Category Archives: Social Software

Flickr Turns 10

Flickr Turns 10: The Rise, Fall and Revival of a Photo-Sharing Community

A well written history of the photo sharing site flickr of which I’ve been a member since 2004, just after it launched.

For me, flickr continues to be a great online community and I’ve made many friends there. And, I started posting images there for embedding here because I was attempting to save bandwidth but now I’m enjoying embedding and sharing other people’s images as well as my own. Few other services in flickr’s category allow this.

While I’m not crazy about Yahoo’s site changes, flickr remains an important part of my online activity and identity.

Fanboys

Fanboys

Lessley Anderson at The Verge has written one of the best pieces I’ve read in years on what happens when love of a particular piece of technology or a tech company goes over the top. It’s incredible and if you spend any time online in forums or comment sections on technology-related sites, you’ve experienced this firsthand and possibly (like me) have gotten sucked into it.

Politics, religion, sports, bands — these are the tents under which we typically congregate. Allah, Judas Priest, the Cubs, sure. But smartphones? It seems sort of hard to believe that a graham cracker-sized computer that’s supposed to be a tool, a means to an end, could somehow deliver the same level of ecstatic experience. That it could be powerful enough to feel like a movement.

This has been going on for years: The Well, AOL, Salon, and pretty much any online space that attracted lots of passionate participants discussing pretty much anything, not just smartphones but anything that folks get passionate about (which seems to be pretty much anything).

Many fanboys would never call themselves such and are incredibly defensive about it, they feel they have an objective view and that they’re just right and the folks they’re arguing with are wrong. It’s not just Apple against Samsung or Android or Microsoft against the world, it’s Canon against Nikon, Fuji against Sony, etc. It’s all sorts of subtler tribe groupings and it’s both a huge mess and an interesting collection of subcultures all made possible by the internet which has allowed fanboys to find fellow fanboys or enemy fanboys, form tribes and wage war.

Passion is a great thing, until it mixes with other things like anger and insecurity and has an environment to get amplified and supported in, like comment threads that allow anonymous posting. Because heated fanboy arguments generate page views many sites seem to encourage them by planting seeds with provocative posts and articles.

Mix fanboyism in with the social internet’s tools to track “popularity” and you have a recipe for some serious personal problems. Imagine you become a fanboy spokesperson and get voted up a lot on the social internet. This kind of attention will no doubt shape the kinds of comments and/or posts you’ll make and it spirals up as the social stoking amplifies what you think are the things that are making you popular.

This is one of the (many) reasons we heat with wood: I get to spend time doing “analog stuff” giving me a rest from my online life and I get to beat the crap out of an oak round with a maul every now and then.

Works for me.

What Screens Want

What Screens Want

This is a brilliant presentation/essay by designer Frank Chimero on designing for the internet and a lot more. It’s well worth taking the time to read through and best on a device that will allow the various videos to play in line. The design of the presentation/essay is first rate and an example of exactly what Frank is talking about.

[via Shawn Blanc]

Reunion

This is a brilliant advertising piece by Google that I found embedded in the following article on Medium: Why did Google make an ad for promoting “Search” in India where it has over 97% market share? by Himanshu Gupta.

The gist of the Gupta piece is that Google is all about getting everyone, including mobile users to use browsers for everything, including running apps. This makes sense, they get to serve up ads and control quite a bit of the back end of what we do with browsers. However, on mobile devices people use connected, client apps as well as browsers and Google has no control in this arena.

This is the same struggling going on at Twitter now: Twitter would like to make it tougher for third party client apps to use its service because those apps can filter out ads and Twitter would like to make money serving ads. So, if you use Twitter via a browser or via an “official” Twitter client app, you’ll see ads and Twitter will be happy. Otherwise, no ads and you’ll be happy. Google, Twitter, and Facebook, among others, are struggling with this stuff right now.

The funny caption under the image at the top of the Medium article also caught my eye and it underscores the idea that in mobile, it’s about apps: “Why didn’t you just Skype with me Dumbledore?” Brilliant.

The social network is broken

The Facebook experiment has failed. Let’s go back.

This is a well written essay on deep, structural problems with Facebook by a Medium user named jeswin.

The social internet seems to have tipped into one, large popularity contest and the tools each platform uses to allow users to “like” and/or “recommend” content they like have become too important. It’s certainly understandable that platforms like Facebook, flickr and twitter and others want more users, more posts, more interaction, more action, but is enabling competition for popularly the only way to do this?

This reminds me of a post I wrote in 2007 on flickr explore, flickr’s system of promoting popular photographs. It must be a well known idea among social platform builders that to attract more users, more content, more interaction, the platform should include tools for faving, liking, commenting, and more and a black box to compute which posts, images, comments are the most popular. This, at least as it is now implemented, seems to be both an attractor and a curse.

[via Jon Moss]

Online communities

Online communities

Caterina Fake has written an excellent commentary on the social evolution of online communities. For those who don’t know her, she co-founded flickr and has been involved in a lot of behind the scenes work in many online communities.

I’ve been involved with many online communities over many years as well and am still involved with many, some big, some small collections of people who hang out in comment threads. There’s something about this kind of connection that works for me, even with the issues of trolls and such. The fact that people are connecting is simply astounding to me and I’ve never taken it for granted.

Small screens make reading easier for some

Personal discovery on dyslexia may aid many

Astrophysicist Matthew Schneps was waiting at a bus stop, scanning a scientific paper he had downloaded onto his smartphone, when it dawned on him: he was reading with ease.

That realization surprised Schneps, who has dyslexia, a learning disability that makes reading difficult. He had always felt comfortable in the lab, not the library.

While much of my personal research on how technology can make a difference for people with dyslexia was done before the invention of smartphones and iPod Touches, I learned then that reading was easier for me in narrow columns. The reason is that when the process of reading slows down (for a variety of reasons, including weak or slow automatic decoding as in dyslexia) staying on a line becomes more difficult because one isn’t so sure what to look for content-wise to stay on track (on the right line).

Narrowing the width of a column of text can make this easier. There are many ways to do this:

1. Increase typeface size on a larger screen

2. Put text in columns on a larger screen

3. Read the text on a smaller screen, adjusting typeface size to suit one’s eyeballs.

When you add attention problems to the mix I’m not so sure reading on a small screen makes things better because one’s peripheral vision can pick up distractors more easily making it harder to immerse in the text. This is one of the reasons I’m reluctant to get an iPad mini, even though I love the form factor and size, I do a lot of reading on my iPad and I don’t know how this would work for me. No doubt I’m going to try it but one of the things I’ll be looking for is how deeply I can immerse in text on it vs. the larger iPad screen or my Mac’s larger screen.

Well, let me restate that: I did a lot of reading on my iPad with the Reeder RSS aggregator app before the death of Google Reader but for the past week that’s changed because Reeder on the iPad is on hold and Mr. Reader, while a great app, doesn’t sync with a native (not a web app) Macintosh counterpart. So, I’m using NetNewsWire on the Mac and I have accounts with DIGG, Feedly, and Feedbin all of which I’m not happy with so I don’t use them much.

What (was) great about the Reeder app is that content ruled and the controls had just the right weight to stay out of my peripheral vision unless I needed them. Mr. Reader, while a beautiful app looks a bit like Tweetbot to me (also a beautiful app) but what they do is make the controls of equal weight visually and this doesn’t work for me. Reeder was the perfect mix of easy readability with controls there but in the background.

This is part of the reason I want a native app on the Mac and not a web app: I want to be able to make the screen and reading area smaller so I can scan narrower chunks of text. It looks to me like the new Macintosh OS: Mavericks is moving in that direction by offering things like maps in native application form rather than as web apps. This appeals to me, like “desk accessories” did in the old days.

Both of these ideas: smaller screens making reading easier and the bump in the RSS reader world are bumping into each other in interesting ways right now for me since I do most of my reading in my RSS feed reader.

[via Will Small]

What I’m doing about RSS

With the demise of Google Reader on July 1st there’s a mad scramble to corral the users who are going to be cast adrift when they no longer have a stable cloud based RSS feed home.

As I said in an earlier post on this, for me, readability is at the top of the list of attributes of the application(s) I use to scan feeds. For many years, the Reeder app on Mac, iPad, and iPhone was my primary way to collect, organize, and read everything from personal blogs to various news services to flickr photo streams and more. RSS as a technology and Reeder as a tool to harness it has made reading, an activity that comes hard to me, much easier.

But, the various Reeder apps are not going to be ready to sync with a cloud service and with each other by Monday. Only the latest Reeder for iPhone is going to work with a few of the various cloud services out there but Reeder for iPad and Mac won’t (yet).

Many will feel differently about this but in my case, my MacBook Pro is my primary device for using Reeder, dealing with this blog, and more. I like a real keyboard and a mouse and the various services that Mac OS provides me (vs iOS). So, for me, the primary tool I’m interested in is an RSS reader on my Mac. My iPhone and iPad, while heavily used, come second.

So Reeder is on hold for the time being because the Macintosh version can’t self-host feeds and it won’t work with any of the ongoing cloud based services. As I said in my earlier posts on this, I don’t really care about Google Reader but I really do care about Reeder because that’s the tool I interact with and it gives me no joy to pull it off my Mac’s dock.

Mr. Reader looks like an excellent app for the iPad and it will work with various cloud hosting services. But, it doesn’t have a Mac or iPhone version.

I made an account with Feedly and imported all of my Google Reader feeds, moved over to Feedly in the cloud and turned off the old Feedly Safari extension. I downloaded Feedly for iPhone and iPad and got everything all hooked up. Feedly is working for me, but, I’m not crazy about it because there is no native Mac app (it’s a web app on the computer) and it’s more magazine like than I prefer, even when customized to get the most list-like views out of it. I’m using Feedly as my backup tool and cloud service, hoping that maybe someday Reeder will sync with it.

My very first RSS Reader was an early version of NetNewsWire and I stuck with it for many years until Brent Simmons sold it and at about the same time, Google Reader came along and I switched to it and then later, Reeder.

I decided to give NetNewsWire another try a few days ago and it’s on sale for the moment for $10 so it’s not an expensive experiment. I must say, I’m enjoying using it. Very similar to Reeder with a simple interface and simple controls and decent (and adjustable) typography. At the moment it doesn’t sync with anything but it does hold onto all of your feeds and you can import your Google Reader account with all folders and feeds intact. If you’re not sure what to do and you’re a serious Mac user, I highly recommend buying NetNewsWire and getting your feeds out of Google Reader. This way you’ve saved all of your feeds and any structure you have for reading them and you can wait out the syncing issue and iOS app issue.

If I find myself in a place where I need to see my feeds and can only do it on my iPhone, I’ve got Feedly running and can always dig through feeds to find what I want. But, for now, my primary way of reading

In the end, I’m hoping that Reeder is brought back to life with various possibilities for syncing via the cloud but until then, after a struggle testing a lot of solutions the past few weeks, I think I’ve found a collection of tools that will make this transition tolerable.

Returning Home

Returning Home

My friend Dale Allyn has posted a new image up on flickr and it’s fantastic.

Dale and I go way back. I knew him in the ’70s when we both lived in Eugene, Oregon and were both semi-serious rock climbers. I was in college, he was in high school but among climbers it didn’t matter.

When I moved from Oregon to Connecticut in 1986 I lost track of many of my Eugene friends but as the internet and web happened and as I had an early presence online, Dale found me. He may have found me via the linked to climbing story, I don’t remember but we’ve been connected online ever since and I consider Dale a close friend who I’ve only seen in the flesh once since those early Eugene days.

Besides email and chat we’ve used flickr to stay connected, both with heavy involvement for many years as admins in the Canon DSLR Group and other hangouts on flickr.

This is an aspect of flickr that people who are quick to quit over the new changes don’t appreciate: flickr is a huge online community where at least some people have made meaningful connections. I’m glad to see Dale back on flickr and who knows, maybe we’ll start up a new flickr group and get reinvigorated.

I’m sticking with flickr

One thing that many who are reacting to the big changes in flickr haven’t taken into account is this: flickr is a community, not just a place to post images. Over many years I’ve made hundreds of friends all over the world on flickr, have been involved in some great groups and group discussions, and have used flickr as both a place to host my images but also as a place to hang out.

Flickr was the first large scale social community on the web although not everyone on flickr used or uses it that way, many people do.

What I’ve realized in the past day is that changing the wallpaper does not break those connections, and because I interact with flickr via Reeder, an RSS feed reader, I don’t have to navigate the black mess that is the current user interface as much as many do.

For me, the biggest violation that there is no excuse for is that they did this overnight with no notice to us. Had they rolled this out incrementally and gotten feedback on each change the entire fiasco would have been avoided. For me, the process (the way they did it) was worse than the product (what they ended up with) which is bad enough.

The site is a mess visually but we have to admit that at least some of this is a reaction to a big change in something we used daily for many years. I’m not defending the look or the way they’ve changed it but most of the old functionality is there if we dig for it. It’s not right yet but it’s a web site and it can be changed and I’m pretty sure it will be changed.

The other concern for me was what looked like a price increase for what used to be called “pro” users but in fact, that has changed and our pro accounts will be grandfathered in and the price has actually gone down. Check out your account page if you’re a paid account holder, it’s been changing in the past 24 hours as they’ve listened to feedback.

My pro account was due to expire in May, 2014 and I just bought another two years (for $44.95). They won’t charge my card until May of 2014.

I don’t like the look of the site as it is but I do like flickr and I have a community of friends on it that I’ve known for close to ten years and images embedded here from my flickr account and from other people’s. That’s meaningful to me and I don’t want to give that up.

Flickr update

The photo sharing site and service that I use, flickr has made a major update to its service and site.

I’ve been using flickr since 2004 and I’ve stuck with it even after Yahoo bought it and let it dwindle. Certainly the amount of time I’ve spent with the old user interface makes it difficult to look at any change with an open mind so I’ll reserve ultimate judgement for a while. But, Yahoo is attempting to bring itself and it’s popular properties back from the dead and this flickr update is part of that process (as is the buying of blogging platform tumblr.

My quick take: Too much information, too tightly packed. Here’s what my home screen looks like now: Richard-.

I hope over time they fold in some customization tools that make it possible to display a bit less information on one’s landing page. We’ll see.

Reeder helps me be a better Reader

There’s an interesting backstory to why I’m so interested in the fate of Google Reader, RSS in general, RSS vs. Twitter and the evolution of tools for collecting, organizing, and reading news. In the various pieces that I’ve read about this issue in the past week (all of them excellent) none has touched on the issues that concern me.

Google Reader is two things:

1. A cloud-based RSS feed aggregator that allows client applications to subscribe to its output (plumbing)

2. A web-based RSS feed reader (an appliance)

What I care about preserving is the way I read news and I care less about who handles the plumbing involved in keeping my various news reading applications in sync with one another. I haven’t interacted directly with Google Reader in years, preferring to interact with a client application: Reeder (more on this below).

Because I use Reeder (an “appliance”) on my Mac, iPhone, and iPad to to connect to my Google Reader account, I’m only interested in keeping Google Reader alive because at this point it’s the only synchronization service that Reeder uses. I care about Reeder, my reading tool. I’m hoping that the folks behind Reeder decide to use iCloud or DropBox or their own cloud-based service to synchronize accounts, this would be a relatively painless transition. My guess is this will happen. I’m not worried, Reeder is an extremely popular application on all three platforms.

But for me there’s another much more important aspect of this than these relatively technical details: the process of reading the news itself.

I’m slow and distractible

I’m an extremely slow reader. I can read and I can understand what I’m reading, but my comprehension is fragile, I lose decent comprehension with any kind of distraction. Yes, I’m definitely a card carrying member of the ADD club.

It’s also important to note that I do not skim when I read, or, if I do, I pick up very little. If I want to understand what I’m reading I have to take my time.

As web sites have gotten more encumbered with crap besides the main content, my ability to read things on those web sites has been hampered. Flashing ads, brightly colored backgrounds and text, popups, crawls, and all the rest of the stuff that makes up many news sites makes it much more difficult for someone like me to scan headlines, zero in on what I want, and then read deeply. Even a clean magazine or newspaper layout is less useful to me than a simple list where everything in the list is the same weight and typeface and I’m simply scanning down differentiating content, not colors, images, or some other attribute that has nothing to do with that content. For me, separating the content that I want from the container that I don’t want is important and over the years there have been various ways to do this.

The early days

For me, the most significant technology for doing this has been RSS and applications for aggregating and reading one’s collection of RSS news feeds. But these RSS news readers do more than just organize disparate feeds into a list. They also make it easier to know what I’ve read and what I haven’t without having to scan a magazine/newspaper layout looking for new things (remember, I’m a slow and distractible scanner). For a reader like me, this technology may be the most significant access tool I have and I spend more time in my RSS “appliance” than I do in any other single application on my Mac, iPhone, or iPad.

I started using RSS as a tool to track things with an early version of NetNewsWire before it had any syncing/cloud capabilities and before Google Reader existed. There were far fewer feeds to subscribe to in those early days and many of us didn’t get hooked on this way of aggregating and reading news until a few years later. This was long before there were iPhones and iPads and most folks were using desktop or laptop computers and had little reason to sync unless it was to another computer they used.

Still, during this time the list-based format that NetNewsWire presented news in with ways to organize feeds into folders was a definite fit with my needs as a fragile reader with a big appetite for information on a wide variety of topics and I started spending more time in NetNewsWire than almost any other application on my computer.

When NetNewWire started using NewsGator for cloud-based syncing I had no use for it and didn’t use it. No doubt it was a forward thinking thing for Brent Simmons (the author of NetNewsWire) to do given what came later. I had already moved from desktop/laptop to just a laptop as my sole computer so I had nothing to sync to.

But, what NetNewsWire did was hook me on a way to pull a lot of different sources into one place to read. It was revolutionary really, and it fit both my reading style and my need to feed disparate interests.

The other thing NetNewsWire did was allow me to time-shift reading news and this time-shifting, for a slow reader like me was and remains crucial.

RSS in the cloud with Google Reader

My friend Steve Splonskowski had turned me onto NetNewsWire and after he moved over to Google Reader he told me about it. At that point I wasn’t all that clear about the current and future usefulness of having my collection of RSS feeds (or anything else) in the cloud but I moved over to Google Reader (using it with Safari on a PowerBook) and there were aspects of it that were great compared with the then older and in some ways stodgier NetNewsWire.

So to be clear, initially I was using Google Reader as both the container for my news feeds and as an appliance for reading them. However, I never stopped looking for and trying desktop clients that connected to my Google Reader account like the updated NetNewsWire and Newsfire. I kept looking because while initially reading directly on Google Reader was novel, there were limits to the kinds of controls Google could build into a web-based tool, and, over the years Google’s web tool designs have gotten clumsier, at least for me.

I didn’t fully get the power of having things in the cloud until I got an iPhone as another device to get mail and RSS feeds on. Having moved over to Google Reader put me in a much better place to embrace the growing collection Google Reader iOS client applications running on the iPhone and I tried many before settling on Reeder.

Reeder

Reeder is one of many “appliances” to Google Reader’s “plumbing.” It’s an application that presents one’s collection of news feeds in a (arguably) cleaner and simpler form than using Google Reader (as an appliance) via a web browser. Reeder came out first for the iPhone, then then the Mac, then the iPad and I have it running on all three.

What makes Reeder work for me?

1. Very clean and spare user interface: it has the right balance between information and tools, favoring information and allowing the tools to fall into the background.

2. Large, easy-to-read headlines on each item with date and attribution in a lighter typeface so that it’s not distracting. This may seem trivial but it’s not. The designer, Silvio Rizzi, not only has a clean, minimalist aesthetic, but he has a good feeling for how to design with type to make reading easier.

3. Easy navigation tools that all have keyboard equivalents so that using Reeder on the Mac feels very much like using Reeder on the iPhone and/or iPad. I can move through hundreds of stories quickly without taking my eyes off the headlines.

4. A simple “services” bar that allows easily adding articles to Instapaper, posting on Twitter, emailing and more.

5. Not all RSS output is the full post but when it is, I tend to read it on Reeder because RSS strips out most of the extra information and Reeder presents text in a consistent typeface. Also, reading a site through a newsreader like Reeder allows you to just read content, not be distracted by sidebars with ads and indexes and flashing dingleberries and such.

6. Reeder caches Google Reader output so I can read things without being connected, then once I am connected update my Google Reader cloud collection automatically with what I’ve read, what I’ve saved, etc.

Alternatives

Since Google announced they’re discontinuing Google Reader many friends and many web sites commenting on this have recommended a number of alternatives.

The most common recommendation has been Flipboard which is a magazine-like app that runs on iOS and Android (but not on the Mac) and pulls together Flickr, Twitter, Google Reader and other content in a book/magazine-like format. Flipboard is beautiful and well designed and for what it is, it’s also minimalistic. The problem with Flipboard for me is that it’s a magazine format and I’m looking at a lot of information at one time, like I might on a web site. This looks great aesthetically but I find myself distracted by too much information on my screen at any one time.

Any other feed aggregator that looks like a magazine is not something I’m interested in, although I understand why others are. I’m just not that kind of reader.

For my fragile reading style, a list where everything is presented in the same weight and only the content changes seems to work best if I want to actually understand what I’m reading and move through a lot of information relatively quickly.

These days, with Twitter and Facebook feeds moving by in real time, I’m convinced that many people, even decent readers, skim so lightly and so quickly they don’t stop long enough to think (enough) about what they’re reading. For me, reading comes hard enough so that if I’m going to do it, it better be worthwhile and lead to understanding. So, I protect my slow approach because it leads to better understanding.

Now that you know how I read most of my news, let me go further.

Choosing reading environments

Most people (reading this) don’t choose their reading environments. If you email them a link to an article they’ll follow the link and read the article on the site it’s published on. I do that too at times but if I find the site too busy and the article is good enough to warrant some attention, I’ll hit a single button my my browser’s toolbar: Read Later. That button is something that comes with an Instapaper account.

Instapaper is a cloud-based service that allows you to collect things that you’d like to read later or on another device. Like Google Reader, Instapaper is three things:

1. A cloud-based container for web content that I send to it that I want to read later.

2. A web site for reading that content (on a computer).

3. iOS apps for iPhone and iPad for reading the content of one’s Instapaper account.

And, there’s a Macintosh client that can tap into one’s Instapaper account as well: ReadKit.

So, why would I want to send an article to Instapaper and open it up in ReadKit on my Mac or in the Instapaper app on my iPad or iPhone?

Simple: readability.

Instapaper provides a distraction-free, clean environment to read longer articles in. It feels much like reading a book with Apple’s iBooks app which is an incredible way to read a book. There’s plenty of control but it’s only there if you need it. What you’re looking at is the content you’re reading and you’re not distracted by web content like sidebars, flashing icons, or advertising.

I realize to many the process that I’m describing sounds cumbersome but in fact, it’s not. Here’s how it works.

I’m scanning my RSS feeds in Reeder and find an article I want to read that’s not pushed out in its entirety so I can’t read it end to end in Reeder.

I click through to the web site that’s holding the article, be it The New York Times, The New Yorker, Slate, Huffington Post, whatever.

If I find the web site too distracting, or, its type too small to read, I hit the Read Later button on my browser’s toolbar.

This puts the article (even multiple page articles) into Instapaper.

If I’m on my Mac I open up ReadKit, it automatically pulls new things in from Instapaper and there’s the article, beautifully typeset and much easier to read. And, Instapaper will hold that article forever so there’s no rush in reading it. In this way, Instapaper is a DVR for web content, it allows time shifting just like a DVR does for television content but it also allows for a distraction-free, well typeset reading experience which is what I’m after.

If I want to read the article on my iPad on a plane I simply run the Instapaper app and it will automatically update and pull in the new information from the Instapaper cloud. And, the iPad will cache the article(s) so even when I’m not connected on the plane, I have all of my information with me.

The Instapaper app as well as the ReadKit app on the Mac give me typographic control, margin control, and more, so I can set things up in any way I like to make readability easier for me.

The entire process: finding the article I want in Reeder, checking it out on the web (Safari), deciding to save it for “reading later” with Instapaper and opening it up with Instapaper on my iPad or iPhone or ReadKit on the Mac takes less than 15 seconds. If the internet is running slow at that moment it might take as long as 30 seconds but never much more. I not only do this every day with much of what I want to read carefully, I do it multiple times a day. It’s part of my reading process and it works (for me).

Endnote

No doubt these tools will evolve and there will be great solutions to the “problem” that the coming demise of Google Reader has brought about. But, tools are a means to an end and in this case, the end is reading and understanding the news.

For most people reading comes easily enough so that they don’t feel compelled to change the way the information they’re reading is presented. I envy those people. Over many years of struggling with reading I’ve learned that I can read and I can understand if I take my time and can get some control over the way the information is presented to me. This collection of tools and processes is my current way of taking that control.

Why RSS still matters

Why RSS still matters

Another well-written piece on the Google Reader demise and the importance of RSS as a technology on the web. This piece on the difference between looking at a collection of RSS feeds vs. a Twitter feed is meaningful:

Trying to get caught up on more than a day or so of Tweets is virtually impossible for anybody who follows more than a few dozen active users — you simply can’t comprehensively take in the full stream. With RSS, on the other hand, you can scan through headlines and save them (or, yes, share them) and it’s possible to do so after a few days off the internet. Or a few hours. Woe betide the nine to fiver who wants to come home and quickly catch up on the day’s news via Twitter. Not everybody has the luxury of being able to keep tabs on Twitter all day. Twitter is realtime and RSS is time-shifted. Both are important. Just tell these same people you’re taking their DVR away and see what happens.

“Twitter is realtime and RSS is time-shifted.”

Brilliant.

The outrage and sadness of Google Reader’s demise

The outrage and sadness of Google Reader’s demise

More broadly speaking, Reader’s ultimate fail is the latest major rebalancing of the internet’s legacy symmetry of “push” and “pull.”

RSS has always been a useful time-saver for voracious internet binge consumers. Rather than circling among dozens of websites and suffering through tiresome page loads at each URL, RSS adherents can skim headlines at the hub of a giant content wheel, and in many cases (depending on how the feeds were configured) read entire articles without leaving the RSS service.

The whole arrangement, particularly that last part, was terrifying to publishers, who saw an ad-revenue future burned away in a stark landscape of text-only syndication.

Another well written piece on Google’s decision to close down Reader but also on RSS (vs. Twitter) as well.

That last paragraph is an important piece of this: RSS applications aren’t showing entire web sites with sidebars with ads, they’re just showing new posts in the body of a web page. Advertisers would rather you went to a site directly so they can serve you up ads. Another reason to love RSS and feed readers is they allow you to avoid loading web pages just to see headlines, you can browse those in the RSS reader only clicking through to sites you want to visit.

Chris Wetherell Reflects on Google Reader

Google Reader lived on borrowed time: creator Chris Wetherell reflects

This is a great history and commentary from one of the creators of Google Reader.

If there were things that went wrong, then there is a lot of positive things that came from Google Reader, Wetherell said. He believed that one of the main reasons why Google Reader could exist was because companies and entities with completely conflicting agendas came together, supported RSS and other standards. Google, MoveableType, Blogger, WordPress, Flickr and several other web-apps believed in creating RSS feeds for easy consumption. “In the end it helped the average users,” said Wetherell.

But all that is behind us and we might not see similar altruism again, Wetherell theorized. I agree with him. If in the early 2000s, Web 2.0 companies were building platforms that wanted to work with each other, today, we have platforms that are closed. We live in the world of silos now. Twitter and Instagram have broken up. Facebook is the Soviet Union of the modern web. The new systems don’t offer RSS or feeds.”There is no common language of sharing,” he bemoans. And rightfully so! And unless we have web giants speaking the same language of sharing, there seems to be no future of aggregation.

This last piece is rather depressing and it doesn’t speak well for the future of RSS which will only live on if it has broad acceptance and use.

RIP Google Reader

We launched Google Reader in 2005 in an effort to make it easy for people to discover and keep tabs on their favorite websites. While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined. So, on July 1, 2013, we will retire Google Reader. Users and developers interested in RSS alternatives can export their data, including their subscriptions, with Google Takeout over the course of the next four months.

Google Reader is a cloud-based service for aggregating (listing, organizing, updating, and subscribing to) RSS feeds. Every web site that I follow/track/read on a regular basis puts out an RSS feed and I collect them all in one place: Google Reader. I use a client application on the Mac: Reeder, and it’s client cousin on iOS: Reeder for iPhone and iPad to read them all. Because all of my feeds are stored in the cloud on Google Reader I can move back and forth between Reeder on the Mac and Reeder on the iPad and everything is automatically in sync. It’s an incredibly slick and useful way to get through a lot of information.

What do I track? All kinds of major news feeds, dozens of blogs, all of my Flickr activity, photoblogs, all kinds of business and investment sites, a ton of Apple-related sites, political blogs, and a few humor and “cute” related sites. Every time any of these sites posts something new, it shows up automatically in Reeder and I see it. Once I’ve looked at it it’s “read” and won’t show up as new again. Simple. The alternative is to visit that particular site and try to remember what’s new and what’s not. RSS is one of the single most important technologies around yet it’s poorly understood and underused and this is terribly frustrating for me because I’m afraid RSS will be marginalized by the likes of Twitter and now Google pulling the plug on Reader.

I realize that some people reading this have no clue what RSS is or why anyone would care about it and that’s fine. But, just to be clear, my RSS feeds are the center of my connected life and unlike some, Twitter will never replace RSS for me. Frankly, even though Twitter has become ubiquitous (even the stodgy PBS NewsHour lists Twitter handles under people’s names) I don’t find it all that useful and have considered dumping it recently as it takes time to deal with and I’d rather read a real headline in my RSS reader than a 140 character quickly-posted-link in Twitter.

A little over a year ago I posted a long piece Ramblings on Twitter, Tweet Marker, RSS, and the cloud that was prompted by my discovery of a cloud service called Tweet Marker that enables synchronization of a Twitter feed across multiple devices. As I said in that post, I have no idea how so many people can track so many Twitter feeds on multiple devices without such a service. I track less than 100 feeds but some folks are tracking thousands. You get caught up on your computer, then move over to your iPhone and have to start all over again. Tweet Marker, by synchronizing the two, will update the iPhone to reflect where you left off on the computer. I’m still not a great fan of Twitter but with Tweet Marker it’s much more useful across multiple devices and clients.

No doubt developers are scrambling because while the demise of Google Reader is a bummer, it’s also an opportunity for smaller developers to get into the cloud hosting game. I’m sure many alternatives to Google Reader will spring up and we’ll get through this transition without too many bumps but it’s important to make note of the fact that a lot of people make daily use of the Google Reader service.

I’ve been reading various pieces about this all morning and so far the best one is this post by Justin Blanton: Quick thoughts on the death of Google Reader.

Automatic Link

This is an incredible invention: Plug Automatic Link into your car’s data port and it shares all kinds of data on your car’s health and your driving habits with an app on your smartphone.

You can find out if your car or phone is supported here (you don’t need to go through with the pre-order).

For more details check out the Automatic Labs site.

[via Steve Splonskowski]

When collaboration kills creativity

The production values on this animated video aren’t great but the ideas are. It’s not as one sided as it seems (all brainstorming is bad, everyone should work alone) and if you watch it to the end it makes some excellent observations and suggestions.

The judgement of groups stifling creativity stands out to me and it’s a leap but the piece I wrote a while ago on Flickr Explore (a social media popularity contest of sorts) stifling creativity comes to mind.

Acceptance by a group, popularity, and even normalcy are all social traits that our (Western) culture is tilted toward. When we evaluate social phenomena like these we need to make sure we have enough altitude to see a bigger picture than we normally see. This video is an attempt to look at this stuff from altitude.