The problem with Slack’s approach to accounts versus Discord

Most of you have probably used Slack long enough to get invited to at least a couple rooms. Or maybe 5. Or 12. We technically have to create a new account for each room, even if we choose to use the same email and password for each one (but please use unique passwords).

This separation of Slack rooms into islands unto themselves makes sense for Slack from a business perspective. Some rooms want or need stringent data retention and security policies, so Slack offers paid options on a per-room basis. But many other Slack rooms are just people hanging out in the spiritual descendent of an IRC chat room.

This system creates an increasingly tedious burden for users who join multiple communities. Even if you use a password manager, you still have to manually log into each room. Slack tried to ease this friction by sending authenticated emails that will automatically log you into every Slack room tied to that particular address. But this is problematic on a couple of levels.

The most important is that it’s a duct-taped solution that creates clutter and friction. Have some communities spun down, but still lumber on? Did you leave some communities which weren’t useful anymore (but not delete your account, because how do we even do that)? Too bad, Slack’s email will still automatically log you back into every one.

I get why Slack’s business model is designed this way, but I don’t expect it to change any time soon. This makes me wish more casual communities would consider Discord as an alternative. It started with a focus on the gaming community, but has since expanded its features for a broader audience. For starters, you create a single account, then use it to join multiple rooms. Adding and DMing friends is also room-agnostic. Think of it like Facebook, where you can join multiple groups with a single account, though you do have the option to customize your profile details on a per-room basis.

Discord has many of the same features as Slack, including free standard accounts, strong mobile apps, file and media sharing, separate channels, account permissions, and integrations with 3rd party services. It also adds free, low-latency voice and video channels that support multiple people.

In my experience, Discord seems to be much more popular almost everywhere outside of tech. For example, many communities and creators on Patreon, YouTube, and Kickstarter will offer access to a private Discord room.

However, Discord’s business model is focused on the individual, not rooms. Rooms are free to spin up (you can even create them from an iPhone or iPad), and you can join as many as you want. If you—the individual, not a room admin—want to score a few extra perks and support Discord, you can pay for Discord Nitro. It adds things like a higher upload size, an animated avatar, and the ability to use custom/animated emoji across all rooms (a perk that makes way more sense than manually uploading them to multiple Slack rooms).

Slack is great and possibly a better fit for some companies that must adhere to industry regulations. But I would love to see more tech communities give Discord a try.

📱 Citymapper can catapult, beam you to your destination

Citymapper for iPhone is a great transit app that supports bus, rail, ride share, biking, and even walking.

Sometimes, at the bottom of all the transit options for directions you request, it also supports catapults, beaming, and jet packs (at least, those are the three I’ve seen in Chicago). Check the bottom of each screenshot for extra details or instructions. Yes, that’s Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel making guest appearances and getting botched in a transporter accident.

They even have animations and tips at the bottom once the trip is done, like “maybe a safety net would be useful.”

I canceled our Amazon Prime membership

I canceled our Amazon Prime membership

As you may know, Amazon is raising the price of Prime to $120 per year. Initially that struck me as too much, but after sleeping on it, today I decided to cancel our membership. I did it for two reasons.

Value

Over the years, Amazon has been packing Prime with a ton of different services including streaming video, music, and discounts on certain product categories. But the only thing Jessi and I cared about was two-day shipping. Prime makes a lot of sense if you use some of the other things it offers, but we simply don’t.

And while free two-day shipping on most (but not all) stuff is great, it isn’t that novel anymore. A lot of companies offer the same thing, and none that I’ve used require a membership for it. There’s usually a minimum purchase amount, but with the way we shop online, it isn’t a problem for us.

In other words: the one thing that made Amazon Prime valuable to us has been eclipsed—internally by all the other features Amazon stuffed into Prime, and externally by an industry that stepped up to compete.

Principles

This is the tougher one to discuss and quantify, but in short: I’ve grown to dislike Amazon, the company. Some of its warehouse workers have to pee into bottles to avoid punishment or losing their jobs. It has far too many stories about employee intimidation and making them wear tracking devices. I get that some consider tracking to be a standard in some parts of the warehouse industry. I’ve worked in warehouses and on assembly lines, so I get it. But this discussion is for another time.

Amazon is also quietly one of the last major holdout advertisers on Breitbart, a dangerous and destructive website that frequently publishes anti-Semitic screeds, insidious propaganda, and drivel like “Would you rather your child had feminism or cancer?” No I’m not linking that one. Yes it’s still online.

Sum of the parts

Individually, would any of these reasons be enough for Jessi and me to cancel Prime? Outside of ‘we don’t get our money’s worth,’ maybe not. But I haven’t even touched on other increasingly important problems plaguing Amazon, like counterfeit products and fake reviews. It’s getting harder to just find the legitimate product I want and trust that its reviews are from genuine owners who bought and actually used it.

After a good night’s sleep and a morning cup of coffee, all of this added up to a clear answer for us. Our Prime membership ends in May. But I started shopping elsewhere a couple months ago ago to see what life was like after Amazon Prime.

It’s fine.

Photo by Jesse Bowser, Unsplash

💻 QuickTime can record your Apple TV

You can use QuickTime on a Mac to record content playing on an Apple TV.

  • Create a new Movie Recording with QuickTime (under the File menu)
  • Next to the record button, click the menu to choose camera and audio sources
  • Your Apple TV(s) should appear as a source in both options
  • Select it, and QuickTime will present a random code to authorize your Mac to record it
  • Content from your Apple TV should start streaming into QuickTime, ready for recording

Content with DRM (like iTunes movies) seems to error out, but ungracefully (for me, QuickTime just throws a ‘could not connect’ error). YouTube works fine though.

📱 How to move multiple apps at once on iPhone and iPad

In iOS 11, Apple added a way to move multiple apps at once, even on the iPhone:

  • Tap and hold on an app to enter Jiggly Mode™
  • Move the app just a little bit. This seems to prepare iOS for the next step
  • With a second finger, tap another app (tap as if you wanted to open and use the app; don’t press or move)
  • Tap as many apps as you want to move together
  • Move them, then let go

Note: On iPad, you can move individual apps without Jiggly Mode™. To move multiple apps, use the trick above.

What if we didn’t have to grant access to *all* contacts?

What if we didn’t have to grant access to *all* contacts?

Granting permission for an app or service to upload our contacts can be quite useful. It can also be dangerous to the privacy of everyone involved, and people are understandably losing trust in large parts of the tech industry.

But what if it wasn’t a binary, all-or-nothing permission? What if we could limit access to a specific set of contacts?

Maybe it’s a group we add contacts to, maybe it’s a switch we could flip on each contact (something like ‘Shareable’ or ‘Public’). It would be nice if we could also flip this switch on our own cards, for when we share them with someone new.

An obvious drawback is that the onus is on the user. I might be willing to flip that switch when a friend or colleague asks, but I wager a lot of people wouldn’t want to bother. It might lesson the very meaning of having this mechanism. A possible logical conclusion of all this might be some kind of centralized service for storing, sharing, and controlling our contact information (setting aside my distaste for the business side of Facebook, it does have some great options here, right down to controlling which friends, if any, can see each personal detail such as your home address, email, and phone). But that’s another discussion.

I don’t think these controls would be a panacea, but they might give more people the flexibility and privacy to use contact-powered apps and features. Between some of my contacts being my various doctors and a few friends who don’t want their information uploaded to most services (for good reason), I would certainly like to see more attention spent on these problems.

Some recent changes to the newsletter

I just posted a short roundup on Patreon of a few changes I made to the newsletter. You should check it out there, but I’ll summarize here.

First, it’s back to being free to everyone. I tried Patreon-only for a while, but subscriber growth plummeted. I get great feedback on the newsletter overall, so maybe I didn’t do something as well as I should have, or maybe I need to add something more to justify a Patreon-only tier. We’ll see.

I also switched the backend from MailChimp to Revue. It’s a newer alternative to MailChimp that focuses on things more in line with what I care about: writing and sharing good reads from around the web.

If you haven’t seen this week’s issue or are thinking about subscribing, you can check out a few past issues and subscribe here.

When you have to choose between your arm or your phone

From a friend of mine, in a chat thread about portable battery packs:

Fun fact: when we’ve had amputees test myoelectric limbs we’re developing, they often volunteer that they’d like a USB charging port so they can charge their phones from the big battery in the limb. We then explain that it’s a big engineering challenge to get the limb to last all day on a charge, as things are, so there’s not residual capacity for phone charging. They inevitably reply “If I have to choose between my arm working or my phone, I’m going to choose my phone.”

Other perspectives on the Touch Bar

I think a lot of hate for the MacBook Pro Touch Bar comes from I Hate Change-ism or just plain group-think. I think this happens with a lot of new products and tech, and I find it to be obnoxious and repetitive. There, I said it.

Anecdotally, I’ve struck up conversations with a few strangers in cafes and lounges, and they’ve had positive, unique perspectives on it. Generally they like it, they don’t miss the F keys since they “barely” or “never” used them, and they have fun discovering the new or previously hard-to-access features that apps place in the Touch Bar.

But there are also plenty of happy experiences and positive anecdotes to be found. Here’s a brief selection of links I’ve been collecting:

I hope these can help some people see how the Touch Bar is an improvement for good portion of users.