Blogging with Bob Lee

When I started writing again this year, the biggest goal I had for my blog was to build a community. I’ve been trying to connect with both readers and other bloggers with similar interests. Through this search, I met Bob Lee. Bob is an iOS Developer, and he’s sharing his journey learning Swift on the iOS Geek Community on Medium and the training course he’s working to release, The UIKit Fundamentals with Bob. Bob has really worked hard to create a community around his blog, and he was kind enough to let me interview him and ask him a few questions:


Me: Who are you and what do you do?

Bob: First of all I am from Korea. I went to middle school in Malaysia, and high school in Vietnam. I studied chemical engineering in the States. In high school, I had no idea what coding was. My first year in college, I took a course in C. C is hard! I didn’t learn a whole lot in that class. After spending some time in school, I decided to come back to Korea, not sure what I wanted to do. I dabbled in web development and iOS development. Web development is very broad and competitive, but I realized iOS is more stable. All iOS developers are on the same path.

Me: What made you want to start blogging?

Bob: When I came back to Korea, I thought about freelancing. But I’ve always wanted to teach people. So I started making YouTube tutorials and blogging about iOS development.

Me: Through what channels do you interact with your readers?

Bob: Medium is where everything really starts. This is where people find my other social media. I engage with people a lot on my personal email list. Right now I’m making a course called The UIKit Fundamentals with Bob. I started reaching out to people, just telling them that I was making the course and asking, “If you are interested, please contact me.” It started as slow progress, but I got to interact with those people who responded one by one. Lots of people just want a huge email list. I wanted to build a great relationship with each person. Every two weeks I send an email sharing updates on making the course. Taking the community slow helped me build relationships. I never try to sell anything; I’ve sold my authenticity over selling products.

Me: How do you pick topics that your readers find interesting?

Bob: I only talk about iOS; I want people to come back and see the same content. Not stuff about me personally, not other tech stuff. I knew I had to pick one thing. Swift is my first language. I write on the programming topics I struggle the most with. That’s how I’m confident that I’m providing value to people. I’m not a genius, I’m going through the same process as everyone else. This thing will be hard for other people, because I struggle with it.

Me: What’s your advice to build community in blogging?

Bob: Here’s what I want people to know: Sharing your story is the most important part. Many of the things I write about are really technical; I have to convince people why they should be interested in this. I always use “I,” not “you.” People are actually interested in other people’s stories. Why did I have this problem, how did I solve it? The story comes first.


I’m going to take a page out of Bob’s book here and reach out to all of you reading this. If you ever have any feedback about the blog, an app you’re interested in me writing about, or just want to say Hello, drop me a line! You can email me directly at staringatphones@icloud.com or tweet to me @NickFoster56. I’m looking forward to meeting you! ••

Link

Link: More Tools, Better Connections

Jason Snell, writing on Six Colors:

Because it turns out that while some fraction of my listenership follows me on Twitter, nearly 100% of my podcast listeners listen to my podcast. It was an important lesson—that as fun as interacting with people on social media can be, they represent a small subsection of the total audience.

Jason tells an interesting story in this piece about trying to contact a contest winner for one of his podcasts. Having no way to contact them directly, he tweeted out their name and waited for them to contact him. And waited. Nothing. Finally he announced the name on the show, and got a response almost immediately.

This is a fascinating story to me because it perfectly sums up the fact that we have an unbelievable number of tools to communicate. Texting, FaceTime, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, the list just keeps going. A lot of people (myself included), have all of these services. Some I use a lot, and some I don’t. But I like having all of them, because a service I don’t use a lot may be a new friend’s favorite way to communicate. And if using their favorite tool means I get to connect with them, then that’s a win for me. ••

Aside

Interim: Going on Hiatus

Hey everyone.

So today I’m announcing that I will no longer be writing here every single week.  Since starting college, my school load has increased (I am an engineering student after all), and my time to write has dwindled quite a bit (and my time to keep up with tech news, through blogs and podcasts, has gone down as well).

I still love writing this blog, and I’m sad to end this era.  I’ve really enjoyed it.  I still see myself potentially writing on here every now and again, but I’m no longer able to stick to a regular schedule.

Thank you so much for everyone who’s read my work over the past almost two years.  It’s really quite humbling.  I appreciate every one of you.

With sadness,
-Nick

Playing Around with the WordPress Mac App

So a week or two ago, WordPress, where this site is hosted, threw a major bone to us Apple users, a Mac app!  This means that I can read the blogs I follow, as well as write new posts, from a dedicated program on my computer, instead of in a browser.

So what’s so special about this app?  Well, honestly, not much.  It’s basically just WordPress.com in a special, separate window.  Opening the app brings WordPress users to a familiar reader screen, with blog posts front and center.  At the top are the two bars to switch between the reader and “My Sites,” a place to manage your blogs.  Both of these screen have pretty much identical interfaces to WordPress.com in a browser, and the app won’t work at all without an internet connection.  So if the app is basically just a web browser, what makes it useful?

Well, it’s going to be nice to separate my writing from any other tabs I have open.  I often have multiple other tabs going when I’m writing a post (double checking information, getting app store links for reviews), and it’s a pain to switch back and forth between them.  When there’s only two, it’s not a big deal, but four or five becomes a pain.  Having a WordPress app means that I can have one window for my writing and another for research, and that’ll be nice.

As an aside, I’ve experienced a similar sensation using Google Docs lately.  I do most of my writing for school in Microsoft Word, but I’ve been in a couple group projects lately, and Google Docs is hands down the best way to collaborate.  Honestly I’ve really liked Doc’s web interface (it starts faster than Word) and the fact that all my documents are permanently and only stored in the cloud.  However, as nice as browser word processing can be, it’s a total pain when you’re trying to switch between tabs.

Ooh, just hit a major snag while writing this post.  I wanted to go back to My Sites to look at another post.  Normally, when I want to do this, I just Command-click My Sites in the upper left, and it opens in a new tab.  Uh-oh, no tabs here (funny how I just praised that so loudly).  That’s going to be an issue for me, as I often look back at previous posts while writing new ones.  I’m not saying WordPress should add tabs to their app (then, honestly, it really is just a browser), but maybe there could be a way to “minimize” drafts that I’m currently working on and look at other stuff.  This is a good opportunity for WordPress to really make the app something special, and give it features that aren’t available in the web interface.  Obviously, WordPress doesn’t want to exclude web users, but this would be a feature that fixes a problem web users don’t actually have (since they have tabs).  Just a thought WordPress!

So anyway, I’m excited about this new app.  I’m not sure whether I’ll use it long-term, but I’m definitely going to give it a shot for now.  And even if I don’t like it, I’ll keep checking back.  One good thing I will say about WordPress: they do an excellent job of continually improving their products.  ••

Staring at Phones is now on Apple News!

Hi everyone!

Well it took four weeks for Apple to approve me, but the Staring at Phones blog is now officially on Apple News!

What is Apple News? It’s that new app that showed up on your iPhone or iPad when you installed iOS 9.  It’s a place to get news – about all kinds of topics – from traditional news outlets as well as blogs.  You can follow a certain account (or “channel”) as well as different topics.  After a month of using it, I really enjoy it.  You can be sure I’ll go into more detail on that in a future post.

But anyway, Apple News is now the latest way to keep up to date with everything Staring at Phones!  You can check out this link here to see my channel (yes, you have to click the link on your iOS 9 device).  Searching “Staring at Phones” doesn’t bring anything up yet, but I’m assuming that will start working soon.*  You can see that I’ve divided my channel into three sub-categories (in addition to “All”), which reflect the new way I’m organizing content here on WordPress as well.  First is “Apple.”  I didn’t start this to be an Apple blog, but that’s where the majority of my interests are, so it naturally happened that a good bit of what I write about is Apple related.  You can find it all under this tab.  Next is “App Reviews,” for the review I do at the beginning of each month.  After that is the “Misc.” tab, which basically means “Everything Else.”  Although I’ve got an Apple slant these days, I still like to cover random things in the technology industry, so I’ve got all that content in this tab.  Now here’s the embarrassing part: right now those tabs aren’t working.  I don’t know why; I know the RSS feeds I gave Apple are working, so I’m just hoping that, again, this will start working soon.  I’ll keep you posted.**

So check it out!  Apple News is joining the many ways to follow this blog, right along side WordPress, email, RSS, and Twitter, and I’m excited to keep pushing Staring at Phones into the future.  Thanks so much for reading!  ••

*Update 10/23/15: Staring at Phones does indeed now come up in Apple News search!

**Last week’s story about Tesla is now filed under the Misc. tab, so it seems those subheadings work, but they’ll only grab content published after I gave them to Apple News.  So those headings should be filling up with posts soon!

June App Review: WordPress

App: WordPress
Developer: Automattic
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android

Awhile back I wrote about how I used the WordPress app on my iPad to write posts at SPSU.  However, the WordPress app is useful for other things too.  Because of this, I decided to go ahead and give it a full write up.  I’m going to focus on the iPad here (because it’s better both for writing and reading), although just about everything I’ll mention also applies to the iPhone.


I’m going to split this review into three sections – one for each of the main things I do with the WordPress app.  The first is writing posts.  I haven’t been using this much lately, as I’m currently on summer break, but I intend to go back to writing posts on my iPad at school when the fall semester starts.  Writing in the WordPress app is pretty simple, as it should be.  The main writing screen (see image 1) is mostly dedicated to just that: writing.  There’s a few rich-text options at the bottom, nothing too fancy but nevertheless a solid set of tools.  I was most impressed that the WordPress app also had plenty of support for adding extra metadata to posts (see image 2).  Categories, tags, an even a featured image can easily be added.  The WordPress app also has good support for unpublished drafts.  This is imperative for me since I write posts in advance and then spend a few days editing them.  The app’s writer doesn’t have every feature WordPress.com has – for example, I can add images to a post, but not an image gallery – but it has enough that I can write the majority of a post on the iPad and then tidy it up the next day when I get on the computer.

The second part of the WordPress app that I use is the reader.  This (obviously) allows me to follow other people’s blogs.  Of course I can follow other WordPress blogs, but the WordPress app is also an RSS reader, so I can add pretty much any other blog I want.  I was using IFTTT to send my RSS subscriptions to Pocket (see this recipe), but recently I’ve been exploring WordPress more and I liked the convenience of following blogs with one click.  We’ll see what I end up using in the long term.

The last part of the app I want to talk about is notifications.  I get push notifications every time someone follows this blog, comments on a post, replies to a comment I posted somewhere else, and so on.  This is nice because it makes it easy to stay up to date about what’s happening here.  WordPress notifications work well, and they’ve also done an excellent job managing notifications across multiple devices.  With many apps I can only look at notifications on my iPhone because otherwise I’ll get tons of duplicates.  I’m actually less concerned about multiple devices ringing at once; the big problem is that after I’ve dealt with a notification on one device it’s still there on another.  However, WordPress avoids this problem.  If you get a push notification on one device, but then look at it on another, the first device’s push notification automatically clears.  This retroactive notification clearing is something every app should have.  The only other apps I know of that do this are iOS Mail, iMessage, and Twitter.  These are all super-high level apps (two of them preloaded, system apps), and it’s impressive that WordPress is in the same plane in this regard.

So as you can see, the WordPress app is a pretty good jack of all trades.  It’s not perfect, but right now it’s doing a great job of helping me keep up with this site and the greater WordPress community.  The WordPress app is definitely one of my iPad’s indispensable apps, and I hope WordPress continues improving it in the future.  ••