Jamie Tanna’s post lists many good reasons to have a website. It’s written from his point of view as a software engineer, many of the reasons translate directly to other trades and professions.
A powerful reason is to own your own little patch of the online world, what used to be called cyberspace. As Tanna says it can be many things, a hub where people contact you, an outlet for your writing and other creative work, or a sophisticated curriculum vitae.
Now you may be thinking you can do all these things on Facebook, Twitter, Medium or Linkedin. That’s true up to a point.
Yet you don’t own those spaces. You are part of someone else’s business model. You don’t have control over how they look, you can’t even be sure they will be there in the long term. After all, there were people who thought the same about Geocities, Google+ or MySpace in the past.
Creating your own site takes time, effort and maybe a little money. It doesn’t have to take a lot of any of these things. You’ll need to pay for a domain name… that’s roughly $20 a year. If you are hard-pressed financially there are free options with companies like WordPress. You can get a basic WordPress site up in an hour or so.
You don’t need to be a writer to own your own website. If you post things to Facebook or Twitter, use your site instead (or as well as). It could be a place for photography.
One thing you will find is that a website gives you more of a voice than you’ll get on other people’s sites.
If that’s too much, you can enter a full screen mode and the menu bar disappears from sight. There’s also a focus mode that can hide everything except the paragraph or sentence you are working on.
No fiddling with iA Writer
This simplicity allows me to focus on writing. There’s a wonderful passage of text written by The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams where he describes the creative ways he prevaricates with his work. It involves tinkering with fonts, type sizes, widths and so on.
The mere presence of all those options can be a distraction. iA Writer does away with it. As every long-term Apple user understands, restricting your options can boost productivity.
While, on one level, this iA Writer approach has always worked well for me, it has, at times been a problem. In the earlier versions of the software those choices were too restrictive. The text size was fixed and there was a strict monospace Courier-like typewriter typeface.
Good in theory, but in practice we reached a point where I was struggling to read my text on the screen.
I have an eye problem and every so often have restricted vision, to get around it I need larger, clearer typefaces. When that wasn’t an option with iA Writer I found myself using different writing tools. The, now apparently defunct or neglected Byword was a solid alternative with variable fonts and text sizes.
iA Writer addressed these issues with the last two releases of the software. Version 5.2 builds on version 5. There are now three typeface choices: Mono, Duo and Quattro. As the names suggest the first is monospaced, the second uses up to two spaces and the third can use as many as four.
There’s a lot of nerdy material on the iA Writer website about fonts. It all boils down to the newer options making it much easier to read your words on the screen.
Uno, Duo… Quattro
The most recent typeface, Quattro combines the benefits of fixed and proportional spaced fonts. It is particularly easy on my eyes. Better still, it is legible if I need to read or write on a smaller screen, say an iPhone.
iA Writer has always done a good job of exporting to Microsoft Word. The latest version improves this functionality. If you want you can write documents with footnotes, tables or even inline images and convert them to Word .docx format. This is essential for my work as almost every client expects to see a Word document.
The software also integrates with other services. The only one I use all the time is the post to WordPress option. This was sometimes a little tricky with earlier versions of iA Writer but has been good since version four.
Sharing an iA Writer strength
You can also save documents as HTML, which is powerful when fixing web copy. As you might expect with a made-for-Apple app, iA Writer deals brilliantly with the internal Apple sharing functionality. They work well with the iOS Files app and on both operating systems with iCloud. One neat aspect of this is that I can draft a post on my Mac and then edit on an iPad or iPhone later. You can also link them both to Dropbox.
When I first purchased iA Writer for iOS, the price was, from memory, US$3. That was an introductory deal. It later moved to $5. Today it is US$9. The MacOS version has increased more in price, today it is US$29. Get it from the app store. You have to buy the app again when there’s a major upgrade, but the price is low enough for this to not be a deal breaker.
One last thing. iA Writer stores documents as plain text, but it uses Markdown formatting. This is a simple way of adding headers, bold, italics, hyperlinks and so on to you text. These show up in the text editor as punctuation marks. You can then create a preview to show how the document looks after converting it to HTML, Word format or whatever. It might sound off-putting, but in practice it’s easy to use.
Is iA Writer a text editor? Or is it a minimal word processor? The software is both and neither at the same time. It’s an elegant stripped down writing tool that’s perfect for 2018.
iA Writer starts from the premise that some writers focus on their words, not how they look on a page.
There are no distractions. The software has almost no moving parts. Words on a screen, that’s it. iA Writer feels the nearest thing to using paper in a typewriter and yet it is as modern as the iPhone X.
If you like your writing software flashy and complex go elsewhere. If you need to do tricky typographic work or lay out pages, this is not for you. It is a writer’s tool, pure and simple.
MacOS and iOS
There are versions of iA Writer for iOS, MacOS and Android. It works best with Apple kit. If you don’t use Apple hardware, the software is a good reason to change. If you have an iPad Pro, this would be a good time to invest in a keyboard, although iA Writer is fine if you write on a glass keyboard.
That’s because cloud is central to the software. You can store documents locally on a Mac, iPhone or iPad, but why would you when you can save them the cloud and have them sync between devices.
This works so well that you can type away on, say, a MacBook, race out the door and pick up from where you left off on an iPhone.
The app-OS-hardware integration has only improved with Apple’s recent move to iOS 11.
Word is a hefty MacOS app. It rarely starts without checking to see if there is a software update — usually once a week. Often you’ll need to wait 15 minutes or so before working while Microsoft handles the latest updates to all the Office apps.
Even when there are no updates Word is not instant on. iA Writer is ready immediately. Often a Word work session starts with something other than jumping straight into writing. Maybe you need to find the right fonts or styles. There are always things to fuss over.
With iA Writer you are ready to go almost from the moment you click the app’s icon. There is nothing to fuss over. Almost no possible choices to make.
The idea behind iA Writer isn’t new. A decade ago there were minimalist word processors and writing tools for Macs and PCs. You may recall WriteRoom or Q10.
There were others. And if you didn’t want a special app, there were the basic text editors shipped with operating systems and tools derived from the Linux or Unix text editors. Even the MS-Dos versions of Word Perfect were minimal in this way. So were older programs like WordStar.
All of them attempted to keep out of your way. In place of a fancy user interface and menus full of esoteric commands, they relied on the user learning a few standard codes. These were embedded among the words to handle things like bold text, heads and so on.
iA Writer uses Markdown to do this. Markdown is simple and keeps out of the way. Type a single hash # character at the start of the line for a top level head, two hashes means second level head and so on. It takes seconds to learn a days to master.
One key difference between iA Writer and earlier simple writing tools is the beautiful integration with the hardware, software and cloud services.
It’s as if the the software developers digested the entire Apple less-is-more credo and spat it out as a perfect writing application. Perfect is not too strong a word here. Although this style of perfection may not be to your taste.
iA Writer’s rival
Only one other application comes close to iA Writer’s elegance and simplicity. The excellent Byword has its own minimalist aesthetic. It too is lightweight, simple and stays out of the way.
Unlike iA Writer which offers next to zero choices, Byword gives you some options. You can change a few things.
This may sound like a cop-out. It isn’t. I have a medical condition which means my eyes sometimes don’t work well. When I’m having bad eyesight days, I can’t adjust the iA Writer type to a bigger size, I can’t alter the font or screen colour to make reading easier. With Byword you can make these changes.
The result is the two similar minimal writing tools have distinct personalities. They work for different types of use. iA Writer is all about the writing and precious little else. You can use it for complex writing jobs, but it works best for blog posts, putting down thoughts and things like journalism.
Byword is a touch more sophisticated. You can write a book or a 3000 long-form feature in either app. If you want something more, Byword is the first stop on the road from iA Writer to more complex tools like Apple Pages or Microsoft Word.
There’s something else important about iA Writer and Byword. The two apps have an impact on the way you write. I find I can sit at a Mac or iPad and zip through a thousand words or so in quick time. This blog post will take less than an hour to write.
Between the minimal software and the Markdown editing language there is almost no reason to move your hands from the keyboard. That’s when you have one on a Mac or say with your iOS device.
With, say, Word, the composition part of the writing process takes longer. There’s more scrolling up and down the page. More distraction. Sure, you can make the words look pretty as you go, but that’s a barrier to getting the right words written efficiently.
In November iA Writer reached version 5. It was a free upgrade to those who had earlier versions. There are changes. First the iOS version now works with the new iOS file system.
There are other changes which added functionality without adding complexity. One is that it is now easier to create tables in text.
iA Writer’s other big change is there is a new duospace font. Since the software first arrived there has been no choice other than a standard monospace, typewriter-style font. Now you can choose monospace or duospace.
This sounds like a big deal. In many ways it is. And yet, you’d hardly notice it. I knew I had set the new font in my preferences after downloading the update, but had to go back a moment ago to check I was using it. That’s how subtle it is.
Indeed, while typing away you hardly notice any of the improvements in the last seven years and five versions of iA Writer. That’s the whole point of a minimalist application.
PressPatron is new, so there may be bugs in the system. Please be patient.
Soon you’ll see PressPatron banners in a lot more places.
Newsroom and Scoop are onboard. So is Sciblogs, E-Tangeta and TheatreReview. We’re all small, independent New Zealand online publishers.
What is PressPatron?
PressPatron is a way for readers like you to support the media you use. It is voluntary and painless. You get to set the amount you contribute. You can make a one-off payment or commit to a series of payments over time.
For now PressPatron is a New Zealand service. The founder, Alex Clark in Wellington, plans to offer it to overseas publishers. I’ve been talking to Alex about the idea for some time now and feel like I’m on the ground floor of something important.
One of the things I like most is that PressPatron doesn’t get in the way. If you don’t like seeing the banner, you can click it off. The sidebar button will stay, but it’s not offensive or distracting.
What will I do with the PressPatron money?
This site was never designed to by a source of income. It’s not my job. But it does cost money to run and it costs money to cover New Zealand technology.
So my first goal is to collect enough money so this site pays for itself.
Running this site isn’t expensive. There are managed web host fees and a handful of licences and subscriptions for services.
I’m a strong believer in paying people for work. That means paying for things like WordPress plug-ins, even when contributions are voluntary.
Around $500 will cover all my costs.
More, better local technology reporting
Any money I collect over that amount will go towards my journalism expenses. Among other things that means covering conferences and getting to industry events that might not otherwise get the attention they deserve.
Open Source Open Society is another candidate. It would be good to get to Multicore World, ITX and the Linux AU conference when it is in New Zealand.
Some Commerce Commission conferences could do with a reporter watching what goes on. I’d also like to get to some out-of-town press conferences.
Tuanz events are useful. In my experience other smaller, narrow focus trade events can be valuable. I learned much from going to ISPANZ a year or so ago.
I’ll use any money raised money to pay for travel, accommodation and meals. Nothing fancy. At this stage PressPatron is not going to provide my income. That will continue to come from paying journalism and writing jobs.
First I want to make $500 to cover site costs.
If I reach a total $1500 I’ll be able to attend two out-of-town conferences that I wouldn’t otherwise get to.
A further $1500 means I’ll be able to attend all the big local scheduled events without needing to pick favourites1.
Any money raised over $3500 will be spent traveling outside of Auckland to get a wider perspective on technology. It means driving or flying out-of-town to chat to more people, more often.
If PressPatron takes off I’d like to spend some money on better photography.
Although that depends on my availability and the amount of paid work I’ve got at the time. Sometimes conferences clash with publishing projects. ↩︎
“The tech press has dared to lean away from its core mission of making technology companies more profitable, says tech advocacy house ITIF.”
The ITIF or Information Technology and Innovation Foundation is an industry think-tank. It issued a report looking at “a change of tone in technology reporting” between the 1980s and this decade.
Long story short, it says the media moved from a positive attitude towards the industry to confrontation.
This, according to the ITIF, is because being tough on the industry makes it easier for tech media to turn a profit.
It goes on to talk about the media being ‘biased’ and distorts the public view of technology.
Yes, it’s all stuff and nonsense. There’s a lot to unpack, but here are a couple of ideas to think about.
In the past publishers made money selling advertising to technology companies. They were a great sales conduit. It worked.
The technology industry was the tech media’s most important customer. Rivers of gold poured in.
While there are publishers who publish nice stories in return for advertising dollars, that was never a great business model. Reader are not fooled. They don’t stick around for blatant propaganda.
The advertising money didn’t buy favourable coverage, at least in the better publications. It did foster a favourable attitude towards the industry. The coverage reflected this.
The partnership also meant journalists and publishers spent time in the company of tech industry people. That too is good for creating a positive attitude.
One conclusion of the ITIF report is more advertising would repair media relations.
Readers and journalists
In the old model, advertisers paid for journalism, but journalists serve readers. Few understood this then. They still don’t.
As Nichols says, we’re not industry cheerleaders. We don’t earn cheerleader, public relations or marketing-type salaries.
Our job is to inform readers. If there is more cynicism in technology media (see the next point) then that is what readers want.
Modern reporting tools mean we know what stories rate from the minute they go online. Guess what? Readers are less likely to click on happy-slappy, isn’t everything wonderful darling stories.
In other words, journalists and publishers respond to reader demands.
Don’t shoot the messenger if they now have a darker view of the tech industry. Get your own house in order.
It’s all nonsense anyway
To argue tech media is meaner than it ways, say, thirty years ago is bonkers. The big newspapers and media sites are full of thin press release rewrites. It is common for blatant propaganda to appear as factual news.
Take, for the sake of argument, Computerworld New Zealand. Thirty years ago, even a decade ago, it was breaking news stories. It was quoted in Parliament. Today, it runs nothing that didn’t start life in a public relations office.
That’s not to say all the tech media is soft. It isn’t. But the ratio of soft stories to more hard hitting news is off the scale. You have to wonder if the ITIF is paying attention.