A tool kit for the conspiracy-curious

Ross Douthat in his column in the New York Times, A Better Way to Think About Conspiracies:

[…] An excellent rule for anyone who looks at an official narrative and thinks that something seems suspicious: In following your suspicions, never leap to a malignant conspiracy to explain something that can be explained by incompetence and self-protection first.

The quote above is one for the ages, but it still doesn’t do this column justice: I found it brilliant, very precise and clear, very quotable. I highly recommend reading the whole thing.

Platforms are now mimicking the way we share content on platforms

Will Oremus, writing in his article, The New Era of Social Media Isn’t About Feeds, on OneZero:

New digital media products are focusing on low-volume, high-attention relationships rather than high-volume, low-attention feeds.

Ten years ago, when we saw something interesting, fun or worth-sharing, we shared it on Facebook. From there, our friends, family members, coworkers, former colleagues, and roommates, could all see the post. It felt like centralisation was the way to go, and this way of sharing things was more efficient in terms of volume of people reached and efforts made.

Today, We might share the same kind of content, but instead of doing it on Facebook — if we still use Facebook — we share it on a few WhatsApp groups, maybe a Slack channel, a DM or two, and an iMessage. A certain amount of social media maturity drove us to this expertise” in who will enjoy our links, videos, and animated gifs the most. This way of sharing stuff feels more intimate, more personal, more targeted, more efficient in terms of impact.

I think this is what companies are looking for nowadays: impact rather than volume. By mimicking how we have learned to behave on social media, these new digital products” stopped trying to target everyone indifferently (us on Facebook in 2011, trusting the algorithm to work its magic), and aim for more targeted communities, engaged individuals (us on our chat groups, across several apps, showing a good old human intentionality).

Sharing is caring.

How I use Drafts as my text editor

Drafts is a well-known app that sells itself as being the place where text starts.” The app’s strength is its ability to become a launcher for many text-based actions towards other apps. Want to add a new todo list item in Reminders or Todoist? Type it using Drafts. Want to add a new calendar event in Fantastical, or post a new tweet? Drafts. You get the idea. Drafts has a directory of actions” that you can download and customise so that your initial text entry in the app becomes the starting point of many of your daily operations.

These actions” can also be used for customising your writing experience within the app itself. This is how I use Drafts. For Reminders, Calendar events, tweets, and all other things, I prefer to start with the corresponding app. For writing entries in my blog, I use Drafts, as a text editor only, like I previously used iA Writer, Byword, or Dropbox Paper.

Besides being very fast and looking good both on the Mac and on the iPhone,1 Drafts can be finely tuned. I’ve already explained why I use Drafts as my go-to text editor, but not how I use it.

On the Mac I hide all the toolbars (see screenshot here) and operate through keyboard shortcuts: I only use 3 main Drafts actions, for which I’ve configured these keyboard shortcuts (on iOS, these are available as buttons above the keyboard, as you can see here on this screenshot)

  • Export ⌘⇧S • allows me to export a text file in my Dropbox folder — the one used to publish on Blot — while automatically naming that file using the title of the post, and appending the date to the filename.
  • Markdown links ⌘⇧H or ⌘⇧K • inline link or reference link, depending on my mood or how many links are in a post. If I have an URL copied in my clipboard, it will automatically add it in the URL field.
  • Footnotes ⌘⇧J • adds a footnotes reference and moves the cursor to the footnote area.

On the Mac, I also use these custom shortcuts:

  • ⌘⌥- • to show/hide the main Drafts window
  • ⌘⌥^ • to show/hide the Capture window (for quick notes without losing sight of what you’re reading for instance)
  • ⌘⌥P • to preview Markdown in rich text (on iOS it is another action shortcut).2
  • ⌘⇧: • to launch Gruber’s service: Open URLs in Safari Tabs
  • ⌘⇧D • used in Safari to share a selection to Drafts (on iOS it goes through the Share menu), creating a new entry with the selection as a quote, and the link of the source already referenced in the draft (see what it looks like on this screenshot here).

That’s it. That’s the setup. I think I only use around 10% of what everything Drafts can do. I can’t believe it took me so long to find a writing app that does everything I need, and does it so well and is so fast.

Thanks for reading.

  1. Each writing mode can be customised separately: font, colours, space between lines, etc.↩︎

  2. I just wish using the shortcut again would hide the Preview window.↩︎

More platforms, more money?

Platformer’s Casey Newton, in his excellent analysis of the upcoming Twitter feature called Super Follows, wonders what would be the main reasons newsrooms wouldn’t want reporters to use the feature for themselves:

Perhaps most worryingly, though, they create a leaky funnel of talent: if a publication’s top stars all begin making significantly more via Twitter than they do from their salaries, what’s to keep them working for the publisher at all?

This is an interesting thought, but it implies that readers are willing to pay for more content, and ready to give more money each month to content creators instead of media brands. This, of course, is possible, and I think this is where we are slowly going.

But I don’t see subscribers super follow a journalist working at a publication and keep subscribing to that same publication. They may subscribe to a few journalists instead, but they would also get a lot less content for the same amount of money compare to what the publication offers. Some readers will happily spend more, but some won’t.

Some readers may just stop subscribing to the publication and give their money directly to the journalists instead. The direct competition for publishers would not then only come from other media companies, it would come from within the newsroom itself. This could become an issue.

If a publication is free and ad-supported, maybe a few of its readers would be happy to super follow one or two content producers from this publication, but that requires extra money from those readers, and monthly subscription budgets are not going to grow forever.

It’s good to see more competition for platforms such as Google and Facebook. It’s good to see companies like Substack, Patreon, and now Twitter offering new ways for content creators to make money.

More independent content creators and journalists can also mean less concentration of talents in magazines, TV channels, newsrooms, etc. For the end-user, it can mean cheaper subscriptions, but many more of them than before. Now the question is: What is the subscription budget limit?

A Clubhouse Story

Person A meets Person B on a dating app. They talk, they have fun, they decide to get a drink one day. They exchange phone numbers, as you do, stay on a first name basis, and meet in a crowded bar, in the city center.

The first date is weird. Person B is a bit strange in the eyes of Person A. Person B seems unhinged, impatient, and Person A knows this kind of person all too well. The days after the short and awkward date, Person B keeps texting and calling, Person A leaves the messages and the calls unanswered, and ends up blocking the phone number. Person B” will always remain this menacing ghost on Person A’s contact list.

Years later, Person A signs up for Clubhouse. Person A does not like the idea of giving the app access to their contact list, but everyone else does it, so what could go wrong? Clubhouse tells Person A that 25 people from that contact list are registered on Clubhouse. On that list: Person B.

Person A is smart. Person A knew that anyone with their phone number could have access to their profile on Clubhouse – whether they shared their own contact list or not — the same profile asking for a real name.” Person A decided to only fill in the first name, along with a picture of a neutral landscape, just in case.

Person B is very smart. Person B got a notification that Person A signed up for the app too, recognising the first name and figuring out who it was. Person A’s profile doesn’t have a last name but is followed by only 12 people for now. These people have their full name displayed, and their Twitter account linked to their Clubhouse profile. With a very small amount of work, Person B manages to cross-reference who these 12 people follow on Twitter sharing the same name first name with Person A.

Person A still hopes that this will not happen, but decides to delete their Clubhouse profile anyway: too risky. Person A emails Clubhouse for a full deletion of the profile and data.

Person B now knows Person A’s full name. Person B found Person A on LinkedIn and knows where Person A works.

I won’t finish this story, because it can end up in a hundred different ways, and this may be a little too much on the worst case scenario” side of things, but please tell me this cannot happen? How is this not possible? How didn’t anyone at Clubhouse think of this in 2021? And if they did think of this, how did they let it happen?

Is my small work of fiction completely unrealistic?

Why Clubhouse doesn’t have a simple toggle to turn your profile private?

Why Clubhouse doesn’t tell you more clearly how your phone number will be used on the app? It is not just about using your phone number as a unique ID to log onto the app, it is also a way for anyone to identify you. Even if you never sign up for Clubhouse, Clubhouse can tell that your phone number is associated with a name — your name — because people you gave your phone number to may have shared their contact list with the app.

Why Clubhouse doesn’t have a simple and easy way to delete your profile and data?

Like I said before, these terrible privacy issues are totally unacceptable in 2021. As users, we can be mad about fishy tracking practices in emails, we can be suspicious of every change in WhatsApp privacy policies, we can imagine the worst about Gmail, but we are OK with Clubhouse? Users — and especially tech-savvy users — have a responsibility to not be OK with this and let Clubhouse know, and journalists — especially tech journalists — cannot talk about the hype surrounding Clubhouse without mentioning these issues: it is a big deal.

What’s on my Mac — 2021 edition

Last year in April, I wrote about what was on my Mac. Needless to say that a lot has happen since April 2020 in the world — including me getting a new MacBook — but it would seem that my app situation on the Mac hasn’t changed much.

Or has it?

On the 7 apps I listed last year, only 3 remain:

Gone from my Mac setup: 4 apps:

  • 1Password: the best app I had to let go. Owning a Mac and an iPhone, you can really appreciate Apple Keychain and its integration. I could not continue to justify the annual costs of a feature that is already included in all my devices. For 2FA passwords, I have Authy on my phone.
  • Pastebot: after I learned how to configure and use this script from John Gruber, I just didn’t need a clipboard manager anymore.
  • Tweetbot: having the Twitter website pinned in Safari is just good enough for my current use of Twitter.
  • DuckDuckGo Essentials: upgraded to a full ad blocker because sadly that seems to be where the web is at nowadays.3

These 4 apps are back in 2021, or new:

  • Wipr: the content blocker I just mentioned. Works great.
  • Fission: Rogue Amoeba apps are famous for their quality, and when I bought this app a few years ago, I was instantly rewarded with it the only time I had to use it. Since I bought it, I might as well keep it around, just in case.
  • Piezo: Same story than Fission, but I use it more often. For instance I used it a few weeks ago to have a backup recording of my voice while being a guest on my friend Sarah’s podcast The Paris Quiz Mistress.4 Great little app.
  • Save to Pocket: the Safari extension for saving links to Pocket. That’s right, Pocket made a come back in my life after I stopped using it when it was still called Read It Later. Back then I switched to Instapaper, and then to Apple’s Reading List. The lack of certain features in the latter eventually got me to use Pocket again.5

Other remarks:

  • I still use the included Solar gradients wallpaper on my Mac: I just wish it existed for iOS too.
  • I let the computer switch automatically from light to dark mode, depending on the time of the day. I find this to be the right way to use dark mode.6
  • Twitter as a pinned tab works great. I think Safari nails the behaviour of pinned tabs in a browser.
  • After uninstalling a lot of apps last year, I think I am now in a good place, more balanced: I still use a lot of native apps such as TextEdit, Keynote, Pages, Keychain, Reminders, Notes, Mail, etc.
  • My keyboard shortcuts situation is pretty good when it comes to my blogging routine. Another area where the Mac is great.

Thank you for reading, please let me know on Twitter what are the apps you have on your Mac, always interesting to know what other people’s setup look like.

  1. I should probably write a dedicated post on how I use this app since it is so feature-rich and can become so complex if used for all it can do; as a text editor only, it does fill my needs perfectly.↩︎

  2. 2020 was the year of a RSS comeback for me: from YouTube channels to tech news to blogs, I’ve been very happy with the idea of having one app listing all the daily updates I care about.↩︎

  3. After using a good content blocker, and disabling it for a selection for websites I care about, it is very hard to go back to some websites without it: ads on the internet are absolutely terrible in many ways.↩︎

  4. Obviously a podcast about trivia: highly recommended.↩︎

  5. After introducing Reading List back in 2012, Apple barely did anything with it: no shortcut for quick access, no highlight feature, no archive… Why don’t they just buy Instapaper and include all of its features in Safari? Speaking of Instapaper, I don’t like the fact that you have to use the Mac app to log into the Safari extension. Otherwise it’s just as good as pocket for my use.↩︎

  6. The Jolly Teapot switches between dark and light mode according to the user browser’s settings.↩︎

Semicolon wisdom

Lauren Oyler, in the New York Times Magazine, writes about how good semicolons are, despite being unpopular:

I don’t remember when I first learned about semicolons, nor do I have a mental list of remarkable semicolons in literature. I don’t want to have to treasure them, though the typical advice for writers of all levels is to use them sparingly, as if there’s a limited supply. This only breeds fear, which in turn breeds stigma: Semicolons are ugly, pretentious and unnecessary; they immaturely try to have it both ways. There are so many things to fear in life, but punctuation is not one of them.

Semicolons are the weird ones. Semicolons are like this friend you like but don’t want to spend too much time alone with, fearing you won’t like them as much afterwards, afraid it would ruin the illusion of what you thought this friendship was. So you see them from time to time — but not too often, when you’re confident, and within a group of mutual friends: commas, dots, dashes.

Think of semicolons as instant noodles: delicious, easy to get, extremely satisfying. You don’t need to look at the ingredients — trust me it’s a bad idea — but you are nevertheless very much aware than you should only treat yourself with this Spicy Curry Duck flavour once in a while: these things are basically spicy salt broths; did I mention they are delicious? I love semicolons.

Of course I can’t write about semicolons without mentioning Frank Herbert’s use of the semicolon in what is arguably my favourite passage of Dune (1965):

Polish comes from the cities; wisdom from the desert.

I can’t tell you how mad it makes me to see this sentence written with a comma instead of a semicolon, or worse, without anything between cities and wisdom: this character adds a je ne sais quoi which makes this sentence feel deeper and more meaningful somehow. It is hard to describe, but Lauren Oyler then has the perfect definition for the semicolon:

The semicolon conveys a very specific kind of connection between ideas that is particularly useful now — it asserts a link where the reader might not necessarily see one while establishing the fragility of that link at the same time.

That belongs in a museum.

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