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Apple is the Worst Software Developer

As the yawns that followed the release of Apple’s new hardware fade away, it’s worth remembering that the company that gave us the tablet computer, the ultrabook laptop and the slate smartphone isn’t always so clever. In fact, look beyond the revolutionary first iterations of the hardware his firm designed and you can see that when it comes to software, Steve Jobs was never as fastidious as he was made out to be — and that under Tim Cook, that tradition is continuing.

Take what has to be users’ biggest bugbear in Apple apps: the company’s tendency towards skeuomorphism, the implementation in design of elements that were necessary in previous technologies but are now outdated. Open the Notes app that comes with the iPad, for example, and you’ll get what looks like a block of lined, yellow paper, complete with a hint at torn sheets. The edge is bordered with an imitation of stitched leather and a fake pocket holds dates. Even the font is closer to Comic Sans than Times New Roman. The idea is to make us feel that we’re actually writing in a notebook rather than storing ideas in a thin computer.

But it’s not as though we’re new to making notes on simple word processors and need to be slowly eased in to jotting ideas onto a screen. Look for “notes” in the App Store, and you’ll get nearly 2,500 results for the iPad (and nearly double that amount for the iPhone). Even when those apps do employ their own skeuomorphism — as FiftyThree does with Paper’s moleskine-style notebooks — the combination of technology and tradition still works much better than Apple’s attempt which is just unimaginative, a throwback to an age that Apple helped destroy. If Apple had made the iPhone with the same approach it took in the development of Notes, the number pad would be rotary and the device would be six inches thick.

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The Twitter-Based Client-Hunting Tricks You’re Missing

LinkedIn connects you to jobs, Facebook connects you to the people you know and Twitter connects you to the people you want to know — the people who need a writer, a designer, or a freelancer programmer, for example. All you have to do is follow people who look like they might need the services you provide and, as soon as they’re ready, they’ll drop you a line and ask you to pitch. In practice, it rarely works out that way. If it did, Twellow, a Twitter directory, would list more than 4,572 freelancers, a fraction of the nearly 600,000 individuals and businesses listed on Elance. And yet, attraction-based marketing and Twitter do go together, giving freelancers an opportunity to land gigs, and helping clients to find service providers who already fill them with confidence. Here’s how to do it.

Start by Searching Smart

The key to making attraction-based marketing work on Twitter is to identify the right people looking for the right sorts of services and persuade them to like you.

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5 Internet Cons and How They Were Caught

Forget Nigerian emails offering pots of cash in return for your bank account details and don’t worry about herbal mood enhancers that are made of nothing more than horny goat weed and ginger. Only the truly dumb are taken in by one of those spam-delivered cons. Some Internet-based confidence tricks though are spectacular, smart and they might well have got past you. Here are five of the best and the biggest.

R.J. Ellory’s Sock Puppets

The Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival sounds like the sort of event in which authors discuss acts of deception rather than confess to them. But that’s what ebook author Stephen Leather did earlier this summer at the annual Harrogate writers’ get-together. As he defended the economics of low-priced digital books and argued that pirates help to promote his titles, he also confessed to using “sock puppets.” He posted fake positive reviews of his own books on Amazon and used false identities on forums to recommend his titles. Read the rest…

Kickstarter Failures Get Second Chance

Kickstarter has an impressive success rate of just under 44 percent. Or to put in another way, your Kickstarter project has a 56 percent chance of failure despite the hours you’ll have put into preparing the pitch video, choosing the rewards and marketing the page. But just because your project failed to reach its funding target — and therefore failed to give you any cash at all — doesn’t mean you’ve reached the end of the road.

Back in 2010, for example, Dave Chenell and Eric Cleckner, two Syracuse University students, launched a Kickstarter campaign for their graFighters project. The pair were looking for $20,000 to create an online fighting game in which players could upload their doodles and battle them against each other in PvP combat. They raised a touch over $3,000.

The reasons for their failure, they say, were varied. The rewards weren’t particularly rewarding (it took $300 to net a backer a t-shirt); there was no marketing to support the campaign; and $20,000 was a big target (the average successful project generates $5,487.) But the pair were lucky. After the campaign had failed, they received an email from a fund manager at X.Million Venture Capital. He had seen their campaign, watched their videos… and agreed to give them $200,000 to turn their basic idea into a fully-fledged game.

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Amazon Fails Developers and Writers

Amazon is more than a fixture on the Internet’s high street and it’s long been more than an online bookstore. With a market value in excess of $109 billion, the company, which started selling books online at discounted rates, is now a grocer, a tech firm, a publishing company and just about everything in between. But despite its size, its importance and the vital role the firm plays in almost every aspect of online life — from the books you download to your iPad to the servers that deliver the content you read on a browser — Amazon does next to nothing well. In fact, its failures are worrying and they’re particularly worrying for freelancers and entrepreneurs.

Start with the role that Amazon plays underpinning some of the Web’s most important online services. Instagram, Pinterest and Netflix are just three of the many giant companies with millions of users who make use of Amazon’s Web Services (AWS). The company’s mixture of cloud-based storage, computing and databasing is supposed to handle the information work, leaving the tech firms to focus on the front-end usability and service provision.

It’s a system that’s great in theory and unnoticeable when everything goes to plan. But too often, it doesn’t. In late June, a storm took out an Amazon data center in Ashburn, Virginia. According to Wired, Amazon’s Elastic Load Balancing (ELB) service, which should have spread the processing loads of firms such as Netflix across data centers when one center goes offline, also failed. Netflix was unavailable for three hours, including the peak hours of 8pm to 11pm. That was the second outage to hit Amazon, and its clients, that month.

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Why You Shouldn’t Write a Corporate Blog

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a freelancer or the marketing manager of someone else’s business, you know that you need a blog. Without a place to post articles, attract traffic and deliver news, you’re barely on the Internet. It’s a belief that led 65 percent of businesses to add a blog to their website by 2011 — a rise from 48 percent just two years earlier.  But is blogging really necessary, and is it the right idea for you and your business?

The Benefits of Blogging

The rewards of blogging are well-known and well-documented. You can divide them into four clear benefits. Read the rest…

23 Things Every Writer and Blogger Should Know

There’s never been a better time to be a freelance writer. With ads on blogs and publishing platforms open to all, anyone with writing talent has the opportunity to make a living on their own terms. Before you fire your clients and start working for yourself though, here are 23 things you need to know.

  1. Your Blog is (Probably) Not Going to Make Money

Few bloggers actually make any serious money writing blog posts. According to one survey of 1,000 bloggers only around 8 percent of bloggers make enough money “to be able to support a family.” About 81 percent fail to even make $100. Read the rest…

When GTD Really Works

We’re all lazy. Left to our own devices, the chances are pretty high that we’d walk away from the computer right now, fire up our iPads and settle down to an iBook or a movie, or shoot birds at some egg-stealing pigs. We’d ignore all of the amazing benefits that David Allen’s Getting Things Done system could be doing for our efficiency and not get anything done at all. We’d even lose the opportunity to be more idle. That seems to be the belief among some followers of GTD — and they’re right. Sometimes GTD can work if only we made the effort to make it work. But only sometimes and only for some people.

Posting a comment on a previous GTD post, for example, “Ben,” a GTD user, writes:

“there are people with ADD. maybe it’s not for them. then there are people who are so lazy that they don’t want to learn how to be lazier, because it’s too much ‘work.’”

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Separate Your Niches

Judging by its website, Gambill Photography is a fairly typical small photography business. The husband and wife team sell a set of different photography services aimed at the general public: engagements, weddings, seniors, babies and families. Even though there’s a big difference between the skills needed to photograph a baby and those that a photographer will need during a five-hour wedding shoot, they’re all shown off together on the company’s website. The navigation bar contains links to portfolios for each those photography niches.

Compare that to the way that Jerry Lodriguss sells his photography skills. Nowhere on the home page of his astrophotography website is there any mention that Lodriguss is actually a professional sports photographer. And nowhere on his sports photography landing page is there any indication that he also sells astrophotography stock. Those two niches are kept completely separate.

Marketers as famous as Seth Godin are always telling entrepreneurs, big and small, that they should spot a niche and conquer it. In practice though, sellers tend to aim for more than one niche at the same time. They sell wedding photography and baby photography, design logos as well as websites or program apps as well as database software. When should you push those niches together, and when should you separate them so that buyers believe that they’re talking to a specialist? Read the rest…

Kickstarter Can Win You Freelance Work

Kickstarter is the place to go when you’re ready to kick away your freelance career and build your own business. With 44 percent of the nearly 63,000 projects posted on the site fully funded, including seven that received more than a million dollars (and one that picked up more than $10 million), if your idea fits one of the platform’s categories you’ve got a good chance of raising the cash you need to create your own computer game, put on a dance performance or build your own hi-tech, Bluetooth-supported gadget. But what if you’re happy freelancing? What can the lessons of Kickstarter’s large number of successful funding pitches do for someone looking to increase the success rate of their freelance job pitches?

At first glance, the two goals have little in common. Kickstarter entrepreneurs are usually looking for funds that will enable them to sell a product. Whether they’re making a computer game, a new iPad stylus or an album, they’re aiming to work for themselves not pitch talent and ability that will persuade someone to hire them.

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Use Email as Your Freelance Management Hub

Productivity experts might tell us to make lists and draw chains, create files and label folders but in practice, there’s one productivity system that all freelancers use every day. Email might not have been invented to manage our work routines but that’s often how we use it. We flag messages to make sure that communications aren’t forgotten. We email ourselves reminders to make sure that we complete tasks. We pray that every time we reply to an enquiry, our email service is automatically adding the address to a contact list we never organize.

There are more efficient ways to use email as your freelance management hub. Here’s how to do it.


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Pick Up Freelance Work on Social Media

Conduct a quick search on Twitter as you’re waiting for your next freelance project to come in, and you might just get a bit of a surprise. Hidden among the tweets about breakfast cereals, Justin Bieber, and #threewordstosayaftersex are a series of requests for freelance workers in a variety of different fields. At a rough average, a new plea for a freelance help goes out every few minutes on Twitter from someone somewhere in the world. And that’s just Twitter. When it comes to landing freelance work, social media might just be the new Elance. Here’s how to use social media to find freelance clients.


The biggest opportunities for freelancers are on the biggest social media site of all. Facebook is rapidly approaching its billionth member and while one American jobseeker in six found their last job through a social media platform, it’s Facebook that lands 44 percent of the jobseeking activity.

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Strengthen Your Productivity Chain

Increasing your productivity means doing more than making a list or improving the way you answer your email. It requires making changes to as many as a dozen different aspects of your life. That, at least, is the theory of Casey Moore, a Virginia-based productivity coach who takes a holistic approach to improving output rates. Moore started her career in 2000 as a part-time professional organizer, helping Texans to organize their homes and businesses. She soon moved to full-time work and by the middle of the decade  was focused on improving business efficiency rather than domestic organization.

“Although I love organizing ‘stuff,’ I realized that helping people work more effectively (and thereby live the lives they wanted) was more challenging, interesting and rewarding,” she said. “To me, ‘productivity’ means producing whatever you want — accomplishing more at work, feeling more restful at home, or navigating more successfully between the two.”

Taking a Holistic Approach to Productivity

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Multitasking, Switchtasking and Background Tasking

Multitasking is inefficient, unproductive and if it doesn’t get you fired, it probably should. That’s been the reaction to the increasing tendency, especially among young people, to do more than one thing at the same time. They — we — surf the Web, write documents, complete calculations, text friends, listen to music and make phone calls all at the same time. The fingers of one hand might be tapping a keyboard while the thumb on the other hand squeezes out an SMS message and our ears are taking in our favorite tunes from Pandora.

It looks like we’re being hugely efficient, and getting a massive amount done at the same time. In fact, say the experts, we’re not multitasking at all. We’re “switchtasking,” moving from one job to another without giving any one of them the attention they need — and losing time with each shift.

“What we are really doing is switching back and forth between two tasks rapidly, typing here, paying attention there, checking our ‘crackberry’ here, answering voicemail there, back and forth, back and forth at a high rate,” says productivity expert Dave Crenshaw, author of  The Myth of Multitasking: How ‘Doing It All’ Gets Nothing Done. “It is these switches that cause people to lose time. In this way, switchtasking causes us to be exponentially less productive…. Keep this up over a long period of time, and you have deeply engrained habits that cause stress and anxiety and dropped responsibilities and a myriad of productivity and focus problems.”

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Apple’s Biggest iPad Failings

Despite the fact that Apple has now sold more than 67 million iPads since its release two years ago, despite the fact that even the old iPad 2 is crushing Kindle Fire and despite the fact that sales of the tablet are still rising (they’re up 150 percent since last year) Apple’s iPad has many failings. This is what’s wrong with the world’s leading tablet computer.

The Screen Isn’t All That

The new iPad’s biggest sales point — the only real positive difference to affect the user, in fact — is its “Retina” screen. Those 3.1 million pixels on a 2048 x 1536 resolution, giving four times the number of pixels in an iPad 2 and a million more pixels than an HDTV can’t be bad, can they? After all, more has got to be better.

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Expert Advice Sites

Mark Cuban has an unusual way of screening his calls. The entrepreneur, who sold his social marketing firm Flowtown to Demandforce last year, charges $10,000 for an hour’s chat. On the other hand, you can pay just $4.17 per minute and call top Silicon Valley venture capitalist (and “nose-picker extraordinaire”) Dave McClure. Both donate their fees to charity and both dispense their advice and the benefit of their experience through Clarity, a service created by Mark Cuban that allows experts to sell their knowledge.

The service isn’t unique. There are now lots of different ways for people who need specialist information and advice to pick up the knowledge they need from successful types with experience. They also allow experts — and often anyone who wants to call themselves an expert — to make a little extra money sharing their knowledge. Here’s a rundown of some of the different ways you can learn from the best or teach the rest.


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Winning Trust in Your Freelance Services

Image: miiCard

The biggest challenge in selling freelance services isn’t finding potential new clients. And it isn’t choosing the works to show in your portfolio. It’s creating trust,  the tipping point where the questions about your ability transform into a belief that you can do the job. That’s what every sales process does to a prospect: it allows them to trust that you can create the product they need, at a schedule that roughly suits them and according to the budget you’ve agreed.

But trust works both ways. Just as a client who’s just handed over a deposit to a freelancer needs to feel that that sum they’re paying will translate into a product they can use, so the freelancer needs to believe that the deposit they receive won’t be the last payment that comes their way. We need to trust the client to accept good work and pay for it.

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What Works on Kickstarter

With several projects now topping a million dollars in pledges, Kickstarter strategies are becoming clearer.

Between the evening of February 8, 2012 and the evening of February 9, 2012 Kickstarter had the craziest 24 hours it had seen in its three-year history. On Wednesday, at 6.54 pm, Elevation Dock, a concept for an iPhone stand from design and manufacturing firm ElevationLab, passed TikTok to become the largest project in Kickstarter history by winning $942,579 in pledges. The company had asked for $75,000. At around 2 pm the following day, it became the first million dollar Kickstarter project. It would go on to make $1,464,706. Four hours later, game maker Tim Schafer’s Double Fine Adventure became the second Kickstarter project to pass a million dollars — reaching the milestone less than a day after launching. It went on to earn $3,336,371.

Those are huge successes for two very different projects, and they’re not alone. The open-source funding service has provided the means for projects as varied as comic books and gardening gear to find the money they need to go into production. So what does it take to turn a concept not just into a success on Kickstarter, but into a blockbuster that gives you all you dreamed of and more? What lessons can we learn from the some of the site’s biggest success stories?

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