Wednesday, November 4, 2009

(empo-tuulwey) Flossing with a screwdriver - Robert Scoble, FriendFeed, Google Reader, and you

I have refrained, for the most part, from commenting on the recent discussion regarding the pros and cons of using Google Reader vs. Twitter as the preferred method to read and share articles. Eventually the discussion got a little heated, with comments regarding the usability of Twitter for such purposes, and someone else talking about tweets being boring, and someone getting really depressed over...excuse me, I seem to have mixed this story up with the Stephen Fry Twitter story.

So let's go back to the Robert Scoble's original post on the topic (he's since written others). I'm going to take the liberty of quoting extensively from some of the eight items that Scoble listed (I'm not going to quote from all eight, since I really don't care about iPhone apps.)

1. Google Reader is FREAKING SLOW. It sometimes takes longer than a minute to open it up. "But my Google Reader account is super fast," I can hear you saying. Yeah, but you don't have any friends and you don't have many things you are subscribed to. Compare to Twitter lists or Twitter itself. I'm following 10,000+ people. More than 100,000 are following me. Yet Twitter opens instantly.

I actually discussed this in some detail in a comment that I made on Steven Hodson's personal blog, Shooting at Bubbles. Without going into detail or heading off on a biometric tangent, suffice it to say that when an application has a LOT of data, you can choose to either load all of the data, or just some of it. There are advantages and disadvantages to either scenario, but those can best be framed by how you use the information that is being loaded.

Using Robert Scoble's Twitter example, and assuming for the moment that he's using the native Twitter client, let's say that Robert opens up his Twitter page one day and wants to see what was going on an hour ago. Yes, the initial Twitter page will load up snappy fast - but it's only loading a portion of the tweets from the 10,000 people he follows. To see anything else, you have to click on the "More" button...and you may have to click it again...and again. On my own account (in which I'm following far fewer than 10,000 people), I just tried clicking the "More" button a half dozen times in a row. While I wasn't waiting for huge amounts of time after every click, the exercise can get tiresome.

As I mentioned elsewhere, MY problem with Google Reader involves that very scenario - namely, the scenario of partial loads of data. When I click on my Google Reader shared items category, I have to wait 10 seconds or more...and then I get the first batch of items. I scroll down...and get the second batch. Google Reader can't even tell me how many items there are in the category until I've loaded all of them - and frankly, I'm not going to wait around that long.

Let's move on to Robert's second and third items, which I will consider together since they're essentially related:

2. Google Reader's UI is too confusing. Yeah, I know how to use it, but really, do we need "like" and "share" and "share with note?"

3. It makes me feel guilty. I have 1,000 unread items. Twitter doesn't tell me that.

Now both of these have to do with the richness of the application. While Twitter's UI is more complex than is noted here (I could easy ask, "But really, do we need 'follow' and 'mention' and 'block' and 'add to list'?), there's no denying that Google Reader has a richer feature set than Twitter. Now the Google Reader fanboys could sneer at Twitter for not letting you know how many items are unread, and for making it hard to share items with other people, and the like. But the Twitter fanboys could retort right back that Google Reader is not...well, it's not Google-y. Google's search page is known for its simplicity, but Google Reader is anything but.

I could continue to go through Robert Scoble's list, and I could go on and launch into his retreat from FriendFeed, but in essence a lot of the issues involved - front-loading vs. continuous-loading data, feature simplicity, feature access - are all a matter of personal choice.

Does it make sense to do something because Robert Scoble, or Louis Gray, or Steven Hodson, or Miley Cyrus, or John Bredehoft told you to do it?

Maybe. Maybe not. If you personally believe that Miley Cyrus is one of the wisest people on the planet, then perhaps you will follow her lead when she makes social media suggestions. On the other hand, if you think that I listen to some pretty stupid music, then you're not going to look at my loved tracks.

I guess I could say that I disagree with Robert Scoble on both the FriendFeed and Google Reader counts. Regarding FriendFeed, a change in company ownership doesn't automatically mean that I have to abandon the service. Did you see a lot of Chevys parked by the side of the road when GM filed for bankruptcy protection? Now I'm certainly looking for alternative tools to do the things that I currently do in FriendFeed - for example, I'm interacting in Facebook a lot more - but in my case, there's no reason for me to stop using the FriendFeed service, or to stop feeding things to it, or to stop interacting on it. Maybe I'll change my mind tomorrow, but as of today, FriendFeed is still my number one spot to visit for interaction.

And Google Reader is still my number one spot to visit for information. Why? Because it fits into my workflow. For every item that I run across in Google Reader, I do one of four things with it:

  • Ignore it - mark it as read without doing anything else.

  • Star it - mark it so that I can do something with it later. Since my stars are private, I can mark work-related stuff there without tipping competitors regarding my reading habits. Or I can mark something I may want to blog about later. Or whatever.

  • Share it - push it out on my Google Reader feed, which (in my workflow) also pushes it out to my FriendFeed and my Facebook account. If I'm mobile, all I can do is share. If I'm at a laptop or desktop, I can share with a note. (And yes, I think "Share with note" is important.)

  • Do something RIGHT NOW with it - maybe I'll blog about it RIGHT NOW, or maybe I'll take something from the lastfmfeeds feed, go to FriendFeed, and like it RIGHT NOW.
There's one other thing that I wanted to address, and that was the idea that Twitter is the "wrong" tool for Google Reader kinds of things. If Robert Scoble wants to use Twitter for this purpose, he has my support.

When future generations write the history of the twentieth century, the towering feature of that time will be Angus MacGyver. If you are not familiar with this towering character, here's an excerpt from his biography:

MacGyver, or "Mac," as his friends call him, is a master of on-the-spot improvisation. He can use ordinary household objects to get himself and his companions out of trouble. All he carries with him is a Swiss Army knife and, occasionally, a roll of duct tape.

Now I'm sure that the purists who insist that Twitter is not an RSS reader would have a field day with MacGyver. But hey, if it works for MacGyver, then it works for MacGyver.

And if you want to floss your teeth with a screwdriver, more power to you. Just be careful.

And Robert, you can use Twitter any way you like - that is, until someone buys Twitter and you move on to something else.

(Picture source, license)
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