Category Archives: Google

How I Want My News: TimesReader vs. Bloglines vs. … vs. Outlook?

I finally got tired of Bloglines this weekend and bit the bullet, figured out how to export my feed list in OPML and import it into other readers. That, plus some playing around with TimesReader, got me thinking about how I want my news, in the end with a pretty unanticipated result.

First, let’s talk about Bloglines. Relative to Pluck, the first RSS reader I tried, Bloglines was a dream. It was easy to use. It was performant enough. It was thin-client, meaning first that I didn’t have to download and install an application and second that it was accessible anywhere — I could read feeds on my machine at work or my wife’s machine at home and it was the same experience.

Over the years, however, I had some problems with Bloglines:

  • Bloglines didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be. Bloglines has this lame blogging tool included, which I can’t imagine anyone using to publish a real blog. It has a playlists tab which struck me as odd and confusing. The company seemed lost.
  • Bloglines didn’t evolve. This reminds me of MapQuest. Back in 2005, when Google Maps was launched and they blew by MapQuest overnight, I was — despite being a Google contrarian — actually happy. Why? Because in the preceding years, I felt like MapQuest was complacent, didn’t evolve, and basically deserved what it got.
  • Bloglines was slow and cumbersome. One example: I like to mark important items “keep new” for future blog fodder, but there is no easy way to un-mark lots of them.
  • You have to be online to use Bloglines. I do my best reading on planes so this was a big negative. (I’d often print posts so I could read them later. Ich.)
  • Bloglines didn’t provide a way to share newsworthy items. One of my favorite media/publishing feeds is Jill O’Neil’s shared items in Google Reader. As Jill churns through loads of information, every once in a while she flags an item for her feed, and the result is an expert-aggregated stream of very interesting stories.
  • The prior point is just one instance of a broader problem: Bloglines is its own, fairly cut-off world. The question then becomes how many worlds do I want to visit every day and in which world do I want to get my news?

I’d always struggled with the question of which feeds should I put in MyYahoo vs. Bloglines. In the end, I put the fun stuff on MyYahoo (e.g., Sharks scores, French news, E! gossip) and the serious stuff in Bloglines. That division reflected two facts: (1) I didn’t want to be buried in technology and business feeds every time I launched my browser, and (2) that MyYahoo is a bad place for serious feed-reading (e.g., you need to open a new window to see more than the last 3-5 stories, there’s no way to mark stories unread or share interesting ones).

Since Twitter’s in vogue as a news delivery platform, let’s ponder Twitter for moment. While Twitter is fun, I participate in that fun, and I do get the odd news story from a Tweet every now and then, there is no way that I want to use Twitter to get my news. That’s not to say, by the way, that Twitter isn’t wonderful for truly-breaking news. But my problem is specific: keeping up with about 100 RSS feeds related to technology and business. Twitter’s not the solution. In many ways, it’s part of the problem: if you have a finite number of “worlds” (or sites) you want to periodically visit, then Twitter is definitely one of them, and this reduces your capacity for the rest.

(And yes, I know I can get Tweetstreams as RSS feeds and thus eliminate the need to visit the Twitter world, but I’ve only done that once: for the H1N1 feed from CDC. Somehow, I have a desire to keep my Twitter world and my RSS worlds separate.)

Some might suggest that Facebook is the right place to get news, and I’d say yes if “news” means updates about my friends, their whereabouts, and their lives. I’ve sometimes heard Facebook referred to as the good news newspaper with highly personalized information, and I think that’s a pretty good description. But, as a place to read and aggregate 100 RSS feeds? No. In fact, I find it vaguely irritating when people status-update serious news stories (I can get them elsewhere, thanks) and quite irritating when people do business marketing with their status-updates. In terms of my “world theory,” the Facebook world has a clear position in my mind (“friends”). It’s definitely a world I want to visit and a world I want to keep pure.

This leads to the notion of “work friend” and LinkedIn. While I’d never consider making LinkedIn my primary news source, I do think that they have done a wonderful job with their news section. I’m not sure how they’re doing it, but I assume their using their knowledge of who my friends are and what they’re reading to suggest stories for me: and the suggestions are always quite good. So, news-wise, I view LinkedIn as a good place to find stories that I might otherwise miss, but it does not solve my problem of keeping up with 100 RSS feeds that I know I want to follow.

So now we come back to the RSS reader category. I tried Google Reader over the weekend, and while I preferred it to Bloglines, it still suffered from the must-be-online problem and the own-world problem. But I liked the UI better than Bloglines and it enabled sharing a feed of interesting items, so I was about to convert when I stopped and thought for a second about that RSS Feeds folder in Outlook 2007.

I imported my OPML file into Outlook and the rest was history. I hate to say it, and the last thing I thought I’d ever say was that I want “more stuff in email” but this seems to be the best solution for me. Why?

  • I can read offline
  • It’s one less “world” to deal with and a world where I already get plenty of news (from mailing lists and Google Alerts)
  • I can forward blog posts without having to cut and paste — yippee!
  • I can easily mark things read or unread
  • Because I can read offline, I eliminate the frustrating problem of scanning alerts offline. (Many alerts happen in the blogs I follow thus I now typically have the relevant posts already in my RSS feeds folder.)
  • The performance hit, once it’s initially setup and cleaned up, isn’t bad

In fact, the only thing I dislike is that Outlook treats RSS folders a bit too much like regular folders. For example when filing email, recently accessed RSS feeds appear in the recently used folders list. (In my opinion, you shouldn’t be able to file anything in an RSS feed folder, but maybe I’m too much of a purist.)

Finally, as long as I was in a self-reflection on news mode, I decided to check out TimesReader, which is built in Adobe AIR. Impressions:

  • Boy, is it pretty.
  • I wonder if it’s a paved cow path. Are they making the online experience look largely like the newspaper to show they can, or because that’s the appropriate way to experience the newspaper online?
  • It’s “another world” to have to visit, and seemingly a closed one. I was surprised to see no embedded hyperlinks in news stories though not terribly surprised to see no way to bring other feeds in. As previously discussed, I’m trying to minimize my number of worlds.
  • I’m a big fan of the New York Times, a subscriber, and a frequent reader, but I doubt that I’ll use the current TimesReader very often. While I definitely prefer reading the TimesReader version over the regular website version, I’m not sure I really have time for either. Perhaps if and when there’s a TimesReader on the Kindle and I upgrade mine to the bigger screen size, then maybe I’ll be a frequent user. But for now, firing it up to read the paper in its own world is as luxurious as reading the Sunday Times cover to cover, which I love, but rarely have time to do.

When I began my RSS reading journey I’d never have guessed that it would end up in Outlook, but that’s where I am now and suspect where I’ll stay for a while.

Top Resources for Understanding The Google Book Settlement

We’ve had major interest in our upcoming webinar on the Google Book Settlement and unprecedented downloads of the related white paper, Google’s Settlement with the Publishing Industry: Opportunites and Strategies for Publishers, written by Bill Rosenblatt of Giant Steps Media and available for download without giving contact details here.

Given all the interest, I thought I’d share a list of what I consider the top resources for helping publishers and other information industry stakeholders understand the Google Book Settlement, its implications, and the opportunities and threats associated with it.

  • The Google Book Settlement microsite, which includes the full settlement in HTML or PDF format. Note that the full settlement consists of 16 documents with about 320 pages of text, hence explaining the need for summarization and analysis.

I should also note that Columbia Law School is holding a high-firepower, one-day conference on March 13, 2009 entitled The Google Books Settlement: What Will It Mean for the Long Term?

Finally, for those more inclined to click through a presentation than surf through the above links, below please find this excellent 69-slide summary by librarian Lauren Pressley.

If you know of other excellent resources (not just yet-another-summary articles) please share them with me by mail or blog comment, and I will attempt to update this post to add them.

(Thanks to Jill O’Neill at NFAIS for pointing to me to some of the links I added in the second revision of this post.)

Google Settlement: Implications for Publishers White Paper

I’m happy to announce the availability of a white paper on which we worked with information industry veteran Bill Rosenblatt of Giant Steps Media that analyzes the effects of the Google settlement with publishers, and identifies new opportunities that result from it.

From the introduction:

The first part of this white paper describes the Settlement Agreement in the litigation, including the Book Rights Registry, the initial set of business models that Google and publishers will implement, and the set of business models that the Settlement Agreement contemplates in the future.

The second part discusses the future opportunities for publishers, particularly those that depend on publishers’ ability to build XML-based content architectures and make content available in structured formats with standardized metadata. It then discusses the capabilities that will be necessary for publishers to adopt in order to take advantage of these opportunities, including systems, tools, processes, and standards adoption where appropriate. Of course, a growing number of publishers are already starting to adopt these capabilities.

From the start of the second section:

The future business models contemplated in Section 4.7 of the Settlement Agreement differ qualitatively from the way that Google currently works with publishers – mainly in that they include several opportunities that require the availability of content in structural rather than page-oriented formats.

I believe the agreement enables Google to challenge Amazon in the sale of online books (and importantly, derivatives thereof) and therefore that publishers need to think of Google not as only a discoverability channel, but also a distribution channel — and ergo be ready to distribute their content in the way(s) that Google asks.

To me, this unsurprisingly suggests the need to store content in a centralized XML repository whereby it can quickly be repurposed, reformatted, and/or otherwise sliced-and-diced to enable experimentation about new and different ways to sell it.

John Kreisa from Mark Logic presented on the settlement with Bill Rosenblatt at last week’s O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference and here is an article in Publisher’s Weekly about the panel. The slides that they presented are below:

Bill Rosenblatt has blogged about the white paper and about the settlement itself on his Copyright and Technology blog.

You can download the white paper via the Mark Logic site (and be asked to provide some information) here. Or you can use the back door and download the paper directly via the Giant Steps site, here.

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Why Google Employees Quit

As the bloom comes off the Google rose, you can now see the flip side of many of their once-sacred practices, such as their interviewing process and academic elitism.

While I’m not a Google fan — for the record, I always hated “don’t be evil” — nor am I a detractor. My biggest problem with Google is the seeming lack of self-awareness of many of its employees. I’m not opposed to Google-isms; in fact, I agree violently with some of them (e.g., intelligence matters in software).

I’m sharing this post mostly to balance the mainstream press which worshiped all Google practices as best ones when times were good, and then forgets to update us when the tide goes out and, as Warren Buffet once said, you can see who’s swimming naked.

I believe in strong culture and I know that Google has one. The trick, in my opinion, is looking out for the downside of a strong culture, because there always is one. The mails below help paint a picture of that downside.

My take on Google has always been

  • One-trick pony
  • Which has spent literally billions in experimental R&D — in an organic model that I like
  • But has nothing to show for it

I remember once watching a panel of thirty-something, first-100-in, ex-Googlers rather condescendingly lecture about innovation best practices and thinking simply: despite literally billions in investment, you’ve never come up with a successful business innovation since the first two (search keyword and contextual ads) and, what’s worse, is you don’t even seem to know it. Then again, when world’s best business model is your first trick, it’s pretty hard to come up with a second one, and if you were in early enough, heck, you don’t need to.

But enough of my rambling. The purpose of this post was to link you to over to TechCrunch where you can see, in their own words, why Google employees quit.

A few excerpts:

As I was saying. Google actually celebrates its hiring process, as if its ruthless inefficiency and interminable duration were a sure proof of thoroughness, a badge of honor. Perhaps it is thorough. But I would be willing to wager that Microsoft’s hiring process, which takes a fraction of the time, does not result in a lower-skilled workforce or result in a higher rate of attrition. And let me say this: if Larry Page is still reviewing resumes, shareholders should organize a rebellion. That is a scandalous waste of time for someone at that level, and the fact that it’s “quirky” is no mitigation.

What was strange with me at Google was: while outside, I had all these big ideas I could do if I ever worked there. Once inside, you have 18,000 (at the time, Feb 2008) other googlers thinking the same things.

I wonder if post-Google bitterness is correlated to when you joined and/or how long you were at Google. It seems that it is. Maybe it’s the memories of Google in the first few years I was there that make it it seem magical, but I really do treasure the time I spent at Google. I left a few weeks ago, after almost 5 years at the company, because I wanted to pursue a markedly different career path. Sure, I had times when I was frustrated with the way Google was doing things, or when I felt that my particular project, or assignment was lacking, and I definitely had managers that I didn’t enjoy. But all in all — what a freakin’ amazing experience!

Google was my first job out of college. I was an English major at a prestigious college and was hired to work in HR. That is one of the problems I had with Google right there – is it really necessary to hire Ivy League graduates to process paperwork? I went from reading Derrida to processing “Status Change Request Forms” for X employees to go on paid leave. The term “Status Change Request Form” will forever haunt me.

Those of us who failed to thrive at Google are faced with some pretty serious questions about ourselves. Just seeing that other people ran into the same issues is a huge relief. Google is supposed to be some kind of Nirvana, so if you can’t be happy there how will you ever be happy? It’s supposed to be the ultimate font of technical resources, so if you can’t be productive there how will you ever be productive?

Checkout Google Flu Trends

Check out Google Flu Trends, a site at, which uses Google flu-related searches as a predictor of flu activity, giving them what they estimate as a two-week advantage over the CDC’s US Influenza Sentinel Provider Surveillance Network.

The basic explanation of how it works is here. A scientific article on the project, which is to be published by the leading journal (and Mark Logic customer) Nature, is here.

Fun Google Parody Video: Complexity is Good

I stumbled into this video while reading Stephen Arnold’s recent post, Google Search Appliance: Showing Some Fangs. In the post, Stephen offers a pretty comprehensive look at the Google search appliance (GSA) prompted, I believe, by a new release that includes features such as personalized search results, alerts, and broader language support.

If you’re interested in the new features, see this video here.

If you want to have some fun, check out this video which portrays Google’s view of a typical enterprise search software sale, complete with the cheesy salesperson.

As I’ve repeatedly maintained (e.g., 1, 2, 3, and 4), I think the GSA is going to consume the “crawl and index the intranet” segment of the search market, pushing classical enterprise search vendors up-market, and eventually into an un-winnable conflict with DBMS vendors.

Is Google a Media Company? In a Word, Yes.

The New York Times ran a story today entitled Is Google a Media Company? In my estimation the answer is simple: Yes, Virginia, Google is a media company and in reality always has been.

The Times story is about knols, Google’s “unit of knowledge,” about which I’ve previously written in (one of my more cleverly titled posts, if I do say so myself): Google as Publisher, The Grassy Knol.

It all comes down to buttermilk pancakes. When you phrase search “buttermilk pancakes” in Google, hit #3 is a knol by Scott Jenson.

Hey — wait a minute — who the hell is Scott Jenson and why is his pancake recipe #3 on Google? The answer: Scott Jenson is “a user interface designer for Google … avid cook and traveler.”

Oh. That explains it.

Now you might like your pancake recipes to come from Google user interface designers (and I’m sure they look pretty), but I have trouble believing that mainstream society wants recipes that way. If they did, I suppose we’d be watching UI designers all day on the Food Network, instead of Bobby Flay, the ever-profane Gordon Ramsay, or Iron Chef Morimoto.

But Scott wrote a knol. And Google can, and probably will, decide to prioritize knols over other content sources, and certainly will, ceteris paribus. Hence the conflict of interest between Google the indexer and Google the content owner. (Do you think it’s an accident I run this blog on blogger? One hopes for whatever advantage one can get.)

Where, for example, do we find the venerable Martha Stewart’s buttermilk pancake recipe?

She comes up, in total obscurity, at #18. And here’s what the co-CEO of her company, Wenda Harris Millard, has to say about it:

Although Martha Stewart’s buttermilk pancake recipe appears lower than the Knol recipe in Google’s rankings, Ms. Millard does not believe that Google unfairly favors pages from Knol. But she said that Google’s dual role as search engine and content site raises an issue of perception. “The question in people’s minds is how unbiased can Google be as it grows and grows and grows,” Ms. Millard said.

I suspect Ms. Millard is so polite because she doesn’t want Martha’s recipe at #180.

Google, predictably weighs in with claims of neutrality:

“When you see Knol pages rank high, they are there because they have earned their position,” said Gabriel Stricker, a spokesman for Google.

Yes, I’m sure. By the way, John Edwards is faithful, the Chinese gymnasts are all 16, and there really is a Santa Claus.

Google can say they are not in the content business, but if they are paying people and distributing and archiving their work, it is getting harder to make that case,” said Jason Calacanis, the chief executive of Mahalo, a search engine that relies on editors to create pages on a variety of subjects. “They are competing for talent, for advertisers and for users.”

The sooner publishers realize that Google already is a media company and becoming more of one every day, the better. Call knols the smoking gun, or the smoking pancake. But realize the inherent conflict between index neutrality and content ownership. Then consider how businesses over history have managed such conflicts.

“If I am a content provider and I depend upon Google as a mechanism to drive traffic to me, should I fear that they may compete with me in the future?” Professor Yoffie asked. “The answer is absolutely, positively yes.”