An update on how I’m using my private Slack team.

Almost a year ago, I began using Slack by myself, having created a private team with a bunch of purpose-based channels. If you want to know more about how that experiment started, check out that post.

People ask me from time to time if I’m still using it, and the answer is a resounding “yes”. In fact, Slack continues to improve and offer great integrations with lots of other services, and it’s even easier than before to send information into a Slack channel from almost anywhere. It’s blossomed into an indispensable organizational tool that I spend a great deal of my day in, browsing, working, and pushing information into and out of the team.

The addition of Safari View Controller to the app has made a lot of these things I’m pulling in faster to access, and provided a more centered experience. I’ve refined my channels a little bit since I started, and added some new ones, centered around other topics of interest.

Here’s my current roster.

#alerts – high priority notifications, Google alerts I’ve set up for various things,1 and I watch a specific Dropbox folder for collaboration alerts, since they usually show up a few days late or not at all.

#blogposts – each time I post something, the link to that post is dropped into this channel. Mostly just a quick reference if someone asks for one.

#clipboard – multi-device snippets and pasteboard sync. Still love it and use it constantly.

#daily – this is a new thing I’m trying. I’ll explain in a minute.

#deliveries – I mostly just buy things on Amazon, so I don’t use this all that much, but I will occasionally throw a tracking number/link in here if I need to refer to it, eliminating the need for a dedicated app.

#ebay – if I’m searching for something, it pops up in here as it appears on eBay.

#edc – RSS entries on cool gadgets from everydaycarry.com. I have a problem with small tools, and this is how I indulge myself.

#home – I have some shared lists in Wunderlist with my wife, and I get the update notifications sent here.

#photo – I have a few different RSS feeds pointed here, with the simple goal of seeing nice things on a semi-regular basis. Currently, NASA’s photo of the day (via IFTTT), and Unsplash (love this site.)2

#pricedrops – alerts on app sales from MacStoriesDeals and AppShopper.3

#reading – this is my “read later” channel. I toss random links I plan to read here and come back to them whenever.

#rss – I keep a small collection of low-volume feeds that I want to ensure I read each day, so they don’t get lost in the din of other news and the RSS combing I do for work. Blogs by friends, and a few other sites I enjoy.

#snippets – a channel that just holds blocks of text, links, images, etc. I may use frequently or not so frequently. I don’t use this channel all that much, but I like that it’s here.

#starwars – a channel devoted to Star Wars news, articles, and general nerdery.

#town – alerts from the local police department about events, hazards, etc. Supremely–and surprisingly–useful.

#twitter – since effectively abandoning the network on which I used to set fire to piles of my personal time, I created a channel for a handful of accounts that I’d still like to see updates from, without subjecting myself to the misery funnel that Twitter’s become in many ways.4 I also get notified here if someone mentions me, or if certain search terms hit a match.

#video – think “read later” but for stuff you’d watch. YouTube links, etc.

#weather – forecasts and severe weather alerts.

#workflow – a channel devoted to iOS automation, piping in new items from r/workflow and the Drafts Action Directory as they appear. I think I might have a few other things pointed here as well too.

#yankees – news and info on the baseball team I grew up with.

So that’s the current run, and I’m still thinking of new ones.

Which brings me to the idea behind #daily. I have a pretty standard routine (I’d imagine many of us do at this point) of waking up, grabbing for my iPhone, and beginning the Early Morning Badge Clear Game. What often ends up happening however, is that I get into my work inbox, or start reading something I don’t have time to finish in the news, or whatever. You get the idea. The #daily channel was supposed to be an experiment to collect things that I would definitely want to see first thing in the morning, all in one place, give me a jump on my day, and get me mentally prepared for what I need to do–quickly.

The first thing I did was move the morning weather forecast from #weather into this channel, since I always want to see the forecast for the day first thing in the morning. Then since I’m old and can’t always stay up late anymore because kids are soul vampires being a parent of small children can often leave one very tired, I sent the RSS feed for Meh in there, so I can see what stupid thing they decided to sell overnight. This doesn’t work so great for when they have those freakout sales on Fukubukuro boxes of nonsense, but since they’re tweaking the way they do things, may prove more useful to me as time goes on.

But what’s really useful is seeing what I need to focus on that day. My tasks, calendar, etc. all shoved into a nice little summary. A daily brief. That’s where my mad scientist friend Tim comes in.

We’ve been going back and forth on this idea, and we’re in the middle of creating a Workflow5 that will take a whole bunch of personal information (calendar, tasks), add a field for impromptu notes, and throw the weather forecast in for the day, format it in a decent way, and send it directly to Slack. I do this before bed, and the next day, I just scroll up and read through the brief I sent, and then anything else that wound up in the channel overnight. I’m thinking about maybe using Workflow to insert some news headlines6 and other things that can get my brain going while I’m laying in bed, wishing I was still asleep.

Tim has done a lot of work tweaking this idea and building functionality into it, so check out his post. He’s got a bunch of explanation and links to multiple variations on the Workflows.

I’m really into this daily briefing idea. It’s new, and I think it has some legs. I plan on exploring it a lot more.

There’s a theme throughout my use of Slack, and my ideas for what I can do with it, and it’s similar to how I think about Workflow. I’m most interested in using these tools to either a) pull information to me in some useful way so I don’t have to look for it, or b) replace a single-use app of some kind with a similar and (hopefully) comparable set of functionality. Those two use cases continue to drive my experimentation with both apps, but primarily with Slack. Using dedicated channels in an app I already have installed, I can replicate the primary functionality of a handful of small apps that I would have otherwise installed. Will it do everything those apps do? No, not by a long shot. But for the major use case(s), it’s almost always good enough, and that continues to drive me to think of other ways to extend it. The more I use it, the more I want to use it, and find new ways to do so.

The other thing I’ve come to enjoy is the separation of topics of my interest (or functionality) by channel. Instead of an RSS app with a bunch of feeds in folders, I can send different feeds to different channels, and mix that content with other notifications and integrations to create a new experience. This level of flexibility is what gets me really excited about continuing to explore the tool and talk to other people who are thinking along similar lines.

Slack has become an integral part of my day, and continues to deliver a ton of value for me on a personal level well outside of its intended business-based use cases. Having a team all to myself is really fun, and gives me a great outlet to fiddle with iOS automation and web services without too much fussing. I’ve seen other people exploring this kind of thing too, and they’re doing some great things as well.

If you’re doing something cool with Slack outside of work, I’d love to hear about it.


  1. You can create an RSS feed for a Google alert and then use Slack’s RSS integration to get it into a channel. 
  2. If you have any other suggestions for things that send nice pictures, please do let me know. I love this channel and want more of it. 
  3. IFTTT has a channel that does this too, for AppZapp, but I found it to be too high volume (even with my tweaking) and not relevant to my general interests. YMMV. 
  4. I’m still way happier not being there, in case you’re wondering. 
  5. I had the idea, Tim is actually doing all the heavy lifting, because he’s like, WAY better at Workflow than I am. 
  6. But if I’m being honest, this almost sounds like a terrible idea, because it’s usually just more misery, and I can do without that first thing when I get up. 

Iteration.

When Marc, Rene, and I started recording Iterate, I was already doing two shows a week with Rene for iMore, he was beginning his ascendancy to internet celebrity, and Marc was a great designer we both knew who was smarter and more talented than both of us put together. And we looked around and didn’t see anyone talking about mobile design on a podcast in a substantial way, so we thought, why not give it a shot?

Iterate kicked off in June of 2011 and we began booking guests and compiling news related to the slice of the computing world on which we wanted to focus. It immediately felt great. We got some terrific feedback from an enthusiastic audience, we got to speak to some of the most innovative and exciting people working in our industry, and had an absolute ton of fun doing it.

But somewhere along the way, we slowly began realizing that we weren’t able to sustain the pace we wanted to. It started with time zone conflicts for interviews. Then Marc and I had kids at almost the same time (unplanned). Then Rene became a big shot (rightly so). Then Marc and I had more kids at almost the same time (again, unplanned). And work. Tons of work. Work, travel, work, kids, work, life.

We met up at WWDC 2015, sat down at breakfast and all agreed to figure out a plan for the show going forward. We’re going to restructure it. Drop the interviews. Keep the news light, and choose focused topics. Release one show a month—we can commit to one show a month, right guys? Of course we can. Feels like a good direction for a mini-reboot. Ok, hands in… gooooo team.

Now it’s July 2016. We’ve released a few shows since last summer and we talk a lot in our Slack team about how we can try to get together for recordings, but we just can’t seem to do it. We absolutely love talking to each other, and people still seem to enjoy the show, but with our lives moving in the directions they are, we’ve come to the uncomfortable realization that this just might not be the best way forward for us right now.

So what does this mean?

Since we’re being honest, we’re not exactly sure. What it means for now is that we’re effectively ceasing production of the show. We said “hiatus” to each other for the reason that we think the show still works (if we didn’t, we’d take it out behind the shed like Old Yeller and be done with it) so we don’t want to rule out the possibility of picking it back up at some point in the future.

But we also feel pretty strongly that if we can’t do a great job on the show, we’d rather not do it at all right now. None of us wants to phone it in or do it with any less enthusiasm than we currently do. We’d rather it remain something good in peoples’ opinions and memories than slowly turn into something people quietly stop listening to, because well, “it’s not what it used to be”.

The other thing of note is that when we started the show, we really didn’t see anyone else doing this particular kind of thing. Since then, other great shows have started, and are doing an amazing job of covering the world of user experience and design—and [cough] releasing regularly.

It’s not a great feeling, knowing that something you really love and enjoy isn’t going to continue, but it’s also an unavoidable fact of life. If we could, we’d just keep going, but it’s time to take a break, and so we will.

We’ve had so much fun making the show and can’t thank everyone enough for supporting it, whether that means coming on for interviews, talking about it, making suggestions to us, and just generally enjoying it and passing it along to other people who might. A show without a great audience is just people talking to each other, and while we do enjoy talking to each other, we’re extremely grateful to all of you for the support you’ve given us. With any luck, things will settle down and we can revisit the show at some point in the future, but for now, we’ll quietly see ourselves out.

END OF LINE

Dalliances and deviations.

So I returned my iPhone SE.

I know, I know.

I was so into it. Last time I talked about it, my mind was made up, I was forging ahead, I had everything I needed and my resolve was strong.

To be honest, it was a great few weeks. I really like that phone a lot. It is an incredible, compact, able little thing. And I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who asked about it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that phone. I truly adored it while I was using it.

But after watching the WWDC keynote, my mind started wandering. Although I wasn’t much into 3D Touch this time around, it seemed to be extending in pretty interesting directions. The iOS 10 UI made me pause too. I looked at the changes to layout, fonts, and other elements and realized that while it would work on a smaller screen, it wasn’t designed for a smaller screen.

That’s when it hit me: going against the grain of whatever direction Apple is moving in is not a great idea.

I started to realize that if I wasn’t using the de facto hardware (read: 4.7″ and up), I was not going to be getting the best experience. The changes coming to iOS are built for new hardware, with a typical inclusive nod to the previous year, making the update almost fully accessible, minus whatever secret hardware features are lurking, waiting to be revealed in the fall.

Most importantly, I wasn’t planning on buying a new phone this fall, and even if I was, I couldn’t see Apple refreshing the 4″ size so soon, if at all. I’d like to think that it caught them a little off guard, given that it was a bit hard to get one if you were just strolling in to a store for a while there. Tim Cook even noted that the demand was “much beyond what we thought” during the Q2 earnings call.

Still, the phone I had wasn’t able to take advantage of all of iOS today, let alone tomorrow. So I made the call to go back up to the 6s, and that was that.

But like a pre-teen romance at summer camp, I’ll remember the few weeks we had together fondly. Preferably against an 80s-style montage of Peter Cetera and soft-focus shots of me holding the phone wistfully.

Things I like this week, volume 25.

CRNT

I love surfing. Problem is, being a grown up with like, work and kids, I don’t get the straight-up days of beach time I once did. So I need to maximize the time I do get. This means checking tides and forecasts and trying to catch the fickle NJ conditions when they’re decent, and when I can get in the water.

CRNT is an awesome little iPhone app I found at the end of last summer that gives you water conditions for your favorite spots in a really nice package. I really like the design quite a bit, which changes with the time of day. Even better is Apple Watch support, which adds one of the only things I really want to do with my watch. (I’ve had multiple surf sport watches, G-Shocks, Freestyles, etc. but since getting an Apple Watch, I don’t really wear them much anymore, and have been missing this functionality.) The CRNT watch app is simple, focused, and nice. But they’ve also added a glance and a complication to check the tide height and launch the app quickly.1

I realize this won’t appeal to about 99% of the handful of you who actually read these posts, but whatever. You should start surfing so you can use this app.

CRNT: Current Surf Conditions for Your Favorite Breaks | Free Surf Reports


  1. I mean, it’s a relative term. We are talking about the Apple Watch. 

The similarity of differences.

Google held its annual I/O conference recently, and unveiled some extremely interesting developments for the year to come. Focused ever more heavily on data processing and machine learning, its AI initiatives are being inserted into many of their products, and creating some new ones in the process.

One of the most notable new additions is Google’s Assistant, which replaces the Google Now functionality. Available throughout Android and new products like Google Home, Assistant will use context to present you with relevant information across many apps and services, allowing users to have a more fluid conversation with their devices, using the natural language patterns they’d ordinarily use talking to people as opposed to specific syntax queries.

Quite honestly, it’s very impressive stuff. I watched the I/O keynote in its entirety this week when I found some time, and I was blown away by some of the things Google is doing, right now, today.

I know a lot of people who enjoy it and use it daily, but for me, Siri has been inconsistent at best, and infuriating at worst. I can attempt the same, simple operations on different days and get wildly different results. Features have been added over the past few years, and on paper, it looks terrific. In reality, it is a crapshoot as to whether or not the small task I need to perform will actually get done in any possible way that would be faster than me using my phone manually. Using it on the Apple Watch is an abject nightmare. Your experience with it might have been nothing but unicorns prancing through fields of wishes and dreams, but it’s a broken system as far as I’m concerned.

Consistency is a huge part of good user experience. If, as a user, I have doubt, or reservations of any kind that the thing I need to do isn’t going to happen the way I expect or want it to, that creates friction. Friction eventually erodes trust, and without trust, I cease to be able to do the things I want in the way I want them done. I’ll find another way.

Siri has long struggled to mature under Apple’s development since the technology was acquired several years ago. I’m sure there are many, many good people working on it, and it pains me to feel the way I do and say these things, but it is simply not something I enjoy using–or use at all for that matter, anymore. There’s been quite a bit of talk lately about Apple’s ability to deliver compellingly (and consistently) in this new, shifting, data-driven landscape. Now famously having taken a stance in favor of localizing personal data to the device and protecting it in every way possible (a stance I am quite fond of), lots of questions as to whether or not the company is even prepared to meet this challenge–one that Google has been tackling for many years now–have arisen.

So back to Google.

They’re pushing forward with machine learning, using massive amounts of collected data–data that Apple has said it won’t take and doesn’t want–to create entirely new user experiences. The more it works, the smarter it gets. In the aggregate, all this data and use strengthens the product and allows users to do more things. It’s not an app, it’s an entire layer within the OS, working around what you’re doing with your device, affording you additional skills and options.

Earlier this week, prior to watching the keynote, I was having a conversation with some friends in Slack. Using my high-level glances at what Google was doing, and without really thinking too deeply into it, I said the following:

AI/bots may or may not be the future of computing. But data analysis and the kind of power Google has with those capabilities most definitely is.

That’s where Apple can’t catch up. This isn’t about phones. This is about what software is becoming and where the things we do with software go.

And I talked at length about why I thought this was true. I wasn’t spouting apocalyptic proclamations about Apple; they could set fire to piles of money today, every day for months, and still be in better shape than almost any other company on Earth. But I did express some real concern for the platform I enjoy and prefer not being able to keep up, and how the tradeoffs Apple is making to keep users safe (good) could potentially preclude it from delivering more compelling and timely experiences that people will come to expect from their devices (not so good).

Then I watched the keynote.

What became apparent to me, seeing everything myself and hearing the Google presenters talk about the technology, was that Google and Apple aren’t even competing in the same space anymore. Both companies are engaged in selling mobile devices, but they’re coming at personal technology from such different perspectives, they’re almost not even comparable. A few years ago, it seemed like the companies were at odds on the same field. But they’re not even playing the same sport.

If we’re going to distill it down to a focused, philosophical difference, I think it might look like this.

Apple’s world centers on hardware. It designs and builds amazing and transformative devices. Software is paired with hardware, and the integration points are tight, able to take advantage of hardware optimizations and tuning in crazy ways. Apple’s general perspective today on data is that they don’t want to know certain things, and want to obfuscate others. It’s a very individual-centered and -minded approach.

Google is all about that data. It eschewed hardware for its mobile OS initially, insisting that other companies provide it, following the Microsoft model of the recent past. It’s edged toward unifying software and hardware in a way similar to what Apple does, but doesn’t seem to be interested in pursuing that to its logical end. Hardware is a vehicle for software and data, passing in and out.

Apple and Google, in the eyes of the general public and many tech bloggers, have been at war for many years, and in vague terms, both companies sell fancy mobile phones. But the implications of those businesses are so far beyond the face value of what we see. And what I’ve realized is that they aren’t zero-sum or mutually exclusive. What I’ve come to understand is that the more the two companies seem to have been battling, the more the individual directions of each company become unassailably concrete.

Let’s use healthcare as an example, since that’s been the focus of segments in both companies’ recent presentations.

Apple: ResearchKit and CareKit. Centered around individuals, reporting personal data. Assembling tons of it, and allowing for better personal follow through on long-term treatment, and more individualized reporting for research purposes. Gathering of this data is done through traditional channels, but by allowing users to have agency in these processes, Apple affords people the ability to contribute to a large data set, but safely remain an identifiable component variable.

Google: machine learning to aggregate data against the treatment of extremely difficult ailments (diabetic retinopathy was the example presented in the keynote). Very few doctors can detect it accurately, and it’s very hard to do right/well. And this small number of doctors can’t be everywhere at once. But put enough data into a machine and it can pattern match the very intricate details–perhaps better than people, and everywhere at once (since people can only be in one place at a time). Throw incomprehensible amounts of information at an enormous amount of computing power and basically brute-force a treatment protocol that functions better than humans ever could.

Two fundamentally different approaches, two similar goals.

It’s a very interesting and important time in personal technology. Data moves through our lives like air. We want to protect it (some of us, anyway), but we want the value that sharing it can provide us. We want the future we were promised in our childhoods, but the changes we find occurring around us can be discomforting. This kind of change is everywhere, and it continues to move like perpetual motion, unstoppable. It’s beautiful and frightening. But it is inevitable.

I’m delighted that Apple wants to protect my information and is loudly standing up to the degradation of that idea in public and within the legal system. They may even be able to pull off the things I’m hoping for, without the compromises I’m looking to avoid. I’m also really excited to see what Google can actually do to advance the entire industry and provide new ways of solving serious problems. I think there are a lot of ways that these two approaches can exist together, in complementary layers, that can give us more of the future we’d hoped for. I’ve been becoming increasingly jaded about technology in the past few years, but I feel like I’ve been shown possibilities this week that may set me back in the other direction. Of course, there’s still time for things to go horribly awry.

The world will create a narrative of opposition because our nature is to set forces against one another. I no longer see this as a competition. And along with things like VR (which I have become obsessed with, in terms of non-gaming applications), for the first time in a while, I have real hope for things beyond my whatever my next phone might be.

That feels really good.