Archive for the 'RSS' Category

It’s not the destination, it’s the journey

November 9, 2007

I know there are some really cool linking sites (I use Del.icio.us and clipmarks – but there are tons others). But what we don’t really find are really cool “travel to a link” sites. I am amazed at how I discover content on a daily basis. So much so that I am trying to write another topic “dampening the noise” but I wanted to take you through this trip I took today:

1) First I read my LinkedIn “Q & A for Product Management” – a saved RSS feed of any questions asked by people on LinkedIn dealing with Product Management
2) From their I found an interesting and timely question about Product Management and Agile Development
3) While reading the 10 responses I found one response that had a link to another timely blog post by Stacey Weber at Pragmatic Marketing (my favorite PM site)
4) While reading that I decided to check out their “Blogs” section where I stumbled upon (no pun intended) a whole slew of blogs that they recommend (in various categories)

After looking through this list for a while – my head hurt – I was completely overwhelmed by the amount of information so I had to quit. I stopped. Couldn’t go on any further – paralyzed by information.

This was all from one post in one of my 40+ RSS Feeds (each averaging 20 plus posts since the last time I read them)

We really need a better way to consume information…

Blogged with Flock

Advertisements

Some crazy thoughts about Web 2.0

May 3, 2007

As Mike posted about “RSS in Plain English” , it reminded me of some of the conversations we have been having at work as we try to jump-start discussions surrounding our companies general approach to Web 2.0 (which includes a healthy dose of RSS). I spoke at internal round table last week about RSS, Wiki’s and Blogs and their place in the Web Content Management space. Particularly, focusing on how RSS was effecting the Enterprise business world and how our product would be growing to support that need. During my work, I came across a great video (like a great cult movie these days you need to watch it a couple of times to pick up everything) which helps to dispel the myths about Web 2.0.

What I found to be well done in the video was the process of not only describing what Web 2.0 is today but how we got here. How HTML was built as a markup language which was

“…designed to describe the structure of a web document … such elements defined how content would be formatted. In other words, form and content became inseparable in HTML…”

In the early days of pure HTML development, the tags were the power. <b> for something bold, <i> for something italics. We coded because we wanted to designate that something was important and should be looked at differently. We were not thinking about the actual content in the context of the document, we were simply saying “when this is displayed on the Web we want it to look like ‘x’.”

What is remarkable about the current changes on the Web is that they are not simply architectural changes (support for semantic style markup like <address>4222 Clinton Avenue</address>) but it was also the explosion of the user compiled data:

Amazon.com customers rushed with surprising speed and intelligence to write the reviews that made the site useable. Owners of Adobe, Apple and most major software products offer help and advice on the developer’s forum web pages. And in the greatest leverage of the common user, Google turns traffic and link patterns generated by 2 billion searches a month into the organising intelligence for a new economy. [excerpt from “Unto us a machine is born”]

Nobody could have ever imagined how much the consumers of the world would contribute to the web and it’s over all growth. In some articles it is said that a new blog is born every 1/2 second. When I first started blogging at WordPress.com (which was admittedly way after the general populous started) there were roughly 190K blogs. In the short amount of time that I have been active in the blogsphere, that number has grown to an astonishing 900K+.

So as this data grows and the web spins out of control, we must start thinking about the next thing. How many times have you gotten to a great Digg article, only to find that 850 people had already commented on this article. Rendering the comments section of this article completely useless. Who can sort through that many comments and make heads or tails of anything relevant to the discussion. Likewise, how do you weed out the unproductive comments that prove we still have a long way to go as a society? You don’t, that’s how!

One thing I will say that I have spoken about in the past (and is iterated in the article mentioned above) is that the system is growing and the tools that are becoming available to us are opening up our use-able networks. We are currently connected (most of us) with way more people then we were in the past. Additionally, we are capable of maintaining relationships with hundreds of people at at time through many different outlets.

I am not sure that we are “teaching the Machine (a.k.a. the Internet)” but I can say this, when I get involved with projects like Behavioral Targeting I can truly say that we are living in a remarkable time, and I am glad to be a part of it.

Battle for standardization continues

January 5, 2007

I read an interesting post over on Alex Faaborg’s site today about microformats and how Firefox 3.0 will be using microformats to change Firefox into a “… an Information Broker.”

Much in the same way that operating systems currently associate particular file types with specific applications, future Web browsers are likely going to associate semantically marked up data you encounter on the Web with specific applications, either on your system or online. This means the contact information you see on a Web site will be associated with your favorite contacts application, events will be associated with your favorite calendar application, locations will be associated with your favorite mapping application, phone numbers will be associated with your favorite VOIP application, etc.

This is going to change the way we interact with data on the Web, and it’s something that I am going to be blogging about all this week, stay tuned.

I find this to be as exciting as it is frustrating, all in the same breath.  Ok, so microformats could be the future, it could enable us to truly “write once – use everywhere”.  Some of the examples from the article which get me heated are:

For instance, if you want to sell something, you can blog about it using an hListing, and a site like edgeio will find it when it aggregates classified advertisements across the Web.

Similarly, the microformat hReview allows the creation of review aggregation sites, and XFN (XHTML Friends Network) allows the creation of social network aggregation sites.

When I first started to understand the search process (back when you had to “tag” your sites on Yahoo with a form and Webcrawler was the only “spidering” web site out there) I was promised that we would be able to place “xml” style tags or “semantic” markup in our HTML which specialized sites and search engines would pick up and treat differently.  For instance, a site that would go out and collect information about products would be able to compare 10 online book stores prices for a book if we put something like <isbn-10>1590593812</isbn-10> in our HTML.  The web browser would ignore it but the site would catalog the results and offer comparisons.  That was in 1996.

Now take some more semantic style searches like say at a government site.  I worked with APR Smartlogik on a great project which highlighted Europes advancements in standardization.  Essentially, the UK governement mandates that all pages on a governments public facing web site have meta content which complies with eGMS standards.  Compliant pages have special meta tags which have content tagged against the IPSV taxonomy which allows smarter search engines to index content better.  If you have every tried to find information about when trash is picked up or where the town compost drop off is located then you know what I mean.

I guess my real gripe is that this is all good but let’s get there already.

Add-Ons for IE vs. Extensions/Themes/Add-Ons for Firefox

October 10, 2006

Before we begin we need to be clear on the definition of on Ad-on.

Ad-on’s ARE:
1.) Applications that offer time saving benifts and enhance your online experiene
2.)
Applications that are integrated directly in the browser (Developer’s
tool kit, Flickr upload tool, Sage RSS Reader, GMail account tracker,
IE View etc..)

Ad-on’s are NOT:
1.) Links to external applications from within the browser
2.)
Applications that add completly no value or have no clear definition of
purpose (this definately comes from both sides of the camp – IE:
Developers Toolbar – Firefox: US Department of Homeland Insecurity
Idiocy Level)

General
Ad-on’s are becoming a hot topic especially with the impending launch of IE 7 (which appears to be next month). Currently there are 1800+ Add-on’s available for the Firefox browser and approximately 435 available for IE7 (which is not to bad considering the browser is still in beta). The idea behind the growth of Ad-on’s is pretty simple – improve the experience of the online user. We are constanly on-line working in or around our browser. Whether we are searching for information on the web (hopefully work related) or we are using the Web to access information from various Web based applications. The Web browser is our window into the world of information.

A while ago the notion of the “Web browser as the desktop” became a popular topic of discussion and quite frankly it makes a lot of sense. For instance, right now I have at my finger tips (i.e. without leaving Firefox), the ability to check my email, look at all of my RSS feeds, post to my blog, upload pictures and find any information I want. Although I have other tools opened (One Note, Eclipse, Outlook and IE 7 – doing some comaprisons), a majority of what I need is all right here. Why would I leave.

Sophistication
The main difference between the IE7 and Firefox “tools” are the level of sophistication. Firefox has been at it longer and the developer’s community has responded. Additionally, the API’s available for the Firefox browser require “lite” programming knowledge (you don’t need to know Com Objects, Java Objects or true Object Oriented programming). I will admit, there is a lot available to you in Javascript that has an Object oriented feel (and I may be bias because I like JavaScript so much) but it seems easier to understand.

With the launch of the Windows RSS Platform, Windows and IE7 are starting to tip the scales a bit. You can details here, but the general idea is that your OS would manage a Common Feeds List. Firefox Add-ons currently can post your RSS feeds (and bookmarks) to various placess, but there is no central repository. One that I feel is important. While this Platform is interesting, the only application that is currently taking advantage of this is the “Desktop Sync” application which is not truly an Ad-on since it breaks rule number one of the Ad-on’s definition.

What is interesting though is the concept of the Platform. What I could envision are many RSS applications tied into the browser as Ad-on’s that utilize this common-feeds architecture.

Accessing the outside from within
The idea of updating a hosted Web application from the browser is not totally new. Firefox has allowed developers to build unique tools which keep users up to date with their information stored in various applications. For instance, there are a few GMail extensions available in Firefox which will notify you when a new email arrives and will even show you a snippet of that email. I am actually a bit surprised that non one has written an extension which allows for easy uploads of RSS feeds to NewsGator (would be really nice if it also notified you when a feed is updated).

IE Addons – http://www.ieaddons.com/default.aspx?cid=4&scid=79 (also available from within the IE 7 browser)
Firefox Addons – https://addons.mozilla.org/ are also available within the browser.

The edge clearly goes to Firefox here and that goes even without talking about Themes (Azerty III for me currently).

powered by performancing firefox

Windows RSS Platform

October 9, 2006

Finally, Windows has stepped up to the plate and has begun to leverage their OS to enhance their Web 2.0 offerings. As a part of the launch of IE7 (and with Vista), Windows XP will have a sub layer for RSS communications called the “Windows RSS Platform”. As RSS becomes more and more a part of our daily life (with or without or knowledge) a subsystem integrated in the OS will offer some unique benefits. NewsGator has already begun to take advantage of this with a new beta project which will constantly update your NewsGator online site with RSS feeds and notify you when feeds are updated.

From the “MSDN“:

As part of the RSS support in Windows Internet Explorer 7, users can
discover and subscribe to RSS feeds within the browser. When the user
subscribes to a feed, it is added to the Common Feed List,
which is available for clients to use in addition to or instead of
their own list. For example, in Microsoft Office Outlook 2007, the
user’s subscription list can import feeds from the Common Feed List.
This enables the discovery of feeds within Internet Explorer and then
for those discovered feeds to appear in other applications.

I have been trying various approaches to managing my feeds (see the posts I had about Sage and the almost defunct News Reader from Flock). Everything from Web sites to applications. The key features for me are:
1.) Display the feeds that I subscribe to and how many new posts there are
2.) Allow me to easily add feeds to my list (this is the most challenging portion so far – without FeedDemon this is next to impossible)
3.) Let me mark either an individual post as read or an entire feed as read
4.) Display a formatted post (HTML please) in the browser pane. I prefer the full post but will settle for excerpts as long as they are longer than Digg excerpts
5.) It would be nice to post a feed item directly to del.icio.us without actually downloading the feed
6.) This would be essential – download the contents of the feed and allow me to read it off-line (this one is only available in applications now)
7.) The ability to group and order  feeds at will

When you use Firefox a lot (like I do) and you want to have a single source list of Feeds then you are out of luck unless you commit to one company for feed delivery. Sounds like the “Common Feed List” approach is the right one. “Store all of my feeds on my computer in a common directory and then add API calls to that feed list”. That way service providers (Feed Readers) can offer their features without applying a burden to the user to “constantly” import/export the feeds. Don’t get me wrong I am fan of OPML but it gets a bit annoying having to keep a constant updated OPML file every-time I want to demo a new Feed Reader.

powered by performancing firefox

Social Bookmarking is expanding

October 2, 2006

I have been using del.icio.us for a bit now (around 9 months) and while I don’t seem to have the number of links that I see others having (I have two sets of bookmarks – those that I use on a daily basis and those that I like to keep in my list and share with others). Being on the road a bit, I find myself talking to others about this link or that link or this article describing this technique or whatever. And it brings me back to the early days of the Internet (boy do I wish I had my bookmarks from my first years in college) and how horrible it was to find things (before bookmarks were popular). The only way that I could find a page again was to remember the “steps” I took to get there. I not find myself “promoting” sites like del.icio.us to users that have either never heard of it or have never used it. Like I am some Social Bookmarking whore.

I try to describe the benefits of the process (share links with your friends/colleagues, see what other people who tagged your same pages are reading etc…) but it never really seems to catch on. I still have to send them the link via email (arrgghh). Good news is that I am starting to see a change…

When you see the following links on an article that you are reading, it is a good bet that the editors that maintain this Web site know what is going on in the world of Social Bookmarking.

digg this
reddit submit
Add My Yahoo
Newsvine
DEL.ICIO.US

Above are a few of the popular links that appear on most good technology news sites. I happened to get these from a favorite of mine – New Scientist. The idea for the links above is for you to add this article (I was reading this one when it hit me) to your list of favorites and in addition to others that may share your same views.

This process is bound to increase the number of social bookmarking users out there. It however occurred to me that the above list is missing a few very popular links:

Netvibes
My Google
NewsGator (makers of the popular FeedDemon reader)

So I wonder how long before Social Bookmarking will become mainstream and when we will see the hundreds of sites dwindle down to several very usable sites. (more on this topic to follow)

Levels of RSS Knowledge

September 28, 2006

I have posted a bit on RSS and while I am not a “super” expert on RSS but I am a big fan and I have posted a bit on this topic in the past so when I saw the following link: “Levels of JavaScript Knowledge” which was based on “Levels of HTML Knowledge” which was in turn based on “Levels of CSS Knowledge” I thought – what better way to describe what I have seen lately as we hire for PaperThin.

I started talking with many smart people who were interested in joining our Web based software company. I felt that there was a pretty good litmus test for the type of individuals we wanted to hire. Banking on the theory that you fill your bus with smart people first and then figure out where the bus needs to go, I would ask our potential employees about their knowledge of RSS. While I would also ask them about their views about the web and social networking and SOA, the RSS question seemed to be the most important. From that I have derived these levels of RSS knowledge

Level 0 – “RSS, Never heard of it”
I almost thought about not evening offering this level to the interviewees but it seemed logical. Let’s understand what this person looks like:

1.) They have never visited a major news site (CNN.com, MSNBC.com, ESPN.com etc…) or if they did the orange buttons for “xml” and “rss” never intrigued them.
2.) Clearly those same people were never intrigued enough to google “rss”.
3.) Obviously they have never seen Firefox and were probably not involved in the IE beta.

Level 1 – “RSS, Heard of it but I have no idea what it is”
Ok, so at least this individual has their ‘glasses’ on which means that are not blind to the idea that something else is going on in the web world besides HTML and images. Although, they probably don’t even know that the web page which contains the “RSS” links is written in HTML. It might also not be a stretch that this individual has also never heard of Firefox

Level 2 – “RSS, Yeah I use RSS for reading my favorite blog”
Now we are getting somewhere. This individual shows some promise. They are probably someone that enjoys the web and probably spends more time reading Weblogs then they do reading the local “printed” newspaper. Ideally, this individual would be very coach-able and probably “excited” about the development of the Internet in general.

Level 3 – “RSS, Just got finished uploading my Flickr photos and posted the gallery on my blog”
Clearly this individual has been using Firefox for over a year and has more extensions loaded in Firefox then they have pure Software packages installed on their mac. This individual may also know about OPML and attention.xml and is more likely to have been the first kid in their entire extended family to have an IPod . More importantly, this user of the Internet can describe the difference between RSS 1.0, RSS 2.0, Atoms and the ITunes podcast RSS. Future CIO indeed.

Level 4 – “RSS, ha – working on 3.0 with Dave and by the way I make 20K a month blogging”
There are really few people who understand what is next for the web and are always active. They are probably currently active as a speaker for various technology pod-casts and have been mentioned at least once on the following web sites (in order of precedence):

– TechCrunch
– digg.com
– Valleywag
– Any Web 2.0 Workgroup blog

I am certainly no where near Level 4 but I work hard.

Oh and by the way as far as the other “Levels”

HTML – closest to Level 5
CSS – Level 5
JavaScript – Level 5

I have been programming the web for quite some time and am proud to say that I learned HTML using SimpleText with a Mosaic browser.

Flock

July 8, 2006

Ok like a “Flock of sheep” or a “Flock of seagulls”? Nope, Flock as in the Web browser. I found this new browser by reading TechCrunch. I decided to try it out and I have been using it ever since. Sure it has it’s quirks and I don’t seem to mind some of the “pitfalls” (described below). I also, don’t use all of the features, but you know what? I like it… and here’s why.

1. It’s Firefox.
Yup, the core engine of this baby is Firefox. So, all of the same things I like about Firefox (read my earlier posts) are still here.

2. Best News Reader (for free!).
I was a huge fan of Sage – the extension for Firefox which handled all of my needs for news reading. Then I tried this. I have to say today that this is probably the single reason that I use Flock soo much.

2a. Downloads RSS Automatically
One of the things that I didn’t like about Sage (and I did not realize I didn’t like it until I tried Flock) was that you had to force Flock to retrieve your RSS. It did not do it on a scheduled basis. Flock is constantly reloading your RSS. That means it will notify you when there are new articles by changing the News Reader Icon (which is a part of the normal browser window icons – like Back, Forward, Stop).
2b. Reader is easy to use (once you understand it)
The news reader loads all of the feeds in the left pane (which shows and hides automatically whenever you go to an RSS feed). On the Right side it will show all of the posts pretty neatly.

2c. The look and feel is better
I like the way the news reader looks. Each feed has a little icon next to it (based on the icon located in the RSS or the favicon.ico on the site hosting the RSS feed). The layout of the content in the right page is preceded by a management header that allows you to mark all posts as read. Boy I could go on and on about the reader.

3. It’s cool.
The icons for the browser are a ton better than those of Firefox. It’s ice blue.

4. Integrates directly with Photobucket and/or Flickr
Yup, it has an integrated tool which allows you to upload images directly to your photobucket or flickr account. (I have since found this to not be as useful as the new Picassa – which I will post about soon).

5. Integrates directly with your Blog
Click Ctrl + B and it opens a little word pad window which allows you to post about something while your are reading. I have been using Performancing (which loads nicely in Flock too!) so this tool has little use for me.

6. Integrates the Stop button and the Refresh button
Yeah, never really realized how silly two buttons for Stop and Refresh were. When you start navigating to a site, you would not need to click refresh (at least not frequently – F5 works fine for me). So the refresh button automatically switches to a Stop button. Then when a page loads all the way it switches from a Stop button to a Refresh. No need to hit Stop when a page is loaded already.

It was some of these little things which interested me. Hey someone was thinking about how we use the web.

So what are some of the pitfalls for this product?

1. Doesn’t support folders (or sub-folders) in the bookmarks or Toolbars
I am a big fan of organizing. I have not switched over to this whole “Tagging” thing yet so I am much more efficient loading up a folder with common links. It makes it easier for me to manage my links. I may get better at using Delicious but for right now, I don’t have enough time to tag all of my links.

2. The settings on the News Reader were not intuitive at first and defaulted to a setting I found unuseful
The reader by default would not display anything. That is because by default when you clicked on the left nav to see a feed you had registered, it would immediately mark all the links in the feed as read. When I set the settings to be logical (or at least what I thought to be logical – to display only “New” items) nothing was “New”. They had all been marked as Read when I clicked on the feed so they were now all “Viewed” so, they did not show up.

Annoying at first, but with some help from a friend, we found the setting that “Mark[ed] feeds as viewed when selected in the sidebar”. Now the setting in the main window to only display “New” items was correct. Happy Day!

3. Some of the existing Firefox extensions were not compatible
At first it appeared that there was a complete difference between the two platforms when it came to extensions. Now it appears that there has been somewhat of a convergence and tools have been built to make Firefox Only extensions work in Flock.

So what does this mean (and why am I really using Flock)? For me it shows me how important (and powerful) the browser has become. This tool can now Read RSS, Aid in organizing and post pictures to your favorite image site, Post to your blog and oh yeah by the way…browse the Internet. I know that Firefox can do all of this with extensions but all of this is “Out of the box” with no extensions needed. It shows that there is some movement on the integration of applications with your web browser.

A quick note: Photobucket is now distributing a custom Flock browser which only supports uploading images to the Photobucket site. In addition, there are rumors that Yahoo will be doing the same (only removing Photobucket). Let the games begin.

RSS Feed/vs. Live Bookmarks

May 23, 2006

The ability to bookmark pages has been around since Netscape 1.0 (it may have been available in Mosaic but I can not remember that far back and at the time the concept of the web was so new to me that I may not have understood what a bookmark was). Bookmarks collectively can be viewed as a list of links to sites or pages that a user frequents. For me I link to my banking site, NBA.com, CNN.com, OnTheSnow.com Ski Report, technology help articles that I have found helpful. What made these bookmarks unsuccessful were two things
1.) If a bookmark went bad (i.e. the page was deleted or moved) you were screwed
2.) It gave you no information about the content that was contained on the page so if it changed you were screwed
Along came RSS and "Live Bookmarks" or a "Livemark"

With the advent of RSS the world of bookmarks has begun to change. Imagine some system which allows your bookmarks to be updated automatically. For instance, the page may be moved or content may change. How would you know and why would you ever want to keep up with this all. So here is the scenario:

Problem: I spend a ton of time scouring the web looking for the perfect link which gives me up to the minute updates of all my favorite local (and not so local) ski resorts. After a month of using the link the site changes the URL. Although one would think that this would be a ridiculous thing for a site to do, you all know it happens. So I am now tasked with the job of re-finding that link. Arrrgggh.

Solution: I spend a ton of time scouring the web looking for the perfect link which gives me up to the minute updates …. (you get the picture) … and instead of linking to that page I link to that sites published RSS feed. The RSS Feed (which I add to my page as a Livemark) contains not only the link for the slopes but is also updated with constants deals on great getaways this weekend to my favorite resort. In addition, if the site decides that it needs to restructure the pages a bit, it simply updates its RSS feed and I lose no time the next time a foot of snow dumps in my region.

Livemarks which up until now have been relegated to consuming RSS content for the purpose of reading articles posted to your favorite news site hold the power to make the solution described above a thing of the norm. A Livemark can help solve the "stale-ness" created with existing bookmarks. My recommendation – developers: create more Livemarks – users: consume more Livemarks – and for everyone to talk more about it.

The Feed Icon

May 19, 2006

Ok, so I just did some quick research on the "Feed Icon" you know that little orange icon that appears throughout web sites today to indicate that some content is available as a "Feed". That research has turned up some pretty interesting stuff.

There is a Wikipedia entry for this feed and it is located @ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Livemark.png

Essentially they are calling this a "Livemark" aka "Bookmark" only "Live".

Then if you go down further in the entry you will see that there is a web site devoted to this:

http://www.feedicons.com

Who would of thought that we needed a website (and a pretty "flashy" site at that) to govern the icons used to represent feeds.

If you dig even deeper into the entry you will notice that there is a link to an entry in the Microsoft Team RSS Blog which describes how in December of 2005, they decided to use the little orange icon to represent the live bookmarks in their upcoming release of IE 7. Isn't this great! This is exactly what we need. A standard. Woo hoo!!!!

To me this means progress.  It is this type of progress which will make technologies like RSS a success.