Aggregators

Google Reader

As Google lines up its bits and pieces into something more like a formation of units that work well both in themselves and together, the appeal of a reliable suite of services co-ordinated through one account is going to be compelling for many end-users. There's some way to go yet before things are really singing along, but I expect savvy schools are already paying close attention. (I've blogged about Google Apps before: see here and here.)

I've been playing with the new iteration of Google Reader. What's new has been well reported elsewhere:

… we've added some things you've been asking for, such as unread counts and "mark all as read." Folder-based navigation makes it easier to organize your subscriptions, and the new expanded view lets you quickly scan over several items at once. And we've made sharing much easier - with a single click of the "shared" icon, you can publish an interesting item on your public sharing page for your friends to see. … (Tip: You can have original item links open in a new tab in Firefox. In the preferences window's "Tabs" section, choose "Force links that open new windows to open in: a new tab.") Google Reader Blog

You can see Niall Kennedy's public page of shared items here. On Google Reader itself, I think Niall Kennedy makes the most perceptive comments (in a review that is full of praise for the new version):

The coolest new feature is Google Reader's continuous scroll of feed items combined with automatically selecting each feed item as you move around the news flow. You'll find a lot more access keys in the new Reader, mapped to the common Gmail commands for massage navigation and actions. I like the Gmail-style unread count displayed in the page title, allowing me to glance at my row of tabs to see if I have anything new in my feed inbox. …

The new Google Reader is pretty impressive and may become the online aggregator of choice for many Gmail users. I was a bit disappointed Google did not leverage what I feel are its two biggest strong points: the data advantages of online feed aggregators and close integration with other Google services. An online aggregator has an edge over desktop aggregators by providing more information about each post or blog based on what might be already known about the site or based on the activity of a user collective. An online Google feed reader could tie into Google search, or offer special handling of enclosures passed off to Calendar or Spreadsheet. I'm most surprised that the new Google Reader does not include search integration with Google feed search, and actually removes the search bar that was present at the top of the page in Reader's first version.

Important suggestions there for how Google Reader might be developed further and be more tightly tied in with other Google products.

Other commentators of note include: Google Blog, Inside Google, TechCrunch ('There’s a “river of news” view [click all feeds, view settings, sort by auto]), Read/Write Web, Michael Sippey and Download Squad:

One feature I quickly fell in love with in this new UI is the way the List view allows you to page through headlines and expand individual articles within the list of headlines … Pressing enter expands a headline like this, while pressing it again collapses it back into uniform with the rest of the listed headlines. What's even nicer is that n/p can be used in the list view like this, allowing you scroll through headlines without expanding them, while j/k let you expand each headline in place …

… Reader seems to build a user's set of folders/groups from their tagging structure, but the tagging system still exists for organizing feeds and headlines, in addition to the new foldering scheme for feeds. Pressing g + l to invoke the label selector (though 'labels' are now called 'tags' in the Settings) brings up a list of labels/tags, but selecting one actually choses a folder in the left column. Confused yet? Me too.

Mobile use? Google Reader Blog for 18 May:

We've just released a mobile-friendly interface for Google Reader. If you use the Google Personalized Homepage and have installed our Reader Homepage Module, it'll automatically show up on your mobile homepage. Simply go to google.com on your mobile phone's browser and click the link to "Personalized Home".

Yes … but it doesn't seem to work right on my E70 using the native S60 3rd edition browser: working from the directions here, I'm not yet getting on my mobile the customised page I've set up on my laptop — no Reader, for example. I'll persevere and also try out different browsers. (I blogged about some Google products and mobile viewing here.)

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Newspapers: proprietary readers and the future

I Want Media:

The New York Times Co. last week announced the appointment of Michael Rogers as "futurist-in-residence," a first for the newspaper industry. The Times describes the new position as a one-year consultant appointment to work with the company's research and development unit. …

IWM: Will newspapers on paper disappear eventually? 

Rogers: Not for a very long time. Paper is a high-resolution, high-contrast, unbreakable and extremely inexpensive display device. As the years go on, though, I think we may see more newspaper content delivered electronically and printed locally. However, we're within a few years of seeing some very effective electronic reading devices that finally do begin to challenge paper. 

The new Times Reader, on a tablet PC, is already a pretty good experience. Spin that forward five years and you're starting to have a compelling alternative. Finally, in another decade, a substantial part of our audience will have grown up already doing much more of their reading on screen, and they're not likely to have the same emotional attachment to paper as does much of the current readership.

I don't need the NYT Reader — but I can see that if I were reading the NYT often enough, and it were a major source of news, analysis and opinion for me, then it could well be a different story. Would I use it if it were the Guardian Reader? Yes, I probably would: I'm hugely indebted to the Guardian for news, views and links and I feel a great allegiance to the brand. Put the current digital Guardian alongside the NYT Reader and that version of the online Guardian looks old and passé. Of course, it is a very different beast, and Guardian Unlimited NewsPoint is no equivalent, either. That leaves Guardian Unlimited news for mobiles (read about it here; more on Guardian mobile services here) — which doesn't run on an E70, yet. (In fact, I've recently unsubscribed from the digital Guardian: using it conveys the feel of being embroiled in something more like a library archival programme than of being at one of the online coalfaces of an exciting, national newspaper that is also read and followed internationally.)

But there's an interesting issue here. On if:book, Christine Boese writes:

You know, for the money the Times spent on this (and the experienced journalists the Times Group laid off this past year), I'd have thought the best use of resources for a big media company would be to develop a really KILLER RSS feed reader, one that finally gets over the usability threshold that keeps feed readers in "Blinking 12-land" for most casual Internet users.

I mean, I know there are a lot of good feed readers out there (I favor Bloglines myself), but have any of you tried to convert non-techie co-workers into using a feed reader lately? I can't for the LIFE of me figure out why there's so much resistance to something so purely wonderful and empowering, something I believe is clearly the killer app on par with the first Mosaic browser in 1993.

'Kevin' comments:

The Times Reader smartly (it’s a brand after all) incorporates the branding, styling of the print edition (e.g. typography, colors, overall look and feel). But that’s about the extent of it. Sections and articles are in columns and pages using new layout technology that scale and adapt to screen size and resolution – but that’s more about usability and making use of the entire screen rather than trying to replicate the paper medium. …

Usability and Design. This reader provides a much more usable and readable experience than today's alternatives. It’s a big claim but it’s backed up by usability studies. Users strongly prefer this model to the text presentation found in the current browsers for example. Users also retain more information and read for longer periods. Columns, ClearType, Pagination, Hyphenation, Seamless navigation, Zoomable layouts, etc all contribute to a highly readable, easy-to-use experience. 

Interactivity. The app is still in beta and many more features are planned before its release but you can find a number of interactive features already. For example, you can comment (with ink or text) on text and share that with friends. The highlighted text is captured and the comment is recreated and rendered for others exactly as it was written. You can click on “topics” for any article and find related articles via the Search feature and “Topic Explorer”. You can peruse the news via Pictures /Photos or via the “What’s Read” feature. Stay tuned for more features. Feel free to make feature suggestions to the Times as well.

Also on if:book, in a post following Christine Boese's and picking up on her argument that re-creating a facsimile of a print newspaper online is 'just a kind of "horseless carriage" retrenchment', Ben Vershbow wonders, too, if this isn't to go backwards into the future. Most interesting bit in his post? This:

… are these proprietary, bound devices really going to replace newspapers? It seems doubtful when news consumption is such a multi-sourced affair these days (though to some extent that's an illusion). A device that allows readers to design their news menu seems more the ticket. Maybe the Times should be thinking more in terms of branded software than proprietary hardware. Make the best news reader on the web, prominently featuring Times content, but allowing users to customize their reading experience. Keep it open and plugged in. Let the Times be your gateway to more than just the Times.

Full info about the NYT Reader is available here. Currently, NYT Reader is Windows-only ('can be installed on any laptop, desktop, or tablet PC running Windows XP') and requires .NET 3.0. All OK for me, but … Mac users will want to read this post by Nick Bilton, Art Director at the NYT.

Finally, here's a quotation from Michael Rogers (IWM article) which I liked:

I think that being a futurist is in a way the last refuge of the generalist. You need to pull together all kinds of sociological, economic, technologic, anthropologic information into some kind of coherent whole. And finally, I'm not sure that the real value of a futurist is to predict the future -- the future is always going to surprise us in one way or another -- but rather to get others thinking about it in a creative and flexible way.

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Memeorandum & TailRank

This is a bit of background info I want to keep in mind: it throws some light on operational differences between Memeorandum and TailRank.

TechCrunch » TailRank is Looking Good:
The core back end difference between the services is that Gabe Rivera, the founder of Memeorandum, hand picked the original “seed” blogs with subsequent sources discovered by his system (guaranteeing quality but sacrificing breadth), whereas most of TailRank’s content comes directly from users who upload their favorite blogs in OPML format (the file format that most RSS readers like Bloglines and Rojo use to store feeds). The additional breadth of coverage offered by TailRank may be the cause of its lag behind Memeorandum in breaking news.
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Attention, Reading Lists, RSS, etc, etc

Attention continues to get my attention. David Sifry, in his recent update on the blogosphere and its staggering growth, says:

We track about 1.2 Million posts each day, which means that there are about 50,000 posts each hour. At that rate, it is literally impossible to read everything that is relevant to an issue or subject, and a new challenge has presented itself - how to make sense out of this monstrous conversation, and how to find the most interesting and authoritative information out there.

Alex Barnett posted on this issue:

The live web discovery problem is different type of discovery problem to that the traditional search engine space has been trying to solve. Companies such as Technorati, Icerocket, PubSub, Memeorandum, Tailrank, Digg, FeedDemon, Rojo, and Bloglines and many other start ups that have cropped up in the last couple years recognize this and are helping us navigate the torrent. However, in my view, what's missing from the current generation of the aggregators, feedreaders and live web discovery engines is the ability to scope these services against my attention data. Some of these services provide tag and keyword RSS search subscriptions and have some personalization features.  These are steps in the right direction, but we've got a long way to go.

(There's a podcast available with Alex, Joshua Porter and Steve Gillmor discussing attention.) Which makes me recall Herbert Simon's words:

What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.

Reading Lists, as I've blogged before, are hot and are being talked about in the context of an 'attention-based recommendation system'. (Listen to another of Alex's podcasts, here, with a discussion between Alex, Danny Ayers, Joshua Porter and Adam Green about Reading Lists.) Dave Winer's guidelines are lucid and helpful (and see his OPML Editor doc) and I have really enjoyed Danny Ayers' take and this comment by Darren Chamberlain:

I think I don’t get the idea of a reading list. Is it just the portion of a blogroll that you’ve been reading most recently (the blogroll’s intersection with your attention data)?

dd's comment points to a key significance of Reading Lists, their dynamic nature. EirePreneur has a post touching on Reading Lists but focusing on Feed Grazing and (wait for it) Web 3.0 that has set me thinking, and Danny Ayers' comment there ('the near-future of the web is going to be a generalisation from a Web of Documents to a Web of Data') is my excuse for not yet blogging about last week's conferences.

Alerted by Alex and Robert (and Greg Linden's comments on the latter), I'm playing with Megite (my personal Reading List here; not a good idea, it seems, for me to have included the BBC News feed — it swamps everything), and have now also gone back to Findory and TailRank. (There's a post about all this by Richard MacManus, too.) Alex:

Megite is going letting me do what I've been asking Memeorandum (or anyone else that will listen) to let me do for ages  - to pivot off my own OPML file. The feature isn't switched on for everyone yet, but I've pinged the Megite developer, Mathew Chen, so hope to hear from him soon. … I'm more convinced than ever that the ability to render a personalized experience based on Attention data is where its at. And I'm not talking about just clickstreams. Your OPML file (specifically your list of RSS subscriptions) is one example of this Attention data set. It says a lot about you: the topics your interested in and the people you listen to, and much more. There is plenty more Attention data that can be leveraged though. My tags, my wishlist, the books I own, etc. We're just at the beginning of the Attention Engine race.

In the comments to Alex's post, Greg Linden says: 'Thanks for trying Findory! The relevance rank is not random nor is it solely based on your OPML file.  Findory decides what is relevant based on the articles you read. Play with it, click a few articles, and watch how it focuses in. Findory learns very quickly'. And Kevin Burton: 'TailRank has had this live for 2 weeks now'.

Swarming media has a post on some other, related implications of all this — the way we're projecting our deterritorialized, multiple identities in cyberspace:

The obvious unwanted social implications extend to surveillance and impersonation, but culturally, we are creating selves outside ourselves. Many-tendriled projections.

Compare James Governor on Declarative Living.

Meanwhile, FeedBurner's FeedFlare API (the release of which coincided with last week's Future of Web Apps conference) has got my attention:

The really big idea … was … the notion of providing a universal framework/API to enable any third-party web service to integrate with a publisher's content, without concern over what content management system the publisher is using.

The 101 ideas FeedBurner published for FeedFlare underscore the role of RSS as a way of gluing things together. Mitch Ratcliffe on the original FeedFlare announcement:

Using metadata this way will allow greater integration of intelligence in the management of feeds. The announcement talks about more browser-friendliness, which is a big plus, but RSS is fading into the communications between applications and, I think, that's where it will take deepest root.

Kevin Burton:

(FeedFlare) should allow more innovation in the space.  For example I could add TailRank features directly in FeedBurner.  Other smaller companies could add plugins for their content as well.

In a year or two, what will be the place and nature of RSS aggregators and these rich RSS feeds? Richard MacManus has a post today declaiming, 'Personalization + Clustering is the next big step in RSS. If 2005 was about Aggregation, then 2006 is all about Filtering.' Danny Ayers focuses on the technicalities behind this and in the comments adds: 'the smart aggregator (with hooks into things like the Technorati API and a bit of P2P) is probably a quicker route than trying to put all the processing online'.

Union Square Ventures invested in FeedBurner believing that RSS will become mainstream, but they, like Fred Wilson, know there's some way to go yet. Matt McAlister's gloomier still. Me? — I think Lloyd Shepherd has it right: 'the fact is that RSS is gluing all sorts of things together at the front end and the back end. … it’s entirely understandable that the RSS front end is still a bit squishy and unfriendly - people are still trying to get to grips with the possibilities of it at the back-end. Not because people are stupid, but because those possibilities are just so huge'.

Back to Attention. The Guardian picked up on this last week and advertised AttentionTrust.org. I joined this a while back and am now beginning to see its value through using the AttentionTrust approved service, Root Vaults. You can download AttentionTrust's Attention Recorder extension for Firefox here and you have the option either to record your attention data direct to your hard drive, or to Root Vaults or ACME Attention Service.

These are some of the things to do with attention, RSS, etc that have been crossing my radar recently. (There are others, but I'm sticking here with the ones that have really preoccupied me. Companies like Attensa are on my screen, too …)

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Calendars and DLAs

via Marc, David Beach on calendars and life caching:

Two of the most important social developments in the past couple of years has been the explosion of blogging and the creation of Flickr. These events have sparked the imaginations of so many and have been the impetus for the Web 2.0 phenomenon. There are open and distributed social apps for nearly everything now. And many more are on the way. People are blogging, moblogging, podcasting, vlogging, link sharing, rating, reviewing, file sharing, asking, answering, and interacting in so many ways. There are now more means to express yourself and to conveniently reach an audience than at any point in our history. Yes it's a lot of noise. But it's your noise.

This poses a problem. If your blog is here and your photos are there and your video is over there and your email is down there, and so on and so forth, how do you keep track of it all? How do you effectively share it?  And most important how do you make meaning out of it all over time? Marc Canter has been evangelizing his idea of the Digital Lifestyle Aggregator for years. This is dead on. I called it the Digital Life Manager before I knew about Marc's thing. I don't get out much. But I'm happy to say that there are many similarities.

More on David's posting about calendars. Some highlights:

The calendar plays a big part of the experience as all life media is time-stamped or can be tagged with a creation date and time. Everything you do can be archived. It's up to you. It's not just about aggregating, it's about archiving and making meaning out of the content. … data would appear in the Manager on the date and time that it was created. And that day can be seen for the rest of time. My family could comment on the day and perhaps even sync their Life Managers with mine on the same day, so we could view the event from their perspective. Now what if just by living my life each day new content is created? For life is content no matter who you are. … The calendar, of course, is also important to manage the future. The events of tomorrow are the content of yesterday. … The calendar is just one visualization. There are potentially any number of views that can be mashed up to your taste. But essentially the overarching theme is the temporal nature of the life media. … The next generation of users will actually have the majority of their life events if not entire life digitized in some form or fashion. … What if instead of just tagging photos or sites, you tagged your life? 

Like him, I'm waiting for 30 Boxes to open up, and for our half-term break so that I can put Spongecell through its paces.

Update! (5.2.2006): 30 Boxes (beta) now open.

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Information

A couple of good postings about information overload have come my way via Alex's blog. Anne 2.0:

… you keep seeing the same blogs with different posts about the same topic or the same posts but linked by different bloggers or different posts by different bloggers that contain almost exactly the same information. … you need some sort of summary that ensures that you see the important stuff at least once and only once. We're a long way from something like that but it's not too much to expect that in 2006 we'll take a step beyond simplistic aggregators.

And see, too, Connecting the Dots. River of news aggregators, social smart aggregation …

Then I came across Elizabeth Daniel (Professor of Information Management, Open University Business School):

It is estimated that the average knowledge worker spends around 10% of their working time trying to find the information within their organization that they need to do their job.

These difficulties are caused by:

  • too much information, much of which is often out of date;
  • too little information about what is really important to the organization;
  • conflicting information.

The key to success, she argues, is to ensure 'that the organization is collecting and maintaining the right information in the first place'. And how should an organisation manage all this information?

The 5 principles of information management are:

  1. Ownership. All information within the organization should be assigned an owner and that owner’s name should be displayed with the information. Effective stewardship of that information should form part of the individual’s annual appraisal.
  2. Identification. The owner should also be responsible for labelling or tagging the information so that it can be classified and most importantly easily retrieved by anyone seeking that information.
  3. Lifecycle. As with other assets, information has a finite life. All information should therefore be reviewed at pre-agreed intervals and archived when no longer current.
  4. Storage. Considerations for information storage should include ease of access by relevant staff – ‘store once, use many’ being the maxim of many organizations – as well as issues of security and business continuity.
  5. Audit. Finally, organizations should regularly review their use of information including cost and value.

As these principles illustrate, information management is as much about people and processes as about technology.

Wow!  These principles would stir things up in every school I know.

On enterprise portals ('one strand of my own research over the last few years'), she says:

Enterprise portals seek to do what consumer portals and search engines such as Google do on the internet, that is provide easy access to a multitude of information, but within a single organization. Enterprise portals can tailor the information presented to staff according to their interests and responsibilities. The relative ease with which other programs or applications can be integrated into enterprise portals ensures that it is not only static information that can be presented to staff. Information from applications such as customer databases, accounting systems and purchasing systems can all be presented through the portal. This feature allows staff who are unfamiliar with the underlying applications to easily access the information they need.

I hadn't appreciated how Google is moving in on the enterprise area: Daniel links to this IT Week article.

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Weird feed behaviour

1) I've had to decouple FeedDemon 1.6 RC2 (a beta) from NewsGator: the synching between the two had gone haywire, ever since a problem that developed some time around 28 December at the NewsGator end of things, and it was driving me nuts.

2) More to the point here, apologies to my FeedBurner subscribers: FeedBurner has a range of services on offer — PingShot service and FeedFlare — and, I'm not sure, but changing my options on both of these seems to have set off a riot in that feed, posts reappearing as unread a number of times and (most recently) a strange 'noemail' address appearing entirely unasked for in the headers of posts. I've reset my options within FeedBurner and I hope things will now quieten down again.

For good measure, I've been playing with Technorati tags: in TypePad these have to be entered manually (TypePad's categories are read as Technorati tags, but categories are not the same kind of animal as tags) which is a little bit of work. (Within Firefox, Performancing semi-automates the process for you.) The work's worth it when the tags are read by Technorati, but I'm finding the process more miss than hit. As ever, Dave Sifry is very supportive, but we still haven't cracked the problem. Niall Kennedy at Technorati suggests it may be feed-related, which led me to validate my feed and the feed of a number of blogs. Errors abound everywhere, which made me feel a bit better. I still can't get the Technorati tags to work consistently, though, and the most recent ones have simply gone unnoticed by Technorati's spiders.

Web 2.0. Dontcha just luv it.

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Nokia's SmartPhone revolution

The Nokia N70 is a fine, fine phone. (I was fortunate to be sent one as part of Nokia's 360 SmartPhone Study.)  Jason Fried sang its praises last month: 'overall the N70 is the best phone I’ve ever used'. Marc Eisenstadt produced a very informative posting of his experiences with one (a 'Swiss-Army Phone') which is also a vade mecum for all phone buyers:

… there are some specific factors you need to consider when purchasing a ‘modern multi-purpose mobile (smart)phone’, and which don’t get mentioned in many reviews … :

1. Grab without thinking: If you have to think twice about whether to carry a gadget with you on Errand X or Trip Y or Meeting Z, then it’s too big. The N70 is an absolute winner on this front …

2. Thumb-centric vs pen-centric operation: if you’re making the jump to a smartphone (i.e. phone with PDA functionality), one key attribute you should consider is whether you prefer to enter short items with your thumb or with a pen …

3. Satisficing beats moving goalposts: when Nobel-prize winner Herb Simon invented ’satisficing’ in 1957, he meant (among other things) that people had a great gift for trimming a search space opting for solutions that were less-than-optimal but ‘just good enough’. Since Moore’s Law means there will always be a better gadget around the corner, and indeed the special-purpose gadgets (MP3 player, camera, etc) will get better even faster than an all-purpose Swiss Army Gadget, you just need to decide on your threshold of ‘just good enough’ acceptability for the features you want, and go for it.

… the N70 is a good all-rounder. The era of ‘jaw-dropping surprises’ is over: the fact that the N70 can do so much of what it does, and so well, ought to amaze us, but our expectations keep growing and we are increasingly hard to impress. … what are my biggest gripes?  Just two:

1. If you are a text-messaging fanatic, you will be unhappy with the N70: the keys are too small, and, most importantly, the ‘Clear/delete backwards key’ is in the wrong place, certainly for right-handed users. For me, this is an acceptable tradeoff given the good screen size and compact size of the phone (all things considered).

2. Scrolling through news/articles/messages/emails of more than, say, 30 lines in length is annoying because there is a ‘discontinuity jump’ as each new segment is rendered, which makes it hard for your brain to ‘do the right thing’, the way it can when scrolling even longish articles on most PDAs. …

So, there you have it.  Now to deploy my new productivity tool (by ignoring it). … Don’t get me wrong, this is one gorgeous phone! By ‘ignoring it’ … I mean ‘letting it blend unobtrusively into my activities, without fuss’.

I agree with Marc on his plus point 1 (but see below) and gripe number 1. As for one-handed (thumb-centric), my experience is that using a SmartPhone when busy makes one-handedness desirable. I'm not yet satisficed (?) with the camera: at 2 megapixel it's much better than what I've had before, but I still long for the day when I can leave my digital camera at home and just take my phone. And I have another gripe about the keypad: the menu/option keys are too close to the green and red (left and right) phone keys and also don't feel sufficiently different to the touch. I've mis-hit these a number of times now.

The N70 does seem to be a huge step on from the 6630 in the clarity of its software. (I haven't tried to work out why, but it immediately felt more intuitive and less like being parachuted into a jungle.) Its ease of navigation and use has encouraged me to run things on it such as LiteFeeds (RSS for mobile devices). I'm pleased with LiteFeeds, particularly as feed-reading on a mobile has been problematic until recently. (FeedBurner Mobile Feed 2.0 is not yet available, but I'd like to try it when it's out.)  Mobile Gmail works well. Audio-only podcasting is a no-no, but video can be done: see here (and there's a pdf guide here).

If I hadn't got the N70, I'd have been looking at the N90 (which Ross has blogged about here) — a far bulkier but very interesting transformer phone. My recent phones (SE P900, Nokia 6630) have been on the heavy side, and the N70's lightness is a delight. (If Christian Lindholm's right, mobile phones will soon be wearable, and the PDA will be a separate item again. And check out Nokia's 770 as reviewed by Russell Beattie and his challenge to Silicon Valley.) However, Ewan Spence's All About Symbian review of the N90 concludes:

To sum up, the N90 is Nokia’s first true cameraphone to focus on the camera, and it’s all the better for it. Yes, the unit has a number of quirks in the design, but the software, the operation and general polish of Series 60 continues, and makes the N90 the high-end phone of the moment in both Nokia’s N range and in terms of smartphones in general. It might be marketed with the camera as its killer feature, but with Series 60 it covers all the bases, and covers them well. Right now, there’s no solid reason to not look very, very seriously at the N90.

But back to light-and-thin: on the near horizon, the slide form factor N80 looks very interesting indeed. All About Symbian had a preview of an early version of this phone:

… in slide closed mode, the phone at 95.4 x 50 x 23.4 mm is essentially the smallest Nokia S60 phone yet. As a slider it is a few mm thicker than a monoblock such as the 6680, but this is hardly noticeable. It is bigger and heavier (134g) that the other modern S60 Slider, the Samsung D720, but that is a reflection of the extra functionality found in the N80. …

High resolution screen support makes a real difference – physically the screen has not changed in size, but the increased density of the pixels results in a much crisper display. … The new S60 browser, based on Safari's WebCore and JavascriptCore components, is also found on the N80. The 'minimap' feature allows you to see a full page at a glance and navigate around it, while other new features include 'visual history' and support for RSS feeds. … In use, the browser is much faster than Nokia's previous efforts (and) will start to change the way people think about browsing the web on a mobile device. Previously, sites aimed at PCs were only accessible using SSR (small screen rendering) technologies and this had usability problems since it was always limited by the intelligence of the re-rendering algorithms. Higher resolution screens, together with minimap, mean that it is possible to quite comfortably view any web site on the phone.

A 3 megapixel camera, Flash Lite, improved Java support, Nokia XpressMusic, UPnP and Wi-Fi (to name just a few of its features — possibly Skype connectivity, too!) add up to a very powerful mobile device:

With features such as UPnP (play music on any device anywhere wirelessly), Bluetooth 2.0 (wireless stereo headsets), 3G and Wi-Fi Connectivity (music download/purchase over the air) the N80 is the most feature rich and powerful digital media playback device on the market. Imagine the reaction that wireless headphones, wireless music sharing and playback around the home and over the air song download and purchase would get if they were features announced in a new iPod and you can start to grasp the significance of the feature set of the N80.

The smartphone is often touted as the ultimate convergence device, and the N80 is just one more step along that road. Nokia made it clear they see the N80 at the heart of the digital home with UPnP, with its auto-discovery and remote control properties as the enabling standard. But it is also clear that this is just the first stage and we can expect to see increasing integration with other devices around the home in the future, which will be achieved through the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) 1.5 guidelines (which aims to enhance interoperability and user experience). All About Symbian

I blog all this because I am personally interested in what these slender, hand-held devices can deliver but I also believe that they will alter fundamentally the way schools and students operate. Moreover, although they are as yet so much the playthings of the richer countries these new generation phones have the potential to make the world more equitably connected — and for education that is also very exciting.

Or, if you prefer, as AAS concldues: all this is 'a story of four years of development in which the smartphone has moved from the initial concept smartphone to a series of feature-rich and powerful multimedia computers which will sell 100 million units in 2006. For the consumer electronics industry, it is an unprecedented story of product-line creation, growth and success and one that is largely unnoticed by mainstream technology pundits'.

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Bloggers as editors

With the coming of cheap, mass publication and consumption of "information" (blogging), the reading patterns of many must be changing quite radically, if they haven't done so already. For some time now, I've been using a large-ish number of blogs, and a smaller number of del.icio.us users, as, in effect, an editorial team. (I do get to see the Guardian, but can't catch up with it daily: it accumulates and then there's a helluva backlog to get through.) I have 206 feeds (gulp) in my aggregator and 51 in my del.icio.us inbox. As with other habits, I keep intending to cut down …

Numbers of feeds apart, I was taken with this post from Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine and author of The Long Tail:

    Aside from a few purely information feeds, such as new Netflix releases, most of what I read online is blogs. (You can see my current subscriptions here.) I don't visit any mainstream media sites directly (and in print, I only read the Sunday New York Times and a load of magazines). If there's something relevant to my interests in the Wall Street Journal, the daily NYT or some other news site, I assume one of the blogs I read will point me to it.

    This is not to say that I don't value mainstream media; I do. It's just that I'd rather choose my own editor to select the articles of highest importance to me (including those the mainstream media choose not to cover at all, or just not well). In this case that "editor" is a network of bloggers, not whomever decides what makes it to the front page of the newspaper. This works so well that I suspect I'm actually reading more articles from mainstream media, and from a broader range of it, than ever before. It's just all via blogs, which microchunk and remix the information in ways that make it more useful to me. …

    What all these blogs that have earned their way to my feed list are doing is adding value to commodity information. The ones I'm reading do this in at least one of three main ways:

  1. Add value with a unique perspective or analysis.
  2. Add value with unique information.
  3. Add value by providing a unique filter/lens on content available elsewhere.

    This is not just a smart strategy for blogs; it's a smart strategy for any content creator in an era where the tools of production and distribution are fully democratized and the marketplace is flooded with commodity competition.


49PM NewsReader

This looks promising — 49PM:

Read any RSS or Atom newsfeed on your phone and view the photos formatted exactly to the size of your mobile display!

  • Save downloaded photos to your phone and show them to your friends later.
  • Only the newest posts are downloaded, saving time and money.
  • Press the * button to find out which feeds have been updated since you last checked.
  • Add any newsfeed you like, it'll even find the feed if you enter the web location of a weblog or newsfeed page.
  • Works on virtually any Java enabled mobile phone with color display.

Feeds go through a dedicated server, where preformatting is done before the photos (etc) are sent on to your phone — ensuring photos match your display size and are downloaded quickly. Flickr-friendly, of course …

Bottom line: $19.95 a year. Free two week trial period.