Auto-posting to WordPress (and archiving in Dropbox) with Drafts.

Last week at WWDC, I was lucky enough to spend some time with my friend Manton Reece talking about writing. He shared with me that he had a great little setup for posting short content to his WordPress site using IFTTT’s Do Note app and a plugin. He uses a customized version of the “status” format in WP to insert these smaller thoughts and then builds a separate RSS feed that you can optionally subscribe to in addition to the longer articles.

I thought I might like to do something like this, but after looking into it further, didn’t feel like tinkering with the post format, and figured I could probably get by with the standard format. But since every post I write starts as/is stored as Markdown in Dropbox, I was unable to automate the WP integration the way he had and still generate a local copy for myself. So I began thinking through this with one of my favorite apps, Drafts. What I was able to put together was a multi-step action that allows me to do exactly what I want with almost no effort.

Drafts allows you to send email as an action. WordPress allows you to post into the system via email. Using a combination of the action and the Jetpack plugin’s email functionality, I can go from idea to published in seconds, without touching the WP iOS app (which continues to get better, but still isn’t fast) and get my local copy stored away.

Let’s say I have an idea for something longer than a tweet, but shorter than my usual posts, and I want to just throw it up on the site. I open Drafts and write a short post where the first line is the title, and the remainder is the body. I run my “Quick Post” action which does the following:

  • Prompts me to pick 1-2 categories for the post
  • Launches an email sheet to allow me to proofread the post before sending
  • Using syntax provided in Jetpack, the post is published
  • Creates an archival .md file in the directory in Dropbox where my posts are stored

This could be sped up even further if I trust that I wrote everything correctly and skip the “foreground” email option to send in the background. However, the other benefit to having the draft email come up is the ability to edit any of the syntax on the fly if I decide to change something at the last minute. You also have the ability to simply create drafts of posts instead of auto-publishing by changing the post status option from “[status publish]” to [status draft]”. I’ve built this into a separate action so I have the ability to do either one quickly, if I’m not quite ready to put something live.

You’ll need to enable email posts on your WP site first, and generate the incoming email address to use in the Drafts action, so make sure it’s enabled and entered correctly. I also wanted to have the ability to add that second category prompt but back out without canceling the entire operation, so I asked Greg about it and he mentioned that if you turn off the “Include cancel button” option and create a button that just says “Cancel”, you can skip that step without stopping the whole action. This does create a tiny bit of editing that needs to be done, because you then have as category slugs something that looks like “[category apple,cancel]” but it adds a little flexibility and I’m willing to accept that tradeoff in that final step, since I’m proofreading (and potentially editing slightly) anyway before posting. But, since Greg is awesome, he added a scripting step to the action, which obviates the need to do this. Also, I only use categories, so you can add a step for tags if that’s more your flavor (see the Jetpack page for more info).

If you’re interested, I’ve posted the sample action (minus my WordPress-specific details) to the Drafts Action Directory here. After posting, on the web it displays the CC and BCC lines as filled with the same sample email address, but when the action is installed, they should be blank (correctly).

I really like writing in Markdown, and having a copy of all my posts easily accessible that I can return to outside of WordPress. And I’ve been looking for a way to write more frequently without committing to huge ideas. This series of steps achieves that in a quick and easy way, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it works for me.

Things I like this week, volume 6.

This app just gets better with each update. One of the best writing apps on iOS, Editorial sets itself apart with an insane level of customization and automation. It can be as simple or as complex an experience as you want. This latest update is no different, adding great new features and functionality. The updates are few and far between, but they are tremendous when they land. If you do anything serious with text on iOS, it’s worth a look.

Editorial (Universal, $6.99)

Tweetbot 2 for Mac
One of the great Twitter apps on any platform, Tweetbot was recently updated with a new look and feel that’s right at home on Yosemite. Still a great power user app even in the (sadly) dwindling landscape of third-party Twitter clients, it’s a great way to handle your timeline with some advanced filtering. Its mute controls are some of the best around, and as granular as you need them to be. And some days you really need them.

Tweetbot for Mac (Mac App Store only, $12.99)

On writing (more).

For the past few months, I’ve tried to make a concerted effort to post here more regularly, if only to keep the exercise of writing fresh in my mind and routine. I really have enjoyed it, and I began thinking about how to extend the activity further. I’ve been asked in the past to contribute to other sites and I’ve always demurred, afraid that I wouldn’t be able to make a commitment, or that I’d disappoint someone. I’m changing that now.

I want to make myself accountable for writing. I want it to be something I truly do every day, in some capacity. My first step is joining David Chartier’s excellent Finer Things in Tech family. The FT content is thoughtful and fun, with great tips and a focus on concise and meaningful content. It’s not a news grinder, and I couldn’t keep up with the cycle these days anyway. He’s invited me to submit posts on a schedule of my choosing, and my goal is to make it as regular a schedule as possible.

I’ve contributed to sites in the past, and it’s been a great experience for me. I’m extremely excited to be writing for a site other than my own again because it will allow me to do some different thinking about what I’m putting together, and I believe it’s going to help me continue to grow as I consider a different audience and a new set of goals apart from a personal blog about nerd stuff.

I think it’s a great step for me, and I look forward to sharing some new things. My first post for FT is here.

Here’s to some new challenges.

Simplified, part 2.

I’ve been a huge fan of Squarespace for a long time, since I started using the service in May of 2009. Coming from a self-managed WordPress install, it was like a breath of fresh air, in which things were well-designed and easy to understand. You could add complexity piece by piece in sensible ways (if you wanted to) but mostly it was great for writing and posting quickly and attractively. The mobile apps were a nice encapsulation of the experience and allowed you to do the basic things you’d want to on the go.

I eagerly awaited the release of v6 this year after hearing so much about the beta as people used it and said how amazingly new it all was. How could the service possibly top itself? What wizardry awaited in this new release? The launch came, and I immediately migrated my entire site to the new service.

That was my first mistake. I soon realized that none of the categories I’d created over the past few years appeared in my composition windows when I was posting. Which meant that I needed to either re-create each manually, or I had a much bigger service issue that I couldn’t possibly fix. I contacted support and spoke to a variety of different, eager-to-help representatives, but the issue went unfixed for several weeks, during which I was afraid to add content to the site, not knowing how it might affect things. It finally did get resolved, though, so I can say thanks for that.

In that same span of time, I realized that the iOS apps upon which I relied for quick posts from my iPhone and iPad were slowly becoming hobbled. I could not edit posts I’d created in the new system on iOS because of the limitations of the way the apps handled them. I wasn’t doing anything nutty; I post entirely text, with the very occasional image (almost never). Over a few weeks, I wasn’t able to even post new entries to the site at all. Two days ago, I noticed that all the buttons in the iPad app compose window do exactly nothing now. Which left me with a post in the app that I couldn’t save as a draft or publish.

I stuck with a service that I’ve used for years, because I loved the flexibility. Which recently was whittled away to literally nothing. The iOS apps are now broken beyond belief. One would assume the company would be hard at work on restoring compatibility. But instead, it released a new branded note-taking app… because that’s what its users need more. I know notes are so hot right now, but it would really be better to have the entire service work as advertised. Even on the web, I’ve experienced slowdown, hangs, and complete failure as I try to do even the most basic things.

I finally tired of waiting for something to happen, so yesterday I migrated the site to a hosted WordPress install. I paid for ad removal and a custom URL. At least WP’s iOS apps do something (namely, work properly). The theme I chose is simple and pleasant, and I’m able to continue writing when I want to (infrequently) but when I post, it goes somewhere. I’m getting serious about dropping things from my life that don’t work for me or make things more difficult than they need to be. Sadly, one of my favorite web tools became one of those weights that needed to be dropped. I’m not beyond sweeping the leg when I need to.

No mercy, sensei.

The unintentional journal.

I’ve long kept track of my life in journals and notebooks throughout my life. During high school and college, writing was a daily activity in which I reveled, detailing every little thing of interest in my life, and scribing what today would amount to embarrassing amounts of minutiae. But it’s something I’ve always enjoyed. When my life got busier and technology permeated it at a much denser level, I sought out pieces of software to with which to continue this practice. We have an amazing wealth of just such software on iOS, and I’ve tried tons of apps to capture my thoughts in a meaningful way. There’s a real value in being able to use your iPhone or iPad to do this, because increasingly, they’ve become the tools we have with us the most, even more than a pen or pencil, it seems.

What I’ve come to realize is that my brain has a hard time making the conscious choice to actually journal the thoughts I want to keep when I have them. My current favorite app to do this is Day One. It’s a wonderfully designed suite of apps that works across iOS and Mac, and syncs with iCloud and Dropbox. Even with a gorgeous app everywhere I might find myself, I often forget to capture things, or decide something isn’t worth putting down (you can actually set reminders to add entries to Day One, but that seems weird to me, as useful as it might be). As I’ve grown busier in my older age, the desire to write daily bits about my life for later reference is still there, but subsumed by other things.

The other realization I’ve had as I worked through this is that for the past few years, I’ve actually been keeping a fantastic journal of just about everything I think is worth talking about and remembering. It’s on my iPhone, my iPad, and my Mac, and I spend tons of time in it every day. I’m always motivated to read and write in it, and I have thousands of entries about good things, bad things, funny things, and everything else.

It’s Twitter.

The problem is, unlike a journal I might keep myself, I can’t go back and read the first page. The limitations of Twitter’s current architecture make it impossible for me to flip all the way back to the beginning and trace my path forward. Twitter allows access only to what amounts to a small chunk of your most current tweets. I’ve done some searching and there are a few tools that seemingly allow you to search further back through your timeline, and see older tweets, but all I really want is one button within my settings that says “Download My Tweets”. I want a plain text, big fat sheet of everything I’ve said, from the first stupid musing to my last LOL. I want to be able to back this text file up in a thousand different places and across multiple services. But most importantly, I want to have it because up until this morning, it simply didn’t occur to me that I’ve been using a tool for almost four full years that has served as a surrogate for my old notebooks, without once thinking how utterly valuable I might find it. I had always assumed I’d think of it as conversation – a fleeting vapor of chat with others that I’d be comfortable releasing into the ether of the web. But as it turns out, I want those thoughts back. I want the journal I was unintentionally writing all this time, in my pocket.

If you’ve got a recommendation for a tool that can help with this, I’d love to hear about it.