PublishPress just made my night.

Likely boring to a lot of folks, and I’m pretty late to the party. But I just realised Edit Flow has been reborn as PublishPress – YES! And it’s got Slack integration now, love it.

WordPress editorial workflows, checklist, content calendar, it’s all coming back. Can’t help geeking out, this is awesome.

Bit of context: I used Edit Flow for The Pick and Roll back in its first year. Loved the features, but gave up due to web hosting resource limitations (yup), and non-existent plugin support. It’s great to see this plugin coming back as a paid, well-supported plugin.

I’m always a big fan of paid plugins, because when it comes to WordPress plugins, you have to make sure it’s properly supported. Security vulnerabilities, new features, integration assistance, it just gives peace of mind knowing the folks who make great products get paid for it, and have the time to focus on properly supporting it.

There’s probably a better way to handle DNS migrations, VentraIP

If you’re looking to start a fresh site, with a new domain name, DNS migrations are probably the least of your concerns.

For a live site, DNS migrations can be tricky. You’d want the corresponding DNS entries to be replicated across to the new nameserver, before you actually switch nameservers on your registrar. Otherwise, cutting over to the new nameserver basically leaves you with downtime. You could potentially muck multiple services up (like website, email, CDN, FTP), just because they’re all pointing to the wrong servers.

Ideally, you’d want to either prepare for the migration yourself, and ensure all entries are on the new nameserver. Or ensure there’s a managed migration service that takes care of it for you.

A graceful DNS migration however, seems to be something VentraIP’s VIPControl system isn’t capable of allowing at this point.

How VentraIP’s DNS management works now

Under its Manage DNS section, there are two relevant sections: Customer Nameservers, and Free DNS Hosting. Both sound exactly like what they are: one offers a section for you to enter custom nameservers (instead of VentraIP’s), and the other allows you to use VentraIP’s free DNS hosting.

Here’s where it gets interesting. When Free DNS Hosting is clicked, a warning comes up saying this will break existing DNS setups. Should you proceed, your domain will be adjusted to use VentraIP’s nameservers immediately, with their default DNS settings. There’s no way you can adjust the entries, before it goes live.

How I set my DNS on fire

Definitely not absolving myself of blame here, I most definitely saw the warning, and went ahead anyway. But I was expecting a screen saying, “here’s where you enter your desired DNS entries” and a “are you ready to move to VentraIP’s nameservers?” button.

Instead, what I got was a list of live entries, with most obvious one being my domain’s A record, featuring 86400 TTL ie 24 hours.

I literally went FML the moment I saw that entry, because it meant hello downtime!

It’s a good thing we didn’t have any big storylines lined up for publishing today, otherwise it would have been a big disaster. As it was, I asked everyone to cease content promotion, hold off writing on WordPress until the DNS caught up.

Meanwhile, the domain turned into a parked domain advertisement page for VentraIP, proclaiming: “This domain name currently parked with VentraIP Australia.”

Spoke to technical support after that and I knew their hands were tied while TTL was waiting to expire. I also asked that a new feature request be put in, on allowing customers to self-enter custom DNS records before VentraIP nameservers were applied.

This means, any customers with custom (external, non-VentraIP) nameservers, would be able to line their DNS ducks in a row nicely, before they hit the big button and go “ok guys, everything looks good – I’m ready to cut over to my shiny new VentraIP nameserver!”

What I was told, was that it’s possible if I have a cPanel account (I only signed up for email hosting so I didn’t get that), but it’s “something in the works, but requires a major DNS update to our systems so it is still a far way off unfortunately.”

Not having TTL as 86400 on your default A record would’ve been really nice. For what it’s worth, it took less than 24 hours for the change to catch up, but our downtime was still measured in hours.

Looking forward to the day when VentraIP updates their system, for the sake of future customers. In the meantime, good luck to everyone else in charge of DNS migrations. It might be best to use an external nameserver you can manage yourself in the meantime.

It definitely wasn’t straightforward

I would’ve settled for VentraIP support proactively replicating my entries across as well. I asked about this in my very first email to VentraIP’s sales team, and was told it would be straightforward, since I was moving off a cPanel host.

The entire process was definitely trickier than promised, and not as fuss-free as I would’ve preferred it to be. There was also no help offered on moving the entries over.

I’m over the entire process at this point. But if you’re looking for a hands-free, fully managed migration of any sort, be warned. Especially if you’re not technically competent when it comes to hosting.

Yep, not a fan of iTunes at all.

I’ve been a fan of Every Little Thing (ELT) since years ago, and started listening to them again over the past year.

There was one problem.

ELT doesn’t have their music on Google Play Music, which is where I have most of my music organised.

They do however, have a very extensive collection for sale on iTunes.

You can see where this is going.

“iTunes is a piece of s**t.”

That was my pet remark, back when I was setting up an iPhone 4 at work years ago. I disliked the thing with a passion, and felt that was the barrier to Apple products for me.

That was five years ago. I began my gradual shift to Apple over the past two years; starting with a Mac Mini, and moving on to an iPhone 5S, and then an iPad Air.

Despite my appreciation for OS X, iOS and various Apple products, my opinion on iTunes has not shifted. iTunes is more of a necessary evil than anything else, a bloated piece of antiquated software that stubbornly locks your phone down to a computer.

To be honest, the process of syncing an iPhone on multiple computers (without making the phone wipe itself) might be more trouble than it’s worth, and Apple likely prefers it that way.

Most of my important services are hosted on Google, and I maintain the same alignment even after shifting over to the iPhone. The platform neutrality of various Google services like Gmail, Calendar, and even Google Play Music has made the adjustment a great deal easier – I’m allowed to use the same cloud services, regardless of hardware and operating system.

How I worked around using iTunes on an iPhone

I really wanted to have my music on the phone though, and finally worked something out.

  1. I would purchase the music off iTunes
  2. Have it download on my Mac
  3. Upload the .m4a files onto Google Play Music. This works brilliantly, because the files are already tagged properly with the right ID3 metadata (album, singer, track etc), along with album art.
  4. Download the songs for offline listening onto my iPhone, via the Google Play Music app

Clunky, but works. Thanks, but no thanks, iTunes.

It might be inevitable, but I’m happy with the way things work now. The only Change I need right now, is this track from Every Little Thing.

From native to cloud: Life in the cloud age

Back when I had my first computer, I used to spend a lot of time customising my desktop, to the exact way I liked it. After multiple rounds of OS reinstallation, I got tired of the routine, and eventually decided, that what I wanted was a consistent, replicable user experience.

Having experienced the early, clunkier days of the computer era, I’m really glad for the advances the internet age has presented. The sheer computing power of the internet and creative talents of so many enterprising individuals out there, has allowed me to gradually detach myself from the constraints of the computer, and rely on the browser instead.

This means a lot, because I’m able to do most of my daily work from most (if not all) computers, and not have to worry about having to reinstall the OS, and then fiddle around with a hundred different pieces of software on a new computer every single time it dies, just so I can get my work done. Move to a new computer, fire up the browser and life goes on.

For example:

  • Email: No need for Outlook/Thunderbird and the need to configure those damn email settings on a new computer all the time. Use Gmail for a consistent, device-independent interface that allows access to multiple mailboxes.
  • Image editing: Try PicMonkey (quick crop/caption/collage) or Pixlr, both are fantastic services. Pixlr is pure genius: it’s as as close as you can get to an online, free version of Photoshop.
  • Image compression: Web Resizer for easy resizing of JPEG files into web-friendly sizes.
  • Document view/edit: Google Drive is a handy replacement if you don’t have Microsoft Office ready.
  • Document storage: Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, the variety of cloud storage services out there are endless. Having a NAS in your local network is ideal (especially for large files), but offsite storage has its perks.
  • Audio editing: Online MP3 Cutter, as good as it gets.
  • Video editing: Haven’t bothered looking for an online alternative. Not sure if it’s a good idea to begin with, given the fact that videos are usually massive files.
  • Audio transcription: Transcribe is a very helpful tool. Upload the audio clip, and use the simple text interface to type. Handy audio controls, allow you to pause/rewind as needed.
  • Music: Have your music online, no need to store them locally and worry about losing it all. Sync music to your device as needed. Spotify, Google Play Music.

Obviously, two big caveats here.

  • You’re stuffed soon as the internet goes down. But hell, it beats losing all your crap the moment your computer dies.
  • Serious tasks that require heavy processing power or require large files, should still be done locally. This includes video editing, watching videos, programming.

Anchored to the desktop experience in a mobile age

Is it weird that I still like using the desktop computer more than the phone?

Granted, I’m not a fan of sitting at my desk.

But smartphone apps just haven’t quite caught up to me yet. The screen size, the lack of a keyboard (lesser navigation controls) just make it less convenient, and take away from the user experience. It’s a handy substitute on the go, but that’s about all there is.

The tablet has been a middle ground, of sorts. I like my iPad Air for its comfortable screen size. It allows me to watch movies, TV series, anime, and even read manga away from my desk, giving me more of an untethered experience and freedom to laze wherever I prefer.

In saying that, when it comes to being productive, nothing beats having the feel of a keyboard at my fingertips. It would take so much more time to respond to an email (an antiquated communication channel), write a blog post, or edit an article on a mobile device.

Let’s not even start on advanced tasks like video editing, or doing stuff on social media. The controls afforded on the desktop browser, are just more extensive than the ones on a mobile app.

And there’s this annoying thing about Wi-Fi (dropouts, stability issues, channel congestion etc) that just bugs me. If I had a choice between an Ethernet connection and Wi-Fi, I would choose wired every single time. Call me old school, but the network engineer in me prefers stable connectivity every single time.

Things will likely change, and I might find myself completely removed from the desktop in years to come. It just isn’t quite there, right now.

Is the Click and Collect e-commerce model broken in Australia?

The click and collect concept is a fairly simple one to grasp. Order something online, and collect it at the most convenient location.

Reality however, doesn’t work quite that way. Let us look at retailer X, which is a fairly established retail brand. I place an order on their website, and select the click and collect delivery method.

Expected outcome: I should be able to walk into my desired store, and pick my purchase up the same day.

Actual outcome: I have to wait 3 business days, before the pickup is available at my desired store.

It would have made more sense if I had just walked into the store, paid with my card and walked out without ever making an online transaction.

Why is click and collect not working?

It seems like inventory management is the key culprit. The online store’s inventory varies from the retail store’s inventory. Everyone can view stock in other stores, but each store has its own inventory.

You can imagine what happens, when an online transaction is made for click and collect.

The product has to be delivered from the online store’s warehouse to the desired pickup location. This shouldn’t be happening, but it is.

Ideally, the system should be capable of recording an online sale, and mark that sale against the actual store’s inventory  with barely a hiccup. (Assuming stock is available in store.)

When done correctly, the click and collect method offers a convenient way for the customer to pick their purchase up right away, without the delay/hassle of shipping.

It also ramps up foot traffic to the retail store, opening up the opportunity for increased sales.

The solution isn’t necessarily difficult. Retailers and customers alike have the same end goal: to make the process of buying something, easy.

If it isn’t broken, it doesn’t need fixing. Some might argue that the model serves a different purpose in the grand scheme of e-commerce, or even that it’s working beautifully in its intended role.

From my point of view, not being able to collect my purchase the day I buy it online, simply does not make sense – especially when it is available in the store. It’s just not good enough.

Is Facebook the content ecosystem of the future?

Without Google, the internet era might well be very different from the one we know today.  The search engine has woven the World Wide Web into a repository of readily accessible information. Not just information, but more often than not, relevant knowledge we need, provided the right keywords are used.

Facebook on the other hand, takes a different approach to content. It knows us. Not just who we are and the music we love, or the sports teams we root for, but also what our friends are like too. Knowing all of these, allows Facebook to intuitively serve targeted content we prefer. It’s not just a real-time feed either; the algorithms resurfaces relevant content, especially when like-minded friends recommend them.

From a personal perspective, social media has been an integral component to The Pick and Roll’s content marketing strategy. In 2015, 55.6% of our site traffic came via social referral, with Facebook accounting for a hefty 70.8%.

Facebook’s dominance however, goes beyond content targeting. Sam Dean from FiveThirtyEight wrote about the persistent challenges of web metrics, a problem Facebook does not face, for obvious reasons.

The platform is able to discern the user beyond the number of devices used, with zero ambiguity. And now that it’s begun to move towards content hosting, it will be able to obtain more granular data on reader behaviour than ever.

The social media giant announced in May that it would begin hosting articles directly on its own servers, with no link out to the websites that created them…

But for Facebook, and advertisers and the media companies themselves, this move also solves the cookie problem. Facebook doesn’t need cookies — it has faces, faces of real people, or at least accounts that correspond to real people, which means that it knows how many real people look at an article hosted on Facebook. And more than that, even, it knows their names, and their ages, and what they “like,” and probably where they live. – link

Right now, search engine marketing (SEM) remains a big key to success for content providers. Will there come a day, when a closed ecosystem like Facebook overtakes search as the de facto means of accessing relevant content?

It might not be too far away.