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Reuters/Elijah Nouvelage
Of course there’s an app for that.
APP-LE OF MY EYE

Five “creator” apps that have captured Silicon Valley’s attention

By Khe Hy

In the Sesame Street song “There’s an App for That,” a muppet by the name of Guy Smiley tells our youngins that “If you want to comb your cat” (or “when you have to fix a flat”)—There’s an app for that. And boy are there apps,  2.1 million of them for Android and 1.8 million for iOS, according to market research firm Statista.

But if you want to find apps that can help you boost your productivity or creativity, how can you sift through the noise to find that small group of apps that will make it to your home screen, without feeling sapped of all the productivity and creativity you had when you started?

We combed through conversations happening in Silicon Valley, on Hacker News, Product Hunt, Reddit, and the deep corners of Tech Twitter, to find five tools you might consider adding to your own arsenal.

Notion.so is an all-purpose productivity suite

It’s ironic, but many of us are drowning in a complex web of tools, apps, and digital services all aimed at making us more productive. Everyone needs a to-do list (ToDoist, Omnifocus, Things), a file manager (Dropbox, Google Drive), and maybe a note-taking tool (Evernote, Dropbox Paper, Bear, and OneNote). Perhaps you also have a project manager (Trello, Asana, Airtable). And let’s not forget your company-wide use of Google Docs and Spreadsheets.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember, at least you can stitch them all together using recipes from IFTTT or zaps on Zapier, which let you combine the functionality of multiple apps.

But you also might want to look at Notion, which enters the fray as a one-stop replacement for many of your separate tools. You can think of Notion as a collection of Legos (or in Notion’s parlance, a block). Each block represents a piece of data. Examples of simple blocks include paragraphs, headers, or images. More complex ones could be spreadsheets, toggle lists, or databases. A Notion “page” allows you to easily aggregate all these blocks into one cohesive document that can then be shared with colleagues, posted to Slack channels, and even used as corporate Wikis.

For example, with Notion you could create a reusable template for meeting notes. Yes, any word processor would allow you to create a document with headers, text, and images. But with a few clicks you could add the relevant items from your to-do list, plus inline links (i.e. no copy-pasting required) to related documents, and a repository for pictures of your actual notes. You could then tag each note with different categories (topic, project, attendees) and sort or filter them across any permutation of fields (i.e. only show me notes with my boss, from the past quarter, relating to Project X).

Once you’ve understood the block structure, the resulting tools and workflows you can create are limitless. The Notion community is quite active in contributing different use cases (or templates as Notion calls them) for others to adapt for themselves, including job hunt trackers, mood boards, culture handbooks, and investment dashboards.

Carrd.co for building beautiful, 0ne-page websites

We all know that our names are being entered into Google on a regular basis. Whether the searcher is a potential employer or potential Tinder date, controlling the narrative beyond some blasé social media profiles is an easy way to stand out, digitally at least. However, firing up a simple personal web page can feel both daunting and expensive.

Carrd.co is a free site builder that’s a viable alternative to Wordpress (which is more complex and requires some light coding) or more comprehensive (but pricey) site-builders like Squarespace and Wix. Carrd differentiates itself by focusing on one-page sites, like a personal home page, portfolio, landing page, or an expanded resume.

You can get a burst of inspiration from one of 60+ templates and seamlessly incorporate various components for text, images, and other embedded widgets. It’s easy to use, extremely fast, and most importantly, it’s responsive, meaning your site will look beautiful on laptops, tablets, and mobile phones.

Figma for collaborative web design

The early days of graphic design were dominated by the Adobe Suite of products, notably the 800-lb. gorilla that is Illustrator and Photoshop. But these tools weren’t native to web design and as a result were cumbersome, bloated, and expensive. In 2010 an upstart called Sketch came along to streamline the tools used to create all of the visual elements for web pages, apps, and devices.

Today, the field has become more crowded. As expected, Adobe itself got into the game with Adobe XD, specifically tailored to web and mobile designers. That same year, Dylan Field, then a 20-year-old Thiel Fellow (and Brown University dropout) launched Figma, which tackles a similar set of features with the twist of being offered entirely in a web browser.

Field, who grew up using Google Docs, built Figma around the belief that design is an inherently collaborative experience. As software moved to the cloud, Field felt that design tools hadn’t caught up, making design work feel “offline and isolated.” Collaboration is central to Figma’s DNA, which means files don’t need to be saved and all versions live under one specific URL—no synching or emailing of files here—and it plugs neatly into chat-based apps like Slack.

Teachable, so everyone can be a teacher

Why does it feel like everyone has an online course these days? The answer could be that launching a course online has never been easier.

In the old days, you needed to find a Learning Management System (or “LMS”) to host and administer your class; the LMS used to be the exclusive domain of corporate learning departments (the kind that produced clunky HR videos). But technology enhancements in hosting, streaming, payment and video have put these tools in the hands of anyone with an internet connection.

Today’s LMSes, like Teachable (also Thinkific and Podia) can get your course up and running in a short amount of time, with cloud-based tools that simplify the entire process of developing, marketing, and selling a course. This new generation of LMSs differs from its predecessors (like Skillshare and Udemy) in that course creators bring their own audiences to the platform and thus get to keep a larger share of each transaction.

A course might be comprised of a series of videos, workbooks, surveys, quizzes, and discussion groups, with topics ranging from a Feng Shui tutorial for $9,999 to a $247 master class on brush-lettering in watercolor. Even if these topics aren’t for you, someone out there is buying—Teachable’s founder and CEO, Ankur Nagpal, reported on Twitter that in 2018, 17 course creators using Teachable “had earned over $1 million” with another 5,000-plus users “earning over $1,000.”

Substack, to flip the switch to a paid email newsletter

The current backlash around social networks, algorithmic feeds, and rapid-fire synchronous communication has resulted in a proliferation in email newsletters. Whether the sender is a passionate hobbyist (on say, the business of hip hop) or an established media company (Quartz, for instance, has more than half a dozen newsletters you can subscribe to) this seemingly old school method of communication has never been more in vogue.

Yet most email newsletter writers are not laboring over their weekly digests purely out of the goodness of their hearts. They want to get paid, whether through sponsorships, donations, or subscriptions, yet many balk at the complexity of making that a reality. Enter SubStack, a two-year-old startup from Y Combinator’s Winter 2018 batch.

Substack lets anyone create a free newsletter (similarly to Mailchimp or Revue) but with a twist. Thanks to a behind-the-scenes integration with the payment-processing startup Stripe, you can flip a switch and offer up a premium subscription to your content. This could include extra “paywalled” content, access to comment threads, and even audio recordings resembling podcast episodes. Substack also blurs the line between blog posts and newsletters, as all your emails reside in a crisp and well-designed archive that you can host on your own domain.

Visiting Substack’s “leaderboard” shows the mix of niche-y personalities and topics on the platform, ranging from Quartz’s own Ali Griswold’s Oversharing newsletter (covering the sharing economy) and Bill Bishop’s Sinocism (all things China) to Matt Taibbi’s Untitledgate (exploring the links between Trump and Putin).