One of my favorite people in the world is Patrick Rhone. He introduced me to other ways to use Backpack through his thoughtful and well-written GTD white paper, has one of my daily-read Tumblrblogs and we’ve developed a wonderful friendship.Two of our common loves are: 1) Anything Apple-related, and 2) Small, smart applications that run intuitively and unobtrusively. To this end, and adding yet another RSS feed to my overworked Google Reader, Patrick has started Minimal Mac – a site ” inspired by a clean, uncluttered, distraction free computing experience” (I paraphrased).
Applications already highlighted are productivity apps Notational Velocity and TaskMate. I know from our conversations that Patrick has a backlog of apps to highlight, but he’s also looking for recommendations and submissions, so reach out to him on Twitter (@patrickrhone) or email patrickrhone at gmail dot com.
Right after I posted my Q&A with Morfunk’s David Kaneda a couple of months ago (I’m still a big Outpost fan!), I received a great outreach email from Overcommitted, telling me about Ember. Ember brings Campfire (the 37signals group chat application) to the iPhone – and fills a huge gap in my own productivity needs. I’ve been using the new version of Ember for about a week (in fact, a lot of the follow-up questions were discussed in Campfire), and I have to say it’s a noticeable improvement over V.1 in speed and feature set.
Ember features include:
• Streamlined user interface
• Multiple accounts: access all your Campfire accounts from one client
• Chat transcripts
• Inline browser
• Infinite scroll back to view previous messages in room
• Live image previews right within the chat room
• Inline viewing of popular file formats, Excel, Word, Powerpoint…
• Unlimited chat rooms: access to all your Campfire rooms
• Take and upload photos directly into Ember using the iPhone built-in camera
• SSL accounts are fully supported
Overcommitted is three guys who completely personify the Getting Real philosophy. Like Morfunk, these three guys, Phil Cohen, Jonathan Younger and Harold Emsheimer, hold down day jobs and build their own business (remotely, they all live in different states/places) by working 6 days a week on what they love. In fact, they built Ember by working from 5:30 to 7am Mondays thru Saturdays for 6 weeks. I was really impressed by the way they initially contacted me and continued to talk to me about Ember and it’s growth. Also – any company that uses Abbott and Costello to illustrate how their app works absolutely gets my money.
> Tell me a bit about Overcommitted (best name ever, btw)- how did you start?
Overcommitted started with the simple desire to create applications for the iPhone that we wanted to use ourselves. The three of us have worked together for several years as part of a Rails development team in the Biotech sector. We made the decision earlier this year to finally jump into development for the iPhone and the rest is pretty much history. As far as the name goes, all three of us tend to be overcommitted in anything we do. Knowing this, my wife Brigit suggested we go with the name Overcommitted.
> Pricing apps has been extremely controversial – How did you decide what to price Ember?
It’s going to sound pretty simplistic, but we looked at what we would pay for it and priced it accordingly. Ember isn’t a one-off game or an app that people will use for 30 days and never again. The people that use Ember use it quite a bit, including us, so we priced based on that.
> The reviews for Ember have been pretty much fantastic – and I was impressed by your outreach efforts prior to Ember’s release. How difficult is it getting Ember noticed on the AppStore? And did having sale pricing for a week work?
It’s pretty difficult. Most people hear about Ember through non-AppStore channels, things like the Signal vs. Noise blog, Twitter and word of mouth recommendations. Ember’s sales seem to happen in chunks. We have a theory that this might be due to small teams that end up purchasing Ember all at once as they sign up for Campfire. Having the sale price brought an expected bump in number of purchasers, but the overall revenue was pretty much on par with our normal weekly sales.
> How do you guys use Campfire and why was that the app you wanted to focus on first?
None of us live in the same city and rarely get the chance to work together face to face. Campfire has been invaluable for helping us keep in touch across time zones and work schedules. We use it to discuss iterations for the various apps we’re working on, show sketches and talk through code. We developed Ember first because we knew we could get immediate use for it and felt other iPhone development teams could benefit.
> Tell me a bit about the development process – How closely were you able to work with the 37signals team? Was everything you needed in the API?
Once we decided to develop a Campfire client, we looked at the existing unofficial Campfire client API to see what was available and what would be involved in communicating with Campfire. Being an unofficial API, it’s not so much an API as it is a reverse engineering of what the browser client is using to communicate with Campfire. It’s mostly regular expression matching of HTML tags and other text. That being said, it hasn’t been terrible to work with. We’ve had a couple issues where the content we were expecting to get back from the service has been different because some cellular carriers reformat the content before sending it to the client, and because of that, it was breaking our regular expression matching. Overall, it has worked out really well. Wanting to come in under the radar, we decided to keep all development of Ember under wraps until it was just about completed. We didn’t work with the 37signals team at all until the product was pretty much completed.
> Any plans to take advantage of some of the iPhone 3.0 features, like Push Notifications?
In Ember 2.0, we’re using a lot of the new iPhone 3.0 APIs under the hood which has saved us quite a bit of time over what we were doing in Ember 1.0. The biggest feature by far that we’re taking advantage of is Core Data. Without Core Data, we would not have attempted to add Transcripts or loading previous messages. Obviously push notifications would be a big feature to take advantage of but we are not yet ready to comment on those yet.
> One of the big challenges I’ve seen on the AppStore has been supporting applications – we covered this with Morfunk – how is Overcommitted dealing with support issues?
Support is pretty manageable for us at the moment. We actually enjoy when someone contacts us through support because it gives us the opportunity to hear directly from our users. Like many developers, we’ve gone the route of using Get Satisfaction and email as our support system, which has worked pretty well for us so far.
> You just submitted a pretty substantial update to the AppStore -what’s included? Any new features?
We’re really excited about this release of Ember. It has been completely rebuilt under the hood to take advantage of Core Data. This provides better overall performance, and has laid the ground work for some additional features. The biggest feature in this release is multiple account support. We’ve planned to release this from day one, and we’re happy to have it out in Ember 2.0. Along with multiple accounts, we’ve also included support for Transcripts. Other notable changes in this release include a streamlined interface based on feedback from our users as well as inline browsing.
> What’s next for Overcommitted?
We have several applications in the works at different stages. Nothing we can comment on directly but we can say they won’t be in the productivity category of application.
Ember works on iPhones/iPod Touches running version 3.0 software or above and is available on the iTunes AppStore here.
It was love at first to-do list. Not only did the system make complete sense to me, it allowed me to delegate and followup easily with people, and focus on just getting stuff done. GTD before GTD. They had great seminars and consultants who held workshops onsite and off to train – I worked for (at least) 3 companies who brought teams of FC consultants in – and bought tons of supporting material each year for their entire staff. And – for the total girl in me – there was shopping. I could go into there free-standing stores and buy themed planning pages (like Monticello, Compass or Millennium, which came in a keepsake tin), planners in different materials (I bought a Italian leather planner in Apple green at the height of my obsession) and all kinds of accessories that allowed me to make this system personal. Which I did for over 10 years and a bunch of different jobs. They were certainly the company that defined “Balanced Living” and “Productivity in the Workplace”.
Then things started to get less easy as more of my life ported to the Web (that would be Web 1.0 for those in the kiddie seats). The planner software FC released was buggy and expensive and didn’t print that well – as we were all still killing trees. My “book” started to be a point of teasing from my design/developer team and I started looking at other solutions, reluctantly, that would allow all of us to collaborate together and keep the team/projects on track as a whole. I found 43Folders, GTD and Merlin Mann as enablers of my productivity application/workflow addiction. Once Basecamp came out, my team (and I) never looked back.
Today, I use Field Notes to capture any idea or to-do, etc. before I enter it all in the appropriate 37signals product. Easy – and it works for all of my needs, work projects, personal projects, online/offline and mobile.
I still keep my old FC planners and pages – more of a record of who I was at that time than for any real work value. And I do check in on the website from time to time and am tempted by all of the fun new toys. But I’m over the new and different now – I’m totally focused on what just works and getting things done – a system that’s working for my life today – online. offline and on my iPhone.
One of the most popular posts of 2008 on this blog was the one I wrote on TaskPaper in February. So I was excited when I was notified by a comment here that TaskPaper 2.0 was out.
What I love about TaskPaper is that it’s a truly simple application that lets you get things done and out of the way quickly (and without a lot o “system”). It also is formatted in text, so any text editor on any platform can be used to edit these lists.New in TaskPaper 2.0:
* Quick Entry Window
* Feels a lot faster!
I’ve used the new version for most of this week and found it extremely easy to fit into my workflow. As a GTDgirl – I love the themes, even though I use the basic look and feel (to keep distractions at bay).
Take a look at this screencast for an overview of how TaskPaper works.
Hog Bay Software has done a great job with this upgrade on a terrific application. The developers are also incredibly responsive on support issues. All in all – well worth $29.95!
I’ve been working with crayon for just over two months now. It’s been a significant change for me from before – not the least of which is working from home.
At crayon we use a number of web-based tools to stay organized and also to keep in touch – many I’ve talked about on this blog before.
* Basecamp – we use it for project management and have just started to share with our clients. It took a full day to reorganize the existing account when I started – I also put together a couple of screencasts for our team to learn how to use it. I’m also planning to do a couple for our clients so that they feel comfortable using it.
* Backpack – we use this as our own intranet. Anything internal (not project-based) goes here. This has been really successful in terms of adoption – everyone has been adding to pages as well as adding their own.
* Highrise – we’re using this for our CRM solution and to track our new business process. As of right now, only the crayonistas involved with new business have access.
* ooVoo – (disclosure – ooVoo is a crayon client). We use ooVoo for text and video chat throughout the day to keep in touch. I’m looking to incorporate Campfire instead – less interruptions, more work.
* Google Docs – we share docs that we use as a company – status reports, contact lists, etc.
* iPhones – most of us at crayon have iPhones for use on both Macs (me) and Windows (everyone else). I’ve written up for the team how to get our 37signals apps on the home page as well as the different productivity apps I test/use.
* Twitter – we love Twitter. Most of us are using it regularly, the other are just starting to add it into our workflow. Each of us seem to have very different networks for the most part, as well as some overlap.
These are the tools we use at crayon everyday. With a virtual company – communication and organization takes on even more importance. These services work for us today, and as a lot of these are new to everyone, it’ll take a bit of time for complete adoption and the level of comfort that I have – something to keep an eye on.
I’ve been using Bare Bones Yojimbo for over a year now – I’ve enjoyed using it and it’s really fit into my workflow – especially when the script that sent URL’s to Pukka (my Del.ic.ious client) and to Yojimbo, worked (it’s been broken since the last Pukka update). It wasn’t a huge deal, being only one of the many things I used the product for.
But somewhere along the way, my needs have changed.
For the last few months I’ve been hearing about Evernote. CC Chapman has a great write up here and Rachael Murphy’s has one here. But I was really trying to keep away – I didn’t want to interrupt my workflow with another diversion.
Then came the iPhone App Store and the outpouring of productivity applications.
Now, with the iPhone, I can easily add any information – pictures, audio, snapshots and text notes – right to Evernote. Evernote syncs between my desktop, my iPhone and the online Evernote web application – everything current, everything easily accessible.
I’m still working on how I’ll completely integrate this into my workflow – I want to get my Backpack pages in and work on someway of automatically saving documents to Evernote with the ease of their web clipping FireFox extension or bookmarklet. But I’m really enjoying the experience so far, and while it’s hard to let go of Yojimbo, it seems like Evernote has the right features at the right time.
In the last few months, my life has changed significantly. My company was acquired in December and our corporate structure is significantly different. I have a number of accounts assigned to me as well as being part of the senior strategy team on many of the others. It’s exciting but exhausting – and I need to be able to organize everything and hopefully share among the necessary teams. All of whom I work with remotely.
So I’ve been using OmniFocus since last May – I adore this app and the Omni team. The effort and enthusiasm that went into building this application was infectious, the whole beta process was an incredibly collaborative and enjoyable experience. I very much love this application.
But with my new world order, I needed to shake this up a bit.
I was at SXSWi and saw Jason Fried’s keynote on “What We’ve Learned at 37Signals” (side note – who at SXSWi thought it was smart to schedule JF’s keynote at the same time of John Gruber’s panel? Bad, bad scheduling!). It was the best panel of the day (for me – the whole conference) and it reminded me how much I love their products and how much I enjoy using them.
Backpack is a particular favorite. I have used Backpack when it was really just a great personal organizer – all of the bit and pieces of my life went in it. In fact, my friend Patrick Rhone and I met through our shared love of this product (and his Productivity White Paper – where Backpack is a major factor). In the last few months, Backpack has gone through a significant upgrade and it was time to look at the product again.
Backpack is now a multiuser solution – great for small team collaboration (which is what I do – many small teams, much collaboration).
* Multiuser – All team members can log into a single account
* Calendar – Users can log into a single calendar with additional controls as to who can see what
* Reminders – messages can be sent by email or text to many users as well as yourself (love this feature!)
* Messages – People can post messages and can also receive comments
* Newsroom – (my favorite new feature) gives you an update on all recent activity in your Backpack.
So I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks and really enjoying it. But for a couple of projects I need a bit more control. So I upgraded my Basecamp account and have started to use that for some larger projects.
I’ve used Basecamp for about 3 years – first with my prior company and now with Zeta. What I love about Basecamp is that I can set milestones for my projects, assign to do’s, messages and use the system to email all appropriate team members.
What’s great also is that there’s a Open bar at the top where I can switch from Basecamp to Backpack (and to Highrise – but that’s another post). So according what I’m working on, I can switch between the accounts I’m using to track those projects.
But there was one more thing that I was missing – I’m traveling a lot, in a ton of meetings and pitches and also need the ability to shut everything and everyone out when I can to get some stuff done. But I don’t want to miss anything or give people the impression that I can’t be reached.
So a couple of days ago I added Campfire – and as the website says, it’s iPhone compatible!
Campfire lets me set up “rooms” according to need – projects, conversations, etc. I use these to chat with my teams, share links and screenshots on projects, etc. It also integrates with Basecamp – so I can set up these rooms for each of those projects. It also allows me to participate when I want to – not always immediately.
So for the first time in a few months I feel like I’m more in control – not just organized, but working with my teams more efficiently. And my teams have been very supportive in trying these tools out and participating. While I don’t have the ability to block off time each day to get work done (too many meetings – grrr) without interruption, I can track what needs to be done and get things done before and after the “workday”.
I’ll track our success (hopefully!) and our challenges and will report on them here. BTW – I’m not the only person struggling with these issues right now – see the related link below.
Vitalist: An online GTD app
Vitalist is an online GTD app that allows you to set-up a online productivity system in minutes (The sign-up page reminds me A LOT of 37Signals).
After sign-in, you’re at the Dashboard. On the left is a menu that has the Inbox, Actions, Waiting, Someday, Ticklers, Reference and Search. Another Menu has “My Projects”, “My Contacts” and “My Shares” (Yup, for collaboration!). The main component of the Dashboard is where the Actions, Contexts, Overdue Actions (in red 0- I love this!) and Upcoming Actions.
I’ll be watching this in the next few months.