A Year of Wonder Tools

5 most-read posts of the year, 5 tools I've relied on, and new experiments ahead

Hi! I’m Jeremy 👋. I started this newsletter a year ago — on April 16, 2020. If you’re new to the newsletter, welcome! In this anniversary post I’m sharing some of the tools I use to send this weekly, the most-read posts of the year, and a few experiments 🥽 I’m planning.

🧰 5 tools I rely on to send out this newsletter👇

Substack for reaching your inbox

I chose Substack because it’s free, easy to use, and made for writers, not marketers. For this pandemic-period side project, I sought out a platform to test ideas without complexity or cost. Substack costs nothing. If you charge for subscriptions, the platform takes a 10% cut. Substack has been adding design features and analytics, and with $65 million in new funding, the platform is likely to continue improving. If you’re developing a newsletter, here’s my Twitter list with some additional tools to consider.

Roam for organizing notes and ideas

Ideas, notes and links that I’m exploring all end up in Roam, my digital file cabinet. I explained why I find Roam so valuable here, in what turned out to be the most read post I wrote this year.

It does have some limitations: it so far lacks a mobile client and an API (for plugging in with other tools); it’s pricey (though discounted for scholars), and it takes a while to get used to. Even so, it’s my go-to for notes and idea seeds. 

Roam vs alternatives 

Roam allows for ideas and notes to be interconnected in ways that traditional note-taking tools like Evernote, Onenote, Apple Notes and Google Keep don’t. Those apps are all simple, free and easy to use. I’ve used each of them at some point. They all work well for jotting down quick bits of information. But when it comes to drawing connections between ideas and organizing thoughts creatively, Roam has become my tool of choice as explained here

Google Docs for drafts

I like the ease and reliability of GDocs. Here’s some of what I like:

  • Typing doc.new in my browser’s address bar to automatically create a new draft

  • Selecting the name of a site and pressing Command+K to auto-add a link

  • Dictating directly into my draft when I tire of typing

  • Sharing the doc privately with others when I need a fresh perspective

  • Sharing a doc publicly, like this one with resources on entrepreneurial journalism, when I want to share notes, links or materials related to something I’m covering

  • Being able to reliably use it offline when my Internet service goes down

  • Annotating docs

    GDocs is not the most modern document creator, but it’s functional and reliable. Bear and Ulysses, both free and nicely-designed, haven’t overtaken GDocs in my toolkit. I shared more tips and tricks for Google Docs in this post and this one, and more writing tools in this one.

Airtable for organizing info into tables

When I make tables for sharing information in a post, Airtable is one of my go-to tools. It offers a polished look when sharing resource collections, like these collections of recommended podcasts or board games.

This post about Airtable was one of the first newsletters I sent.

Cloudapp for screenshots

In many posts, I include screenshots to show the tools I’m writing about. Cloudapp is because it lets me organize and annotate screenshots and record static images, gifs and videos. It also lets me share a link to an image or the image itself. Bonus feature: I can use Cloudapp to upload and share files. 

Cloudapp vs alternatives 

Apple’s built-in screen capture tool (press command+4) works fine for a quick screen capture, but doesn’t help with organizing screenshots or integrate video or gif recording or the sharing of a link to the screen shot.

Windows 10 has a built-in approach for those on that platform, as do Chromebooks, but both lack Cloudapp’s feature set. Screenshots are such a common need that there are now dozens of apps that do this well, for free. Just look at this list if you’re looking for a new option. If you need to capture a full page that requires scrolling down, use the free Full Page Screen Capture.

I also regularly use and highly recommend TextSniper. It’s super useful for capturing text from slides or sites that feature text in image form. 

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5 most viewed posts over the past year

Full archive of past posts here

What’s Ahead 🔮

In the year ahead I plan to experiment with new types of posts, live demos, mini videos, coaching, and events on emerging platforms like Twitter Spaces & Run the World.

I’m also considering experiments with monetization through sponsorships, syndication, subscriptions, and other services to make this project sustainable. Experimenting with these approaches will help inform the work I do for my day job, directing the Journalism Creators Program at CUNY’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism.

By the way, if you’re looking for a new opportunity or know others who are, our team at the J-School is hiring an educational program coordinator (info here) and an outreach & communications manager (info here).

At this one-year mark, I’m looking for new partners to collaborate on content, events, and other new products and experiments. I’m also open to help with design, copy editing, growth experiments, and monetization. Let me know if you’d like to chat.

To talk about sponsorship, syndication, coaching, collaborating on an event, project or anything else, reply to this email or DM me @jeremycaplan on Twitter — or email me at jeremy@jeremycaplan.com

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Thanks for reading ❤️

And thanks for your email replies.

Your emails over the past year have included smart suggestions, helpful corrections and thoughtful questions. Your notes 💌 helped persuade me to keep writing after the initial experiment. Writing these posts and corresponding with you has helped diminish the sting of isolation.🧍‍♂️

Thanks for welcoming my tool nerdery into your inbox.

And thanks for sharing posts with your colleagues, friends, readers and social networks. Your sharing of the newsletter has enabled me to connect with lots of new people this year without any marketing. Your word of mouth is much appreciated. 🌼

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