Cornerstone Skills: Feed Readers and Posting Comments

MyYahoo: Subscribing to feeds doesn’t get any easier than this. Or does it?

In my long and varied experience giving presentations, workshops, and coaching to help people wrap their brains around today’s online media, I’ve noticed a pattern that helps me predict who will really “get it” and use it well, and who doesn’t.

The people who “get it” in a useful way, and who are most likely to benefit from online and conversational media, start experimenting right away with using a feed reader and posting comments (whether to blogs or Web-based forums, not e-mail lists).

I always emphasize these skills in my presentations, and give people clear, basic instructions and resources for taking these steps. The ones who try these out quickly tend to become more able to teach themselves nearly anything they want about online and conversational media, and find ways to use it to be more effective and efficient in their jobs and projects of passion.

Sadly, the people who don’t take those steps generally don’t seem to progress much in their understanding and use of online and conversational media. I worry about this, because it could indicate:

  • A deficiency in my educational approach (always a possibility).
  • Remaining significant usability problems with these tools — which I could see was an issue a year or two ago, but services like MyYahoo have certainly made subscribing to feeds dead easy, and commenting on most blogs generally couldn’t be simpler than it is.
  • A generally passive mindset that will cause most people — even those interested enough in online media to attend a session on it — to be left farther and farther behind as media evolves.

I’d estimate, based on checking back with participants in several of my presentations, that only about 5% of people actually start experimenting with these cornerstone skills within a couple of weeks of my session. That seems disturbingly low to me. (In contrast, for my coaching clients the adoption rate for these skills is 100%, because I basically require them to do it.)

What do you think? Should I be concerned about this apparently low skills adoption rate, or is this somehow normal? Is there some obvious deficiency in how I teach these skills and communicate their importance that I could correct? Am I somehow mistaken about the “cornerstone” significance of these two skills?

Please comment below. This is bugging me, and I’d like to address this issue more constructively if I can. I have a busy speaking gig lineup for the coming months, and I worry that I’m letting my audiences down.

UPDATE: Read my next post on this theme…

Getting my full-text feed back, I hope…

Katie Tegtmeyer, via Flickr (CC license)
Fingers crossed! OK, these aren’t my fingers, but still…

As I looked into this vexing problem further, I remembered that WordPress generates several feed URLs for any blog. I had been pointing this version,, to Feedburner — and for some reason that version is truncated.

I just realized that when I subscribe directly to this version of my feed,, I do indeed get the full text, and photos/video if any.

So I’ve changed my Feedburner feed to burn itself from the second version, rather than the first. Hopefully that’ll fix the problem. We’ll see when I publish this post. Fingers crossed!…

(Later) AHA! I think that did the trick! If anyone’s still getting truncated content, check to see whether you’re subscribed to the Feedburner version of my feed: and see if that fixes it. If so, and you’re still getting truncated content, please comment below.

Help! I can’t get my feed back to full text!

I’m getting rather frustrated, here…

(UPDATE: I think I fixed the problem.)

OK, I need some help here. Somehow my feed for this blog reverted from full text to an ultra-short summary. It had been working fine, but then it got screwy. I’m pretty frustrated, and I’ve reached the limit of what I can do to diagnose the cause of this problem on my own.

I know a lot of smart people read Contentious, so I’m hoping you can help me.

Here are the specifics:

  • Blogging tool: WordPress 2.1.2 (Yes, I know WordPress 2.2.2 is out. I plan to upgrade — but would appreciate advice on whether it’s a particularly worthwhile or risky upgrade.)
  • Theme: blog.txt
  • Plugins activated: Akismet (comment spam protection), cforms II (form manager), full text feed (which was working fine until a little over a week ago), ShareThis (social bookmarking support), subscribe to comments, and WordPress database backup.
  • Feedburner: Yes, I use it for this blog’s feed, but that only processes content that it gets from WordPress. It looks like the feed content truncation is happening in WordPress, before it ever gets to Feedburner.

Any idea for things I can try or check? Please comment below.

And apologies in advance, I’m a mere semi-geek who doesn’t know much about PHP or any coding beyond basic HTML. I have geeks I can work with, but they’re not available at the moment. If your suggestions are beyond what I can handle myself, I’ll save them for when my geeks get back in action — maybe it’ll save them some troubleshooting time. Thanks.

Yes, I know my feed reverted to summary

Just a quick note, since a couple of folks have asked. Sometime late last week the feed for this blog, which had been full-text, has reverted to a short summary. I’m not sure why. I probably screwed something up when messing with WordPress an/or Feedburner. I don’t have time today to figure it out, but will work on it later this week.

If you have any ideas for things I might check or try to fix this, please comment below.

In the meantime, thanks for your patience. My intention is to offer Contentious as a full-text feed.

Jack Vinson on the “me collector”

Jack Vinson
Knowledge management guru Jack Vinson had a lot of advice for scattered content creators like me.

In response to my post yesterday, I want one place for all my content, knowledge management guru and very cool guy Jack Vinson (who I finally got to meet at BlogHer) posted an elaborate list of almost-options that address various aspects of this puzzle.

See: The elusive me collector. Excerpt:

“The basics of the problem are pretty familiar: content I generate is scattered across many websites of varying degrees of openness. Blogs, wikis, forums, social networks, paid publications, mailing lists, photos, videos, podcasts, … But there isn’t a place where all of that stuff comes together. At the high level the needs are: automatic; item-level controls; permanence; tags; re-mixability.

“I don’t think anything I’ve run across, beyond your standard feed aggregator, has the ability to do something with the resulting aggregated content. Amy suggested that she would like to be able to categorize / tag the content, selectively share it, re-mix it, analyze it, feed it out to something else…. Essentially, ‘it’s my stuff, let me play with it.'”

Yeah. What he said.

Oh, yes, of course I checked — and I now own the domain I’ll give it away to anyone who can prove they can put together a tool that does what I asked for. Go for it, geeks!

Discussion List Tips: Web Reading and Feeds

One way to cut e-mail overload: Here’s what it looks like when you read a discussion list on the web, rather than by e-mail. (Click to enlarge)

For more than a decade, e-mail discussion lists have been a mainstay of conversational media — and I think they’re likely to continue to remain popular. E-mail is approachable even to total online newbies.

However, since everyone is on e-mail overload, discussion lists end up presenting a problem: clutter. Sure, you can cut down on list clutter via daily digest postings — but if it’s a busy list, scrolling through a digest posting gets to be tedious.

Since I am constantly overwhelmed by e-mail, I find that feeds or web-based reading can be better ways to participate. Of course, these options aren’t available from every list service.

If you value the online discussions you’ve joined but can’t handle the e-mail, here’s some advice…

READ THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE over at my other blog, The Right Conversation. You can leave a comment there too, if you like…

Why I Ditched Most of My Feeds, and Changed to NetNewsWire

I was just overwhelmed. My "system" felt organized at first, but it got to be chaos. So this weekend I made some radical changes in how I use feeds.

For a long time, I’d kept over 400 feeds organized into about 20 topic areas (environment, energy, science, women, law, etc.) bundled into my former favorite feed reader, Sage (a Firefox plugin). I figured since they were bundled neatly into folders and alphabetized within, I could find what I wanted easily.

But gradually I realized that I almost never looked at most of the feeds my topic folders. The only ones I scanned regularly were task-related — mostly search feeds based on specific topics I’m currently following, and I change these a lot.

Bearing that in mind, this weekend I ditched all  my general topic folders from my feed list — about 80% of my subscriptions. But now, since my feeds are more focused on exceedingly timely and personally relevant sources, I think they’ll help me participate in online conversations — public and private.

You can read more at The Right Conversation about the changes I made…

Katie Couric, via search feeds

Yesterday, my editor at Poynter Online, Bill Mitchell, asked me for ideas for covering how Katie Couric’s debut last night as the new CBS Evening News anchor is playing online.

Well, I honestly didn’t watch her show last night. I was really tired and went to bed early. I almost never watch TV news anyway. However, the net is indeed abuzz with commentary and more about Katie Couric this morning.

When I’m trying to follow buzz or monitor conversations or topics online, one of my primary tools is to set up a group of search feeds.

Many online services allow you to save a search as a feed (what the geeks call "RSS"). This is helpful because then you’ll receive in one place (your feed reader) a fairly organized, chronological list of the latest content that matches your query terms. In other words, you don’t have to keep looking for new results — they keep coming to you. At the Society of Professional Journalists conference a couple of weeks ago, I listed search feeds as an indispensable tool to help reporters cover a beat or a specific story.

If you haven’t ever used a search feed, the current Katie Couric buzz provides a great example. Since she’s famous, her name shows up in all sorts of places. However, this is also a not-so-great example, because searches for her name turn up so many hits that it takes considerable sifting and fine-tuning to make a meaningful assessment of what people are thinking or saying about her.

This morning I assembled a collection of search feeds for the query "Couric" drawn from nearly a dozen online sources. Only one of these directly represents mainstream media (sort of, it’s from the CBS Couric & Co. blog). The rest are mostly from sites that aggregate mostly non-MSM content, such as blogs.

Search feeds are a great way to follow the "live web." First-generation search engines such as Google and Yahoo crawl the web, index much of its contents, and deliver results based mainly on relevance. Often, older content makes the top of the list. In contrast, web 2.0-focused services such as Technorati quickly index new content that gets delivered to them by feed, so their results tend to be more up-to-the-minute than Google (although often more varied in relevance).

So if you want to find out what people are saying about something right now, look to Technorati or any of the other sources I’ve used below — not Google or Yahoo.

See my other blog, The Right Conversation. There, I’ve posted my collection of Katie Couric search feeds and a sample of current results from each…

3 Must-Use Online Tools for Journalists

As I mentioned earlier, this weekend I’m speaking at the annual conference of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).

On Saturday, Jeff South (Va. Commonwealth Univ.) and I will be hosting a session from 3:30-4:30 pm on this theme: “Technology: A User’s Guide to Software, Hardware and Other Tools Revolutionizing Journalism.” (Incidentally, just before that, from 2:15-3:15, is a session hosted by Robert Cox of the Media Bloggers Association entitled “The Good and Bad About Blogging.” I’m definitely going to sit in on that one, and will live blog it if there’s good wifi.)

Jeff’s handout for our session is available as a pdf download from SPJ because he’s organized enough to get his handout done and in to SPJ on time.

In contrast, I only finished my SPJ session handout yesterday, shortly before I dashed off to host the first-ever Front Range Blogger Meetup (which was a huge success and I’ll blog about that next). So here is my handout for the session: Top 3 Must-Use Online Tools for Journalists (pdf).

If you’re not a fan of pdf files, here’s the text of that handout…
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Links for my URMA talk

On Wednesday, May 17, I’ll be giving a talk at the annual conference of the University Reseach Magazine Association (URMA). They seem like a fun group of media professionals. (Seriously — their conference agenda even features the Creature from the Black Lagoon!)

The topic of my talk is: Invasion of the bloggin’ pods: The new media – ready or not, they’re here! (So whatta we do with ‘em?)

I already warned URMA: I don’t do lectures, so the people attending this session had better be ready to get involved.

Here are some links I plan to mention in my session…

(Read the full article at The Right Conversation…)