News Readers: Bad UI or Bad Docs?

On Wednesday evening I went to a little pre-Supernova 2004dinner. Joichi Ito suggested the dinner, however he was not in attendance as he was in Japan or somewhere. But 110 people showed up anyway. Talk about the power of suggestion. (Or the power of a blog.)

Since Supernova had a session entitled “Syndication Nation: Is This What Comes After the Web?”, I was able to get some solutions to the issues in my previous post. And better yet, the solutions came from the mouths of the guys creating the software for this stuff. (I say guys as there were a total of 5 women in the room that evening, including myself.)

Ultimately what I learned on Wednesday night was that a lot of my frustration came from not knowing how to properly use the tools that I already have on my computer. I’d like to think that it’s not because I’m a stupid user, but more because I’m an ill-informed user. Since many of these newsreaders developed as side projects, there’s a lack of technical documentation. And I’m sure they’ll all acknowledge that and say “But we don’t have money for it.” My suggestion, find it. Or find friends that are willing to help you out. The reason I say that is because you won’t be able to rise to the top without it. Just check out the reviews of some the newsreaders that are out there. I can tell you that the negative comments for SharpReader result from the fact that the user doesn’t fully understand how to use it. Actually before you write the user guide, do some user testing. You’ll see what greatly needs to be improved immediately.

Newsgroup issue solved!
While eating some yummy Indian appetizers, Mark Fletcher of Bloglines sat down at my table. Little did he know he chose to sit near a “stupid user”, well, more like ill-informed user. I told Mark that I wanted feeds of my Phish newsgroup. He nicely informed me that Google Groupsjust introduced xml feeds for all of their newsgroups. So I came home, and low and behold, after googling the Google site for it I found it. Buried in Google Labs. So I can now subscribe via the Google Groups 2 beta. Thanks Mark for pointing me in the right direction! Although I could have avoided looking like a newbie to the newsgroup rss if a) I wasted time to dig a little deeper to find it and b) Google had a link to their Google Groups 2 Beta off the Google Groups page. Bad UI? Or do they just not want me finding it?

Next on my list – Calendars.
Although I was privy to a heated discussion on foaf a few weeks back, I didn’t realize that the conversation over dim sum was a potential answer to the calendaring and friends question. Jonathan Moore told me that Mosuki is the answer. It combines social networking and an events calendar. I’ve tried it. It’s cool, but it need user documentation. So I’ve agreed to write it. I’ll let you know what it can do later once I’ve learned more about it.

Newsreader TiVo
Supposedly, NewsMonster can tell me what other sites I might like based on what I’m already subscribed to. Well, that’s what Kevin Burtonsaid, and I have yet to find out. NewsMonster doesn’t seem to work with my Windows operating system at the moment, but Kevin said that within the next month he’d send me a copy that will. I’m holding him to it! Oh and for those who read the Wired article on Kevin, he’s not creepy like it makes him out to be.

There’s an Orkut in my newsreader?
Well this one seems to be a bit far off. First, all the friendsters, orkuts, and other social networking systems would have to be able to talk to each other. Marc Canter is a great one to debate with on this topic. He’s working on getting them all to at least play nice with each other. Just don’t start with security issues. Once that’s sorted out perhaps they’ll then implement something with RSS.

Websites without RSS?
Seems that there are sites/people out there that are developing feeds for sites that are not embracing RSS. However, sometimes they get into trouble from the website owners. I don’t see why you wouldn’t create RSS files for your site. Loss of revenue, maybe. But if you only serve out a portion of the article or a brief synopsis of what’s been updated, then people will have to go to the site anyway. I thought of a great use for RSS in direct marketing, including building a list database and how it discourages list selling. But I’ll tell you about it later.

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