Contents tagged with Google
I'm realizing that while I'm remaining less forthright in flaming Google for the perceived inadequacies of Google Reader, the one thing that is getting on my nerves is a lack of help links or tutorial documentation. I stumbled across the fact that the program can read and more importantly play podcasts yesterday, and apparently I'm not the only one. Today I jjust figured out that I'm supposed to be reading feeds from the "Home" link, not the "Read Items".
I was one of several hundred people who blogged their first-run reactions to Google Reader, the company's new RSS aggregator. Proving the marketing concept that the vast majority of people satisfied with a product will remain apathetic towards it while people wishing to complain will do so in great numbers, the blogosphere was flooded with comments from people voicing their stark opposition to the aesthetics, program design, features, instructions (or lack thereof), performance, and all sorts of things about Google Reader.
One of the the things I picked up on from reading analysis of the service was that, "Reader also employs algorithms that learn your content preferences and prioritizes content accordingly." This is something we'd naturally have to pickup on over time as the program adapted to our personal usage styles and patterns, so the jury for the moment is out on how this will play with the community, but it's a neat gimmick in theory. That's something neither Litefeeds nor RSS Bandit do for me at the moment.
I also wondered about the "relevance" sort option, thinking that this would be more grouping by feed than by actual correlation between the often disparate content in my feeds. And I still maintain that we should be able to mark items as unread en masse, not being forced to page through them or read them to get them out of our unread list. I also think the ability to tag someone else's feed is neat - allowing you to add a new layer of metadata to that which may already have it.
I've taken the time to learn how to use the program a bit better, and while it's still a bit of a shift in how I'm used to getting blogs, podcasts and Flickr photostreams. It may be momentarily awkward, but change ususally is.
The community has brought to painful light the single glaring flaw: Google Reader's one hiccup seems to be inordinate waiting times while the program imports an OPML list. But that'll hopefully be fixed. I've also discovered several features since then, like being able to preview a feed before permanently subscribing to it, and pretty neat support for podcasts - being able to listen to a file within an embedded player (as a streamed MP3/Flash audio) or download its source MP3 directly.
Having suffered through the first criticism salvo, let's now let cooler heads prevail and curb the subjectivisim with which we present our feedback. If you absolutely loathe the service and are willing to compose multiple paragraphs to express it, write at least one other to offer remediation strategies. Show how good of a user/developer you are by recommmending a fix. One of the things that's common when people react to a product is to be overly negative, just to prove they can, without suggesting a strategy to get better. Complaints are still valued in product development, but pure bitch-fests lose their weight over time.
The server went down for a little bit today during the 2.5 hours I've been playing with Google Reader since 5am Guam time (EST +17), and friends in the mainland said it's been like that on occasion throughout the day since it went live. I'm not sure if this is due to surge from its premiere post-Web 2.0 Conference, or just ultra-demand from the blogosphere/podosphere/Flickrsphere.
Ben's harped a little bit about the service in his photostream, but my big thing is not being able to mark an entire feed or several items within a feed as read. Shouldn't the "Read Items" button say "Unread" as Pip mentions, meaning only the itesm not already selected can be displayed? Maybe I'm used to other programs and thus ignorant, but this confused me.
Having said that, I do like the fact that feeds aren't cached (it would seems) for an inconvinient amount of time, such that I'm a few hours behind everyone else. This is cool. I also of course, dig the roaming ability of the RSS aggregator being integrated to my GMail account, which I previously mentioned was a big win for me. I've also blogged about wanting to export subscribed RSS feeds from my Google portal page either directly into Google Reader or as an OPML file.
One thing I think would be cool for Google's personalized homepage and Microsoft's Start.com, the merits of which I pontificated about previously, would be to have an option that would read through the
web parts content areas displayed on a customized page, and export them as a single OPML file (or alternatively in Google's case, imported directly into Google Reader) . OPML would be more universal a solution for use in other apps and situations, but either way, it'd be neat to not only import content en masse into a portal, but also to have a portal export subscribed content for other uses, integrated or not.
Despite being painfully slow at the moment, I like Google's new RSS reader, naturally web-based so I can roam (I had previous concerns about Start.com in this regard). The scrolling cursor to move within a feed is really neat.
I'd eventually like it to be able to import both OPML and RSS feeds I've already plugged into my personalized Google homepage, only the latter of which is supported at the time of this writing. That would be full-on sweet and totally portable. I uploaded an OPML file from my Litefeeds subcription list, and it took several minutes to import only about 40 RSS feeds, but did work.
Google today merged the former Google Maps with its localized info service Google Local, naming the integrated service the latter. Google Local is officially out of beta, too. There's also a link at the top of the Google homepage that goes to the new site.
I've been objectively playing with and testing the personalizable portal concepts from Google and Microsoft a lot over the last week, and I'm not alone (Ben Askins, Eric Hammersley, and Adrian Sutton have a few of the better blogged tests). I've been a big fan of the web parts portal framework concept ever since I saw it in early bits for ASP.NET 2.0, and I'm glad to see some production-quality apps finally available for public consumption. Trying to use the "Remember the Digital Dashboard?" or "Think of Rainbow, it's kinda like that…" or "Why you should really consider Windows SharePoint Server" examples to a neophyte audience was getting nowhere.
(If you have no idea what I'm talking about, thanks for proving my point.)
Both Google's personalized homepage and Microsoft's Start.com initiative exhibit slick DHTML powering animation and drag-and-drop features that are very cool, and both ship with a ton of pre-configured content (weather, stocks, national news), in addition to supporting subscriptions to external RSS feeds. Each gets a slight nod over the other for certain aspects of its shipped content (Start.com supports more global locales for weather, Google's movie service is more localized; Google makes it way easier to add content to a page, while Start.com's preview pane is a really neat way to get an abstract of a feed without leaving the page, etc.).
Surprisingly, Google's portal naively allows a user to subscribe to the same RSS feed multiple times - whether inadvertently or deliberately - while Start.com detects the presence of a specific pre-existing feed and intuitively only permits a single subscription. Start.com also supports the importation of OPML files for auto-subscription to existing lists, which Google doesn't at the moment do.
As far as speed goes and in lieu of any formal and scientific testing, Start.com, it would appear, would be the better performing service. It just seems to execute more efficiently, carrying out operations and rendering content to a page faster. Maybe this implies a superiority of the ASP.NET 2.0 engine over Java/Python.
That having been said, accessibility is the determining factor that puts some real competitive distance between the two for me, and the reason I personally prefer Google. I really dig the fact that being a true membership-oriented web app, Google's homepage enables roaming and can be accessed with your customized profile from any PC (and hopefully sometime, any device). I normally jump around on at least 8 computers of varying OS and browser at work, so it's nice to be able to get at my GMail account, search history and RSS feeds wherever I am without any additional configuration or setup, other than a one-time login. Start.com evidently uses a per-machine server-side cookie to persist customized content, so a personalized portal using Microsoft's offering at the moment can't be accessed if you use a PC adjacent to you, in another building, or on the other side of the world.
Further, because the Start.com cookie is resident only on the web browser that first set it, a customized portal can't even be accessed on a different browser on the same machine without setting it all up again from scratch. The concept of network usability is lost. This means if I setup some content areas different from the default load, add some RSS feeds, and change some program parameters in MSIE, I can't see the same page in Firefox and have to repeat the actions. And continue doing so for cross-browser maintenance over time. This is a big letdown, in my opinion.
But the main thing that brings Start.com down for me also delivers an implied benefit I think is cool. I realize not everyone has multiple PCs and workstations at their disposal, and most users are content relying on a single browser. So it's nice that Start.com supports configuration without membership via anonymous personalization, and people can setup customized experiences without having to signup for anything. This is good, and I initially predicted unavoidable, as programmatic anonymous personalization was one of the first things I tried to achieve with the early preview bits of ASP.NET 2.0.
With both being in beta, there's still work to be done. And while increasing customer feedback and incorporation/integration into existing products lines for both Start.com with MSN and Microsoft tools and Google's page with…well, Google, the more the products begin to differentiate from one another the more they'll become even more similar.
I've noticed that certain RSS feeds hit a snag and won't add themselves into my personalized Google homepage. Specifically, I've been trying to add the following fabtasy football feeds:
This is a self-defeating argument, but it irks me to no end how I can write all these cool apps integrating Google Maps and Google Earth, but there's no representation for Guam (this is so often the case with most industries). I know it'll be there someday, but I wish I could participate in all the Flickr craze displaying my company's site, my house, my school, and other places while the technology's still in beta.
I discovered and have been heavily messing around with CommunityWalk, a very slick web-based mapping service, which allows for all sorts of app mashups, including adding Flickr image galleries to locales. It's got a pretty sizable amount of submissions already, and is very neat. (Check out this sample bridging a photostream with a Google Map).