rssCloud: FTW or WTF?

Waves and White CloudsrssCloud: what is it? Well, the cloud part refers to cloud computing: “a style of computing in which.. resources are provided as a service over the Internet. Users need not have knowledge of, expertise in, or control over the technology infrastructure in the ‘cloud’ that supports them.” Cloud is a good metaphor: just as we don’t need to understand how clouds work in order to use the rain for drinking, irrigation, or an excuse to stay indoors, we don’t need to understand how the internet, the web, etc. work in order to use this style of computing.

I have both good and grumpy remarks to make about rssCloud. I’ll make some of the good ones at the end of this post.

My first grumpy remarks are about the term rssCloud and, in particular, about the first three letters. Although RSS itself has been around for about as long as the current millennium, the term RSS hasn’t really caught on. To illustrate, here’s how Ben at Mashable started his post on rssCloud.

RSS, short for Really Simple Syndication, helps you stream all of your news and blog sources into an easy-to-manage RSS reader such as Google Reader (Google Reader). Millions of people use RSS to keep up with Mashable (Mashable), The New York Times, and even LOLcats.

However, it does have its limitations. The big one is speed. It can take minutes to hours for a blog post to reach the reader through RSS. This has been a big reason why more and more people are turning to real-time services like Twitter (Twitter) and FriendFeed (FriendFeed) for their news. In the real-time web, delayed news and information just isn’t good enough.

Now WordPress has done something big that eliminates that RSS delay problem and brings WordPress.com’s 7.5 million blogs into real-time… It has implemented RSSCloud…

Ben took two paragraphs before he even got to RSSCloud itself, even though he writes for a pretty web-literate audience. Matt at WordPress also felt the need to start with an explanation of RSS.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication and it’s a way for people to subscribe to updates to your blog using a client like Google Reader or Bloglines. You may not know what RSS is but chances are people are using it to read your blog…. Today we turned on support for… RSS Cloud.

By the way, you might be wondering why I use rssCloud when Ben and Matt both capitalize RSS. It’s because I went to the source and found rssCloud. By the source I mean Dave Winer, and rssCloud.org, where he boasts: “Great domain name, don’t you think! (And they say all the good ones are taken.)” While I’m handing out links, I’ll add the recent posts at ReadWriteWeb and at TechCrunch.

So, given that RSS still requires explanation, rssCloud hardly seems like a very intuitive term for this fast feed technology. I’d have preferred something involving feed and fast, or feed and speed, or… OK, maybe lots of those domains are taken, or it seems best to use the buzzword du jour cloud.

I rather like LightningCloud, and indeed LightningCloud.org was available. It isn’t any more, since I grabbed it (and pointed it at a new WordPress.com blog). There is a problem: there’s a firm called LightningCloud Technologies.

There must be something better than rssCloud (the term). And with that, enough about the name and about enough with the grump.

The good news is that rssCloud (the technology) fits well with the impatient internet (which is similar to what Mashable Ben called the real-time web). It does so by allowing old school web services (similar to what we used to call Web 2.0) like WordPress to fit in to the now web. rssCloud also allows you to get a fast feed of this blog, since it’s hosted at WordPress.com.

So rssCloud may be FTW and WTF.

Last Week’s Not Feed Reading

When I got back on the web after a week pretty much away from it, I had a little fewer than a thousand unread items in my feed reader. I like to think that shows that my appetite for feeds is healthy, but that it stops short of gluttony.

I looked back over those items, read probably a couple of dozen, and then marked the rest read. I categorize those ~900 as follows:

  • Those I will go back and read. For example, I’ll visit Drawn!, being especially careful not to miss the post about the Totoro Forest Project.
  • Those I’m very slightly regretful about having missed. This accounts for probably 600 or 700 of the 900.
  • Those I’m relieved to have missed. Top, or bottom, of this list are the posts about Microsoft’s latest play for Yahoo. I probably shouldn’t admit it, but I’m also glad to have missed the iPhone 2.0 launch/hype/fiasco. There will be no shortage of posts about MicroHoo, iPhone, gPhone, etc., this week.

RSS Awareness Day

RSS Awareness DayI didn’t know that May 1 was RSS Awareness Day until I saw the relevant strip of Interduct Duct Tape.

What does RSS stand for? Follow the links above to find the official answer. For me, the best answer is: Relatively Simple Subscription. RSS allows you to subscribe to web content, that is, to receive the content in the comfort of your own browser without having to schlep round each and every site you want to check on.

Shyftr Won’t Shift Me or the Web

There’s no shortage of feed readers. So what’s different about Shyftr, and why has it been attracting attention? Mashable Paul describes it as:

akin to Google Reader, or some other aggregator, albeit with the added power of giving users the ability to carry on a conversation within its own framework, devoid of any significant connection to the source(s) (blog, news site, etc.) of information shared through its engine.

My first reaction is that the conversation about Paul’s post at Shyftr does have a connection to the source, in the form of a link to the post itself. I think that the main difference is the implication that Shyftr, rather than Mashable, is where I’d want to have the conversation. That might actually be the case if I was part of a network of friends who all like to converse at Shyftr, but I’m not.

If I want to converse about a post at Mashable (or pretty much any other blog) I do so by commenting on the post itself, or by posting about the issue it raises on this blog, which is of course what I’m doing now. If I want a dialogue with the person who posted, then I’d use email.

This post’s connection to Paul’s source post will be bidirectional. When I link to a post, WordPress.com pings the source. In this case, the source is Mashable, and I expect that Mashable will, as usual, make the ping visible to its readers.

Of course, not every connection is bidirectional. For example, if I link to ReadWriteWeb’s post on Shyftr, the ping won’t show up. I could try to trackback, but my trackbacks show up slowly, if at all, at RWW, and trackback demands that I actually do something, whereas pingback doesn’t.

If I link to Louis Gray’s post about Shyftr and the fracturing of the conversation it may lead to, I’m not sure whether I’ll automatically get a link back. I should link anyway, because I want to approvingly quiote the following.

I can see how content creators can feel threatened or wary of services who leverage full RSS feeds, or might actually have a case if they have publicly asked for no repurposing of their content… But I also see that the whole idea of reading feeds in isolation, without engaging, is going to soon be something of the past.

The conversation was already fractured. Like Louis, I think that we need “to adapt where the conversation is being held.” I’d add that there are still great opportunities to develop tools to help us in that adaptation. Like Paul, I think that Shyftr “really does not seem to drift past any kind of technological comfort zone.” That will remain true for me even if Shyftr becomes popular.

I don’t see it becoming popular. Is it a great entrant into the already-crowded feed reader arena? As a feed reader, I don’t find it outstanding, or even up to par with incumbents such as Google Reader. For example, once I’d “shyfted” the feed for Mashable, I couldn’t see a way to place it in the same folder as RWW. (It looked as though I could drag it, but it wouldn’t drop in to the folder. OK, having gone to the help screen, I see that the little icon that looks like it explodes into detail is actually for drag and drop.)

So Shyftr’s reason for me to use it is that I can have conversations there. But it looks like just another new silo in which I have a profile. That’s not what I need, and I don’t think it’s what the web needs. We need tools to cut across the silos.

WordPress.com: Feed Stats and IRC

Great will be the rejoicing among the WordPress.com tribe over the return of the prodigal statistics. I refer to feed stats.

Assuming that those still reading are fellow WordPress.com bloggers, let me expand on that. Your stats page includes Top Posts and Pages. For each such post (or page) there’s a graph icon. Click on that, and you’ll see, yes, a graph of views for that post. The top layer of the graph gives you a feed statistic: the number of “syndicated views” (as opposed to “on-site views”).

I’m sure that there will be many questions, and requests for more feed stats. My top priority would be stats on clicks from the links in the feed.

This is just the “first manifestation” of the second coming of feed stats, according to Andy’s announcement post. There’s way more to come, according to Matt via IRC.

That reminds me, there is now a WordPress.com IRC channel. There are currently about a dozen people there, including about half of Automattic. The room isn’t buzzing, though. We’re all doing other things (such as writing this post).

Feed Now With Delicious Diggy Stumbleness

If you’re reading this in your feed reader (Bloglines, Google Reader, or the like), many thanks for subscribing. This post is for you. If you’re reading this at the blog itself, thanks to you too, and please consider subscribing: go on, click on that lovely little orange icon in the sidebar.

I’ve just turned on the Enhanced Feeds option, recently offered at WordPress.com. Hence you see that this post has no comments (although you could change that), lots of tags, and so on.

You also see that you could add this post to del.icio.us, Digg, or Stumbleupon without having to leave the comfort of your feed reader. I’m sure that there will be lots of requests to add other social bookmarking services. My own request would be for reddit. Of the three initially provided at WordPress.com, I use del.icio.us occasionally, and have dabbled with the other two without becoming a regular user.

Then it occurred to me that those of us who send blog posts to del.icio.us shouldn’t have to rely on the blogs to which we subscribe to put “add to del.icio.us” in the feed. It should be built in to the feed reader, or it would at least make a good greasemonkey script. So I’ve just installed the del.icio.us Reader script.