Feed Wrangler is My Go To RSS Reader Platform

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July 1 is fast approaching and Google Reader is shutting down.  Many people in the world use this service to read and sync their RSS feeds.  When I heard it was shutting down I was a bit annoyed but not surprised, but today I am anxious for it to shut down so people will stop talking about it.  Google Reader, it’s been nice but not real nice.  Goodbye!

I have found a paid service I am happy to pay for and support, Feed Wrangler by David Smith.  Feed Wrangler costs $19 per year and it developed by someone I believe will do his best to be around tomorrow.   I have officially dumped Google Reader about a month ago and been using Feed Wrangler ever since, and I could not be more happy.

The Apps

Out of the gate Feed Wrangler has a web site that can be used to read posts, mark them read/unread and add to Instapaper.  It works very similar to Google Reader but with *much* cleaner interface.  I never used Google Reader this way, I always used some third-party apps in my Mac, iPhone or iPad.

I have used a handful of client applications for Google Reader over the years and settled on a couple that worked really well on my Mac and iPad.  When I heard about Google Reader shutting down my first concern was what I would use for applications.

Feed Wrangler has free applications for the iPhone and the iPad that work really well.  I found a few little UI bugs or inconsistencies that I needed to get used to, but nothing I was unable to live with.

Thanks to the great API, third-party apps are starting to pop-up with Feed Wrangler support.  Mr. Reeder for the iPad, and most important to me is ReadKit for the Mac.  Both of these applications are fantastic and I am using them now.

The Syncing

The main part of what I consider the syncing platform is the backend web site and API which helps keeps the applications knowing what’s read and what has yet to be read.  This is transparent and should be, I don’t need to know the details nor do I care.  I just want to be able to go from device to device and not have to miss an article or mark something read more than once.

So far, it just works.

The API

One beautiful part of this platform is the open API for developers so they can create any number of client applications.  Did I mention this is a supported and nicely documented API?  Unlike what Google Reader had offered, this will be a pleasure to write application for.

As someone who consumes API’s for a living, the style of the documentation and examples is a lesson other developers should follow.

Finally

You have more choice popping up now that Google Reader is shutting down but David Smith has done some really nice work so far and I can only suspect he will new features all the time.

I am very happy and think Feed Wrangler is worth checking out.

Getting Started Resources for Mac and iOS Developers

Are you just getting started with Mac or iOS development?  Maybe just trying to improve what you know?  Here is a great resource from Dave Mark.  Everything is covered including blogs, conferences, forums and official Apple documentation.

I went looking for a reasonably recently updated list of dev resources to link to from the article. Couldn’t find one I was happy with, then remembered that we included a pretty solid list at the end of the book Beginning iOS 6 Development. Since that list needed to be updated for the iOS 7 rev of the book, I thought, why not pop the list into a blog post. And here we are.

At its core, programming is about problem solving and figuring things out. It’s fun, and it’s rewarding. But, at times, you will run up against a puzzle that just seems insurmountable—a problem that appears to have no solution. In those situations, it’s good to have friends in high places. This post outlines some resources you can turn to when you’re in a bind.

So add Resources for Mac and iOS Developers… to you reference list and be sure to check out the post comments for some other great resources.

Dave also has a great list of developer tools as well, Dave’s List: Apple Dev Tools…

 

Vesper – The First App for iOS 7

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I’ve been spending a fair amount of time with Xcode 5 and iOS 7 lately.  I can’t mention specifics, but I can say it’s a direction I am very happy to see.  There are a lot of good things happening in there.

Charles Perry points out how Vesper, the note taking application for your iPhone, is a  window into what users can expect from design in iOS 7:

As it turns out they were right on the mark. This style of clean, edge-to-edge design that emphasizes content and deemphasizes the interface was exactly where iOS 7 was headed. As Jony Ive explained in the WWDC keynote address, “In many ways, we’ve tried to create an interface that is unobtrusive and deferential. One where the design recedes, and in doing so actually elevates your content.” And that’s exactly the effect we see in Vesper. Without toolbars, without even separator lines between table view cells, Vesper draws users’ eyes to the content so they can quickly access their information and be on their way. This deference to content is going to be a hallmark of iOS 7 design and will be something for all developers to keep in mind as they plan for the future.

Charles has some really good observations that point out the parallel between Vesper and what users can expect in iOS 7 when it arrives in the fall.  Considering who is on the Vesper team, I wondered how much they knew about iOS 7 redesign while putting Vesper together.  I’m not the only one:

With so much of iOS 7′s new design anticipated by Vesper, it’s natural to wonder how much of this is coincidence. Did Q Branch get tipped off? Or is this just a matter of great minds thinking alike? Who knows. With this group of characters, it could be either or both. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that now we all can see the new direction that iOS is heading. We know that in iOS 7, content is king. We know that in iOS 7, color and animation are more important affordances than ever before. And thanks to Vesper, we now know that it’s possible to combine these traits of iOS 7 to create a unique app that retains an individual identity while at the same time fitting into the rest of the iOS 7 ecosystem. If you’re one of the many now thinking about your own app and its transition to iOS 7, I suggest that you consider what lessons you can take from Vesper. It’s a great app, but I think we’ll soon see that it’s a great iOS 7 app as well.

I don’t use my iPhone enough to make a commitment to Vesper but an iPad version would be a quick purchase.  Of course the $4.99 price tag might be a cheap investment to learn a bit about design.

iOS 7 and Seizing an Opportunity

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The past few days have been filled with all things Apple and I have been drinking from the firehose all things iOS 7.  Apple announced an anticipated upgrade to iOS on Monday but not just any upgrade.  The new operating system changes the way users will interact with their iOS devices and will change the way developers approach developing applications for these devices.

I started a post yesterday with my thoughts on how this new update would greatly affect developers and designers as they created new applications and how existing applications would be facing a difficult path.  I felt good about my thoughts until Marco Arment posted an eerily similar post as mine.   

iOS 7 is very different and I’m very skeptical the upgrade path for applications will be smooth.  As Marco says:

iOS 7 is different. It isn’t just a new skin: it introduces entirely new navigational and structural standards far beyond the extent of any previous UI changes. Existing apps can support iOS 7 fairly easily without looking broken, but they’ll look and feel ancient. 

Developers who created complex applications will be faced with a fork in the road; attempt a transition or start over:

I don’t think most developers of mature, non-trivial apps are going to have an easy time migrating them well to iOS 7. Even if they overcome the technical barriers, the resulting apps just won’t look and feel right. They won’t fool anyone.

A new paradigm means a chance to start from zero and build great things.

Apple has set fire to iOS. Everything’s in flux. Those with the least to lose have the most to gain, because this fall, hundreds of millions of people will start demanding apps for a platform with thousands of old, stale players and not many new, nimble alternatives. If you want to enter a category that’s crowded on iOS 6, and you’re one of the few that exclusively targets iOS 7, your app can look better, work better, and be faster and cheaper to develop than most competing apps.

Developers will be tasked with porting their applications to iOS 7 but it will be a difficult task.  Design is completely different so not only will developers have to ramp up but so will designers. 

iOS 7 is a great opportunity to create new applications, taking advantage of the new way of doing things. Maybe this is the opportunity and *not* upgrade applications but start all over and build new experiences in iOS 7.  Can we convince clients this is different enough that apps are worthy of rethinking the user experience, leveraging what’s new and building great experiences?  Some will fight the idea.   Some will refuse.  Those looking not where the puck is but where it’s going to be, will embrace a rebuild.

I for one, am devouring all the material I can get my hands on for iOS7 include the new Human Interface Guidelines and the Transition Guide.  I also have Xcode 5 running and installed iOS 7 beta on an old device.   If you’re interested in a really detailed article on iO7 user interface differences, go read Matt Gemmell’s article.

I will be ready to help clients move forward from older versions of iOS as well as ready to guide them on new applications.  As far as my applications, I will see how the transition goes.  This could be an opportune time to redesign, retool and rebuild for the paradigm shift to iOS 7.  

The design changes to iOS 7 are brilliant, very exciting times ahead.

Use TinyURL from Ruby

I recently found myself needing to use TinyURL on a client project.  I did a bit of scouring the web for some Ruby code to solve the problem but with little success.  Much to my surprise they don’t have an available API, but they do have a way to access over HTTP.

This is a simple Ruby class to use TinyURL.  Note: this depends on HTTParty, so add to your project.

class Tinyurl 
include HTTParty
base_uri 'tinyurl.com'

def shorten(url)
self.class.get("/api-create.php?url=#{url}")
end
end

You can find the Gist on Github. Hopefully you find this code useful. Enjoy!

Sometimes Great Service and Transparency Have to Be Enough

Yesterday DNSimple, my DNS provider and domain registrar of choice, suffered from a Denial of Service (DoS) attack and as a result their service went down.  This affected my sites and the sites of many people I know.

DNSimple is a bit of a different provider of services for people on the Internet since they are an infrastructure provider.  This means they provide a fundamental service which I and others rely to deliver services to our customers.  This makes a company like DNSimple that much more responsible for being up moire than most. Their outage yesterday, and actually going back a some period of time before yesterday,

They could have handled the outage in several ways.  The way they chose to handle this outage is an example of how any provider of services on the Internet should handle sometimes uncontrolled events.  As a company, DNSimple has provided great service in the limited amount of support I needed from them.  You can distinguish a great company by how they react when faced with a crisis.

Great Service

Respond to your customers in a calm fashion, letting them know how important your issue is to them.  If support issues come in via email or Twitter, respond to them, even to let them know you received their email or tweet and will get back as soon as you have something to tell them.  It only takes a second and it keeps your customer calm.  How many times have you sent a support request and heard crickets for a day or two?  Me too, it’s annoying.

Treat your customers just the way you want to be treated.

Transparency

Probably the #1 failure of a company under pressure is their lack of transparency.  What is transparency?  Simply being open about what’s going on, the issues and how you are dealing with them.  Most customers are reasonable and probably have been in a crisis themselves and being open with them, communicating what you’re finding takes very little time and is a huge plus.

Be proactive, if you recognize a problem let your customers know before they find it themselves.  Be genuine, let people know you understand how important this to them.

DNSimple did a great job in their Twitter stream, responding to customers as well as general updates on what was going on and chronicling the ups and downs.

June 1st at 12:05am being proactive:

— DNSimple (@dnsimple) June 1, 2013From first thing in the morning:

— DNSimple (@dnsimple) June 3, 2013  

Setting expectations:

— DNSimple (@dnsimple) June 3, 2013  

Keeping your word:

— DNSimple (@dnsimple) June 3, 2013  

Thanking those who are most important:

— DNSimple (@dnsimple) June 3, 2013  

We are in the processing of fixing this issue for good:

— DNSimple (@dnsimple) June 3, 2013  

I feel good using these folks as a vendor.  The openness and the continued updates makes me feel like I can count on them to be there and doing all they can to fix this problem and any other problem that might arise in the future.

Offering details to an audience that would otherwise be in the dark cost them very little in the way of time but wins them big in the eyes of the people who rely on this service.

Running a business where you have customers who rely on the product or service you provide is a very rewarding experience, but it doesn’t always go smoothly.  Customers will remember how you reacted when things got tough.  What image do you want them to have of you?

UPDATE (6/4/2013 @ 5:00pm EST): Anthony Eden of DNSimple posted a great overview of the problem and the actions taken to resolve and prevent future attacks.  A really nice way for anyone not following the drama as it occurred.

Google Obviously Loves Developers, When Will Apple?

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When is Apple going to begin listening to developers as well as Google does?

The tools Apple gives developers as part of iTunes Connect (the portal we use to publish and maintain our applications), are better than they used to be but are subpar compared to just about anyone else.

I have a few applications in the Apple iOS ecosystem and I have almost no knowledge of who my customers are and I’m not able to respond to reviews.

Google, on the other hand, has been taking a very different approach, listening to developers and acting on the feedback.  Recently Google started allowing developers to respond to reviews.  Its super-easy for a user to dislike one feature in your app and give a scathing review.  If you are an Apple developer, you have to just sit back and take it.  

At Google I/O last week they also announced several other enhancements to their developer program to help:

  • Beta testing and staged rollouts

We have introduced support for beta testing and staged rollouts so that you can get feedback on your new app or app update early in its development and make sure your users are happy with the results. You can test two different versions on two different groups at the same time, such as testing a newer version with your employees first, and a more mature version with a group of external testers.

The beta testing is private on Google Play, and you can specify who gets these versions by adding Google Groups and Google+ Communities. Users give you feedback privately rather than through public reviews. When you’re satisfied that your new version is ready, you can now do a staged rollout to a percentage of your userbase. To give you more flexibility in light of beta testing and help get your whole team involved in the Developer Console, we will soon launch additional access controls.

  • Localization Help

We’re collaborating with Google’s internationalization team to make translating your app into new languages easier than ever. You can purchase professional translations of your apps from independent providers through the Google Play Developer Console. You can upload the strings you want translated, select the languages you want to translate into, and select your translation vendor based on time and price. If you’re interested in translating your apps with this feature, sign up to be a part of the preview in the Developer Console today on the APK page.

The new optimization tips for localization will help you identify new potential opportunities for global expansion based on popular languages for your app’s users and category. To fully localize your app into a language, you need to translate the strings in an APK, translate your Google Play store listing, and upload localized graphics. The optimization tips will also let you know if you’re missing any of these pieces.

Google also announced Android Studio which offers some really innovative ways to preview what an application will look like on various devices and in various languages. Developers also get to see previews of colors and localized strings in the IDE. It’s developed in conjunction with JetBrains, who produce so many great tools. It has to be better than Eclipse.

If you missed the Google I/O Keynote, here it is, but keep in mind, it’s 3-1/2 hours long:

Apple knows they have developers in a position that we need them, way more than they need us.  It’s a really popular platform and people can make reasonable money on it. It’s pretty obvious when WWDC sells out in 90 seconds!

It would be really nice if Apple showed they cared about developers as much as Google does. Google needs developers and they show it.  There was a good post on the Treehouse blog, Why Google Loves Developers, that talks about this very same thing.  They point out it’s not just about Android but Chrome as well.

So, will Apple realize what Google did last week and follow suite with improvements to their developer support? Only time will tell. As an iOS developer, the Android ecosystem is looking like an attractive place to bring some applications. I have been interested more and more lately and the recent announcements just makes the Android platform that much more attractive.

As iOS and Mac developers, we are customers of Apple.  Good vendors listens to their customers, Good did.  How long do you think you would get with your business if you ignored your customers?  It depends I guess if you dominate your market or not.  If you do then you have some time before it comes back to bite you, if you don’t then you will never succeed.  Customers are #1…always.

It will be very interesting to see what Apple has in store for developers next month at WWDC. I can’t see a technical reason Apple developers can’t have the same support from Apple as Google gives theirs.  If Apple values their developers they should offer the same functionality on their platform, we have been asking for a long time.

Talking about Building iOS Application on The Tablet Show Episode 85

I was a guest recently on The Tablet Show with Richard Campbell and Carl Franklin, to talk about iOS development, client projects, API’s with Ruby on Rails and creating applications with interactive back ends.

I think it turned out pretty well but I really can’t stand listening to my own voice, so please give it a listen and decide for your self.

http://s3.amazonaws.com/thetabletshow/thetabletshow_0085_bazinet.mp3|remaining=yes|titles=Rob

Thanks to Richard and Carl for having me on the show.

7 Great Bootstrapping Podcasts to Jumpstart Your Business Today

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I love podcasts.  I listen to them in the car, walking or sometimes even when working.  I can’t get enough of the good ones and you probably can’t either.

Since attending MicroConf last week I can’t stop thinking about creating products, recurring revenue and talking about all the facets of running a product business.

I thought I would pull together my short list of the podcasts for boots trappers, entrepreneurs, startups or whatever you might call yourself, that I listen to and gain value. Some of these I have just recently discovered, while others, I have been a fan since their inception.  

If there are some podcasts that should be on this list, please feel free to point them out in the comments.

I hope you find as much value in these as I do:

Startups for the Rest of Us

Rob Walling and Mike Taber, creators of MicroConf have been producing this podcast for a long time.  Startups for the Rest of Us is exactly what it sounds like, a podcast for regular people trying to startup a business.  

The format of the show begins with Rob and Mike talking about what’s going on with their own businesses and related products.  Each show follows a theme where the duo discusses the focused topic.   

Bootstrapped.fm

Ian Landsman of HelpSpot fame and Andrey Butov recently started Bootstrapped.fm and after listening to a few episodes I find myself looking for new episodes in iTunes.  

The format of each episode is similar to Startups for the Rest of Us, where Ian and Andrey discuss their bootstrapping adventures.  It’s nice to hear different aspects of different types of bootstrapped software businesses, Ian with his SaaS application and Andrey with mobile applications.  

Lots of topics crossover, whether doing SaaS or mobile applications but there’s always valuable lessons to learn.

Bootstrapped with Kids

Bootstrapped with Kids  is also a recent addition to my podcast collection.  Brecht Palombo is the host and who also gave a great attendee talk at MicroConf. 

The topics are dear to the hearts of boostrappers and include product ideas and other aspects of the trade.

Product People

Kyle Fox and Justin Jackson are the hosts of Product People, a podcast I only recently discovered.  It is quickly becoming one of my favorites.  

The interviews are with, you guessed it, people who are successful product builders.  The interview style is very dynamic and doesn’t follow a script as you might have heard in other interview format podcasts.  I continually find myself thinking of the questions I would ask the guests and as it happens, these guys are asking those questions.  I’m sure the people who see me walking each day and nodding my head in agreement think I’m crazy.

Some recent interviewees include:

  • Amy Hoy
  • Nathan Barry (two parts and fantastic)
  • Hiten Shah
  • Jason Fried
  • Brennan Dunn
  • Rob Walling
  • Patrick McKenzie

Mixergy

Mixergy is actually an old favorite I have mentioned here before.  Andrew Warner does a fantastic job of interviewing entrepreneurs from all different industries and all different stories.  

Andrew is the marathon man of podcasting with tons of episodes and counting.  Plenty of backlog to go through and enjoy.

If you prefer the episodes are online and can watch the videos of Andrew interviewing his guests.  The benefit is see the guests facial expressions, small but nice sometimes.

Kalzumeus Podcast

Patrick McKenzie is a highly respected bootstrapped entrepreneur in the software industry who speaks at a few conferences and draws a crowd.  Patrick has discussions with various entrepreneurs ranging from angel investing to sales and marketing.  The episodes are not very frequent but they are solid and very much worth the wait.  Patrick includes transcripts in the podcast page so if you would rather digest the great material at a slower pace, it’s there.

Entrepreneur on Fire

This is another relatively new discovery for me.  The format is a series of interviews with entrepreneurs who have a wide range of skills, backgrounds and business types.  Entrepreneur on Fire is a very active podcast and publishing episodes at a feverish pace (5 days a  week), not sure I can keep up.

Dead Simple Model Diagrams for Your Rails Project

While working on Rails project I often find myself wanting a visual representation of my model classes.  I usually grab a notebook and manually write them out. Depending on the project, it can take time.

I started searching for a diagramming tool that might be easier and faster than writing out by hand, there are a bunch of them out there.  Most have a steep learning curve and are expensive.

A bit of searching around the web for a Ruby-specific tool lead me to a gem named rails-erd.  Maybe you have heard of it, maybe I’m the last to know, but regardless it is a nice find.

Installing

The gem relies on GraphViz to do it’s drawing magic.  There are a multitude of ways to install it, I used Homebrew:

brew install graphviz

Add the gem to your development group in your Gemfile:

group :development do
 gem 'rails-erd'
end

Don’t forget to run the bundle command.

When everything is install, from the root of your Rails project simple run:

rake erd

When the rake task runs, watch the output from the tool. It tells you items you won’t find on the diagram either because it’s not used or a relationship isn’t right.

The Output

The result will be a PDF file in the root of your project that looks something like this: 

Erd

As you can see, it gives a very nice model diagram with all the relations and properties. Just what I was looking for.

The tool is very customizable and the web site outlines everything that can be changed.  I haven’t looked very much at this aspect since it produced everything I needed the first time.