Archive for January, 2007

Google Reader: Settings In Depth

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

Previously in this series, Google Reader: Getting Setup.

I have been using Google Reader for a little over a week now. It has been generally a pleasant experience. However, there have been some areas where I feel there could be some improvements. In this article I will discuss my experiences with the the various Google Reader settings. This is meant to be a reference for new users and a preview for potential new users. I normally begin using a new application by reviewing all of its settings. Google Reader has five settings tabs; Subscriptions, Tags, Goodies, Import/Export and Preferences, these settings will be discussed below.

Subscriptions

While we took a brief look at the Subscriptions tab in the last article, we will cover it in more detail now. In Subscriptions you can either perform actions on individual feeds, or on a group of selected feeds. For individual feeds, you can rename the feed, unsubscribe to the feed or assign the feed to folders. I’ve used the Rename feed quite often. I’ve found when subscribing to feeds that frequently the feed title has additional text that I do not need; in particular “powered by FeedBurner” is particularly common.

I use the Change folders option much more frequently. Selecting a folder from the drop down will either, add it to, or remove it from, the related folder. You may also add a new folder from the drop down, but as stated in the previous article, this does not populate the remaining select box controls which is quite frustrating. A feed can be assigned to multiple folders. This is useful if a feed clearly fits into more than one category.

The unsubscribe to feed option operates as expected, even prompting you in the event you miss clicked. This option is represented as a trashcan icon to the right of the feed name.

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The Subscriptions Tab
Click for Full Size

Using bulk feed options, you can either add or remove folders or unsubscribe multiple feeds. The unsubscribe feed option operates in the same way as the single feed operation, however, the Add/Remove tag option operates slightly different. Tags that are not associated with any of the selected feeds are listed under Add tag, while tags associated with any of the selected feeds are listed under Remove tags.

You can quickly select all feeds, no feeds, or unassigned feeds. This can be further refined by using the filter located in the right-hand side of the header. The filter works for both tags and urls. One complaint is that it filters on both tags and urls at the same time, this does not allow for multiple tag filtering such as “web, Internet, www”. This type of feature would allow the user to quickly reorganize his tags.

Tags

The Tags tab is very similar to the Subscription tag. It allows you to delete or change a tag’s public/private status, however, it does allow tag renaming. As far as quick selection of tags go, any of All, None, Public or Private can be selected. By default all tags are flagged as private other than the global shared items. When a tag is shared, items filed under that tag are shared publicly. The tag’s items can then be viewed via a public Google page, through an RSS feed or through a clip on your web site. An example of the clip method can be found in the sidebar under the heading Interesting Articles. You can also see these items through the public Google Reader page, or subscribe to the RSS feed.

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The Tags Tab
Click for Full Size

One annoyance is empty tags can not be created in this tab. Tags can only be created by one of two methods.

  • Creating a folder, folders assume a tag name of the folder itself
  • Choosing Edit tags on an individual story

Goodies

The Goodies tab provides four tools for you to use with Google Reader

  • Add Reader to your Google Personalized Homepage
  • Put Reader in a bookmark
  • Use Reader on your phone
  • Subscribe as you surf

The Personalized Homepage gadget provides a quick view of your reader items. If you use the Personalized Homepage frequently you will likely find this widget useful. You can choose to display from 1 to 10 items from your reader sorted either by date or automatically. You may also view all items or only unread items. The widget also allows you to open items in a new window, the same window, or the coolest of them all in a bubble.

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For heavy reading, I still prefer the full interface, but the updates on the Google Homepage help find those articles when I’m not actively reading. The only annoyance is that I can not select several tags to view at one time.

There are two bookmarklet Goodies. The first is the Next bookmarklet which, which when added to your browsers bookmark bar allows you to browse to the next item in your reader list. You can also choose to configure the bookmarklet, to operate on any given tag. One thing I found annoying is that if you click on next while viewing a site that is not in your subscription list, Google reader takes you to the next feed and not the next item. I personally have chosen not to use this method , due to my reading habits, but you may find it of value.

The second bookmarklet is Subscribe. I find this one very useful, but the necessity to click and subscribe again on the feed preview page seems redundant. You are able to file the feed under folders, as well, during this process. There are other process for adding subscriptions to Google Reader, such as the default Firefox 2.0 subscribe method and Google Toolbar’s Subcribe tool among others. These are outside of the scope of this article and will be discussed in a future article.

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After Using the Subscribe Bookmarklet

Really Subscribed Now

The final Goody is phone access to Google. Simply direct your phones web browser to www.google.com/reader/m. If you add the Reader gadget to your personalized homepage, Reader will show up on your phones Google Homepge automatically.

Import/Export

The Import/Export tab was discussed in Google Reader: Getting Setup. please refer to that article for discussion on the tab.

Preferences

The Preferences tab is really not all that interesting. There are only two options of consequence, Start page and Scroll tracking. Start page allows you to switch which page is initially display when you visit Google Reader. By default it is Home, this is the page I use through the All items page, which may be useful for a lot of users. You can also set the start page to any of your tags. Scroll tracking is a useful option. When activated, this option automatically marks items as read when you scroll past them in the expanded view. I find this very helpful when reading tags with many items. If an item belongs to more than one tag, it is marked as read in all tags.

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The Preferences Tab

There it is, a comprehensive review of the Google Reader settings. In my next article, I will explore some creative uses of tags, shared feeds and subscription methods.

Until next time-

-3Monkeys

Microsoft Caught Trying to Change Wikipedia Entries

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

Imagine my surprise when a story I happened to cover yesterday splashed up on my Google Homepage. Google News reports over 200 references to the story. In Microsoft, Office Open XML and A Lie, I reported on Mr. Jelliffe’s offer and blog entry. I’m pleased to see that the story is getting national top tier coverage. Here is some of the coverage:

Perhaps this will spark more debate on Microsoft’s motovation for the EOOXML standard.

Update: TechCrunch reported on this today, with more insight than the original AP story.

Until next time-

-3Monkeys

Microsoft, Office Open XML and A Lie

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2007

A few day ago I posted an article, The Open XML Lie, I was misguided in that my arguments along with those or Rod Weir and Bob Sutor’s were so self evident that at minimum they would be understood. I was wrong, and I blame myself for not providing a clearer definition of the problem. First, I never really defined what was the “lie“. The “lie” is that OOXML, or Open XML is an open standard. An open standard is, as defined by Wikipedia.

Open standards are publicly available and implementable standards. By allowing anyone to obtain and implement the standard, they can increase compatibility between various hardware and software components, since anyone with the necessary technical know-how and resources can build products that work together with those of the other vendors that base their designs on the standard. Many technical specifications that are sometimes considered standards are proprietary rather than being open, and are only available under restrictive contract terms (if they can be obtained at all) from the organization that owns the copyright for the specification.

Notice that the definition refers to technical specifications being sometimes referred to as standards that are proprietary rather than open. One prominent example that comes to mind is the flash standard. These are not open standards put rather proprietary standards.

Where Open XML fails in this definition is the following, “anyone with the necessary technical know-how and resources can build products that work together with those of the other vendors that base their designs on the standard”. The problem exist in the fact that Microsoft is in a unique position to understand and implement such elements of the standard as “2.15.3.6 autoSpaceLikeWord95 (Emulate Word 95 Full-Width Character Spacing)“. This is akin to asking Bob Uecker to hit a baseball like Babe Ruth. No matter how much Uecker tries, only Ruth could hit like Ruth.

Rick Jelliffe recently received an offer to edit Wikipedia entries for pay by Microsoft. From his post:

Just scanning quickly the Wikipedia entry for OOXML, I see one example straight away: The OOXML specification requires conforming implementations to accept and understand various legacy office applications. But the conformance section to the ISO standard (which is only about page four) specifies conformance in terms of being able to accept the grammar, use the standard semantics for the bits you implement, and document where you do something different. The bits you don’t implement are no-one’s business.

While technically Mr. Jelliffe is correct, any competent organization would, and should, strive to fully implement a standard. While the specification does not require an understanding of various legacy office applications, it certainly limits the number of organizations that could fully implement the specification to exactly one — Microsoft.

ODF proponents are responding to these claims. For contradictions and objections, Grocdoc is hosting the EOOXML Objections. It also seems that Mr. Jelliffe’s collegues at O’Reilly are supporting ODF over EOOXML. Jean Hollis Weber writes:

Do we need two standards? I think not, and many people (with a lot more technical knowledge than I have) also think not.

Do we need two standards? No, competing (open) standards offer nothing to the consumer, and are simply an extra headache for developers. What is Microsoft’s motivation behind EOOXML? Why would they not adopt a community support standard such as ODF? One thought is that by adopting ODF, Microsoft would lose sales of its Office Suite applications. However, if they are successful in standardizing their own conceived format, then they can retain sales and lock in users.

Groklaw is questioning Microsoft’s motivation as well. In the article, Searching for Openness in Microsoft’s OOXML and Finding Contradictions, discusses the Novell-Microsoft Deal and its affect on interoperability, Microsoft’s past and ongoing record, and provides the details of the ISO standardization process.

See? “Only Novell” can do this. That isn’t interoperability, in the sense that you’d expect from a standard, is it? It’s just another Microsoft partner, maintaining the Microsoft unwillingness to share technical information with real competitors, to my eyes. Why would you even need the interoperability work between Novell and Microsoft, if Microsoft planned to offer a standard the whole world could use equally? Isn’t that what a standard is supposed to mean?

Perhaps the most telling statement against EOOXML being a truly open standard comes from the specification itself. Page 10 states the goal of the EOOXML standard.

The goal is to enable the implementation of the Office Open XML formats by the widest set of tools and platforms, fostering interoperability across office productivity applications and line-of-business systems, as well as to support and strengthen document archival and preservation, all in a way that is fully compatible with the large existing investments in Microsoft Office documents.

The ISO’s deadline for objections and contradictions is February 5th; I’m certain more will be reported as the deadline approaches.
Until next time-

-3Monkeys