ipad – Stay N Alive

Google Reader is Behind the Times – Here is What They Can Do to Fix That

As anyone who knows me can attest, I’m a huge Google Reader user and fan.  Despite users like Robert Scoble and others declaring RSS Readers dead, I still find utility from being able to finely adapt my reading experience by selecting what I want to subscribe to on the web.  As a blogger, it’s one of my greatest weapons – in fact, sites don’t even have to have an RSS feed for me to track their changes.  For instance, let’s say I want to track job announcements at a certain website to know when new features are coming based on the new jobs they’re hiring for. All I have to do is enter the jobs page into Google Reader and it will automatically tell me when it notices new changes on that Page. No coding necessary.

However, while I disagree that RSS is dead, I am worried that News Readers like Google Reader have neglected to stay up with modern news gathering trends.  Perhaps they think remaining simple will win, but frankly, using just RSS and friends suggestions from RSS to find the news just doesn’t cut it any more.  This is why you see Readers like FlipBoard and FLUD and Pulse making a big inroads on devices like the iPad.  They’re ignoring Google Reader and going straight to social networks like Twitter and Facebook, where the news is likely to come from your close friends and family.  I’m concerned Google Reader is taking so long to adapt towards this trend – here are some tips that I think would make it a much better, and more modern service:

Embrace the Dark Side

With the exception of Youtube, Google seems to have a real issue with this.  They seem afraid to embrace their competitors, the sites that currently have the edge, and the sites that their users are most likely using.  Let’s face it – currently the majority of web users are getting their news from their friends on sites like Facebook and Twitter.  They’re not going from site to site, plugging in an RSS feed to Google Reader, and reading it that way.  I’ve tried to show both my wife and my 10 year old daughter how to do this and they just don’t get it.  Even more experienced users who used to be power users of Google Reader like Robert Scoble are moving in this direction.

There’s a minefield of explosive links out there in public on Twitter and Facebook.  Slap a social graph on top of that and you now have extremely relevant links you could be harvesting, indexing, and extracting content for your users to read in full inside Google Reader.  Google has an opportunity here to pull these users over to their interface and make it even easier for them to read the content their friends on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites are sharing.  While RSS is certainly not dead, the Social Graph most definitely reigns supreme – embrace it.  Use Facebook Graph API.  Use Twitter’s API.  Otherwise Google is going to get left in the dust by competitors that do.  Users want this.

The Desktop is Not the Future

While Google Reader has built an amazing desktop and web experience, it’s time they move forward.  We have gone beyond the typical, dynamic desktop browser being the interface to the web and have moved towards an app era that leverages the web to build custom experiences tailored for static screen sizes on various platforms.  There’s the iPhone.  There’s the iPad.  There are various flavors of Android and Windows for Mobile Phones.  Every other web developer building a company right now is building for these platforms.  Google seems to be stuck in the web browser, something I argue is a mistake.

True, Google has a custom web experience for the iPad and iPhone, but quite frankly – that experience stinks.  Look at the Reeder app for iPad and iPhone to contrast.  It has a “move to the next unread item” button, for instance, that lets you easily surf through your unread news and skim it as you please.  It has a simple interface for sharing, leaving notes, and even allows you to share to other social networks if you choose.  They’ve built an amazing interface that focuses on mobile and tablets that wraps around the stale Google Reader web interface.

Now look at the non-RSS centric experiences like FlipBoard.  Swipe your fingers and it flips pages similar to a magazine or book.  The experience is magically formatted in a natural way that makes reading the news easy!  Mobile devices were built for reading the news.  They are the magazines and newspapers of the future.  Google Reader should be the ones in control on this front or they’re going to get out-taken by their competitors.

Share! Share! Share!

Google Reader does a little of this.  You can share to Twitter and Facebook and other sources, but quite honestly, the experience is lacking.  This should be at the forefront of their experience – easy to see and obvious to the reader that this is what they want them to do.  Right now to share to Facebook, for instance, I have to click on the “send to” link (or press shift-t), and for any site I want to share to Google makes me leave the site and go to each individual site to share.  This experience should be much more integrated into the UI, controlled by keyboard gestures, without having to leave the site.  Facebook Graph API and Social Plugins should be used.  Twitter’s API or @anywhere should be used.  The links should be in more prominent positions, easy for the reader to see.  The “Send To” should be consolidated with the “share” link and terminology should all be centered around “sharing”.

The entire experience should be much more social.

Streamline the UI

Google Reader used to be top of the line when it came to great user experiences.  They enabled keyboard shortcuts and a very simple UI that was easy to manage.  Since then, they have added all sorts of bloat to the interface, slowing it down and making it harder to manage.  To hide someone or add them to another group, for instance, it takes at least a minute for me to do anything surrounding that.  Refreshing the page takes too long.

Google needs to start fresh and build the UI from the ground up, with these new focuses in mind, and focus on speed, simplicity, and cleanliness.  The entire UI needs to be re-done and targeted towards the new features I’ve suggested here.  It needs to be faster.  No site should take longer than 4 seconds to load.  It needs to have entirely different versions for mobile devices, and most of all it needs to be easier to use.

Be Sure Not to Neglect Your Strengths

In all this I am not suggesting Google Reader become FlipBoard.  Google Reader needs to stick to its strengths – it needs to continue a strong focus on RSS, while bringing in all the other elements I mentioned.  It needs to remain top in its game of strong UIs and easy to organize content reading.  It needs to keep the focus on leaving notes and sharing with other Google Reader users.

I’m afraid Google has stopped innovating in this space.  We’re seeing so with evidence of other strong readers emerging in the areas I have mentioned.  Google has such strong potential to own this space if they chose.  I really hope they take this advice constructively and try to adapt these things.  If not, users, including myself, are going to be forced to bigger and better ways of consuming our news in a way that is more modern and convenient to the user.

In the meantime, you can follow all my Google Reader shares on my link blog at http://www.google.com/reader/shared/jessestay.

Review: The MINI Microphone for the iPhone and Android

I’m a sucker for good sound.  I actually have a pretty nice Microphone I use with my computer for production use in podcasts, or when I get interviewed, and I love to have a good sound to go with the things I create.  That’s why when I saw Chris Pirillo promote the MINI Microphone for the iPhone, I had to try it.

The MINI Microphone looks like a little black egg, and you can take the case off (the case you could add a string to and tie it to something if you’re worried about losing it), revealing the Microphone jack you can connect to your iPhone, Android, or similar device that accepts a Microphone jack.  You pop it in, and immediately you have a microphone with better sound quality for your recordings, or so they say.

When I tried it it wasn’t quite as good a change as I thought.  In fact, speaking through the built-in Microphone, I noticed a much wider range of sounds than with the Microphone plugged in.  The main advantage that the MINI Microphone gave me was a reduction of outside noises and a stronger focus on my own voice.  If I had the choice, I would probably stick with my iPhone 4’s nice, built in microphone over the MINI.  In the end, there is a higher range of Bass and Treble in the built in sound than what the MINI provides.  If I were in a room full of noisy people however, I might try the MINI Microphone to reduce some of the outside noise.

That said, the Microphone is only $2.82 on Amazon.com so you may want to try for yourself.  Regardless, I’ll let you be the judge – check out this clip I did on CinchCast.com where I compare the difference:


The iPad is the Context-Aware Monitor You Can Take Anywhere

For those that don’t follow my Twitter or Facebook or FriendFeed streams, a few weeks ago I bought an iPad.  I was sitting down at the Pool in Hawaii next to Chris Pirillo (we were both speaking at a conference – tough life, huh?), and he pulled out his iPad and immediately started working right there in Paradise.  It was that which convinced me I needed to see what this device could do for me and why it was special.  But what does make it special?  Why is it so “magical”?

I’ve been debating that over the last several weeks.  I have a 17″ Macbook Pro that works great and I can take it anywhere I go that I need a full computer.  I have an iPhone that I can take everywhere else and access the internet, take brief notes, and get things done.  Why would I need an iPad?

I had this discussion with a co-worker the other day, and it got me thinking.  He suggested that the value in the iPad is not what it is, but what it could be, and most of all where this technology in general is going.  He suggested the concept of bringing his iPhone or Android phone with him wherever he goes, and if he’s near a monitor and keyboard, pulling up an entire OS experience on the monitor via Bluetooth connection.  That got me thinking back to the iPad – in reality, the iPad is about context.  It’s about having a monitor-sized device that you can carry around in your backpack and display, in a large form-factor, images, video, and text that are relevant to the place you are at that very moment.  It’s the monitor I can carry everywhere I go, but more than that – the potential is it could very well be a monitor that communicates with my iPhone, a monitor that communicates with my car, a monitor that communicates with my keyboard at work.

Steve Gillmor inferred this in his Keynote at the Kynetx Impact Conference recently.  The Kynetx platform is all about providing a unified API experience that enables developers to provide contextually relevant experiences no matter where the user is.  The iPad, in many ways is doing just this.  It’s transforming the web from being just data endpoints that require their own displays that stay static, in one place (like TVs and Computer Monitors), to adaptable display interfaces you can take with you wherever you go.  Now, instead of needing a TV, you can take the TV with you.  Now, instead of your desk needing a monitor, you can take that monitor with you.  Now, instead of needing displays throughout your house to control your thermostat, lights, music, etc., you can do all that with a device you have wherever you go.

One of the big rumors for the upcoming June 6 WWDC Keynote by Steve Jobs is that Apple will be announcing a new Apple TV device that is based on the iPhone OS.  When you think about it, this idea is not that far-fetched.  Now, on the same operating system developers are writing applications for that already stream TV (think Slingbox or Netflix), surf the web, pull up your favorite magazine publications, and more, developers just need to change the screen size to adapt the experience for that specific screen size and experience.  For instance, the Scrabble application, when purchased on the iPad, has a mode that you can play Scrabble with different opponents around a table and allow those opponents to use their iPhones as letter holders so no one else in the room can see each opponent’s letters.  The two different screen sizes adapt, and work with each other.  The iPad, in that case, adapts to become the board in a board game.

The future of tech is in that contextual, ubiquitous experience.  In the future, you’ll be able to take your iPad with you and when it detects a keyboard it will provide a different experience that works with the keyboard than the one that doesn’t.  Future iPads will detect where you are, and provide new UIs based on the location you are at currently.  The future of the tablet device will adapt based on the environment around it and provide an experience that fits the size and form factor of the screen it was built for.  The future computing experience is about each display and/or device in the room adapting to the experience the user is having at any given moment.

This isn’t about your desktop becoming more portable.  This isn’t about your iPhone becoming bigger.  I believe what the iPad has done is rather reinvent the monitor, making the monitor itself more portable, smarter, and more adaptable than ever before.  What I’m carrying around in my hands with my new iPad is not a new type of computer.  It’s a monitor, a display interface, that follows me around wherever I go.

If you’ve got an iPad and you like this concept, be sure to check out the Air Display app, by Avatron Software, Inc., which turns your iPad into an entirely separate monitor that you can add to your existing Mac when it’s nearby.

What do you think the iPad is?