Evolution of Feed Readers?

Two independent sources of information, interconnected triggered this post.

The first one was from Emily Chang's eHub, one of the greatest sources of applications of read-write web (think web 2.0, if you want). It is called SocialMail. Check out the link. Some cool ideas there.

SocialMail can help you turn email into feeds. Why do you need SocialMail? Why would you want to convert an email into a web feed? Lots of reasons!

The idea seems attractive. How about reading all my mail from an RSS reader? I pushed that thought into my idea stack, bookmarked the site in del.icio.us and moved on.

Then I came across a link from Danny's Oddments. Acrording to Fred Giasson, It looks as if Google has already integrated RSS feeds with their Gmail.

Google is supposed to have tested a RSS feed service for Gmail in their GoogleLabs in 2004. This service put new incoming messages of a Gmail account into a RSS feed. Then if you subscribe to that feed you will see your new Gmail messages directly into your web feed reader. What an excellent idea!

Fred goes on to outline some benefits of using RSS Feed readers.

I thought about all the things that we can aggregate in these days: blog content, incoming emails, UPS package delivery status, calendar events, etc, etc, etc. Then I realized: people have all that content in their face, but what can they do with it?

And suggests an email example:

So, I just received an email from Sophie. Instead of opening my email client to answer her (what would be really, really unproductive), my web feed reader detect that the incoming web feed item is an email and let me answer directly from its interface. Wow, one single application to do all these things.

Mind bombs go off in my head. What if:

  • We can write modules to handle each type of feed? A contact module, a calendar module, a review module etc. The contact module would recognize FOAF information from the feed and perform a set of operations (updating my address book, for example). The calendar module may update my calendar entries.
  • We turn web pages into RSS Feeds (already being done)?
  • We can develop custom modules to handle each microformat as Feed extensions?

There is a lot to think about.

So here is the next step in the evolution of Web Feed Readers:

– Feed readers can understand different types of feeds (email feeds,

Blogs – Breadth, Depth and T-Shaped

I think there are different ways of looking at blogs. I look at the ones I subscribe to into these:

  • Breadth Blogs
  • Depth Blogs
  • T-shaped Blogs

Breadth Blogs

Breadth blogs cover a wide variety of topics. A good example is Boing Boing. The title – A Directory of Wonderful Things, says it all. Breadth bloggers are comitted Infovores. I heard the term Infovore, almost four years ago when I was reading this blog.

I consume, digest, and excrete information for a living. Whether I'm writing science fiction, editorials, columns, or tech books, whether I'm speaking from a podium or yammering down the phone at some poor reporter, my success depends on my ability to cite and connect disparate factoids at just the right moment.

As a committed infovore, I need to eat roughly six times my weight in information every day or my brain starts to starve and atrophy. I gather information from many sources: print, radio, television, conversation, the Web, RSS feeds, email, chance, and serendipity. I used to bookmark this stuff, but I just ended up with a million bookmarks that I never revisited and could never find anything in.

Breadth blogs make it to the top of charts. Boing Boing is somewhere in the top 10 spots most of the time, probably top 5.

Depth Blogs

Depth Blogs go deep into a specific subject area. For example, problogger is all about blogging and covers the eco-system surrounding development, use and making money from blogs. Lorelle covers blogs and WordPress. Most of the product people from Microsoft, Sun Microsystem and other tech companies belong to the depth category. Depth bloggers are BlogMentors for lot of other people. Depth bloggers dominate Topic Blog charts. These are industry experts, you want to go to, when you want to stay in touch in a specific area.

T-Shaped Blogs

When you combine breadth with depth, you get T-shaped blogs. I think most of the depth bloggers are also T-shaped to some extent. Most of my favorite bloggers are T-shaped. some are small 't's (more depth than breadth). Others are big "T"s (a balance of breadth and depth).

Effective Bloggers are Learners, Thinkers, Explorers and Dreamers

This entry from Pro-Blogger, got me started on this post. I do not have a lot of blogging experience. I have been seriously blogging only for the last 5 months (some sporadic blogging before that). Most of the traits I listed below are based on a few observations of my favorite bloggers.

1. They share their Learning

Most of my favorite bloggers are people, who are learning constantly. They share their learning through writing. In the days before it was called blogging, people used to write articles and columns. But now, they can just write a few paragraphs and teach you something new.

2. They share information and knowledge

Knowledge sharing is one of the most important aspects of the blogosphere. It could be how to apply some technology or a few tips on using products. It may be a new way of looking at things, a new use of an old technique. It could be a radically innovative idea or a critical look at some new fad. This is authentic stuff coming out of a blogger, based on what they know. Jon Udell is one of my favorites. I get so much out of his blog, I almost think of him as my Web Mentor.

3. They are idea generators

Effective bloggers are great thinkers. They generate ideas based on other ideas – their own and others. The cross pollinate ideas. They are constantly learning and thinking and sharing.

4. They are explorers and discoverers

Exploring/discovering are regular habits of many bloggers. They read other blogs. And they constantly dig for more information. Once they discover something, they are happy to share it. They bring us products that may happen in future or provide a new perspective on something that already exists.

5. Effective Bloggers are transparent

You know who they are. You know what they represent. You almost know their blog personality. I owe this insight to Robert Scoble. He was the one who told us that transparency is one of the most important traits of a credible blogger.

6. They generate conversations

Effective Bloggers are successful because they generate great conversations, like Darren did with this one. Don Box once wrote a blog on teaching kids to program. He was looking for a language to teach kids, how to program. I learnt more about different languages for kids, reading the comments on his blog than reading any single book on programming languages.

7. They are T-Shaped

I picked up this term from reading “The Ten Faces of Innovation” and was inspired enough to blog about it here. You can find a discussion about it in this interview of Tom Kelley by Tom Peters.

We are talking about someone who has an area of deep interest or expertise, which is the vertical part of the T, but then he is multi-disciplinary in that he has knowledge of or empathy for other disciplines.

There are probably hundreds of other traits – good writing skills, self-deprecating humor, a novel outlook on life and others.

P.S:

This post used to be called Seven Habits of Highly Effective Bloggers. After seeing several entries with the same name in Pro Blogger, I decided to make a change to the title.

 

Innovating Product Extensions using Contests

What happens when you want some Innovative extensions for your product? It is easy. Create a contest, offer some great incentives (like money and fame). Two of the most popular shows on TV, "The American Idol" and "The American Inventor" do it already. Software companies like Google have used this to attract and recruit smart people.

While looking at my InfoMinder alerts, I found this post, which led me to an innovative contest from Microsoft.

Microsoft is challenging developers worldwide to create conversational robots, or BOTs, for MSN® Messenger and Windows Live™ Messenger. The most original, useful robots collect $40,000 in total prizes. Find out more>

The cost to Microsoft, of course is more than the $40,000 they pay in prices. It is also the cost of sifting through various implementations and ranking them. They can probably find an innovative way of recruiting several IM users to judge. I would love to participate.

I hope they make all the ideas and implementations public so that people can try them out. We use IM a lot for developing products. For example this is one usage pattern.

  • During our product development process, we tag portions of text as we chat
  • A program, written by one of our developers, parses the chat text and identifies action items, open questions, feature/design decisions.
  • The program then emails this list to to all the chat participants.

I am sure that there are lots of clever ways people use chats. I would love to collect these in a blog.

How does the company (in this case Microsoft) benefit from these contests?

  1. They get an outside view of various possible extensions to IM.
  2. They encourage experimenting with Innovative Development Tools (for building product extensions)
  3. They get several ideas on their product usage patterns
  4. They discover some cool developers (and companies) with innovative ideas and the capability to implement them.
  5. They get tons of free publicity

In the long term, I think that open contests is one of the best ways of triggering innovation. I already got something out of this contest. Now I know a few development tools for extending Microsoft IM.

Collaborator

You can track my slow progress through The Ten Faces of Innovation by my posts. A couple of  description of Collaborator, I like, in this book.

The Collaborator is the rare person who truly values the team over the individual. In the interest of getting things done, the Collaborator coaxes people out of their work silos to form multidisciplinary teams. In doing so, the person in this role dissolves traditional boundaries within organizations and creates opportunities for team members to assume new roles. More of a coach than a boss, the Collaborator instills their team with the confidence and skills needed to complete the shared journey.

Collaborators know that the race is won in the baton process.

Both these descriptions point to a rare quality (compared to individual brilliance). As I read these chapters, several thoughts pop-up in my mind:

  • How can you train people to be collaborators?
  • How can you recognize and reward them?
  • Is this one of the essential qualities of an entrepreneur?
  • What does it take to be a collaborator?

I think collaborators are people who are very secure, and know their inner strengths. They probably do not need the instant gratification or recognition of individual brillanceEvery chapter in this book contain several insights that make you think and rethink your roles at work.

Outlook As An Idealog

I tried different ways to keep track of ideas. I experiment with a few tools. I started with a simple Word document. I used a simple template and entered the idea. It had five fields:

– A name

– A brief description

– Date

– Inspired By

– Notes

I kept this up for a while. It worked fine. Then I found a personal wiki. I started entering list of ideas in a table format. I made a slight change. I would make the idea name a WikiWord (a wiki word is two words collapsed together, both capitalized). If you know about how wikis work, a WikiWord form a new page link and I can enter more information about ideas there.

More recently I switched back to using Outlook. I create a special folder and post to that folder. One of the nice things about Outlook is that you can insert items (email messages, files, calendar items etc.). I will try this for a while and see how it works out. Here are the reasons I use as an IdeaLog.

  1. Since it is my default email client, it is always open. So entering an idea is as easy as switching to Outlook and making a post in a special folder.
  2. Some of my ideas originate from the email I receive or something I read in a mailing list. I can simply link to this item using the Insert Item capability of outlook.
  3. I can assign tags to my idea using a Categories capability associated with every new post.
  4. I can easily mail an idea to my colleagues and it becomes the start of a discussion thread
  5. Ideas get archived along with my email. So I do not have to back up yet another file or folder
  6. I can schedule some time to think about some of the ideas using the calendar capability. All I need to do is to drag the idea, drop it on a calendar and set some time.
  7. I can set up reminders to take the next steps using the Task Manager in Outlook.

The real power in Outlook is the integration of all these capabilities. While I also use Yahoo Mail and Gmail, I do not find them as convenient (since they are not available when I am disconnected from the internet).

I just wish Outlook would support WikiWords ( introduce a page type called WikiPage in the setup). Life would be more fun. May be in Outlook 2007.

Chief Innovation Catalyst?

I just read Chief Innovation Officer. I think it is cool to have a position like that. Or even a role of CTO office.

I would rather invent a new title – Chief Innovation Catalyst or something similar. His/Her job would be to promote, encourage innovation in an organization. CIC can also set up the minimal infrastructure to do a bunch of thngs:

  • Set up an Idea Wiki or Blog and encourage people to share ideas
  • Encourage coming up with ideas (any ideas) on a voluntary basis
  • Use blog as a medium to express ideas, have discussions and propogate them inside a company
  • Set up a problem blog/wiki (any one can contribute). Since problems trigger ideas for solutions
  • Create a mind map of interlinked ideas (visualization may help come up with new ideas)

Just to encourage people, it should be possible to have people post from their cell phones (sms), email clients, web clients, blog clients etc.

This is just the starting point.
P.S: The techie in me is thinking of lot of tools to help this process along – a microformat for ideas, pub/sub of ideas and many more.

AJAX and XML Trends

Google Trends is a cool tool. It has several limitations (a subject for another blog post) but you can get some interesting information with a few simple queries. I wanted to find how heavily XML is used by various programming languages (this is not real use, but an indicator of use). The assumption is that if I can find a query where a language and xml are typed together "java xml", it means there is an interest in using java with xml. So here is a query I tried.

"java xml, perl xml, php xml, ruby xml, python xml"

And here are a few trend graphs:

XML use in Java, PHP, PERL, Python, Ruby

This is for all years. One of the limitations of Google Trends is that I cannot choose a range (from 2004 till now, from 2005 till now etc.)

Here is the trend in 2006

XML with Programming Languages -2006

Here is the trend in 2005.

Here is one I tried Java and .NET for serverside XML and Javascript for client side.

And a minor variation Java XML and AJAX. This is pretty revealing.

Recruit T-Shaped People

Who are they?

Inquisitive people willing to try new things.

I heard the term from a friend of mine (a Prof in IIT, Delhi, India) last May. I read about it this morning in "The Ten Faces Of Innovation". I was Googling for "T-Shaped People". I came across this presentation.

I found more than what I wanted. A few perls from this presentation:

Design Is Never done

My Subject Isn't my Object

Insights come from observing the Market

Map Interactions to discover new Innovations

Find Patterns that yield Ideas

Google Web Toolkit – AJAX With a Difference

Google introduced Google Web Toolkit  for building AJAX applications using Java.

Google Web Toolkit (GWT) is a Java software development framework that makes writing AJAX applications easy. With GWT, you can develop and debug AJAX applications in the Java language using the Java development tools of your choice. When you deploy your application to production, the GWT compiler translates your Java application to browser-compliant JavaScript and HTML.

You can download the GWT here.  The FAQ is a good starting point. There is a GWT blog where you can track annoucements and provide feedback.

Google does things different. As many AJAX development environements and libraries are emerging, Google makes it easy for one of the largest communities of programmes to build rich interactive client applicaitons.  The development forum is active. According to one programmer, this will revolutionalize web development. It certainly will.

I am sure you at Google understand the impact, but I want the others to appreciate it too. This will revolutionize web development, leaving all other platforms and companies far behind. Amazing idea, more strength to you.