Tag Archives: dropbox

Dropbox, iCloud, and GitHub on the iPad

Federico Viticci has another fantastic long-form essay, this time about using the iPad Pro for a year. It’s the story of his iPad workflow plus mini reviews of each app that make using the iPad as a primary computer possible.

I haven’t finished reading the whole thing yet, but I’ve been paying particular attention to the theme of file management. I use Dropbox for my most important files — documents, notes, and photos — because I want them synced everywhere and accessible in an obvious, transparent way. iCloud is too opaque and app-specific.

Federico covers this conflict early in the essay with a list of iCloud downsides:

iOS apps like Documents and Workflow can’t access or display the contents of other apps’ folders. This prevents the existence of a full-featured iCloud Drive file manager that offers functionalities Apple doesn’t want to build in their iCloud Drive app. There should be an API to allow third-party apps to gain access to the entire contents of your iCloud Drive filesystem, just like there are APIs for photo and music access.

I’ll be happily surprised if Apple ever adds such an API. It seems unlikely. And if that’s true, it means iCloud will be permanently crippled compared to Dropbox.

The trend to new iCloud-first apps like Ulysses and Bear is fine. It doesn’t appeal to me, though. I use Ulysses on the Mac because I can sync with Dropbox. There are so many Dropbox-capable iOS text editors that I feel confident using my current favorite and switching whenever I want.

Federico also describes using GitHub and the iPad app Working Copy for collaborative editing:

Working Copy’s diff support has been a boon for how we edit Markdown and collaborate on articles. We can keep track of every edit and comment in a centralized location without creating duplicates. Working Copy makes it easy to follow the evolution of a document through multiple commits; every writer can chime in with their own suggestions and Working Copy will handle file merging and conflict resolution thanks to GitHub.

GitHub is useful for much more than code. I personally love the simplicity of Gists and GitHub Pages. It’s great to see how MacStories can use GitHub for editing articles, too.

Ulysses iOS missing Dropbox support

After I blogged about Ulysses for Mac, a couple people told me that an iPad version was coming soon and that it was great. That new version shipped this week. I put down $20 immediately even before reading the positive MacStories review by David Chartier.

Unfortunately I can’t use it much because it has no native Dropbox support. For a market that has literally many dozens of Dropbox text editors, I didn’t consider that Ulysses would ship without something so integral to my writing workflow.

(The Mac version doesn’t have this problem because of the concept of “External Folders”. I simply add my Dropbox notes folder to Ulysses on my Mac and everything syncs.)

Last month I wrote a post called iCloud is too opaque, in which I made an argument against having important text files and photos synced to a backend that allows no visibility when things go wrong, and no compatibility with other apps. Ulysses for iOS falls into this trap. Its use of iCloud is private to the app, unlike iCloud Drive or Dropbox which are accessible from other apps.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. The FAQ for Ulysses spends considerable space trying to explain away their lack of Dropbox support, even attempting to pin the issue on Dropbox instead of Ulysses itself.

The Soulmen, makers of Ulysses, are talented designers and developers, and I’m typing this in Ulysses for Mac because their app has a great mix of features and attention to detail. I respect that they’ve grown the company to 11 people already. But closed syncing solutions aren’t a good choice for exclusivity. Having cross-platform syncing across competing Twitter apps is why I created Tweet Marker, so you can be sure I want the same for my text documents.

iCloud is too opaque

Last night, Federico Viticci tweeted that he lost a draft blog post he was working on because of an iCloud problem:

“Just lost 1.5k words I had prepared for tomorrow because I wanted to try iCloud sync instead of Dropbox this week.”

The story has a happy ending because he was able to manually recover the document from the app’s database, but that is well beyond the complexity that most users could handle. iCloud is usually so opaque that we just can’t see what is going on behind the scenes with our data.

Everything I write on this blog (and notes for all my projects) goes into simple text files on Dropbox. I can edit from multiple apps on different platforms, the files are synced everywhere, and Dropbox tracks the revisions of each file so that I can restore a previous version at any time. I could take the text file I’m currently typing in, drag it to the Finder’s trash and empty it, and restore from the web in 30 seconds even without any kind of traditional backup solution.

That’s why all my photos are on Dropbox too. Instead of being opaque like iCloud, with no easy way to troubleshoot or recover files when things go wrong, with Dropbox it’s all there in the local file system or over the web.

Dropbox has had a few side projects and distractions, but their foundation is obvious and accessible, so they can keep coming back to that. Here’s Stephen Hackett writing in December about documents and photos after Dropbox shut down Mailbox and Carousel:

“As much as these apps were loved by their users, it’s clear that the company is moving in another direction. While things like Paper don’t make much of a difference to me, knowing that Dropbox will reliably sync my files, be easy to use on iOS and continue to be around is important to me. If Mailbox and Carousel had to go to make that possible, then so be it.”

I really like the clean UI in Dropbox’s Paper, but because it doesn’t yet sync with regular files like the rest of Dropbox, Paper isn’t building on Dropbox’s core strengths. Daniel and I use it for planning Core Intuition, but I wouldn’t use it for critical writing any more than I would use the new Apple Notes.

I hear that people love iCloud Photo Library and Notes, and that the quality of these apps and companion services has significantly improved. That’s great. (I also think that CloudKit is clearly the best thing Apple has built for syncing yet.)

But to me, it doesn’t matter if it’s reliable or fast, or even if it “always” works. It only matters if I trust it when something goes wrong. Conceptually I’m not sure iCloud will ever get there for me.

Finally trying Ulysses

I’m finally trying Ulysses. After posting about how I write blog drafts, a reader pointed out that Justnotes for Mac isn’t actively maintained anymore. I think Ulysses will make a nice replacement, both for my Dropbox folder of 1000+ notes, and also for longer, more structured writing I want to do.

Ryan Irelan uses that structure to organize courses for Mijingo:

“Each course is also a Collection inside of the courses collection, in which I have separate sheets for each section of the course (or even broken down into multiple sheets per section depending on the length)”

Ben Brooks is also trying to consolidate from the iOS 9 Notes app and others to just using Ulysses:

“This was my pain point, I often just simply forgot where I jotted something down. I don’t typically make tasks out of articles I am writing, so I remember what is what by looking in Ulysses, and if it isn’t in Ulysses I won’t go searching for it. Notes was the most convenient place to write, but also a bit of a black hole for writing.”

I can already tell that Ulysses is a great app. Looking forward to the upcoming universal version with support for the iPad Pro, too.

Google Photos

Tim Cook spoke recently about privacy and cloud services:

“You might like these so-called free services, but we don’t think they’re worth having your email or your search history or now even your family photos data-mined and sold off for God knows what advertising purpose.”

I’m going to give you a very cynical translation, which I don’t often do: We are in denial about how much better Google Photos is than what we’re doing at Apple. It is so advanced in terms of search that we won’t be able to match it anytime soon. In fact, we don’t even have anyone working on similar technology at all.

It’s not about being free. I pay Dropbox $20/month to be grandfathered into 2 TB of storage so that I can put all of my photos and documents there. Dropbox is rock solid and worth it.

Like Marco and others, I have tried to avoid Google services. I don’t use Gmail. I hate advertising. But the idea of being able to quickly search my photos by content without even tagging or organizing them was too compelling to not try. So I’ve uploaded over 10,000 photos so far to Google Photos. It is really good. (I’m going to finish uploading all my photos and give it a few months before making a final judgement on the search vs. privacy trade-off.)

Some of the random searches that work out of the box to filter my photos: “beach”, “trains”, “New York City”, “Oregon and 2013”, “road trip”, “party”, “basketball”, “Christmas tree”. I never saw a demo or tutorial for how to use Google Photos; I just type stuff in and it mostly works, discovering photos and events. And on top of that, there’s also the automatic stories and collages, which is something we always wanted to build for Sunlit.

My family photos are the most important files I have on my computer, and I very rarely share any photos of my kids publicly. But ironically I’m willing to overlook some of the privacy concerns around this exactly because the photos are so valuable to me. I want multiple copies in the cloud, and I want the power of search that Google has built.

Photos+ and focus

You may have heard by now that Photos+ has a new home at SilverPine software. My friend Jonathan Hays — now co-founder of SilverPine — is of course also half of Sunlit, so it was a great fit for him to take on another photo app as well. He writes:

“In addition to consulting, we intend to slowly grow a portfolio of software. To that end, we are announcing today that we have purchased Photos+ from Second Gear Software. We have quite a bit of expertise with photo Apps (see Sunlit, among others) and when Justin Williams approached me about purchasing it from him, it felt like a great fit. We have big plans for Photos+ and have already put into motion the first phase of those plans: native Dropbox integration!”

I tested the Dropbox support during the 1.1 beta and think it’s a great direction to take the app. Dropbox the company is going all in on photos: just in the last week shipping Carousel and now acquiring Loom. The more people start using Dropbox to store all their photos, the more useful companion photo apps like Photos+ and Sunlit will be.

And now Justin Williams is free to focus all his time on Glassboard. While I’ve been building web services and subscription apps for a while now, the truth is I’m still figuring out how to do this as a business too. I’ve learned a lot from Justin’s recent blog posts on the subject.

Sunlit 1.1

Today we shipped version 1.1 of Sunlit, our app for collecting photos and text together to make and publish stories. Some of the bigger changes include:

  • Instagram and Flickr import. You can now add any of your own Instagram or Flickr photos into a story. With Flickr, you can even browse from your Flickr sets.

  • Improved Dropbox support. The first version of Sunlit assumed most of your photos on Dropbox were in the Camera Uploads or Photos folder. For 1.1, we’ve added a full Dropbox browser so you can pick any folder you want.

  • Multi-user text syncing. Now anyone subscribed to a story can add both photos and text descriptions, and the text will sync to all users. This is a really powerful feature for collaborating on stories. We think it puts Sunlit in a class above any other app like this.

  • Confirm deleted photos. What happens if you let other people add photos to your story, but they accidentally delete one of your photos? Sunlit now tracks this and shows a special confirmation alert so that you can either allow the photo to be deleted or keep it.

There are other fixes and improvements too, which you can see in the release notes. Here are a few screenshots of the new Dropbox and Flickr screens:

Sunlit v1.1

Sunlit is available in the App store as a free download. If you like it, pay just $4.99 to unlock the full app, and leave a review in the App Store to help others discover the app. Thanks!

Quality photos

I’ve been slowly moving photos to Dropbox over the last year, using the Dropbox camera import feature so that all new photos from my phone get synced up automatically. It’s worked out so well that last week I decided to go all in. I moved about 13 years of photos there and upgraded to Dropbox’s 200 GB of storage.

In the process I’ve been poking around at old photos, photos of my kids from 6-7 years ago when we had a basic point-and-shoot camera. There are some great photos in there, but also so many that are blurry or out of focus. We were too cheap to buy a good camera at the time. Now I would pay any amount of money to go back in time and reshoot the photos with a better camera.

Gus Mueller learned this lesson more quickly than I did:

“It’s quite amazing what a difference a nice lens and a nice camera can do. Kirstin was shocked at the quality. The cameras on iPhones are getting better, but they don’t hold a candle to camera tech today.”

We don’t use our DSLR every day. It’s for big events, birthdays, school performances, and the iPhone suffices for the rest of the time. But it’s worth every penny and more, to look back on these photos years later and know we have captured them at their best.

Photos are also at the heart of my new app, Sunlit. We’ll be shipping soon. Enter your email address on the site to be notified when it hits the App Store.

Rambling about Twitter archives

As 2012 was winding down, I was fascinated with LongPosts.com (built on top of App.net) and so used it to post some thoughts about Twitter archives. The site is gone now, so I’ve moved the text back to my weblog here, where it belongs anyway. The link to the ADN discussion is here. — future me, January 2016

One of the main goals of my web app Watermark is to archive and search tweets and ADN posts, so it was natural for me to implement support for Twitter’s new archive export format. I finished it last night and linked it from the Watermark account page this evening for all customers.

I had heard that Twitter’s export included a CSV version before I saw the actual files, so I started work coding an importer based on that, with the assumption that I could tweak it later. Once I saw a real tweets.zip, I had to throw out most of my initial work. The CSV files have two problems:

  • They don’t properly escape values using quotes, so a comma inside a tweet makes the files more difficult to parse.
  • They don’t include some essential Twitter metadata like the reply-to ID.
    I switched to using the JSON files and it’s working well. They’re JavaScript but not strictly JSON, so you just skip the first line.

Since the ZIP archive can be fairly big, instead of uploading in a web browser I let the user choose the file via Dropbox. This was a nice opportunity to try out the Dropbox Chooser. Then on the server I extract the files and load the data.

Dave Winer is doing something interesting with archives too. He’s started linking up other people’s archives on S3 — both the HTML view and the .zip file. I have a test Watermark account that I’ve loaded one of these into. It’s interesting to import multiple archives and have them all merged together and searchable.

For so long we’ve waited for access to our old tweets. In the meantime I’ve shipped two products around fixing this limitation, so it’s especially funny that Twitter finally rolls out archives after I’ve stopped posting there. (And of course I love that ADN has allowed access to your full post history from the very beginning.) Not entirely sure where all this is going to lead, but I agree with Dave Winer that new apps should be possible now.

Watermark export using Dropbox

I’ve been making Watermark better. Sometimes it’s small tweaks or bug fixes; other times, more noticeable new features. Because it’s a subscription, I’m determined to improve it quickly and often. I don’t write about most of these changes, but the new Dropbox sync in Watermark deserves special attention.

Watermark originally shipped without any kind of export feature. This was a glaring omission for an archiving tool. But because of the large number of tweets stored by Watermark — some users have hundreds of thousands of tweets from their friends in the app — a simple export wasn’t feasible. I could have offered an export of just your own tweets, but then you also have the fairly clunky step of waiting for the server to gather tweets together, then downloading a file from your web browser, finding where to store it or the previous downloaded copy to replace it with.

Dropbox sync fixes that. Watermark can now automatically copy tweets (and App.net posts) from your saved filters and custom collections to CSV files on Dropbox. For example, search Watermark for “iPhone 5”, click “Save as filter”, and the most recent 1000 tweets matching that query will appear in a file called “iPhone_5.csv” on Dropbox. It keeps running in the background, so the files are updated every hour as new tweets matching the search are downloaded by Watermark, even if you aren’t signed in.

See the account page and FAQ for details and a sign-in link to authorize Watermark with Dropbox.

VoodooPad 5

VoodooPad 5 is out this weekend, with a new file format that plays nicely with Dropbox. Gus Mueller says:

“No more connecting to WebDAV servers and having to deal with authentication issues and strange HTTP errors. Now you can just put your VoodooPad 5 document in a Dropbox folder and VP will detect when pages have been updated.”

This is another good example of where web APIs like Dropbox can be more useful than iCloud. Multiple people can collaborate on a VoodooPad document, and the direct download and Mac App Store copies of VoodooPad can sync together.

Also new in version 5 is native support for Markdown and an ePub export option. The workflow for help documentation that I posted 5 years ago carries over to VoodooPad 5 just fine, too.