Infomation Junkie and RSS Readers

I will openly admit that I am a bit of an information junkie. Twitter sustains my information addition to a degree. But, I find if I am off-line for any amount of time it’s easy to miss complete conversations or ideas. As a result I have a bit of an addition to RSS feeds. They allow me to catch up with all the blogs and sites I follow at my convenience, instead of at the demanding pace of Twitter.

I have been using Bloglines as my RSS reader for ages. Some long built up frustration with bloglines has resulted in me switching over to Google Reader. Below is some of my thoughts on the pros/cons of each particular RSS reader.

Bloglines:
One of my main frustrations with Bloglines is that often it does not update promptly.
-Bloglines has a very uncluttered and easy to read user interface, which is simple to navigate.
-Bloglines displays the number of followers to each RSS feed in plain sight. To see this number in Google Reader you have to access the additional details.
-Bloglines has the option of viewing merely titles, summaries, or full entries.

Google Reader:
Unsurprisingly, the search and recommended feeds feature on Google Reader is far superior to the search function on Bloglines.
-Initially I found Google Reader a bit flashy. There are many more additional features on Google Reader which have the potential to be useful, but also clutter the interface a bit.
-The trends feature in Reader allows you to see what in the past month you have read, starred, noted etc. Which is kind of a neat feature.
-I think my current favorite feature of Google Reader is the homepage. Bloglines homepage was not overly interactive or useful. Reader’s homepage lists the newest ‘stories’, highlights anything recently starred, and show recently read items.

Similarities:
Both allow you to use keyboard shortcuts to mark feeds as read, and perform other basic tasks when reading and organizing your RSS feed.
-Both readers have share/like/star options. They vary slightly in their names and display qualities, but essentially serve the same purpose.

Both services do what they are expected to do, and collect feeds in spot neatly. I found the major difference between Bloglines and Google Reader to be Google’s inclusion of many supplemental features not available in Bloglines. The improved search feature in Google Reader is also a huge bonus. I’m going to attempt to avoid the temptation of using the familiar Bloglines, and stick with Google Reader for at least awhile longer.

Cheap Books on Demand

I have been in favour of the Google Books project for some time, mainly because the project allows for greater accessibility of scholarship. This past week Google announced a new facet to Google Books. Now, more than 2 million books, which are currently featured on Google Books, can be turned into “instant paperbacks.”

Google has signed an agreement with On Demand Books, the owner of The Espresso Book Machine. The Espresso Book Machine (EBM) can print and bind a book in the same amount of time it takes to brew an espresso. Espresso book machines are currently located in bookstores in the US, Australia, Britain, Egypt and Canada. The Canadian EBMs are currently only a few in University bookstores. This is great for the impoverished student, but somewhat limits the audience which the EBM currently reaches.

This agreement allows for one of the complaints of many Google Books users to be addressed: many people simply do not enjoy reading a 300 page book online. A retail price has not been set for these instant paperbacks, but estimates have been around the eight dollar mark. Overall it sounds like a cost effective way to make public domain books available. That being said, various governments, privacy groups, Amazon and Microsoft have already filed objections to this new agreement.

Trends and Google

Lists of what is most popular, and the most popular searches conducted aren’t anything new. However, Google has expanded on people’s interests in trends and created Google Trends. This search feature allows users to search anything their heart desires, and receive a chart which highlights current and past trends on the topic.

This feature is also closely related to Google’s move to make searching public data such as population more accessible. Currently, if you go to Google.com and type in [unemployment rate] or [population] followed by a place in the U.S, you will see the most recent estimates and an interactive chart. The information used for these charts and is from the U.S Census Bureau’s Population Division. Most importantly this is a huge step towards making census information far more searchable and accessible to the general public. This newly organized data has the potential to be a valuable to historians attempting to gauge population changes, the movement of people, employment, and numerous other facets of history.

Mapping and Privacy Concerns

I recently wrote on the trade off between convenience and privacy, this issue came to my attention once again while exploring virtual mapping. Most people have used Google earth or Google maps at one point or another. These applications are largely accepted by the general public as tools which make our lives easier. Google recently released the Google Street View application to the United Kingdom. Some controversy has been raised over the appropriateness of showing potentially private images from the street level. The majority of those opposing the application believe that street level pictures violate privacy and that these images are being used without the consent of numerous people. These privacy concerns are particularly valid for those people who have been caught partially nude, entering adult video stores, or doing any activity they may not want the entire world to know about.

Since the launch of UK Street View Google has had hundreds of requests for the removal of images. Earlier Google representatives insisted that “99.99 per cent” of faces featured in Street View were blurred. However, recently Google admitted that this had been a “figure of speech” and that thousands of people can be identified. Google claims that Street View is an important step towards people being able to explore the world from their homes, but has this application crossed line in terms of privacy violations?

Currently Google Street View is not available for any Canadian cities. Tighter restrictions have been placed on the construction of a Canadian application, which include the blurring of all faces, license plates, and numerous other privacy measures.

Despite the controversy surrounding Google Street View in Canada, Canpages.ca a company based in British Columbia has recently released it’s own street view program. The program currently includes views of Whistler, Vancouver, and Squamish. Canpages street view allows users to explore residential areas, walking paths, parks, and trails. It also offers detailed pages for retailers in the area, and hopes to expand its views into the interiors of hotels, malls, and restaurants. However, Canpages is also taking additional incentives such as blurring distinctive features to help maintain privacy amongst Canadians.

Convenience Over Privacy?

Recently, in my digital history class, we have been discussing the tailoring of ads, search results, and the internet in general, to the particular interests of a user. Some of the more frequently discussed forms of this personalized marketing include: amazon recommending books, itunes recommending music, facebook targeting ads, and Gmail and Google including personalized ads and searches. This marketing provides users with increasingly relevant and ‘useful’ information, while allowing companies to further expand their advertising and marking techniques. And who wouldn’t want their search results to be more relevant?

Similarly, Google recently announced that is going to allow users to select the ads they see while using the internet. Google is launching an “interest-based” advertising on various partner sites, including YouTube. The idea is that interest-based advertising will infer users interests based on the websites they visit, and allow users to create favorite categories, or specify things they do not want to see ads for. No doubt this is one of the more advanced (extreme?) forms of target advertising out there.

The use of internet searches, and user preferences tracked through cookies raises the question of user privacy. It is possible to opt out of the AdSense advertising cookie, which is used for collecting user information to make ads more relevant. Even with this option of opting out, I wonder how much user privacy should be sacrificed for user convenience, especially if it’s just convenient advertising? Currently the information collected by AdSense is only being used by those companies who have partnered with Google, but what if this information is released on a larger scale?

Blog Statistics

For those of your wondering how many subscribers you have to your blog feed, which information visitors most frequently visit on your blog, and various other blog related statistics, google has an application for this as well. FeedBurner is an application recently purchased by Google, which is relatively user friendly and since it was purchased by google has become free. Currently, users merely have to have a google account to use the service.

FeedBurner claims that it’s main benefits include: allowing users to analyze their blog traffic, optimize content format of blogs, allows further blog publicizing, and gives users the option of making money through ads. The FeedBurner service is also available for podcasts and corporate websites.

I am sure there are similar applications to FeedBurner out there. But after searching through various other applications, I found that a good portion of feed analysis tools require subscription or are not overly user friendly.