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. ••

The Decline of Facebook

Facebook is still a huge name these days, but doesn’t it seem like the hype has died down a bit?  I mean, lots of people still use it, but it seems like I’m hearing more and more people say they’ve pretty much given up on it.  Today, the biggest name in social media is, without a doubt, Instagram, with Snapchat and Twitter also hot.  So what happened to Facebook anyway?

What’s happened to Facebook has happened to technology before.  Take email, for instance.  Remember when email was a fun, exciting way to talk to friends?  Now it’s a chore.  What happened?  Well, when people first started using email, not everyone had it.  That made everyone who did have it special.  So you enjoyed using it because it was new and cool.  It also meant that nothing truly important happened over email, because not everyone had it, so it wasn’t reliable.  But then that started to change.  Pretty soon, just about everyone had email.  That was good news at first: now we could all use email for “important” things, like planning get togethers with friends.  This wasn’t what posed the problem.  The problem occurred when other people, people like our employers and advertisers, realized that everyone was using email.  Now I’m not trying to knock employers here.  It’s their job to figure out new communications technologies and use them.  But it does kinda take the fun out of it, you know?  Now that we were getting emails about things that really were important, things that we needed to know, we had to really buckle down and be diligent about it.  Now we couldn’t just check email every day because it was fun, but because we had to.  And like a reverse Tom Sawyer, that sucked all the fun out of email.  It didn’t happen quickly.  But sooner or later we all realized that email was a chore.  Not that it can’t be fun sometimes.  But mostly, it’s something we check because we have to.

The same thing happened to Facebook.  It started out cool and new and fun, and then everyone expected you to have Facebook.  And they expected you to check it.  And that took a little of the fun out of it.  And in this way, Facebook is a victim of its own success.

I have never used Facebook, which honestly has made all of this far more interesting to watch, from the outside.  I know people still use Facebook a lot, and they still enjoy using it, but it just doesn’t seem to get as much enthusiasm as I remember it once getting.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Facebook is going away any time soon (I’ve been saying all this stuff for years and it’s still here), and it does still seem to be the go-to place for lots of people to post about their lives.  And it’s also a go-to place for people to go find out about their friends’ lives.  And that – that real, human element – will keep people coming back, in a way no app update ever will.

So again, I don’t think Facebook is dead in the water, not for a while yet, but I definitely think we went over peak Facebook quite a while ago.  Here’s the last bit of irony, though: remember what I said up at the top about Instagram?  Facebook owns Instagram (though it did cost them a cool $1 billion).  I don’t think a lot of people know this.  So, next time you read some crazy guy’s article about how Facebook is dead (no, no, I mean other than mine), just remember this: Even if Facebook the website dies, Facebook the company bank account still has quite a while to go.  ••

December App Review: IFTTT

App: IFTTT (If This Then That)
Price: Free
Developer: IFTTT
Platforms: iOS, Android

This one is honestly less about the app and more about the service, but it’s a really cool service so I decided that it was worth writing a review for.  If This Then That is a service that connects all your other web services – like Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox, and so on.  You create simple statements that connect actions from one account to actions in another, things like “IF someone tags me in a photo on Facebook THEN save that photo to my Dropbox.”  Neat right?  Here I’m going to briefly cover the app, and then talk about three of my favorite recipes (what IFTTT calls each trigger-action combo).

 

The app is really simple and straightforward.  Opening the app shows some suggested recipes at the top, and below is a history of all your recipes and when they fired.  It’s really cool if you’re curious what IFTTT has been doing for you lately.  Tapping the mortar and pestle in the top corner opens up your recipes.  Here you can turn them on or off, see their individual histories, or create new ones.  Of course, you can do all this from IFTTT.com, but the app is an easy way to keep up with recipes on the go.  It also unlocks other channels, like iOS Photos and Reminders or Android Location and SMS.

Now I want to talk about three recipes I either currently use or have used in the past.  The first (in the order of the screenshot above) is for RSS subscriptions.  I have a recipe that takes an RSS feed and puts every article in my Pocket account so I can read them later.  Lately, I’ve been using Apple News for most of my reading, but iMore’s Pixel Project comic is good enough that I want to make sure I see all of them.

Second is a way to save pictures I’ve like on Instagram.  I’ve played around with different ways to do this, everything from having them emailed to me to saving them automatically to my phone.  I don’t keep most of the pictures this saves, but if a friend of mine posts a group shot of all of us there’s no way I’m going to let that pass me by.

The last one is a great way to link Twitter and Instagram.  When posting to Instagram, you can also publish your post to Twitter, but it doesn’t show up an a Twitter image, just an Instagram link (unless, of course, you’re using Tweetbot.  And you should be).  This recipe takes your Instagram post and puts it on Twitter as a regular image tweet.  This is nice first because the image looks a lot nicer, and because you don’t have to tap to publish to Twitter every single time.  It’s all automatic.

I’ve covered three recipes here, but I’ve only scratched the surface of what IFTTT can do.  IFTTT supports 245 channels, from every social media you can think of, to smart home devices, to fitness and wearables.  It’s a great service, and I totally recommend you check it out.  Oh yeah, and download the app too.  ••

Taking Action on Notifications

One of the first iOS 8 features I wrote about last summer was actionable notifications.  Basically, this feature allows notifications to have buttons that let you respond to them without even opening the app.  When I first saw this feature, it was in the context of banner notifications on the top of the screen.  I thought this was definitely a cool idea, but not quite an earth-shattering one.  However, once I realized that these actions are also available on the lock screen, I realized how much time this feature would actually save me.

Let’s go through a hypothetical situation here.  Let’s say I’m sitting in class and my phone is buzzing off the hook.  I’m not going to look at it in class, so when it ends, I have a bunch of notifications.  Let’s say I’ve got a text from my brother, asking me a question about church tonight.  I’ve also got 16 texts from a group message, a notification from WordPress that someone linked to my post, two emails about my scout troop, a Twitter mention, two Instagram likes, and a Snapchat.  (Of course, I rarely open my phone and see notifications from all of these apps at once, but for the sake of this example, I’ve named lots of apps which have notifications I can act upon.)  Let’s go through each of these one at a time:

First is the text from my brother.  Since Messages is an official Apple app, it can have much more functionality than Apple would allow a third-party app.  Because of this, I can swipe right on this notification and tap reply.  A keyboard then pops up right on the lock screen, allowing me to respond to the text (rest assured, random people who find your phone can reply to your texts only if you’ve turned this feature on).  The only thing that’s annoying about this is that iOS won’t let me use SwiftKey on the lock screen, because that keyboard requires full access, and I guess they don’t want it to run unless I’ve put my passcode in.

Next are the group texts.  If it’s not something I want to reply to, I can just read them all right there on the lock screen, and then swipe right and dismiss the most recent one.  Now the cool part happens: I don’t have to dismiss every text.  If I dismiss one text from a thread, all texts that came in before that also clear.  The assumption is that if you’ve read the most recent, you’ve read them all.  This is great, because sometimes I open my phone to 50 or more group texts.

After dealing with all the messages, I’ve got a WordPress notification.  Since most of my pingback notifications are from my own blog (which is a whole different can of worms I can gripe about), I just want to approve them right away.  Fortunately, I can swipe on the notification and tap “Approve.”  The only annoying part is that this doesn’t mark the notification as viewed in the WordPress app; messages, in contrast, are all marked as read when you dismiss the notification.

Now come the emails.  I was a Boy Scout for seven years, but I aged out last fall.  I’m technically an Assistant Scoutmaster, but I don’t really do anything in that post.  That being said, most of the troop emails don’t apply to me.  With actionable notifications, I can swipe on each notification and tap “Mark as read.”  And they’re gone.  This is also nice because, while my read states do sync between devices, this process can take a while.  So if I read an email on my iPad, then see it on my phone, I can easily mark it as read.

Now on to social media.  More than likely I want to favorite that Twitter mention, and I can do so right from the lock screen.  As for the Instagram likes, I can just dismiss them.  Like WordPress, these don’t mark as viewed in the Instagram app, but I can just clear them next time I’m there.

Now all I’m left with is the Snapchat.  The difference here is that you can’t do anything to Snapchat notifications on the lock screen (besides clear them), so I have to unlock my phone for this.  Since Snapchat focuses on pictures, there’s not much they can do with actionable notifications.  However, I’ve just gone from 24 notifications to 1, without even unlocking my phone.  That’s a major boost in efficiency, and even better, one that I can use every day.  ••