November 14th, 2004


Cleaning Out My Blog Cache

I'd been using LiveJournal as my RSS aggregator for several months, but as I find more blogs or data sources that are interesting, it has become problematic. I kept having to add new friends groups and reallocate syndication feeds in order to be able to catch everything that's happening, as LJ limits the number of entries in a single group to 20. I would also spend a bit of time reloading friends pages and having to figure out where I'd stopped reading before to know what was new. The advantage of having all my feeds available from any computer with a web browser wasn't big enough to overcome the usability problems.

Well, today I finally decided to get serious about aggregators, and I've now got all of my feeds loaded into SharpReader, a free news aggregator for Windows. It seems to do a good job of supporting all the flavors of RSS, RDF, and Atom, and I like its user interface. I just wish it had the ability to do a newspaper-style view of items with them all combined into one web page panel, but I'm getting used to using ctrl-arrowkey to move among my unread items. There's a programming interface to add new features to the tool, so I'm already brainstorming some features that I might be able to implement.

SharpReader and Sage

So, I've got problems with the UI in SharpReader. Fortunately, I've also got ideas.

My big problem is that I tend to take in all the new feeds as one big chunk of text. That's what I liked about the LJ interface; you'd have all these tidbits on one long scrolling page, I could scan through quickly, middle clicking on links that looked interesting to load them into background tabs in Firefox. With SharpReader and Firefox 1.0, I can still do all the loading, but I don't have the scrolling. Instead, it's more like each item is its own email message, when what I really want is a digest.

It seems possible for SharpReader to produce a web page, based on a custom template, that includes all the new, unread items. I'd personally like for it to be organized by category and then RSS feed, with new items in each feed listed in reverse-chronological order. It could feed that page to your web browser, using a local HTTP server. It could even emit clever JavaScript that let you mark items as read in the browser. It's already got an embedded web server that it uses to watch for "subscribe me" links that some sites have, so it shouldn't be hard to add code to handle these other tasks.

I always liked the rendering style used by the Firefox RSS Reader Panel extension. I just did a check, and it looks like it's been replaced by an extension called Sage. This has the same side-panel interface along with an in-browser rendering of feeds. It imported the OPML file that SharpReader exported without any problems, and I was able to use the Firefox bookmark manager to rearrange everything nicely. However, it can't render multiple feeds together on one page, and it doesn't indicate when a folder contains feeds with new items. Fortunately, a lot of my ideas are already represented in the Sage Wiki, and they've even got some that I'd not considered.

One final pointer: Robert Scoble led a discussion at Bloggercon III last week about information overload. My aggregator explorations were prompted listening to the talk yesterday; I'm also starting to think seriously about how all this information flow can be channeled into a device like your smartphone.

Book Review: In Search of Stupidity

Merrill R. Chapman writes several interesting stories in his recent book, In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters. The book is organized as a series of case studies of computer companies that made bad decisions in analyzing their markets and deciding what products to create. The best entries are the ones from the 80's: MicroPro's mismanagement of the popular word processor Wordstar, IBM's brain-dead introduction of the IBM PC Jr., and Ashton-Tate antagonizing their developer community with dBase IV. When Merrill starts talking about more recent events, like the Internet boom, his analysis is weaker and the book reads like a conventional wisdom "I told you so".

The key takeaways are don't confuse the market by having multiple products that address one area, don't insult your customers, and don't solve problems that don't need to be solved. These are pretty obvious, but they've all been ignored in the past, and a lot of once-important companies aren't so important anymore.

Digging Le Tigre

I've got myself a copy of Le Tigre's "This Island", and I'm totally digging the sound. It's not as lyrically complex as Sleater-Kinney's work, but the music works as pop-electronica with a feminist twist. There's a fun cover of "I'm So Excited" that's playing right now. Speaking of S-K, their LJ community reports that they're recording a new album right now that will be called "Entertain". I can't wait.
  • Current Music
    Le Tigre - I'm So Excited