The Future for Tumblr and MarsEdit

April 23rd, 2018

MarsEdit’s history with Tumblr has been long and bittersweet. Starting with a December, 2008 post in which I encouraged Tumblr to add fundamental support for apps like MarsEdit to their API:

There are relatively simple changes that Tumblr can make to their API to facilitate an acceptable user experience not only from MarsEdit, but from other client applications that might choose to embrace the service’s API.

That post resulted in a response from their lead developer at the time, Marco Arment, and a significant update to their API. In March, 2009, I released MarsEdit 2.3 with support for Tumblr:

It feels great to finally have an official release out there that supports Tumblr. I would like to thank Marco Arment for his patience in working with me to improve the Tumblr API, so that it will work better with MarsEdit.

Although I was satisfied with the initial changes made to the API, there were areas that still needed work. The most significant shortcoming in Tumblr’s API remains to this day: lack of support for uploading and embedding images independently from “photo” style posts. This means that MarsEdit users who write traditional “text” blog entries on Tumblr cannot add images to those posts, even though the same functionality is available in the Tumblr web editor.

Over the years, other issues have interfered with MarsEdit’s integration with Tumblr, including reliability problems, unexpected api outages and overhauls, among other surprises. In short, it’s been a bumpy road.

In recent years, things have leveled out. Stability seems to have improved after Yahoo! acquired the company in 2013, and the Tumblr API has, for better and for worse, appeared to remain unchanged for many years now. Unfortunately, this lack of change also means that the decade-old lack of support for uploading images has not improved.

The latest chapter in this saga began last year when Verizon acquired Yahoo’s major products, including Tumblr. They established a new company called Oath, which is an umbrella for many sites including Tumblr and, until a few days ago, Flickr. The sale of Flickr makes me wonder where Tumblr fits into Verizon’s overall vision for Oath’s brands.

Most of Oath’s services, including major tech press outlets such as TechCrunch, revolve around providing consumers with content, as opposed to hosting user-contributed content. Do they want out of the blog-hosting business, the way they evidently wanted out of the photo-hosting business? Or did they merely see Flickr as being redundant with Tumblr?

Amidst the uncertainty about Tumblr’s future, the Tumblr Engineering team at least seems to be very optimistic. In an April 10 post titled “A Big New Beautiful Future for the Web at Tumblr“, they write about significant plans to renovate their whole approach to developing the website:

It was time to step back, survey the world of web technology, and clean house in a big way. That we could finally test some of the new tech we’ve been itching to use was just a little bonus.

What’s most interesting, and most encouraging, to me is the list of priorities they cite in rethinking their approach. At the top of the list:

A web client codebase fully separated from the PHP codebase that gets its data from the API in the same way our mobile apps do.

In case it’s not obvious, this is very encouraging for developers of 3rd party apps such as MarsEdit. Why? Because encoded in the ambition to implement their web client using the “API in the same way our mobile apps do” is an implicit promise (though not an Oath™) that they will be modifying the existing API to supply all the same functionality that is currently available on the web. In short: anything they can do on Tumblr.com should soon be doable by apps such as MarsEdit.

This would be a very welcome change, and I’ll be eager to see how it unfolds. It’s not a sure thing, though. WordPress has made a similar shift over the past few years with the development of their WP-REST API. Theoretically, they intend to reimplement the WordPress web interface entirely in terms of that API. What I didn’t anticipate though was that the API would not have a viable authentication model for 3rd party clients. Currently the WP-REST API can only be used on standard WordPress installations with “cookie authentication,” meaning by other web software running in the same browser. It’s effectively unavailable to apps like MarsEdit, and even to WordPress own mobile app.

Tumblr’s ambitions to re-orient development around the API may come with similar gotchas. I know enough after ten years supporting the service to know that I can’t count on anything until I see it. Still, this news leaves me more cautiously optimistic about Tumblr than I have been in years! If Tumblr sticks around, and if they do expand their API to support more functionality in MarsEdit and other apps, I’ll be eager to update the app to support it. Let’s hope for the best!

FastScripts 2.6.12: Minor Script Folder Fixes

April 17th, 2018

FastScripts 2.6.12 is now available from the FastScripts home page, and on the Mac App Store.

This update brings a couple minor fixes affecting the way FastScripts deals with files in your script folders:

  • Fix a bug that could cause aliases in script trees to not resolve properly
  • Fix a bug in folder modification tests that could cause unexpected script folder resyncing

Most users shouldn’t notice much of a change, but I wanted to get these minor issues fixed. Enjoy!

MarsEdit 4.0.9: Fix Blogger Images

April 10th, 2018

MarsEdit 4.0.9 is now available for download from the MarsEdit home page and will be available from the Mac App Store after Apple has approved it.

In MarsEdit 4.0.8 I made a change for Blogger blogs to help ensure that images are embedded in a way that is compatible with Blogger’s themes. In the process, I messed up the generation of image URLs such that the http or https prefix for an uploaded image only has one slash:

https:/

When it should have two:

https://

The result was that for some blogs at least the images are showing up as missing resources, and not loading into the final published page.

MarsEdit 4.0.9 fixes this, but if you have any posts from the past month or so that exhibit this problem, you can fix it by editing the post as plain text (Post -> Edit Plain Text), find the “https:/” and add a slash to make it “https://”.

This update also changes the generation of “<!–more–>” tags on Blogger to avoid wrapping them with “<br />” tags.

Black Ink 2 Public Beta

April 5th, 2018

Last year, in the lead up to shipping MarsEdit 4, I released a public beta. The idea was to give users a chance to start enjoying some of the new features of the app while I worked out the remaining details and added a few bells and whistles. Now, I’d like to do a similar thing for Black Ink, my crossword solving app for the Mac.

Beta Release Overview

Black Ink 2 is available now as a public beta: Download Black Ink 2.0b4. This update requires macOS 10.12 or greater.

Pricing for Black Ink 2 has not been finalized. New users may evaluate Black Ink 2 using the free 30-day trial. When Black Ink 2 is released, customers who purchased Black Ink 1 on or after January 1, 2018, will receive a free upgrade.

Historical Perspective

In February 2007, I acquired a crossword solving app named MacXword. After a quick but significant update, I rebranded it and announced Black Ink 1.0 in March of that year. I explained at the time what a perfect fit a crossword app was for me personally:

The best part about this acquisition is that I love, and always have loved crossword puzzles. I’ve even gone so far as to try my hand at composing them. I’ve let my passion for puzzles diminish a little bit over the years, but Black Ink makes it so easy to download and solve puzzles, I’m finding it the perfect antidote to my stress-filled days.

I’ve actively maintained the app these past ten years, consistently releasing updates to refine the solving experience, add new puzzle sources, and adapt to the overall reduction in the number of free puzzles on the web. In spite of another lull in my personal enthusiasm for solving puzzles, I’ve been proud to be the steward of what I consider the best crossword solving app on any platform.

A couple years ago, my interest in solving puzzles was rekindled, and through my personal experience using the app almost every day, I have been motivated to make a number of longstanding improvements to the app. Many of these come down to fit and finish. To crossword lovers, the puzzles themselves are things of beauty, and I believe they should be represented as cleanly as possible both on the screen and when printed. For this reason I have always emphasized precise rendering of puzzle grid lines, cell numbers, and answer characters. Black Ink 1 is a beautiful app, but there are areas where it can still be improved.

What’s New in Black Ink 2

To give you an idea of what’s new, let’s start with a (shrunken-down, to fit this blog) screenshot:

Screenshot of Black Ink 2's main puzzle solving interface.

Existing Black Ink users will appreciate that the interface is familiar, yet different. Here are some of the changes that are visible above:

  • No more drawers! Clue lists are now integrated into the main puzzle window.
  • Sharper grid lines. On Retina displays, the lines between cells are now thinner to give an overall cleaner look.
  • Refined circle drawing. In Black Ink 1, circled cells draw right over the cell number. In the screenshot above, see how the circle makes way for the number. It does the same thing for any of the badges for incorrect and revealed answers in cells.

On top of these changes, I am chipping away at other details that may be minor nuisances, but which can be confusing or frustrating. How many times have you opened a puzzle and spent a good few minutes on it, only to realize you were missing something subtle? Some puzzles include special notes for solvers, but you have to remember to “Show Puzzle Notes…” from the menu bar. Not anymore. In Black Ink 2, if a puzzle contains notes, they are displayed automatically upon opening the puzzle:

Screenshot of a Black Ink puzzle with notes displayed.

Here are some other improvements you’ll find in Black Ink 2:

  • Clue text dynamically resizes to ensure the whole clue is visible at the top of the window.
  • “Advance to blank” behavior now considers a known incorrect answer as “blank”, for ease of navigation when finishing up puzzle with incorrect answers.
  • Capitalized letters are now accepted as valid (when you instinctively capitalize a proper noun, e.g.).
  • Diagramless puzzles now open as a blank grid, suitable for solving in the app or for printing.

What’s Next?

I’m excited to get this beta out to you so you can see what I’ve been working on, but I really need your feedback to figure out both where to go next, and how to refine what I’ve already done. Some of the enhancements I’m considering adding to the 2.0 release include:

  • Improved tools for downloading older puzzles from a source
  • Embedding the Timer into the main puzzle window.
  • Improved full-screen solving experience.
  • Tools for capturing screenshots of puzzles for social sharing.

And of course because I know many of you are wondering, I do still have it in mind to create an iOS version of Black Ink. I don’t have anything to announce at this time.

Please consider joining the Red Sweater Slack team to discuss the upcoming release, share your feedback, or let me know what you wish I’d add. Join the #blackink channel once you’re there! As always, I also welcome bug reports and other feedback via email.

I hope you enjoy the sneak peak at Black Ink 2. Happy solving, and let me know what you think!