Finding A New Home For Mintype

Mintype is a frequent traveller. For the past 4 months, she has stayed in places like Squarespace, Bluehost and most recently, A Small Orange.

Earlier this year, when I first started writing consistency, I chose Squarespace as my first home. Its ease of use, simple interface and renowned customer support got my vote. I’m not a coder or designer, and I’m not shy to admit I’m really bad at tweaking around the simplest of codes. So, a platform like Squarespace is really ideal for me to customise certain aspect of the site to fit my needs and style. During my time there, I haven’t had a single issue. Support was responsive, site loaded up fast and there just wasn’t anything troubling me.

People that I follow, blogs that I read, they were leaving Squarespace…one by one. It’s seems strange to me, it’s definitely good enough for me. But good can be subjective. I don’t write for as wide a audience as Zero Distraction does. I don’t have the artistic pose of Smarterbits. I’m not a authority for technie stuffs like Curious Rat. In the list of blogs I follow, there’s still a considerable amount of Squarespace powered sites. I believe the exodus is not an indication of a lack of features or let down by the service, it has more to do with individual preference and the search for greener pasture.

The Hunt Begins

I thought of trying out Tumblr, lured by the hands-off approach of not having to worry about hosting and the backend issues. In addition, I like some of the minimistic themes available already. Besides the horror stories of the poor uptime, the closed system of Tumblr worries me more. I want control of my content, I want to be able to export it out freely and not be reliant on some third-party add-on. This could be less of an issue for bloggers who post things as they would to social media, the ever moving contents are linked and posted out freely. On the other hand of the spectrum, there are people who take time and effort to research and write a long form article. Such article is the blood and sweat of craftmanship, and the author would like to read through something they wrote with pride many years down the road. With such consideration, Tumblr is still an excellent platform to fill in the niche between blogging and tweeting, but at this moment it doesn’t fit into my values.

Statamic. This is definitely foreign to me. Someone linked to it, I got curious and checked it out. There were moments when I actually wanted to try it out. Deep down though, I know I probably couldn’t handle the technical aspects of the system. I don’t want frustration to set in. I want a platform for me to publish my articles, nothing more. Above everything else, ease of use occupies the top priority for me.

I source around for templates I could use. A simple, clean theme and focus on typography and content would be superb. Where better to find than from the highly respected design agency iA. I have been reading their blog, and the sound observation, analysis and findings of Oliver Reichenstein always provide me with valuable insights on design and information management. It’s only natural that I have a deep interest in the products they offer. The blog template is simple with ample whitespace for the readers’ eyes to rest upon. We mustn’t confuse whitespace with lack of design, and lack of design with simplicity. Judging with the increasingly number of sites that focuses on content and stripping away the redundant features, it is apparent the world is coming to grip with the concept of simplicity and embracing them with an open mind. The template runs on WordPress and since I’m going to self-host it, I need a new home.

I looked around for options, searched for alternatives and shortlisted a few that best balances affordability and quality. Choosing this is like having the least compromise. I went with Bluehost first. The first thing that irked me is the sluggish loading time. Playing around with cPanel option took 8-10 seconds for things to load after every click, and sometimes I wondered if I have actually clicked it or if there’s something wrong with my own net connection. I waited out a couple of days, tried it on different places using different devices, all returned the same result – the site is terribly unresponsive and slow. Their support crews were top notch though. They were responsive and quick to resolve any issues. If only if the actual performance of their hosting services could match their support peers.

My next stop – A Small Orange. The name itself is quirky, and it definitely stands out from the sea of saturated hosting business. Their website is like a representative of its name – cartoonish and vibrant. It’s miles different from the traditional type of hosting that is boring and serious. Fun and functional for a niche that is normally associated with stories of horror tales, who would have guessed that. They pride themselves in providing the best customer service experience for its customers and it shows in everything they do. It’s always customer-centric and it becomes a guiding principle in their way they conduct the business. What you pay is what you get. There’s a certain level of honesty in what they are advocating and this openness brings trust, a bond that can only be strengthened should the service standards be met. I’m only a few days into my plan with ASO, and so far I have been very impressed with them and it makes me a very happy oranger.

The Takeaway

On a side note, the path to finding the right home triggers a few thoughts in me. First impression counts. If the site is unresponsive, sluggish, and buggy, it will be difficult to retain visitors long enough to read what’s on the page. Design matters. It comes as no surprise the authors I follow and the sites I read on a regular basis are mostly clean and simple, just right to the point. The design elements are all built around the content, allowing them to shine. No distracting decorations, no flashing banners. Everything is presented nicely in readable font that doesn’t require me to squirm my eyes to make out those barely rendered piece of sentences.

So, that sums up my adventure of sourcing a new home for Mintype. With a new home found, a clean template loaded, she’s ready to rock the world once again.

Google Reader – Go, Going, Gone

In my previous post, I bid farewell to an old friend. This week, I sat down and ponder on the imminent death of another dear friend.

We could see it coming. We know the day will come when Reader will disappear from our life. Still, the subtle and casual way of announcing the closure of Reader sent rumbles across the globe. The tremor could be felt everywhere, not just within the tech community. Everyone, anyone that cares about news exchange should be concerned. Before this, they didn’t have to worry about the backend issues. Like the blog? Click it, done. Fire up a RSS reader of their choice and all the content will be there, neatly, waiting for consumption.

In business sense, it’s a logical move. This also signals a narrowing of focus. Google is looking into the future. RSS is the past, a past that is not relevant in its relentless pursuit for major break through in innovative usage through technology. When you have exciting and ground breaking projects such as wearing a glass capable of doing so much, and laying the lines underneath the surface for something major, what is an old dinosaur doing in their backyard?

I’m not upset at the news of its death. I’m grateful for all the things Google has done, and like every good thing, it must come to an end. Not the fairy tale ending, but as a company, Reader has never been pulling in the figures needed to be sustainable. Truth be told, it has never been the case. It has never been the focus of the company to monetize the business they didn’t intend to launch in the first place. Rather than putting it on support system, it makes better sense to put it to sleep. This shutdown at the very least eliminates the state of monopoly. It gives developers new hopes to innovate the stagnant RSS scene, and provides motivation to roll out the new de facto API for a new era. I know there will be light at the end of the tunnel. Rewind back the years, go back in time where the RSS space is vibrant, innovative and full of fresh ideas and developers. With the dominant player controlling the vast majority of the market share out of the way, it paves the way for others.

Not earning, why not charge users?

Because as users (not customers), we were never given a chance to pay. I believe there will be a substantial amount of takers who are more than willing to fork out money for something they use on a daily basis. But ways to monetize the services didn’t come off, because right from the start, it’s already dying a slow death. Between killing off the service and asking users (not customers) to pay for it, choosing the former fits the company culture more.

So with a swift swipe of its button, a casual announcement followed by an imminent shutdown. A lot have been written around the Internet about this issue. Many mourn the death, some are concern without Google reader, how is RSS going to shape our future. Some are more upbeat, suggesting that the closure of G Reader is the best thing for the RSS space that has been stagnant for some time already. Some have came up with alternatives to Reader, and there are already some interesting ones that are gaining their well deserved recognition.

Here are the voices around the globe:

Despite the thousands of articles and blog posts lamenting the loss, few wondered why so many people think RSS is worth saving.

Brent Simmons (creator of NetNewsWire): 

Even if you don’t use an RSS reader, you still use RSS. One way or another, directly or indirectly, you use RSS. Without RSS all we’d have is pictures of cats and breakfast…RSS is plumbing. It’s used all over the place but you don’t notice it. Which is cool.

The Verge: 

RSS is built so deeply into the bones of so many websites and web services that we take it for granted. Your Tumblrs and your YouTube users and your Flickr friends and your favourite websites and blogs all usually offer RSS, automatically, with very little effort from their developers.

Words from Chris Wetherell, early creator of Google Reader:

When they replaced sharing with +1 on Google Reader, it was clear that this day was going to come. We had a sign that said, ‘days since cancellation‘ and it was there from the very beginning.

Lean Crew:

What’s missing from the articles I’ve seen, though, is an explanation of how Google Reader got to be the 800 pound gorilla of RSS. It’s almost as if it were a fait accompli, that Google is a force of nature that inevitably takes over any field it gets into. The way I see it, though, is that it was the iPhone that put Google Reader in the driver’s seat.
…For a user, once your phone’s RSS reader is using Google Reader, you’re hooked. You have to use it on the desktop—either directly in the browser or indirectly through an application—to maintain synchronisation. Thus, the march of Reader to world RSS domination.

Matt Alexander: 

For months, we’ve watched ambivalently as Google’s shed excess products, outmoded designs, and refocused itself on the future. As with any change, many felt resentful toward Google for axing some beloved services. Others, on the other hand — myself included — felt the decisions represented a welcome narrowing of focus within the notoriously nebulous company.

John Paul Titlow:

But it’s not just for tech enthusiasts, either. This is the first time a service has shut down and I’ve received tweets, texts and emails from friends freaking out, wondering what they’re going to do. These are not Hacker News-reading uber-geeks or even people who follow technology news much at all. They’re journalists, bloggers, scientists, artists and people who prefer to follow local news and blogs via feeds. It’s a nerdy set, yes, but most of this particular sample of people don’t care all that much about tech. Yet I’ve never seen them so upset.

The Guardian’s analogy between bees and the ecosystem:

Around the world, the bees are dying due, it’s thought, to modern insecticides, The irony is that bees are essential to agriculture and the wider ecosystem; the outcome of their decline will be far more onerous than the insect damage the treatment was supposed to prevent. Google is now in the unhappy position of emulating the pesticide-wielding farmers.

Aldo Cortesi: 

The truth is this: Google destroyed the RSS feed reader ecosystem with a subsidised product, stifling its competitors and killing innovation. It then neglected Google Reader itself for years, after it had effectively become the only player.

The RSS scene back then was vibrant and competitive, then in came the big boy that muscles practically everybody out of the market. It’s destructive, it’s unfair, but we care little about it at that time. It was The Reader of choice. We became complacent and slowly, it became the backbone that other RSS readers rely on.

As we look upon with grim faces at the dawn of an era, it also gives rise to the opportunity for new services to take over the regime.

To Marco Arment, this is fantastic news:

Now, we’ll be forced to fill the hole that Reader will leave behind, and there’s no immediately obvious alternative. We’re finally likely to see substantial innovation and competition in RSS desktop apps and sync platforms for the first time in almost a decade.

And alternatives are popping up.

David Smith on Feed Wrangler:

You see, I’ve been working on an alternative to Google Reader over the past few months. I had been working away on this hoping to launch around WWDC this June. Google’s move has bumped these plans up considerably.
Feed Wrangler isn’t a simple clone of Google Reader. Instead it is an alternative take on aggregating RSS that I think makes it much easier to manage. Feed Wrangler will be a paid, subscription based service.

When the dominant player having almost the full share of the pie is not around, it opens the floodgate for aspiring developers to bring in fresh concepts and features. It’s not surprise to see it being a paid service, looking at how other services are not sustainable when it’s a free product. It reminds me of the business and philosophy of Pinboard, and what the developer said by supporting the products and services by paying for them.

For people who are suggesting that there is already a subsitute for Reader in Twitter, think again.

Clay Allsopp: 

Today, news and blog content is relatively open and parseable because of RSS and Google Reader’s leverage, but all the recent social information about ourselves is locked behind protocols unique to each website and app.

And how at how Facebook and Twitter sell our information to display targeted advertisements. And how Instagram enraged so many users with the policy change, before reverting its stand.

The conventional wisdom, which is conventional but not wisdom, says that RSS is obsolete because now we have Twitter and other social things.

In fact, Twitter is not a big RSS reader. RSS is something you control, and Twitter is something other people control. (Even if you dedicate a Twitter account exclusively to the same sources of content you had in Google Reader, the viewing options, functionality and everything about Twitter is controlled by Twitter.) That both give you streams of content is a superficial similarity. Fundamentally, they are opposites.

What Google Reader and RSS fans fear is not the loss of a good service and a great format. They fear the loss of control. They fear a future in which decisions about what they see, watch, read and listen to are determined by secret algorithms and the whims of the social media masses.

It’s not an unreasonable fear: The taking away of control from the user is the way the whole industry is going.

Twitter has, and never will be the replacement of RSS. Reader organises and keeps the information in view, Twitter ushers in the data in a hurried manner eyeing for your attention.

The question is, can we trust Google?

Well, not really. The takeaway we have for this episode is nothing last forever, and we should never solely rely on one entity for things we treasure and love. Chrome is an amazing browser, I’m pleased with what it brings to me. But that’s no guarantee that it will be around for the next 10 years. There’s no promise that comes the next spring cleaning session, Chrome wouldn’t be killed off. As Google looks to streamline its focus and services, and with its projection set into the future, it is uncertain which products and services could be the next one on the chopping board.

Bottom line: We should always have a contingency plan for things we value.

So the low profile, hardworking services that is Google Reader is making way for the future – the future of driver-less vehicles, Google glasses and the likes. It will a very exciting time ahead, but we must also bear in mind the dark timeline this closure has in Google.

Regardless of what comes out of this, it is clear that Google Reader has left a dent in the RSS sphere. It’s an interesting footnote in the history of tech space where we can reflect back and ponder, wondering if this move is indeed the best way forward for the general public. The void is a big one, it will be a huge shoe to fill, but it also bring forth excitement and anticipation which wouldn’t have happened if Reader is still lingering around.

The sites we love are not disappearing, it’s just the services that keeps what we read in sync are going away. If things didn’t work out for the alternatives (which I doubt so), I will just select the handful of sites I really like and visit them directly.

How Much Is a Freebie Worth To You?

To some, it means sacrificing precious sleep.
To some, it means queuing up for hours.
To some, a free Egg McMuffin is too good to pass up.

Is it really worth getting out of the warm bed before dawn to get a piece of sandwich?

Does the opportunity cost of getting something valued at $2 outweigh the tradeoffs?

I don’t know, but judging by the queues and smiles, many are convinced of their decision.

So, all these hassles for $2.

The End Of Road For Messenger

Comes Friday, Messenger will be history. It shall be retired in favour of Skype. 

As I reflect on this statement, I’m reminiscing the times where Instant Messaging (IM) regime supreme, and Messenger was at the forefront of this wave.

Dear Messenger,

You allowed us to change our status to whatever we wanted. If we feel like appearing offline, we could do so and at the same time, we would message our friends using our offline status. 

You allowed us to broadcast what we were feeling at that time, and our new change of message would be read and enquired about. Back then, status update wasn’t common so the curious part of us naturally wanted to read, decipher and find out more about the meaning behind the message.

You enabled me to know whether the other party is typing, so I wouldn’t know stupid if indeed the lady behind the monitor turned out to be a bot.

You did one thing and you pulled it off wonderfully. At your core, you provide a platform to bring everyone together. You influenced the way we exchange information and set the standards for instant messaging. 

In that little window of yours, we’d chat, share stories and pictures. I remember having group chats involving many close friends, and the conversation would be filled with laughters and some random nonsense. Conversation would dragged late into the night and we’d continue where we had left off the following morning when we met. 

But like all good things come to and end, your decline is inevitable. Over time, as your service becomes more popular, so does the bots and spams. Redundant features were added in, the ship is bloated with things people have little use for. The decline would be further compounded by the emergence of apps like Whatsapp, and the ease of keeping in touch with friends via the built in Facebook messenger.

In the age of social connectivity, we have never seem so far disconnected from each other. It’s ironic, and it’s best summed up by the following:

Others before me have lamented how, in an age where communication so is easily facilitated by the internet, we lose something of the depth and intimacy that a telephone call, hand-written letter or long face-to-face chat bestow. I think when it becomes so easy to ‘keep in touch’ with someone by posting on their wall, dropping them a chat message etc, you can build up a false sense of maintaining a relationship, when in reality it wilts in the absence of more genuine contact.

Thank you Messenger, for giving us (particularly me) for so much memories.

Obsession On Numbers

I’m obsessed about numbers and figures. I can spend the day looking at charts, graphs and try to decipher the relationship that brings meaning to these data.

Each time I logged into the administrative panel of this blog, the first click is inevitably the stats column. It’s not comprehensive, but it’s not too shabby either. A simple breakdown on the traffic I have been getting (which, by the way, is a measly figure), which content is favoured by them and how they stumbled upon this site. It’s an interesting space to look at, for it allows me to gain an insight on who have been browsing my work and having this evidence alone propels me to produce even more work. It’s an assurance knowing I’m not just writing for myself, there’s actually someone out there that reads what I’m writing.

The obsession can sometimes be a bane. Rather than focusing on writing, I’d be more keen in digesting the numbers. It’s unhealthy. I write for many reasons, and keeping a blog to check the traffic certainly wasn’t in my thoughts at all.

So why worry and be carried away by this figure I can’t control. I blog because I want to, I write because it’s worth writing, I share something because I want the world to know. In myself, I already have an important audience. Having a sense of obligation to produce for myself and not give a second thought can be such a liberating and empowering realisation. 

It’s going to be tough not to check on the stats. But each time I think about this, I reminded myself it’s nothing but a mere distraction that hiders my progress.

The Ad What Will Make You Quit Smoking

It’s a simple and heart-warming campaign. Probably it won’t work on every single smoker out there. But I’m pretty sure everyone will look up, think about what’s happening.

The stick in their hands, why are they puffing their lives away. The moments wasted away could be better spent elsewhere – bringing their children out to the field to play, cooking a simple dinner for family, or just sitting down and enjoy the beautiful sunrise with their overworked wife.

Imagine smokers are deprived of all these simple pleasures, because of all the harmful toxins by inhaling cigarettes.

The advertisement is storytelling at its best. At the core is a believable story. We can resonate with the storyline, whether we are a smoker or not. We have a duty to protect our next generation from harm, hence we deter children from smoking.

At the same time, we don’t give a second thought about our own health. Ironic, isn’t it.

It sends a powerful message out there, not just to smokers but also to potential ones sitting on the fence on whether to take their first puff.

It triggers an emotional reaction so strong we sit up and take note. It makes us ponder and reflect on things which we wouldn’t have done otherwise.

Please Copy

“Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy, you will find yourself” – Yohji Yamamoto

When we were young, we are often encourage to draw, to write, to create. We looked into the sky and saw the flock of birds flying past, the ray of the sun penetrating through the windows and the sight of children happily jumping into the pool.

Back home, I drew these images down. I don’t suppose anyone could comprehend what were on it, but it matters to me. Because it is what i have experienced as part of my childhood. It will forever be locked inside memory, and nobody could unlock the pin and steal it away from me.

On ideas and inspirations

Lately, a lot of things are going through my mind. I have lots of projects I want to work on, lots of ideas for articles to write, and lots of books to finish off. I also came across many products and services that are expertly implemented, blending brilliant design with excellent functionality. I’m especially aware of how the design and execution of service like Instapaper works. Simple and minimal. From the default font to the background colour, from the layout to the design, all the design elements seem deliberately chosen with care. I also admire many apps, like the ease of creating a new item in Clear, and the colour differentiation from dark orange to a lighter shade to indicate the importance or date of creation. I also like how in Airendipity, you can remain anonymous and post your thoughts, and the motion of flying your plane is sliding it out to the horizon.

These are the little ideas, sparks, and inspirations I like. These little details matter, and I want to implement them for my own work.

But the world disapprove of copying

However, social norms dictate otherwise. When we copy, we are accused of lacking ideas. Lacking inspiration and aspiration to create something new. Can I find something that is truly original anymore? I doubt so.

The things we write, songs we sing, products we make, and services we provide all stem from a combination of experiences and influences we have acquire over the years of our existence. Just like we use ideas from various sources and implement them to become something we call our creation.

Imitate your hero

Every one of us has a role model. A superhero we can look up to and learn from. For me, that superhero is a sleepy fat cat call Garfield.

On the TV screen was this sleepy cat, his name is Garfield. He wasn’t particularly good at anything, and most times he was either lazing around or munching food. How did I come to like him, i can’t explain nor do I know the reason. He just happened to be the character that held my attention the most. I remembered religiously begging my parent to get me comic book of Garfield, to which they obliged. I wanted to create a character like Garfield to keep me company, so I have to draw it out. The problem was I didn’t know how to do it. So I went over to the kitchen drawer, hunted for the piece of baking paper and hurried off back to my room. Placing the comic book of Garfield over the baking paper, I started to trace over it. Slowly, the picture turned out to be half decent image of the fat cat.

Nice, I thought to myself.

So over time, I practised this act of drawing whenever I had a spare moment. Eventually, after casting aside what may looked like drawing of a mouse more than a fat cat, I can finally say I could draw a decent image of Garfield without the aid of tracing paper. The satisfaction was immense. That was my creation and I was proud of it.  It meant the world to me at that time. I had put the inspiration into practise and turned it into reality.

The simple process of creation

So the process of creation becomes something like this:

Copying–> Understanding–> Mastering

I outlined the shape, I understand the shade, and I finally master the strokes.

In our world we are living in, no one and nothing can be claimed to be truly original. If I ever hear someone whispering in my ears that something is original, I would just assume they haven’t seen something similar, or they are not aware the source of its origin.

As we progress and become more comfortable in our skills, we learn how to turn inspirations and combine ideas from diverse fields to call them our own.

Because every little steps involving copying.
Like the baby mimicking you picking your nose.

Four Years And Counting With iPhone 3G


 I don’t want to be pulled down into a cesspool of unnecessary consumerism and get a new device every year, just because I can.

Four years and counting with iPhone 3G. That’s not only a testament to the quality, it also inspires confidence that the product is manufactured to last.

The passing of time didn’t render the phone obsolete, it’s still a fine phone. Sluggish performance is to be expected, when the life cycle of smartphones these days hovers about 12 months or lesser.

With the abundance of new phones with tantalizing features wetting our appetite, there aren’t many out there who can resist the temptations to upgrade. It’s time to appreciate what we already have, evaluate its current value and put it into perspective.

The Slashing Game At Twitter

I’m never an active user of Twitter. I use it mainly as an outlet to stay in touch with the authors I like. So, like many others, I’m a passive user and Twitter is merely a platform for me to consume news. 

In the news lately are two services Twitter acquired over the years – Posterous and TweetDeck.

Less than a month after the announcement that Posterous will shut down its service, TweetDeck is the next casualty. The action is swift and decisive.

To that end, we are discontinuing support for our older apps: TweetDeck AIR, TweetDeck for Android and TweetDeck for iPhone. They will be removed from their respective app stores in early May and will stop functioning shortly thereafter.

With the direction Twitter is heading, and the control over third party apps, many developers are in line for similar fate.