Getting your News Manually Blows: A Reply

Last night Holden Page wrote a pretty good blog post entitled: Getting Your News Manually Blows (http://pagesaresocial.com/2011/04/05/getting-your-news-manually-blows/).

It was late, so I thought I’d reply now when I’m fully awake :).

Holden’s point was that when you use a service like my6thsense that auto-curates the news and presents this to you, it’s much easier than using Twitter (and by extension Google Reader etc) to get your news. Essentially, it’s easier to have the news pushed to you rather than to have to go off and pull it from various services.

Essentially, Holden is arguing for the curation model rather than e co sunroom model. This is infect something that I’ve noticed myself. There is consistent lack of content, even using Feedly and Twitter and Friendfeed to get my news.

Now I got an iPad about 2 months ago. And promptly installed Flipboard. I mention this because the experience is as important, if not more so, as the content in that experience. This rapidly warmed me to the iPad as a digital newspaper, complete with page turns and layout. Now it’s blatantly obvious, but the iPads ability to BECOME the app that’s running is a singular experience. As a dead tree newspaper reader, the fuss of a broadsheet just melts away on the iPad. Turning pages on a broadsheet can be a torturous experience. Flipboard showed me how that just melts away.

Thus I went off to seek actual newspaper apps to use.

Now before you groan and call newspapers dead tree media of the past, sit down and think about it. Newspapers were the my6thsense of the dead tree media (albeit it political persuasions, rivalries and narcissistic owners took thee place of algorithms). Decades worth of experience curating the news still produces some damn fine newspapers.

That’s a fact. Take the Times of London. I’ve been a Times Reader for years, even though it is a Tory paper. The iPad apps for the Times and the Sunday Times are incredibly good. They preserve the newspaper’s look and feel whilst incorporating video and some innovative layouts. I like it so much I signed up for the monthly subscription.

Here’s the scary bit: I open up The Times app and read it before I open up Feedly. No kidding. It’s curated news that covers a wide variety of topics succinctly. It’s quick and easy to browse through.

“Hang on a minute” I hear you say, “there’s no sharing or linking or liking or anything! It’s a Walled Garden”. And that’s the truly scary part: I don’t care.

Now i’m not at all suggesting that we abandon our feed readers and start reading digital newspapers. Quite the opposite. I’m saying that if we’re looking for sources of curated news, digital newspapers had better be one of those sources. Indeed, Feedly still gets used everyday. It’s invaluable to me. (Today, for example, the Falcon 9 Heavy story is nowhere to be found in The Times).

There other good newspaper app I found was the USA Today app. It’s nice and clean, with a simple interface that focusses on content. As a bonus, you can share articles to your hearts content. Plus, it’s US centric for the Americans among us 😉

I mentioned above that looking through my feeds for good content or through Twitter and Friendfeed was/is becoming a it of a chore. I’m finding more and more time where i’m looking at absolutely nothing. I probably need to subscribe to better feeds or better people. I probably need to reorganise my feeds to better layout content, and cull the boring ones. But here’s the thing, I don’t have the time to do all that.

As Apple would say, There’s an App For That!

A word about FaceBook privacy

I left this comment on Paul Bucheit’s Friendfeed Thread:

Paul: I get value out of having Twitter and FF completely public. Thats not the issue. The issue here is that FB was originally sold as a private service. Another thing. You and I may have seen value out of being completely public, but the only value to anyone about Grandma Indinana being completely public belongs to the knitting accessories advertisers.

And Followed it up with this one:

And for the record I don’t have a FB account. In the old days, snail mail mostly guaranteed privacy for your communications by virtue of the fact that your communiques were physically sealed by you. That essentially is the analogue version of FB pre privacy changes, albeit not at scale. In other words, privacy was implicit in the social convention of exchanging snail mails. With FB, people expected this social convention to extend, at slightly greater scale, to the online medium. Since, thats essentially how FB was marketed in the beginning. Now, FB has single handedly challenged the privacy implicit in this social convention, changing the default implied to a public one. That is the problem

I think the last comment sums things  up nicely. But do read that thread for a wide variety of opinions.

In defense of @friendfeed from @techcrunch’s attack. (@parislemon I’m looking at you)

Allow me to repost the comment I made on this Techcrunch post, it being a blatant attack on Friendfeed.

One we are not “pissed”. At all. We’d only be up in arms if Facebook closed Friendfeed.

Two. If its not news why are you reporting it.

Three. It is news because Friendfeed pioneered some of those wonderful features now known as Google buzz.

Four. The last time Friendfeed had problems was October 29th with some network problems. Ergo, it is NOT twitter. At all.

Five. Even if it were twitter, you never did treat twitter as harshly as you treated Friendfeed in this post. Even during the Era of the Failwhale.

Six. You don’t like Friendfeed. We get it.

Seven. Here endeth the lesson.

Really. I’m not surprised.

The question I really want to be answering here is why people are leaving Friendfeed. I certainly can’t think of a reason why not to. Even Scoble freely admits that Friendfeed has the superior feature set.

Facebook as a 200 million strong userbase.

So, Mark Zuckerberg, turn them loose on Friendfeed please.

To Each His Own RSS Reader

So there’s a bit of a thing going on here where Robert Scoble is now using Twitter Lists for his RSS feeds.

I take issue with this, but I’ll say right now: to each his own RSS Reader.

Twitter is the online manifestation of the local coffee shop on a sunday morning. Why? On a sunday morning, people are reading the sunday papers. Again to each his own paper.

What happens when one guy finds a good article – he shares it. So the paper gets passed round for people to read the article. I chose sunday for a specific reason – Sunday papers have the most insightful analysis based on a whole weeks worth of events.

Similarly on twitter, links get passed around for people to read becuase they are worthwhile reading.

Hence, i don’t have to follow every single twitter account, just those that pick out the most interesting or relevant news. The news will find me, where ever I am.

Blogs too will engage in similar behavior. At a much smaller scale tho. But a blog will not simply regurgitate the link. A blog will more often than not, provide some context about that link. By way of a response, a rebuttal, an agreement or adding fuel to the fire. Again, the news will find me where ever I am.

Friendfeed is a shining example in this regard. Its friend of a friend feature is something that Twitter retweets does not quite replace. Again, this allows the most relevant and talked about news show up in my stream – even if i’m not subscribed to that person. But this is based on a) the number of likes and b) the number of comments and c) how recent the last comment is.  This provides an awful lot of context to digest.

The usefulness of the FoaF feature cannot be understated. I’ve seen threads that go on for months, with comments constantly providing new information and developments. This is something that blogs rarely, if ever, do.

If you want more on Freindfeed versus Twitter and What Scoble has to say about it, Jesse Stay wrote a brilliant article here: http://bit.ly/5oZm1I

The news finds me where ever I am.

Lets go back to Twitter. Let me ask you this: How much context can be passed around in 140 characters, minus the link???

Granted, watchers of my tweet stream will see me posting Google Reader Shares that have exactly that. But you will also know that I will take the time to manually share a post with a recommendation.

I have a fairly modest amount of RSS subscriptions. About 250. Yet most of the news that is out there, I get.

In contrast, Scoble has 500 brands in his tech-news-brands list. There is a lot of duplication. In twitter, you get bombarded by it. So far, since i started writing this post, 106 new tweets have landed in the list.

In the world of RSS we handle mass duplication by picking a select few outlets. We handle it the same way with newspapers – we buy the same newspaper all the time. I buy the Sunday Times every Sunday. Why?? Because its a respectable news outlet, whose commentary I enjoy. Its rather like subscribing to Endgagdet rather than Mashable because I prefer the jokes.

Then there is the tech-news-people list. Which is people like Ryan Block of gdgt etc. As I memorably said to Scoble earlier today:

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I don’t. There is a reason that I have a “comics” category in Google Reader.

Scoble has solved this problem by having a brand news list and a people news list. How practical is this solution?? It depends on how many screen you have  to watch twitter on. Now Scoble tells me that he was using his iPhone at the time of this particular exchange.  Scoble has 40 lists as of time of writing. How practical is this?? Hold that thought.

So what is content?? Is it tweets?? Clearly not since tweets simply point elsewhere.

If you click on my google reader links in my tweet stream, you’ll notice it takes you to Friendfeed first. This actually an option you can toggle. So i could make the short link take you straight to the source. I’ve pondered many times if I should do that.

But the Freindfeed post together with the likes and comments is almost like a crowdsourced op-ed piece. It is CONTENT.

Now lets compare that experience with feedly.

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(Yes – that is feedly running in Chrome)

Which is the better experience??

Since we’re talking about Tech news:

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Lets compare this to one of Scoble’s lists:

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To make this a totally fair fight, lets use Google’s Reader’s Sort By Magic function:

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Which way of reading RSS feeds brings you the most value??

Which tech stores or highlighted the best here??

Of the three ways, I prefer Feedly.

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As you can see, at the bottom of every post, feedly includes this summary of the article’s impact around the web.

At a glance you can see exactly what people are saying about a particular article. Once Twitter Retweets are included, this feature is going to be even more useful.

Reading RSS isn’t just about following masses of feeds or people, its about following the right feeds to get the good. A gold mine is only as good as amount of gold that is reachable. If you can’t get the gold, you may as a well not dig the mine.

We may disagree on this Scoble, but there is more than one way to do it. You may find that it suits you, but thats not the way the rest of us feel. Even if we count ourselves as part of the early adopter crowd.

Twitter Lists may be the latest shiny newfangled thing on the interwebs, but it will take time to use it to its full potential.

Its WordPerfect  all over again – just becuase we have 150 fonts does NOT mean we need to use all of them in the same document. Just because we have Lists does not mean we jump our RSS ship.

To each his own RSS Reader.

Apple Tv – How It Fits In…..

So i got me an Apple Tv last week, more on impulse than as part of any rational thought, as such things go.  i was planning on getting one, but only later this summer.

But such is life….

So its sitting there on my Tv cupboard, replacing the DVD player that does not work any way…. surrounded by my impressive collection of DVDs. Which do me no good sitting on the shelf instead of on my Apple Tv hard drive….

The solution to this is, of course to back up your DVDs to disk. I use DVDShrink 3.2 (the last version ever released), or DVD Decryptor. both of which leave you with a folder full of .vob files ( usually  a VIDEO_TS folder).  This will strip copy protection from the files.

These files do us no good. Apple Tv will not take .vob files. But, and I must admit my irritation here, Windows Media Center does ( serves me right for being a turncoat 🙂 ).

So the next step is to use Handbrake ( for Mac and Windows) to take your backed up files and turn them into Apple Tv readable m4v or mp4 files. These files can be read across iTunes, Apple Tv, and your video capable iPods and iPhones.

Now this conversion process is eyewateringly long. I’ve resurrected an old laptop ( Intel Celeron M 1.4 ghz, 256Mb RAM). The average time is about 10 hours – at 4.3 frames per second. My 3ghz Pentium 4 with 2Gb RAM is actually only slightly faster, confusingly enough. in any case, i need the desktop and no the laptop, so the old and busted laptop is doing the conversions.

The 10 hours conversion does not bother me much. I set it up to go in the morning, and its usually almost done my the time I’m back home in the evening.

All this media is being stored on my Windows Home Server, with a normal install of iTunes being the server. I’m not sure if Firefly Media Server will work with Apple TV, but if it is, I’ll install that instead.

Finally, I use MetaX 1.0 for Windows (theres a Mac version, too) to add in metadata – pic, sypnosis, direcots, actor, etc…. This is amazingly useful and saved me loads of time….

Now my music library is full of duplicates (my fault for leaving the “Copy to iTunes library” option on when i import stuff), So I’m slowly going through it and deleting the duplicates (and saving space at the same time).

My Photos are spread across a hundred folders, so i have to get some sort of organisation going so i can sync them to Apple Tv and show them off on my Tv 🙂 .

I have SageTv running on the same server. Their conversion process for Apple Tv takes just as long and won’t work – sigh. If I could just get Sage to save the files in m4v format, i could sync my recorded tv directly to my apple Tv without any (hours long) conversion in between.

Update 14-10-09: The latest version of SageTv does indeed convert to m4v perfectly. Works wonders, but the time is still rather long. I reccomend turning off everything, defrags, AV runs (and temporarily, backups) if you have a long queue of files to convert. Right now I have 16 files to convert all of which are about 2- 3 hours long. Usually two a day. So for this week, I have turned off the defrag passes. SageTv actuall scales its CPU usage remarkabely well in these situations.

If i could, i’d have uploaded everything to EC2 for encoding 🙂

Thanks to the guys over on Friendfeed for help with this.

Dvd backup software thread: here.

Metadata thread: here.

Favorite Tweets/ FriendFeed Comments of the Day

Ok, quickie post here. I’m still alive but busy on university projects and studying for exams :(.

In no particular order

  1. FF : Ian May posted “My wife said, "Whatcha doin today?" I said, "Nothing." She said, "You did that yesterday." I said, "I wasn’t finished."”
  2. FF: Stupid Sleepy (aka Tina) asked: “Caption, please!”

    sumocaption.png

    See the suggested captions at FriendFeed here.

  3. FF: BreakingNewsOn – Tweeted:

    “Statement from Israel on boat collision involving former US Congresswoman McKinney: http://www.bnonews.com

    To which Evan Brown commented: “Thankfully, McKinney is no longer in Washington screwing things up. Unfortunately, she is now oversees screwing things up”

  4. FF: Stupid Sleepy (aka Tina) posted this story:

    Mr Fixit’s Emily Newton, left, and Sara Cooper are ready to make the Taste toilet experience more enjoyable.

    I beg you to read the hilarious comments on FriendFeed here.

  5. And finally, while there its not funny, theres a twitter/Friendfeed effort to get Robert Scoble an interview with Steve Jobs of Apple. See here (FriendFeed) and here (Scoble’s original tweet) and here (@joshaidan’s response).

To be honest, emailing Steve Jobs is a bit daunting. But I will get round to it.

So come on,  help Scoble get an interview with Steve Jobs: email Steve: sjobs@apple.com. @joshaidan says to make it personal.

Twitter Vs FriendFeed

Ok, so I got the FF bug before going to Twitter (you can follow me here).

So I installed Twitterific on my iPhone and turned on FF-to-Twitter integration. And I imported Twitter into FF, too.

This whole set up works very well. Twitters that go out of FF (as items that are posted to FF) aren’t re-imported to my FriendFeed stream (clever!). And comments in reply to twitters also go to Twitter.

The above accounts for 90% of the updates on Twitter.

So, what value do I see on Twitter?

Well, I have had several conversations, both public and private on Twitter with people all over the world. So yes, there is value there.

But I increasingly find that its easier to talk to those people that I’ve been following on FF for a few months already. And you’ll find that most of those people I follow on Twitter I also subscribe to in FF.

This raises an interesting comparison: what service do I get the most value from when i follow the exact same people in both?

FriendFeed is the clear winner here.

  • One, FF makes it a lot easier to follow conversations, even across several different items. This makes for focused interaction on specifics. Threads rarely ramble, and usually spark a new one if that happens. I’ve see and been part of more debates that I can count, but always come out of it feeling good – win lose or draw.
  • Two, we get far more from the stream. FF allows anything with a link or even just a message to be posted. Videos play right in the stream. YouTube video appear automatically when you post them. Google maps appear for location based services. Pictures can accompany the links, giving nice visual feedback on the item even before you click on it. all these little things and more engage the user far more than simple text can.
  • Three, Likes and Comments. Both are nice to get on a item you’ve posted. And both help item to rise to the top of your stream. Its not unusual to see items a few hours or even days old suddenly appear. These are usually some of the good stuff that been posted. these allow you to see the real hotbeds of activity on FF. Twitter has no such system.
  • Four. Twitter integration. This is a circular argument, but its nice to pull stuff back into Twitter. Especially since I’m not that fussy about using twitter directly.
  • Fifth. The team. The FF team use FF itself to engage and interact with the users, giving them a voice into changes to layout and such. This is important. user know that they are being looked after. this will prevent people leaving easily. it certainly makes me feel better that they’ve got my back.
  • Sixth, and finally – the API. The FF API has no restrictions on it and they provide libraries for all platforms and languages. Getting data in and out is easy.
  • Seventh, Ok, this really is the final point. Rooms. The notion of subject oriented streams has really taken off. You name the subject and there’s a room for it on FF. The US Politics room was particularly useful during the election. The nearest Twitter has are hashtags.

So, I will continue to use Twitter. And I’ll continue to use FriendFeed. Both are very much essentials for the modern internet hog. Even if you don’t like (or have) an account with the facebooks and myspace’s of the internet, even if blogs don’t figure in your online presence, both Twitter and FriendFeed are as good a start as any.

The shared opinions of millions live on the internet, but I have my little corner of that universe. And that good enough for me.

FriendFeed Gets My Images, Too – FriendFeed Notify 0.2

Like this picture?

(Yerba Buena Island – Thomas Hawk)

Me too. How about this one:

(Passage- johopo)

Nice huh?

One more:

(Untitled – Me)

Couldn’t resist.

My point is that the above three images will be posted to FriendFeed along with the link to this post by the new release of FriendFeed Notify 0.2.

Now this isn’t for just for photography buffs like me and Thomas Hawk. It works for any images embedded in an img tag and greater than 50x100px.

Now the release isn’t actually feature complete. There are a few things I’d like to add to it. These will be in the 0.2.1 release. Including picking and choosing which images to post and  the posting of a comment by way of summary. These are simple to implement and I don’t thing it will be too long before they are out.

So go and get it from here.

Anyone looking at the code will see that i am using the .Net frameworks webbrowser control to retrieve images. This runs in the same dialog you are shown the images.The regexes I tried are all in the code, but commented out. If anyone can help with these, that would be great. It would cut down on the overhead. Thanks.

For those of you reading this and wondering hat happened to my Smugmug add-in for WHS.its been on the back burner for a while. I didn’t expect the hiatus to take this long. In the meanwhile, Omar Shahine has updated his Send To SmugMug utility. Some of the features for the next release that people are voting on are similar in concept to my add-in. So, go vote. I still intend to do this Add-In and get it integrated with WHS.

Enjoy.

A Word of Caution

Since the quake in California,  old Vimeo and Youtube videos that people have favourite have been showing up in FriendFeed. Current thinking has it that the data must have been destroyed and recreated from backups.

Some of them are, NSFW, shall we say (I’m putting it very, very delicately). There is even one particular user that has a lot of these videos showing up in his stream (and I’m not linking to them – I’m keeping this blog respectable).

So given the current employers habit of Googling prospective hires, it might be safer to be careful what we add to our online personas.

Just saying.

Social Networks at Work

IF you’re surprised that I’ve gone so long without posting here properly, its because I’ve been spending so much time on Friendfeed.

Friendfeed suits my style so much better than blogging. With its link/article centred comments threads, it allows short comments about a particular subject that aren’t a blog in length. Its suits my free ranging style, commenting of just about anything that I’m interested in.

Two incidents this week, both well publicised on Friendfeed illustrate the power of the social network.

The first, and arguably most public, is the PR battle now erupting between Thomas Hawk (the photographer) and his supporters on the one side, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on the other. In the middle there are a few moderates keeping a steady and cool head.

Thomas Hawk:

After purchasing my family membership and visiting the museum today I was forcibly thrown out of the museum by two museum security guards at the direction of the Director of Visitor Relations Simon Blint.
My crime? Taking a photograph from the second floor stairs in the SFMOMA’s atrium (an area where the SF MOMA’s own website explicitly says photography is allowed).

image

And again ( the following day):

One allegation that has been raised is that Blint threw me out because he felt that I was shooting down a low cut blouse of one of his employees sitting in the atrium below where I was shooting. The photo above is a photo that I snapped of Blint as he was publicly admonishing me from the floor, that’s him with his arms crossed there — he’s about the size of an ant in the photo.

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I can vouch for the absurdity of shooting down a low cut blouse with  14mm lens from the top of those stairs

The comments are prolific on both these posts with a number of differing viewpoints about Thomas’ account. While most are not explicitly for or against, there is a searach for a middle ground between emphasising Photographers Rights and the way in which the situation was handled. Just do a search for “Simon Blint” on Friendfeed. Here.

SFMOMA responded with this Press Release:

Last Friday an incident occurred in our museum in which a visitor was asked to leave the building. We stand firmly behind the actions of our director of visitor services, who acted appropriately to ensure the safety of the museum’s admissions staff. He took measures to protect another staff member who according to witnesses on our staff and among the general public was being photographed in an inappropriate and harassing manner. SFMOMA welcomes over 600,000 visitors annually; disputes and disagreements between our guests and our staff very rarely occur.
This was not an issue relating to the museum’s official photography policy. In fact, SFMOMA recently made a policy change to allow photographers to take pictures of the permanent collection, the architecture of the building, and the museum’s public spaces.

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The comments on this link on Friendfeed are quite interesting, you can find them here. Most are wondering why the other side of the story is not being told here (Since all the information we have is from Thomas). I can understadn them drawing a line under the incident. I’d want to as well:  the issue of Photographers rights has well and truly been highlighted.

This whole discussion has gotten way out of hand. Someone even posted a link to Simon Blints Facebook page ( Which I will not link to, on principle). On the one hand, this will dominate any Google searches for Simon and potentially portray him in the wrong light. On the other it portrays him as on his toes, looking out for the needs of his employees and visitors alike (tenuous, I know, but still).

Do I think Thomas should have blogged this? Yes indeed. Do I think both sides could have handled it better. Yes again.

In closing, Jeremiah Owyang said the following:

Thomas Hawk’s skewering of Simon Blint: Thomas is a community leader (and photo site CEO) he needs to wield his power with responsbility

And you can see the level of discussion that generated below:

image 

The other one, which I am less informed about is a solely a twitter affair. Usually Twitters popup in my feed entirely out of context. This time, however almost my entire page way covered in Twiters between Jason Calcanis of Mahalo and Andrew Baron.

And boy were the insults flying back and forth.

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It takes up the first page and a half of this FF search.

That last entry in the picture above refers to this chart regarding Mahalo traffic numbers:

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And that’s how this whole thing kicked off. Exactly what was the bone of contention, I’ve no idea.

Again, the power of social networks was leveraged since the combined communities of Twitter and Friendfeed were spectators to the whole debacle.  What ordinarily would be solved via email just a few years ago, now is thrust on to the Internet for all to see.

What is particularly troublesome of this kind of behaviour across multiple social networks is the effect that they have. No matter who was in the right or wrong, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

These two incidents also shows the difference in format between two highly successful social networks (can you even describe FF as a social network?). It emphasises that we can either interact with the content or which each other. Interacting with the content gives us a starting pint for conversation, interacting with each other, apparently, can be much shakier.

Of the two choices, I would rather join a discussion centring on something solid, a blog post, link, photo or even an informative twitter.