How You Use Alfred: Ryan Cowles, Automattic Happiness Engineer

In this new series, we’ll be taking a look at how some users have adopted Alfred in their workplace. They’ll give us a glimpse of how they use Alfred, how they stay productive and what it’s like working for some of the companies we know and love.

Today, we begin the series in good company, with Ryan Cowles, who is a Happiness Engineer for Automattic, who you’ll also know best as the company behind WordPress.com. I’ve been using WordPress for over 10 years now, so it’s great fun to see people like Ryan are there to keep WordPress users happy!

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Who are you, and what keeps you busy?

Hi there! I’m Ryan. I work for Automattic (the company behind WordPress.com, Jetpack, and a whole bunch of other cool stuff). I’m a Happiness Engineer, and most of the work that I do is supporting the Jetpack plugin. This involves answering support requests, beta testing, bug hunting, and most importantly, helping our users get the most out of Jetpack.

The work can vary quite a bit from day-to-day. But, whether I am responding to a support request or troubleshooting a Jetpack bug, Alfred is a staple in my workflow.

How long have you been using Alfred?

I’ve been using Alfred for over two years. I started using it for the basic features; Making quick calculations, launching apps, running a quick Google search, and entering system commands. Those features alone made Alfred an integral part of my work day. But when my coworker Bryan introduced me to workflows, that took my usage to the next level.

What aspects of Alfred make your workday more productive?

I rely heavily on workflows. I have one that boots up my local work environment. Instead of opening apps and URLs one at a time, I simply enter my work’ keyword and everything is open and ready to go. And just for good measure, Alfred also sends me a “Good Morning” message.

Custom searches are another great feature. I use a lot of debugging tools, many of which live at specific URLs. Fumbling through bookmarks, pulling up the page, and then entering a URL each time can get exhausting. So, I avoid that process with custom searches.

I communicate with users via text a lot, too. Sometimes it’s an email, sometimes it’s a forum post, and sometimes it’s a comment reply. I have a database of snippets that I use in these situations. This allows me to quickly enter text or drop a link without memorizing a URL. When you’re typing all day, saving those extra keystrokes is a huge efficiency boost.

During these conversations, I sometimes need help with a word. And once again Alfred is there to assist. I can pull up the definition, thesaurus, or spellcheck without disrupting my flow of writing. I’ve also installed Webster’s 1913 Dictionary, which I can search right from Alfred. This comes in handy when I’m doing some creative writing and OS X’s thesaurus just doesn’t cut it.

Are there workflows you’ve created or imported that you’d recommend?

There are quite a few! In no particular order, here are some of the ones that I swear by:

Alfred GistI often share code snippets with users and coworkers. This workflow allows me to create a Gist that I can share without needing to leave my editor.

ColorsWhen working with CSS, I often need to convert colors to different formats. The Colors workflow allows me to do just that, and quickly insert the result.

OS X Toolbox: The author of this workflow calls it a “one stop toolkit to fix common annoyances and toggle states in OS X.” Using the ‘tb’ keyword you can relaunch finder, purge inactive memory, and a lot of other helpful system actions.

TodoistI use Todoist to keep track of my tasks. And of course, there’s a workflow that allows me to automate that process. I bring up Alfred, and type `todo` followed by the task. Then it’s sent directly to my Todoist Inbox and I can file it later.

RenameThis is a powerful one. You can batch rename any number of files in a directory. You can use custom numbering, add dates, use regex, and a whole lot more. I use it a lot when organizing my photos, but it can be used for any filetype.

WordPress Developer ReferenceWordPress has an incredible amount of developer documentation. It would be impossible to memorize every function or hook. So I use a workflow to reference them. I have all the documentation at my fingertips, searchable with autocomplete.

A couple of my friends/coworkers have written posts about their favorite workflows, too:

What’s the first feature you show off when you introduce a friend or colleague to Alfred?

That’s a tough call. There are so many cool things that you can do with Alfred, so it’s hard to choose just one. From now on, I think I will just link them to this post.

Alfred has proven to be an invaluable tool. It is productivity and efficiency rolled into one single app. I can’t imagine my day without it!

Thanks Ryan for sharing your thoughts with us, and thanks to Automattic for helping make the web a more interesting place to read!

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Making Your Users Happy: The Business Tools We Use

Every company has its own processes, numerous little cogs that work together to give a more or less smooth user experience. When one little cog doesn’t work, it’s like having a stone in your shoe; only tiny but incredibly annoying. Over the past two years, we have tried to refine the processes we use to keep Alfred users as happy as possible, whether they use the core version or the Powerpack.

When a few fellow small business founders asked me what tools we used when we were at South by Southwest Interactive earlier this month, I thought I should share more widely some of our favourite ones, in the hope that they can help others keep a happy community.

Cachefly

While we also use the Mac App Store for distribution, a large number of users choose to get Alfred directly from our website. With hundreds of thousands of downloads for every release, we needed a fast, solid delivery network we could trust to always be available when you needed your Alfred fix. This is where Cachefly came in.

The download comes in lightning fast so don’t blink or you’ll miss it! :D

Campaign Monitor

There are a few tools that, once discovered, stay with you for a lifetime. Campaign Monitor is one of those; it’s an email marketing platform that allows you to send newsletters to your ever-so-precious list of customers. Their templates system make your life easy from one send to the next, and the support is friendly and second-to-none.

It’s super simple to add a signup box to your site (like the Alfred newsletter one here) and the process of sending a newsletter couldn’t be more straightforward.

Campaign Monitor have recently launched the Worldview feature, which allows you to see in real-time when your emails are opened. Inevitably, it makes me look like a complete lunatic as I say “Hi Stig! Oh hello Paul!” to my screen as I see Alfred users opening our newsletters. (Just think of me next time an Alfred newsletter lands in your inbox!) Every time, it’s a pleasure to use and pretty affordable for small businesses.

FoxyCart

Those who bought the Powerpack in the early days will remember that we used Google Checkout as our payment process. It was straightforward to set up but the user experience was… not brilliant. Google Checkout customer service was non-existent so if we or a user had issue, Google wasn’t there to help us resolve it as quickly as we like to.

A few months ago, we switched to FoxyCart, an e-commerce platform that was recommended to us by a few Alfred users. With a little bit of customisation, the Powerpack purchase process was fully branded in lovely Alfred colours and ready to be rolled out. We could now offer credit card and PayPal options to make buying the Powerpack a pleasant experience. The platform has been rock solid from day one so, conversion has increased and we’ve received many compliments on the friendlier process.

Twitter app

Every day, we receive dozens of tweets from you and we love reading each and every one. Andrew also tries to reply to as many of you chatty tweeters as possible.

Originally, we used Cotweet, a very useful if slightly hiccupy platform for responding to and archiving tweets. Unfortunately, a few months ago, Cotweet became a paid-only product with a high price tag, so we looked for alternatives. After experimenting with various apps, believe it or not, Andrew settled for the official Twitter app for Mac. This wouldn’t be suitable for larger teams where many people tweet, or for fancy tasks like setting posts to publish automatically later, but we use Twitter to talk to you so the simplicity suits us just fine!

On iOS, we both use Tweetbot for iPhone and iPad, which has the most pleasant UI out of the flurry of iOS Twitter apps out there.

WordPress

WordPress needs no introduction these days, but we fly their flag high and proud. It’s nice and simple to use, the WordPress.com hosted platform is stable and fast, and it’s a tried and tested solution. Through the highest peaks of traffic we’ve had, it’s never let us down so we can sleep easy.

Tumblr

Andrew picked Tumblr for his Alfred development blog, and so did Anna for the Alfred tips one. Tumblr is quick to publish to, and a lightweight solution when you just want to get those tips out there!

Wikidot

One of the most important assets for an app as flexible and complex as Alfred is a good knowledge base and FAQ. Around a year ago, we moved to Wikidot, a wiki platform, for our help site. The objective was to make it as easy as possible to add new knowledge base items and edit them, to keep them up to date.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be 100% satisfied with the way we handle FAQs. I’ll keep adding and refining content every day, but this platform makes it easier!

Get Satisfaction

One thing we’ve learned in the past two years is that Alfred users are tinkerers with a lot of ideas. From creating custom themes to sharing their own extensions, it made sense to have a user-to-user forum for swapping those ideas and tweaking extensions to make them just perfect.

Get Satisfaction is a quirky little support forum, which allows us to see the level of interest for certain features, and publicly help groups of users. Of course, it’s no guarantee that a feature will be implemented, but it’s a nice way to gauge interest and a great place for users to share their own extensions.

Ultimately, it’s about more than the tools…

You can have the best running shoes in the world, but if you don’t put them on, the miles won’t run themselves.

It takes motivation, passion and a whole lot of stamina to give your users a good experience . No matter how good the tools are, you’ve got to wake up in the morning with a smile on your face and a willingness to do everything you do as well as it can possibly be done.

Use the tools wisely and get to know what matters to your users. Welcome feedback, listen hard and carry on creating great software!