MnSCU social media update for August 2015

Here’s the Storify recap of my Twitter stream from Monday, Aug. 3, with my monthly (well, mostly monthly) update on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram follower totals for the seven state universities in the Minnesota State Colleges & Universities system.

#BartlettMetrics for March, 2015

 I’ve not been great about backtracking to ab.com and posting an update about my monthly #BartlettMetrics reports on social media follower updates for MnSCU’s state colleges and universities. For this month, I thought I’d try using Storify to save an archive of the tweets I posted about the update.

20140507-BartlettMetrics for May

I have updated my monthly measurement of social media follower data on the Big Two channels of Facebook and Twitter for the institutions in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

Audiences for the seven state universities were measured on the morning of Monday, May 5; the two-year colleges were measured around noon the same day. The methodology is simple; the channels are all visited and whatever follower number is being represented by the service is entered into a Google Docs spreadsheet by hand. The spreadsheets are available publicly; you can visit them here:

• state universities
• state colleges

MnSCU State Universities

There isn’t much to report this month; there were no real standout changes in any category for any of the seven schools, and for the most part everyone’s growth was slightly down from April.

  • Bemidji State went over 15,000 total followers with 11,877 on Facebook [0] and 3,449 on Twitter [0]; we picked up 413 total fans since the April measurement and our total audience is still more than 300 percent of our enrollment.
  • St. Cloud State is about two months away from being the first of the MnSCU state universities to go over 30,000 in combined fans and followers. Their Facebook growth was up [0] to 22,392, and Twitter’s up to 6,892 [0]. They’re on pace to hit 30k sometime in the second half of June.

As an aside, St. Cloud State’s audience is one of the reason I’m considering adding a column that shows changes by percentage rather than a raw number. For example, their growth of 370 is a 1.68-percent bump from last month, while our growth of 309 is a 2.67-percent bump. It still means we’ll never catch them, but some additional context for data is always helpful.

  • Minnesota State had probably the only really significant milestone for this measurement period, edging over 20,000 total fans and followers for the first time. They’re the second MnSCU university to get there; St. Cloud State got there sometime between Dec. 17, 2012, and Feb. 13, 2013 (I didn’t do a measurement in Jan. 2013). They went over 15k on Facebook and should be at 5k on Twitter when I do my next measurement in June. They continue to grow at a pretty impressive rate; they gained 641 total fans and followers since the April measurement, a 3.27-percent bump (another reason I’m considering percentage changes).

Across the other universities, Winona State picked up another 313 total and is at 12,890; MSU-Moorhead went over 3,000 on Twitter for the first time; Southwest Minnesota State edged over 4,000 on Facebook for the first time; and Metro State continues to add a dozen Twitter followers a month despite not tweeting for four years (which reinforces the notion that, while these numbers may be fun and somewhat interesting, in the grand scheme of things they don’t mean a whole hell of a lot).

MnSCU State Colleges

This was the fourth month that I measured audience size for MnSCU’s state colleges in addition to the state universities. The data is new and the audiences are comparatively much smaller than the state universities[0], so there’s not much to say regarding trends – particularly since I’m still discovering new data points that haven’t found their way into the previous measurement periods.

One thing that jumped out was Anoka Technical College on Facebook; I had them at 454 fans in my April 2 measurement period, which was exactly even with what I had them at on March 3. However, this week they were up to 948. I’m curious to know what they have been doing; 109-percent growth in a month is pretty crazy, and the gain of 494 was higher than any of the state universities (even St. Cloud).

Minneapolis Community and Technical College added 120 Facebook fans; they’ve been growing quickly there[0] and have overtaken Lake Superior College for the largest audience among the two-year colleges at 6,329[0].

Finally, Itasca Community College joined Twitter last month and already has 116 fans. Welcome to hell, y’all.

Using Day One as a job journal

I’ve been subscribed to the 99U email updates from Behance for awhile; sometimes I pay attention to what’s in them, but often they just get lost in the sea of 14 billion other things I’ve subscribed to over the years that bombard my inbox like a hailstorm every day. However, yesterday one of the entries caught my attention and I actually read it – “The Art of the Done List.” This drove me back to an article from last week, “#labrat: Are Daily Logbooks Worth the Work?,” which I thought was great. It includes some photos of handwritten daily job logs and some screenshots of electronic logs that were submitted from various points around the Interwebs, and I always love seeing insights into how other people think and record their actions.

I’ve read a lot about the usefulness of a daily work log, and I’ve been sporadically keeping one in Day One (which, unrelated, I totally love) for a while now – checking my entry history shows that the first post I tagged with “Job Journal” was on July 8, 2013. I had a couple of subheads: “completed”, “meetings”, “contacts” and “social/other”, and basically it was a simple little list of the eight things I thought to make note of that day in those four categories. Over the last two weeks I have refocused my attention on maintaining this daily logbook. I’m not entirely sure how many of these I have done in total since I started last July, mostly because I went through stages where I paid no attention to tagging posts when I was done.

However, for the last nine days now (I’m keeping a running total of how many consecutive days I’ve done the log in the log – which is a pretty solid motivator) I’ve kept this, which I would feel fairly confident saying is my longest streak so far. I’ve been adapting and adding content over time; for instance, this week I started copying the content from a daily affirmation email on leadership topics from Fieldhouse Leadership [1] into each daily entry, and I’ve switched to categorizing tasks under a common action verb rather than the previous general categories of meetings, contacts, etc. – words like “draft”, “update”, “write”, and “FUP” (my shorthand for “followup”).

I’m also trying to make a concerted effort to be active in a couple of online communities related to higher education marketing and social media, and I’m maintaining a separate “post” entry as a reminder for when I’ve contributed to discussions in those different venues.

I have to say that while this seems like it might be a waste of time, it has proven to be incredibly helpful during the times I have needed to refer back to something and found that I actually remembered to enter the event on that certain day. Email is an easy archive and replacement memory – I have tens of thousands of email messages going back years, and while because of the way Apple’s mail.app threads messages finding a specific message is slightly more challenging than necessary, it can be done relatively quickly. But what of phone calls? Or chance meetings in the hall? I was discovering that those things were lost to the ether, particularly if they were in some way noteworthy but did not lead to information that ended up in my inbox or find its way into a to-do item in Wunderlist.

Sometimes I just want to check and see how many days it’s been since I called someone to check in about something or another. So, ultimately, in addition to becoming a daily list of “these are things I did today” (which is good for the psyche), these lists in Day One have become a de facto low-tech CRM system.

I’m enjoying what I’m doing with Day One in terms of job journaling, and as my work becomes increasingly more complex and intensive because of our seemingly infinitely expanding scope of responsibilities, it’s proven to be a useful tool in the arsenal of toys I’m using to keep work under control.

  1. Thanks to @BradFolkestad for turning me on to that

#BartlettMetrics for November

MnSCU social media follower data

For the last few months, I’ve been sharing some notes about social media following totals for the seven state universities in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system on Twitter.

I started compiling the information for use at work, just as an easy way to compare us to the other six schools, on a “when I remember to do it” basis back in mid-2011. This fall, I started updating it at the beginning of each month so I could include the data in some monthly metrics reports I give at our Office of Communications and Marketing staff meetings. After seeing that the information was going to be updated regularly, I decided to make the Google Docs spreadsheet where I’d been stashing the data publicly available and to give shout-outs on Twitter to the other schools when they passed some noteworthy follower milestone.

Yes, I know that the raw number of followers isn’t a particularly good — or even useful — way to measure an organization’s social media presence. There are some useful insights to be found in the data, however, especially if you’re looking for patterns or trends and not necessarily at the raw number of followers.

#BartlettMetrics

The #BartlettMetrics hashtag was born in October during a direct-message exchange with the social media manager at St. Cloud State. Make no mistake – it. is. awesome. Especially given my background in sports information, I love this and am rolling with it.

This month, I decided to expand a bit on the few tweets I sent out this morning and play with the data in a bit more detail.

#BartlettMetrics update for December, 2013

Looking at the spreadsheet that was updated this morning and the first thing that became immediately obvious to me was “growth is in the tank across the board.”

We only picked up 80 new Facebook fans since the last measurement, and both Crowdbooster (+102) and Sprout Social (+126, net +110 with 16 un-likes) reported us as having far lower-than-usual new fan counts for the month of November.1 As a point of comparison, both were our lowest in the last 12 months (since Nov. 2012, in fact).

New Twitter follows were down also; after six consecutive months of adding more than 200 per month, we were down to 143 in November (Crowdbooster reported a gain of 81 followers in November, and Sprout Social reported a gain of 129.2)

Others were off as well; Minnesota State added a total of 601 followers in November, far and away the highest total of the seven schools I’m tracking, but their lowest in six months and coming off of back-to-back months adding more than a thousand people. Winona State only added 210 after picking up 1,500 over the previous three months. Southwest Minnesota State only added 71 after gaining about 550 over the previous three months. MSU Moorhead stayed relatively on course with 171 new fans, on par with where they’ve been for four of last five months.3

So everyone is a bit off, even though none of this is remotely scientific.

In terms of milestones, then, there wasn’t much to report. Minnesota State went over 4,000 followers on Twitter. I was expecting Southwest to go over 5,000 total followers for the month, but they fell just short at 4,942.

And Metro State’s account somehow continues to add a few Twitter followers every month despite not tweeting for years.

What can you take from all of this? Not much. Everybody’s trends are off for the month, but looking back this mirrors what happened with us in November of last year as well. We will see if everyone rebounds in December.

Pct. Enroll stat

One thing I haven’t managed to update for everyone is the total followers as a percentage of enrollment stat. This is primarily attributable to the fact that everyone in the system was down in enrollment this year, and only us, St. Cloud State and Winona State had fall enrollment releases on our respective websites. I’ll add that back in for everyone at some point in the future, once their fall enrollment can be gathered from other sources (I should just call them all and ask).


  1. And, yes, it drives me absolutely nuts that the Crowdbooster (+102) and Sprout Social (+110) numbers are different. It’s the kind of situation that makes it quite difficult to take any of this seriously. 

  2. See [^1], above. 

  3. Moorhead’s outlier is a gain of 403 in August; aside from that they’ve been around 190 for the last five months. 

Where to write, and more with If This Then That

Where to write

I find myself running into what seems to be an enviable problem – I currently have too many tools at my disposal in which to write things. Each one is similar, with differences that are slight enough to make each compelling in its own right. But, while each has its advantages, I haven’t devised a workflow in my head that might require that I use all of them simultaneously. So I have this sort of fragmented writing existence that is compartmentalized in several different apps.

Part of the problem I am having, honestly, is iCloud and its sandboxing properties which keep documents created in one app walled off and unavailable to other apps. So I’ve got a group of documents in one app; a separate group of documents in another app; a third group of documents in a third app; and so on, with no crossover. Using iCloud sort of forces your hand into one of two workflows: a single-app workflow where you use one tool for everything, or a fractured workflow where multiple apps become used for certain specialized purposes since you can’t share documents between them.

Here’s a rundown of what I’m using right now.

iA Writer

iA Writer was one of the first tools I played with that had Mac, iPhone and iPad versions so I could access the things that I wrote anywhere on any device at any time. I don’t use iA Writer on my phone all that often, but it’s become my primary writing tool for work; every news release or other story I write for work is written in iA Writer and then moved into InDesign for layout and distribution. I’ve created around 150 work-related documents in iA Writer, and they all live in iCloud. I have some personal documents here as well, mostly work in the last three graduate school courses I took and a couple of documents related to some personal projects I have worked on over the last year.

I like iA Writer; it’s become a comfortable writing environment, even though I’m creating some roadblocks for myself when it comes to importing that text into InDesign for layout (or into Pages for export into a Word document if I am using it to write a magazine story, for instance).

As an app-based service, iA Writer comes with some one-time charges; the Mac app is $4.99 and the iPad and iPhone apps are 99 cents each. Still, for less than the cost of two drinks at Starbucks you get access to a pretty solid round-trip writing environment you can easily access from your Holy Trinity of devices.

Draft

Draft is the most recent addition to my app arsenal; on the surface it’s a Markdown app like iA Writer, but rather than using a collection of native apps Draft achieves “access anywhere” by being a web-based application. Draft’s killer app-type feature is its functionality as a transcript-writing tool; it has the ability to embed audio with extremely easy-to-use and intuitive controls for navigating that audio, making the development of transcripts an absolute breeze.

Right now I have exactly four documents in Draft – and all four are transcripts of audio interviews I have done for work. Draft made preparing these transcripts almost trivial; it’s probably the only tool I have ever used that had specific built-in functionality to help with transcribing, but I can’t imagine any other existing tool doing this any better.

I’m honestly not sure what’s keeping me from going all-in on Draft. It has a free and a paid version, and the paid version is a $3.99-per-month subscription; the subscription is primarily an “I love this tool and want to give you money for it” support mechanism, as the freely-available version of the tool seems entirely functional. And Draft’s developer, Nathan Kontny seems to be exactly the kind of person I would have no problems giving $4 a month to in order to help him continue to build this tool; he’s obviously passionate about what he does and he’s putting every piece of his talent to work in order to build a tool that people will love using. Guys like Nathan Kontny are part of the reason I love technology — he helps to give a writing tool a personality, which is a pretty amazing thing.

If there’s any immediate change in my workflow, I could easily see it being a straight trade of iA Writer for Draft.

Google Docs

Then, I’ve got a pile of stuff in Google Docs, which is almost entirely work-related; I also did some grad-school work in Docs, mostly on group projects where I had to collaborate with people in other cities. But I have very few personal documents in Docs. I actually do very little with Google Docs, and I suspect that as Apple’s iCloud.com versions of Pages and Numbers come out of beta there won’t be any reason for me to use Docs for anything that isn’t related to work. Right now, though, Docs is great for building shared calendars and other workflow-tracking documents for me to share with our student workers.

But, the majority of that material could eventually be moved into something like Wunderlist or Trello, as well, which would leave very little reason to continue using Docs for much of anything.

Day One

Day One is touted as a journaling app, and it’s quite good. I have taken to writing all of my post drafts for andybartlett.com in Day One, because as a journal its entries are tied into a built-in calendar which makes it a nice archival tool. Day One entries also are written in Markdown, and simply as a Markdown editor Day One is quite good.

Day One is a lot like Evernote; the more I use it, the more I realize I should be using it. I’ve started using Day One for job journaling, to keep track of significant accomplishments over the course of a day (although I haven’t remotely gotten into a flow with that yet, mostly because I’m not entirely sure what I would be referring back to the entries for), as well, and it’s good for traditional journal-type entries where something that I want to write pops into my head and I need somewhere that isn’t a blog to stash it. This is another situation where I really like that Day One’s entries are married to a calendar.

Still, other than drafts of andybartlett.com posts, Day One wouldn’t be a good production environment for work; because of the calendar, it would be quite difficult for me to start a story on one day, then write a bunch of other stuff over the next seven days and then backtrack to finish that story. Day One ties your writing to when you start it, and with my work I’m more interested in when it gets finished.

The Rest

In addition to these four outlets, I also have a significant amount of data spread across two Evernote accounts (one that is basically for work and one that is for personal things — drafts of the comic book reviews I used to do for The Terrordrome were all originally written in Evernote); I’ve got a pile of stuff in a Simplenote account that I don’t hardly use any more – data that, honestly, I should migrate somewhere else; I’ve got some things in Vesper; and there are other things still that I have in Apple’s Pages and Numbers apps. So there are six other apps where I have data, and as with the first four, none of them can share information with each other due to iCloud sandboxing.

That’s 10 apps, total, each containing some unique segment of stuff I’ve written. I’d like to start consolidating most of that, but other than eliminating Simplenote I’m not entirely sure where to cut. I am going to hold out with iCloud for my storage until MacOS X version 9, Mavericks, comes out this fall, and I’m also going to see what happens with Apple’s Pages and Numbers apps at iCloud.com once those come out of beta. As I mentioned earlier I’m sorely tempted to switch from iA Writer to Draft, but if I did that I would want to pay for Draft just because I would feel the need to pay for something that I was using as such a central piece of my workflow.

Ideally, I could foresee a situation where I changed my sync solution from iCloud to Dropbox (which I probably just need to go ahead and do), switched to Draft as my go-to primary writing tool, and then distributed writing to andybartlett.com, Day One or Evernote from there.

Right now it’s all still a mess.

Spending time with If This Then That

If This Then That has proven to be a fun little automation tool that can tie some — but certainly not all — of the various presences I have scattered throughout the Internet’s vast series of tubes together into a cohesive presence.

For example, I’ve got sharing functionality set up in WordPress that automatically shares to Facebook and Twitter whenever I have a new blog post. I do this so I don’t have to jump over and immediately share that I’ve posted something on those social networks, mostly because there would eventually be the temptation to just not share because I couldn’t be bothered to spend the 30 seconds to do it or because I came up with some reason why the post shouldn’t be shared. So that’s usually fine.

I wrote an IFTTT recipe that automatically creates a post at andybartlett.com to share photos I post to Instagram. This is fine and it works great; it gets photo content to andybartlett.com, which in the past was exceedingly rare. But right now I’ve got a situation set up where an Instagram post fires an andybartlett.com post which fires a Facebook update; so if I share to Facebook when I post in Instagram, I get a double post on Facebook — one directly from Instagram and one from andybartlett.com.

The one thing that’s nice is that those auto-posts on Facebook aren’t triggering the IFTTT action I wrote to dump Facebook status updates into an Evernote notebook.

I either need to figure out a way to tweak the recipes to recognize post tags so that those round-trip type posts are situational and not automatic for every situation, or just scrap IFTTT for social posting automation.

Building a news clip database

Tracking the News

Since I moved to my current role in Bemidji State’s Office of Communications and Marketing in 2007, I’ve used a static list in InDesign to keep track of the news releases I produce each fiscal year. It looked a lot like this one, from FY2013, and it was basically the same for six straight years with some cosmetic changes every now and again. It had a simple purpose: keep an ordered list of the releases I distributed each year and track the code number assigned to each release depending on the range of distribution for each story. I moved it around, from InDesign to Pages and back to InDesign, but it was basically just a text list.

For this year I wanted to do something different; for a variety of reasons, I decided to move the list to a spreadsheet in Google Docs. It looks like this. Just a few releases into the fiscal year and it’s working perfectly fine.

In the past, I had been using Filemaker Bento to keep an archive of stories mentioning Bemidji State found in various places online. It started out as a way to keep track of stories sourced from Google Alerts, Yahoo! News alerts, Bing news alerts, etc. Eventually I added the stories we were pulling in from our clip service at BurellesLuce. I kept track of a variety of information about a particular story — where I found it, how I found it, whether I could identify it as coming from a story I had released, a number of things. Each story in the database had an entry that looked like this. This database fell by the wayside during the year that I served as interim director of the office, but the idea of this as a tool to help keep track of news mentions was solid.

This year our office is putting an emphasis on measurement; measurement of our traditional media efforts and of our social media efforts. I’m using tools like Sprout Social and Crowdbooster to track social; for traditional media, I’m using tracking functionality in Burrelles, and this year we’ve subscribed to Meltwater, which has some media tracking tools as well.

However, there are two questions that were going to be extremely difficult to answer related to print media, even with all of the tracking tools we have access to right now. Those questions:
1) Of the news releases distributed in X period of time, which one generated the highest number of stories in the media?
2) How many stories did a particular news release generate last year?

The basic data to answer those questions exists in the relationships between two existing tools – the news release inventory lists I’ve been maintaining by hand for years, and the measurement services that track our media mentions. However, nothing that I’ve done connects those two tools in any way, leaving answers to questions like these two, and others like them, just out of reach.

However, moving the release inventory from a static text list to Google Docs sparked a thought — this new spreadsheet could be moved to a database, the Bento database to track news clips could be resurrected, and I would have the data sources I would need to find the answer to those two key traditional media measurement questions.

None of the tools I was using would do the trick. Bento is a single-table database with no relationship-building capabilities, so rebuilding the clip database there was pointless. Moving the clip database to Google Docs would give me parallel spreadsheets and allow me to save all the relevant data, but I wouldn’t be able to get the information I wanted about the relationships between data in those tables. I needed an actual database tool, and I chose Filemaker Pro.

I picked Filemaker over something like PHP because of Filemaker’s ability to easily deploy to iOS devices; I figured that might come in handy if this became A Thing.

So I had a problem to solve; I had picked a tool to try and use to solve it. Off I went.

Building the database
My first task was to try and recreate the clip archive I had constructed in Bento in Filemaker. This was relatively straight-forward and not terribly difficult; the final result looked like this, which looks basically the same as the Bento version I built a few years ago. All of the information is there, save for the “related art” data box to save PDF versions of the stories; that no longer seemed necessary. Once this was built, I populated the database with about a dozen records as a starting point.

I then toyed around with deploying that database table to my iPad, just to see how that worked. It required that I set up permission levels to grant access to my iPad, and in the process of setting up this guest access I apparently inadvertently assigned an overall administrative password to the database. Which, of course, I had no chance of remembering later, which means I locked myself out of my first draft.

So I rebuilt it from scratch, tweaking a few things along the way, until I got it up and running again and repopulated with about two dozen records this time.

Once that was done, I built a second database table to hold the information I’m currently storing in Google Docs as a release inventory; that screen looks like this.

The release code that has been part of the inventories I’ve been keeping plays an important role here. It quickly occurred to me that this unique code, which had been used to segregate and sort stories by category, also could function as a unique database key. The structure of the key is straight-forward – 2014-B-X-015 is the 15th story released for Bemidji State in Fiscal Year 2014 as an extended local story (a geographic category that carves Minnesota up into zones that stories can be sent to; “extended local” draws a line through St. Cloud and includes basically everything north of that line). That structure also creates a unique identifier; there can only ever be one 2014-B-X-015; thus its suitability as a database key.

I created a connection between the media clip table and the story inventory table within the database, using that release code as a key identifier. Then, I used the portal functionality in Filemaker to pull that release code information into an individual story in the clip database; this would allow me to identify a clip as having come from a BSU news story, as I had always done in Bento, but then also indicate exactly which release in the news release inventory had been the clip’s original source. That connection looks like this in the story database; it shows whether the story was sourced from a release that came from BSU, then has a field where I can display the release code of the story it came from.This field is connected back to the story inventory table, which also dynamically displays a Bitly link to the release’s home BSU News.

The magic
The fun part came when I built a second tab for the news release inventory data table and connected that back to the clip database; it scans the connections that were made in the previous step and returns a list of every clip that has been tagged as having been sourced from that news release. So for 2014-B-X-002, the second tab lists every story in the clip database that says it came from a BSU release and also came from story 2014-B-X-002. That display looks like this.

Recap
Honestly, this is about the most-basic multi-table database you can build in Filemaker; the two individual tables are just straight-up data tables that could easily be reconstructed in Excel or some other spreadsheet, and there’s only a single point of connection between the two tables, identifying the release code for the source stories in any news clip identified to have originated from one of our news releases. Even the “magic” piece that returned the list of every story that had been tagged with a certain release code used a function that is built into Filemaker. The most challenging aspect of this was simply learning Filemaker; the documentation could be better, and the software is not at all what you would call user friendly. Still, what I built today could end up being a powerful tool for us, and I feel that to have built it start to finish in one day while learning the software on the fly as I built it was a solid achievement.

For the first time in a long time, I can say I built software. That’s a pretty excellent feeling.

Workflow, updated

Of course, one day after my little treatise on workflow and the various to-do apps I have tried, Evernote launches a reminders feature. There doesn’t appear at first glance to be enough functionality to replace Wunderlist, although I will have to explore that, but it does seem as though it could potentially compete with Trillo as a potential candidate to manage story assignments with my writing team.

Now to play around with this and report back later…

On workflow, drawing and the new Flickr

How I’m Working
I’m putting some renewed effort into examining my workflows, particularly with respect to project management tools and ways to keep a “digital brain” in order to track the bajillion things I have on my list of things to do at any one time.

I initially started with Apple’s Reminders.app; it was easily available and uses iCloud to sync between my MacBook, phone and iPad. It has steadily improved since its first release, and the iOS6 version was pretty nice, but ultimately it was just a checklist. You made a list and added items that you could check off and move to a “done” list. The end. I wanted something a little more sophisticated.

My second attempt was to use Behance’s Action Method system — again, it used iCloud to offer seamless syncing between my various devices, but had significantly more features than Reminders. You can add color codes and make items orange, teal or gray; there’s a separate notes section where you can add long form written items that are organized by date (although the functionality for moving between notes from different days was pretty awful), and although I never got around to using this feature very much it had the option to delegate tasks to other Action Method users. I used Action Method for quite a while, until the pile of nagging little issues I was having with it (primarily, the iPad app was astonishingly crash, and the desktop app was written in Adobe Air, which meant more-frequent updates than I felt like messing with) reached the point where I wanted to seek an alternative.

After looking into a couple of different things I settled on Wunderlist, and right now I like it quite a bit. The app is just flat-out attractive; the devs are putting a lot of emphasis on look and feel, but in a way that supports usability of the app and isn’t just for show. It’s very Apple-like in that way. It really works for me; adding new items is amazingly fast, I have made excellent use of the ability to add task checklists to individual items on a list (for example, to build a checklist of distribution outlets for a news story’s to-do item), and there is a free-flow text area for adding long form notes to each to-do item. The one thing I miss from Action Method is the separate note-taking window for the long form notes, but in all honesty I should be putting those notes into Day One anyway, so they can be tagged and searched (I am dramatically under-utilizing the quite fantastic Day One, but that’s a post for another day).

Wunderlist is still pretty new, and the biggest issue I have with it is the lack of feature parity between the different existences of the service — the web app can do some things that the desktop app can’t do, which can do some things that the mobile apps can’t do. The developers seem to be working hard to keep the system updated, and this is still relatively new software, so for it to be as perfectly functional as it is right now is actually a solid achievement.

I discovered Trello today; our web team was using it for a demo they were giving us today. I haven’t spent a whole lot of time with it yet, honestly, but what I’ve seen at first glance is pretty nice. The app allows for simultaneous views of a number of lists, but its very clever feature is that those lists can be expanded into a separate view that includes dramatically more information. Trello quite properly calls this piece of information a *card*. On the front, a quick overview of the to-do item – name, number of items completed and total number of items on a sub to-do list, little tabs showing the item’s color codes, number of messages that have been added to that item’s activity log, etc. On the back, a full view of everything associated with that item – a to-do list, a view of team members who have been assigned to work on that particular item, a list of actions that can be taken and logged in the activity list, item-specific attachments, a list of the labels and associated color codes attached to that item, etc. At first glance what Trello has done is impressive.

I also used Basecamp this year to try and manage my student writers, but honestly it was only marginally effective. It could do the very basic things that I wanted to do, which was give the students a framework for checking in with me and giving a “this is what I did during my shift” report for me, and as a handoff to the student taking the next shift, and to give us some rudimentary discussion boards for us to share screenshots and talk about how to handle certain social media situations that came up during the course of the year. But it just didn’t seem to be that robust; I couldn’t even tell you offhand what I wanted to do with it but was unable to do (I suspect because I sensed its limitations early on and didn’t even try), but I was only marginally pleased with it.

While Trello may not (will probably not, in fact) replace Wunderlist as my personal project management tool, it’s got a pretty good chance to replace Basecamp. I just need to kick the tires on it a bit more and see what it can do. But its expanded features for teams – Trello’s “pro” version, essentially – is only $200 a year. It would be a pretty cheap experiment to run student assignments off of it next year.

I want to get to the point where I stop experimenting with things and settle in on a set of tools that help manage my often overwhelming workflow and get me to a place where I’m more productive. With my current trio of Evernote, Day One and Wunderlist, I feel like I’m pretty close to having what I need. The only remaining task is to seriously refine how the tools are used and for what purposes, solidify how they work together in my routine, and account for the few outliers that I’m still monkeying with (like iA Writer) – which I really, really like, but it seems like the work I’m doing there for story drafts could be moved to Day One).

What I’m Drawing
About a week and a half ago, I started this; it’s my attempt to copy a photo of Megan Fox that accompanied an interview with her in Esquire a few months back. I have mostly been working on it in 30-minute bursts over my lunch hour, which has been a fantastic way for me to recapture some creative energy that tends to get expended pretty quickly in the mornings at work.

I struggled with a couple of little things early on – her chin wasn’t right, I worked and reworked her cheekbone a few times until I got it where I wanted it (and then discovered that a little fix around her eye that I initially didn’t see was enough to cure a lot of other ills), and her right eye took me probably seven attempts to get properly placed and sized. But I worked through those, and right now, I’ve gotta tell you, I’m pretty happy with the way this is progressing. In terms of size, this is the biggest drawing I’ve attempted in 20 years, and if it keeps going the way it has started, it’ll be a keeper.

Flickr’s big update
In conjunction with its huge announcement that it had acquired Tumblr for just over a billion dollars, Yahoo! on Monday also re-launched a totally overhauled [Flickr. Flickr has been one of the sad sacks of the social media world for a long time; it’s the grand-daddy of photo sharing communities, but Yahoo allowed it to languish and mostly ignored it. Photo-sharing features were implemented poorly and quite slowly, and over time it simply faded into “who cares?” territory for all but the hardcore pro photographers who continued to hang out there — most people simply shifted the destination of their camera-phone photos to Facebook or Instagram or something similar.

But this new Yahoo under Marissa Meyer seems to be serious about becoming a competitor to Google in the web services arena. The new Flickr is amazing; the redesign is beautiful and offers some genuinely attractive ways to interact with your photos. They’ve also added the now-ubiquitous cover photo to your profile page, are allowing high-res avatars, etc. It’s nice to look at.

The biggest news, however, is that every single user of the site – every one of them – has, entirely for free, one terabyte of image storage. A terabyte. Compare that to the five free gigabytes you get from Google Drive or Dropbox or the seven from Amazon’s Cloud Drive. Granted Flickr is only for images and three-minute-or-less videos, but still — a terabyte of storage. For free.

I put that into some perspective on Facebook Monday night. I recounted a story about driving from Manhattan, Kan., to Circuit City in Topeka when I was in college so I could spend $225 on a 1.1-gigabyte hard drive for my Xeos-brand 486 running Windows 95. That was a huge hard drive at the time; I think you could get them in the four- to six-gigabyte range at retail for several times what I paid for my single gig. Yahoo gave a terabyte of storage away for free on Monday; had I wanted to acquire one terabyte of storage space on the day I bought that hard drive, it would have cost me $210,000. That’s an amazing window into how much – and how quickly – technology has changed in the last 15 years or so.

It’s incredible. Legitimately, amazingly incredible. And comparing the price of that 1.1-gigabyte hard drive to a free terabyte of storage makes me wonder what astonishing things I have today will seem equally ludicrous in terms of their price-to-performance ratio in another 15 years.

Today’s updates for Flipboard and Springpad

Exploring new things

Significant updates were released today for a pair of iPad apps that I have a varying degree of familiarity with – Flipboard and Springpad.

Flipboard I used for a bit when it first came out, and I liked it but preferred a more traditional text-based view of my RSS feeds that I could sort by subject. Flipboard is beautiful, and it works really well, I think, for following things like Twitter and Facebook, but it breaks down and was far less effective for things like Google Reader (which I still haven’t identified an alternative for, with Google’s announcement that it’s being unmercifully killed). So it was a fun social media browsing toy for awhile, but I never did much with it.

Springpad was introduced to me as an Evernote alternative, but it never stuck. I think part of it was that I just have too much information already in Evernote and there wasn’t a “holy crap I have to have that” feature in Springpad to get me to switch. The new version that launched today has some features I don’t recall from the first time I checked it out – mostly in the templates it offers for specific post types like checklists and contact management – so it might be worth revisiting this. I still think I’d be hard-pressed to switch away from Evernote though.

The updates to both Flipboard and Springpad today added the functionality to add what both are calling “magazines” of (UPDATE: actually, only Flipboard is calling this a “magazine”; Springpad is calling them “Embeddable Notebooks.” Thanks to Springpad VP Brian Carr for pointing this out to me!)  user-created content, but both approach the idea from different directions. As we search for ways to launch a digital version of our magazine that work with our office, any time a service like this mentions “magazine” my interest is immediately piqued. Ultimately, while the new functionality in both apps is significant, neither really match my definition of a magazine (although Springpad is closer than Flipboard).

Flipboard’s implementation essentially creates a completely custom RSS feed. I created a magazine called “College Hockey” where I dropped a couple of stories from College Hockey News, and I could easily add any other information off the web that I found and wanted to add. Flipboard users could find and subscribe to this magazine and then get anything I added to the feed pushed to their board. I could add self-generated content to Flipboard’s magazines by creating a blog post somewhere and then manually adding that page to the feed. There currently isn’t an automated way to have my magazine auto-detect new content and add it to the feed, though; every post must be added manually. For what basically amounts to a custom RSS feed, that’s somewhat of a drag. Flipboard’s implementation is, for all intents and purposes, its version of Storify – and Storify is already pretty good and has traction.

Springpad’s implementation  is essentially a shared notebook on the service. Evernote’s had shared notebooks for awhile. Like Flipboard you can add pretty much any sort of content you wish to a notebook – sharing a link or whatever content you want to put in a Springpad note – and there are templates for adding specific content like movies, music, recipes, products, checklists, events, to-do lists, contacts, etc. So you can create content and bundle it up and share it as a “magazine,” but it seems like somewhat of an odd implementation as it forces you into one of two options for storage – either using the magazine to gather content that is stored in Springpad (which is a free service without a paid upgrade option like Evernote, meaning your content is at the mercy of the survival of the parent company) or linked from elsewhere online, making it the same implementation as Flipboard’s magazines.

As I said earlier, neither of these things really fits my idea of a “magazine,” although Springpad probably comes the closest.