Replacing Google Reader: and the winner is…


newblurlogoWhy did I choose NewsBlur? To be honest I don’t really know – it’s just that, after a little time of using it, NewBlur just felt right.

A few of the options that emerged once Google announced the closure of Reader were claiming to reinvent the RSS reader, as if the whole thing was broken. I never felt that it was. Reader worked rather nicely to for me, so I just wanted something that did something similar.

NewsBlur to me seemed to take RSS as seriously as I do – which isn’t very, I suppose, but maintains a healthy respect. I don’t want my RSS reader to be like Twitter, Facebook, or – heaven forfend! – Flipboard. I don’t want my RSS reader to be beautiful, or ‘delightful’ – I just want it to aggregate all the things I like reading in one place for me.

NewsBlur does have some extra bits, like commenting within the reader rather than on the original sites, which I’m not sure about (it’s hard enough to get people commenting on blogs as it is, these days!) and so won’t use. Also the sharing option seems to create a separate link blog, hosted by NewsBlur.

My previous sharing system just used the stars in Google Reader and IFTTT to ping links to Twitter and also to the roundup posts in this blog. I could do that in Reader by just pressing the ‘s’ key – super simple. Right now I have gone back to bookmarking links in Pinboard, which adds some time to the process which is a bit annoying. Maybe I could set this up in NewsBlur? If anyone has ideas, let me know.

Drink! Feck! Girls! RSS!

The world it seems is full of blog posts about RSS – really simple syndication, for the non-dorks. Apparently it’s dead. Or dying. Or very much alive.

RSS is a standard for publishing the latest content on a site with regular updates – such as a news site, or a blog – in a machine readable form which can then be used by other sites or applications to republish it.

Here’s an example of the sort of panicky things people are saying:

If RSS isn’t saved now, if browser vendors don’t realise the potential of RSS to save users a whole bunch of time and make the web better for them, then the alternative is that I will have to have a Facebook account, or a Twitter account, or some such corporate-controlled identity, where I have to “Like” or “Follow” every website’s partner account that I’m interested in, and then have to deal with the privacy violations and problems related with corporate-owned identity owning a list of every website I’m interested in (and wanting to monetise that list), and they, and every website I’m interested in, knowing every other website I’m interested in following, and then I have to log in and check this corporate owned identity every day in order to find out what’s new on other websites, whilst I’m advertised to, because they are only interested in making the biggest and the best walled garden that I can’t leave.

Anyone still awake?

Here’s the thing for me: RSS cannot ‘die’ because it is a standard and not a service. Even if every website on the planet stopped producing an RSS feed, it wouldn’t die. It just wouldn’t be used much. There is no RSS corporation and so talking about its death is, well, exaggerated.

The other point is that this is a discussion about consumer use of RSS, which tends to be in the form of using an aggregator to pull in the latest content from all your favourite sites into one place. I use Google Reader to subscribe to about 750 sites, for instance.

I said ‘tends to’ but if I am honest a tiny number of people actually do this. Most get their links from Twitter or Facebook and by having bookmarks to their real favourites. Indeed, quite a few people who used to use an aggregator are now relying on social networks rather than managing their own list of feeds.

To this I respond, so what? People move on. I’m still in love with Google Reader, but there are plenty of others who are just as connected and up to speed as me (if not more so) who have given up. The world won’t end.

It’s also irrelevant for the future of RSS, which will continue to be an important part of the infastructure of the web. Lots of sites and applications use RSS feeds as the source of their content. This won’t end soon.

At the end of the day, RSS was never going to be a consumer technology, and it didn’t take off in the enterprise either. It just wasn’t good enough at tackling the issue of infobesity, and people have turned instead to using their friends and contacts on social networks as their filters.

Fair enough.

Update: Thanks to @baskers who pointed out I had missed the ‘Drink!’ out of the title originally.

RSS readers

Read/WriteWeb has an interesting piece on RSS aggregators, and whether they really matter any more:

One of the interesting trends of 2009 has been the gradual decline of RSS Readers as a way for people to keep up with news and niche topics. Many of us still use them, but less than we used to. I for one still maintain a Google Reader account, however I don’t check it on a daily basis. I check Twitter for news and information multiple times a day, I monitor Twitter lists, and I read a number of blogs across a set of topics of most interest to me.

Ross Mayfield, head honcho of enterprise collaboration platform Socialtext, picks up on it:

We all know that Twitter cannibalized RSS Reader habits with something simpler and social. And innovation happened elsewhere for aggregation with simple focused things like Techmeme. And that enterprise RSS innovation moved away from clients. But iGoogle and Netvibes widgets as Twitter clients were developed by third parties. Perhaps it was innovator’s dilemma on a compressed scale, but the Readers didn’t expand what could be read.

I was thinking about this the other day, when, randomly, I checked into Bloglines for the first time in literally years. Bloglines was the first RSS reader I ever used – it was the RSS reader I used when I didn’t know what an RSS reader was.

It was awful, and hadn’t seemed to have been updated since 2004 when I used it regularly. I use Google Reader these days, like most people I suspect. Well, most of the people who use these things at all.

I like what Dave Winer has to say about this. RSS readers are about news:

News. Stuff that’s new. When you want to find out what’s new you don’t want to know everything, you can’t. The world is too big. There’s too much happening. If you were to get a true readout of the number of stories you didn’t read, just today, it would number in the millions. It’s a pointless number. As if it would mean anything if you got the number to be zero. All it would mean is that you spent every waking moment reading, and you had no idea what any of it meant. It wouldn’t make you smarter, happier, worth more, have more friends, get laid more often, go to heaven or become a saint. Reading every story is a meaningless concept.

It’s like Twitter, or any any other social media stream: You don’t have to read it all.

I check my Google Reader several times a day. When I’m drifting, struggling to concentrate on something, I find it a really good way to tune back in again, to read something thoughtful that gets me thinking.

It’s also a great source of new ideas. Twitter is good for that, but it uses up too much clicking to get through to stuff. People say that Twitter is better because of the trust thing. But I trust the people whose blogs I subscribe to – that’s why I subscribe to them.

Maybe the reason why I’m still a heavy user of an RSS reader – I think blogs matter and like them. I like to have the ones I consider good and useful easily accessible, and the reader does that for me.

LocalGovWeb – an exercise in aggregation

I put a tweet out last week pointing people to a new domain,, asking people to complete the form it contained.

I asked for people’s:

  • Blog addresses and whether they would like their posts to appear in an aggregated list
  • Twitter names and whether they would like their tweets aggregated with everyone else’s
  • Whether people would like to contribute original content to a group blog

If you haven’t already, please do visit the site and complete the form.

You’ll notice I have added some neat Google Friend Connect features to the site after the exciting trip to the UK Googleplex last Friday. This seems an easy way to add interactivity to a site – do have a play.

Here’s what I am planning to do. Firstly, will be a place where blogging and twittering about local government and the web is pulled into one place. This will be through a blog aggregator, just like Public Sector Blogs, and a similar thing for Twitter.

The third strand will be an aggregation of delicious bookmarks tagged localgovweb – similar to DigitalGovUK or WP Sauce.

Once these are up and running, I’ll start to look at putting a blog in place where the original content can be posted. I’m hoping this can become a proper group blog, with plenty of contributions from people across local government, writing about the issues that are important to them.

So, thanks to everyone who has signed up so far. I’ve already got a couple of the elements of the initial aggregating activity up and running, so please do submit your details and starting tagging relevant stuff in Delicious with localgovweb.

More updates soon.

Links and Twitter

Steve Dale writes about his uneasiness with a new Twitter mashup service, Twitchboard, which automates the posting of content from Twitter to other social web services. At the moment, all it does is links: if you post a URL to Twitter it also gets pinged to your Delicious account.

I may be in the minority here but I feel slightly troubled by apps such as Twitchboard that want to think for me. I’m perfectly happy to create my own bookmarks in Delicious, which are reasonably well organised and categorised, or to click on Stumble! to add a link to a particularly interesting article I’ve read to my Stumble!  These are conscious decisions I’ve made to provide the ’semantic glue’ for my personalised social web. I tend to Tweet about fairly trivial stuff and will occasionally link to an article or picture that I’ve found particularly amusing. I don’t necessarily want to store these links for prosperity, or worse, create my own personal tag cloud around a random stream consciousness.

I can see some of the value, just in terms of time saving, for cross posting links to Delicious from Twitter. But I think Steve is right in this case – having Twitchboard perform this service would make you think twice about what you post to Twitter, and that’s just no fun. Presumably you also still have to go into Delicious to add tags and stuff (which is where most of the benefit lies) – so it isn’t that much of a time saver after all.

I mentioned in a comment on Steve’s post that actually doing this in reverse makes more sense: links I save in Delicious get automatically shared on Twitter. This is fairly easy to get set up, simply by using the RSS feed from my Delicious account and Twitterfeed to parse each link I share into Twitter.

It will be interesting to see how this works…

Government spends ‘£16m on media monitoring’?

The Guardian reports that the Conservative Party have unearthed that the spending by the various arms of the UK government on ‘media monitoring’ – ie finding out what people are saying about them – reached the sum of £16 million pounds over the last three years.

Whitehall departments alone spend more than £11m on outside media monitoring companies, including £2.7m in the last financial year.

Quangos including the Arts Council for England, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, have spent another £2.248m.

The Conservatives pointed to the fact that the government has its own in-house monitoring service, which employs 19 staff and costs £1m a year to run.

The full cost of media monitoring is likely to be even higher, however, because the figures exclude two of the biggest government departments, the Department of Health and the Department of Work and Pensions.

ØThe Conservatives said the two departments refused to provide details of their respective spending because it was deemed to be "commercially sensitive".

That does sound like rather a lot of money to be spending. The quote above does mention COI’s own media monitoring service (see towards the bottom of this page) which I am sure is an awful lot cheaper than commercial alternatives.

Another way of cutting down on this sort of cost, of course, is to make use of monitoring tools on the web. Alright, subscribing to a few Google searches on key terms probably won’t replace the efforts of getting an agency to do it, but it surely would help if individual teams within an organisation are monitoring what people are saying online about their work.

After all, with almost all of the mainstream media now making most of their content available on their websites, I wonder just how much stuff would get missed – assuming you were tracking the right stuff?

5 Different uses for RSS

RSS is a great technology, one of those that underpins the new usefulness of the web. It’s a simple way of keeping in touch with what is happening in lots of different places, without having to keep visiting lots of sites every day.

Here’s a video from those wonderful Common Craft folk explaining RSS better than I ever could:

One of the really fab things about RSS are the different uses to which it can be put. Here’s five off the top of my head – have you any others?

1. Keeping up with bloggers

I don’t think blogging would have taken off nearly as fast as it did without its very early adoption of RSS as a method of syndicating content. Blogs by their nature are updated on a regular basis, and in a lot of cases a lot more often than other more traditional sites. Keeping up with all that content would be impossible without a way of bringing all those updated into one place.

2. News to you

News site soon cottoned onto the potential of RSS, to the point where now any news organisation worth its salt provides content in this way. Other organisations are starting to adopt it as well, and government is getting there. The need to keep eyeballs on adverts has resulted in some feeds containing only teaser content, to force the reader to go to the originating site anyway. This is a Bad Thing, in my view, and the one positive thing that will come out of RSS feeds that include adverts in them is that it might mean we get rid of partial feeds.

3. Monitoring what’s being said

Now that search engines such as Google are providing RSS feeds for their alerts service – as well as Blogsearches – it makes it all the more easy to set up monitoring dashboards, rather like the ones developed by Steph Gray and others at DIUS. Scanning the web for mentions of key names and topics means that nothing on the web needs to be missed, no matter how small the source.

4. Chchchchchanges

Collaborating on wikis, and forums etc is a wonderful way to experience how the web can help bring people together to share and develop content together. But how to know when people have made updates to pages, or projects, or conversations? One way has always been to get email alerts, but that can lead to having a very full inbox. Any web service worth its salt these days provides RSS for updates, meaning you can keep yourself in the know, and well organised at the same time.

5. Republish, repurpose

This is the most exciting, for me. Because RSS is an open standard it means other services can make use of it to republish material in new ways. Take Steph’s digitalgovuk site – all built using the RSS feeds that Delicious spits out – or Simon Dickson’s OnePolitics – which makes following political blogs both easy and easy on the eye. When you start getting into the territory of combining RSS with other technology like maps and so on, the possibilities seem limitless.

What other uses for RSS are there that are important to you?

Public sector bloggers: the OPML

I have made another quick addition to Public Sector Bloggers, with the availability of an OPML file to download. Rather than subscribe to the combined feed, you can instead import each individual feed into your RSS aggregator in one go.

To do this, first right-click the link and choose whatever your browser offers as a term for downloading the file to your computer. If in doubt, left click the link, then when you are confronted with what looks like a page of code, choose ‘Save Page As’ (or similar) from your browsers’ file menu. Do remember where you saved it!

Next go into your aggregator and choose to import the file to add to your feeds. This will differ depending on which one you use. I’ve found some handy help files online:

If you need any help, yell in the comments, or email me.

Public Sector Bloggers Update

I’ve been putting a bit of work in updating the Public Sector Bloggers site, which aggregates a load of feeds from folk in the public sector who blog (duh…) in one place. The website gives a quick overview on the latest additions, or you can subscribe to a combined RSS feed or by email.

One thing I have changed is how the feed is generated. Before, I used Yahoo! Pipes to merge them all, which was a bit of pain in the neck. So I have now gone for a much easier way, which is to organise all the feeds in my Google Reader into a specific folder, and made that folder public, meaning it produces an RSS feed. I then use that feed to drive the site. Now to add a new feed, I just need to subscribe to it myself, and whack it into the right folder. Easy.

When I mentioned it last time, I had quite a few suggestions for additional feeds to add to the service. I’ve added quite a few more, so the list now looks like this:

Again, if I have missed anyone obvious out, please do let me know.