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    Wednesday
    Jul032013

    The end of Reader and the trouble with filters

    I am not sure how you managed to find this post today, but as most of us have heard by now, the demise of the once dominant feed reading platform Google Reader means you're certainly not reading it there.

    Google Reader was for me, the primary mechanism where I discovered, (via the previously sunsetted 'shared items' feature), consumed, saved for future reference, and shared interesting content out to my friends and social networks. Reader was almost always an open tab for me in Chrome (Google please don't get any silly ideas about axing Chrome), and I easily checked it five or ten times a day.  Most nights, the last thing I'd do was run through the 400 or so feed subscriptions I had to make sure I had not missed anything important, seen what my friends and colleagues were writing about, and most importantly for me, saved items for possible use as sources or ideas for blog posts, articles, HR Happy Hour Shows, etc.

    Reader, more so than any other mechanism, became the primary filter through which I interacted with information and experienced what was going on in the world.

    Sure over time, other and arguably better news and information tools began emerging, primarily developed to take advantage of the display and touch capabilities of iPads and smart phones. News readers like Pulse and Flipboard, and my personal favorite Zite, have taken news and content discovery and consumption into the modern technology age. They look great, they are fun to use, and they continue to get better at presenting content in personalized ways. Zite, when given feedback in the form of 'likes' and 'dislikes', over time will 'learn' what content you'd probably be most interested in, and will then serve up more of the content it expects you want to see, and less of what you don't. 

    So while I still relied on Reader as my primary source of news and information, tools like Pulse and Zite began to fill in some of the gaps and problems that Reader, (and really my use of Reader), exposed. Namely, unless you actively sought out new and different sources of information, you'd pretty easily fall into the trap of reading the same kinds of information sources all the time, and perhaps more importantly, you'd end up reading (again mostly), the same things everyone else you knew was reading too.

    And if you spend a lot of time hanging out with the same kinds of people that read the same kinds of things, well, that all can get kind of boring kind of quickly. 

    The demise of Reader should not simply be an exercise in finding and replicating how we used Reader in some other tool. Rather it should be an impetus for all of us that love to read, that love to be challenged by new ideas, that are looking for perspectives that are different from our own, (and that of our friends), to more actively seek out and share something that is just a little bit different, just a little out of our comfort zone, and maybe something that is not the same thing everyone else is reading too.

    Since Reader is gone, we have a chance and a reason to think a little bit more expansively, and to loosen up the filters that we were comfortable with, and that we applied to ourselves and to how we experience the world.

    What are you reading that is different or interesting or makes you a little uncomfortable? 

    Thursday
    Mar142013

    Google Reader: The shelf-life of formerly good advice

    I've been having a instructive and fun time this week out at Ultimate Software's annual user conference called Ultimate Connections. It is always great to learn more about what one of the major technology providers in HR space is doing, to hear from and meet some real customers and practitioners, and even attempt to share some of my own ideas with the attendees.

    Yesterday I had that chance, along with the great John Sumser from HRexaminer and Ed Frauenheim from Workforce.com (and perhaps more famously of the Frauenheim Disclosure), in a conference session titled 'How to Stay Current on HR Trends'. The session was meant to be a kind or survey of tools, sources of information, time management approaches, and overall recommendations for the busy HR pro on how he or she can try to keep up and remain informed about the industry when faced with the simultaneous crush of mountains of content combined with a 'day job' that gets more time-crunched by the week.

    In the session, which was yesterday at 1:45PM Pacific Time, both John and I sung the praises of feed readers, specifically Google Reader, as a fantastic tool for the busy HR pro to try and sort, filter, scan, and consume professional content. I even tool it a step further, calling out smartphone apps like Flipboard and Zite, (my personal favorite), that help curate news and information and package it up attractively for on-the-go reading. Both of these apps are much more valuable and relevant when they have a Google Reader integration to provide a rich source of content that these apps find ways to make much user-friendly and provide a great interface.

    At 1:45 PM I was advocating for the HR pros in the room to give Google Reader a chance. At 5PM when I got back to my room, turned on the laptop, and IMMEDIATELY fired up Google Reader and BOOM - this message smacks me in the chops -

    Clicking 'Learn more' took me to a short blog post on the the Google support site that basically said Reader is being shut down on July 1, and had a link to another Google post that cited a decline in Reader usage and the company's desire to focus more energy on fewer products as the drivers behind the decision to kill off Reader.

    Reader has been around a really long time by Web standards, since 2005 or so, but (and as we saw in our session at the conference where very few attendees said they used Reader), never really caught on with the mainstream web users. And with the incredible growth of Facebook and Twitter, (and more and more LinkedIn), as sources of news and information, setting up and maintaining a deep, diverse, and relevant set of Reader subscriptions probably seemed like to big a chore for most users, and really boring for others.

    Either way, Google Reader is going away, and probably at least a few of the apps and services that had come to rely on a user's Reader subscriptions for the bulk of their content. Sure, there are other feed reading tools around - and perhaps even some new innovation will hit the space that Google is leaving, but make no mistake even in decline, Google Reader was the 500 pound gorilla in the space.

    I feel bad about the impending loss of my favorite tool on the web.

    I feel even worse that about 3 hours prior to the announcement, I advocated in the most strident way possible for a room full of hard working HR pros to get their Google Reader set up.

    That was good advice at the time I gave it.

    Now it's just formerly good advice.

    I hope the rest of the things I said in the session will stay relevant a little longer.

    Monday
    Sep132010

    RIP Bloglines

    The once innovative and popular online RSS and news aggregator Bloglines will discontinue service on Friday, October 1. The Ask.com team that operates the site has essentially said that social media sites like Twitter and Facebook killed it.  Bloglines was the first feed reader I ever used, and I still have a 'subscribe with Bloglines' badge on the right sidebar, (don't worry if you can't find it, I don't think anyone else has either).

    From a blog post on the Ask.com site, the underlying reasoning behind the shutdown of Bloglines is as follows:

    ...when we originally acquired Bloglines in 2005, RSS was in its infancy. The concept of “push” versus “search” around information consumption had become very real, and we were bullish about the opportunity Bloglines presented for our users. 
 
Flash forward to 2010. The Internet has undergone a major evolution. The real-time information RSS was so astute at delivering (primarily, blog feeds) is now gained through conversations, and consuming this information has become a social experience. As Steve Gillmor pointed out in TechCrunch last year , being locked in an RSS reader makes less and less sense to people as Twitter and Facebook dominate real-time information flow. Today RSS is the enabling technology – the infrastructure, the delivery system. RSS is a means to an end, not a consumer experience in and of itself.

    To me the money quote in the post from Ask.com is the line about 'being locked in an RSS reader makes less and less sense to people. RSS readers (and for the remainder of this post, let's just use Google Reader as our example, since I am 99% certain no one is reading this post in any other RSS client or application), offer the powerful capability of delivering to you the news items, blog posts, and other website updates automatically, in a persistent manner, and make them easily consumable on your schedule (or just as easily ignored).  

    They were, and still mostly are, a private and personal kind of experience. Sure Google Reader has built in additional capabilities for sharing items with people that are following you on Reader, and for connecting these shared items with Google Buzz and Twitter.  But some of these integrations require several manual interventions, and you have to admit if you are someone that has linked their shared items on Google Reader to your Twitter account to automatically Tweet, you are solidly outside the mainstream of the average blog reader.  And in terms of the uptake of 'following' on Reader, as of this writing I have 4,613 followers on Twitter, and 68 on Google Reader. Your mileage may vary.  But a 'shared item' on Reader connects with me in a way that a Facebook post or a Tweet doesn't, in Reader I am pretty sure my contact actually read the piece before propagating it to their connections.

    Ask.com is making the determination (that very well may be true, it is hard to know), that simply consuming content in an RSS Reader is no longer 'good enough'.  We have, as users, to be able to easily spread that content out across our social networks like Twitter and Facebook, and in turn, we need to be able to mine our networks to find and consume content pushed or shared by our connections.  That news item, blog post, or funny video of kitty antics accrues more value to us, and to the network, the more that is is shared and circulated.  I get it, in fact that is pretty obvious. I would love this post to get widely shared around the social web, passed from Tweet, to Facebook wall, to Google Buzz, and back around again in a self-sustaining frenzy of consumption.

    But before any of that can happen, I need someone to actually read the post first.

    Which is exactly the capability that Bloglines was and Google Reader still is, so good at.  It is sad to me to see Bloglines disappear, but what would be worse I think is if we stop focusing on engaging with good content individually, personally, and for our own development and understanding while anxiously seeking out the Retweet button. Great content absolutely should be shared, but it needs to resonate with you first, and if RSS devolves into just the plumbing for sharing content, then I think some of that connection will get lost.

    By the way, the Retweet and Like buttons are at the end of the post.  

    I know, I am a hypocrite.  RIP Bloglines.