July 30, 2019

This article originally appeared in Try This! — Tools for Journalism, our newsletter about digital tools. Want bite-sized news, tutorials and ideas about the best digital tools for journalism in your inbox every Monday? Sign up here.

As July melts into August, the dog days are truly here. It’s a good time to try out some new tools to take better notes, discover online search trends and track changes on websites, all of which you can read about below. Get to it!

TAKING NOTES: Some of the best note-taking apps out there — Apple Notes and Google Keep — are probably already on your phone. But odds are good that you’re not using them to their full potential. J. D. Biersdorfer reports in The New York Times that both do plenty beyond text, with support for linking, images, audio, to-do lists and more. Google Keep can even pull words out of images and turn them into editable text. If you’re looking for something with a little more oomph, Biersdorfer has recommendations for more apps and even has some digital help for those of you who don’t want to toss your paper notebooks in the bin just quite yet.

HASHTAG TRENDING: You probably don’t need a tool to tell you that some of the most popular online searches from the last three months have been “Area 51,” “Tour de France” and “Face App.” But dig a little deeper into a tool like Trennd and you might find something relevant to your work. Looking at popular food searches for the last three months, for example, shows that “White Claw,” “Java Plum” and … “Salted Fish” (???) have all seen exponential growth in online searches.

THERE AND BACK AGAIN: The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, already one of the most useful online tools, is working on a new tool in beta that could make it way more helpful. “Changes” tracks when a page was changed and what was changed on it, highlighting deletions in blue and additions in yellow. This should make fact-checking changes to websites significantly easier. It also means it’ll be easy for audiences to see the changes you make to your headlines and other content — so if you’re not transparent, chances are increasing that you’ll get called out.

GONE GOOGLE: Google is one of the largest companies in the world. It runs the two most popular websites out there. It gives away invaluable tools — Google Analytics, Chrome, Gmail — that many of us use every day. But as concerns grow about privacy and the safety of personal information, it might be worth divesting from some of those Google tools. Whether it’s search, email, browsers, online storage or more, here is a massive list of alternatives to Google.

DON’T DO IT FOR THE ‘GRAM: Instagram is changing. Video posts get more than twice the comments of other posts. Tagging other users, a popular way to increase engagement, doesn’t help much with more than five users tagged. The average post has just one hashtag and using more hashtags actually decreases engagement rates. These findings and more about the shifting sands of the ‘gram come from a new engagement study of 48 million posts (free sign-in required to view).

Dan Oshinsky publishes a weekly roundup about newsletters called Not a Newsletter and just launched a newsletter consulting business called Inbox Collective. Here’s a quick tip from Dan. Want to see more? Let me know

NEWSLETTER BETTER: The preheader is that little bit of preview text that appears alongside your subject line in most email clients, and it’s one of the most important elements to include before sending a newsletter. If you’re not adding a preheader, you’re missing out on a valuable opportunity to tell readers why they should open that day’s email! Write your subject line first, and then add another sentence as the preheader to really help tease what’s inside. Test out different lengths to see what works best for you, but a general rule: Subject lines of fewer than 45 characters and preheaders of fewer than 100 characters tend to fit best on mobile devices.

BLUE BIRD: Last week, to help a colleague, I clicked the button to switch to the new Twitter. I’m not one of those people who things change is a crime, but I’ve had a half dozen persistent issues since then that have cut my use of the site by half. I’m not the only one complaining — plenty of ink has been spilled about its user experience, the new look and the fact that there are still freely tweeting Nazis. But maybe we’re all missing the point. OneZero’s Will Oremus writes that the changes should make Twitter lighter on its feet, and more able to make substantive changes on the fly later on.

ELECT TO ENUNCIATE: The automatic transcription tool Trint, which I found to be the best in class in a study I ran a few years back, ran closing statements from the Democratic debates through its tool and found … Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke are a difficult to transcribe. Trint was able to transcribe Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar with 100 percent accuracy but had some trouble with the former vice president, who tends to slur his words together, and O’Rourke, who trails off at the end of sentences. A test of a recording of President Donald Trump at the G20 summit also scored pretty low — Trint says the president “often swallows suffixes.”

SUMMER JAMS: Since it’s about a million degrees seemingly everywhere in the world, I think it’s a good time to cool off with some lighthearted newsletter content. The New York Times put together an interactive list of summer hot takes, like “Aviator glasses make 99 percent of men look like jumbo dingdongs.” Jump in and vote. And since you’re probably spending a lot of time sitting on the couch with a fan aimed at your noggin, you might as well bookmark Tunefind. It can tell you that great song that you just heard on that show you’ve been binging. You know the one.

Finally, my coworker and cubicle buddy, Tom Jones, is celebrating a redesign and relaunch of the newsletter formerly known as Morning Mediawire. The Poynter Report is news about the news, written for everyone and not just media nerds, delivered to your inbox every morning before 8 a.m. Eastern.

I like Tom’s style — he writes with the authority of a media expert but the tone of a friend. If you’re not signed up, please check it out (and let me know what you think of the design because you might be seeing something similar here soon).

Try This! is supported by the American Press Institute and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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Ren LaForme is the Managing Editor of Poynter.org. He was previously Poynter's digital tools reporter, chronicling tools and technology for journalists, and a producer for…
Ren LaForme

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