05 Feb 2017

A lean data approach to getting things done

Working online when the Internet is stuck in the year 2000

People all around the world want to get things done.  Yet so many of the tools on the internet designed to help people do just that are not designed to work in areas of the world where the connection is spotty, slow or hard to access. I’ve found that the app TripMode is a great solution!

My wife and I moved to Myanmar (Burma) in 2011. Our first internet connection came with our rental and was a Ethernet wire that went out the door, down the hall and disappeared into a maze of wires. To this day I still have no idea where our internet actually came from, but once we connected we were able to get on the internet. Kind of…

Speeds were slow… very slow. As in 56k dial up modems seemed really fast.

I remember being really excited when I used Menu Meters to witness my internet speed get all the way up to 10k a second — yep, 10kbps. At that time it also didn’t help that almost all websites were blocked by the military dictatorship. Get on Twitter… Nope. Get on Facebook… Nope. Watch Youtube… Computer laughs… to access any of these you had to use a VPN which just slowed things down even farther.

In this time I found a few pieces of software that somehow managed to sync with terrible connections. They were Dropbox & Todoist. Both worked offline, but could sync online, and even though the internet was spotty and inconsistent these apps were robust enough to sync. I had to learn to change my workflow, but at least I could get something done.

Fast forward a few years to the end of 2013 and Myanmar invites foreign telecoms to the country. This mean 3G internet. Along with the sweeping changes came less censorship and speeds that were getting better little by little. It was time to start using the internet in Myanmar. Kind of.

While 3G internet was faster and more portable than fixed wire internet, it also cost by the MB rather than being unlimited. This meant that if you connected your computer to your phone all the services would run in the background eating through your precious data as well as slowing down the services you most relied upon. No longer could you just leave your computer on all night hoping that it might connect and sync, because it could cost you dearly.

At this time, I remember thinking that I wish there was some kind of tool that would allow you to block the apps you didn’t want to have access to the internet. I remember trying to use a few complicated firewall tools, but I eventually got lost and gave up. After many false starts, I discovered the beauty of a little app called TripMode. It installed easily, and you could just click to choose which apps could access the internet. I was shocked at the simplicity with which it worked and the small price tag.

TripMode runs in the menu bar of my Mac – easy access!

Today I use TripMode almost every day, as does everyone else in the office where I work. In 2012 some colleagues started a entrepreneurship school called Opportunities NOW that helps young people get out of poverty through business training, incubation, funding and mentoring. As our organization has grown, so has our internet needs — yet we still have to share the same single slow connection. Without ways to block unneeded internet access on each device, our work would come to a grinding halt. This is where TripMode is so powerful. We can limit each computer to only access those apps which are most essential to our work. This usually means Slack, Todoist and Chrome. We still have to connect our 3G on our phones most days, but it is great to know that we can use the 3G and not fear that we have lost all our data to Dropbox or an app update in the background. Instead we can wait till evening on our fixed line connection and let tools like Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive and Software Updates run on our network when we turn TripMode off.

So the key to getting stuff done for us at Opportunities NOW has centered around cutting everything out of our workflow that isn’t necessary, finding tools that work offline, and sync online only when needed, and then using filtering on our internet with TripMode to actually have the speed needed to work.

As we look to the future we hope the internet continues to get faster and more reliable, but we also know that there is very little chance that our mobile connections will ever stop charging based on data. So I have a feeling that TripMode will be installed on my computer for a long time to come.

 Written by Johnny Knox, Director of Relationships and Marketing at Opportunities NOW Myanmar. Opportunities NOW is an Entrepreneurship development system in Myanmar that seeks to reduce poverty by providing business training and mentoring in various stages of business startup.