Word processing in 2013

This morning I played a little with Quip, a “modern word processor that enables you to create beautiful documents on any device — phones, tablets and the desktop”.

I installed the app on my iPad and used it in a browser on my mac. I appreciate that this is only the very first version, that 1.0 is the loneliest number, and all that… but I still found it disappointing.

Introducing his new product on the company blog, Bret Taylor used a screenshot of the first MacWrite, which I happen to have here at hand because it’s the same I use for each and every rant about “modern” word processing. Here it is:

macwrite

Now, you will notice that right next to the expanded “Style” menu, there is a “Font” menu. In 1984 that menu allowed you to choose from a limited number of font faces. For some reason at Quip they decided that in 2013 all this font frenzy needed to stop, that we didn’t need to change font, so all documents have the one and same font (as far as I could find).

Yes, Quip has nice collaboration tools, so far I don’t think that they are good enough to convince me to move my writing to this new platform. But I will definitely keep an eye on this app, it does look like they are onto something.

The truth is that I don’t have a solution for my word processing problems.

I like using Apple Pages for my documents, because it has a set of very simple and precise layout features, and because, at least in my world, documents still need to be printed in many cases (and I come from a design background, so I actually like typography and layouts).

As long as I’m on my own, Pages is great. If I’m working with a colleague who also has Pages, then collaboration is done via Dropbox sharing. Yes, there might be some issues overwriting the document from time to time, but the quality of the final document still tends to be very good.

In cases where I need to collaborate with non Pages users, I end up exporting the document to Word (and loosing some of the nice formatting), or creating a shared document on Google Docs (loosing pretty much all the nice formatting).

From time to time the real-time collaborative editing offered by Google is nice, but honestly I don’t need it that often.

And then there is Fargo. I love outlines, and the whole concept of storing files in my own Dropbox account is absolutely brilliant. So far, collaboration with Fargo can be tricky (but it’s much better than when I had to convince people to download and install applications on their PC), and I haven’t figured out a way to move an outline to a word processor in order to create a page layout when necessary.

The truth is that most of these tools don’t interoperate. They all have their formats, and quite often the only way out is cutting and pasting: not exactly the most efficient way of doing it.

And while many applications are starting to support real time collaboration, I’m still waiting to see applications smart enough to understand what I’m writing and help me out by finding relevant documents (both in my own archives and on the interwebs), images, data, etc. I think that the technology is there, someone just has to figure it out.

I guess that what I would really like is writing in a Fargo outline, with Quip collaboration tools, and be able to export a structured file to a Pages document for some final formatting touches.

It looks like there’s still plenty of room for improvement in word processing.

What happened to “camera phones”?

My father in law wants to upgrade his mobile phone (he has a simple and cheap Nokia phone which is a few years old).

He went to an electronics store, and they sold him a 150 Euros Samsung smart phone.

Of course, he got home and had no clue whatsoever on how to use it, connect it to his Mac to download photos (or even answer a phone call).

So he came visiting with pizzas and beer, and I tried to figure it out. I could not.

I will admit that it was my first time with Android, and it probably was a pretty old version of Android but… what an utterly piece of crap!

The UI is totally confusing, and the very poor Italian localisation doesn’t help. I had to google (on my iPhone) to find even the simplest commands (for example: why is USB configuration in the “Networking” panel?). And even after one hour, I could not get it to download photos when connected with the USB cable (iPhoto would “see” the phone, but there were no images to download).

And once configured with the gmail account, suddenly there were notifications in three different apps: email, gmail and social hub. Why?

For his sanity (and mine), I convinced him to take it back and ask for his money back.

Of course, now I have to find a simple phone with three features: calls, SMS and a decent camera. The less smart, the better. Nokia used to make phones with pretty good cameras, but now good cameras only seem to be available on the Lumia series.

Any recommendations?

Tags and feeds

I love tags and feeds.

For the last 15 years almost every technology project I have been involved with was somehow related to tags and feeds (I started with feeds in 1998, then added tags sometime in 2001).

loveRssThe fact is that a feed aggregator is an incredibly powerful concept, and that using tags to organize and create views in aggregated contents is a great way of managing information. There are many tools you can use to create feeds. There are not that many that allow you to manage feeds, that’s why I find aggregators interesting, especially when used to power a content management system.

I’m now working on my 3rd aggregator, hoping to avoid the mistakes of the past and trying to make brand new mistakes which will teach us something. It looks like it’s the right time: with GReader closing down people are talking about feeds again, and tags seem to be back on the map too (with still a few pretty big issues to solve).

And there might even be a little conference on RSS!

I love tags and feeds.

Dilbert feed broken

Too many years ago to count, the company I worked with developed a Radio UserLand plug-in to scrape web sites and generate RSS feed. One of the first filters that we developed was the one for Dilbert.com, which back then was not offering RSS feeds yet.

Some time later they started publishing the official feed, and I have been a happy subscriber ever since. Until last week, when they broke it. Instead of my daily strip, now every day this is what I get in my aggregator:

Dilbert readers – Please visit Dilbert.com to read this feature. Due to changes with our feeds, we are now making this RSS feed a link to Dilbert.com.

Now, I’m not a “full content in your feed” fundamentalist, but if all your content is a comics strip, you can’t get away just linking it.

My guess is that this is another effect of Google Reader closing: the number of feed subscribers must have dropped significantly, and they decided that whoever was left was not relevant enough. They must have thought: “At least let’s get their lazy eyeballs back on our site so they can be exposed to our fantastic banners and we increase our page views”

It looks like it’s time to go back to scrapers.

PS: I’m sure that this move also broke hundreds of intranet home pages that were adding some color to otherwise boring sites using that feed.

People don’t read (but they watch TV)

Yes, it’s what everybody is talking about: people don’t read long articles, long email, books. In this era of easy to generate content, we have all had enough.

Even one liners seem too long to read sometimes. In the short registration form of State of the Net conference there was one simple question: “Is this the first time you will come to Trieste?”. Well, 21 people from Trieste checked “yes”.

At the same time I’m quite impressed with the analytics of the conference’s keynotes videos that we have posted last week: an average of 20% of users get to the end of them, with peaks of 40% for some.

While I do understand that watching a video requires much less engagement, I still find these number significant (and somehow depressing).