Not such a Safe Harbor?

by Jon_B in

There is some interesting comment on the collapse of the EU-US Safe Harbor agreement on the Microsoft on the Issues blog

We have had a number of concerned clients asking about this, often prompted by Google's announcement of alternate terms and conditions for EU customers incorporating the model clauses (PDF link) so it's interesting to see the Microsoft perspective.

Google, Microsoft and Amazon Web Services have all taken steps to put these measures in place in advance of the "collapse" (although obviously the EU model clauses themselves are not necessarily immune from future scrutiny by the European Court of Justice), but there are a lot of smaller SAAS organisations out there who have historically relied on the Safe Harbor provisions to allow processing of data on servers outside the EEA.

For EU-based companies an audit of the various cloud or SAAS providers they use is a first step, but if you are using providers who previously relied on the Safe Harbor exemption and haven't updated their terms to deal with data protection compliance in an alternative way then there may be no (legal) alternative but to stop using them.

This isn't just about tiny companies either. I don't want to pick on any particular company, but at the time of writing this the privacy policy of some large SAAS companies which are well-known in the UK still refer to certification with the Safe Harbor scheme.

Of course, it may be possible for the EU-based business to obtain express consent to the processing, but this has to be given "clearly and freely" and on the basis that it may later be withdrawn by the individual so this may be difficult to achieve in practice.

I'm sure the saga is far from over, but for now any businesses processing data in the cloud or using SAAS should pay particular attention.

Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill

by Jon_B in

One of the new measures announced in today's Queen's Speech is the proposed new Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill.

This will contain a variety of provisions about zero-hours contracts, enforcement of the National Minimum Wage and related topics.

Interestingly, however, there is also a proposal to create a "register of beneficial ownership" of British companies.

I'm not sure at this stage whether this is to apply only to publicy-owned companies, but it will be quite a major exercise to undertake given the number of shares in public and private companies which are currently held by nominees.

Companies may also simply not have this information, particularly as section 126 of the Companies Act 2006currently prohibits notices of any trusts from being entered on a company's register of members.

The bill is scheduled to be published on 16th June so it will be interesting to see the detail behind these proposals then.

Don't sweat the small print (part two)

by Jon_B in

My original Don't Sweat the Small Print post back in 2011 consistently sees the highest traffic of anything I have written on this blog, which I guess means that people are still thinking about the End User Licence Agreement issue for mobile apps.

I have also had quite a few specific questions and comments about how to deal with EULAs.

I have tried to pick these up in the comments section, but there is one issue which I think is big enough to merit a follow-up post:-

how do you make sure your EULA is binding on the user?

The original post was Apple-centric (and so is this one), but the general contract law bits apply to Google Play, Android apps and other platforms just as they do to the iOS App Store.

There are a lot of ways you can bring your EULA to the user's attention. These are the ones I can think of, in (roughly) ascending order of how effective they are:-

  1. A link in the app to the terms
  2. A link in the App Store description to the terms
  3. Including your EULA in the bespoke EULA field in iTunes Connect
  4. Including the text of your EULA in the app description
  5. One or other of 1-4 plus forcing acceptance of the EULA when the app is first launched
  6. One or other of 1-4 plus forcing a scroll-through of the EULA followed by acceptance when the app is first launched

Items 2 and 3 above are pretty similar. There aren't that many apps which use the EULA field in the App Store, but an example is Candy Crush for iOS. If you look at the description for this on the App Store, you will see the following link to the terms and conditions of use.

Screenshot of the Candy Crush description showing the "Licence Agreement" link.

Screenshot of the Candy Crush description showing the "Licence Agreement" link.

Clicking on the Licence Agreement tab takes you to the set of terms and conditions.

I actually think this is stronger than just including a link, because it takes advantage of a specific process within the App Store which is aimed at drawing attention to EULA terms.

There isn't any specific legal authority on this, but using a specific process provided by the App Store may be more robust than simply including a link in the app description to terms which are hosted on your own site. The argument is that users should be aware that an entry in the EULA field means that additional terms apply (whether this is true or not is anyone's guess though).

In an ideal world, the Apple standard Licensed Application End User Licence Agreement would have a clause which stated that any clauses in the EULA field in iTunes automatically formed part of your licence agreement; however, I can't see that this is covered anywhere.

Instead, is states that the standard agreement will be displaced by any "valid end user licence agreement" formed between the publisher and the user.

This all matters because your EULA won't be "valid" unless it actually forms part of your contract with the user.

Some of the case law on this dates from well before the internet, but the basic principles haven't changed that much since 1949 and the case of Olley v Marlborough Court Hotel.

The judgement in that case lists the three ways in which you can prove that a user (or a hotel guest in this case) has agreed to be bound by terms and conditions:-

  1. A written document signed by the party to be bound

  2. Handing [the party] before or at the time of the contract a written notice specifying its terms and making it clear to him that the contract is on those terms.

  3. A prominent public notice which is plain for [the party] to see when he makes the contract.

It isn't hard to map the list of methods for accepting a mobile app EULA at the start of this post onto these options.

For some more recent guidance from the Courts, you can look at Spreadex v Cochrane from 2012.

The best lesson from this case is actually not to leave your kids with unsupervised access to your spread betting account. However, these is also some useful comment on how (and how not) to get users to agree to terms.

The Spreadex site had a statement telling the user that the "Customer Agreement" could be viewed via a link and that the user should only click Agree once they had read and understood it.

The Customer Agreement was 49 pages of small print and the Court commented that this was

" entirely inadequate"

way of bringing important terms to the user's attention and that it would have been "close to a miracle" if the user had actually read the entire agreement.

One factor here was that the terms which Spreadex sought to rely on were very onerous for the user (in effect seeking to make him liable for £50,000 in unauthorised trades).

The more painful the term for the user, the more effort the developer will need to make to bring it to their attention. It could be that less important terms could be validly incorporated into a contract using the process adopted by Spreadex.

Without delving too deep into the case law, it is worth looking at the judgement in Interfoto Picture Library Ltd v Stiletto Visual Programmes Ltd where Lord Justice Bingham pointed out that where the contract term is:

"[not] usual in that class of contract, a defendant must show that his intention to attach an unusual condition of that particular nature was fairly brought to the notice of the other party..."

This case is from 1987 (in the days where you ordered photos from a picture library and they were delivered to you by hand in a jiffy bag), but the principle still applies.

There is clearly a risk vs reward equation here.

The safest thing would be to force the user to scroll through your whole EULA line by line and click to accept each one (maybe followed by a multiple choice quiz to confirm they understood it). However, the impact on the user experience will probably mean that nobody ever uses the app.

For high risk apps where you are seeking to impose important terms and conditions (like the Spreadex example) it would be appropriate to compromise by presenting the user with the EULA onscreen and requiring them to accept it before they can use the app.

For paid apps, this raises the question of what happens if users refuse to accept the terms after they download the app.

Strictly speaking, the App Store terms state that all sales are final other than in very limited circumstances. In practice, the ability to obtain a refund is wider provided there is a genuine reason, but it isn't clear whether an App seeking to impose unacceptable terms and conditions would be covered.

Even if users can obtain a refund via the App store, this is likely to involve them in some time and effort and leave you with unhappy users and bad publicity.

So why not also include any important or unusual terms in the App Store itself before the download takes place? The official EULA field seems like the best way to do this, but setting the terms out in the description should also have the same legal effect.

There is a second reason to do this, which relates to timing. As in the Olley v Malborough Court Hotel case, any terms you want to include need to be made available to the user before the contract with them is formed. If you don't make them available until after they have downloaded (and paid for) the app, then there is a risk that this could be too late.

In the worst case, this could mean that refusing to allow the customer to use the app unless they accept further terms and conditions which are only put forward once they have paid and downloaded could put you, as the publisher, in breach of contract.

To cut this all down to something manageable, there are three main principles:-

  1. Risk assessment: How important and unusual are your terms? How much does it matter if they bind the user? Where the risk is high, consider using both the methods below.
  2. Make the terms available before the contract is formed (ideally via the official EULA field in the App store).
  3. Require the user to read the terms and click to accept before they can use the app.

This post is already long enough, but one more thing to think about. Even if you do all of this, some terms will always be invalid anyway (for example if they seek to exclude liability for personal injury or death caused by your negligence) and some may be invalid because they are unreasonable... particularly where the user is a consumer.

I will cover this in more detail in another post, but for now it is enough to be aware that just because you validly incorporate terms doesn't mean that you can impose anything you like on the user.

Mobile apps small print update

by Jon_B in

I have received a few questions recently prompted by my post on mobile app terms and conditions.

A number of iterations of the App Store terms and conditions have come and gone since it was written, but reading it back I think the fundamental points are still valid.

I plan to review and update it when time allows as there have been quite a few developments in the Apple App Store since it was written.

One which has been relevant for me on recent deals has been the new ability to transfer individual apps from one developer account to another iTunes connect documentation here which makes life much easier when buying or selling a business whose assets include a iOS app.

One key message is that it's not enough to just have terms and conditions for your app on a website somewhere... under English law at least they need to be made available to the user at the time they install the app (other than the Apple standard EULA of course which the user already accepted when they installed or updated iOS).

Watch this space for a full update, but in the meantime please fire in any queries via the contact form (which I have now fixed!).

OmniFocus Mail Drop and iCloud Mail

by Jon_B in

David Sparks at MacSparky wrote an excellent post on how to use the Omni Group's new OmniFocus Mail Drop service to automatically create OmniFocus actions from incoming emails.

I wrote a while back about automatically creating new OmniFocus actions to process business cards I had uploaded to Cloud Contacts.

David's post gave me an idea for using OmniFocus Mail Drop to streamline this even further so that it can be done completely server side (i.e. without me having to have a Mac switched on somewhere running Mail rules).

David mentions in his post that:

"There are several local and web-based mail services that can forward an email for you."

What I hadn't realised initially is that one of these mail services is iCloud.

If you use an iCloud email account, the service allows you to set up basic server side mail rules. I have never seen these promoted much as they are pretty basic (delete, forward or move to a folder).

The big advantage though is that they are processed on the iCloud server before mail hits your inbox (so no need to have that Mac switched on 24/7).

I only need a simple forward to get Cloud Contacts automation working so the iCloud rules are perfect. I have just set up a simple rule as follows:

Forward email from to @MyOmniFocusMailDrop

The email from Cloud Contacts then appears as an action in my OmniFocus inbox when the cards have been processed.

The workflow is detailed in my earlier post, but basically it runs as follows:-

  1. Take a photo of the card using Quickshot
  2. Picture is automatically uploaded to a folder in DropBox
  3. Wappwolf emails pictures saved in the folder to Cloud Contacts (and deletes them)
  4. Cloud Contacts processes the card and emails me when done
  5. iCloud Mail rule forwards the email to Omnifocus Mail Drop
  6. Mail Drop creates a new action in my Omnifocus inbox

My only involvement is taking the photo. Everything after that happens in the background with no involvement from me or a local device.

I appreciate this is a little (actually a lot!) on the geeky side, but it works really nicely for me so I thought I would share it in case anyone else is trying to find a similar solution!

Hello Thomson Reuters PLC?

by Jon_B

As announced yesterday, and debated since then by the legal twittering classes, Thomson Reuters is to acquire the US and UK arms of The Practical Law Company.

PLC have featured a few times on this blog so whilst this is being billed by a lot of commentators as consolidation in the "legal publishing" market it's probably not a surprise to hear that I think the implications are wider than this.

Law firms in the mid market have outsourced a lot of their professional support and know-how creation to PLC over the last few years, but they have also managed to create almost a de facto standard for documentation to a much greater extent than lawyers have ever really managed themselves.

This obviously gives them quite a powerful position in this market and the idea of control of this being consolidated into TR is an interesting (or maybe even worrying?) one.

As Jon Busby pointed out in his post on Legal 2.0, integration is the key to the success of this (and indeed any) merger... however, I can't be alone in hoping that the PLC guys are left with scope to carry on doing what they have managed so well over the last couple of decades.

The question which has really been interesting me this morning is:

"Did any PLC documents get used in the deal?"

Given the firms involved I'm guessing the answer is no, but you can always hope!

White Christmas

by Jon_B in

There have been virtual tumbleweeds blowing through this blog recently, for which I apologise.

I blame the third house move of this year (and hopefully the last one for a long time!) and some busy times at work, but I aim to find time to get things back up to speed in the New Year.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a bit of festive excitement...

As some of you may know, before I moved down to Suffolk this year, I set up the Wirral Ukulele Orchestra.

This was a venture which started with some social media promotion on Twitter and quickly spiralled into something much bigger (and more fun) than I was expecting... we had nearly 40 people at the first meeting in January 2011.

The signed uke which the guys gave me when we moved on has pride of place on the wall at home, but more excitingly the Christmas single we recorded last year was played by Chris Evans on Radio 2 last week.

They have details on the Facebook page and you can still catch it on the iPlayer for the next couple of days.

Obviously this was the most exciting thing I have ever heard on the radio, but it is also interesting to see what has grown out of those early Twitter messages... I'm pleased that the WUO are still going strong and gigging. Do go and see them if you get the chance!

This is pretty much it for 2012, so it just remains to wish everyone a fantastic Christmas and New Year... in the words of the Wirral Ukulele Orchestra (and Irving Berlin):-

"I'm dreaming of a White Christmas!"

MS Word: beyond the Surface

by Jon_B in

A couple of seemingly unrelated items caught my attention this week.

Firstly, Brian Inkster (famous as Scotland's first tweeting lawyer) has acquired a Microsoft Surface tablet. After a degree of persuasion on Twitter he has also posted a review of the Microsoft Surface from a lawyer's perspective.

Part one of the review gives a good general impression, but it doesn't cover in detail the only area which would sell the Surface to me... How good is MS Office on Windows RT for editing complicated legal documents? I'm hoping Brian will touch on this in part two.

Reviews I have seen (for example this one from Guardian Technology) suggest the experience may not be great.

The main criticism seems to be that opening MS Office bounces the user into the "classic" environment rather than the tablet-friendly Metro one. In essence, Microsoft have done exactly what I was concerned about in last year's post on MS Office for the iPad. They have tried to shoehorn the full desktop version of office into tablet form.

On a similar subject, The Verge report that Microsoft Office is coming to iOS (again). This falls into the category of "believe it when I see it" given that these rumours have been bubbling away for over a year.

The interesting thing though is that the screenshots and details in the Verge post are almost exactly what I suggested in my post:-

  • start with a solid reader app which can display all Word formatting
  • follow up with a stripped down editing interface designed for a touch form factor

If Microsoft also manage to sell a lot of Office 365 subscriptions to iPad users along the way (which seems to be a pre-requisite to the editing mode) then it won't do them any harm.

If these rumours are true though it poses an interesting question. Will Microsoft really launch an iOS app which shoots down the only unique selling point of the Surface for lawyers and many other business users?

(Others may disagree that this is the only selling point for the Surface, but for me the inability to edit complex legal documents in MS Word is the only thing which would stop me using the iPad full time.

Any tablet without built-in 3G is also a non-starter for me as the "instant on and instant internet" is one of the biggest reasons to use a tablet. Having to find WiFi on trains etc. sucks.

I already have an external keypad and a stand for the iPad and I don't really see the "Type Cover" as an improvement on these. Some of the other praise of the Surface I have seen verges on the ridiculous... The best one to date is that the lack of apps available mean that "it is easier to find the ones you want"!

However, I am a self-diagnosed Apple fan so I freely admit I may be a bit biased here.)


by Jon_B in

One of the (potentially) most interesting features in iOS6 was the introduction of Passbook. As billed by Apple this promised:-

"Your boarding passes, cinema tickets, vouchers, loyalty cards and more... all in one place"

In the UK though, there was one glaring problem when iOS6 was launched in September. Passbook is really just a wrapper for third party apps to integrate with... and at launch in the UK only two airlines had bothered.

Things have moved on a bit since then though. Starbucks have updated their mobile app to work with Passbook and you can also use it for your Eventbrite tickets and iHotels reservations.

There is even a (non-TFL affiliated) app to let you check your Oyster Card balance in Passbook. I haven't tried this as it seems to require you to hand over your account name and password... which doesn't seem like the greatest of ideas.

It would be good to see some other big names adopting Passbook (Tesco Clubcard and Nectar cards spring to mind), but the services which have launched are enough to see why Passbook is worthwhile.

The key point is that the better Passbook apps are time and location aware. The Starbucks app allows you to set your favourite stores and the card then appears on your lock screen when you are near them. Eventbrite does a similar thing on the correct day for your event.

It doesn't sound like a big thing, but being able to flip out your phone in Starbucks and bring up the barcode to scan from the lock screen does cut out a lot of messing about. Imagine if this was scaled up to cover all your loyalty cards, vouchers etc.

There are a couple of organisations I already wish would adopt this.

-We are members of English Heritage and it would be great if your card showed up on the lock screen when you were in the vicinity of one of their locations.

The other is Cineworld who already have an iOS app which lets you check movies and book tickets... surely Passbook should be a no-brainer?

The real killer feature of Passbook though is focus. Rather than the usual filing system based around the email inbox, it should let you clear out the emails whilst still having all your important details to hand then the time or location make them relevant.

In this context (and as an avid GTD user), the concept behind Passbook makes a lot of sense. Dump stuff into it and forget about it until it is relevant to you - at which point it comes straight to hand.

That is the theory anyway... it does still need companies to adopt it, but I suspect that will happen as developers get accustomed to the API and customers (at least those with iOS devices) start to demand it.

I also wonder whether it will help to level the playing field for mobile payments? Maybe soon it will be as easy for your local coffee shop to run a mobile payment and loyalty system as it is for Starbucks?

Ad-free, or just free? The perspective

by Jon_B in

Last week I signed up for after reading that they had introduced some new pricing structures.

For the un-initiated, the closest analogue to (or ADN as it is usually referred to by users) is Twitter. There are three immediately obvious differences though:

  1. ADN posts are limited to 256 characters rather than 140
  2. ADN isn't free. Pricing is currently $5 per month or $35 per year
  3. There are no ads (or sponsored posts) on ADN. It's funded by user subscriptions

Like Twitter, the starting point is a web interface, but there are a number of clients available for different platforms using the API which ADN have made available to developers.

As a long-term aficionado of Tapbot's Tweetbot client for Twitter the natural choice for me was Netbot, which is their version of Tweetbot for ADN.

The interface is familiar to anyone who has used Tweetbot and it also has some interesting features like optional cross-posting of your ADN posts to Twitter.

It is early days for me as an ADN user, but the implications of the paid model are already starting to become clear.

Firstly, there is a lot less traffic (and fewer users) on ADN than on Twitter. According to my profile on NetBot I am user 25,000 or so. ADN still has the option to view the "Global Stream"(the firehose of posts from every user) and it is clear from this that the traffic is minimal compared to Twitter. The same users pop up over again and it is actually possible to keep up with the global feed (try doing that with Twitter!).

The flip side to this is that the signal to noise ratio is incomparably better than Twitter. There seems to be virtually no spam (when accounts costs $5 a pop the economics make mass spam accounts unviable) and a very high level of conversation, rather than broadcasting.

The overwhelming impression is that people care a lot more about the service and the ADN community because they pay for it.

There is a heavy bias towards developers and technical people (perhaps unsurprisingly given the origins of ADN), but the community certainly isn't limited to these fields.

It seems unlikely that ADN will ever reach Twitter of Facebook levels of adoption, but in many ways that could be the secret of its success. It certainly seems to be a lot more fun and engaging than Twitter is these days...

If you haven't tried it out yet then I would recommend investing $5 and giving it a shot. You may just find that ad-free and spam-free beat plain old free hands down.

State of the social media union

by Jon_B in

As I posted earlier in the week, I hosted a series of round table discussions at the Lexis Nexis "Alternative" Legal IT Conference on Tuesday.

The format was four 40 minute slots with a different group each time (attendees choosing from a variety of different sessions). This worried me for two reasons:-

  • What if nobody showed up for my one?
  • The prospect of having to effectively repeat the same presentation four times if nobody got involved in the discussion

As it turned out I needn't have worried about either of these. All four of the sessions were busy and each one was really different with loads of input from the groups.

I'm not going to try and recap everything which was covered, but I thought it was worth highlighting a few of the main themes which emerged. This is on a "no names, no packdrill" basis as I didn't ask the participants if they would agree to me attributing their comments.

It's also worth bearing in mind that this was a self-selecting group to some extent as presumably those with no interest in social media didn't bother attending!

  • The overwhelming sentiment was that social media was "useful" and that law firms should be involved
  • Conversely, nobody would own up to obtaining material amounts of work via social media
  • Measurement of return on investment is still very basic (or non-existent)
  • Where ROI is measured it tends to be in terms of non-financial metrics (Followers, Likes etc.) and not bottom line impact
  • Restrictions on social media use vary from a complete block to a "free for all"
  • Policies also vary wildly from non-existent to extremely detailed
  • Firms are starting to consider how post-termination restrictions apply to social media
  • One firm stated that they obliged fee earners to hand over passwords for all social media accounts with any reference or link to the firm!
  • Tweeting in Convoy seems to be the most popular strategy. It was strange having the term quoted back to me by people who didn't realise where it came from!
  • Niche sectors or practices seem to be the most fruitful area for social media (e.g. claims against the police and PI claims for cyclists)
  • Broadcasting of news and legal updates was seen as a necessary, but not sufficient part of a social media strategy. Almost everyone thought that personal engagement was necessary to use social media effectively

The final theme which emerged was an extrapolation of this "brand vs individual" concept. Some of the attendees who represented ABSs and corporates were much more comfortable with the idea of a corporate social media presence, whilst the "traditional" law firms leant towards building relationships with individual partners and fee earners.

I suspect this will be one of the areas where we see the marketing for these two types of entities start to diverge as ABSs start to gear up.

All in all it was a fascinating afternoon and a good chance to catch up with a few people. I only wish I had been staying for the free bar in the evening!

The Rosetta Tablet

by Jon_B in

It's hardly news these days to point out that sitting down all day is bad for you (in fact I wrote about standing desks back in 2011).

The latest scary article to hit my reading list is the recent Wall Street Journal article on the subject. It turns out now that sitting for more than three hours a day

"can shave a person's life expectancy by two years..."

Most lawyers (and other desk bound professions) probably fall squarely within this danger zone.

Discounting standing desks as impracticable for most lawyers, the advice is to stand as much as possible (on phone calls or when dictating) as well as speaking to people rather than emailing them... which is probably a good idea for lots of reasons.

There is another thing I would add to the list though:- use a tablet.

When consuming content on a tablet (otherwise known as reading your emails and stuff) it is just as easy to stand up, walk around or lean against the filing cabinet in the corner of the office as it is to sit in a desk chair.

Microsoft recognised this in their post on the new Office touch interface I linked in my last post.

If you can use your iPad or your Surface (or whatever) to pick up your email whilst striding around the office then presumably you boost your chances of sitting for less than the magic three hours a day?

So is this the latest negotiating tool to persuade the partners that you need the latest tablet...

"It's a health and safety issue!"

I'm surprised none of the tablet manfacturers have picked up on this yet, but I guess even Apple's marketing team might baulk at claiming that the iPad helps you to live longer.

Office gets touchy

by Jon_B in

There is an interesting (and very long) piece on the Microsoft Office development blog about the new touch interface in Office 2013.

There is certainly a lot of excitement involved:-

"We are excited about the opportunity to enable a whole new set of usage postures for Office, from the bus to the plane to the couch to the hallway."

Hands up anyone who hasn't secretly fantasised about reformatting spreadsheets in their hallway?

It will be interesting to see how this performs on the Microsoft Surface when it eventually surfaces (sorry), but looking at the screenshots of some of the UI elements my impression it that it looks fiddly.

As I have written before though, if Microsoft can deliver a really good Office experience on a tablet then it will be a big plus for enterprise users. Can anyone really see an iOS version of Office 2013 given the upcoming Surface launch?


Squarespace 6

by Jon_B in

Regular readers (hello both of you!) will have seen me post before about Squarespace, which is the platform this blog has been hosted on for the last couple of years.

With the launch of the rather awesome new Squarespace 6 I have made the leap over to the new version.

Hopefully the site design looks nicer and the back end structure and editing is great. I am particular in love with the new Markdown interface which is available in addition to the normal WYSIWYG and HTML editors.

If you are looking to make the leap from hosted or similar I would really recommend checking out the free trial.

Tribunal backlog backlash

by Jon_B in ,

Following the recent Daily Telegraph report on record employment tribunal backlogs I was pointed to an interesting post by Anya Palmer of Old Square Chambers.

"In any case, to suggest that if some multiple cases take years to resolve, there must be something wrong, is to completely misunderstand the way our legal system works."

The full (guest) post on Darren Newman's A Range of Reasonable Responses blog looks in detail at the statistics on which the report is based and makes interesting reading.

Are the "official figures" quite what they seem?

Automating Cloud Contacts

by Jon_B in

I have used Cloud Contacts to scan my business cards for several years now.

It is a fantastic service, but as I have started to use it a lot more recently I decided to review the steps it takes to get the information from a physical card into Highrise (which is what I actually use to track and manage contacts).

The process used to look like this:

  1. Receive business card
  2. Take a photo of card using iPhone camera
  3. Email photo as attachment to Cloud Contacts
  4. Delete photo from iPhone
  5. "Card Scanned" email arrives from Cloud Contacts
  6. Add action to OmniFocus to add contacts to Highrise

The OmniFocus action prompts me to import the contact into Highrise and follow up with an email or a LinkedIn request.

In the spirit of Chart Porn's take on repetitive tasks I decided to take the geeky approach and try automating this.

The new workflow now looks like this:-

  1. Someone hands me a card
  2. Take photo of card on iPhone
  3. Follow up action appears in OmniFocus once the card is on Cloud Contacts

It wasn't that difficult to set up, but it does require cobbling together a few different apps and services. In case anyone feels the need to do anything similar I have set out the basics below.


QuickShot is a replacement for the iPhone camera app, which I picked up from a post by Shawn Blanc (in fact this whole automation idea was triggered by that post).

I haven't really explored its functionality to the full, but for my purposes the important feature is that it lets you automatically upload any photo you take with your iPhone to a specified Dropbox folder.

By that way, if you don't have Dropbox then you can sign up using the preceding link and I get bonus storage added to my account.

I have set up a DropBox folder for CloudContacts and each card I photograph with QuickShot gets automatically uploaded to this folder.


The second step involves a web-based service called Wappwolf, which bills itself as a Dropbox automator.

Again, Wappwolf is really powerful and I have only scratched the surface of what it can do, but the key is that it allows you to add automatic actions to your DropBox folder (or individual folders).

These include emailing any file which is uploaded to the folder.

I set up an action for my Cloud Contacts DropBox folder which automatically emails any new file to my Cloud Contacts account... and then deletes the scanned card from DropBox.

You could do this using folder actions on the Mac (like in Shawn's post), but the advantage of Wappwolf is that runs in the cloud and is always on. This means the rules operate whether or not your Mac is running.

OmniFocus and Mail

The next step happens in the background as Cloud Contacts processes the scanned card and adds the information from it to my account.

Once this is done I receive an email from them confirming there is a new card in my account.

The final step in my workflow uses OmniFocus and Mail on my Mac to turn this into an OmniFocus action to follow up the contact.

There are various ways to do this, but the easiest way seems to be to use the "clipping" preferences in OmniFocus to create a new Mail rule.

This rule shows up in Mail like any other, but it will be triggered by emails with "-OmniFocus" in the subject (or whatever other trigger you chose in OmniFocus preferences). When such an email arrives the rules creates a new action in OmniFocus based on it.

I just altered this triiger so the rule was triggered by emails from Cloud Contacts instead. When these arrive they are automatically converted to actions in OmniFocus.

It would be nice to be able to do this server-side with the iCloud mail server so that it worked whether or not my Mac was awake (like with the Wappwolf actions), but this seems to work well enough provided the Mac isn't switched off for extended periods.

You can create email rules using which run at the server end, but only for basic tasks like "move to folder" or forwarding the email (this is actually quite a nice feature if you use iCloud email - I have moved all my basic mail rules onto iCloud so they run all the time even if my Mac is off).

At the moment, OmniFocus doesn't support creating actions by email, which is a shame as otherwise the iCloud mail rules could work for this.

How does it work?

The automation works really nicely and has made using Cloud Contacts even easier than it was already. It fits in well with all the cards I am scanning at the moment having started a new job!

This is all a bit steampunk and I'm sure it could be tidied up, but it may throw up some ideas if you are wondering about ways to streamline your workflow with Cloud Contacts (or anything else which requires photo uploading).

I haven't gone for a full on how-to guide with screenshots and step-by-step instructions, but if anyone would like this then give me a shout and I will see what I can do.

Paperless (or less paper)

by Jon_B in

David Sparks' MacSparky blog is one of my favourite tech blogs (and also interests me because the author happens to be a practising lawyer).

I have no idea how he finds the time, but he has just released Paperless which is the first in a series of MacSparky FieldNotes guides.

The book is available as an iBook Store download and deals with setting up and implementing a paperless workflow. It covers everything from scanning your documents to naming and filing through to backup and various power-user Mac tips.

In reality this is a showcase for what can be done with iBooks Author as much as it is a book as it includes video, screencasts and other rich media.

As the name suggests it is focussed on Mac users, but is also covers iOS devices in detail. A lot of the more general advice would also work just as well in a PC environment (although obviously you need an iOS device to get the book!).

If you have been thinking about going paperless then this is a great starting point... available for £2.99 on the iBook Store.

Coffee week

by Jon_B in

This week seems to have been mainly about coffee: writing about it; thinking about it; sometimes even drinking the stuff.

Monday's infographic post was followed by the arrival of my newest coffee acquisition. The Synergy 2 Cup Brew Station is a beautiful combination of oak and copper piping, which now has pride of place on my worktop.

The Hario drippers can just be placed straight on top of a cup, but the brew station means you can actually see how much coffee is in the cup as you brew it. Plus it looks good!

Finally, my Facebook feed this morning featured a discussion about whether cafetieres are a decent way to make coffee, which I couldn't avoid getting involved with. I have actually written about this before, but in my view they result in nasty coffee, plus they are actually not very good for your health.

Much better to go and invest in some Harios!

Hopefully back in decaffeinated mode next week.