Category: Web

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Yesterday, Dave Winer described an AHA moment he had after talking to some folks about Google Reader’s possible impending Syncpocalypse. He asks:

“Why isn’t this something a news org jumps on. It’s their business. And for crying out loud — do it with a revenue model. No paywall. Just charge the users for the service. Make this a market. Let’s start building in a non-fragile way.”

I think this is a great idea, and if it gets any traction, I’d be happy to help with what limited time and resources I have.

I’d also like to offer a pair of suggestions to anyone who wants to do this: Clone Google Reader’s API, and support OPML for importing feeds, as many feed reading apps already do.

Cloning Google’s API and supporting OPML would make it as easy as possible for developers and their users to migrate to new services, and would open the market up to real competition, which is sorely needed in this space.

RSS Web

Just a quick note here: Brent Simmons made some good points yesterday regarding the potential shut-down of Google Reader. If indeed they were to shut it down, a planned, clean ending would definitely be preferred to a gradual decline into disrepair. Better for users, and better for Google.

But either way, one part of what a Reader shut-down would mean is a big decline in blog traffic for many folks, especially in the tech/geek community.

Over the last 24 hours, over 40% of the referred traffic coming to my blog is from Google Reader. Of the other 60%, it’s a mix of referrals from inessential.com and other blogs, Google searches, and links from Twitter. I get very few direct hits (i.e. not coming from a link somewhere else).

While I don’t run any ads here, if I were then a 40% decline in traffic would also mean a 40% decline in ad revenue.

Just saying…

Ps. I’m going to call it RSS Syncpocalypse – concatenating "sync" and "apocalypse".

RSS Web

Like many others, I’ve been having trouble with Google Reader this morning. TechCrunch is reporting widespread issues today:

“Google Reader, the RSS feed-reading service Google has long since benignly abandoned, has gone completely mad, and Google has yet to acknowledge the problem even as it heads into its second day of unusability. Users are reporting inaccurate read and unread counts, the reappearance of thousands of old, unread items as new, and, in some cases, the return of feeds users had previously unsubscribed to.”

While in the short run I hope this is a temporary problem, and that Google Reader will be fixed, the longer-term issue of Google not investing in Reader anymore looms large.

The service may be a money-sink for Google, and may not align well with their corporate priorities, but it is hugely popular among programmers and techies, and is relied on as core infrastructure for countless applications that sync feeds and read/unread status across mobile devices and desktop readers.

There is at least one paid third party alternative available in NewsBlur, and it has an API (which is not interoperable with the Google Reader API). I don’t know how successful they are so far, but there’s definitely a need for at least one stable web-based feed reader with a sync API.

My question is this: Could Google spin off Reader into a new company?

I don’t know if it’s even technically possible given that it probably leverages many internal services and technologies that are proprietary to Google.

And even if it were technically possible, are there any business reasons why Google couldn’t do this?

I don’t know if any Googlers are listening on this frequency, but if they are, I would hope they might consider it.

Brent adds to the conversation: RSS Sync Apocalypse Preview [added 3/14]

RSS Web

Marco wrote today:

“Remarkably, the show is still running, and in last night’s episode, ‘The Day The Earth Stood Cool’, The Simpsons made a Tumblr joke. The site that David and I started when I was 24 was referenced in the show I started watching when I was 7.”

That’s pretty awesome.

I had a similar feeling when I watched Julie & Julia a few years back, and in the scene where Julie got all excited about the first real comments on her blog, her computer showed a comment pop-up window (a mock-up anyway) of the comments page that I wrote for Radio UserLand. The service she was using is no more, and at this point sadly her original blog is down, but it was great to see something I worked on get called out in a scene in a movie with Meryl Streep – one of the best of the best.

Congrats, Marco.

Web

Mat writes:

I went to connect it to my computer and restore from that backup—which I had just happened to do the other day. When I opened my laptop, an iCal message popped up telling me that my Gmail account information was wrong. Then the screen went gray, and asked for a four digit pin.

I didn’t have a four digit pin. 

By now, I knew something was very, very wrong. I walked to the hallway to grab my iPad from my work bag. It had been reset too. I couldn’t turn on my computer, my iPad, or iPhone.

Mat’s full explanation of how he was hacked is on Wired. This is pretty scary. Basically the hacker was able to hijack Mat’s iCloud account and remote-wipe all of his devices, using the last four digits of a credit card from his Amazon account, to “prove” to a customer support representative at Apple that he was Mat, and have them issue a password reset.

Immediately after reading this, I enabled two-factor authentication on my Google account (even though I don’t use Gmail), but both Apple and Amazon need to take action here to make their users more secure. Apple needs to both stop accepting the last four digits of a credit card as proof of identity and require correct answers to security questions, and Amazon needs to stop displaying these digits on their account page. (They can let users name their stored payment methods instead.)

It turns out that Apple is suspending password resets over the phone (temporarily?), but this isn’t the right way to address the issue in the long term. Apple needs to realize that security trumps usability more generally, and ensure that their systems and support procedures reflect this. They also need to start teaching their users how to protect themselves. For too long Apple touted the falsity that Mac OS and iOS were somehow inherently safer than Windows, but that’s not the case. For a very long time, they were much smaller targets because of the relatively small user-base, but that’s no longer the case. And just as online retailers have come to realize that iPad users are more likely to make more and larger online purchases, the hackers are coming to realize that these are high-value users, which makes them targets.

Suspending over the phone password resets is a start, but it sounds like if you have the serial number of a device, you can still get them to do this. So if your iPhone or MacBook are stolen, you’re still at risk.

(Via Marco Arment.)

Web

I’m super-late to this but wanted to shoot the link out there since I’ve also written about this before. Over on evilbrainjono.net, acknowledgment that Firefox updates are driving users away from the browser.

In particular, I love this paragraph:

“I’ve been thinking a lot about the fundamental disconnect between the developers and the users. I think it comes down to: Software developers have a perverse habit of thinking of updates/new releases as a good thing.”

[Edit] Jono also has a follow-up post with some juicy bits. My favorite:

“… Let me revise my statement: Rarely is a UI change such a big improvement that the efficiency gain from adopting it outweighs the efficiency loss from relearning. Designers tend to overestimate the benefit of a change and underestimate the importance of habituation. That’s what I was trying to say.

“Look down at your hands. Are you using a DVORAK keyboard? Why not? It’s theoretically more efficient, right?”

Development Open Source Web

Back in August, I switched to Chrome, when a Firefox update broke some of the extensions I was using. I was reluctant to switch at the time, but the breakage was annoying enough that I turned off Firefox (i.e. stopped launching it), and switched to Chrome for my personal browsing when on mine or my wife’s Mac at home, or when I need access to a personal bookmark while at work. (I keep IE’s bookmarks segmented to work-related links.)

The Firefox update glitches were most likely transient, and may have been peculiar to my installation, but even so I haven’t switched back…

The main reason: Startup performance.

I haven’t done any real measurements, so what I’m writing here is purely from the standpoint of my own personal perception but the feeling I get when launching Chrome is that it’s somewhat satisfyingly fast. The feeling I get when launching Firefox is that it’s slow to very slow to start.

While both browsers take longer to load the first time you start them after rebooting, and neither is enough faster than the other to win me over on that first-launch experience, Chrome feels significantly faster to launch the second time, while Firefox still feels like it’s pulling its feet out of the mud.

The fact of the matter may be that they’re equally fast to get me to the point where I can type onto the address bar. But feel is important too. The perception of good performance is a super-important part of the user experience.

What does this feel like if it’s a person, not a web browser?

Here’s a real-world example that everyone can identify with: If I say “Hello” to you, I expect that you’ll look at me pretty much right away, and then respond. If you look right away, and then take a second (one second) to say hi back, I probably won’t notice. But if you take that same one second to look at me in the first place, it doesn’t matter if you say hi right away or not – the feeling I get is that you’re either distracted, or you don’t care about our interaction.

In both cases, it takes roughly one second plus the time it takes to say the word hi, but the initial responsiveness makes a huge difference in how I feel about the interaction.

Development Web

Well, thanks to the Firefox 6 update I was just asked (nagged) to install, none of my plug-ins work. So much for not breaking users.

At the same time, the Firefox team completely failed to give me any compelling reason to stick with Firefox 6 until plug-in developers get around to fixing their code to work with the new browser. The tagline for the release is, “a new look, super speed, even more awesomeness.” Pheh! Seriously?? “awesomeness”? Who are they trying to market to, skate-punks?

So – I made a decision, nearly immediately, to switch to Chrome, where all my plug-ins work, where I can roam my plug-ins and settings between installations, and where the browser is seemingly as fast as any other at the moment.

I might switch back someday, but getting burned like this leaves a super-bad taste in my mouth, especially since I came of age in the software industry working for Dave Winer. At UserLand, Rule 1 was “No breakage”. Sadly, “no breakage” seems to be a lost religion these days. But at least some users will have this reaction whenever something that used to work, stops after an “upgrade”. It’s as if I took my car in to get a tune-up, and now my aftermarket in-dash GPS doesn’t work anymore.

It’s not rocket-science, guys. The software industry, especially the Web, needs to understand that users justifiably and rightly expect things that work right now to keep on working. And if you must break your users, you’d better give them a good damn reason.

Mozilla could easily have fixed this. They just did their 5.0 release, so it’s not as if users are chomping at the bit for the next big release. If they’d taken some time to do some testing on the most popular plug-ins, and then work with plug-in developers to fix breakage and get compatible before releasing 6.0, I would likely still be a Firefox user. It’s probably even the case that most plug-ins which are “incompatible” are just not verified to work on the latest version, so it’s probably not even a code issue for most developers.

But since they didn’t do this work ahead of time, the work that they did, and whatever value it added to the product is now lost on me, and likely many others. This is not the way to keep, much less gain market-share. This is the way to cede a market to a cadre of powerful competitors by being shortsighted and careless — even perhaps reckless.

Web