Do people like, still blog?

Tag Archives: rss

I started my lifestream over four years ago as an evolution of my blog. At that time, there started being many more avenues where I was putting content on the web than my blog – it was easier to put links on Digg, photos on Flickr and even my Xbox360 was blogging! It made sense to combine all of the content I was creating and output it on my blog.

Now, four years later, there’s still a lot of ways that I share content – although most of it is centered around my phone. Some platforms are still the same: Twitter, Facebook, Picasa, Youtube, & my blog. But others have withered or died (such as Digg and Flickr). I’m using a couple of new services like Instagram, Mlkshk, and Reddit but never got around to integrating them together. Even though I think there is still a need for a lifestream, I think what is finally killing it is the downfall of Google Reader and by proxy, RSS.

Instead of people using one source (RSS) to read content, it is now spread out into separate platforms that don’t inter-operate with each other well, unless you consider importing the content into Facebook as the medium. I don’t like using Facebook as “my blog” because you don’t have control over your content, and your feed is combined with 100s of other people.

From a personal point of view, the software I’m using has problems. It flakes out sometimes (or my RSS feeds do) and posts content from a long time ago. Or it will just post a lot of errors. Plus if anything breaks, I’m too lazy to fix it. Combined with the fact that a lifestream doesn’t even make much sense anymore, I’m inclined to just point to my blog again and simplify my life.

With Google Reader shutting down on July 1st, I feel like I’m in a funny and backwards situation.

A couple of years ago, I switched from having a offline application handle my RSS feeds (i.e., FeedReader) to an online version. It made sense at the time because going online meant that my reading would be synchronized across devices err computers, there weren’t non-computer devices back then. I even went so far as to think about creating my own RSS reader that would perform the sync. Alas nothing came of that.

Even though it was free, using online software such as Google Reader is like only having a license to the software. You don’t have to pay for it each month or each year, but once they decide to pull the plug, you’re up the creek – like a lot of people are finding out about Google Reader. If you have a offline “physical” version, then you can keep running the software as long as you have a copy (and as long as it can run on your OS). It’s a tradeoff, and now is when we lose.

There are some online alternatives, and they are easy to migrate to since you can just export a .opml file of all your feeds from Google Reader to the alternatives. But it won’t be so easy if they shut down GMail.

One project that I never really worked on was to write a RSS reader on Eclipse. I think I never got working on it because the task always seemed so big; there is a big hill to climb before I could’ve gotten anything working, and I didn’t have patience for that. So I’ve been using Feedreader for my feeds instead and it has worked admirably.

The one problem I have with Feedreader is that it is tied to my desktop. That has always been a characteristic of an app that is not web-enabled, and it’s usually fine, but I expect that I am going to be moving away from using my desktop in the near future. In preparation, I’ve been getting acclimated to being desktop-independent, and so I needed a replacement for Feedreader.

I took a look at the usual suspects, Bloglines and Google Reader. Bloglines hasn’t changed in 5 years! Google Reader seemed to have improved a bit, but it still wasn’t what I wanted. Specifically, I wanted a three-pane interface, and there was no way to quickly mark an item as read without using some special keyboard shortcut key. But it wasn’t all bad so I made the switch.

And actually, I found a way that GReader improved my experience. I use to visit Joystiq to catch up on Xbox360 news, but I hated the site. It is very obviously driven by publisher’s marketing budget; a title would get constant coverage weeks before its release, and then after release, they would never talk about it again. But unfortunately, it was still the best place to get the news. With GReader, I don’t feel compelled to read their posts, I just scan the headlines, read the ones that seem interesting and then mark-all-as-read. I guess that’s how you’re supposed to use RSS anyways.

I should start this post off with the disclaimer that I know there is a perfectly good solution, namely IMAP, that was engineered to solve this problem; but I don’t have a data plan and the point is to try and figure out a way to get a notification when I get an email, with the tools I have available (i.e., unlimited incoming SMS due to a text plan).

The idea is simple. When I get an email, I want to be texted on my phone with the subject, sender, and whatever else from the body that can fit within 160 characters. But the some of the details make this convoluted: 1) Sending SMS is “expensive” so it’s difficult to find a reliable, quick AND free resource to send texts, and 2) I don’t want to share my GMail login with some random provider to retrieve my mail (since it’s my Google Accounts login which is tied to Calendar, Adsense, etc; not to mention just having random people read my private mail).

The first problem has a relatively easy solution, and that is to go through Twitter. I can set my Twitter account to subscribe to another dummy Twitter account that I own. Whenever that dummy account is updated, Twitter can quickly and for free, send a text to my phone. Now I just need to get my mail onto Twitter.

GMail has an RSS feed, and if you embed your login information in the URL, then anything can pull the mail from your account. Also, a Twitter account can be tied to a RSS feed through services like TwitterFeed (which I tried using for FiD). But their service runs on a one-hour delay and I’m not entirely comfortable sharing my info with this third party. Then I found out that FeedBurner has a new FeedBurner Socialize feature which can push RSS updates to a Twitter account. Feedburner is now owned by Google so I feel more comfortable storing my login info there.

With that setup, I can accomplish what I set out to. So to summarize:

  • Grab mail as RSS feed by embedding login data into feed URL
  • Burn feed through FeedBurner and socialize to a new, protected, Twitter account
  • Follow dummy Twitter from main Twitter account and have updates sent to phone.

Now on to the problems. The GMail RSS feed stores the email body preview in a summary element within the feed, instead of the description. This means that when FeedBurner pushes to Twitter, it just pushes the title (and also there is no author etc). I think this can be solved by taking the FeedBurner feed and “fixing” it with Yahoo! Pipes. For some reason, Yahoo! Pipes doesn’t take an authenticated RSS feed as a source (or GMail ignores it on purpose) so you have to use your burned feed. Once the feed is fixed, then you have to burn it a second time in FeedBurner to push to Twitter. This introduces even more polling delay.

Next, the dummy Twitter account ends up polluting your actual Twitter account with updates (i.e., your mail). I don’t know how to solve this yet since there is no filtering mechanism on the main Twitter site. It is actually quite annoying and counter-balances the usefulness of pushing email notifications to my mobile.

Also, I was thinking that it might be good to funnel my mail through to a second, read-only, GMail account in order to protect my login (it might be good to have a second GMail account which shadows my primary account for security purposes anyways). But again this adds more delay.

In summary, it can be done, but it is just not streamlined enough to be of good use.

I’m sure you are more annoyed than I am about the appearance and then re-appearance and re-appearance ad nauseum of videos I upload on YouTube in my LifeFeed. It’s not my fault, I’m not trying to promote my videos, but YouTube’s recommended RSS feed for one’s videos is broken that way. I guess they are trying to give you feedback on the statistics of your videos or something, I don’t know I didn’t really look into it.

The good news is that I did some research and fixed up my RSS URL so *hopefully* this won’t happen in the future. Now if I can only fix those 500 Internal Server Errors from appearing…

I am pretty impressed by the E71, but there are still some faults with it.

  • There’s no facebook integration. If I had an iPhone or Blackberry, I would have a custom app for facebook. But now I have to use the mobile facebook page which sucks.
  • The GMail app refreshes itself, and notifies you when there’s a new mail, but the notifications don’t stay on the standby screen of the phone. So if I miss the vibration or alert, then I wouldn’t know I have new mail unless I check the app. I could solve this if I use IMAP, but that’s not part of my browsing package
  • There’s no good RSS application. I want to sync my RSS feeds and then be able to read the full articles without having to go online again. But all the readers/browsers either need a connection to get the entire article, don’t cache the entire article, or only show summaries of each article.
  • There is no good IM application. I want to use two things, Google Talk and Skype. The only program that supports this (Skype really) is Fring, but it’s interface doesn’t use the limited screen real estate intelligently. Oh and I can’t logon to any IM over the cell network for some reason (i.e., I can only get on over wifi)
  • The keyboard is not that easy to use. I haven’t had Blackberry practice, so maybe it’s the same. I find I’m using my right hand to type, while finger typing with my left; but maybe it will improve with practice and familiarity.
  • No increasing ring. My SE had this nice feature where my ringtone would start softly and then if I don’t answer, it would increase in volume. This would prevent societal embarrassment when the latest Britney Spears song plays on your phone. I guess I’ll have to change my ringtone…
  • There’s no way to quickly enable/disable 3G. Not a big deal, but usually I don’t need 3G on as it wastes battery power.
  • 320×240 is not yet a standard resolution, a lot of apps (i.e., games) only support 240×320.

I feel like the winner of a reality TV show, because my blog just got a makeover! Goodbye 5th generation. It was actually a lot quicker and not as painful as I thought to move on to WordPress. My blogs, tags, and your comments all made it over. The permalinks and pictures in posts still work (recent ones at least – pictures from 2004 have been long dead). Your user accounts are dead, so you’ll need to create new ones (if you’re commenting) and my links blog is dead now too.

The links blog is really the only casualty. I didn’t know how to bring it over without mangling my database and sacrificing my blog’s permalinks (since they both share the same range of unique IDs). I’m fine with it though, because lately I’ve been thinking that I should quote the interesting portions of links as part of a “links blog”, so they will just evolve into smaller blogs (and so we’ve come full circle). My old links are no longer on orangefever, but fortunately I have a script that mirrors them onto, so they are still available under my account.

I’ve added my account to my lifestream RSS feed. If you’re subscribed to my RSS but not my lifestream feed, then you’re doing it wrong!

I signed up awhile ago to FriendFeed, although I never really used it (I had to get my username before someone else took it you see). FriendFeed is kind of like the Facebook newsfeed in that it aggregates everything you’re doing into one stream, except it’s not limited to Facebook, but the entire web (although you lose granularity of course). The trick is that it scrapes your RSS feed from various sites, and aggregates them into one single feed.

I’ve been thinking of replacing the main orangefever RSS feed with FriendFeed, but FriendFeed isn’t exactly what I wanted. FriendFeed’s RSS feed of me just lists the headline of each item in my aggregated feed, but I would rather have a “lifefeed” that contains the content of all of my feeds. Instead, I slapped together something in Yahoo! Pipes, and now I proudly present my LifeFeed*.

My LifeFeed contains my old “everything” feed (blogs, links and comments) and now replaces it. You’ll also get my Facebook status feed, YouTube feed, new Flickr pictures (Flickr’s no longer in my doghouse), Digg history (I should Digg more…), my public Picasa web albums, and my Xbox blog. Have fun stalking me!

* Internet life only

I have been passively searching for something more creative to work on than playing Warcraft to whittle away my time. Previously, I would probably have been interested in scripting orangefever more, but I think the software and functionality is now pretty mature; plus I don’t have a web environment setup on my new computer to test changes.

One idea was to write a program on Eclipse, mostly because that’s what I spend my days doing anyways. The difficulty was deciding what to build. Initially I thought of writing an address book application, but I already wrote a web-enabled version which is pretty complete for what I want to do. Recently I came upon the idea of writing my own RSS reader. One of the problems with my new computer was that I couldn’t find a good RSS reader. Feedreader, the one I use is adequate; but it doesn’t scale well, has a bunch of quirks/bugs, and is butt ugly.

I think I can do a better job, or at least write a reader that has quirks that I want, so my new project is to write a RSS Reader on top of Eclipse. Fortunately, there is a Java library called Informa that does all the heavy lifting of modelling and retrieving feeds, so I can concentrate on the UI. Now I just need to think of a name and create a sourceforge project.

iGoogle recently upgraded their Add Stuff engine so that you can see more info about gadgets and feeds before you add them to your iGoogle page. Included in that information is the amount of subscribers to the current gadget, which is great for me because I have a big blob of Google subscribers and I would like more information about them.

As of today on FiD, I have 169,313 subscribers through Google services. On my two iGoogle feeds, I have 36,847 and 51,185 subscribers respectively (or a total of 88,662). That means that 80,651 of my Google subscribers (or 47.6%) are through Google Reader! I’m actually quite surprised at this number because I figured that I just accumulated readers because ignorant people have been searching for iTunes on iGoogle or that FiD had been bundled on some iGoogle partner pages.

Now I need to do some more sleuthing in Google Reader to determine whether people are just getting the feed as default or if they’re actively adding the feed in.

One of the reason’s I waited so long to get a new computer was in order to get Vista bundled free. Now that I’ve been playing around and setting things up, here are some observations and thoughts on Vista and my new computer:

  • Vista has this nice ability where you can shrink and create new partitions, however it doesn’t know to move system files around and so you can’t really shrink partitions much. Also it can’t move partitions which is irritating.
  • The Aero theme looks better than Luna, the XP theme (although I wouldn’t go to say it’s better than OS X). However, there are too many borders and toolbars on the windows so I need a larger monitor (or dual) to have enough real estate.
  • UAE (i.e., cancel or allow?) is just as annoying as the Apple commercials make it, but the only time it rears its ugly head too often is when you’re in the Control Panel.
  • Don’t try to install an old version of Alcohol 120%. It’s not Vista compatible and will blue screen Vista every time immediately after you log in.
  • Java doesn’t work with Firefox at all, and hangs Firefox every time it runs. You have to use IE7 if you need Java applet support (i.e., Facebook photo uploader). Basically Java always causes UAE to activate.
  • Some programs have random hangs or just don’t work. Usually the culprit is that UAE is acting like the Gestapo and silences the offending program when it tries to do something.
  • I have 8 USB ports, and they’re all used up for: mouse, keyboard, scanner, HD enclosure, media card reader (doesn’t even work in Vista…), cell phone cable, printer, iPod dock.
  • The uptime on my laptop is over 500 days, I’ve rebooted Vista some 50ish times in 5 days.
  • I can finally run banlist properly (with UAE disabled) and I installed Warcraft on emulated drives so I don’t have to swap disks or find no-cd cracks
  • Why aren’t there ANY good RSS readers for Windows? Is this why web-based readers are so popular? The best I’ve found is RSSOwl, but even that is sorely lacking. After some more searching, I’m using Feedreader (great name…).
  • A lot of the old hacks still work, I edited my registry to launch a text editor on any file using the context menu. Same thing that I did in XP and before.

Just a few weeks ago, I blogged about how iGoogle has been slowly building up my site’s popularity. The story has since changed and now Google is becoming the sole source of traffic for Free iTunes Store Downloads. My feed subscribers have increased 4x and I now have over 16,000 subscribers. Google Reader and iGoogle (mostly the latter I suspect) by themselves account for 88% of that number.

The most surprising thing about this growth is that it really is all from Google. I haven’t been linked from anywhere important nor have I been promoting my site. Remember Larry Smith’s econ class where he put up a graph of the 2000 tech bubble, drew an impossible slope and ridiculed investors for their faith in the continuation of that trend? I kind of feel like that (see trend line in red).

On a similar note, Google suddenly has a stranglehold on RSS in general, due to the popularity of their clients (Google Reader, iGoogle) and their acquisition of the Feedburner (feed publishing).

I use NetVibes as my online, synchronized news reader. A little bit ago, I went through an exercise to find a better online RSS reader and eventually settled on NetVibes. That was before I found out about PageFlakes (which is a NetVibes clone) and Google Reader received its upgrade. Having tried out Google Reader after it’s Gmail-esque upgrade, it is a lot better; but doesn’t offer enough to make it worthwhile to switch. And really, Google’s competiting product is more iGoogle than the reader.

However, I am not in the majority because Google Reader/iGoogle is the most popular feed reader on the net. I don’t have any unbiased sources to cite, but am basing my conclusions on my FeedBurner statistics. In the last 3 months since FeedBurner started tracking Google subscribers, my feed subscriber count for Free iTunes Downloads has absolutely exploded by doubling to almost 4 thousand readers. You can see when FeedBurner added the Google numbers in by the sudden jump in February in the graph below. Google subscribers, either through Google Reader or iGoogle now account for almost half of my subscribers, easily leapfrogging #2 Bloglines at ~500 and #3 Netvibes at ~250.

I’m currently in the middle of another jump (barely visible on the graphic), having for reasons unknown added ~800 subscribers over the weekend. I’ve been looking around the web to see if I’ve been featured anywhere prominent lately, but have been drawing blanks. One possibility is that iGoogle might be getting a influx of new users since it’s no longer in Beta, and fortunate for me, FiD ranks #1 and #7 in iGoogle content related to iTunes. Being ranked twice in the list is actually a funny story. I’d much rather consolidate my lock on #1, but there’s no way for me, a site owner, to combine two identical feeds (with different URLs) on iGoogle.

While my traffic has been going up, my advertisement revenue has not followed the same growth curve. In fact, it is worse than stagnant as I’m making less money than I did during Christmas time. That is one drawback to having a large number of Google users; they’re too net-savvy to pay attention to ads. I’d much prefer visitors from the common-people demographic who received new iPods or Macs for Christmas.

We use Pixelpost as our photoblogging software on Hot Photatoes. I have a bunch of criticisms about the software, but I’m not motivated enough to roll my own, so I can’t complain. Well, I guess I can complain about one thing.

What always struck me as odd was that the RSS feed generated by Pixelpost would not include full resolution versions of the photos. On the one hand it’s good, because it forces the subscriber to click on the item and visit the original site; but it’s not like we run advertisements on Hot Photatoes. I would rather view the site through my feed readers.

Today, I had an epiphany. I could use Yahoo! Pipes to hack the RSS feed and replace the thumbnails with full-resolution shots (also I could fix the retarded problem of not evaluating Markdown code — at least for the bold text that I use in my signature). So I did that. If you’ve been subscribing to the Hot Photatoes RSS feed, you will automatically see the changes. If you want the old thumbnail version, I guess you are up the creek.

(oh yeah, I also created an RSS feed just for my photoblogs, but I don’t think it is of use to most of you due to my sporadic posting regimen)

I finally got around to playing with Yahoo! Pipes. The interweb said it was cool, I thought it might be useful, and when I finally tried making stuff in it, it is pretty neat! This just cements my opinion that Yahoo! is the new Google. If you haven’t tried Pipes, it’s basically the concept of Unix pipes brought onto the Web, where your inputs are RSS feeds and so forth.

Just to see how things work, I created an orangefever master RSS feed. It combines my existing blog, comments, and links feed into one feed and arranges them in chronological order. It’s probably more convenient for you than subscribing to three separate feeds; plus took 5 minutes to create!

I like the fact that Facebook has RSS (and Atom) feeds on their “My Notes” feature, which you can subscribe to at the friend level. I don’t like the interface required to go look for notes and my RSS reader is better at this sort of stuff anyways. There’s even a feature to subscribe to a feed of all your friends’ Notes; which is even more useful!

I would like to subscribe to that feed, but there ends up being so much garbage in it. See, all the real bloggers out there import their blog feed into their Facebook notes, so their “My Notes” is just a duplicate of their blog. So when I subscribe to the feed of all my friends’ notes, I end up with duplicates in my reader.

The solution to this is to individually subscribe to my friends who seem to write notes consistently, which is a pain in the ass. It would be nice if Facebook made a feed for My Friends’ Notes That Aren’t Imported.

I’m trying to decide how to go about advertising within FiD’s RSS feed. My preference would be to use Google’s AdSense for Feeds (AFF), but unfortunately it’s in closed beta (although the signup page still exists — but trust me, you can’t get in). Using AFF is convenient because then all my advertising would be through the same agent.

The alternative is to go through Feedburner’s Advertising Network (FAN). Their service is actually a bit more neat in they kind of work like the middleman. If an advertiser wants to advertise on my feed, they send me an email asking whether I want to allow the campaign for the given price etc. It’s a lot more choice, but also more overhead.

So I can immediately go with FAN and start hopefully making money now, or I can keep waiting until AFF becomes public; or the hybrid approach where I use FAN until AFF is released and then switch. It just depends when I want to annoy my audience with advertising.

I have a bad habit of bothering my friends about cool stuff on the net that they just have to try™. This could be something that I’ve created or it could be some neat service that I just found out about. One site that I’ve created, and haven’t been bothering people about is my Free iTunes Downloads blog. I have been passively advertising it; it’s linked in my footer here and it’s linked from my Facebook profile, but I’ve never posted it on my MSN nick, or talked to people in real life about it.

There’s a reason for this of course. While I want my blog to be successful, I don’t tell people about it because they can’t use it! FiD is a blog that lists the free downloads (songs and vids) available on the US iTunes Store as they appear. This was something that I always checked myself, so I figured I would take it a step further and blog it for the world — also as a foray into niche blogging and using Google AdSense (previously tried with Photo Quickies but that takes too much effort).

Anyways, it’s been half a year since I started and after some mis-steps, stupidity, and frustration from actually having to put in effort into the blog, I think it is picking up some steam. I’m up to almost 1800 subscribers on my RSS feed which has been bubbling recently.

It’s funny because I’ve tried to Digg FiD repeatedly without success, and recently another blog that has the same idea popped up on Digg with more than 2k Diggs. Increduously, I also gained a large amount of traffic from this, mainly because LifeHacker picked up my non-Digg’d link instead. I can only explain this as an example of how content is instrumental in blog popularity.

Recently, I have been looking for a good web2.0 feed reader to complement my offline reader. In a 1.0 life, I had been using Bloglines; but I have been frustrated with Bloglines since returning to it. I wanted to properly import my nested group folders and to not mark all my unread feeds as read when I open a group or site.

So I looked around for awhile, but most of the choices (Rojo, NewsGator Online, etc) turned me off. They either looked like a mish-mash of text and tags, or looked like a Windows feed reader — but in a browser. So recently I happened upon NetVibes, a French company that is creating a product similar to Google’s personalized iGoogle homepage, MyYahoo!, and

I didn’t really care for much of the portal features, but the NetVibes layout was tight and ajaxy. For some reason, the Google and Yahoo! offerings always looked ugly or too cluttered. is not too bad, but they’re owned by Microsoft and their definition of web beta is kind of wacked. Anyways, I imported all my feeds, organized them into tabs and tried it out for awhile. It works pretty well, and while there are a few things I don’t like about it, I think it works well enough to be used daily. If you’re a bloglines hater, try NetVibes out.

Like MySpace and other social networking sites; Facebook has hard at work this summer adding a complete package of features to keep you absorbed into their site. The main feature I thought that they were always missing was a My Blog feature, which they have recently addressed with Facebook Notes.

It’s not really anything new, and I originally wasn’t too excited about it (yah another blog). But after playing around with it, I did notice something useful for me; and that is the ability to syndicate another blog into your Facebook notes. So right now I’ve syndicated all the content from my orangefever RSS feed into My Notes for your duplicated perusal.

Also, I guess the second neat thing is the ability to link your notes with your friends. I guess that’s a lot like people-tagging your blogs, and maybe something I should adopt too.