MATTEO DALL'OMBRA

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The Power Of The Cloud

August 31st, 2012

I know that probably I’m not saying anyting new, but I would like to spend few words about the power of the cloud and how it affects my workflow.

In the recent months, I’ve started moving as much content as possible away from a physical disk and into the cloud. Of course there are some tasks that still require the full power of a desktop/laptop machine
(video/audio/photo editing), but those are not in my workflow everyday. So it makes sense for me to try to move on the cloud.

The first thing I need to tell you now is what my day looks like (when I’m
not in the office): I write. A lot. Even if I don’t publish everything, you can rest assured that I spend the majority of my free time writing. It can be a draft for a new blog post (either here or on NewsTouch), a new idea for a possible long story, a short poem (yes I write also short poems) or anything else that comes to my mind.

So, because writing words is my “second job”, I mostly need a blank canvas that I can fill. Since I don’t want to rely too much on paper and ink because they can betray you at any time, I need some sort of digital solutions. The other big requisite is that I need to have this canvas always available no matter where I am or which device I am using.

In the past year, I’ve explored a huge variety of combinations and I think I’ve now come to end of this incredibly hard quest.

No matter which programs I’ll be listing here, there are two elements which are always present in my equations: Dropbox and IFTTT.com.

If you’re reading this blog you should be savvy enough to know what those two services are but if you don’t I’ll briefly explain both. Dropbox is the super famous personal cloud systems that gives you 2GB of free space (that you can expand in many different ways, click here to discover how) where you can store everything you want. Its magic is that the moment you make some changes to a file, the new version is immediately available across all your linked device. I currently use Dropbox on my Mac (where you have a folder in which you can drop everything you want to “cloudify”), on my iPhone, on my iPad and through the web client.

This is central for me because all of my writing is stored there to be easy accessible. In addition, the blogging platform I use now (the wonderful
Scriptogr.am) rely entirely on Dropbxo to create an easy-to-maintain blog.

IFTTT.com is maybe an “outsider” for a common user but if you try it I don’t think you could live without. Their tagline is: put the internet to work for you. This is the best possible description I could ever give you of this service. What IFTTT does is to connect between each other different web-connected services using “actions”. IF THIS happens (the trigger that you set) THEN THAT happens (the chain reaction you create using the web interface). You can see the incredible potential of this platform.

I’ll give you some example of actions that I use daily.

  • Google Reader + Instapaper: everytime a new feed item appears on my Google reader account, it is saved on my Instapaper account. In this way I can always pick up my iOS devices and read the latest news in a super nice and clean environment.
  • Instagram + Dropbox: every time I take a new picture with Instagram it is saved on a specific folder in my Dropbox account.
  • Email + Dropbox: if I have a new idea for a piece to write, I can simply send an email to a special IFTTT account and the email will be saved as a text file in a specific “drafts” folder on my Dropbox.

The last one is especially useful for me. If I can’t use one of my “writing apps” of choice I can simply look for an online editor, write the piece and email it to receive a .txt version seconds later, ready to be used later.

I think you can start to see why those two services are so central for me. They are for sure the best example of the power of the cloud.

Attached to the cloud there are then a number of apps which rely on the cloud as a storage. I have different writing apps based on what I need to create:

  • Mou is my favourite Markdown editor on my Mac. Simple, clean and easy to use and deeply integrated with Scriptogr.am allowing you to publish a new post without using the admin panel on the website.
  • The mobile companion for Mou is Elements. Available both for iPhone and iPad is my favorite app to write Markdown on mobile, allowing me to write on this blog even while I’m on the go.
  • iA Writer is my go to app when I want to write something longer. I’m the kind of person that can be easily distracted, thanks also to the overload of notifications coming from all my devices. iA Writer has a nice full-screen “focus mode” UI that allows you to concentrate on one sentence at a time. I use it both to write my books or even to write longer blog post for NewsTouch.
  • If I need to edit a long document on the go (more often on the iPad than on the iPhone), I use the mobile version of iA Writer that offers the same great features of his big brother on the Mac.

And on the web? There are all clients that requires a specific platform (Mac or iOS) but what if I don’t have neither? Well, there are a lot of alternatives. You can start with Google Docs but if you try the apps above you will see that I like a clean interface. Google Docs (it’s a great tool that I use more for collaborative documents) it’s too similar to Microsoft Word and you know that this is not good! If you go on the Chrome web store you’ll be able to find many web apps that will do the job. I won’t give you a specific name because they are all valid.

Moving out from the Google environment I will strongly suggest you try Writer from BigHugeLabs (I’ve used it to write this very post). The first time to log in you’ll find a scary Matrix-style UI: don’t worry, you can customize the colors to fit best with your writing habits. And then you’ll just have a blank canvas where ideas can flow in all freedom. It gives you also a word count and the ability to send the document directly to some blogging platforms like WordPress, Tumblr or Blogger, or to download it as a .txt or .pdf. Lots of options for a simple web editor.

As you can see, if you want to write in freedom there are plenty of alternatives out there, you just need to figure out your needs to find the best set of tools for you. It won’t be a simple or easy process, but once you’re done with your quest you’ll be a happy man.

And if you pay close attention you see that I’ve given you the recipe to solve my initial requirement: you can have a canvas (a text file) which is always available (no matter which instance you’re using, it always live inside your Dropbox folder).

What next? My next move now will be to try to install Chrome OS on my machine to see if I can really go cloud only. I bet it will be hard in the beginning but I think it’s a result I’ll be able to achieve thanks to the cloud.