All your emo are belong to Russia

Remember Livejournal? All your angst posts about poignant Vagrant Records band lyrics? Selfies (before we called them that) of your pixie cut? Or crucial fades? Stupid surveys…  It’s safe to say that it played a major role in my social life as young adult years and I have most fond memories of that place.

I’d always known that Livejournal became super popular in Russia sometime after I stopped frequenting the site regularly. I sort of left it at that, assuming it was one of those quirky Russian internet things. Turns out it might be a lot more sinister.

The latest episode of – the excellent podcast – ReplyAll tells an interesting story of what happened with Livejournal and Russia.

Spoiler alert: nearly 10 years after its purchase by a Russian company, Livejournal’s servers finally relocated to Russian soil. It’s not much of a stretch to assume that the FSB and friends have direct access to any of your old content that might still be living there….

Links for Today: Passwords

Today I am reviving an old blogging tradition of posting some interesting or useful links with little or no context. Today’s topic: Passwords.

4 fatal flaws in deterministic password managers
Sync-less password managers are trending again, Tony Arcieri breaks down some reasons why they suck.

NIST’s New Password Rules
For developers: I pull this article from the link above, there are a few counterintuitive suggestions in this doc.

TLDR – Just use 4 easy to remember words

Collective

For various reasons (mainly economic and geographic) Winnipeg is a Freelance town. Freelance is a topic I write about a lot in this blog these days, writing is one of the ways I deal with the stress of economic uncertainty brought about by freelance employment. The feast v. famine nature of freelancing is not for the faint of heart and it’s compounded by the isolation of working alone.

On paper, I should not be nearly as successful as I am. I don’t do any overt marketing, I’ve never done a cold call (though, I have cold tweeted) and I rarely respond to job board postings. Yet I’m able to get by based on a very small network of trusted connections. I don’t write this to boast about my good fortune. I’m writing this because it feels like I’m doing it wrong, it feels like the bottom is going to drop out any day now, like the other shoes is going to drop, it scares the hell out of me and I feel like there should be a better way.

The Problem: Marketing

The cause of the famine periods of the feast/famine cycle could be boiled down to lack of marketing. When you’re dealing with an excessive amount of work during a feast it can be hard to set aside time to work on marketing, which only leads to compound the famine. In practice, this means that your work has to speak for itself and this is obviously less than ideal.

There are two fundamental marketing problems for an independent professional.

The first is finding new clients. The traditional solution for finding clients is the amorphous “networking.” It’s a term that can encompass any number of things, including “social networking” and Christmas parties. But I think if you asked most professionals what networking looks like, they’d describe something like an informal meetup group or a more formal group like BNI. In my experience, this type of networking sucks, the signal to noise ratio of quality to shit leads, is totally out of whack. As someone who cares more about quality over quantity, bad leads are unacceptable.

The second marketing problem is branding. Branding is a huge topic that I’m not super well versed in, but in this context I simply mean an identity that communicates who you are and what you do; that servers to indirectly attracts new potential clients. In my experience, building a personal brand is really, really hard. Building an audience for that brand is even harder. Contrary to the opinions of pro bloggers and advice gurus, building a legitimate personal brand on a national (let alone international) scale is unattainable for most individuals. I guarantee that every personal brand with more than a few thousand followers on the internet is the product of a team of people (but that is a topic for another day).

The Solution: A Collective

For a long time I’ve had this thought that something like an artists collective should exist for all the various trades that go in to making web stuff: coders, designers, writers, etc. I’m sure that if you’ve gone to art school you are familiar with the concept. As someone who did not go to art school, I had to look it up to make sure I’m talking about the right thing.

Wikipedia defines an artist collective as:

…an initiative that is the result of a group of artists working together, usually under their own management, towards shared aims. The aims of an artist collective can include almost anything that is relevant to the needs of the artist, this can range from purchasing bulk materials, sharing equipment, space or materials, through to following shared ideologies, aesthetic and political views … Sharing of ownership, risk, benefits, and status is implied, as opposed to other, more common business structures with an explicit hierarchy of ownership such as an association or a company.

The main difference between a web workers collective vs. traditional artists collective is the need for supplies, physical materials and the pooled capital required to buy these things. As virtual workers we have very little overhead in terms of supplies and equipment; and little need for physical meeting space. That said, I there is a lot of value in share aesthetics and shared ideologies regarding the web as a vehicle for free expression.

I see a formal collective as a potentially a great solution to the problems of marketing skills and work individually. By putting intentional thought into a group identity, then acting as a group, displaying work as a group and representing the collective when interacting with the community, these artist collectives implicitly marketing themselves. They build a reputation for a certain type of work and the collective audience of each individual member props up the group.

Granted the economics of being a professional sculpture or painter aren’t exactly the same as the economics of building websites. But I don’t think they’re that far removed either. At the end of the day, you need clients who value your work.

Thoughts?

I’m far from an expert on the subject of collectives. Perhaps is a non-sensical idea. Perhaps something like a co-operative would be more fitting.

I am interested in hearing from other web professionals. As well as people who’d purchase the services of a web professional.

Would you value being a part of something like this? Would you be encouraged to hire a member of a collective?

PS. The sub-text of this post is my belief that a idea of traditional “company” is a bad fit for the web and a worse fit for the way that people work in the 21st century.

Photo credit: Victor Grigas.

Nylas, an email client for 2016

I have been experiencing an unusual burst of adventure and excitement surrounding some of the tools I use. Over the past week and a half I have been trying out Nylas N1 as my daily email client.

Nylas is an open source, extensible email client. It follows the recent software development trend of editors like Sublime Text and Atom. The app focuses on core functionality and relies on the community to add features and visual themes. As a developer you can build the app yourself and use it for free, but you’re locked out of some of the paid functional. So, I signed up for the free trial to give it a full shot.

Nylas has three features I was most interested in:

1. Social Sidebar

When you open an email, the right-hand view pulls up social info for the sender. Including their Twitter picture and other social links. I thought this would be kind of cool and useful. However, I ended up ignoring it entirely.

2. Read Reciepts

Back in the bad old days of Outlook Express (and beyond), you were able to send a “read receipt” to your recipient. IIRC this depended on a proprietary (or non-standard) attachment. The recipient would have to acknowledge the read receipt, then an email would be send back to you in the background and your local copy of OE would process it and produce a “read” checkmark somewhere in the UI. A horribly Kludgy and inefficient process!

Nylas handles read receipts with a server-side process, similar to the way Mail Chimp, etc track opens and clicks. It’s totally seamless.

I found this to be a compelling, albeit creepy feature. My main complain is that the there was no in-app way to disable the notification. Though, seeing someone open your email immediately after sending it, then not hearing back from them (ever!) is also horribly disheartening.

3. Snooze/Send Later

Prior to Nylas, my email client (both on desktop and mobile) has been Google Inbox, prior to that I was using Mailbox. A key feature with both clients was “snooze,” it allows you to basically resend an email to yourself at a later date (or location). My stress level surrounding email decreased 1000% when I started using snooze, I can’t live without it.

I had assumed that Nylas’ snooze feature would sync with Google Inbox’s snooze. Unfortunately they don’t, so Inbox on my phone had no knowledge of the snoozes I’d set in Nylas. Bummer.

Send later is sort of the opposite feature to snooze. It’s a great way to compose an email to a client at midnight and have it automatically send during regular business hours, for example. In the past I’d used Boomerang to send later with gmail. I had been missing the feature since Boomerang is not compatible with Inbox. Nylas’ send later works as advertised. Bonus.

Conclusion

Nylas is good. It’s been a long time since a decent alternative has entered the email client arena. I recommend you give it a try.

Unfortunately, there’s one big issue. The search, it just doesn’t seem to work right. I found myself switching back to inbox to search almost every time.

And there are a few other minor issues that will prevent me from using it.

  • It’s slow. I found significant lag between issuing a command and it actually being sent to the server.
  • Emails are unsorted. I’ve grown quite accustom to the way inbox groups email by day. Nylas just shows one big ugly list.
  • Minor email rendering issues. Sometimes emails appeared to be super wide and off the screen.
  • Lack of enhanced email. Google Inbox shows useful snippets for certain types of emails (orders, receipts, newsletters, etc)
  • Other minor UI issues. Various parts of the UI seemed a little unrefined. These issues varied somewhat depending on the theme I was trying, leading me to wonder if the theme API is buggy.
  • Read Receipts, snooze and send later are all paid features. It’s hard to argue that these features combined are not enough to justify $9/mo and since they rely on Nylas’ servers they couldn’t really exist without paid support.

These are all fairly minor, I know. But for me they add up to a deal breaker.