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 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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Some thoughts on mobile viewing

Ben posts about some developments on this front:

Om Malik and Michael Arrington are pondering Dave Winer’s move towards mobile-enabling the blogosphere. Specifically, his product OPML Editor will allow users to view content they’ve subscribed to on their mobile phone. This is definitely a useful feature; I certainly spend a fair amount of time viewing my Gmail on my phone (in lieu of a Blackberry or similar device), and the ability to subscribe to content and take it with you is brilliant. Similarly, Winer’s service for posting to weblogs by phone looks like it could be great.

Take a look at Dave's portable river ('published by my desktop computer, every night at 1am' — OPML Editor support page).

As Om Malik says, 'there are a lot of tools out there' that enable (or attempt to enable) our mobile lives. On a list of things I've played with and found useful, I'd include Litefeeds and Delicious Mona. On the blogging front, TypePad has just announced TypePad Mobile for posting to your TypePad blog from a mobile device (though there's this route, too). And Gmail on the phone (link) is something I also use a lot.

Ben goes on to recommend Opera Mini, 'an excellent browser that goes through Opera’s proxy server which automatically provides content-squeezing functionality'. I agree: it's very good.

Google has its own functionality for mobile search and reading websites, of course, which currently comes, *I think*, in these forms:

  • Google Mobile Web Search (access your phone's mobile web browser, type in the URL field, type your search query and select Mobile Web); for UK users, is another option.   
  • (see here: 'offers Web Search and Mobile search. Mobile search restricts your search to the mobile index which contains sites that are specifically written to fit your mobile screen').   
  • Google's own mobile proxy (where you enter any URL and get a stripped-down version of the page — with the option of having images or not).

I can't speak for the following, not having made much use of them yet, but here they are:

  • Google personalised homepage for your mobile: set it up on your PC — US link here, UK here.   
  • Google Local XHTML — US here, UK here.

And there's the Gmail-for-mobiles that I mentioned above.

Google seems to advertise (ha) its specifically mobile services very little and I may have missed some obvious ones or have got some of the above wrong (it's a bit of a rabbit warren to investigate). Please add/amend accordingly.

Concerning mobile access of websites, I take to heart Chris Heathcote's view that 'well-written sites win' (link — ppt: slide 27). We don't need separate mobile sites and, although I use the Opera and Google proxy services, I wish sites didn't "have" to be re-purposed.  As The Man said, web pages ought to be designed to be read across platforms, across browsers and across devices: 

The Web is designed as a universal space. … The Web must operate independently of the hardware, software or network used to access it, of the perceived quality or appropriateness of the information on it, and of the culture, and language, and physical capabilities of those who access it. Hardware and network independence in particular have been crucial to the growth of the Web. In the past, network independence has been assured largely by the Internet architecture. The Internet connects all devices without regard to the type or size or band of device, nor with regard to the wireless or wired or optical infrastructure used. This is its great strength. … For a time, many Web site designers did not see the necessity for such device independence, and indicated that their site was "best viewed using screen set to 800x600". Those Web sites now look terrible on a phone or, for that matter, on a much larger screen. By contrast, many Web sites which use style sheets appropriately can look very good on a very wide range of screen sizes. Tim Berners-Lee

That's from a document Sir Tim wrote about the .mobi TLD proposal. He concluded: 'Dividing the Web into information destined for different devices, or different classes of user, or different classes of information, breaks the Web in a fundamental way'. The road ahead in teaching, with staff and pupils using their own mobile devices and their own desktops/docking stations, depends upon the web keeping this integrity:

The Web works by reference. As an information space, it is defined by the relationship between a URI and what one gets on using that URI. The URI is passed around, written, spoken, buried in links, bookmarked, traded while Instant Messaging and through email. People look up URIs in all sorts of conditions. It is fundamentally useful to be able to quote the URI for some information and then look up that URI in an entirely different context. ibid.

It's quite clear that teachers will need to be on top of the developing options for mobile viewing (and understand the arguments about web integrity). Is there a site (wiki) which collates and maintains links like these, preferably along with comments and reviews about user experience? If not, we ought to get together and create one.


Update (31 August). For the sake of something like Google-completeness, I should perhaps add here:

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CIO visionary: the four pillars of enterprise architecture

Confused of Calcutta:

Some time ago I started working on a four-pillar model for enterprise architecture, in the belief that everything we do will be classified into one of the following:

  • Syndication: We will subscribe to stuff yanked out of humongous content publishers and consume them via a syndication, alert and aggregation facility. RSS gone ballistic. SAP and Oracle Financials meet Wall Street Journal Europe and Reuters. All stored somewhere both within the firewall as well as without. Text and voice and video.
  • Search: We will do some ad-hoc yanking ourselves, getting used to a Google-meets-StumbleUpon world where collaborative filtering of role and context helps relevance go up, and there are simple yet powerful heuristic tools because we can tag things and vote on them for future reference. Again from storage within and without.
  • Fulfilment: There’ll be a bunch of things where we need to discover what’s out there by syndication, search and learning. Refine what we discover to a set of things we’re interested in. Check out captive and brokered and otherwise made-accessible inventory. Discover price and select item. Provide shipping instructions or logistical information. Identify our right and authority to exchange value. Exchange that value via card or account or wampum. Be fulfilled. Flights, hotels, stocks, consultants, books, music, food. All fulfilled.
  • Conversation: Another bunch of things gluing all this together. Voice. Video. E-mail (though it will decay into pretend-snail-mail and die, I hope). Blogs and wikis. IM. Texting. Whatever. Ways of discovering, co-creating and enriching the value in information. Information that you need to fulfil things you have to do.

None of this will work if the information we need to get pushed to us or get pulled down by us is hidden behind walled gardens. Walls made of weird DRM constructs like Region codes on DVDs. Walls that hold our information and make it harder for us to rip it and mash it and make something useful out of it.

Read the original post — for more about the above and for a wonderful story about Christopher Wren and … four pillars.

Via deal architect (via Ross). I've subscribed to Confused of Calcutta's feed, and not just because of this post. Here's what JP Rangaswami (Confused of Calcutta), CIO of Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, says on his About Me page:

More and more my interests have moved towards education, I keep thinking of setting up a school from scratch. One day. I’m passionate about work (!) , particularly with reference to how work is changing: the paradigms created by globalisation, disintermediation and the web; the implications of virtualisation, service orientation and commoditisation; why publishing and search and fulfilment and conversation are the only “applications” we may need; how telephony becoming software and the wireless internet interact with mobile devices; the terrors of poorly thought out IPR and DRM; the need to avoid walled gardens of my own making; how children now teach me about work; the socialising of information, how it creates value by being shared, how it is enriched, how it is corrupted. How information behaves and what I can learn from it. Ever since I read The Cluetrain Manifesto I have believed in the “markets are conversations” theme, and have had the good fortune to meet and spend time with the Cluetrain gang discussing their views and values. Which naturally makes me passionate about opensource as well. In democratised innovation.

There are many reasons why I love the web, but meeting kindred spirits is at the top of the list.

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Web Apps & Access to Knowledge

Last week, Wednesday was spent at the Carson Workshop, The Future of Web Apps, in London, Thursday afternoon and Friday morning at the OII at for The World Wide Web and Access to Knowledge Workshop. The two experiences could hardly have been more different, and yet …

The Future of Web Apps (Flickr photos here), which saw an impressive line-up and was attended by some 800 people, has been reported extensively on the web. My highlights (links to session notes are on the event wiki and podcasts are promised here; additional notes also available from the wiki): Delicious - Things we've learned, Joshua Schachter; Building Flickr, Cal Henderson; Designing Web 2.0-native Products for Fun and Profit, Tom Coates; Happy Programming and Sustainable Productivity with Ruby on Rails, David Heinemeier Hansson; How to Build an Enterprise Web App on a Budget, Ryan Carson. There are yet more notes available online: eg, from Simon Willison and Zach Inglis. Tom Coates has published his presentation slides and there's a useful "commentary" on these by Jeremy Zawodny. James Governor has posted about Joshua and Ryan Carson.

Joshua's talk conveyed a lot of experience. Of all the things he said, these stand out: try and build features people will actually use rather than what they ask for (a point echoed by Cal Henderson); there's more RSS traffic on than everything else put together; " popular" is no longer of such interest to him (the bias drifts with the number of users); beware librarians; the value of a item lies in the URL and, of course, in how people tag the item. No auto-tagging.

Ryan Carson's detailed walk through the planning and execution of DropSend was great — both informative and instructive. But it was Tom Coates' talk that really caught my imagination. (He's posted about his reaction to the day here.) Web 2.0 is 'A web of data sources, services for exploring and manipulating data, and ways that users can connect them together'. From Simon Willison's notes on Tom's talk:

Result: a network effect of services.

* Every new service that you create can potentially build on top of every   other existing service.

* Every service and piece of data that's added to the web makes every other   service potentially more powerful. Massive creative possibilities. Accelerating innovation. Increasing competitive services. Increasingly componentised services. Increasing specialised services.

The Carson Workshop had something about it of the energy and excitement about innovation that characterised Reboot 7; the OII Workshop was … a contrast. Here, with perhaps two dozen (or so) participants, the emphasis was on the academic study of the net, but bit by bit I found it salutary: it made me think again about the web and attention (see my post of two days ago). Slides (pdf) are available on the OII page for this workshop (here). Matthew Hindman's talk, a critique of the claims made for the internet as a force for democracy, stays most vividly in my memory.  His presentation was clear and forceful and his slides do a good job of relaying its main points. On the one hand:

Democratizing the Flow of Information

  • End-to to-end architecture
  • Decentralized content creation
  • Low barriers to entry
  • Common claims:
    • Freedom of the press no longer “limited to those who own one” (Liebling 1946)
    • “Uniquely democratic medium” (CT Sup. Ct. 2005)
    • Sunstein, et al.: Internet = end of broadcasting

On the other:

The Limits of Democratization

  • Why are these claims wrong?
    • Some content still expensive to produce
    • Self-perpetuating, winners-take take-all patterns …
      • … in the structure of the Web
      • … in traffic
    • Importance of search engines
    • User preference and (lack of) skill
      • What does the public seek out?
      • How do they search?
    • Emergence of social elites

Questioning the "blogging=increased democracy" line of thought is important: here's Matthew Gertner doing just this on Tuesday of this week ('Just because the web lets us self-publish, it doesn’t mean that getting noticed is any easier. It’s just that nowadays you’ve got to find a way to charm an unruly mob instead of a media establishment gatekeeper like a magazine editor or record producer'), a New York Magazine article of this week on the same ('a lot of inequality for a supposedly democratic medium'), Clay Shirky's latest essay on power laws and blogs ('In February of 2009, I expect far more than the Top 10 to be dominated by professional, group efforts. The most popular blogs are no longer quirky or idiosyncratic individual voices; hard work by committed groups beats individuals working in their spare time for generating and keeping an audience') …

As I said in the session at the end of the workshop, the internet is a very young technology and it is no surprise that gaps exist between some/many of the claims made about it and the present state of play. There's nothing about technology that predisposes it to do good, and it's no surprise that it reflects pre-existing patterns of power and inequality in society. But there is much to be encouraged by: my hastily cobbled together list included the work of Headshift (I remember Lee's talk at Reboot 7: Gcache link here, my pasta/ bookmark here), MySociety, ORG, Robert Scoble encouraging Microsoft to be a little more open and answerable (on the impact of blogging on markets and business, see my post of last August), the world of self-expression opened up by blogging but also by services like YouTube (free, in a traditionally costly area), the power of the Long Tail — not to mention the Fat Middle

When I spoke at the end of the OII workshop, I think I mentioned Patient Opinion and today I came across this from Demos (Molly Webb):

We call it everyday democracy - minding the gap between people and the institutions designed to deliver public services. I'm finding more examples of practitioners in a variety of fields turning to social software tools - in the process they are re-inventing individuals' choices and re-framing the ways each of us involve ourselves in social outcomes. is making the space for a constructive conversation about the provision of health services that doesn't happen within the current NHS institutional arrangements. And I just came across Global Giving. This model aims to connect the leaders of development projects directly with funders, offering an alternative to World Bank or government charity models. (more info in the Washington Post article "Aid Recipients Might Have the Best Ideas About Allocation")

Online tools can enable new models of engagement toward delivering social outcomes. I can't help but be inspired by the 'let's fix it' approach.


The academic study of the internet seems like a world away from the creative buzz of Web 2.0 — but it's no bad thing to be forced to pull up and think about what we're claiming for it. Mike Cornfield, as Steve Schifferes reminded us at the OII, reviewed the role of the internet in the 2003–2004 US election cycle (pdf) and didn't conclude with an easy, black-and-white picture:

Did internet use make a difference in the 2004 presidential race? Yes. The most successful campaigns relied on it to gain advantages over their competitors. The numbers of adult Americans who relied on the internet to learn about the campaigns, to help make up their minds, to help others make up theirs, and to register and vote is simply too large relative to the final margin to think otherwise.

The numbers of American citizens who turn to the internet for campaign politics may dip in 2005 and the off-year election in 2006, in the absence of a presidential election. But a return to pre-2000 or even pre-2002 levels of engagement seems unlikely. As broadband connections proliferate and hum, the old mass audience for campaigns is being transformed into a collection of interconnected and overlapping audiences (global, national, partisan, group, issue-based, candidate-centered). Each online audience has a larger potential for activism than its offline counterparts simply because it has more communications and persuasion tools to exploit. This transformation makes life in the public arena more complex.

The more citizens use the internet, the more they might expect from campaigners and political journalists: rapid responses to information searches; a multiplicity of perspectives available on controversies; short and visually arresting promotional messages; drill-down capacities into referenced databases; more transparency from, and access to, institutions and players. Meanwhile, on the supply side of the political equation, candidates, groups, and parties now have models for how to use the internet to raise money, mobilize voters, and create public buzz. The new benchmarks established in 2004 could well be matched and surpassed in 2008.

In the coming months, well before net-guided election mobilizing recommences in earnest for the 2006 midterm elections, the online citizenry will continue to make donations to campaigns, sometimes in a big rush triggered by a news event. Political organizations with email lists ranging from the millions to the dozens will continue to urge citizens to give money, sign petitions, and tell friends to join. The definition of “activist” might continue to loosen, to include people who do little more than what ten minutes a month at their computers enables them to do; parties and groups will devote more energy and creativity to aggregating these actions into grassroots power. The definitions of “newsmaker” and “news” will also loosen, both because of what grassroots campaigners can do with the internet, and what bloggers, web video-makers, and others with things to say to the public can do through the internet to distribute their messages.
These changes could herald a major reconfiguring of the most public aspects of the American political process. Its contours are as yet unclear. Perhaps one approach to campaigning will dominate in the age of the internet –but it may be the case that several models compete over a period of time, or that each election cycle and political situation summons a unique configuration from each major player. Furthermore, there are innovations yet to come as more internet tools (for advertising, polling, and knowledge-creating) make it out of the lab and early adoption phase.

The only change that would surprise us would reverse the fundamental trend underwriting all the other changes: the cycle-by-cycle expansion of the population of the online citizenry. 75 million Americans at the last election-day peak, and counting.

'might' … 'could' … 'may'. There's a lot to play for, a lot that's uncertain, and anyone interested in democracy should be watching the ways in which a web of data sources — services for exploring and manipulating data, and ways that users can connect them together — er … come together.

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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 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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Dave Winer on P2P … and the Google API … and BitTorrent

From Dave Winer's post, 'Yahoo game-changers for 2006':

P2P webcasting. I wrote about this vaguely the other day, and no one apparently understood what I meant by Skype for webcasting. Come on guys, it’s pretty simple. Suppose we’re having a conversation, and I decide “Wow, this would be great for Scripting News, let’s do a webcast of this right now.” So I whip out my laptop, get onto the net (there’s wifi everywhere of course, heh) and launch my Yahoo Webcaster desktop app for the Mac. I choose New Webcast from the File menu. A window opens. There’s a button that says “Copy URL to clipboard.” I click it. Go over to my outliner, paste it into a post on Scripting News. “Tune into this webcast I’m about to do with Bull Mancuso about intellectual property and organized crime.” I highlight the word webcast and click on Add Link. Save. Then I go back to the Yahoo app and click Start. We talk for ten minutes, all the while people tune into the stream, which is managed via a realtime BitTorrent-like P2P connection. And of course when it’s all done it’s automatically archived to an MP3 and included in my RSS 2.0 feed for people who subscribe. If you’ve ever done a webcast, you know how much better this would be. And it’s ready to go, we know how to do all the bits.

And Kevin Marks adds in his comment to Dave's post:

Dave, have a look at GarageBand 3 and iChat. You set up your n-way conversation in iChat, you hit record in GarageBand, and it creates a multitrack recording of it for you with the speakers labelled. You can trim it, adjust levels ad effect, or just dump it out to mp3 straight away.

We should get right down to exploring and using these methods: homegrown webcasting has huge potential for schools and education.

There's much else in Dave's post. I've blogged before about his Clone the Google API proposal. What he told Yahoo! about BitTorrent is surely smack on target, too — and I love this bit of advice:

I said wherever you’re doing something to make another industry happy at the expense of users, switch polarity, immediately, and get on the side of the users. That in itself is the biggest game-change possible.

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Catching up with Reading Lists

OPML. OPML. OPML. How could I forget thee?

Reading lists are OPML documents that point to RSS feeds, like most of the OPML documents you find, but instead of subscribing to each feed in the document, the reader or aggregator subscribes to the OPML document itself. When the author of the OPML document adds a feed, the aggregator automatically checks that feed in its next scan, and (key point) when a feed is removed, the aggregator no longer checks that feed. THe editor of the OPML file can update all the subscribers by updating the OPML file. Think of it as sort of a mutual fund for subscriptions.

    OPML is a really useful file structure that just about everyone who uses a feed aggregator, like bloglines, is already using without necessarily knowing it. Most readers keep subscribed feeds for a user in OPML format, for easy importing and exporting. If you export your OPML feed you get a XML file of your feeds, which other feed readers understand.

    The problem with OPML files from readers is that they are static, meaning I can give you my OPML file but you will never know if I add or delete feeds unless I tell you and give you the new file. All you get is a snapshot of my feeds from the moment that I share my file with you. Dave [Winer] thinks these files should be dynamic, which means that I can share my opml file, or as he calls it my reading list, and anyone who subscribes to it will always have the current version, no matter how often I amend that list. There is very little technology needed to allow this to happen - the various feed readers simply need to agree to support dynamic lists and allow people to share them permanently. Dave’s trying to make this happen. If he succeeds, we’ll all be able to subscribe to reading lists from people we trust on a given subject, and good feeds will be that much easier to find. … In a comment, Eric Lin writes:

    I could easily see this not only as a way to share my reading list with others I know, but also to be matched with others I don't know with common interests. What if the system could match me with other people who have similar tech, music or lifestyle feeds as I do. It would be a fantastic way to make new connections as well as strengthen existing ones, and I could see communities forming around overlapping feeds. These communities might be stronger than those that form around a single website because they'd have more in common.

  • Nick Bradbury: Reading Lists for RSS
  • In a nutshell, the idea is that you'd subscribe to an OPML document which contains a list of feeds that someone is reading, some organization is recommending, or some service has generated (such as "Top 100" list). Changes to the source OPML document would be synchronized, so that you're automatically subscribed to feeds added to the reading list. Likewise, you'd be unsubscribed from feeds removed from the original OPML.

(Thoroughly indebted to Alex's post, Reading Lists = the killer app for OPML.)

The social aspect of OPML, 'communities forming around overlapping feeds', is really interesting.

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Librarians and the future now

Yahoo! search blog — Mark Sandler, University of Michigan:

1,100 librarians recently swarmed on the seaside town of Monterey, California for a deep dive in search technology, and I was among them. Topics included desktop search, visual and clustering search, podcasting, taxonomies and metadata, RSS, blogs, wikis, online education, intranets, spyware, digitization, wireless access, and more. In today’s world of search engines, librarians are reaching way beyond the physical walls of the library.

To make library services more compelling, some librarians have begun experimenting with new virtual reference techniques like instant messenger and text-messaging to interact with patrons. Although some adults may be slow to adopt these techniques in the library, just imagine the usefulness to all the teenagers who already use instant messenger and text-messaging as their main methods of communication. Elsewhere, librarians discussed creating online library catalogs that allow patrons to tag, comment, review, share, recommend, and otherwise create a virtual community around records in the catalog. Imagine browsing through a library catalog and seeing other people’s reviews or recommendations for similar items. Sounds like what happens on many Web sites now, places like Yahoo! Local, My Web 2.0, Flickr, Furl,, etc.

… librarians are continuing to evolve their roles now that people rely so heavily on search engines. What does this mean?

  • For search, knowing when to use particular vertical and specialty engines, specialty databases, meta-search engines, advanced search syntax for the big engines, and so forth.
  • For news, helping people use RSS, email alerts … to know when new and relevant content is available online.
  • For sharing information, helping people find and share with others by using blogs, wikis, and tagging.

As the world of online and offline libraries continue to converge, I think this quote summarizes the conference perfectly: “In 2020, Internet Librarian will simply be called the Librarian Conference.”             

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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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