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My Ideal Note Service

I wrote recently about using Boostnote, and why I’ve chosen that over other apps for the time being. It is not perfect though, and I’ve been thinking through all of the things that a perfect writing and reading app would have for me.

There are a few things that I’d love to have, and while I’m sure that I didn’t list them all below, I’ve been considering what I’d like to see.

General Features

These are the must haves for a note taking app for me:

Markdown

This should be a given thanks to how popular it is, and how much compatibility there is. It is cleaner than rich text editors, and easier to use while writing than HTML or other markup formats.

Boostnote markdown screenshot
Boostnote offers a side-by-side view for Markdown

Spell Check

This is something that Boostnote doesn’t have, which is unfortunate. Considering that the Gutenberg editor currently doesn’t perform spell check when content is pasted in, I need to manually check content again currently.

Offline & Online Access, Cloud & Local Storage

Having my notes in more than one place is important. I rarely type on my phone but I often consult on it. That also means that I want to be able to work on my computer, but also get to those files elsewhere. Cloud storage will handle the portability, while maintaining local copies, which some apps don’t do, will allow functions to work quicker and be accessible when the internet itself aint.

General File Type Support

As many file types as possible! Of course files that contain text and code, but also images, non-text PDFs, and more. Anything consumable that does not need to be executed separately, preferably.

Outlining and File Linking

I am trying to get better about outlining work before I start. Even if that means creating a series of headings and subheadings that I can fill out later, I’ve got some sort of framework for what I’m writing. Some tools have this built in as a feature.

File linking would also come into play here, where I could indicate that another stored file relates to this file. Evernote Premium has their suggestion feature, where it finds notes that it thinks are related, but I want to specifically indicate that I want to see a certain file related in a certain place. Boostnote has this covered, and I can even share links to specific notes across my machine.

Bonus: External Content Features

My ideal note app would also be able to handle external content as a reader and storage container. One reason for this would be to have a storehouse of research to use while I’m writing. This is probably the hardest thing to find in the same app, but if it exists, here’s what I’d want:

Permanent Archiving

This is something that Pocket Premium gets me, but not by default with most “save for later” style reading services. Basically, after the content has been stripped out of whatever page it was pulled from, a local copy would be saved. This ensures that it’s available even after link-rot or total removal from the web.

Automated Tagging, Folders, & Full Text Search

I don’t like to spend a lot of time sorting my notes. I do like to sort notes into folders, but that’s mainly because it’s a shorthand mental model and way to filter to view specific categories. Pocket Premium will suggest tags, but I want something that can just handle adding those tags from the start. Additionally, some form of index that allows timely full text search would be very useful.

Search of Documents and PDFs / OCR

Optical Character Recognition was one of those nice bonuses that Evernote Premium offers. I could use a scanner to save paper documents that I might need one day but might not, and have them uploaded and taking advantage of that cloud storage. This feature has already been useful for me in the past, and something that I’d love to keep.

Evernote search screenshot
Searching for my name pulls up scanned images of docs with it. On the desktop app it even highlights exactly where it is!

Annotation of Documents and Other Files

Another feature that I’ve seen used heavily in Evernote, but that I don’t personally use, is annotation. You can save images or files to Evernote, make marks over them, and share those files directly with others. When using a screenshot of a site to note an issue with it, this makes communication a lot more clear.

Integration with Other Apps

Since I’m writing a wishlist here, I’ll add that I want to be able to integrate with other apps. Let me use Spotlight and Alfred to search for notes and open the app to that specific note. Let me share them across a variety of cloud services. Let me authenticate with Github and share a note as a gist (and pull gists in as notes).

Why am I writing all of this?

This is mainly a wishlist of what I would like in an ideal note and reader combo app. I’m getting to the point where I’m wondering if it’s worth the effort to try to create my own. In my Boostnote post I mentioned how many other apps that I found that do similar things. I think that there might be an overabundance of this type of app, but I also acknowledge that both writing and reading apps can be highly personal due to how they are used for creation and consumption. It only makes sense that when you can’t find what you want you’d yearn to make your own.

Is there a magical note editor that has most of the features that I want that I haven’t seen yet? Got any suggestions for me, or other features you think are important?

New Communities Can Be Overwhelming

I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the IndieWeb space this year, with the intention of revamping my lifelogging site to both include more services that I still use (and remove the fitness tracking that I decided to stop), as well as become a repository for webmentions.

I started using webmentions on this site, and have been working to integrate the social accounts that I still use together and create a new template more geared toward sharing and displaying information in a canonical area. My need to control and own my data and information is coming around to the point that I’m finding a whole community of people who do the same with their websites.

The issue with a new community is the amount of work that can go into it. I’ve been listening to podcasts, reading articles and W3C specs, and watching git repos and discussion channels. I’m getting close to overwhelming myself with the amount of information that I’m consuming in pursuit of leveling up my knowledge before attempting to make any sort of a presence.

I don’t really have any reason to do this. When I started with the WordPress community I was just some guy who’d been using it for a few years and had never met anyone else just to talk websites. That slowly grew into whatever this is that I do now. I should take a similar approach with a new community, but instead I’m getting too inside my own head.

So my goal now is to start participating, even just to say hey to that existing community of IndieWeb aficionados. I’ve got lots of projects that I want to work on, more than I have time for, but in the meantime maybe there’s something that I know how to do that I can help someone else there with.

After all, the best way to learn is to help others.

WordPress 15th Birthday Party!

Thanks to @SomethingSoSam for the cupcakes!

Tonight we hosted our WordPress 15th Anniversary party at Geek Easy. Yesterday I talked about my introduction to WordPress, but today we just hung out.

For the rest of the day I worked on some IndieAuth integration setup, and some prep work for a new theme.

Then I realized that I didn’t blog today, and at the very least I’ve gotta get this up. Four straight weeks, can’t stop now!

WordPress is 15! Here’s how I found this community.

15 years ago today, WordPress first became available.

WordPress 15th Anniversary Sticker

As WordPress swiftly moves towards its next iteration, with the Gutenberg editor part of core, I want to look back a bit on my time with WordPress.

I had been a professional web developer for several years before I discovered WordPress. My Javascript skills weren’t (and I’d say still aren’t) that great, but PHP was something that I used day to day at work. I think that I came into WordPress a lot differently than many other self taught developers that I know in that regard.

My Introduction to WordPress

I was working for a company doing rote data entry in early 2008, while building small sites for clients on the side. I had seen a basic CMS before, having used CushyCMS as directed by some past clients. The concept of storing content separate of the template files wasn’t pressing though, and I was still working in individual HTML and PHP files using Dreamweaver.

While looking around at some options I stumbled upon WordPress, though I honestly can’t say that I remember where or how I was introduced to it. I do know that I was tasked with helping the company that I worked for build a new website for themselves. This would be my introduction to WordPress, as well as my introduction to doing jobs well above my pay grade for close to minimum wage. That part certainly hasn’t changed for a lot of agencies around Orlando.

Before building the company site I decided to test out this software that was still known primarily for blogging. At the time that I started, version 2.5 or one of its maintenance releases would have been the newest version of WordPress, well before version 3.0 where WordPress Multisite, custom menus, custom post types, and custom taxonomies were part of WordPress core. At that time it definitely still fit the blog category more readily without those features.

So I started a blog. I was a collector and trader of classic video games and memorabilia, and I enjoyed playing old NES games. At the time I was attempting to slowly build a collection of all official (and some unofficial) NES cartridges, barring the few that were several thousand dollars. That was approximately 679 US released games, with a few dozen more foreign exclusives. I made it to about 200 games before I got rid of the collection a year later, which is another story in itself. I didn’t finish that project.

But I did finish the blog. It’s offline now, which is just as well since I didn’t realize at the time that my chosen domain misused the Nintendo copyright, and they were getting into their litigious phase with fans. I would blog about some of the games that I was playing and give them reviews. Not nearly as fancy as the people who do this on YouTube for a living, but it was fun.

My Next Steps

After starting that blog and working on the company site I was hooked on WordPress. I left the company for a job that was actually about web development before the site was complete, but the actual developer at the old company did eventually finish it and put it up.

I spent the next few years at two companies doing WordPress development, which was becoming higher in demand. Those new features appeared, and made it even easier to create sites for businesses and marketing efforts, which really did democratize the web for a lot of people.

I visited the wordpress.org support forums a few times in this period, but don’t think that I ever posted, just read. That’s also a habit that I keep to this day with most sites: I lurk around for years before I sign up, if ever.

Even having seen those forums it didn’t really click for me that there were people behind WordPress. Software was still this far away thing for me where someone made it and I consumed it. If I had a problem that I couldn’t solve, I chose new software or did without.

It was only when I was into that second job that I met another developer who was part of a local technical community and I saw that people actually met up to discuss and build things for the web.

WordPress Orlando Organizers and Matt Mullenweg
Having Matt Mullenweg stop by your Meetup is ????????????

My Introduction to the Community

In late 2011 the WordPress Orlando Meetup was started, and I made sure to make it to the very first meeting. I didn’t know anyone there at the time, but for a new event around a piece of software, there were a lot of people that showed up. I met a few people at that first meeting who are still involved with the group to this day.

I spoke with some folks there and mentioned that I build WordPress sites for a living, something that only a few other people there seemed to do, as most were users of the tool for their own businesses. I quickly got involved with giving presentations on things around WordPress, and was helping set up some events and speakers right away. I became a co-organizer quickly, and within two years was the only remaining organizer, making me the de facto lead when we got pulled into the WordPress Foundation.

Fast forward nearly seven years and we put on multiple events each month with a group of about ten organizers. We also restarted the defunct WordCamp Orlando in late 2012, and I’ve been involved in a variety of roles with a slightly larger group of organizers ever since.

(By the way, our call for speakers and call for volunteers are both open for 2018!)

In between I have attended several dozen WordCamps, speaking at a good portion of them, and making lots of friends along the way. At this point the majority of my social life revolves around the community, which has helped to give me so much that it only makes sense to keep giving back.

A few of the WordCamp and web conference badges that I’ve collected through the years.

15 Years and Onward!

I’m happy to be included in a group of some of the smartest, kindest, and most helpful people that I could hope for. It’s not always the easiest when there is so much coordination and a lot of personalities to keep together, but it’s been worth it for me. It is not an exaggeration to say that discovering WordPress changed the course of my life.

WordPress is one of the rare open source software releases that is still actively developed 15 years after initial release, especially at such a regular pace. The community is thriving, and I hope to see Gutenberg and other future thinking tools continue to improve WordPress for a long time.

Here’s to the past 15, and here’s to 15 more!

WordPress stickers and pins

How do you design a site?

I’ve been considering ways that I can up the design of my site, now that I’m back to blogging a bit. I’m not much of a designer myself, and while I appreciate a good minimal layout, somehow it’s harder to pull off something that looks good with fewer elements on the page.

When I’m working with clients we normally have someone come in specifically to handle design. I have played around with wireframing apps before, and can sometimes sketch out basic ideas, but I admit to being clueless when it comes to anything between basic ideation and coding it up.

Usually I end up looking at other sites for inspiration, like Awwwards blog sites. I can see what people who review sites every day view as good designs, and try to get an idea of what makes them stand above the rest. I then try to remove the things that I consider too gimmicky, like some of the scroll driven sites that move content around. I always get the feeling that people scroll for the animations more than they care about any of the content on the site.

This is an issue that plagues me with my business sites too. I know that there are things that I could do with design to help improve the UX, but I don’t really have the skillset. I should find ways to improve on this, without taking too much time away from the technical learning that is constantly growing before me.

People like Steve Schoger make the process of refactoring UI look like wizardry. I don’t intend on working up to that level of mastery, but having someone walk through the process is a huge help for clarifying their thinking.

Seriously, check out his videos if you are interested in UI

Do you have any tips for how you work out new site designs? What about any layout decisions?