consequences that turn out different than we expect or want.

But, it never works. And therein lies the rub.

We know. Under it all, we know what we did, we know what we deserve as consequences, and over time it eats away at our character. Our integrity is stained by the cheating. Even if no one else sees it, we know. And we die a little each time.

Take back your power. Own your choices and their consequences. Succeed on your own merit.

Customer Success

When you apply this reality to customer success, you begin to see a few things. One of them is that the old adage "The customer is always right" is clearly false. This is the first principle I discuss in my customer relationship success program. While the customer isn't always right, it's critically important to show respect and humility. This is a first step towards success as a business, especially in the age of the Internet.

The Morality of Blocking Ads

Whether sitting at my kitchen table last week checking the latest news or viewing my Twitter or Facebook feeds on the run, the conflict over iOS 9's new ad blocking capability has created as much controversy as the Pope's message being in conflict with both the political right and the political left. Why?

I've read a number of useful insights into the ranging from Seth Godin's long-term perspective on caring for customers first to Dennis Seller's report of its impact on publishers and the advertising perspective of Randall Rothenberg.

However, as an analyst with a focus on root causes and the purpose of business, it's clear the none of these actually go far enough to get to the bottom of the real issue: value.

Fundamentally, advertising is a communication medium from the provider of a product or service to the prospective consumer of that product or service. So, for example, Apple wants to sell you a new iPhone, so it creates an advertisement to communicate to you so you will purchase it. The communication may take virtually any form, from the promise of a better life to the description of various iPhone features, but its goal is always to get you to buy.

So, how do they get that message to you?

They use middlemen who have your attention for other reasons. Perhaps a medium you use to enjoy entertainment, like TV, or maybe a blog you read for education. Since those media have your attention, they sell it to advertisers to support their production of more content. There are other middlemen, of course, including those who create and produce the ads, those who do the work necessary to deliver the ads on whatever media, and so on, but ultimately, that's the picture: a producer buying access to consumers to convince them to buy.

The problem is, the exchange happens between all the other players without the permission of the consumers. Your permission is assumed. It's the price you pay for consuming the content, and the various providers believe that you know this and are conscious of the arrangements. Ironically, the prevalence of the advertising means that consumers learn to tune it out and avoid it. We buy a DVR that allows them to skip over commercials, we change the radio station when a commercial comes on, and, yes, we install and use ad blockers for our web browsers on iOS.

There are times we don't, however. The Super Bowl, for example, has become a showcase for advertising. Super Bowl ads are ranked and discussed for weeks both leading up to the event and following it. They have created massive demand for brands, and web sites have crumbled under the crush of interest they generate.

But, these times are rare. We become jaded. It gets harder and harder to get our attention. So, the ads get more and more intrusive. Remember those animate GIF ads? How do you like hover ads (the ones that block the page so you have to look at them before you can read whatever you came to read)? More and more obtrusive, more and more expensive to experience.

So, we get ad blockers.

Now, some advertisers and the ad networks are working on options to get around blockers and the consumer choice they represent. What does that say about the entitlement they feel towards the time and attention of those they target with the ads? Exactly.

What about those who earn their livings by the ad revenue they receive and who are damaged by the loss of your attention?

The solution is simple, but hard: it takes a shift in paradigm, but the time has come. Change the way you think about ads, whether you buy them, create them, deliver them, host them, or consume them! Create value, and find ways to effectively "pay" consumer for their attention. If you have something to share with me that matters to me, I'll pay attention. If what you want to show me is something that has no value for me (like the mortgage ads I see any time my ad blocker is off!), it's a waste for both of us. Figure out a way to stop doing it!

Advertisers complain about the poor return on their online advertising investment. Here is why they have the issue: the ads are ugly, inconsiderate, obtrusive, and irrelevant. In a world where time is the most value commodity most people have, this is insulting. Stop doing it!

I understand that this means more work than has traditionally been done in advertising, except by the most advanced and creative teams. It's time to follow their lead.

To publishers who make their living from advertising: Don't blame Apple or those building the best-selling apps. You brought this on yourself.

For those who are primarily consumers, I have a challenge for you, too: don't expect great content to be free. It costs time, energy, talent, and effort to produce, and just because you can get it for free doesn't mean you should. Artists deserve compensation for their work, whether it's a news report, a painting, or a song. Compensate them for the benefit you get. It's the right thing to do, and it feels good to do it!

I Was Wrong About the iPhone 6

Last Wednesday, I was sitting in an AT&T store with my amazing daughter Rachel. She was finally replacing her iPhone 4S with a used iPhone 6. Mine.

So, I swapped my iPhone 6 for my son's old iPhone 5 as we did a family round-robin of phones in anticipation of the iPhone 6S release this Friday and the new iPhone Upgrade Program.

Last September, before I had my iPhone 6, I tweeted that I thought both the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus might be too big for me. When I got the iPhone 6, I was frustrated by the pockets it wouldn't fit and how conspicuous my phone had become. I looked forward to what I hoped would be a return to the smaller form factor by Apple in a future update.

Not any more.

When I pull the iPhone 5 out of my pocket, I realize that I miss the additional size of the iPhone 6. I miss the extra text, the extra row of icons, and even the way it feels in my hand. I've adjusted. I seldom one-hand the phone like I used to do with my iPhone 5S, but when I need to, the new swiping keyboards (like Swype, my favorite for the iPhone and SwiftKey, my favorite for my iPad) make it possible.

In short, the new size works for me. I still think the Plus is too big for me; I like to be able to put my phone in a pocket, and although the 6/6S is large in a pocket, it's still possible. The 6 Plus isn't (for me).

What's your experience?

The Age of Deception

Have you noticed that trust is disappearing? As I sat on my back porch watching Una the yellow lab guide dog puppy and Daisy, our Brittany frolic in an effort to corner one of the squirrels, it struck me how far we've fallen as a society. There was a time when honesty was an unimpeachable virtue to be celebrated and developed. Today, it seems, there is far more interest in dishonesty that leaves the listener placated and believing what makes them most comfortable.

Truth seems unwelcome.

"I'm not upset that you lied to me, I'm upset that from now on I can't believe you." -- Friedrich Nietzsche

One of the reasons I find science so comforting has historically been my belief in its objectivity:

  1. make an educated guess (hypothesis),
  2. design an experiment to test the guess,
  3. verify the guess, disprove it, or alter it and retry.

Unfortunately, as has become more and more obvious to me recently, this idealistic perspective of science is rarely reflected in reality. Instead, the process goes more like this:

  1. make a claim of something desired to be true
  2. design an experiment to prove its truth to others
  3. modify, falsify, ignore, or destroy data that doesn't support the claim

This happens across the board and for people as diverse as religious leaders and hardened earth scientists. The interest in truth seems to be effectively nonexistent, while the drive to claim and prove has expanded exponentially.

"There are three types of lies -- lies, damn lies, and statistics." -- Benjamin Disraeli

This leads the honest to answer two foundational questions:

  1. Does it matter to me whether or not I am truthful? And
  2. How will I behave in the face of this deception?

As a person long committed to truth, honesty, and integrity -- perhaps partially the result of a youth often spent deceiving others in an effort to improve my standing with them -- I had to decide how I would respond. It took an adjustment to my traditional approach to relationships, which had been, "Trust until evidence of deceit is clear." Given recent experiences, living that way is no longer supportable. Now, it's closer to Ronald Reagan's famous line, "Trust, but verify." Which is to say, "Recognize that others will try to deceive for their own benefit."

I am mourning the passing of my naive outlook.

"Those who have failed to work toward the truth have missed the purpose of living" -- Buddha

"You shall not speak falsely to others" -- the 9th Commandment

"And, do not cloak (and confuse) the truth with falsehood. Do not suppress the truth knowingly." -- Quran, 2:42

The second decision is about my own words and behavior: do I want to compromise my strict commitment to honesty and integrity in the face of overwhelming evidence that it is often not the path to the outcome I might want.

"Clinton lied. A man might forget where he parks or where he lives, but he never forgets oral sex, no matter how bad it is." -- Barbara Bush

For this decision, I was aided by Earl Nightingale as I listened once again to his wonderful album, "Lead the Field":

"It’s possible to get rich without enriching others, but for most of us, it’s not the way we want to go. It’s nothing to take pride in. Why bother when there are so many positive, excellent, and productive ways to serve others?" -- Earl Nightingale

Yes. It's worth it to me. I want to be honest. I want to know I have done my best and done so with good intentions, honestly, and with complete integrity.

"Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love." -- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

What about you? How will you speak and behave? How will you respond to those who lie, cheat, and steal to get what they want, even if their intentions might be good?

My encouragement to you is to take on the discipline of doing what you say, of honestly seeking truth, and of altering your perspective to match that truth to the very best of your ability.

"If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed." -- Adolf Hitler

Be a person of character. Sleep is so much sweeter when we are!

App of the Week: TripIt

This week, we take a bit of a shift away from productivity apps primarily on devices and move to a system for travel that has changed my experience. As a frequent traveler (I've averaged more than 100,000 miles of air travel each year for the past decade), every trip has a combination of information that is critical to make the travel aspect of the trip as uneventful as possible. TripIt has changed my experience by remembering all of the details, keeping them in one place, and placing them into my systems in ways that are very helpful. TripIt is a combination of a web site and an app that collect itinerary information, transform it into trips, and then allow for distribution to other systems like calendars. As a result, it has become the centerpiece of my travel logistics and relieved me of the burden of tracking the details.

How?

Well, first, TripIt captures all of my itineraries. It does this when I send them to plans@tripit.com or by checking my Google email account for me and finding itineraries there. It processes plane, train, automobile (rental), hotel, and other reservations, parsing the details out of the itineraries and building out "Trips" that contain the overlapping information. For example, for me a typical trip includes a round trip on an airplane, a rental car, and a hotel for the week. All of these are bundled into a "Trip" in the TripIt app, and I can view each item independently or as a group. This provides me very fast access to the "next" element of my trip (picking up the rental car or getting the hotel location, for example).

I also have TripIt add this information to a calendar, and I subscribe to that calendar within my calendar apps. This means that I know precisely how long a flight is scheduled to last, and it gets blocked for me without me having to do anything else.

As a result, I haven't lost a rental car confirmation number, forgotten which of the hotels with similar names I've booked, or been too surprised by how long a flight lasts.

What do you think of TripIt?

App of the Week: Glympse

So far, App of the Week has been about various productivity apps that keep enable us to use all of our devices to engage with our content and data anywhere. This week, though, I'm going to let you in on a cool little app that helps me with the burning question, "When will you be home?": Glympse. Glympse is one of those apps that I find very useful and cool. It's a pretty simple app, with the simple idea that you may want to share your location and estimated arrival time with others. When you do, they can track your progress on a map in the app or on the Glympse web site. It's as simple as that!

I like using it when I am meeting someone, when our schedules are tight, or when I just want them to know when to expect me with high accuracy.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

App of the Week: Day One

It's the end of the year. It's the beginning of the year. It's a time of peace and goodwill. It's a time to look back. It's a time to look forward. I'm sitting in a hotel room along the beach in Hollywood, Florida. My plans for the day have changed, and I thought of you and the goals for the year. It occurred to me that you could gain much by writing down your thoughts more than you do, and so I thought of Day One, my primary journaling app.

Day One is a gorgeous journaling app made for the Mac and the iPhone and iPad (via a universal app). It's a great way to begin to collect your thoughts and experiences, with deep functions to grow as you find yourself writing more and collecting more of your life into it. Much of what you might want to remember is automatically recorded by Day One, such as the location of the post, the weather when you posted, and date and time. As a result, you can view the timeline of your entries or a map, and review what you were thinking, what you experienced, where and when.

This combination can create many insights as you review your year, look forward to the next, set your goals, and consider what's possible.

I also like that I can write in Drafts and then use an action to enter those thoughts into Day One. I'm not always sure when I start writing in Drafts what I will want to do with the thought once it's more complete!

So, here's my thought for you today: what would your life be if you began to write more, record more, review more, and be more intentional about what's next?

It's just a thought. But, it has the power to change your future.

App of the Week: OmniFocus

I'm sitting here in my office prepping this blog post on a snowy Colorado afternoon. As I looked down the list of apps I've created for this series, I got to thinking about the one that would really help as we turn the corner to a new year. That one is OmniFocus, available separately for iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Before I get into the details of the app, understand that I buy into the Getting Things Done (GTD) philosophy of productivity:

  1. Capture: Get everything out of your head and into a trusted system,
  2. Clarify: Process what it means,
  3. Organize: Put it where it belongs and where you'll see it when you can do it,
  4. Reflect: Review frequently, and
  5. Engage: Do what there is to do.

This set of simple steps is very difficult to actually do consistently. There is so much demand on our time these days, with the ubiquitous Internet, always-on communications, and ever-faster pace of innovation and work. Yet, it is the only way I have discovered to know what is "on my list," what is "off my list," what is "waiting for something or someone outside my direct control," and so on. It doesn't mean you'll get everything done. It does mean that you'll get more of the most important things done.

So, what about OmniFocus?

While there are a number of "to do list" apps, some of which are less costly (including some which are free), OmniFocus is the one I've chosen to use consistently because it allows me to best set up my life in alignment with GTD.

While OmniGroup describes OmniFocus on their web site, I approach it differently. Specifically, I look at how it enables each of the steps of GTD:

  1. The OmniFocus Inbox is the capture point. Whenever I come up with a new idea or an item appears that I need to address, I put it into the Inbox. That's my capture spot. I even put emails into the Inbox if they represent an action I need to take. This means there is only one place for my actions. OmniFocus does a good job of providing links back to the mail items, so I can file them in my Archive at the time I capture them.
  2. I review the Inbox during breaks in my day, and ask the GTD questions about each item. Based on what the item is, I take the appropriate action, whether addressing it right then, putting it as an action step into a project, or otherwise filing it. These are the Clarify and Organize steps.
  3. I perform a Weekly Review, checking all of the "still to do" items in OmniFocus and adjusting them as appropriate.
  4. I use Contexts (the various locations, tools, and energy levels of my life) to look at only those things that I can do at a particular time. For example, when I'm on a plane, I don't usually purchase Internet access. So, if a task requires Internet access, there is no need for me to see it during a flight. Thus, my "In-flight" context doesn't include those items.

Using OmniFocus I am able to maintain my sanity. I capture items before I forget them, I have one place where I look for actions to do, and I keep the available actions as clean as possible.

How do you get things done?

App of the Week: 1Password

So far today, I've logged into a dozen or so accounts on the Internet. I've logged in from my iPhone, my iPad, and my Macs. I've done some shopping, commented on some blog posts, reviewed RSS feeds, and more. Every one of the accounts has a complex password made up of a random set of numbers, letters, and punctuation. As an expert in cybersecurity, it'd be pretty embarrassing to have my accounts cracked. So, I'm careful. And the most useful tool in my arsenal is 1Password. When you do log into your accounts, how do you do it? Do you use one password for multiple accounts? Are your passwords easy for you to remember? How can you be sure they won't be easily guessed?

While there are a number of strategies for coming up with strong passwords, like this one from xkcd:

there are alternatives in the form of applications like 1Password that simplify the entire process, and given the large set of accounts we all typically have, I highly recommend it.

1Password is one of a set of applications called "password vaults" or "password managers." These applications provide a number of functions related to passwords and related sensitive information like credit cards, including encryption, generation, storage, and retrieval. From my perspective, having a password manager is a critical step in protecting yourself online.

1Password Workflow

1Password provides a broader range of functions than I use every day, and some that I don't use at all, but it is an application that I use multiple times every day on each of my devices. Here's the general workflow:

  • When I visit a new web site and create an account, I use the 1Password icon in my browser to generate a new password. 1Password prompts me for my 1Password master password to unlock the application, then allows me to generate a password with whatever characteristics I prefer. I typically use passwords that are as long as the site will accept, and as complex as it will accept, including upper- and lower-case letters, symbols, and numerals. 1Password will automatically fill in the password as I'm creating the account. 
  • When I submit the new account information, 1Password remembers the new account, including the username and password. It prompts me to store that information into the 1Password database. 
  • The next time I visit the site, I use the 1Password icon to fill my username and password.

The result of this workflow is the following:

  1. I only have to remember one password (hence the name!): the password to unlock 1Password.
  2. The password for the sites are on all of my devices, synced all the time.
  3. All of the passwords are use are long random strings of characters that are for all practical purposes impossible to guess or brute-force crack.

1Password offers a number of methods to keep your database synced across all of your devices, including Dropbox and iCloud. They also offer applications on iOS, OS X, and Windows.

I count 1Password as one of my essential applications, and you should, too.

App of the Week: Special Prices at AppSanta

Every once in a while, independent developers offer their apps at a special price. This holiday season, AppSanta is once again offering a number of favorite apps at discounts up to 80%. Drafts 4 is one of them, as are other apps I'll be covering in the future such as Terminology, Gneo, TextExpander Touch, Clear, Launch Center Pro, Manual, Calendars 5, and perhaps more. Check it out!

I'll post this week's App of the Week by tomorrow.

(Note: this is not a sales pitch, nor do I receive anything for pointing you to AppSanta; I just thought you might find the discounts useful.)

App of the Week: Evernote

So far, the App of the Week series has looked at two apps that represent the ends of a spectrum from long-term storage of your core content with Dropbox to short-term content collection with Drafts. This week, we're going to look at a category-creating app that bridges the spectrum: Evernote. Evernote includes a web browser interface, PC and Mac Apps, an iOS app, and more. There is also an entire ecosystem of apps that has built up around the core Evernote capabilities that are also worth exploring if you add Evernote to your workflow.

So, why would you use Evernote?

Originally created as a simple note-taking application to sync notes across all your devices, Evernote has evolved into an entire ecosystem of physical and virtual information capturing products. The Evernote Marketplace offers products as diverse as a high-quality stylus and scanner to unique carry bags and device stands. Evernote has also recently added specific features to provide for collaboration using Evernote, including Evernote chat.

However nice those aspects are, they are not why I use Evernote. I use Evernote to capture both text and images that will be archived so that I can search for them later. Everything you store in Evernote is indexed for searching, including images with text, making it easy to later find a quick note that you wrote, a receipt that you filed in it, notes that were on a whiteboard, or anything else. You can also tag items to add an additional set of searchable terms.

Image Text Search

When you upload images to Evernote, the Evernote servers go to work and run OCR (optical character recognition) on them and index the terms that the OCR finds within the image. This is how you can take a photo of a whiteboard and later find that photo by using terms that were on the board. This has saved my bacon more than once.

Workflow

Typically, on my mobile devices I use Drafts to capture text and my camera to capture images, then import them into Evernote. Other times, I'll open the Evernote app directly and use the text editor and image capture that's native in the app. I put the captures into Evernote Notebooks based on the area of my life for which they are useful (for example, I have notebooks for Personal, Speaking, and Writing in addition to notebooks for my clients and other technical and operational aspects of my work life). This allows me to narrow searches, as well as browse historical notes quickly and in context.

I capture notes like coupons, travel certificates from airlines and hotels, receipts from purchases and government sites, and gift ideas for friends and family. I also use Evernote to have notes available in multiple environments, like sharing between PCs I use for specific customers and all of my devices.

Summary

In short, to capture ideas, notes, and other temporal information for archival and retrieval, Evernote is a slam-dunk.

App of the Week: Drafts

Last week, we looked at Dropbox, a way to centralize your content so that you can access it from any device, anywhere, at any time. This week, I'm going to take you to the other end of the spectrum: Drafts, a universal iOS app for quickly capturing text you can then send to virtually any app or content store. The iPhone and iPad versions are optimized for use on each device type, and I use them extensively. The first thing to know about Drafts is that it launches instantaneously and gives you a blank canvas for writing so that you can capture your thoughts without delay:

As you can see, it gives you a simple white canvas, with a few buttons along the top for looking at your stack of Drafts, adding a new Draft, and taking actions. There's also a character and word count, together with an information button when there is something to know about the current draft.

Above the keyboard, there are also some new keyboard functions, including undo and redo, moving the sprite one character at a time, and various Markdown keys for headers, emphasis, and links. That list also scrolls, unveiling a few more options for a tab a special characters:

With this simple interface (and your choice of keyboard), it is easy to launch and quickly capture whatever is on your mind, from notes to journal entries to bits of code or anything else that you want to get out of your brain and into bits on your device.

Once you've got your text into Drafts, however, the magic really begins. Drafts is designed to be a catch-all for content and allows you to send the text virtually anywhere. Touching the icon in the upper right corner opens your Actions, providing you ways of sending the text to other apps, the clipboard, and more:

With this approach, you have one place to capture your text, and then you are able to send it to one or more other locations whenever and however you'd like.

Drafts keeps an infinite virtual stack of your Drafts, as well, and touching the icon in the upper left will show you your list:

You can flag items in the list, archive them, delete them, or simply keep the list running in case you ever want access to the items later.

I find Drafts invaluable, and it is one of the four apps on my iPhone task bar and is also one of the five on my iPad task bar. Take a look, and let me know what you think in the comments or by email or Facebook message.

App of the Week: Dropbox

Yes, I'm aware that Dropbox is less of an app than it is an online storage system, but that's precisely the point I made in my first post: the ability to transparently store your data in a way that is accessible everywhere changes every workflow. Dropbox was the first widely-available system that provided ubiquitous access to your files anywhere, and it does so completely transparently: from your perspective, your files are in a folder and sub-folders on your various devices. They are in the same place on every device. I have Dropbox on my Macs, my client PC, my iPhone and my iPad. My files are always at hand. The set-up is straight forward. Go to Dropbox, set up an account, be sure to use 2-factor authentication, and download the app for your Mac or PC, and install it. When you do, it will create a Dropbox folder in your home directory. Anything you put into it -- including both folders and files -- will sync to the Dropbox in the cloud, and sync to any other devices tied to the same account.

If you carry mobile devices, download Dropbox to them, as well. Now, your files are available anywhere you have any of your devices.

Dropbox Differences on Mobile Devices

By default, Dropbox on a Mac or PC syncs every file and folder on the device to and from the cloud. By default, Dropbox on a mobile device syncs none of the files and folders, but provides access to them through an Internet connection. Dropbox provides ways of changing this behavior, but the functions are different in the two environments, and you will have to decide how you want to interact with files and how much storage you want to set aside for them.

PC and Mac

Dropbox syncs your entire Dropbox to your PC and Mac, setting up a complete replica of the cloud version of Dropbox on your system. Given that most computer systems have sufficient disk space, this makes sense. However, there may be files or folders that are more archival or otherwise do not need to be always on your computer. If so, you can use Dropbox's "Selective Sync" feature (within the Account section of Preferences) to remove some folders and/or files from those that are always on the computer. Note that you can still access those folders using a web browser to Dropbox.com, but they will not be on the computer as local files, and won't be available when they computer isn't on the Internet. All other files will be available when you're offline, and will sync with the Dropbox cloud when you get back online. Dropbox handles conflicts smoothly, and uses icons and messages to communicate about the sync status.

Mobile Devices

On mobile devices, Dropbox works exactly the opposite: no files or folders are stored on the device by default. Instead, all interaction is by using an Internet connection through the Dropbox app. If you want a file to be locally cached (so that you can read it while on a plane, for instance), mark it as a "Favorite" by touching the star. This will cache the file on your device and also put the file into the Favorites section of the app.

Integration

More and more apps on iOS (and Android) interact directly with Dropbox, providing for workflows that store files in Dropbox that are edited or otherwise used by other apps. One common use, for example, is as a drop location for email attachments, both sending and receiving. You can even use a browser to download or upload files at any time from any where, including a friend's computer.

Workflow

I use Dropbox to store all of my files and data that isn't dedicated to one particular app on one device. I even store some of those in it. The fundamental advantage for me is that I have all of my files on multiple systems (my Macbook Pro, my Mac Pro, and even my client PC) so that I can recover the files if anything ever happens to Dropbox. And Dropbox has the files if anything happens to my devices.

So, as a result of this foundational characteristic, Dropbox is the first app/system in this series.

Don't forget to let me know in the comments or my email your thoughts on apps or workflows you'd like to see included.

 

Let's go!

Apps of the Week

Apps of the Week

Today, while flying over my beloved Rocky Mountain on the way to Phoenix to support my son Gabe as he competes in the Western Region Oireachtas Irish dance competition, this theme occured to me. As I have thought about the wide variety of topics on which I have written over the years, it became clear to me that one of the reasons that my posts have been so bursty is that I, as many before me, have wondered what I have to say that would be of the most interest. Over on the RedSeal blog, I post frequently on topics of cybersecurity and related networking challenges. However, especially when I wrote a column for InfoWorld, it was clear that there were topics that resonate and which people find helpful. 

Given the shift in applications over the past few years, it seems there is an interest in the systems and applications I use to do the work I do, both in my home office and as I travel to support clients around the world. So, beginning with the next post in the Technology section of the blog, I'll share with you the apps I use, how I use them, and why I like them. 

Purpose 

I could, of course, do this for any number of reasons, including that I'm being paid to do so. Let me start by saying that I am not. While I have acted as a beta tester for a number of the applications I'll be describing, most are simply those I have found by trial and error to be useful and effective for my work. You'll have to decide if they fit your needs and wants, and I'll do my best to help you with that process. Also, if you have questions about particular workflows, types of apps, others that I have tried but don't use, and so on, please ask.  

Also, perhaps through this process you and I will have an opportunity to influence some of the existing and emerging applications, and that seems like a reasonable purpose, as well. 

Most of all, it is my deepest desire to see you able to do your best art, whether it's writing a book, building software or hardware, teaching, or expressing yourself in any other way. If my insights into the applications you can use to make that work more effective is helpful, I will be delighted. 

Platform

The vast majority of my work is done on an Apple device. I use an iPad and iPhone (which run iOS), a MacBook Pro Retina, and an old 2008 Mac Pro (which run OS X) for my personal work. There are times when clients require me to use a Windows system, so there are some Windows applications that I use to shortcut and otherwise help me do good work in that environment, but for Windows applications (or Android, for that matter), my insights will be quite limited.

Perspective

There are a number of ways to view applications, the data on which they operate, and the systems and devices involved in the process. I have a very specific view that colors virtually everything I do: data is central and applications manipulate it. Applications are windows into and tools to manipulate data that is stored independently, accessible from any device anywhere. The ubiquitous Internet means that your data is available almost everywhere, and applications caching means that you can always have a copy of your data that will sync up when you are back online. As a result, my application choices and preferences are biased towards those that combine these fundamental concepts:

  1. availability across all my devices or cooperative interaction with an app on the other devices. For example, there are times when the same app isn't available on OS X and iOS, but there are apps that interact with the data compatibly, but in ways that take advantage of the particular characteristics of the different environments (touch versus keyboard interactivity, for example).
  2. caching. I am on airplanes and international destinations where use of cellular data is quite costly frequently enough that I must be able to cache data on my devices to continue to use it even when I'm offline. As I type this post, for example, I'm at 34,000' into Desk, I am not connected to the Internet. I'll post it when I get to my hotel, losing nothing in the process.
  3. cooperation. Apps that cooperate with other apps that I use help me more than those which are isolationist.
  4. nothing's perfect. I am always looking for apps to align more closely with the way I think, my preferences, and my workflow. Sometimes, I'll have 3 or 4 apps I'm using for the same thing, experimenting to determine which one fits best.

I think that's about it. Let me know if there are applications, workflows, or other related areas that pose as challenges or create questions for you. I'll do my best to address them either in a post or with a direct response.

Let's go!

The Lies of Net Neutrality

(Update: taxes, too; click through for just the update.) I was just taking a few minutes to check my newsfeed a few mornings ago, enjoying the final days of autumn before the polar blast that came to Colorado this week when I started reading them: the polarized, ignorant perspectives on the misnomer of "Net Neutrality."

On the one side, there are apparent ignorant politicians making comments both pro and con. They oversimplify the issue, and make it seem obvious to their own constituents that their view is right. The fact is, however, that neither "side" is right about this issue. As is typical when politicians attempt to stick their controlling efforts into science and technology, they damage the good with the bad and crush the possible benefits to the United States.

So, if you really want to understand the issues and the way that this should play out, read on. If you'd rather just pick a side and go into pitched battle, feel free. Just leave me out of it.

How the Internet Works

If you're an IP engineer, you can skip this part. If not, take a moment to understand some of the basics about how the Internet actually moves all that data around. It'll help you understand the rest of what's important about how the network gets managed and what is allowed and what's not.

Although it may seem like your downloading web page, video, or music is one continuous stream of ones and zeros, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, every last bit of data flowing across the Internet is broken into chunks called packets. These packets are typically a bit less than 1500 byte long, and it takes many of them to constitute a single uni-directional communication. These packets do not necessarily take the same path from the source to the destination, each individual packet being individually routed by the hardware and software that makes up the Internet. As a result, they may not arrive in the right order, some may be lost, and others may be corrupted. The receiving system works with the sender to reconstitute the original data, and you often see this as buffering, as that reconstituted data is collected for playback sufficient enough so you don't see any interruptions.

It is critically important to understand this aspect of the Internet before considering how you want to govern it and what rules you insist on creating. Let me explain why next:

How Different Data Needs Different Internets

There are a number of types of data used commonly on the Internet, and hundreds more that most people never experience. Focusing on just the common ones, consider these:

  1. Interactive voice and video. These data require near real-time delivery and controlled streaming. Large gaps between packets received will cause freezing and other issues with the interaction, effectively making the communication unusable. We have all had voice and video over the Internet freeze or fail, and this is why.
  2. Streaming voice and video. These data require the controlled streaming of interactive voice and video, but can be buffered or otherwise can make up for some of the vagaries of an unreliable network. As long as the stream of packets continues to arrive at a predictable rate, the results are good, since it's not interactive. However, if the packets are throttled, have errors, or get dropped, the experience is poor. Most of us have had the experience of Netflix or iTunes dropping back in quality due to poor network performance.
  3. Bulk data. These data do not have time or delivery constraints, and include most web data, email, downloads, and the like. This data can have packets with issues, but the ultimate goal is simply to get all of them to the destination within a reasonable timeframe so that the file will be available for use, regardless of whether it's rendered on a browser screen, played on an mp3 player, synced to a Dropbox folder, or read on the screen.

You should now see that these three types of data place different requirements on the network, and should be treated differently when bandwidth is at a premium. And therein lies the issues with so-called Network Neutrality. Data isn't neutral, so a neutral network will actually create a worse experience for the users of the network than will a network that is well-engineered to prefer the right kinds of data.

This means that networks should be engineered to prefer data packets in the order I listed above, and to use interleaving of lower-class packets with higher-class packets when bandwidth allows. So, for example, if I am on an HD video call and it's using 90% of my available bandwidth, my network should only use that remaining 10% to deliver any of the type 2 and type 3 traffic. If it uses any more, my interactive video experience will suffer. In other words, the network should prefer (there's that word that is so vilified in these discussions) the interactive video packets over the bulk and non-interactive video packets.

Impact on Net Neutrality Planning

Please note that nothing here indicates a desire to see "pay to play" kinds of arrangements in the industry. However, it is common for providers to charge for access to their bandwidth. When I want greater bandwidth, I have to pay more. If I want a guaranteed bandwidth availability, I'll pay more than a best effort bandwidth of the same amount. What I mean is that a 50Mbps download for consumers is usually best effort, and happens when the overall network is relatively uncongested. If I want 50Mbps regardless of the state of the rest of the network, I need to buy dedicated bandwidth, which costs considerably more (and is typically only sold to businesses).

If I sell data delivery to my customers, and that delivery requires a certain bandwidth, I typically buy that bandwidth from two or more Internet Service Providers (ISPs). And I have to pay for the bandwidth as either best effort or dedicated. This is the way packet delivery has worked over the Internet and between content providers and their ISPs since the Internet went commercial in the early 1990s. This arrangement is appropriate, it seems to me.

Furthermore, ISPs should not be restricted from shaping data in order to deliver better service to customers, as I outlined in the story of the 3 data types. They should be able to prefer interactive packets over streaming packets, and both of those over bulk packets.

This is not to say that content providers should be held hostage based on the type of data they are delivering. That should be up to the consumer, and the content providers should simply purchase dedicated bandwidth and be able to use all they purchase, filling it with any of the types of traffic their provider will deliver. Consumers should receive the service to which they subscribe from any provider of that service, delivered with the quality possible given appropriate preferences. But, providers need to be able to shape traffic or they will be forced to over-provision, passing the bill along to consumers.

The United States Compared with The Rest of the World

All of this said, do not buy into the myth that the US has the best Internet access in the world. In fact, it's abysmal. Wikipedia has an article summarizing a damning Akamai survey of Internet capabilities worldwide. South Korea (the leader) has services more than 100x faster than the average speed in the US, for $20/month. So, providers in the US need to do a much better job of delivering bandwidth for the fees that consumers pay.

What does this mean for so-called Net Neutrality? You decide. Now you understand some of the engineering complexities underneath the typical political bluster. At least you can decide if any of the politicians and pundits have a clue what they're talking about.

Update: Taxes, Too

Today, FCC Commissioner Mike O'Reilly said that, “Consumers of these services would face an immediate increase in their Internet bills” during a seminar held by the non-partisan Free State Foundation according to this article. This is an example of the repercussions of choices that involve a government maze of regulations, fees, taxes, and legalities that are unforeseen. Such is the case with the siplmistic idea of "net neutrality" that doesn't take into account the implications of government regulation as a telecommunications technology.

The Gift of Social Video (infographic)

(Megan Ritter reached out to me a few weeks ago about her excellent infographic on video for marketing. I invited her to write this post to describe the details of the graphic for you to consider. - ssh) When it comes to boosting the awareness of your brand and increasing engagement with your consumers, many businesses turn to social media as their primary outlet. However, with the amount of competition between brands trying to get the most reach with their content, it’s going to take a lot more than some cute animal images and a few hashtags to get the attention your social media efforts deserve. This is why a lot of businesses today are also starting to incorporate video into their social media marketing strategy, and the great news is that a lot of these social media networks already offer a lot of video options.

Video is naturally engaging, and because we live in a world that is overloaded with information, it’s important that whatever content you’re producing can be easily digested by your audience, or else they will move on. We are all familiar with the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words”, and in the case of video, we can bump that number to 1.8 million.

By 2017, it’s being estimated that video will account for 69% of all consumer internet traffic, and it’s clear to see why. Simply put: video is the future of content marketing. And as online video continues to become a key means of bringing entertaining and informational content to the masses, businesses who fail to incorporate video into their own plans can count on missing out on a lot of new opportunities. Fortunately, with the help of the Social Video Starter Guide infographic below, getting started on your social video campaign doesn’t have to be as difficult as it’s been made out to be, even if you own a small business and are limited by a strict budget.

Megan Ritter is an online business journalist with a background in social marketing. In addition to social media, she also enjoys writing about entrepreneurship, business communications, and globalization. Follow her on Twitter today to view more of the awesome infographics she's found on the Web!

Cloudy With a Chance of...

Decades ago, while running a network in a small office building in California, a senior manager asked if he could cut the staff since the network didn't seem to need a lot of support. I reminded him that an invisible network meant that people could just do their jobs without any friction from the network slowing them down or making their job more difficult. Last week, I read this from Benedict Evans via John Gruber at Daring Fireball:

Digesting WWDC: Cloudy

Benedict Evans:

So edit a photo and the edits are on all your devices, run out of room and your photos stay on the cloud but all but the previews are cleared off your phone, tap a phone number on a web page on your Mac and your phone dials it. But none of this says ‘CLOUD™’ and none of it is done in a web browser. Web browsers are for web pages, not for apps. Hence one could suggest that Apple loves the cloud, just not the web (or, not URLs). This is obviously a contrast with Google, which has pretty much the opposite approach. For Google, devices are dumb glass and the intelligence is in the cloud, but for Apple the cloud is just dumb storage and the device is the place for intelligence.

http://ben-evans.com/benedictevans/2014/6/4/digesting-wwdc-cloudy

http://daringfireball.net

This aligns very well with my earlier comments on what Apple is doing with iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite. The point is simply this: most people aren't enamoured with technology. Many who were at first delighted to have something as "cool" as an iPhone or Android device are now just using them. They are simply tools for living in the modern world. The next frontier for technologists is removing the barriers that devices and their interfaces create to doing what we want to do. The idea that what's important is speeds, icons, and other superficial elements is completely wrong. Just as with human relationships, physical attributes may initially attract, but in a relatively short time, it becomes the deeper aspects that matter.

The more technology companies get technology out of the way, the more successful they will become.

By the way, that manager was a smart guy. He relented. And I didn't have to break the network to remind him how important it was.

What is "The Economy"?

More than a decade ago I sat in a data center staring at a screen containing backup logs for a major agency of a state government. The logs made it clear that backups had been failing for months. My job was to find out what happened. I'm just built to get to the bottom of things, and part of my skill is to take apart the complex, interconnected pieces and find the simple parts. It makes it easier to figure out what happened.

Recently, I've done this with "The Economy."

People, especially experts and those who want to sound knowledgeable, talk about "The Economy" like it's an entity unto itself. Like it has a mind of its own, and it will head in various directions based on select, complex ideas like GDP, trade, and unemployment rates.

But, it's not. "The Economy" is nothing but a set of metrics (values of measurements) that communicate various historical truths (since most measures are 3-12 months ago). Economists, politicians, and pundits all use the numbers to beat up their opponents and to bolster their own theories, with all sides claiming proof for their viewpoints. And it's all mostly a great big show.

"The Economy" is nothing more or less than the collected decisions of human beings, including those responsible for making decision for corporations and governments. People decide to buy, save, or invest. As a result, funds become available as revenue, for loans, or in exchange for equity. The cumulative impact of these decisions results in the measures that become the economic metrics.

Underneath it all, however, are these decisions. They are made in an effort to keep a job, to profit, to look good, or to benefit one's own financial position. Sometimes, the decisions are speculative in the hopes of creating a large, fast gain. Other times, they are extremely conservative in an effort to avoid any risk or any possible loss.

But all of these are the decisions made by individuals and (sometimes) multiple individuals as part of a collective.

That's all "The Economy" is, though. It's the consequences of financial decisions of collections of people: cities, counties, states, countries, and the world.

When people stop spending and/or investing, we have a recession or depression. When business managers stop hiring, joblessness goes up. And so on.

We are a society that attempts to avoid the consequences of our actions. We want to believe that our intentions drive the consequences. They don't. The only thing that drives consequences is the natural laws that apply and the decisions that others make.

You can't escape consequences forever.