Feeds: Getting Pretty Mainstream

David Chief, via Flickr (CC license)
How many people use feeds? Probably a whole lot more than you think.

In my Aug. 21 post, It’s not about your site anymore, I talked about how web sites are becoming less important for online content distribution as RSS feeds (with their many uses) are enjoying increasingly mainstream usage.

Basically, the trend is that more people are more interested in getting the content they want delivered to them wherever they prefer to be, rather than having to make a special “trip” online to someone’s site. And they’re using lots of popular tools to do just that.

Reader Steve Sergeant (of The Wildebeat, a great podcast) responded with a perspective I’ve heard often. He said:

“I agree that this is true for the bleeding-edge, early adopters, among which I count myself. …But in my experience, the average news consumer and person with a non-media job often has no idea what an RSS reader or aggregator is. Sure, an adventuresome few have discovered iTunes for podcasts or some server-side aggregator, like My Yahoo.”

While it may be true that most net users aren’t yet using feeds (or perhaps most of them are, I just haven’t found current statistics on that), earlier research and current trends indicate that feeds may have already grown far more popular than conventional wisdom might lead us to assume.

Furthermore, I think general ignorance of the key role that feeds play in supporting many of today’s most popular online-media services and experiences may be causing significant harm — especially to journalism, and thus to democracy and other forms of self-determination.

Sounds extreme, I know. Hear me out…

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Matching Science to Sci-Fi: Where’s a Good Tool?

San Diego Supercomputer Services
One way to envision dark matter; sci fi stories are another.

This probably comes as no surprise to anyone, but I’m a major science fiction junkie. I always have been. Forget space operas and epic Arthurian fantasies cloaked in spacesuits — I want the hardcore sci-fi. Where the science or speculative reality angles are integral to the plot and characters, not mere set dressing. Where aliens are REALLY alien, not just English-speaking bipeds with funny foreheads.

For me, sci-fi has been a key way to explore the concepts and possibilities raised by science; to consider what might happen, and why, if some remotely plausible twist of fate came to pass, in this universe or some other. For me, the concepts that form the premise of sci-fi stories, movies, and novels are far more compelling than the special effects.

Because of this, I’m getting frustrated.

Lately I’ve been intrigued by various possibilities of a couple of corners of science: epigenetics and dark matter. In addition to reading about research on the topic, I’d love to be able to easily track down sci-fi stories, novels and videos where those themes were key parts of the plot.

I tried SciFi.com’s wiki SciFiPedia — pretty lame results. Google searches and plowing through forums are chaos.

Here’s what I want: a database or wiki where people tag sci-fi works with keywords for the types of science involved. I’d like to be able to quickly find, say, a list of 10 sci-fi works that address epigenetics.

Have you seen something like that? Please comment below.

Community site shuts down; whither goes the content?

Internet Archive
At one time, Zipingo apparently offered a fair amount of content. (Click image to enlarge) Now it’s gone.

This morning, I learned via the Ajax blog that yet another site that relied on content contributed by its user community has shut down. On Aug. 23, Zipingo, a small business review site launched in 2002 by Intuit, shuttered its site. All that remains is this announcement — none of the other site content remains accessible.

But looking on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, I saw that, at least as of Mar. 1, 2007, Zipingo offered a fair amount of content: 122,324 total ratings (I’m not sure if “ratings” were actual reviews or something else on this site), 734 of which came in during the prior week. Unfortunately, you can’t look up actual ratings/reviews via the Internet Archive.

So all that content that people took the time to create and contribute has simply vanished, apparently. Seems awfully disrespectful to Zipingo’s user community, such as it was. This is yet another reason why sites like Furl, which allow you to save your own searchable archive of web pages, can be crucial — things get moved, changed, or deleted all the time online, without notice. Even your own stuff. That can suck.

Seems to me that any site that relies on contributed content should have a content exit strategy, whereby if the site tanks people can still access their content. Or at least, contributors will be notified before the site vanishes so they have an opportunity to save a copy of their contributions if they so desire. Just taking people’s content and trashing it is likely to discourage anyone from contributing to a community site.

Also, this experience seems like one more reason why a good “Me Collector” tool or service is needed.

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 mecollector.net. 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!

Modbook: Looks cool, but worth the price?

Other World Computing
The Axiotron Modbook Mac tablet: Coming 4Q 2007 (allegedly), with a hefty price tag.

One thing I love about blogging is that other people collectively know so much more than I do.

Yesterday I posted about how badly I want an Apple tablet PC. Promptly, Avram commented: “Have you heard of the Axiotron ModBook? It’s a MacBook hacked into a tablet Mac with a pressure-sensitive drawing surface. Not actually shipping yet (‘fourth quarter of 2007,’ supposedly).”

Well, no. I hadn’t head. I checked it out, and it looked quite cool — possibly offering most of what I want in a mobile content creation device.

Apparently this device caused quite a stir at Macworld this year, and it was supposed to be available by May 2007. That didn’t happen. On July 17, Ars Technica reported that the ship date has been pushed back to the end of this year due to parts shortages. I hope this doesn’t end up being vaporware.

But the price tag? OUCH!!!!Continue reading

I’m dreaming of an Apple tablet…

Apple, via USPTO
More than a year ago, Apple filed a patent application for something that looked like this.

(UPDATE July 31: Looks like one option, the Axiotron Modbook, is coming later this year, with a huge price tag…) 

Yeah, the iPhone is cool and all… I’ve seen a few friends playing with theirs, and I’ve even played with one a bit, but it’s not for me.

First of all, I’m not a phone person. Talking on the phone is not my favorite thing to do. I limit my phone use to catching up with family and friends, coordinating with people while traveling, and phone meetings with clients and colleagues.

Second of all, I really want a good mobile content creation and publishing system. I guess I never got over being inspired by Max Headroom. The iPhone just doesn’t do it for me in that regard — that tiny touchpad keyboard, too-small screen for easy web browsing, no inputs for video or audio devices, grrrrr.

What I need is a good tablet PC. Something small enough to carry easily, versatile enough to deal with many kinds of content and connections (wifi, cell, ethernet, USB, Bluetooth), and something I can type or sketch on easily.

Not just that, I want Apple to produce a great tablet PC…

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I want one place for all my content: Pipe dream?

I keep having this vision. I hope it will come about someday. There’s no way I’m the only person who’d want this. (UPDATE July 31: Nope, I’m not — Jack Vinson chimed in on this theme.)

The problem: Most of the content I’ve created does not live on my computer. It’s all over the web — my own blogs, comments to others’ blogs, my clients’ blogs, forums, e-mail lists, social media sites, media-sharing services, podcasts, wikis…. You get the picture. Consequently, I run the risk of “losing” much of the fruit of my hard work. In fact, that’s already happened. Sites or forums I contributed to years ago no longer exist. Blog comments don’t get indexed well by search engines and vanish into the ether.

Imagine this solution: A web-based service where I could archive all my content similar to Furl, only I could choose to make all or part of my archive public and shareable because it’s my content, not violating others’ copyright. Every piece of my content would get a unique, permanent URL, so I don’t have to worry if a site dies or changes. Any post I make to a forum or e-mail list would also get stored there (not the whole thread with others’ work, just my contribution).

And I could tag it all, share it selectively, generate feeds, and apply analysis tools to it. Plus incorporate whatever new cools tools come down the pike.

I want it. I want it bad. Do you, too? Does it already exist somewhere and I don’t know about it? Please comment below.