I may be what you call a “semi-power user”. Just like John Siracusa’s jokes on the Accidental Tech Podcast, one of my first actions when opening up a new application or device is to head to the settings and see the limitations or detail of my control. I also enjoy going beyond the default Mac or iOS apps when they provide a more advanced but well-designed feature set, even if I would have to modify my workflow (and I have modified my workflow hundreds of times).
However, as time goes by and I waste more money on monthly subscriptions, I have set up lines in the sand to maximize my productive gain against my time/monetary costs. One of the riskiest investments (not really risky or an investment as I haven’t paid more than $25 total for these applications) was pushing my workflow into a clipboard-based one. On iOS, the app Workflow was a trailblazer (iOS Pastebot was before my time) in using the clipboard to accomplish tasks such as quickly opening up links or modifying the text into something more usable.
There are so many possibilities that the OS clipboard can unlock. One can format text from plain into HTML, or automatically recognize a link and provide metadata, or sequence separate pieces of text into a larger and more organized product.
However, after using Pastebot and Copied on MacOS, I have found that present limitations of clipboard managers transform these possibilities into chores. I realize how much of a “semi-power user” I really am: I love using other people’s productivity apps to serve my writing and task management, but I do not enjoy when these apps rely on my pseudo-programming input in order to accomplish basic tasks. And in this disappointment, I realize that the “semi-power user” enjoys the hammer, but not how the hammer was made.
Pastebot: A clipboard manager’s dream, but a clipboard user’s slog
Pastebot’s largest accomplishment was getting me to check out my archive of 500 clips, organizing them into “pasteboards”, folders of clips that can be saved indefinitely, and have a growing archive of writing, links, quotes, and other resources for my research. However, I found it lacking in “smoothness”:
- resizing the app window while displaying clips is terribly laggy;
- creating a new pasteboard requires me to restart the app so I can quickly drag a clip into the sidebar;
- I have to manually title each and every clip so I can make them searchable;
- I can’t wrap my brain around sequencing clips so I can post them in the right order (and believe me, I enjoy wrapping my brains around things, but this was getting rejected every time for some reason);
- I can’t bulk export in JSON, HTML, or anything else! I have to drag little .txt files after a CMD+A or SHIFT-Click.
My workflow for Clipboard Managers is less about getting help with programming through reformatting filters or sequential pasting, but more about resurfacing ideas and resources that I habitually copy, so I can be inspired by the forgotten enabled by my archives of knowledge. This is why I put so much effort into Evernote for so long (that’s another story); I want an external brain to easily access past knowledge for research and self-reflective purposes.
Pastebot lacks certain features (Copied doesn’t have them either) that provide this capability. If they were to be accomplished, I would have a truly powerful and curated external brain:
- After passing 250/500/1000 clips, store older clips into a folder or searchable document (better yet, have integration with Evernote/OneNote other services that are compatible with the “external brain” paradigm).
- Have that other kind of “Filter”, the ones where if I copy something with the word “dillydally”, it would automatically add that into a Pasteboard/List that’s searching for any clip with the term “dillydally”. This would be huge.
- I use this app as a notepad for research. Please make an app for iOS devices. I would like to actually write on the Mac while looking on my iPad for my automatically updating list on “Pumpkin Seeds”.
- Can you edit clips in Pastebot? I didn’t really look until I found it prominently displayed in Copied. If not, please allow me to edit the clip text.
Switching to Copied
I was already using Copied on my iOS devices before purchasing Pastebot a couple months ago. However, Copied was not that useful and I expected that the extra features of Pastebot would make it a better general product than the former. However, I realized that the glue that held Copied together was the MacOS version, which can swiftly edit, remove, and add new clips and Lists, the equivalent to the Pasteboards. All these changes are nearly instantaneously pushed to my iPad, and now I can make a “Read Later” list that will automatically compile between devices. All my research can be shared quickly and in bits rather than dumping everything into Notes.app for later analysis.
So, some winning features that makes me really enjoy Copied over Pastebot:
- Using Copied on iPad is a joy. There are two share sheet functions: one that will simply add the clipboard to the app, and the other will bring up a menu so you can quickly add it to a list or make adjustments on the spot. I actually wouldn’t be opposed to a function on MacOS to have an option of what to do with a clip when I make it. Should be toggleable, of course.
- When in the iOS app itself, I can swipe to the right to quickly copy and swipe to the left for a menu that will let me add it to a List (only one at a time sadly), delete, or put a formatting function on it. This feels good.
- I can then switch over to my Mac and look at my clips, performing triage, more detailed organizing. I can even CMD+N to create a new clip! Like a note! Talk about thinking outside the box.
- The rules are one step away from being exactly what I want. Right now, they are app-based: if I’m copying in Ulysses, it can automatically send all clips into the predetermined list or do nothing at all. I want the keyword matching rule as well, but this is a step in the right direction.
- The window is compact. I only wanted the Pasteboard Sidebar to be seen because I had to drag everything from the clips column. By taking away the possibility of that sidebar, my brain feels much more comfortable with right-clicking to add to a list.
- Press Return to Paste in Active Window: I click on a clip I want to use while Ulysses is up and running with a blinking cursor, press Enter, and suddenly the clip is there! No double clicking and then CMD-V’ing! There are a whole bunch of options to use shortcuts to use clips and paste them.
- Lastly, Copied automatically adds titles to links by pulling metadata! It saves me so much time compared to Pastebot and helps me visualize a better research-based clipboard manager.
I still don’t want to use templates. They seem to retroactive of a function for me to intuitively think about using it. I’d like the raw data to be seen before I decide on what to do with it. So Copy to Template does not make much sense for me. I’d also like to see a preview of the template with a given clip so I can understand its actual use. Things like this that require “practice” to produce a workflow is unwieldy and unintuitive.
So as the “semi-power user”, all I want is a tool that is powerful rather than extensible. This puts more responsibility on the developer but gives me peace of mind that an update doesn’t just kill the little macro programs I may have found/made myself.
As a writer and researcher, I want:
- a clipboard manager that automatically files away the clips I make with metadata (Pasteboard knows its from App X/date, Copied knows its title/date), so I can search “clips with App X/date Y/keyword Z”.
- smart folders that can collect clips matching this metadata as well.
- a clipboard manager that can easily export individual or groups of clips into a readable or archivable format (plain text, formatted PDF),
- metadata to help visualize the clips differently (articles can be seen with serifed fonts, links highlighted in blue, plain text in monospace).
I understand that manipulation is the point at this moment, but I believe Copied is moving into “depth” instead of “breadth” – to make these clips living pieces of information that deserve a certain context. The brain doesn’t work well with huge lists, and unconsciously categorizes and differentiates. If an app can take in my acquired info and spit out easy-to-read raw/processed data, then I know that I can more easily integrate that app into my workflow.