Blog logoMatthew Lang

Daily Post

A 39 post collection

Is Your Product Easy to Duplicate?

 •  Filed under Daily Post, Products

For many software developers, rolling your own version of a product is a tempting thing to do. You might want to add your own feature to the product or you might think that having more control over your data is important.

I recently questioned the value of FormKeep, a product that I was using. FormKeep allows you to create forms for any website and persist the information from the form without the need for your own database.

This isn’t a problem for a CMS like Wordpress as it already uses a database for persisting data. In the last few years though static websites have become popular. The simple action of generating the website for each change makes them ideal for people that have websites that require little maintenance. There is one drawback though. With the website being static, it can’t process information and store it anywhere. Static websites are a collection of files served by a web server with no backend database. So how do you add a form to your website?

For a while there’s been a number of products that allow you to embed a contact form in any page on your website, but the problem with this is that the embedded form is typically different in terms of style to the rest of your website and it can look out of place.

FormKeep does away with this drawback by providing just the endpoint that a form will submit too. The obvious benefit is that your form will still share the same look and feel as the rest of your website. Given the popularity of static websites, FormKeep definitely fills a need.

The trouble with FormKeep though is that while I do have a number of contact forms on different websites, there was always a niggle at the back of my mind that I was paying significantly more for a product that I could build on my own.

I’ve tried this in the past with a number of products and it doesn’t always work out. I created my own bookmarking site that included many of the feature that Pinboard offers, but there was still a number of features that I didn’t build. For the money though, it’s hard to argue with Pinboard’s pricing. $11 per year for hosting your bookmarks with a further $25 per year to keep copies of the original URL for each bookmark in your account. I could blow through twice that in a year for similar hosting on Heroku. Eventually I learned my lesson and gave up. I re-opened my Pinboard account the following day.

Building my own FormKeep was simpler than building my own Pinboard though. All I needed was an endpoint that accepted form parameters and saved them to a database. I set aside a few hours one day and quickly had my own version of FormKeep up and running. It’s running on Heroku at a cost of $7 per month. Compare that to FormKeep’s $29 per month and already there’s a significant saving. I might not have the clean UI that FormKeep has but the UI I have works for me.

In this case rolling my own solution worked to my advantage. I still have the same functionality that I had in the past with FormKeep and I’ve made a significant reduction in my expenses for the year now with my own solution now requiring just $7 per month.

Rolling your own solution doesn’t always work. Products might have years of features behind them that you just can’t replicate with a few hours of work. Sure you could have the most important feature up and running but what else needs to be added before you can safely say that your own solution will fit all your needs?

In the case of FormKeep it’s still a fairly small product and can be duplicated. And that’s where I think products need to be wary.

I was a long time user of FormKeep and in that time it’s feature set didn’t change much. Don’t get me wrong though, FormKeep definitely is valuable to people that don’t have the knowledge to run their own endpoint for capturing forms. For a user like myself though, FormKeep doesn’t offer anything that can’t be duplicated in a few hours of coding and that’s something you should consider if your building your own product.

If your product has a small feature-set that can be easily duplicated in a few hours then is it providing value?

Hello Simplenote

 •  Filed under Daily Post, Note Taking, Apps, Tools

For a long time I’ve been looking for a notes application for myself. The criteria for such an application are simple:

  • It must be available on at least my laptop and phone
  • It should support Markdown
  • It should support plain text files

I’ve tried a few different notes applications in the past and a few wiki based solutions as well. The problem with most of the wiki based solutions is that they need a web server to run on which means a few bucks in hosting. Not a major problem but I’d prefer to not use a homegrown solution if it means needing a web server to run on.

I’ve also tried desktop based solutions like nvAlt but the lack of being able to view notes on my phone is a deal breaker so that didn’t meet my needs.

Finally I tried Apple’s own Notes app which recently received a minor upgrade and a number of useful features. The benefits of such an app are clear. Synchronised notes through iCloud, available on multiple devices and there’s little chance of Apple doing away with such an app. Drawbacks? I couldn’t think of any other than the lack of Markdown support but that’s me being picky if I’m being honest.

For a while I used Apple’s Notes app without fault but I missed the use of Markdown. Almost everything I write is in Markdown and not having the ability to take a note and copy and paste some if it’s contents to another Markdown supported application started to nag me.

It was back to the drawing board then. I looked online and after a few searches I came across Simplenote. To be honest I dismissed Simplenote in the past but for the life of me I can’t remember why.

I started by installing the Simplenote app on my phone and migrating a few of my notes over from Notes and Trello. I did have to do a few edits on the notes from the Notes app but the notes from Trello was a straight copy and paste.

Simplenote does support Markdown in it’s desktop based apps for Windows and Linux and also for the web client, but there’s no support (that I can see) on the OSX app and the iPhone app. It’s not a big problem though, as I suspect that this feature is coming soon for these platforms. I can wait.

Aside from the Markdown support in Simplenote there’s a number of other benefits that make keeping notes here easy.

Simplenote allows you to add tags to notes. This makes organising your notes much easier. Tags appear at the bottom of the note you can also filter your notes using these tags.

You can also pin notes so that they appear at the top of your notes list. This doesn’t make much of a difference in the apps that use larger screens, but on the iPhone app it makes navigating to these notes a lot easier. I have a number of notes that I use on a daily basis so it’s nice to be able to get to them quickly.

Finally there’s the ability to publish notes. It’s a feature I’ve been looking for in a number of wikis and note applications ever since I closed my Backpack account a number of years ago. Backpack was a great product and I regret closing my account there. It’s always been the best notes based application that I have used. The ability to publish pages from Backpack was a feature that I used so that I could bookmark a number of notes and have them readily available in my web browser. It’s nice to see a similar feature in Simplenote.

It’s early days with Simplenote but one thing that’s clear is that I like the minimal user interface and the small feature set. It does the job of keeping my notes accessible and in the one place and it does this job well. And that’s all I can ask for.

TextExpander Subscription Change - Too Little Too Late?

 •  Filed under Daily Post, Tools

Smile have adjusted the pricing of the new TextExpander subscription service.

We will apply a lifetime discount of 50% off the Life Hacker pricing to customers of any past version of TextExpander. That amounts to just US $20 per year. In our initial rollout, we offered the discount for the first year only, and that was a mistake. We value our long-term customers, and it’s important for us to demonstrate that in our actions. Thanks for bearing with us as we sorted this out.

TextExpander Adjustments

I like the new pricing for current owners of any previous version of TextExpander. $20 per year is a more affordable amount. As well as this Smile have said they will continue to maintain versions of TextExpander 5 as well as 6. I'm skeptical about how long this will last though. With that in mind, I don't think I can rely on an app that may or may not be around in the future.

I switched to aText a few days ago and I don't see myself switching back to TextExpander anytime soon. aText is working well enough for me and the reduced cost for what is a minor utility app has prompted me to start cutting back on other subscription services that I use.

If in the future though, I see a genuine need to use TextExpander over what I have at the time, then I'll know where to find it.

Alternatives to TextExpander?

 •  Filed under Daily Post, Tools

I love using TextExpander. I use it everyday for all manner of things. It's not completely invaluable but it's certainly very helpful. Their recent change to a subscription model hasn't went down well with many users of their software including myself.

I use TextExpander almost daily, but I also use Todoist on a daily basis. My Todoist premium subscription is $22 per year. Very cheap for all the little extras I enjoy from Todoist and I don't grudge Todoist the money.

I love paying for the software that I use but I simply can't justify the $5 per month (or the $40 per year) that Smile Software are looking for to sync snippets that I use on a single device. I'd like to be wrong, but I think that Smile have just priced their product out of the market.

I may continue to use TextExpander without upgrading but I think in time I'll end up moving to something else.


Since reading more about the TextExpander 6 launch, a number of people have pointed out security concerns with a key logging app that syncs all your snippets to Smile's servers without being encrypted. Another valid argument against upgrading to TextExpander 6 then.


 •  Filed under Daily Post

It's the running joke of all IT support departments. When your computer, phone, printer, or any other technology device plays up, the first question they'll get asked is, "Did you turn it off and on again?".

Friends and family often phone me with their technology problems and the first they'll say they did is reboot whatever device is playing up. There's a reason why this sometimes works, and I say sometimes.

When you start any computer it's starts afresh. the memory is clear and there are no apps running. When a computer has been on for a while it becomes different from when it's turned on. It's no longer a clean slate. Rebooting the computer often fixes these problems as it returns the computer to a clean slate and clears out the memory of the computer. Most computers aren't designed to run forever on a single boot, so the chance to reboot and start over is a good thing.

Since the start of the year a friend of mine has been helping me getting back into shape. I've been doing weight training and circuits on top of my regular cycling to lose some weight and get fit. I'm glad to say it's working. For three weeks in March though I went through a phase of stomach bugs, colds and coughs. I wasn't able to train for that time.

Last week I was well enough to start training again, but having been away from it for so long, I was starting over again. I wasn't great on my first two sessions, but the chance to start over again has given me the chance to change up my training so that I'm focusing on different exercises on different days of the week.

Rebooting shouldn't be seen as another chance to make a goal after a recent failure, think of it as a break. A chance to chance to start over and more importantly to make improvements towards getting to that goal.

Try introducing scheduled reboots into any long running habits or routines you might have. The opportunity to look back at them might yield a change for the better.

Just like the computer, we need a clean slate everyone in a while. Take the time to reboot and start over.