Reading Apps: Readability. Instapaper. ReadItLater. Evernote.

ReadabilityRead­abil­ity is a handy tool that takes an arti­cle or web post, cleans it up, as the name implies to improve its read­abil­ity, and dis­plays it for you in your browser. They also gather up arti­cles posted this way for you to read later, or to send to your Kin­dle. Aside from one-by-one view­ing of a cleaned up arti­cle, the ser­vice has required a $5 monthly fee. In the process, Read­abil­ity shares rev­enue with the content-providing publisher.

There are sim­i­lar ser­vices, notably Instapa­per and Rea­d­It­Later. Back in May, I wrote a blog entry com­par­ing these two. I have still be pass­ing back and forth between these two, lik­ing Instapaper’s inte­gra­tion with Read­abil­ity, and lik­ing Rea­d­It­Later for the clean­li­ness and usabil­ity of its website.

Both Instapa­per and Rea­d­It­Later have mobile apps. Both were inte­grated with the incred­i­bly pop­u­lar iPad app Flip­board. One dif­fer­en­tia­tor for Instapa­per was a close inte­gra­tion with Readability.

On Novem­ber 16th, Read­abil­ity announced a free option, as well as the impend­ing release of apps for the iOS plat­forms (iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch). Here is a sum­mary of the new Read­abil­ity freemium pric­ing model, with $5 a month get­ting the pre­mium plan:

 

Free users are lim­ited to 30 Read­ing List arti­cles and 30 Favorite arti­cles; Pre­mium users have no lim­its, and also can Archive arti­cles, receive an auto­mated daily digest to their Kin­dle (over wi-fi, and thus with­out addi­tional costs from Ama­zon), and up to 70% of their monthly fee goes to authors and publishers.

The announce­ment led to a fairly pub­lic dis­cus­sion between Instapa­per founder Marco Arment (The rela­tion­ship between Read­abil­ity and Instapa­per) and Read­abil­ity found­ing part­ner Richard Ziade (Read­abil­ity & Instapa­per).

The space has got­ten quite crowded, in fact, since Apple added a sim­i­lar “Read­ing List” fea­ture to its Safari browser. And the day after Read­abil­ity announced its new pric­ing model and forth­com­ing iOS apps, Ever­note launched a sim­i­lar ser­vice, Clearly, as a Google Chrome app.

For me, Rea­d­It­Later has been the main appli­ca­tion I have used for this pur­pose, because of the crisp, clean, and I would even say, beau­ti­ful design of their web site and apps. While I use Ever­note almost obses­sively, its ten­dency to grab every­thing, or inex­plic­a­ble web page ele­ments, has made it a frus­trat­ing experience.

Using Rea­d­It­Later, I have missed the Read­abil­ity inte­gra­tion. Even with Rea­d­It­Later, I felt that Read­abil­ity had a bet­ter interface.

With Read­abil­ity going to the freemium model, I expect to use that more, and move away from Instapa­per entirely. I will then be com­par­ing Rea­d­It­Later with Read­abil­ity once the Read­abil­ity iOS apps are released, and with Ever­note Clearly in Google Chrome. Those promise to have a high design aspect, with high-quality fonts. And of course, while I steered clear of Read­abil­ity when it only had a paid model, freemium (as Ever­note can attest) has a qual­ity of draw­ing peo­ple in to get them hooked.

My sum­mary of the score­board at this point is:

  • Rea­d­It­Later — First to mar­ket, in 2007, with a great user inter­face design sense.Still a major player.
  • Instapa­per — Sec­ond to mar­ket, in 2008. Clean, but not styl­ish. A lit­tle nerdy as far as the design goes. Pos­si­bly suf­fer­ing from a mor­tal blow from the one-two punch from Read­abil­ity and Ever­note this week.
  • Read­abil­ity — Has the most beau­ti­ful design of the bunch. Set itself apart as with the com­bi­na­tion of gor­geous design and a paid model, pro­vid­ing a com­pen­sa­tion model for authors and pub­lish­ers to off­set what might be lost adver­tis­ing revenue.
  • Ever­note — Promises much needed cleaner imports of arti­cles into its widely pop­u­lar “mem­ory” service.
  • Apple Safari — Handy, if you hap­pen to be in Safari on the OS X Lion or iOS 5, but I don’t think any­thing but diehards Apple fan­boys will use this as much as any of the oth­ers on the list get used.

[Updated on 13 Decem­ber 2011 to cor­rect some inaccuracies.]

Box.net 50GB Gift to iOS Users

Box (on the web at Box.net) is a ser­vice I rec­om­mend for file sharing.

In fact, we are using it for two genealog­i­cal soci­eties where I am on the board of direc­tors. File shar­ing on Box.net is sim­ple, sim­pler even than using Google Groups and other meth­ods we have tried.

Box.net allows for uploads of large files and has an intu­itive inter­face. You can access your con­tent in Box.net on their web­site, as well as through ded­i­cated apps for iPhone, iPad, Android phone, Android tablets, Black­Berry phones, and Black­Berry tablets. Addi­tion­ally, you can save files into Box.net from a vari­ety of mobile apps, includ­ing GoodReader, Jot­Not, Quick­Of­fice, Doc­sToGo, and Pixelpipe.

But the big story about Box.net this week is the announce­ment on their blog that users who access their Box.net accounts from the new iOS (iPhone, iPad) app, will receive 50 GB of stor­age for life. This is nor­mally priced at $19.99 a year.

So, why is Box doing this, and how can they afford it?

They are doing it because they see the incred­i­ble poten­tial of mobile devices, such as the iPhone and the iPad. While they have con­sumer offer­ings, Box.net is mainly focused on sell­ing cloud-based con­tent man­age­ment to enter­prise cus­tomers. They want to expand “mind-share” or name recog­ni­tion as iCloud and iOS 5 have an impact on the mar­ket and drive large com­pa­nies (whether their IT depart­ments want it to hap­pen or not), into a cloud environment.

Soon, Apple will be enabling iCloud, with 5 GB of free stor­age (media pur­chased from Apple will not be counted against that user’s quota). While Box.net is pri­mar­ily about file shar­ing, not file sync-ing, this makes their exist­ing 5 GB offer­ing less of a deal. But 50 GB for life: Now that’s a big deal! Stor­age is becom­ing cheaper all the time, and the cor­po­rate accounts, with TB (ter­abytes) and EB (exabytes) of stor­age are where Box will make its money.

So what are you wait­ing for? To get the 50 GB, down­load the free iOS app (or have a friend do it) and either log into or cre­ate an account.

Read more about it on the blog entry “Why Box is Giv­ing iOS Users Mas­sive Amounts of Free Cloud Stor­age” by Aaron Levie (Co-founder and CEO of Box).

Free Access Week at Ancestry.com

Ances­try Free Access Week

Ancestry.com announced Free Access to immi­gra­tion and travel records from around the world through Sep­tem­ber 5th.

This is a very large col­lec­tion of mate­ri­als. If you are not an Ances­try sub­scriber, this would be a per­fect time to drop in to take a look and do some seri­ous research in their travel and immi­gra­tion records.

Another note, Ances­try has announced that the 1940 cen­sus will be avail­able for free, once they post it after April 1, 2012. I’m look­ing for­ward to it. (But to be clear, the 1940 cen­sus will also be avail­able on the National Archives web­site for free. It will be up to Ances­try to demon­strate com­pelling value in terms of usabil­ity and search­a­bil­ity to make the 1940 cen­sus a dif­fer­en­tia­tor for Ancestry.)

Zendone, Evernote, and GTD

ZendoneI have writ­ten sev­eral times about Ever­note, which has become my all-around stor­age solu­tion for notes, web clip­pings, and doc­u­ments. This is true both both in pur­suit of genealog­i­cal finds, and for per­sonal and busi­ness endeavors.

One of the biggest gaps I have seen in the Ever­note prod­uct is its lack of a seri­ous suite of GTD (Get­ting Things Done) func­tion­al­ity (Wikipedia: Get­ting Things Done).

GTD is a whole sub­cul­ture. Some even say, albeit jok­ingly, a whole cult, built around the ideas of David Allen, the author of, you guessed it, Get­ting Things Done (Ama­zon | Barnes and Noble). If you dis­till his ideas down to the sim­plest level, David Allen’s point is that our minds can­not pos­si­bly hold every­thing we need to remem­ber to do; our attempt to remem­ber every­thing we should do causes stress, which low­ers per­for­mance and the dimin­ishes our abil­ity to get things done. He rec­om­mends that we find a trusted sys­tem for gath­er­ing ideas, tasks, thought tick­lers, and poten­tial next steps. Peri­od­i­cally, we must process those items, tak­ing action on the quickly done items, and sort­ing the oth­ers based on con­text (@phone, @computer, @work) and pri­or­ity. Once we know we are gath­er­ing items and tasks in this way, we can use our minds to actu­ally con­sider things, instead of sim­ply try to remem­ber what it was we intended to think about.

In Ever­note itself, there’s not a good way to man­age to do lists, dead­lines, and an over­all GTD work­flow. Sev­eral inte­gra­tions have sprung up that attempt to address this gap, includ­ing ones with Nozbe, Reqall, and Dial2Do. Of these, I am most famil­iar with the Reqall inte­gra­tion. While this helps you get data from Ever­note into Reqall, it is a lit­tle lim­it­ing, and does not add up to an inte­grated workflow.

Zen­done, new appli­ca­tion, not quite released for Beta, but demon­strated on Vimeo and with a detailed pic­ture of the user inter­face on their web­site, looks like it may address the GTD work­flow gap in Ever­note. Zen­done allows you to pull items from the default folder in your Ever­note account and process them, either tak­ing the action you intend to take (do), or orga­niz­ing them into tasks to be done later (review & orga­nize). As you do this, Zen­done auto­mat­i­cally moves your notes from the default note­book. You can also add items in Zen­done and have them show up in Ever­note. Any­thing you sched­ule is pushed to your Google Cal­en­dar. Alter­nately, you can add things to your Google Cal­en­dar and they will show up in Zendone.

Zen­done is a final­ist in the Ever­note Devel­oper Com­pe­ti­tion, where nearly 1,000 devel­op­ers com­peted for $5,000 for six final­ists and a $50,000 for the grand prize. The win­ner will be announced at the first Ever­note Trunk Con­fer­ence in San Fran­cisco on August 18th. I wish I could be there!

Mac OS X Lion: A First Look

OS X Lion in the Mac App Store
OS X Lion in the Mac App Store

Today, Apple released Mac OS X Lion ($29.99 store | web­page). The oper­at­ing sys­tem is the sev­enth update in the OS X series (ver­sion 10.7), and it packs some of the most ground­break­ing changes into it.

For the first time in his­tory, a widely dis­trib­uted con­sumer, pro­sumer, and enter­prise oper­at­ing sys­tem is not avail­able on portable media. The only offi­cial way to get Lion is to down­load it from the Mac App Store, or buy a new Mac­in­tosh with the OS pre-installed. The OS installer is quite large at 3.49 GB, and will take a while to down­load, even on high-speed con­nec­tions. (Apple is offer­ing to let peo­ple use its high speed wi-fi in its stores, should they be lucky enough to live near one.)

While Lion is touted as being rev­o­lu­tion­ary — and it does in fact feel like a large change — the sys­tem is solid, depend­able. For many users, though, there will require some time to get used to some of the user inter­face changes. Instead of scrolling your fin­gers up to go up on the track­pad, you scroll them down to go up. Sim­i­larly, you get to the left by mov­ing your hand to the right. This seems counter-intuitive, though it is what peo­ple do on the iPhone and iPad. As you start doing it, you might feel like you’ve gone down Alice’s rab­bit hole; if you decide you don’t like it, you can go to Apple > Sys­tem Pref­er­ences > Track­pad (and/or Mouse) and turn off “Scroll direc­tion: natural.”

Among the key fea­tures Apple is tout­ing, there are some of note:

  • Mul­ti­touch — The oper­at­ing sys­tem sup­ports using ges­tures with sev­eral fin­gers to per­form com­plex tasks, such as open­ing Mis­sion Con­trol (three fin­gers up) or change full-screen appli­ca­tions (three fin­gers to the right or left).
  • Full-Screen Appli­ca­tions — Many Apple appli­ca­tions, and prob­a­bly many appli­ca­tions in the future from other soft­ware devel­op­ers, take advan­tage of a new fea­ture that has the appli­ca­tion take up the whole screen. This is espe­cially pow­er­ful in Apple’s Mail and iPhoto applications.
  • Mis­sion Con­trol — This dis­plays all of your active desk­tops, includ­ing the Wid­gets desk­top. It has never been eas­ier to man­age mul­ti­ple work envi­ron­ments and switch between them. I may actu­ally use this, while I found Spaces to be con­fus­ing and dis­ori­ent­ing. It will be easy to have a browser open in one desk­top and a geneal­ogy soft­ware pack­age open in another, and switch back and forth.
  • Launch­pad — All of your installed appli­ca­tions appear on a list that expands infi­nitely to the left and right. This clearly mir­rors the iPhone and iPad appli­ca­tion nav­i­ga­tion method, and looks to be an eas­ier way to get to your pro­grams than either the insanely small icons in your dock (if you have as many there as I do!) or sim­ply nav­i­gat­ing to the Appli­ca­tions folder. You get to Launch­pad either with the Launch­pad icon in the dock, or using a pinch with thumb and three fingers.
  • Spot­light — One of the true inno­va­tions of Mac OS X, which has only recently had com­pa­ra­ble func­tion­al­ity on Win­dows in recent releases, is Spot­light, sys­temwide search. The new ver­sion of the OS adds pre­views to the search results, help­ing you see if this item is what you were look­ing for.
  • Air­Drop — Sim­ple, no-configuration-required wi-fi file shar­ing. This will be handy if you are work­ing with some­one and just want to give them the cen­sus image for their grandfather’s house­hold in 1930. This will allow a lot of peo­ple to leave their thumb dri­ves at home.

I am very pleased with Lion. While I can­not agree with Apple’s pre­dictable hyper­bole, it looks to pro­vide a lot of short­cuts to allow me to get from one appli­ca­tion to another with­out los­ing my place. It’s well worth the $30.

One warn­ing: Power PC appli­ca­tions no longer run with OS X Lion, which drops the Rosetta tech­nol­ogy that made these work­able in pre­vi­ous ver­sions. To see what you will be leav­ing behind if you upgrade, log in as the Admin­is­tra­tive user, then type Option-Apple and select Sys­tem Pro­filer. Go to Soft­ware > Appli­ca­tions. Any­thing with “Pow­erPC” or “Clas­sic” (that is, OS 9) will not run in Lion.

Cloud Management — Primadesk

PrimadeskPri­madesk, a new web­site in beta, allows you to man­age your cloud con­tent in Google (GMail, Google Docs, Picasa), Yahoo (Yahoo Mail, Flickr), Drop­box, Box.net, and about twenty other services.

This looks to be a pow­er­ful resource, though it will need to be faster for power users. One of the most pow­er­ful fea­tures promises to be the abil­ity to move images from one ser­vice to another. How many of us have per­sonal images scat­tered across mul­ti­ple sites such as Flickr, Pho­to­Bucket, Snap­fish, Smug­mug, and so on. Now, we will be able to quickly migrate images from one site to another.

This fea­ture is not yet avail­able for pho­tos, but it is for doc­u­ments that you might want to move from Box.net to Drop­box, or from one account to another.

Pri­madesk allows you to search across mul­ti­ple accounts, backup mul­ti­ple accounts, and — finally! — man­age pro­lif­er­at­ing cloud accounts.

On my wish­list are Ever­note and Office­drop inte­gra­tion. It would be great to be able to man­age what’s in Ever­note, what’s in Box.net, what’s in Drop­box, and so on from one inter­face. Files that I man­age in Ever­note, I might want to share with peo­ple in another ser­vice; this would be a quick way to do that.

Accounts are free, though the may cost some­thing once it leaves beta. More likely, is that the site would fol­low the freemium model that has been so suc­cess­ful for Drop­box, Ever­note, and other lead­ers in the field.

North Carolina Voices: The Civil War

WUNC North Carolina Voices: The Civil WarRaleigh’s WUNC Radio aired episodes in a series, North Car­olina Voices: The Civil War, dur­ing the mid­dle of June. The series includes pieces on the impact of the war on North Car­olini­ans and their fam­i­lies from the time of the Civil War until now. Thank­fully, the episodes are avail­able for stream­ing and down­load­ing from the WUNC website.

Among other pieces, there is an episode with inter­views the liv­ing daugh­ters of Con­fed­er­ate vet­er­ans. There is also an inves­ti­ga­tion of the reli­gious his­tory of the Civil War (“Whose Side is God On?”), which inter­views George C. Rable, author of God’s Almost Cho­sen Peo­ples: A Reli­gious His­tory of the Amer­i­can Civil War (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2010) and Regi­nald Hilde­brand, author of The Times Were Strange and Stir­ring: Methodist Preach­ers and the Cri­sis of Eman­ci­pa­tion (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­sity Press, 1995.

There are two inter­est­ing pieces about African Amer­i­cans in New Bern, North Carolina:

There are also shows about re-enactors, bat­tle­fields, and sev­eral other top­ics. Take a listen!

Ancestry’s 4th of July Free Access Weekend Continues

James Graham - SAR Membership ApplicationsThere is one more day left in Ancesty.com’s free access week­end for the 4th of July. Ances­try is mak­ing appli­ca­tions to the Sons of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion appli­ca­tions, 1889 — 1970. These appli­ca­tions pro­vide detail about the ser­vice the ances­tor is reported to have per­formed to advance the cause of the Rev­o­lu­tion. (For SAR mem­ber­ship, as is true for the Daugh­ters of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion, the ances­tor did not have to serve in the mil­i­tary, but could have pro­vided other forms of assis­tance to the cause.)

The appli­ca­tions also include doc­u­men­ta­tion for the descent from the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War-era ances­tor to the appli­cant. While most of the appli­ca­tions are not doc­u­mented in ways that com­ply with mod­ern genealog­i­cal stan­dards, they can still pro­vide a wealth of infor­ma­tion that a patient and thor­ough researcher can use as a start­ing point for ver­i­fi­ca­tion, debunk­ing, and extension.

In my case, my 5th great grand­fa­ther, James Gra­ham (1741 — 1813), seems to have no fewer than 28 appli­ca­tions opened by descen­dants. There will be a fair amount to go through.… I am look­ing for­ward to it.

Self-Publishing

If you have a fam­ily his­tory that you want to pub­lish, there are sev­eral ways you can do this.

Let’s assume for the moment that you want to pub­lish the book in print for­mat, but you don’t want to become a pub­lisher or main­tain a lot of inven­tory. You want to make the book avail­able to fam­ily mem­bers, but you are not mak­ing a career change!

A num­ber of print-on-demand ven­dors can help you, but I am just going to list three:

  • Cre­ate­Space — An Ama­zon com­pany — will allow you to upload book inte­ri­ors and cov­ers in PDF for­mat. Addi­tion­ally, they can design the cov­ers for you. The books get an ISBN, basi­cally for free. You have to pay for the print­ing and ship­ping of a hard­copy proof, so that you can ver­ify that what they will pro­duce meets your expec­ta­tions. Once you have approved the proof, the book can be made avail­able on CreateSpace.com, Ama­zon, and even to libraries and phys­i­cal bookstores.
  • Cafe­Press — This is one of the first com­pa­nies in the space. They started off with t-shirts and mugs, and even­tu­ally expanded to CDs, DVDs, and books. As with Cre­ate­Space, you upload  PDFs of your con­tent and cover, and they print books when some­one orders one. The down­side is that the books are only avail­able from Cafe­Press, and do not have an oppor­tu­nity for wider dis­tri­b­u­tion, but the ini­tial cost is lower, as you are not required to buy a proof if you are con­fi­dent that what you sent will work.
  • Lulu — This com­pany is a favorite among geneal­ogy cir­cles. Book titles are only sal­able through their site, though, as with Cafe­Press, you can order a hand­ful (and a dis­count) to sell. Lulu also ships for free if the order is more than $20. One thing that sets Lulu apart is that if you sell a print book at Lulu, as well as an e-book (which they dis­trib­ute through Apple’s iBook­store), the e-book is linked from the list­ing for the paper book.

I rec­om­mend that you get a proof of any print-on-demand title that you cre­ate. While each of these is inter­est­ing, for me, Cre­ate­Space is the most inter­est­ing option, because of the range of dis­tri­b­u­tion options open to me from CreateSpace.

I will post more on this topic, as well as on how to turn your fam­ily his­tory into an e-book that you can either give away for free or sell.

Books in Browsers: Brewster Kahle and E-Books

There is a lot of dis­cus­sion in the geneal­ogy world about e-books.

Of course, there are large book dig­i­ti­za­tion projects: Google Books and Inter­net Archive being the two best known. (In 2008, Microsoft can­celled a book dig­i­ti­za­tion project that had scanned more than 750,000 books.) While Google has got­ten into some legal hot water by mak­ing books that are under copy­right avail­able under an agree­ment with the Writ­ers’ Guild, which has not held up in court, the vast major­ity of books are in the pub­lic domain.

A great sum­mary of where we are in terms of e-books is the keynote speech (text and slides | see above for the video) that Brew­ster Kahle, founder of Inter­net Archive gave at the Books in Browsers con­fer­ence in Octo­ber 2010. Kahle talks about the trans­for­ma­tion from a paper book ori­en­ta­tion, through a device ori­en­ta­tion (the Kin­dle, for exam­ple), to a device-independent (browser) ori­en­ta­tion. His goal is to make books avail­able to all. He does this via dig­i­tiz­ing books and mak­ing them avail­able as follows:

  • Pub­lic Domain — Free — The Inter­net Archive now has over 2.8 mil­lion titles avail­able for free
  • Under copy­right (but out of print) — Borrow
  • In Print — Buy

One thing that sets the Inter­net Archive apart from Google Books, is that most of the titles (at least most that I have seen) are avail­able in mul­ti­ple for­mats. There’s PDF, of course, but also .epub (works in the Apple iBooks and Barnes and Noble reader soft­ware and the Nook and other ded­i­cated read­ers), .mobi (works in the Kin­dle reader soft­ware, the Kin­dle portable device, and other read­ers), black and white PDFs, HTML, and sev­eral other formats.

E-books have trans­formed genealog­i­cal research. If you haven’t used one, I encour­age you, the next time you are look­ing for a local his­tory, to con­sider using Google Books or Inter­net Archive. If the book was pub­lished in the US prior to 1923, it should in the pub­lic domain, and you may find it for free on Google Books or the Inter­net Archive now or in the future.