Are Twitter’s changes really that bad?

Before I start with the meat of the article, I’d like to stipulate several things:

  1. I disagree with what Twitter is doing to third-party developers.
  2. I disagree with Twitter’s potential idea to force tweets of alternates opinions into someone’s feed.
  3. I agree with Twitter not kicking Alex Jones (I am not a fan of Mr. Jones in any way, shape, or form). Although if they would kick him off for the reason they gave (IIRC Inciting violence – in this case against the parents whose children were killed in the Sandy Hook shootings) it is a defensible position. 

Now that we have gotten the throat clearing out of the way I want to look at the technical issues of Twitter shutting off some API to third-party developers. 

Here is a screenshot I took from the latest update to my favorite Twitter client, Tweetbot:

When I look at these four big changes, I don’t get the feeling that they are so bad. In fact, I would argue it’s not a bad thing for your timeline to not be automatically refreshed and instead be refreshed every 2 minutes. The biggest thing to me is the loss of the activity tab. However, is not having that information a deal breaker? I don’t think so. 

Let me reiterate, I am not looking at any of the “political” choices Twitter has made and is looking to make. Just looking at the technical limitations Twitter is putting onto third-party developers. From what I can see you can still use third-party apps and not be affected all that much. 

Birds and Mastodons – A Brief Comparision of Twitter and Mastodon

We’ve known for a while that Twitter will be limiting third party applications (like the excellent Tweetbot which I use on both macOS and iOS). There is even a federation of third party developers trying to fight the change Twitter wants to make. It’s understandable why Twitter is making these changes; they want all the eyes on their web site for the advertising. It’s ironic because a lot of why Twitter became popular in the first place is because of the third party applications that were out there flogging Twitter when it first came into existence. 

With this change about to happen combined with my wanting to leave Twitter (something I have been thinking about for a month or two) I started looking into alternatives. The first one I heard about was a service I am not going to link to or really mention because it has a lot of neo-Nazi types there and quite frankly it freaked me out. Needless to say I wasn’t going to participate there. 

A few days ago I heard about another service that was running called Mastodon. It is open source and distributed and looks interesting. I decided to sign up and give it a try. Here are some initial thoughts about it and how it compares to the 800-pound blue bird

  • It’s distributed so this means there are multiple instances with different focuses (Sci-fi, politics, etc) and you are able to follow people from these different instances on the instance you are on. I decided to sign up for the general instance. These different instances may have different rules so you need to be careful.
  • The interface is four columns across. One for your post (which they call a toot – ah open source don’t ever change!), the second for your home feed (those people you are following), a third for any notifications (replies, favorites, and the like), and the fourth can be a big firehose (the local timeline – all the people logged into the same instance) or a gigantic firehose (the federated timeline – everyone on all instances). Be warned, the information comes fast and furious.
  • On the desktop side, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of options for a client. I’ve tried out one from the App Store and it is OK, I guess. The story on the iOS side is better. I went with an app called Tootdon and it seems to be a good solid app.
  • I wish it had a way to remember where you were up to on the site. When there are new toots in the local or federated timelines you go straight to the top. I’d like to be able to pick up from where I left off and see what’s new from there.
  • One of the things that I’ve really liked about Twitter is Tweetmarker (the brainchild of Manton Reese), it allows you to sync where you are up to and pick up on any device that supports the service. This is a feature. service that would be wonderful to have on Mastodon. 

There have been other services out there that tried to beet Twitter at the microblogging game. Can Mastodon do that and gain a critical mass of people? To be very cliché, only time will tell. 

Mars Edit’s New Public Beta

I’ve been a user of Red Sweater Software’s Mars Edit for quite a while now (at least seven years). It was to much joy that I saw the announcement of the public beta for the new version of the blogging software. It looks good so far and one of the features I am really excited for is the ability to preview your post with the theme of your blog. I am sure this was one of the more requested features to add.

STEM Camp for Girls

This morning my daughter alerted me to something a friend of her’s sent her:

She was completely excited about attending the camp because it is right up her alley, the girl does love her science. I sent an email requesting information about the camp and I got a reply. It turns out that one of the people trying to get the camp off the ground is someone who has expressed interest in attending the seminary I am involved with.  It’s a small world.

I am very impressed that two high school seniors are trying to get this summer camp started. I don’t usually make appeals but I think visiting their Gofundme page and donating a little something is a good thing. If you can it would be great to help them get started.

Eulogy for Pebble

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Yesterday the official news came down that Pebble sold their intellectual property to Fitbit. I got my first smartwatch 4 years ago and it was a Pebble. Even though I moved on to other smartwatches, I still had a soft spot for the company and their products. While not the first smartwatch, Pebble was the first wearable device to take hold in the imagination of people and allowed people to imagine what a smart watch should and could do. For me it allowed me to realize what I needed in a smartwatch. Something to be able to triage notifications and possibly reply to things if a quick, canned reply was needed.

Pebble was a trailblazer. I don’t want to say they were ahead of their time but the were early in the game. Sadly when the mobile OSs like Android and watchOS came about they lost their advantage, especially when it came to iPhones1. I would even say that Pebble’s rise and fall mirror, in some way, that of another third party hardware maker, Palm. Both were tech darlings and crashed when better funded companies got into the market.

Today when you look at your appleWatch or AndroidWear device, just remember the company that got the ball rolling on wearable technology.


  1. Whether or not it was fair for Apple to do this is a matter for debate. Strictly as a business matter it made sense. 

Switching from Evernote to Onenote

Note: This was originally posted in 2014 when I made the switch. It’s reposted now because of the news last week about Evernote’s change in pricing.

I have been a big fan of Evernote for a long time. The ability to keep your notes one place and have them automatically sync to any device is really what “the cloud” is all about. For a long time Evernote was my goto place for storing information. The fact it was the only cross-platform service of its kind helped me like it as well.

Earlier this year a competitor became cross-platform and I have found it works better for me how I like to organize my data. Microsoft’s OneNote is that competitor. At the root both services allow you to set up different notebooks for your various needs. However, where OneNote excels for me its use of the notebook metaphor and each notebook is allowed to have an unlimited number of tabs. Within those tabs you are able to have pages. This is opposed to the tagging Evernote does. A good example of this would be a cookbook. You can have tabs for your deserts, main dishes and appetizers and when you are on that tab you can see them automatically. As I said before the metaphor really works for me and how I prefer to set up my things. I suppose you can kind of do the same with subnotebooks in Evernote but it just doesn’t do it for me. As they say, your mileage may vary.

OneNote does have its faults. The biggest one I have seen is the ability to get data into OneNote. Specifically getting data out of Evernote and into OneNote. There is no import function on the Mac client. Another oversight is not having the ability to do handwriting. This is something Evernote does allow on their mobile devices with the Penultimate app. I believe these are a major oversights and ones Microsoft hopefully will address in their next release.

If you are on multiple devices and like to have your notes organized you can’t go wrong with either of these two services. However for my money OneNote is which works best for me.

Apple’s Responsibility in Driving Software Prices Down

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In my last post, I mentioned how independent software companies are fighting a battle with continuously dropping prices. They also have the users expecting software to be perfect and at a crazy low price. There have been lots of articles out there (many very good) discussing how the App Store for both Mac and iOS has contributed to this problem. I don’t want to rehash any of that and you can read one of those articles to gain some insight into the failures of the App Store.

There is one company and their pricing practices that seems to get away without any blame for the constant downward spiral of pricing. That company is Apple. Look at what Apple is charging for Pages, Numbers, Keynote, and even new versions of their Operating System. The grand total they are charging for those four products is $0.00. If Apple is not going to charge for software where a at least a year of work is involved (Mac and iOS), how can other developers charge for their software? In a lot of ways Apple is setting the example for all of the other software developers.

I have briefly mentioned my theory to one or two people and they have made some good points counter to my suggestion. The first point is that Apple is in the business of selling the hardware, not the software. Therefore it is OK for them to give their software away for nothing.

The argument does make sense, to a point. I think that if Apple were only giving away the new operating systems for free then I would agree. However it is not only the OS they are giving away. They are also giving away productivity applications. How are other software companies that make similar applications to competed with free?

Another possible argument is that Apple does charge for some of their software (Logic and FinalCut come to mind) so they don’t have to charge for their other software. While it is true Apple does charge from some of its professional creative software, the fact they don’t charge for used to be called the iWork suite indicates the lack of value they see for the product. Additionally they feel they can do whatever they want with the software because it is free (think how they gutted Pages and numbers for the Mac so it could be on par with the iOS versions).

There are multiple factors that have contributed to the price of software dropping. However Apple’s own pricing models should be added to the equation.

The subscription model economy bust

Independent software companies are rapidly getting into a financial bind. The prices for software they work on are continuously being pressed down because many people believe software shouldn’t cost above a certain amount. Because of this they are lowering their prices but are not seeing the profits after they drop the price. These developers then have to try to find a way to even the cash flow so they can keep the lights on and pay the few employees they have.

The latest example of this is Smile Software and their decision to switch TextExpander to a subscription model. They are beginning to charge $5 per month. As with all software subscription models they are adding some value to the software and as long as you are subscribed you won’t have to pay for an upgrade when the next big version rolls around.

There are a lot of people who are enraged by the idea they will now need to pay monthly for a product they used to have to buy once every few years. Speaking as a happy user of TextExpander I respect their decision but I don’t know if I will be joining them on this new endeavor. However just because I don’t know if I am joining them, I wish them success. In fact this tweet really summarizes how I feel:

https://twitter.com/flargh/status/717727147654320128

The Subscription Economy

Not to go too Andy Rooney on you but did you ever notice how many things we rely on are becoming subscriptions? No, I haven’t  gathered them on my desk for this blog post. Amazon Prime, iCloud Drive, Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Cloud are all examples of some services that are subscription. We are even seeing networks have separate subscriptions for their content. You may even use a subscription for your IT services at work in the form of a Managed Service Provider.

It seems to me that we are in the middle of a bubble for the subscription economy.  Is this a good thing and is the model sustainable for people or companies? I don’t think that it is sustainable. Here is an example on the IT consulting side Tom Bridge (once a client of mine and now someone I consider a friend) wrote about in his weekly newsletter:

Lately, in the rush toward managed services in the consulting industry, I’ve felt a bit hesitant to adopt the practice. I looked at our stable of clients, many of whom we have worked with for almost a decade, and I did some math to figure out what they were paying now versus what they might pay if we went all-in on the MSP model.

I didn’t like what I found.

These are people that I consider friends now, that I work with through hard times and good, and in some cases it might’ve been a tripling or quadrupling of their annual bill. How is that fair to them? I may be good, but I don’t see that I’m worth four times what I’ve been charging just to match the new fancy model.

(Tom also has a new podcast focused on Mac IT Administration. If that is your thing or have an interest in it I suggest checking it out.)

I think the point Tom is making can be expanded to a point about subscription services in general. When you begin to add them up, they become quite costly. Think about people who are “cord cutters” and how much they will pay monthly to get Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, HBOGo and other services I can’t remember. They are still paying the same amount and in some cases even more than they were before!

Sooner than later this bubble is going to burst. I don’t think it is a bad thing because I hope this will allow independent software development companies to charge what the software is really worth and not to use other models.