There is a lively discussion at the moment about the relationship between twitter and blogging in a ‘cloud’ of the same name, is twitter killing the blog?, at Cloud Works. I’m not quite sure where the discussion started but it was the topic of a debate between Josie Fraser and Graham Attwell at a F-ALT09 (ALT-C 2009 fringe conference) session at the Contact Theatre, Manchester on Tuesday 8thSeptember. The answer to the question, for me at least, is no. The evidence suggests that regular and frequent tweeting seems to be associated with a reduction in the frequency of blogging. Although this seems to be the case for me, I was already blogging less often before I became involved with Twitter and tweeting. In fact I am not a regular tweeter and tend to do so in little pulses of activity around conferences and other events, for instance the ALT 2009 conference that took place last week. On the other-hand, my lurking in Twitter is rather more constant. Speaking for myself, I feel that my use of Twitter may well revitalise my blogging, perhaps not so much by increasing the frequency of posts but, hopefully, by stimulating rather more considered and reflective posts. Generally in the past I have posted in order to record and clarify ideas and produce notes and resources for my future reference. This has been done largely for my own benefit but with the notion that it might be of interest and use to others and perhaps even solicit some response by way of comment. If so, this was a bonus rather than the prime motivation. Ideas about developing a ‘digital’ identity and a personal research network came later when I began to ‘listen in’ on conversations round these issues in the edublogosphere. However, because my posts are beginning to be inspired by conversations in Twitter, they may become of greater interest and relevance to others than before.
Here is the gist of my argument. Twitter produces ideas, thoughts and topics as part of a fairly loose distributed discussion amongst those I follow and engage with on Twitter. As a matter of interest, I enjoy the social banter and seeming trivia as well as finding useful ideas, references, information and relevant focused discussions. All the ‘useful’ content is coming to me filtered by a network of people who in some sense I know, relate to, empathise with, value and trust as more rounded and real (rather than virtual) friends and colleagues, all to some extent sharing a similar(ish) world view and hopes and aspirations. This comes over far more strongly in Twitter than through the more formally written, structured and focused blog posts. This is a big plus for Twitter. So the general picture emerging is as follows. Discussion, banter, information exchange etc. in Twitter leads to the gradual emergence of an idea for a blog post. Some topic and a set of ideas and thoughts coalesces. In this respect discussion and comment precedes and shapes the blog post. The post summarises and clarifies (in the eyes of the author at least) thinking on the tweeted topic and, hopefully, feeds back into the ongoing discussion in Twitter. If this is the case, the relationship between Twitter and blogging is one of mutual enhancement with the bonus that your co-tweeters and bloggers are already contributors to the blog post and are more rounded and human to you as a result of the broader social contact made within Twitter. Blog posts become sites for summary and reflection within the stream of tweets and as such, and to some some extent, may contribute to, create eddies, even divert, the stream itself.
Another quick thought. Some one at ALTC2009 said (was it Alan Cann?) that their use of RSS has diminished somewhat since using Twitter. I think this is true for me. My feed reader only tells me what has been posted. My twitter network tells me what is worth reading – the wisdom of a crowd I have selected and am very happy and priviledged to be some part of. And technology, used in ways that its originators did not intend or foresee, has made this possible.
If anyone doubts the value of Twitter and the people it connects, surely the use of Twitter for the #altc2009 conference has given them pause for thought? What a pity the ALT powers that be did not see fit to project the #altc2009 Twitter stream in the keynote presentations. A lost opportunity. Perhaps next time.
Google Reader has been getting a lot of attention lately. This attention is due to the newer social features that the team has been adding. Given that my attempt at humor failed as usual and did not really explain what I was thinking. So, I decided I should write a more serious post about what Google Reader needs to improve. My goal is not to ask Google Reader to become FriendFeed, but more to use the features they have in better ways.
Group and Contact Management
I like the idea that new Reader followers need to be in a group to comment on your shares. That gives the user a level of control on what can happen. However, the management of groups and contacts leaves a lot to be desired. First, Google Contacts needs some cleanup to really handle groups better. If I add a follower in Google Reader, that contact should have some flag denoting the source of the addition, even if it is from GMail itself. This allows people to understand where a contact came from without having to scroll through their entire list of contacts.
The contact and group settings in Google Reader need to be more obvious. The settings are somewhat buried, and generally hard to find. Why not just add a tab to the Google Reader settings? The contact management tab in the Reader settings could be a miniature version of Google Contacts that only lists Google Reader followers, with the required “invite your friends to Google Reader” link.
Lastly, if we have to put people into groups, those groups should be included in the user interface. So, in the “People you follow” section, why not have the groups look like folders instead of just dumping a user list. This is more of a selfish request as I am an organizer of data. I would like to put people into related groups, not just a “reader shares” group.
The comment feature is quickly gaining acceptance in my group of followers. However, they are not really part of the feed items. The comment view is a good idea when you just want to go back to the comments for some feed items, but there should be more integration with my general feed reading.
A small addition to Reader could be comment notifications. I would like to get an email when someone comments on one of my shares or a comment stream that I am involved in. This is one feature from FriendFeed I would love to get.
Notes are another feature that I see being used more often. The big problem with notes is that they are not integrated into everything that I do. I am also not sure what the general purpose of the note feature is. I understand the “share with note” feature, as it is a nice way to initiate comments on a share. However, the standalone notes are like an outsider. They appear similar to a share just without an RSS item. I am thinking that notes either need to be a first class user interface item that always appears (making Reader more of a microblogging application), or removed in favor of only “sharing with notes”. I do not think there can be an “in between” for that type of feature.
I have been hoping for a proper API for Google Reader, and now that there are likes, comments and followers it is entirely needed. Take the example of Twitter and build a solid API that allows people to search for feeds, items, people and anything else that is stored. Given that you are Google, people would likely flock to the API and build some really cool applications. I also have my own selfish reasons for a good API
Overall, I think this is a fairly reasonable list of requests, without trying to make Google Reader turn into FriendFeed or Twitter. Are there simple improvements that you would like to see?
If the Google Reader team reads this, feel free to contact me via email (info AT regulargeek DOT com). I would gladly have a chat if there is any confusion on what I have suggested. Otherwise, feel free to comment.