Cronycle – easy content and feed curation

Cronycle
I've written about my reading habits before, using apps like Tweetbot and Pocket as a system for saving interesting content to read later. So when the Cronycle team got in touch to offer me a test drive of their beta product, I was interested enough to take a look and see if it could be part of the read it later solution I'm looking for.

In a nutshell, Cronycle organises your content streams, making it easy for you to find and enjoy the stories that matter to you. Like other feed readers like Feedly and the now-extinct Google Reader, Cronycle aims to take the content from your favourite sites and blogs and turn them into a more easily readable and discoverable format.

Here's how the Cronycle team describe it:

"Cronycle indexes the stories behind the links and pulls them into your Cronycle account. Using filters you tell Cronycle how you want your stories to be organised, and it does the rest. Every story is indexed and you can edit your filters and collections at any time. Once you create your collections please share them to the Public Directory so that others can view and follow you. Your own followers can create a free account and follow your curated collections easily too, just share the url of the collection."

With Feedly's domination of the market, other read it later apps like Pocket and Instapaper, Croncycle is entering a crowded market so needs to add some differentation. And that's not to mention the upcoming Google Stars, Google's new content bookmarking service.

The Croncycle team created a nice first version though, with a visual Pinterest-style dashboard to view content and an IOS app for those of you who prefer to catch up on digital content on your iPhone or iPad. No mention of an app for Android or Windows Phone just yet, but they're likely in the product roadmap if things go well with this initial version.

There's a basic version that's free, but also a Pro version where you can add your Twitter account to uncover, organise and read the content your sources are tweeting. The pro version also allows you to manage your content stream in one place and keep your content for longer and favourites forever, in a similar way to Pocket's premium version.

Upon signing in to the app for the first time, you're given a walk through of how the app works, broken down into 7 sections:

Cronycle

1. COLLECTIONS
Organise your content the way you want it. Create as many as you like using the + button, and let Cronycle automatically organise the right content into each collection.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 14.17.00

2. FILTERS
Create collections that are just as you need them. Enter the keywords, @users, websites or #hashtags you want to include and Cronycle will bring in any content that fits your criteria.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 14.17.05

3. VIEW
View content flexibly. In column view you can see multiple collections, full-screen focuses on one collection at a time. Click on any article to browse full previews, or any link to go to the article source.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 14.17.10

4. DISCOVER
Discover new content by browsing public collections. Find great collections, add collections to your Cronycle and share your own collections with the world.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 14.17.14

5. SHARE
Share your collections with friends and colleagues or publish to public collections using the controls in collection settings.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 14.17.18

6. ADD RSS SOURCES
Enter the full URL, or simply type in the name of the feed and Cronycle will help you find it.

Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 14.17.22

7. IOS APP
Our IOS app gives you the best Cronycle experience for your iPhone or iPad. Download it on the App Store and log in with your account details.

Once you've taken the Cronycle tour (you can also skip it if you like), there's two main ways you can start adding content: through adding RSS feeds manually, importing feeds via an OPML file, or by browsing public collections for other people's favourite feeds.

The first time I tried to add a feed manually, the feature was a little buggy, but refreshing the page and it worked perfectly. I was able to add RSS feeds for some digital marketing blogs I follow through Cronycle's simple search and suggestion feature.

That then populated my home screen with the latest posts from the feeds I had added in the previous step. It took a few seconds to load the feeds, so don't panic if the latest articles don't show up straight away!

Once I'd added a few RSS feeds, these were sorted into collections. You're meant to be able to then add more RSS feeds to those collections to build up a list of sources, but I found it a little buggy when trying to add more RSS feeds to existing sources. This is probably just a small bug though and expect it'll be fixed by the Cronycle team soon.

It would also be great to be able to add an RSS feed when you're within a collection. The only options I saw at time of writing were to filter the contents of a collection by keywords, hashtags or Twitter usernames.

The other way to build up your personal Cronycle dashboard is through the Discover feature, which has other user's public collections on display for you to browse and search through.

The default categories of collections are Tech, Business, Sport, Lifestyle, Design, Food & Drink and News - so just by browsing through those categories and adding a few feeds to your collection you can quite quickly build up the feeds you subscribe to.

However, again I found collections to be a bit confusing. When adding these feeds to "My Cronycle", I expected to be given the option to decide what collection they'd go into, not have the feeds be created as their own collections. I would then have to take those feeds out of their own individual collections and group them up in some way, but again, I couldn't find a way to do that.

When you click on an individual article, the reading panel presents the information in a very clear and digestible way, similar to Feedly's or Evernote's Clearly extension for Chrome.

The design of Cronycle overall is very visually appealing and renders well on mobile as soon as you login, so the team have clearly put a lot of the effort into this aspect.

I also played with the Cronycle iPhone app, which is probably more where Cronycle is suited for (think reading RSS feeds and content linked to on Twitter, on the move). The app works perfectly, syncing up with your collections and Twitter feed quickly and easily.

Content is presented really nicely as well, with nice legibility, images that fit the screen size and unobtrusive navigation links when viewing the content.

I wish I'd understood when first told about Cronycle that the iPhone app is the best way to consume the content you add to the app. As such, my first impressions about the app were tainted by having viewed the desktop app first, rather than the mobile app. Perhaps they'll emphasise the iPhone app more in the future?

Overall, there are a few user journeys around adding RSS feeds and sorting out collections that need to be refined, but the design and production values are very high. With a fantastic iPhone app, Cronycle really might be the next best content reader when you're on the move.

It will be interesting to see how Cronycle competes with the likes of existing apps like Feedly and with Google Stars when it's released, but for the moment it's a tool worth giving a try.

Cronycle hasn't made it to my bookmarks yet or the homescreen on my iPhone, but I'll give it a try for a few more weeks and see how we get on.

Meeting Heroes: My Y Combinator Interview Experience

Benjamin Southworth (left), me and Sanderson Jones at the Y Combinator Offices

Benjamin Southworth (left), me and Sanderson Jones at the Y Combinator Offices

Growing up in the seaside town of Brighton, I never thought I would meet and mingle with "famous" people (famous in the form of well respected icons - not the here today, gone tomorrow celebrity variety).

When I was small, just going to the local park or the walk to school seemed like a big trip. When I was a bit older, my life was lived inside the Brighton bubble. Without the modern day internet as we know it at home, it was hard to leave it.

It wasn't until I got to university that people that I had read about - the famous people in question here - started to appear on campus and in my life. The authors of some of the textbooks I referred to in my essays were professors still teaching at the university and people I could talk to, interact with, question. I attended a guest lecture from Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans. The double Nobel Prize for Literature winning author J. M. Coetzee gave a guest lecture at exactly the same time as I was writing my dissertation on perhaps his most famous work, Disgrace.

These people - built up so much in my mind and put on pedestals so much as to become the status of other worldly heroes - weren't scary or too smart too approach, as I thought they might be. They were normal people, with lives to live, livings to make, desires, dreams and ambitions. I could meet them at their level (or at least have a decent conversation with them and even buy them a drink in the pub).

I never did the exercise at school where a teacher made you write to a famous person and ask them a question. If I had, I'm sure I would have learned this lesson earlier.

To show the disconnect I still experience in this area, last week I flew to San Francisco together with Sanderson and Benjamin to pitch Sunday Assembly to Y Combinator, arguably the most "famous" accelerator programme in the world. If you're a tech startup, this is the equivalent of meeting your heroes.

I've read Paul Graham's essays, regularly read Hacker News and am well aware of the many successful startups (and, to be fair, the failures) that have gone through the Y Combinator programme. And, I'm sure like many people have, I'd built them up and put them on pedestals through respect of their work.

Before the interview, we prepared comprehensively through research of questions we were likely to be asked (try out iPaulGraham if you're interested to see what kind of questions are asked). We ran through the questions with each other and got the answers down to concise, tangible answers. We felt prepared.

We turned up about an hour early for the interview at the Y Combinator offices. There were other applicants and alumni from the programme there, so we could chat to people about their startups and get advice from the alumni. We relaxed in the atmosphere and imagined this is what it would be like to be part of the programme.

One of the alumni we got talking to was Gautam Sivakumar, who runs Medisas and was part of a YC cohort last year. We ran through a few practise questions with him so he could find out more about our plans, but it became immediately clear to him that we were too polished and had resorted to marketing speak. His advice was to give honest, human answers to the questions we were asked.

When we sat down for the first interview (we were called back for a second interview later on), his advice became even clearer to me. The people we were being interviewed by - 5 of the Y Combinator partners - were normal people, not the otherworldly heroes built up in my mind. They were friendly, warm and welcoming. They weren't out to trick us with hard questions. They just wanted to understand the business (or non-profit in this case) and if we would be a good fit for the programme.

In the end, we weren't the right fit. But we gave a good showing for what we have planned for Sunday Assembly.

Overall, the Y Combinator interview was a fantastic experience. There's a post by Rob Fitzpatrick on called "to the teams currently being rejected by YC", which is worth a read and sets the context for the process well. Thanks to Sanderson for giving me the opportunity to fly out to San Fran with him - he really is a great founder. And it was great to get to know Benjamin better - look out for what he's up to with the Ada Lovelace Academy.

If I did apply to Y Combinator again, or find myself in a similar situation of meeting people whose work I respect so much as to put them on a pedestal, I'll have more confidence to be honest, human and meet people at their level.

People are just people, no matter how much you build them up. I'll try to remember that whenever I meet my heroes from now on.

Tweetbot, Pocket and Reading It All Later

Tweetbot and Pocket

I love being productive and the feeling that comes from getting the right work done at the right time.

A recent productivity hack I've been following is to save all reading - including articles, newsletter and books - to outside of work hours, when I have downtime and can concentrate on the material.

There have been two tools that have been invaluable in helping me stick to this: Pocket and Tweetbot.

Pocket is a "read it later" app where a bookmark in your browser lets you to save articles to read later. You just "pocket" (it's going to be a verb soon) any articles or websites you come across and they will be added to your queue.

You can visit your queue at a later, more convenient time and read the articles at your leisure.

I've found that the Pocket browser plugin has been great for when I'm working on my laptop, click a link and see an article I like, but want to get back to work rather than read the article there and then. A quick click and the article is saved to my pocket queue.

This feature is particularly valuable when used in conjunction with Tweetbot, a powerful Twitter client for iPhone.

If you hold down on a link in Tweetbot, a small menu pops up with one of the options being "Save link to Pocket", which acts in a similar way to the Pocket browser plugin.

So, when I'm browsing through Twitter and see a through interesting links posted, I'll generally save them for later reading.

Alternatively, if I was using the official Twitter app, I'd have to copy the link, close Twitter, open Pocket, then add the link to read later in Pocket. This is fine for one off links, but not when you want to add a few in quick succession.

Tweetbot makes it so easy to save articles to Pocket.

And I find myself queuing far more than I can read.

It's a similar experience to when unread count of all of the articles in your RSS feed went into the thousands (most notable in Google Reader where it simply showed "1000+" unread instead of the actual figure).

This happened a lot to a lot of people, so every now and then people declared RSS bankruptcy and either marked all their feeds as read,  cut down on the feeds they consumed to better be able to keep up with them, or simply stopped using their RSS feed altogether.

The difference with Tweetbot + Pocket is that through Twitter I have learnt not to expect to see every single tweet that comes through my stream, and this applies to my consumption of articles on Pocket.

I'm not on Twitter all day every day, so will miss a lot of content. If I catch some of that content and save it to Pocket through Tweetbot - great! But that doesn't mean I will eventually get round to read all of the links I save.

I think this is the same for other newsfeeds we're exposed to. I now don't expect to keep up with every single Facebook post, Instagram photo, Quora answer, Hacker News article, Reddit thread, etc, so I no longer worry about missing that content in a way that with RSS readers I did.

This feels like healthy progress.

The search for the ultimate newsfeed has led to the content most relevant to me being surfaced when I most need it. And newsfeeds/user experience on most modern apps has evolved to a state where even if I did miss some of that valuable content I can easily discover it (search, favourites, most recent) or it can be flagged to me in another way (email summaries, push notifications).

It's less Signal Vs Noise, more I no longer worry about keeping up with the signals - they will come to me.

So, tweet me your best links. My thumb, Tweetbot and Pocket are waiting.

Free and High-Quality Stock Photo Sites

Free high-quality stock photos

Stock photos that are actually good and free (including those that require attribution) are well worth finding. And once found, keeping track of.

This post is more of a personal reminder for whenever I need stock photos, but feel free to check out these sites for yourself"

The stock photo used in this post is from Unsplash.com.

See also this post on Medium: "Sock photos that don't suck"

 

The Jelly Reading List

 
Jelly is the new iPhone and Android app from Twitter co-founder, Biz Stone.

The basic premise is of "loosely distributed networks of people coordinating via Jelly to help each other." Here's their video to explain more:

I've been playing around with the app this morning and found the experience a mix of Instagram and Quora. You post a photo and ask a question to go with that photo. Other people can then answer your question and link out to sites that support their answer.

Playing around with Jelly, I asked "What are the essential sites or newsletters to subscribe to?"

I thought it would be useful to share the list in case there's anything new, interesting or useful for you.

"What are the essential sites or newsletters to subscribe to?"

Got something to add? Let me know in the comments. Or better yet, leave an answer on Jelly.