A-Listers Are Late to the Stream

Lately the geekosphere has been buzzing about how RSS is being replaced by the real-time stream.  Instead of getting our information from syndicated blog feeds, we’re now getting it via streams from Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, et al.

This isn’t new.  The only thing that’s new is that “A-list” bloggers are finally getting wise to it.

Outside the geekosphere, people have long relied on RSS to bring them a real-time stream.  But this stream doesn’t flow from Twitter or FriendFeed – it flows from the companies they work for and from the feeds they rely on to do their job.

Since introducing FeedDemon back in 2003, I’ve talked with countless people who are subscribed to feeds which tell them when their company (or a competitor) is mentioned anywhere on the web.  They’re subscribed to intranet feeds which let them know when a customer sends a complaint or compliment.  They rely on internal feeds to bring them the latest information about other projects going on inside their company, or tell them when an HR policy has changed or when an impromptu company-wide meeting is taking place.  More recently, they subscribe to SharePoint feeds which involve them in a real-time conversation with their co-workers.  Some of them even have feeds which alert them to the status of their web servers.

These people have relied on RSS-based real-time streams since the first day they used an RSS reader, and I count myself as one of these people.  For example, I’m subscribed to several feeds from NewsGator’s FogBugz server which are absolutely critical to me -  especially right after a product release – because they bring me error reports that customers send from FeedDemon.  If I get several similar error reports, I have to drop everything and focus on figuring out the problem so I can release a fix as soon as possible.

BTW, this is also why the river of news approach doesn’t work for everyone.  If you’re subscribed solely to feeds from popular blogs and web sites, a river of news is ideal – you get a flow of information that you can scan for stuff that looks interesting.  If you miss a story, no big deal – it’ll float by later if it’s important.

But if you’re also subscribed to feeds critical to your business, this approach is unacceptable.  You don’t want a flow of uncategorized, unprioritized information that combines articles from Boing Boing with items from your company’s internal feeds.  You need separation between the stuff you read for fun and the stuff you read because it’s critical to your job.

NewsGator Powers USATODAY.com’s Widgets

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you probably know NewsGator as an RSS aggregator company, so you may not have heard about NewsGator Widgets yet. Our widgets have been used by sites such as Discovery.com, MacWorld and CBS News – and now they’re being used by USATODAY.com as well.

According to this articles on Forbes.com, this makes USA Today the first national newspaper to offer widgets that can be added to your site or blog. Right now it looks like the widgets are limited to travel-related topics, but my understanding is that more widgets are coming.

Fact Checking (My Ass)

Several years ago, Ken Layne famously warned the media that on the Internet, “we can fact-check your ass.” Sadly, many bloggers could use some fact-checking, too:

  • A few days ago Valleywag claimed that the recent 365 Main datacenter outage was due to a drunk employee – a claim they’ve since retracted.
  • Last week Robert Scoble posted erroneous statements about FeedBurner and the RSS Advisory Board. Robert soon updated his post to correct his misstatements about FeedBurner.
  • Read/WriteWeb’s recent claim that “Desktop RSS Readers are (Nearly) Dead” included incorrect assumptions about feed statistics, neglected to consider behind-the-firewall Enterprise customers who can’t use web-based RSS readers, and was based on a survey whose audience is far more likely to use a web-based reader to start with.
  • And of course, Engadget’s claim a few months back that Apple was delaying the next version of Mac OS X caused Apple stock to plunge. This claim, too, was later corrected.

Now, I should make it clear that I respect Scoble, Read/WriteWeb and Engadget – I list the posts above solely because they’re high-profile examples of poor fact-checking, not because I dislike these blogs. There are many more examples, and I’m sure I’ve made my share of mistakes, too. But when a blog with a large audience makes a false claim, the potential for harm is great enough that fact-checking should be more of a priority.

Many of us in the geekosphere have a low opinion of the “mainstream media,” but we bloggers suffer from the same faults that we saddle the MSM with. We shoot from the hip without checking our sources, do little research to back up our claims, create sensationalistic titles for our posts, and generally do everything that the MSM does to increase readership.

Now that blogs have clout, perhaps we should spend a little more time fact-checking our own asses before we post?

Twittering at SXSW

I’ll be at SXSW for the next few days, and I’m giving Twitter a try while I’m here to keep up with other attendees. If you want to keep tabs on me, my Twitter name is “nbradbury” (and here’s my Twitter RSS feed).

Note to the Twitter devs: When using IE, mousing over someone’s avatar shows the name of the image file instead of their user name.

Update: I’m leaving SXSW soon, and I’m no longer Twittering. It was fun while I was here, but at least for now, Twitter isn’t something I’d really want to use outside of a tech conference.

White Hat Wikipedia

Last week I blogged about editing your own Wikipedia entry, and this week Wikipedia is being discussed all over the geekosphere following Microsoft’s attempt to pay someone to edit an entry about Office 2007’s new XML format.

I had planned to write a much longer post about this, but it turns out that my Nashville neighbor Rex Hammock has already said what I was going to say:

“If Wikipedia has become the platform of record for web-based knowledge, then having a voice there is going to be a requirement for corporate America. Wikipedia either needs to find an accepted “white hat” way for this to be done directly and transparently (and not some “in the discussions, off the website way), or dark-hat, Rube Goldberg solutions will naturally follow.”

So I guess if you want to know what I think about the whole thing, just go read Rex’s post :)

FeedBurner Site Statistics

The statistics packages offered by most popular blogging services are either limited or non-existent, leaving many bloggers struggling to get good information on traffic to their blog. Those of us who use FeedBurner have long had good feed-related statistics, but we’ve had to rely on other services to get information on blog traffic.

In my case, I’ve been using Google Analytics for blog stats, and while it’s a good service I’ve found it awkward to have my feed stats and blog stats in different places. So when I was offered an early look at FeedBurner’s site statistics service (announced earlier today), I jumped at the chance.

I’ve been using FeedBurner’s site stats for several days now, and overall they’ve done a great job of providing a lot of information in a very friendly way. Now in addition to seeing information about my feed subscribers, I can also see things like:

  • Which searches lead people to my blog
  • Which external links are bringing visitors to my blog
  • Which pages are being viewed the most
  • What browsers, operating systems and screen resolutions my visitors are using

In other words, I can see the sort of information you’d expect from a site statistics service, except that it’s integrated with my feed stats.

As with all new services, though, there are a few missing pieces, the most notable of which is that I didn’t see a way to exclude my own traffic from the site stats. Update 16-Feb-2007: FeedBurner has added the ability to ignore yourself in your site stats. Nice!

Disclosure: NewsGator (the company I work for) shares an investor with FeedBurner.

Blog Update (Mostly) Complete

I’ve made a ton of changes to my blog over the last few days, and I’m curious whether others see them as improvements or annoyances:

  • The home page Category pages show excerpts instead of full posts (example), so you can quickly scan the headlines looking for articles of interest (similar to how FeedDemon works by default).
  • Each post includes a Technorati link count widget which displays the number of external links to that post.  This has enabled me to get rid of trackbacks, which sadly have become far more trouble than they’re worth due to spammers.
  • The sidebar includes a category cloud, and each category links to a page containing all posts in that category (for example, this page lists all my posts about software development).
  • A Google search of my blog is now available in the banner above each page.
  • A monthly archives page has been added.
  • The comment form has been widened, so you no longer have to type lengthy comments into a tiny box.

Of course, most of my readers rarely see my actual blog since they’re subscribed to my rss feed, but hopefully these changes will be useful to stragglers who still read via a web browser rather than an RSS reader ;)