Hej, and welcome to Semi-Online, issue #17. (Yeah. I’m an IKEA fan. 🤷♀️️)
I still remember my sheer joy in the late ’90s when I got (prepaid dial-up) internet access. Now I could talk to anyone anywhere in the world – and learn about anything I wanted, whenever I wanted! I wasn’t limited to my classes and textbooks, the school library, or the encyclopedias and magazines at home. The entire world opened up to little Third-Worlder me with a simple twist of an imaginary key – and this unmistakable sound.
Fast forward to 2023, and… fuck. Everyone‘s online and talking at everyone else at top volume. I see too much information – and spend too many hours on social media – daily. The content I see is either useful and memorable, heartbreaking, utterly pointless, insensitive, self-serving, and/or outright false. Plus I’m also in the content business, so my sentiments about this constant chatter are most likely shared by others about mine.
📥️ Step 1: Where am I getting all of this from???
Like most people with internet access, noise is coming at me from multiple directions:
- Individual social media apps’ feeds, where legitimate news links mix with friends’ random posts and contacts’ memes, links, and videos (original and reposted)
- Feedly for websites’ and blogs’ RSS feeds (yes, they still exist! 🙃️)
- Stoop for my newsletter subscriptions
- Pocket for my bookmarked articles (that I’ll supposedly ‘read later’ but rarely do) from Google, social media feeds, and random websites
- Joplin for all my notes, research, and outlines for personal writing projects
- Airtable for content calendars and my work CRM.
⏲️ Step 2: Call time
I also had to know how much time I spend on these apps and how dependent I’ve become on them.
Facebook and Instagram’s mobile apps tell you exactly how active you are on them daily and weekly. As far as I know, they’re the only social platforms with this feature built-in. But there’s a workaround – and it’s already on your smartphone.
My phone (a OnePlus Nord CE 2 unit running Android 13) has a Digital Wellbeing and Parental Controls tab. It lists the times I spend on specific apps, and these numbers could be a sufficient wake-up call for most. It also offers two modes to lower phone usage (Bedtime and Focus) and two ways to disconnect (Do Not Disturb or turn all app notifications off).
This is what I have for the midday of October 26, 2023:
In my defense, I don’t have cable TV, so I use YouTube for live news channels and white noise. Reddit’s just fun 🤭️ And I’ve yet to quit my longstanding Twitter – oh, sorry, X 🤮️ – and Instagram-scrolling habit during breakfast and coffee. I also needed to talk to some people via Viber that day about home maintenance and repair concerns.
I know, I know. Excuses, excuses. 🙇♀️️
📵️ Step 3: Clean up and limit online hours
With apps and usage times covered, I can then:
- Delete my unused/inactive apps and close dormant accounts. I’ve already talked about these tasks in this newsletter, so check that out for great digital decluttering tips.
- Schedule when I’ll be online for conversations or resharing/reposting, etc. I’ve been limiting my chatting, reading, and doomscrolling in the mornings and mid to late evenings. So far, it’s working out well.
📤️ Step 4: Bottleneck and filter all online sources
Rather than think of my daily info or content barrage as something that simply happens to helpless ol’ me, I can restrict it to just a few free apps that do several jobs for me. I have too many apps for the same damn things, and it’s high time I bottleneck and consolidate that chaos.
TL;DR: Instead of feeling attacked, I can do some digital crowd control. Like this:
Last month, I found three apps that limit and manage the content I read and generate. More importantly, I spent more hours in October offline compared to prior months. Or, at the very least, I wasn’t tapping or scrolling on my gadgets from wake-up to sleep time. I think that’s an excellent start!
Try them out, and let me know what you think. 💗️
Pricing: Free with paid tiers
I first heard of Rambox back in 2019.
During a weekly meeting, I mentioned feeling stressed over the number of communication apps we used at the content marketing agency I worked for then. We were on email, Google Workspace, Twist, Flock, WhatsApp, Slack, Zoom, and Hubspot. I would flinch whenever any of these apps pinged, which was all the time. And even if my ex-boss kept saying we didn’t have to respond immediately, asynchronous comms works only for our team. Our clients expected us to be on call 24/7, even during holidays and declared time off.
The ex-boss suggested I try Rambox, describing it as something similar to Yahoo! Messenger or Trillian. (Very ‘older millennial’ of us. I’m painfully aware of this. 🤦♀️️) So I installed the now-defunct Community Edition and used it for a while. Then I uninstalled it when I left that job at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
I reinstalled Rambox a couple of months ago, and the app is now closed-source. But it still pulls together probably the widest selection of online consumer and enterprise services into one app. I use it these days mainly to wrangle my personal and work social media accounts.
Rambox functions as a megabrowser for all of your apps and accounts. Right off the bat, it lessened the number of browser tabs and windows I had open. Sweet!
I can also enable or disable individual notifications or activate Focus Mode while using the app. Having just one app open and not hearing or seeing any pings helps me avoid those deep pits of distractions and doomscrolling.
Another Rambox feature that I like is the ability to add ‘custom apps’ to my dashboard. If you’re using an under-the-radar or niche app that doesn’t have native support, just input the app’s URL and Rambox will add them to your dashboard as if you’re logged on via a web browser.
I also love that Rambox supports Linux operating systems natively. There are four available formats: Snap (default), AppImage (my preferred format these days), DEB, and RPM.
Rambox offers a 30-day trial period where you’ll have access to all of its features. After those 30 days, you can use only its basic functions. Those are good enough for most people and use cases. But I also miss the ability to organize my apps into custom workspaces or tiles, as well as install extensions like Grammarly or Dark Mode.
I’ll also describe this app as the naggy/pushy type. It keeps bugging me to update it, and switches to Snap-related warnings by default instead of sticking to my AppImage install. The ‘best’ part? If you don’t update it within the deadline, you can’t use the app anymore until you give in and update the damn thing. I get that this is for security reasons, but no one loves forced updates, Rambox.
Pricing: Free (for now)
There was another team-wide discussion at that aforementioned job, this time about indispensable work tools. A colleague said she relied on Notion for her notes, drafts, brain dumps, etc. Of course, the rest of the team jumped on the Notion bandwagon.
But I didn’t stick around for too long. Its aesthetics and customization options were 👌️😘️ But not Notion’s employees’ access to my content, or that user data on Notion isn’t protected by end-to-end (E2E) encryption. I don’t care if other apps already force this onto us, or if Notion needs my explicit consent to access my account for whatever reason. Privacy and encryption are non-negotiable, so I shut my Notion account down.
I used Joplin instead, and that worked for me for a few years. Joplin is utilitarian and easy to get the hang of. It’s open-source and lets me choose which cloud service to use for syncing and storage. All my data is encrypted and no one at Joplin has or will ever have access to that data. Plus the app’s maker and developers foster an active and dedicated online community. So whenever I encountered problems with Joplin, I could simply post a thread and anyone could respond and help me solve it in a few hours.
But Joplin’s simplicity and regular syncing issues eventually made me ditch it. I wanted a ‘personal knowledge base’ with Notion’s snazzy customizations and Obsidian’s graph view, but also with Joplin’s emphasis on security/privacy and offline access. I also wanted Airtable’s relational databases for my content calendar and freelance-work CRM.
What I love about it
I’ve been using Anytype for the past month, and I’m into it so far. (I outlined and drafted this newsletter on Anytype!) It readily meets all my conditions above. Plus, take it from someone coming from stick-to-basics Joplin: this app is gorgeous.
Its blocks also remind me of Ghost’s beautiful UI and WordPress‘ fast-evolving Gutenberg blocks. I write a lot faster on Anytype now because I can just press forward slash (‘/’ on the keyboard) to bring up app commands and elements. No more looking up menu options or forgetting complex keyboard shortcuts!
Anytype’s use of P2P syncing means it’s fast at sorting out my data across my devices. As much as I appreciate this feature, there is something I don’t quite like about it, which you’ll see in a few paragraphs below.
Any app with native Linux support out of the gate deserves a callout, and Anytype gets it from me 💗️💗️💗️ Its Debian app works perfectly on my Ubuntu laptop. This super-simple thing made me choose it within five seconds over AppFlowy, which was installed but would never launch. 🙄️
The Graph view shows me exactly where and how my every document, page, note, or file connects to other elements – and in literally how many ways. I love looking at it!
Anytype also requires users to sign up for access, but it doesn’t ask for user emails or passwords for security. Instead, it uses a seed phrase or recovery phrase. I’ve never encountered this before, and I find it unique and intriguing. Here’s the detailed process if you’re interested.
Lastly, the Anytype community looks as active and helpful as Joplin’s. I’m not sure if this is standard for any app with a small user base, but it’s comforting to know I’ll get help here too if/when I need it. (Unlike Ubuntu Forums, which won’t even let me change my goddamn username…)
…and what I don’t love about it
First, people could balk at user signup being required. I never had to sign up for Joplin, and Obsidian doesn’t require that either. I learned about signups being a deal-breaker for some because one Obsidian user commented on my Mastodon post about Anytype, and we had a brief friendly exchange about it.
The next downside would be its lack of other notable features or even service extensions and integrations. Anytype’s still a baby (in Beta mode after three years on Alpha/testing status), so I get it. But I’m looking forward to having these on hand, if there are actual plans to implement them:
- Calendars. This thing needs calendars or something that can sync to services such as Google Calendar or Nextcloud.
- Sharing of specific pages/notes/documents for collaboration.
- Saving and syncing my data on my own cloud storage service. Anytype gives users 1.07GB of free storage, but I want to be able to choose where to store my data – and without paying extra for it.
- One-click data export to and restoration in other services. I had to copy-and-paste my notes one by one from Joplin, then manually recreate my preferred structure and folders because Anytype allows only per-document export! The fuck.
So if you’re reliant on these functions or you’re on the Second Brain bandwagon/trend, maybe wait a while until Anytype has sorted these out.
Also worth noting: Anytype has a steep learning curve, and it could be steeper than expected for some. It took me days to get the hang of it, even with Anytype’s docs and guides + YouTube tutorials, because I was so used to Joplin’s utter simplicity and intuitiveness. Take your time, from the terms Anytype uses to how everything clicks together.
One more thing, and I obviously can’t stress this enough: DO NOT FORGET OR LOSE YOUR SEED PHRASE. If that happens, you won’t be able to access your account ever again. There’s no ‘Forgot your password?’ function to get around this. And remember, Anytype can’t access your account, so it won’t be able to do anything for you either.
I forget how I learned about Omnivore, but I’m glad I did.
Omnivore got my attention with three main points. It’s open-source, it claims to be ‘distraction-free’ (i.e., no ads or flashy designs or UIs), and it supports multiple types of online content.
That last bit is crucial in my longtime quest for FREE app consolidation. Here’s how Omnivore got me to close three content-feed accounts and move them here instead:
- I can save articles to it via browser extensions (bye, Pocket)
- I can add RSS or Atom feeds to get website and blog updates sent straight to me (bye, Feedly)
- I can use a custom Omnivore email address for newsletter subscriptions (bye, Stoop).
Then it adds more features into the mix:
- Users can highlight and annotate content on the app
- Those with visual difficulties can use Omnivore’s text-to-speech feature to go through their saved articles
- Obsidian and Logseq users can connect their account to Omnivore for more Second Brain stuff
- Omnivore has native support for Pocket and Readwise, and I can connect my other apps and services via APIs and webhooks.
I’ve been using Omnivore for a few weeks. I see myself using this app for a long time – preferably as long as I’ve used Pocket (more than 10 years!!!), Feedly (10 years, after Google Reader was shut down), and Stoop (around two years, I think).
Something this new (it’s just two years old!) will also have more than a few kinks to it.
First, you must be cutthroat in deciding which of your RSS and email newsletter subscriptions to keep or ditch. I kept only a fourth from Feedly and Stoop, yet I still got a massive content bomb on my first go with Omnivore! As much as I complain about information overload, I’m part of the problem, too. Digital hoarding is truly insidious 😆️
So I wiped all that out and started anew. Omnivore’s Bulk Tool came in clutch here. With it, I deleted my entire feed in one click. 🧹️🧹️🧹️ The app stored the last 30 emails I got though, so I didn’t quite miss out on that horde of content.
Second, Omnivore can do much better in content sorting. Users can click on their subscriptions on the left-hand panel to read content by publisher, sort it out via delivery method (RSS or email newsletter), or sort by custom labels. Despite these, I miss my custom folders and subfolders over on Feedly. That method was much more orderly and itemized than what Omnivore has as of now.
And even if you label articles coming from your feeds, Omnivore doesn’t automatically label the content from these same sources afterward. Hey, Omnivore. Do autolabeling or automatic organization, please and thank you.
TBH, I want Omnivore to give me the following as well:
- A Restore function for any accidentally erased content or links
- The ability to add links manually on the Android app (it’s already enabled on iOS), and
- The option to rename email newsletter subscriptions, or consolidate emails from newsletters with multiple users/team members.
Some critical fixes are also needed on Omnivore’s backend. For example, some newsletter confirmation emails were sent to my actual email address instead of my Omnivore feed.
I see that as a potential privacy issue. I don’t like being forced to confirm a newsletter subscription with an email address I specifically wanted hidden. That is not a good look for any online reading service.
Note that this confirmation snafu involves a big newsletter running Mailchimp. This is important because this little newsletter of mine used Mailchimp, too. And I’ve had trouble adding my very own newsletter to Omnivore, as well as another one I read often that’s sent via MailerLite. Meanwhile, I get Substack newsletters without any problems, as well as emails from other providers.
Whether this is an internal or external problem, Omnivore must fix this as soon as it can.