I’ve had the honor to publish a few articles in Linux Format, also known as LXF, the UK’s surviving print Linux magazine. I’ve subscribed to it for a few years now, but the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc for overseas delivery (among other things). My issues have been appearing in my mailbox in seemingly random order.

This week I received the October 2020 issue #268 with BUILD A SMART HOME OFFICE on the cover. Inside was a small, but pleasant surprise. (Note: I may disappoint you with the link; you’ll see a list of the stories, but can’t read them if you’re not a subscriber.)

On the first page of every LXF issue, the five guys (yes, I’m afraid they’re all men) who write most of the magazine’s content answer that month’s “Who We Are” question. This issue’s question was about top tips or tools to help readers to work smarter.

I smiled at Nick Peers’ recommendation:

If, like me, your thoughts and inspirations vanish as quickly as they appear, you need some way of getting them down on (virtual) paper. And what better tool than Joplin (https://joplinapp.org). which ended my years-long quest for a note-taking tool that does it all? Don’t believe me? Check out our tutorial in LXF260…

Nick doesn’t have anywhere near the space to include every critical detail, but I smiled because I wrote the bloody tutorial!

Now a close reading of this little blurb doesn’t say explicitly that my tutorial persuaded him to try Joplin, thus ending “my years-long quest for a note-taking tool that does it all.” But I’m still going to believe that it did.

What is Joplin?

So what is Joplin? Well, it’s a few things:

  • An open-source replacement for the commercial note-taker Evernote
  • A place to write down all those brilliant ideas you have in your head, but can never seem to act on
  • A Markdown editor
  • A place to store interesting things you find online, and access with any device you have

Joplin imports your Evernote notebooks after you export them. If your favorite browser supports extensions, Joplin will let you save web pages and articles.

Using Joplin

Here’s the default screen:

Editing screen for the Joplin open-source notetaking app.
Joplin makes it easy to take notes and store them.

You can organize your notes into Notebooks any way you like. Everything is searchable in the search bar at the top of the second column where your note titles live. The editor shows text with Markdown markings showing formatting. If you don’t know Markdown, use the standard text-editor toolbar at the top. Joplin then renders your notes in HTML on the right.

If you don’t need to see both views, press Ctrl+L to toggle that view. If you love to configure software so it’s just right, there’s Tools > Options (or Ctrl+,).

Joplin runs on Linux, Windows, Mac, Android and iOS, so you should be able to take notes and read them everywhere. To do that, however, you need to store them in the cloud. Joplin currently supports NextCloud, Dropbox and OneDrive. Set up your cloud account in Joplin, and click Synchronize to send your notes there.

That’s the quick tour. If you can’t get a copy of Linux Format #260, the Joplin website can help you get started. The Support forum is really good too.

If you have a favorite note-taking app, tell me about it in the Comments.

I’ve got a new post up at the WPMU blog: How to Add Medium’s Most Popular Features to WordPress. In this story, you’ll learn about themes and plugins that can make your WordPress site look a bit like Medium, and aim to replicate some of their sharing features. Medium itself offers a WordPress plugin that will allow this post to appear on its platform (click the link below to see it). You may see more of those tools, or at least the effects of same, here in the coming weeks.

Logos for Medium.com

It seems like I’m now on a tear comparing these two platforms (see my last two posts). But this is a pretty important issue, to my mind, for the reasons laid out on those last two posts. But then there’s this idea of Medium’s being just easier than WordPress for everyday, non technically oriented writers. That’s not entirely wrong, but perhaps the real consideration is that Medium isn’t sure what their future looks like, either. That’s the nature of a for-profit startup that doesn’t make money. As free software effectively owned by its community, WordPress’ future stretches as long into the future that people want to use it.

You have to make your own decisions, of course. If you have questions, feel free to comment here, or fill out the contact form for a private conversation.

What do you like about Medium? What do you like about WordPress? Is there a love/hate relationship with either site (or both)? All worth thinking about — and discussing.

This afternoon, I was over at Twitter spreading the word about WordCamp Waukesha (later this month!) and noticed that “Medium” was trending. Curious, I clicked to discover a bunch of stories in the tech press about the blog site founded by Ev Williams was laying off a third of its workforce! This was a surprise, and I said so (sort of):

The extra commentary that made Medium trending was about what you would expect: gloom and doom for another high-flying tech company. It’s a standard theme in the tech media world: Rises and falls are bread-and-butter stories. The “mogul goes bust” is as interesting as the “making of a mogul.” Since layoffs are still unusual (if not exactly rare) in tech companies, especially smaller ones like Medium, today’s events looked like the beginning of the end to a lot of people.

When the music’s over, turn out the lights … or not?

Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter.
Evan Williams, co-founder of Twitter and Medium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Williams’ comment that ad-driven web content was a broken model got most of the attention, probably deservedly so. Not exactly a secret to any publisher these days. Ads never fully supported newspapers, and that whole thing has gotten worse. But as the media industry endlessly consolidates, and commercial television becomes ever more dependent on the corporations who fund them, and so many bottom-feeders and click-bait purveyors dominate the commercial web… well, you’re going to get the kind of content that they want (including dreadfully run-on sentences).

Later, I read Ev’s full announcement. Actually, he described this situation much better than I did (if you ignore the passive voice parts):

Upon further reflection, it’s clear that the broken system is ad-driven media on the internet.It simply doesn’t serve people. In fact, it’s not designed to.The vast majority of articles, videos, and other “content” we all consume on a daily basis is paid for — directly or indirectly — by corporations who are funding it in order to advance their goals. And it is measured, amplified, and rewarded based on its ability to do that. Period. As a result, we get…well, what we get. And it’s getting worse.

What really stuck out most for me were the ones he followed up that quote with (emphasis mine):

We decided we needed to take a different — and bolder — approach to this problem. We believe people who write and share ideas should be rewarded on their ability to enlighten and inform, not simply their ability to attract a few seconds of attention. We believe there are millions of thinking people who want to deepen their understanding of the world and are dissatisfied with what they get from traditional news and their social feeds. We believe that a better system — one that serves people — is possible. In fact, it’s imperative.

So, we are shifting our resources and attention to defining a new model for writers and creators to be rewarded, based on the value they’re creating for people.

Hey, there are still idealists in the world! It will be interesting to see if this happens. As a professional writer, I’m all for paying us what we’re worth (that’s another unusual happening in our corner of the world). I look forward to seeing what Medium comes up with as far as that goes. As I noted, however, there’s a more important lesson here: If you’re a writer (or creative person of any sort) who wants to make a living at this craft, you really need a place on the web that you can call your own.

WordPress: A writer’s room of one’s own

So it comes back to what drove me to Twitter this afternoon in the first place: letting people know about the first WordCamp Waukesha. I won’t be there on Friday, January 27th, but I know that the WordPress community of southeastern Wisconsin is a helpful and friendly lot. You should go if you can.

As I type this on January 4, 2017, I am marking my 11th anniversary as a WordPress user. While I haven’t done much lately at Notes from the Metaverse, I haven’t completely given up on commenting there on tech topics. I use WordPress on this site because it’s a solid platform and easy to use. The fact that it’s free and open source software is important too.

No matter what platform you use, whether you build your site like I have, or hire someone to do it, the real question for every writer is whether you have a place where every bit of content is there because you want it there. And you can keep that content (or toss it) as you wish.

I like Medium, both as a reader and a writer. Heck, you may be reading this post on Medium now! I’ve even pointed to several pieces that help you use Medium effectively as a writer:

I used to say that every time I went to Google Plus, I came away smarter. I didn’t know that Medium had that as a goal, but that’s something I learned today too. But the site still belongs to the Medium Corporation. Today might be a harbinger of eventual doom for the site, or the beginning of a new day over there. But if all your writing is there, think about what happens if doomsday comes.

Do you publish on Medium? What do you think of the changes today? Have you made a firm decision not to have a website? I’d really like to hear your reasons. Comment away!