Evaluating iPad as blogger’s only device

As I mentioned in my post about publishing a Paper.li online magazine that I’m running an experiment about using iPad as blogger’s only tool, from idea to publishing. I’m now going to share the results of the experiment, and the workflow I found suitable for my purposes, and working well together with an iPad.

Cause I’m lazy doing the actual write work I tried to figure out a workflow which minimizes the effort of the last push, and concentrates more on preparing beforehands. I’ve divided the flow into four phases: Phase 1 – collecting ideas, Phase 2 – gathering the material, Phase 3 – drafting and Phase 4 – publishing. It’s not that I always go through all four phases and then start again from phase one for another blog post, but I may have several posts cooking up simultaneously. For example I’m currently in the phase three, drafting, of this post when writing it first time, but I have other posts in phases one and two. In the next chapters I’m going through each phase detailed.

Phase 1 – Collecting Ideas

I usually might come up with an idea for a blog post any time and any place. I also tend to forget the idea in half a minute if I don’t write it down. There the iPad comes to rescue. After I bought the device, I’ve been carrying it around where ever I can, and even at home it usually follows me to the same room I happen to be in. So when ever my mind pops up an idea, I can easily write it down right away.

For storing ideas I use Evernote, where ideas can be saved as notes which can include text, images, audio and video. Evernote has an application for iPad which makes it more convenient to use than through the web service. Evernote allows tagging of notes with multiple tags to make them easy to find later. I use one note per one idea, tag it as “blog”, “idea” and with other suitable keywords which describe the content. For instance I used “publishing”, “iPad” and “Evernote” to tag the idea note of this blog post. When ever I feel I have some extra time, I pick any of the ideas and carry it on to the phase two.

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Phase 2 – Gathering the Material

Ideas which are carried to phase two, are the ones I feel most confident writing about. Also another criteria to be carried through is that I need to be convinced the ideas are worthy of spending time on finding the related resources and content. For saving the material, I also use Evernote. Usually when I bump into a good website, blog post or even a public email which relates to my upcoming blog post, I use the Evernote Web Clipper to save the resource for later use. I’ll tag it as the best I can, to make it easily findable later. Time spent for well thought tagging is paid back later with a multiplier.

When working with iPad, the Evernote Web Clipper is a life saver, but it needs a little gimmick to get it working with Safari. I used these instructions to have a fully working Web Clipper on Safari. This is the bit where I might cheat a bit, when considering the topic of this post. I also have web clippers in my PC browsers as well, so if I happen to bump into a must read resource while I’m sitting in front of my PC, I might clip it with a desktop version of the clipper. That still happens quite rarely since I have replaced 95% of my PC usage, with usage of iPad since I bought it. Fortunately also with these cases, All the clips will be synced into my Evernote account, which I can access later, and read the articles with my iPad.

Phase 3 – Drafting

Third phase of the flow starts when I think I have enough material to start drafting the post itself. As material I consider my own notes about the subject, related links and tips, photos and screenshots. Usually if I’m attaching screenshots as imagery in my post, I take them in the drafting phase if I can. This gives me most time to draft the architecture of the post, to know which kind of imagery I would like to attach.

If I’m able to take the screenshots with iPad, it’s dead easy once I got it. Pressing sleep + home button simultaneously takes the snap and saves it to your image stream. The native iPad photo app is perfectly capable of doing most of the editing work like cropping, enhancing and rotating. For resizing the image, you’ll need separate app, but I let WordPress app to do it for me when attaching the image to the draft.

The writing of the draft I do straight in the WordPress app for iOS. Only thing needed to do before starting to create the draft is to change the publish status setting into draft, as default, it will be published.

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Phase 4 – Publishing
As the final push, there is the actual publishing phase. This is the phase where I create the formatting of the post. The WordPress app has easy to use html interface which allows me to create bold, italic or quoted text. It also allows to create bulleted lists, hyperlinks, code formatting and some more functions I haven’t even needed yet. It has also possibility to preview the post. The preview window renders accurately how your post will look like when your blog’s theme has been applied, and all the formatting takes place.

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When I’m satisfied with the looks, I usually proof read it through a few times before changing the status to published.

Recap of iPad as the only tool

As I already mentioned, iPad has replaced most of my PC usage since it goes with me where ever I go. Also the christal sharp and clear retina display gives it most of the capabilities to work with text and images as well as one could with PC. Also I haven’t found a missing app for any purpose I’ve needed, and all the apps I’ve installed so far has been free. These qualities make the device sufficient for quite efficient workflow.

Of course every rose has its thorn, so does this. One quite annoying thing is when I’m editing text, and I need to manually place the cursor to any given point, I seem to always hit one row up or down. Another weakness is actually caused by me. I was cheapskate and bought the wifi only version. I don’t know if the problem is in the poor broadcasting of my Lumia hotspot, or poor wifi receiver in my iPad, but looks like it’s not possible to browse any online content with this combination, for example when traveling by bus. Luckily Evernote comes to save here too, I can write notes offline and Evernote syncs them online when ever it gets a working network connection again.

As a whole, there are much more positive than negative things, so I can recommend iPad for bloggers if you are still figuring out which tablet to buy, or even if tablets are useful for anything at all. I think they are.

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How To Become a Paper.li Publisher – Five Simple Steps

Matrixxreloaded is back after dead long silence, enhanced with a few gadgets. One of the most interesting gadget is an iPad, which I’m using right now to write this blog entry. At the same time I’m testing if this works as a blogger’s only tool. The subject I’m posting about is how to create an online newspaper using (free account of) Paper.li service. The service lets you aggregate news from several sources using keywords and hashtags to find content matching your theme. The first paper I created was Qtech, a slightly mobile biased paper about everything related to Qt technologies. The second paper I created was iPadTips, which I will be using as a reference in this article.

Step 1: Create Account

When you land into Paper.li site and end up creating a new account, you are given two options. You can login with either using your Twitter or Facebook account. The service assumes you have one of those accounts, and at least seemingly it doesn’t offer any alternative login method. The same account is used later when logging in after account creation.

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Step 2: Create New Paper

After you’ve created your account, your publisher info is drawn from the account you used when logging into paper.li. Now you are ready to create your first paper.

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You’re asked to fill in the name of the paper, subtitle and update frequency. I recommend to choose something short which really describes best the contents of your paper. Also subtitle should be short, descriptive and catchy. Don’t worry if you don’t come up with the perfect ones yet, you can change both name and the subtitle later. Next you can select update frequency from weekly, daily or even morning/evening editions.

Step 3: Find Article Sources

This is probably the most important step since what is a newspaper without its stories. There are three main categories for possible story sources:

  • handpicked news categories which include plenty of choices from existing online newspapers and web sites
  • your linked accounts, at first iteration they include only the one used when logging in
  • wild card search from social media including Twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube and RSS feeds

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The handpicked news categories are shown by default when you first see the find sources screen. Under My accounts you will see your linked accounts and can select your timeline, lists, saved searches etc. as a sources for your paper. Available source types vary between account types. By tapping the search field above enables you to find hits from social media using keywords and hashtags. Add any of the result feeds as a source by hitting the plus icon on the right. If you are satisfied with the sources and hit next, the first edition of the paper is created. It takes a while to process all the sources, but the content should become visible within a few minutes. When you see the content, you will probably see articles that doesn’t fit into your theme, or even whole categories which have improper or even offensive content, depending of your sources and possibility for multiple interpretations of your keywords and hashtags. Don’t be alarmed, you’re the only one who will be notified about this release, so hardly no one can see the content yet, even though it’s public. In the next two steps we will go through how to finetune the content and remove improper material.

Step 4: Finetune

Now it’s time to hit the gear icon on the top right corner of the page. You will be taken into settings.

  • The Settings tab lets you revisit the paper title, subtitle and update frequency, if you didn’t get them right when creating the paper.
  • The Content tab lets you add new sources or remove existing ones, if you are not satisfied by the contents coming from a particular source. It also lets you to drag the paper.li publish button to your browser’s bookmark bar to let you easily manually add articles to your paper. If you are using iPad like me, you’ll need to hack a bit to get the bookmarklet into Safari. I used instructions from this blog post, but replacing the evernote javascript snippet with this. In this tab you can also select the language of the paper. The default is all languages, which had the impact that half of the articles of my paper ended up being of japanese language. Also here you can add or remove subcategories inside your paper. I found out only technology and education categories offered suitable content for my paper, and removed all other categories. Video and image categories would have been proper if I was going to publish a porn magazine which I wasn’t. If most of the contents of a single category is ok, step 5 can still save you and you don’t need to remove the whole category. Experiment with the categories and update the paper to see the changes.
  • Blacklist tab you don’t need yet, I’ll tell you more on step 5
  • Promotion & Emails tab let’s you select how your paper is promoted. Email is always sent for subscribers every time the new issue is published, but in addition, you can promote it by letting the service automatically tweet about updates if you have linked your or logged in with your Twitter account. You can also invite friends to subscribe by sending email. Only notable downside in the free account is that you can’t review your paper when the new edition is published before the notifications about the edition are sent to subscribers, so you’re better be there to curate your paper when the automatic update occurs.
  • Appearance tab lets you modify the looks you your paper. Thumbnail image, paper background image or color, color theme and font are customizable. For my iPadTips magazine, I used an image of my iPad desktop as thumbnail image.

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  • background I left white since I like black/color on white most, but you can experiment with different background, color theme and font combinations. The service offers you a few handpicked color themes which are known to have good contrast on white, but especially if you are using dark background color or image, you could try out one of these websafe colors.

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  • On Discussion corner tab you can select if you allow commenting or not
  • Add units – only for Pro account
  • On Stats tab you will see various stats about your paper like the amount of views or subscribers. Also you’ll see how many times your blog has been embedded inside another website in past 30 days

Step 5: Curate

This step let’s you iron out the last wrinkles in the quality of selected articles in your paper. You can delete posts, block persons or websites in edit mode. Blocked websites and people will appear in the Blacklist tab in the settings, where it’s possible to unblock them. Click the Edit mode button in the top right corner to make the last changes.

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Now you can hit the X mark on any article which doesn’t seem to fit in the theme. If you find out the topic is completely wrong, you can block the whole website. If you think the author doesn’t provide material suitable for your paper, you can block the author. If you think the article is slightly not suitable for your theme, you can only delete the post and see if the website/author can deliver something more suitable next time, it’s your call. If you are satisfied with the content, you can hit Done editing button and you’re all ready to start promoting your publication through social services of your liking.

If you have created paper.li papers, or ever happen to create one (possibly using these steps), I would be glad to read it, please leave the paper subject and url in the blog comments.