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A week of using Postach.io shows flaws as often as features

A couple of weeks ago, Frugal Guidance 2 hosted a series of articles comparing various blogging tools with an eye to their usefulness to job hunters wanting to set up a blog or website to help promote their job search. We then looked at a variety of simple blogging tools, including Postach.io. Since it works with Evernote – one of my favorite tools – I selected Postach.io as the first new site for me to test in more depth.

A small startup, Postach.io’s claim to fame is it’s ability to write and post directly from Evernote, the universal note-taking application. Alternatively, you can also store posts on the online file service, Dropbox, and also sync with various media sites, including YouTube and Pocket.

Postach.io also promotes basic curation tools by allowing you to access various web services and post excerpts or files to your Postach.io blog.

To find out how the site works, I created a blog on Postach.io called Andy’s Musings. The process was very easy:

First, sign up with your name and email address and create a password.

Second, give your new Postach.io blog a name and a URL (which ends with postach.io in the format, http://yourblogname.postach.io.

Third, connect your Postachio account with Evernote. Once you give it permission, it sets up a notebook in Evernote called Postach.io.

Default Postach.io theme

That’s it. If you want to change the default design of your blog (my default banner graphic of a Volkswagon bus near a beach was a bit odd), just go to your settings and select one of the 13 other options. (You can upload a different photo, too.)

The Postach.io Dashboard

The Postach.io dashboard is about as simple as it gets. There’s no editor, no upload button, and no graphics tools. The pen icon takes you to settings. The curlicue arrows sync Postach.io with your other services.

To write a post, open up your linked Evernote notebook, create a new note, and write. When you are finished, you add the tag, “Published.” Although you can use Evernote’s editing tools to add formatting (boldface, italics, crossed-out text, and so forth), apparently this sometimes makes it more difficult to import and display the text on Postach.io. Their help files suggest using the Simplify formatting command in Evernote to remove formatting. I was able to publish one blog post with Evernote formatting intact, so it is possible.

EN-tags

You add a post by adding the tag, “published.” If you use markdown, as recommended, none of the Evernote formatting tools can be used when writing your posts.

Postach.io, however, prefers to work with plain text plus Markdown.  You do need to add a Markdown tag within Evernote.

The only problem with this is that Evernote was never designed to be a Markdown editor, so if you want to preview your Markdown editing, you need a separate program designed to view Markdown code.

Using Evernote, you can insert graphics in your note, but don’t expect to add a caption or wrap text around it.

Alternatively, you could simply write in HTML, but if you can do that you probably want a more robust blogging and editing tool than Postach.io.

The Need for Speed

The major problem, which was consistent in my tests, is that it takes hours for a post to make it from Evernote to Postach.io, which is simply unacceptable. Although I couldn’t time it exactly, it appeared to take between 2-1/2 and 3 hours for each post written in Evernote to show up in my blog after I added the published tag.

Postach.io’s customer support is aware of the problem, but they don’t offer a timeline for fixing it. Since Postach.io is busy adding other features instead of fixing the speed issue, it seems that repairing the basics is not the highest priority.

Once an Evernote note is linked to Postach.io, though, you can use Evernote to update that note. My experience is that the changes then show up as soon as you sync in Postach.io.

Using Dropbox with Postach.io

You can also create a blog from a text file, and then upload it to a special, linked Postachio folder in Dropbox. But to do this, you need to add meta information to your file first, including the title, date, tags and type of post, formatted just so. This is easy, but adds several steps. When I attached my Dropbox account to Postach.io, a Dropbox folder appeared immediately, but it appears that it took a couple of hours for another folder with the name of my blog to appear inside the Postach.io folder. In the meantime, I was trying to add a file to my blog unsuccessfully.

Dropbox Linking

Finally, after discovering the second folder, I also discovered that a text file from WordPad apparently didn’t format correctly to connect with Postach.io. However, when I pasted the same Markdown text to Notepad++ and uploaded it, it worked fine and posted to my blog in seconds! Success, finally.

Since the Dropbox / Postach.io link works only with text files, you cannot add graphics directly into your post as you can in Evernote. You can upload graphics into your Dropbox folder, but you have to add a link to the graphic in the post. Since you cannot edit a file in Dropbox, you need to edit the original text file and then upload it again to Dropbox to apply changes. It’s more complex than using Evernote.

I did try to add a photo to a test post several times in Dropbox, following the directions on the Postach.io site. I was never successful, though and gave up in frustration. (I think that the instructions for linking the file need to be updated and clearer.)

Customer Support

Customer support on Postach.io is via its internal email. It’s easy to get in touch with the people making the site, but don’t expect an instant response. When my first post from Evernote didn’t publish, I first checked the online support files and went through the entire checklist. After a couple of hours, I emailed the tech staff, and I got a nice answer by the next morning. (For a free service, that’s usually as good as it gets.) By that time, the Evernote document had shown up on Postach.io.

Other Linked Tools

I did not try linking my new blog with Disqus, the popular commenting system, but it’s available. You can also link your new blog with Google Analytics. You can also add videos from Youtube by embedding links.

There’s more! You can also embed tweets from Twitter, songs from Rdio, Pixton Comics, Mathjax math formulas, SoundCloud audio files, Flickr images, Slideshare stacks, Codepen files, and About.me files. (Don’t feel bad if you don’t know all these online services. I only knew about half of them.)

Postach.io and Pocket

While I was testing things, Postach.io announced a new way to share info from the online clipping and reading service, Pocket.

I’m a fan of Pocket. It allows you to use a browser tool to easily save the link of an article to the service. You read it later using Pocket’s reading tools (including their excellent iPad app).

Postach.io announced that you can now connect the two services, so if you want to share a post, you tag it “published” in Pocket, and a photo and a short excerpt will show up on your Postach.io blog. Your readers can then view the excerpt and click on a link to go to the original article.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to customize the excerpt or to add your own comments about why you wanted to share that article. Even if I wanted to use curation to build up a readership, I don’t think this would be the ideal tool to do that. Plus, if you find an article on the web you want to share, it’s an indirect process.

For example, suppose, as you’re reading this article, you want to share it with your Postach.io readers. First you need to have Pocket installed in your browser. You click on the Pocket icon to add it to your reading list. In some browsers, you can add the “published” tag as you send it to Pocket, otherwise you need to find it in Pocket and add the tag later. You still have to open up the Pocket application, though, to let it update before the excerpt can show up in your Postach.io blog. Then you go to Postach.io and click the sync button to have it show up in your blog.

There’s nothing particularly difficult about any of this, but you need to go through an extra series of steps when a simple cut-and-paste would do the same thing on another blog platform without a third software party in between.

Mariner's Quilt - LACMA - CC

Evaluating Postach.io

As an Evernote fan, I really wanted Postach.io to show me the advantages of connecting a blog to Evernote and creating extra functionality. I imagined it being used by teams, clubs, co-workers and distributed work groups as a productivity tool as well as a blog.

But the long delays in showing new material on Postach.io make the service frustrating, especially since there are so many other blogging and workgroup tools that can do this more efficiently.

Although using Dropbox instead of Evernote is quicker, it is more complicated. When I finally got it working properly and experimented a bit, I was able to get a post up quickly. I never could figure out how to include a photo, though.

There are other details that make using Postach.io just a bit harder or less attractive than using other easy blog tools:

  1. You cannot write or edit your posts on Postach.io; you either need to do that in Evernote or edit your file and upload it to Dropbox. You could end up with some articles in each service, as I did, which could be confusing later.
  2. There’s no preview of how your post will look on Postach.io.
  3. Currently, there is no way to see even a list of your posts online and go directly to a specific post. If you have lots of postings, you may need to click through several pages of posts to find the earlier ones.
  4. There’s no search bar for readers to search your Postach.io posts, either.
  5. There is no social sharing between Postach.io users and no central area to view different blogs.
  6. You cannot create captions for photos (unless you do that in your photo-editing tool).
  7. Although there are a variety of themes to use to change the look of your blog, you can’t change the look of a theme, such as adjusting the color or fonts, without changing the actual code of your theme in Github (yet another external app).
  8. With the time delay between Evernote and Postach.io, it’s frustrating trying to get posts up and running on a tight schedule.

Even without these problems, using Postach.io feels like trying to make a large quilt by sewing together bits and pieces of many different software packages, but not having the thread and needle to combine them into a whole. To reach Postach.io’s potential, you need to use bits and pieces of Evernote, a markdown editor, Dropbox, a photo editor, Github, Pocket, Disqus, Google Analytics, Twitter, Rdio, Flickr, Slideshare and various other online tools. But there’s no central dashboard or editor to actually sew these parts together. It’s quilting with clothespins.

Until Postach.io can get its basic functionality working properly, I cannot recommend it to Evernote users as an attractive add-on, or to bloggers as an easy-to-use tool. Until they work out those bugs, all the other add-ons and features are inconsequential. But even if they do, having to use so many different tools to add and edit content (rather than having one editor online) feels clunky and inefficient. All in all, my Postach.io experience was very disappointing.

Credits

Photo of the Mariner’s Compass quilt is from the Los Angeles  County Museum of Art (creator not listed), used under the Wikimedia Commons license.
Screenshots are from Postach.io and the Windows version of Evernote.

Frugal Guidance 2 - http://andybrandt531.com