What Will Google Kill Next?

So Google killed Google Reader. That’s been pretty well covered at this point.

I’ve used Google Reader since pretty early on — not because it was the best feed reader, but because it was the glue between apps. Originally, I used it as the backend to keep the feed reader I used at work with the feed reader I used at home (for a while that was RSS Bandit, then maybe NetNewsWire.)

Once the iPhone came out, it was core to keeping feeds on your phone in sync with feeds on your desktop. And while I know developers had issues with its idiosyncrasies, it worked for me. Eventually, I moved to using Google Reader itself (and it’s magic j-k keys) when I was on a computer, and a variety of apps on the iPhone/iPad.

Google Reader had this nice trends feature where it would tell you how much you read, and when, and which feeds were inactive (super handy for pruning dead feeds or finding those that had moved). It claims I’ve read 300k+ entries since October of 2010, almost 11k in the last 30 days.

I’m probably not a top 1% Google Reader user, but I bet I’m a top 10% Google Reader user.

And even still, I don’t begrudge them their right to kill the product. All they get out of it (at least with me) is me using their ecosystem. I use Gmail (well, sort of — my mail is there, I read it in other apps), I use search, I use Google Reader. Gmail and search are far more monetizable than Google Reader (i.e. it’s much easier to put ad inventory next to what I’m looking at). Reader doesn’t easily fit into the Google+ social play (though, really, does anything really fit into Google+).

So it’s dead, and I’ll move onto other options like Feedly. Or eventually to a paid service where someone will give me a nice tool for a couple of bucks a month. No big deal.

The real interesting question is “what will Google kill next?”

The most obvious answer to me would be Blogger/Blogspot. They don’t monetize it (to my knowledge); it reproduces technology that is now in Google+; and it has to require a lot of care and feeding to keep it up and running happily. It’s a mini-social network with webhosting. They likely have support folk hanging around to answer questions and make sure stuff is working.

Don’t get comfy, Blogger users. You might want to see about importing your site into wordpress.com (or moving to your own hosted site!) in the short-term, just in case.

Actually, the thing Google is most likely to kill next is the goodwill of their brand. But hopefully it’ll take them a few years to do that, as I’ve got a bet going about the size of Google ten years from now.

The much awaited … stuff

It’s been a busy few weeks. The biggest news is probably my latest purchase: I got my first non-PC in the form of a MacBook Pro. I’d been looking at getting a laptop for a while, mostly because my existing laptop is old, underpowered, has a half-working keyboard, and had been resigned to sitting on my stereo so that I could stream music to it. I couldn’t even bring it anywhere, as the battery life was simply miserable.

Working at a web hosting company, spending a majority of my day ssh’d into a Unix box, I’d gotten very comfortable at the command-line again, much like I was back in my college days. Between the command line and the browser, I didn’t really use any major Windows applications at the office or at home. I use MS Office, occasionally, but I don’t even use that at home (where I use OpenOffice). My PC is still a great box, but it was a glorified game machine.

Taking it one step further, I’d realized how much of my life really is in the browser these days. My mail goes to Gmail; my calendar is Google Calendar; my RSS feed reader is Google Reader. A few years ago I ranted that I couldn’t see ever moving completely to a thin client/browser world. Granted, it was in the middle of a major Comcast outage, where they weren’t sending any traffic to Yahoo!, which is pretty significant. These days, while there are minor outages, it’s rare that I can’t get to my data online. When I can’t, I can get it via my cell phone (and once Google gets Calendar working on a phone, I’ll be pretty much set). Finally, with Google (and Microsoft and Yahoo!) exposing your data in interesting ways (RSS, iCal feeds, private HTML), you can always pull it down into your thick client and access it offline, should you need to.

I’ve also had a desire to get creative again, whether its restarting the podcast (which will happen), blogging more, working on my website, or just generally brainstorming other ideas, I’ve needed a way to get untethered from my PC. It’s cold in my little office during the winter, and I can’t neatly multitask in front of the TV. With most of the creative ideas requiring the authoring of at least a little bit of code, I was looking for a laptop that would let me use my friendly Vim application to hack some HTML, CSS, or Perl.

All that put together lead to me looking at a Mac. Not because they’re trendy, but because it’s the nicest Unix machine you’ll see. OS X is a very pretty, and functional, interface on top of a Unix backend. I can take my laptop to work and scp files from a terminal window to our data center at rates that greatly exdeed anything I can get over FTP. I can pop open a terminal window and quickly turn on apache and mess with some Perl code before I upload it to my website. I can open up GarageBand and pull together a podcast a little more easily than I can in Audacity on the PC. The ability to neatly run Windows in either VMWare or Parallels while inside of OS X is what pushed me over the top. (Actually, it was one of my co-workers showing me IE running in coherence mode inside Paralells, which meant he could have IE next to Firefox next to Safari on his desktop, allowing him to test 3 major browsers at the same time. Very cool.)

So, I pulled the trigger and picked up a MacBook Pro. It took me a little while to get used to the differences between the Mac and Windows, but the learning curve to being productive is really shallow. I’ve nearly replicated all of the functionality of my Windows PC, but with the ability to do it from anywhere in my house. I can listen to music streaming from my iTunes library while I type this up, waiting for Heroes to buffer up enough on the DVR so that I can watch it without commercials. Soon, I’ll probably throw together another episode of my podcast, which I can do significantly more easily now that I don’t have to start up a bunch of different applications (I’m still figuring out how to make the built-in mic work, as it seems to record to quietly).

So, I hope that my new found freedom will allow me to be a bit more prolific. With work and general life stuff, I’ve had to cut back my posting at The House That Dewey Built — I’ve sort of just become the tech guy and will let Jeff and the new folks concentrate on posting (though, I might have to throw something up there when the feeling hits me). I’ve got plans to at least throw something up at ryantoohil.com and let it be my testing ground for learning more CSS and JavaScript. I’m feeling a bit more invigorated, which is nice.

I actually want to build my home page around my little Mii off of my Wii. I haven’t gotten a good screenshot yet, but here’s an approximation. And yes, I’m a huge dork.


Hopefully, this desire to be creative will last. I’m going to try to get something up most days this week. I’m thinking that I’ll finally revisit the “So you want to have a web site” series. I’m planning on getting up a Dear Leader-centric podcast.

If you’re still out there reading, feel free to leave a comment. I’m curious to see how many are actually reading this. Checking my logs, I’ve got at least two readers in Google Reader (1 is me …) and 2 in NewsGator. If I was smart, I’d move to FeedBurner so I could track it, but I’ve got no desire to do that just yet.

That’s all for today. Heroes is starting, and I’m hoping that they’ll recover from their recent doldrums and put together a fun episode that doesn’t smell like fish.

Google’s Gone Mobile-crazy

I’ve been posting about how jazzed I am that Google’s setup Google Reader so that you can easily use it on any old web-enabled phone. And it’s pretty bad ass. I use it a good bit when I’m waiting in line or grabbing a quick bite to eat …. or on the pooper.

Gmail has always been mobile-friendly, but it used a stripped-down interface. Well, no more: meet the Gmail Mobile application. Now, just boot up the app and see your Gmail interface almost like you were looking at it in Firefox. Almost. It’s pretty nifty, if a little slow.

Even more cool, is that pretty much all the nifty Google mobile stuff is integrated into the Google Homepage which also has a mobile version. You just point your phone there and you get your Google Homepage, including a snapshot of (and link to) your Gmail account, a quick view of your RSS feeds in Google Reader, plus headlines from any other RSS feed you might have dropped into your homepage, plus weather and some other fun stuff.

The only thing you don’t get? Google Calendar. I’m not entirely sure why I can’t just have a read-only agenda view that will show me what I’ve got coming up that day. That’s the only thing missing from me having my life be available to me at all times. Which is both really fun and cool and very, very sad. Mostly sad.

Obviously there are tradeoffs. It’s harder to sync to a PDA (but, I don’t really use one anymore anyway … my phone has replaced that). My life lives on Google’s servers, so if they turn evil, I’ll be hosed.

P.S. You can actually get your GCal agenda via SMS, but that’s annoying.

P.P.S. This is really just because I haven’t had time to record a new podcast and wanted to write about something.

P.P.P.S. I really wanted to write about PayPerPost, but I want to actually formulate my thoughts before I spew any venom.

A Week of Google Reader

I’ve switched.

I’ve used Google Reader exclusively for a full week and I’m officially hooked. I think it’s successful for a few reasons:

  1. The “river of news” view is the first implementation of this view that I think works. It loads fast, it will mark items as read as you skip over them, and you can either skim through using your mouse wheel (which works really well), or by using the familiar ‘space’ keyboard shortcut (or ‘j’ if you like it better). I get through feeds much faster now. Much faster.
  2. I can use it anywhere I have an internet connection. I can stay synchronized at home, work, and even on my phone. The only place that it wouldn’t come in handy is on a plane (or other place you might not have an internet connection), where a desktop client could download the feeds and store them locally. I think that’s why RSS Bandit will always have a place on my computer.
  3. The ability to create a shared list of items you find interesting is ridiculously simple and effective.

It just works really well. I’m hoping it gets moved out of Google Labs and becomes a first-class Google application, since I think it’s a hell of a lot better (and more useful) than Google Groups or even Google Docs/Spreadsheets.

The only thing it’s missing is an API to allow you to sync a desktop client (like RSS Bandit) to Google Reader. That ability would be fantastic: use Google Reader whenever you can, but when you need to log off, you could sync your feeds to your client, take it with you, and then sync back up when you’re done.

I guess favicon support would be pretty good too.

Using Google Reader, Day 4

I’m into about day 4 of using Google Reader for my RSS feed reading. So far, so good. I’m getting through feeds much more quickly; I’ve even added a few more feeds because I’ve found it faster getting through feeds in the Reader interface.

Only a couple of flaws at this point:

  1. If you keep the Reader open in a tab or browser window, it can seemingly get out of sync. I’ve had a couple of times when the reading window thinks the feeds are read, but the left column doesn’t, and moving back and forth results in things getting weirdly out of sync. I’m guessing it’s just a web-performance issue (as it’s doing a ton of HTTP/XML work everytime you read a bunch of feeds), but that’s something you don’t run into when you’re using a desktop client.
  2. I miss being able to highlight/color code certain feeds or search terms. That’d be a nice feature, as right now, feeds aren’t differentiated particularly well when you scroll down.

Otherwise, I haven’t found a reason to move back to a desktop client yet. I’m rather impressed.

RSS Stuff: Google Reader, Podcast Changes

I use my RSS reader a lot. Currently, I use RSS Bandit, which I like a good bit. It does RSS very well, and doesn’t try to do too much more, i.e. it does exactly what I need. I don’t need podcatching abilities (though they’ll be there in the next version) since I use an iPod and iTunes does an OK enough job.

It even allows me to do some manual syncing of my home computer with work, by FTPing the data files up to my FTP site, then downloading in the new location. So, I can keep my RSS/information habit under control by checking my feeds every few hours at work and at home, and never get overloaded. It’s crude, but it works well.

Now, one of the things that popped up in my feeds the past week was about the interface and functionality improvements in Google Reader, Google’s online feed reader tool. So, given that I use GMail and GCal, I figured I’d give Reader another shot. I’d tried it when it first came out and found it to be a complete abomination.

I exported my OPML feedlist from RSS Bandit, imported it into Reader, and off I went. The “River of News” view (all stories are sort of thrown together in one long column of news and you scroll through it), which is a view people swear by, but I’ve found cumbersome in every tool I’ve ever used. It’s perfect in Google Reader. Literally, perfect. I had a few hundred items to read when I imported my feedlist, and I just scrolled through them. It marked them as read as I scrolled past. See something interesting? Stop and read it more closely. It works remarkably well and immediately made me realize I could probably add more feeds to my feedlist and move through them more quickly than I do through RSS Bandit. This shouldn’t be construed as a knock on RSS Bandit — I just think that the Google Reader team has nailed the interface. I’m probably going to spend next week only in Reader and see if I like it enough to switch permanently.
Oh, and, like GMail, you can use it from your mobile device (i.e. your cell phone). Again, it just sort of works the way you’d expect, and gives me something to read when I’m grabbing a meal or waiting in line.

Of course, since it’s web-based, I can view my feeds from anywhere. No cumbersome syncing. That’s handy.

The only knock on it, at least so far in a few days of use, is that it’s not nicely integrated into the Google interface, I’ll say. I don’t use the Google Personalized homepage that much (I generally search right out of the search toolbar in Firefox). It’s not part of the upper left nav in GMail or Google Calendar. I know Google Reader is technically still part of Labs, but I’d love if I could customize the Google upper left nav and add/replace links there. A real integration, just as a link there, would make it much easier for me to pop open the 3 Google apps I use.

Hopefully, I’ll check back next week to update on how my switch to Reader has worked. I haven’t even scratched the surface of some of the functionality — like reading lists, where you can mark something you’ve read to share and then publish your reading list (as HTML or as a feed), which is kinda like del.icio.us without tagging. It’s the old link-blog model, but done in a really really easy way.

On to other topics …

I’ve been on vacation this week, with the last few days spent with some friends who came up to visit (and go to a football game that shall not be mentioned). Stories forthcoming. However, it sort of caused me to fall behind on my podcast listening. My RSS-based information consuming habit is sort of overbearing at times, but I’m becoming very good at skimming and not needing to check everything out.

I open iTunes, find 10 podcasts to listen to, and notice that 5 of them are the new Gillmor Gang episode. The show has already started testing my patience with it’s 4.5 minutes of ads to start the show, and another 30 seconds at the end. Sure, I can skip through it with my iPod or iTunes (and I do), but it means that each individual episode is about 20-22 minutes of real audio, broken up into 4 or 5 chunks, and I just find it terribly annoying. On top of that, I’ve just found the content utterly lacking in anything meaningful for probably the past few months. It’s not the Gang of old, with Jon Udell and nice guests talking about identity or groupware. You know, interesting technology discussion driven by the technology and accentuated by the knowledge and personalities of the participants.

Since the move to Podshow, the Gillmor Gang has been pretty much unlistenable and a general waste of time. There’s little insight to be found, as it’s simply a platform for the participants to bitch or proselytize for their meme of the day. I’ve stuck with it, hoping that it would eventually veer back into what made the show great. It hasn’t, and after listening to one chunk of the latest show, I’ve decided I’m done. It’s like 24. I gave it two years and gave up.

Now, what that has done, is reminded me that I most enjoyed the work of Jon Udell on the show. Fittingly, he had left the Gang a while back, and the show lacked his ability to take a new technology and immediately make real world sense of it. It was his explanation (and demo) of del.icio.us that made me go “a-ha” and realize what it was all about. Well, he’s got a weekly podcast that much closer to what the Gillmor Gang used to be, and I’ve dropped the Gang in favor of his show, and I’m smarter for it.

Finally …

For those of you who missed it, I’m trying the podcasting thing. Check out my last post for the details and give it a listen. I realized today that I hadn’t included and obvious link to the podcast feed to add it to your iTunes or your podcatcher of choice, so that’s now linked there. I’ve also submitted it for inclusion in iTunes, so we’ll see how that goes.