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Finding Your Power Apps

Michael Schechter recently asked Are Power Apps Like Omnifocus and Scrivener For You?. Watching tutorial videos for “power apps” has helped him decide when it is worth investing his time, attention, and money to learning a new application. He proposes that:

If you aren’t willing to take the time [to watch a video], you probably aren’t really all that ready for whatever app you are considering. And once you do jump in, you’ll have a better idea of what to look for and probably have a few power user tricks that you are anxious to try out.

He closed with a question that got me thinking about how I choose the software that helps me do the work I do.

What’s your process? How do you go about gauging if an app is worth your time and effort?

My process is probably among the worst out there. I can admit to being a perpetually lazy serial procrastinator. It’s easy for something shiny to lead me on a chase for a while, largely because there is nothing to fail at there. Nothing, that is, except the obvious failure to accomplish anything worthwhile.

I’ve spent more money than I care to think about over the years on apps that rarely saw any action. I should probably let you know I’m a recovering app bundle junkie. I still get cravings when I see $5,937 worth of apps for a few bucks, but I’ve gotten better at shaking off the shakes. I’ve wasted a lot of time, a lot, trying to find a use for many of those bundled apps. Even if it was a bargain bin purchase, I paid for it, right? I should learn to use them.

Nah, not really. Usually, my main reason for making a bundle purchase was to get at one of them. This is how I first saw the light with 1Password (and haven’t looked back). Get it. Get it now. Even you Windows users out there. All of you need it. Thank me later.

My Process

Back to Schechter’s questions. My process is to avoid new apps. Like I said, my tendency to chase the shiny has waned, but I do respect the opinion of people I follow online. See also, Twitter. Watch smart people in your field of interest. They have probably had more apps thrown at them than you have time to study on your own, and they have decided what works and what doesn’t.

There is room for personality though, especially in the writing space and most especially on iOS. There has been an avalanche of high quality writing tools for iPhone and iPad. I’ve weeded the garden and found what works for me (Writing Kit if you’re interested).

As a writer, the best advice I’ve found in the past 20 years is to axe word processors and stick to plain text. I only drop into a word processor to open files other people send me or to print a heavily formatted document. Plain text and Markdown are all I need (MultiMarkdown if I need tables). The only hypocrasy in my stable of writing apps is Scrivener, but it’s so amazing every writer should use it. Yes, even writers who use Windows (in fact, you can pick Scrivener for Windows at a discount through Nov. 7).

Hidden Wisdom

I hope you found the hidden wisdom in my failures. No? Let me spell it out for you.

  • Find good tools, learn to use them, and stick with them.
  • Take notice if someone you respect says an app changed their world.
  • Don’t look for new apps to do the work you already do. Great apps will find you.

RIP RSS?

OK, I know RSS isn’t going away, but John Gruber (@gruber) threw me down the rabbit hole tonight when he linked to NetNewsWire creator Brent Simmons piece about Google Reader. The whole shebang got started with this article:

Official Google Reader Blog: Upcoming changes to Reader: a new look, new Google+ features, and some clean-up.

The article states Google’s intention to “bring Reader and Google+ closer together.” This upsets me, but they say they have a plan for people like me.

That’s why we will also be extending Reader’s subscription export feature to include the following items. Your data belongs to you, after all, and we want to make sure you can take it with you.

  • Your subscriptions
  • Your shared items
  • Your friends
  • Your likes
  • Your starred items

Shocking.

Simmons doesn’t seem to believe Reader is going to buckle under Google+, but he’s not confident that the slew of apps that use Reader as a syncing hub may be in jeopardy. Simmons writes:

“When I say that the system is fragile, I don’t mean that Google Reader itself is fragile. I mean that using it as a syncing system for other apps is fragile.”

The sentence Simmons closed his article with was the most chilling (and most quoted so far):

I’m not an RSS reader developer any more. But if I were, I’d start looking for an alternative syncing system right now.

New item in my OmniFocus inbox? Learn how to export my RSS data from Reeder.

(Via Daring Fireball)