Google Reader Power Readers – unlocked

Browsing my feeds this morning I saw an ad for Google’s Power Readers feature appended on the bottom of a TechCrunch post. The ad pointed to the Google Power Reader page, an editorially crafted bundle of feeds made up of linkblog posts, generated by celebrities hand-picked and using Google Reader. This is the first time I’ve seen Google step up and take such an extensive editorial role in a product to the point where they are actively promoting an editorial voice.

It’s a smart way to promote not only the sharing feature of Google Reader but also Google Reader as place to consume feeds. My only criticism is that the subscribe option for this bundle of feeds is limited to . . . Google Reader.

Fail.

There is a way to eventually make it to the source url for this bundle but you need to go down the path as if you were going to add it to your Google Reader account (meaning you need to login to Google) before they tell you the URL for the Journalists Shared Items page (via a re-direct URL which contains “source=prhomejournalistsall” which gives us a hint that the PR department is behind this. From there you can get to the RSS feed and subscribe to it as you will.

For kicks I’ve added the feed into a My Yahoo page with a few extra bits from Yahoo editorial added in as a bonus. A bundle of bundles if you will. You can grab it here.

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Nokia and the Future

In the shadow of today’s G-Phone and Android news, there’s some great stuff being posted over at Nokia’s Conversations blog about their annual The Way we Live Next conference in Finland. I’ve been thinking a lot about the potential of mobile lately. With the addition of location contexts and mobility, the benefits of a true mobile internet look to me to be as quantum a leap for society as when we all first plugged a modem into our PC and jacked in to the web.

Here’s some cool stuff in the labs:

Traffic Works – 100 GPS-enabled phones used to monitor real-time traffic conditions. After a successful field trial in Northern California, next step would be to integrate smartphone schedule to, “tell you about a traffic problem before you leave the house.” It’s similar to Dash but this is software that works on a standard, GPS-enabled phone. How about applying the same distributed network to monitor and predict the weather?

What about using built-in stress sensors which look at things like pulse to determine the stress levels in different areas of the city? You could use it to track crime hotspots (or surly Starbucks baristas). Happy City Map anyone?

Nokia adds 10 million new subscribers a month (works out to something like 14 phones/second!), much of it in places such as Africa and India where they don’t call them cellphones, they call them Nokias. As the networks grow to support them, these devices become the gateway to the internet for low income¬†communities. Did you know that there are generator trucks that roll into town in rural India to provide phones with their weekly charge? To these folks, the cellphone is the internet. What kind of bridges can we build when your child, who has a class report on Kenya, can actually message with someone there?

Nokia’s Point and Find service is something my father, a city guide living in Tokyo, could use. Point your camera phone at an object and a combination of image recognition and GPS goes to work to give you more details about that object. It’s like using QR Codes in terms of ease-of-use but with real world objects and a rich content database on the backend.

How about taking advantage of wi-fi positioning to map out the inside of a building? Looking for a particular meeting room or where to find your seat in a football stadium? Indoor Positioning is something that could help.

Let’s not forget the obvious stuff either. John Battelle asks in the wake of the Chatsworth train wreck why there isn’t a simple speech > text, text > speech translation layer for phones.

Why I can’t simply say to my phone: “Text Michelle” and the phone gets ready to send a note to Michelle. Then I say “Mich I’d rather hit Left Bank than Ambrosia for din love you bye” and the damn text goes to Michelle?

Say Michelle is driving. Her phone buzzes with a text. She’s driving, so she says to no one in particular “Listen text”. There’s my voice! Is this too complicated to make happen? Please. It’s not.

All powerful stuff. With the bluetooth headsets everywhere, we are not too far off from the world of Arthur Dent’s babel fish.

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It’s not Information Overload. It’s Filter Failure

Thank you Daniela for pointing me to Clay Shirky’s keynote at Web 2.0 Expo last week in New York. In it, Clay gives a talk on Social Networks, Lifestreaming, and Privacy. It’s a timely talk as lifestreams go mainstream. I’m really happy to see someone like Clay talking about the social impacts of lifestreaming and the crudeness of the tools we have to manage them.

Some quotes to give context.

The problem is that “managing” your privacy settings is an unnatural act. It’s not something that anyone is good at setting up or doing. Prior to the present day, the only person any of us could name that had anything you could call privacy preferences was Gretta Garbo. Privacy is a way of managing information flow.

The inefficiency of information flow wasn’t a bug, it was a feature. The guarantor of privacy was simply that it was difficult to say things in public.

How do you control what you publish so that simple updates such as the one used in Clay’s talk, that you’ve gone from having a relationship to now being “single” goes to the folks you want to know without being blasted out to everyone connected to you via your lifestream? Clay’s point is that the manual settings to control privacy are not intuitive and all it takes is one slip up to cause irreversible damage.

On the flip side, we’ve all heard that everyone is famous for 15 people. It’s now trivial to share your online activity across multiple services so that anyone and everyone can tune into your lifestream and keep up with every bookmark, blog post, photo, and status message you ever make. Keeping up with your friends is as easy as clicking a subscribe or add contact button.

It’s no longer the effort of publishing that is the filter. First with blogs and now with lifestreaming, publishing is so easy that we now have too much to process. As I said back in April, the new challenge is coming up with the right filter. Once you’ve pulled together all your personal and professional contacts into a single feed, how do you make sense of it all? Just as I used to worry about missing an important post that lay buried in my collected RSS subscriptions, how do you make sure you catch what is going to be important without having to spend time getting distracted by the tangential stuff that comes along for the ride?

Contexts are going to be the key inputs. Are you at your desk? Are you looking at your feeds via a dedicated client such as a feedreader or are you looking at a thin sliver via something like Gmail webclips? Maybe you’re looking at a particular post and want to see if any of your work colleagues have posted something or left a comment. Are you on a phone with some down time between meetings? Or are you disconnected from the web on a cross-country flight and want to catch up on industry news?

All these contexts can be accommodated but they need to read from the same source or be synchronized in some way to keep you from reading the same thing twice. Even better, if something comes up more than once in different contexts, that could be a signal telling you that you really should read post you’ve passed by in another context.

MyBlogLog, Friendfeed, and others are building the master feed – I’d love to hear from others on what types of contextual filters can be built on top of those feeds to goose the relevance.

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Mobile Social Address Books

Facebook said last week that they aim to be the next Mobile Address Book. Just like the address book on my Blackberry connects with Yahoo’s corporate LDAP servers to look up the latest phone number or email of any Yahoo employee, Facebook and other social networks are building mobile clients to become the consumer version of the Blackberry Enterprise Server.

Connecting on Facebook is easy – invitations come in, you approve them, and then you each get access to more information about that person. The first time I installed the mobile Facebook app on my portable broadband device (Blackberry, not iPhone) was when I needed to look up a phone number on the way to a meeting with Mary Hodder. We had set the whole thing up on Facebook and it never occured to me as I walked out the door that I didn’t have her phone number. I downloaded the client and installed it while walking over to meet her so I could confirm that address which wasn’t in my phone’s address book.

The concept of a connected address book really takes hold in the mobile space when it’s a pain to navigate the web to look someone up. Yahoo has their oneConnect client for the iPhone. LinkedIn and Plaxo also have mobile interfaces.

So who is going to build the most compelling mobile address book? What are the most important elements?

  • When someone updates their profile, push updates out to each address book.
  • Lookup service to find contacts not in your address book
  • Import and Export of contacts.
  • Avatar or Photo support as a visual memory.
  • Fields for profiles on other social networking sites (MyBlogLog, Twitter, Brightkite, Last.FM, etc).
  • Lifestreaming to browse your contact’s latest updates. Nice to know before you call them, gives you context.

Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, or something else? Which service will pull together all the features you need and gain the critical mass needed to become the default address book in the cloud and on your phone?

Update: Some great additional features listed in a Computerworld article by Mike Elgan;

When a contact calls, your phone displays a photo, social networking “status” info, as well as past meetings and any notes you’ve entered on that contact.

Choose your own written form of communication: e-mail, social network message, IM, Twitter,SkypeChat — whatever. So, for example, you can choose e-mail, and I can choose Facebook messaging. You send an e-mail to me, and I get a Facebook message. I reply with a Facebook message, and you get an e-mail.

Connect with calendar data so meetings with contacts are logged with the contact data. That way you’ll be reminded in the future about your history with each contact.

Kill any contact information. You should have the ability to decide you don’t want to share your Skype contact anymore, so you should be able to blast it from everybody’s address books.

Found these via a new aggregate news feed on Mobile Social Networking.

Fact-checking your consumption with the cloud

One of the benefits of pulling all your data together is that you can overlay data sets on top of one another for further insight. I only noticed this today but Pacific Gas & Electric’s Usage History section is great example. Here’s my gas bill over the past 24 months available to me when I login to the pge.com. The bars represent the total monthly gas usage and the shaded area is the average temperature for the month.

Laid out this way, it makes total sense that I would see a spike for January two years ago and a lower peak that extended for two months last year. The “degree days” (calculated as a varience from 65 F) map almost perfectly. If it were out of whack, I’d wonder but a quick check here and it looks like I’m on target.

Imagine the power of shared data sets like these. Mint, the online money management service, also provides a shared view of aggregate spending so you can compare what you spend to others around you. Using Mint’s Spending Trends feature, you can see how much (or little) I spend on Hair Care compared to my fellow San Francisco Mint users.

I had no idea someone could spend $419 on Hair in a month but there you have it (and that’s the average). Just for giggles I checked some of the other cities and it looks like someone in the Bay Area is throwing things out of whack – NYC only spends $152 and even LA is a mere $297. Either hair dressers are really ripping off people here or someone has a really expensive hair habit.

What other examples are there of such shared data sets. I’ve heard of sites that compare salary levels and another that lets you put in the MPG you get on your make and model of car. 23andMe is doing this across personal genetics. Any others?

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Was the drop in UAL shares engineered?

A bit of lunchtime discussion about the whole United Airlines fake bankruptcy mess brought about an interesting theory. The reason the story from 2002 was picked up in the first place was because the headline was in the “Most Viewed” stories tab which is calculated automatically, most likely by looking at pageviews.

So the obvious question is, what is a story from 2002 doing in the Most Viewed box? Pageviews can be easily gamed using a bot to hit a page and bump up the count. Today, The Wall Street Jounal reports that according to the Sun-Sentinel, “a single visit during a low-traffic period early Sunday morning pushed the undated story onto the list of most popular business news of its South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper’s Web site.”

Details of what the Sun-Sentinel servers saw are in a press release put out by the Tribune company. Further reading of the release includes this tidbit:

Importantly, the URL for the old story did not change when the link appeared on the website’s business section. . . Our records also show that the Google search agent had previously crawled this same story numerous times, including as recently as last week.

The implication is that Google’s crawlers should have known better that this was an old URL and that it should not have made it into Google News. To Google’s defense, I’m sure they crawl many front pages of newspaper sites where the URL never changes so any such URL-dating would have to be done selectively.

The latest news is that the SEC is now involved to see if there was, “any improper behavior” and I’m sure they are going to follow the money and see if there was anyone that profited from short-selling of UAL. Either way, the finger pointing begins and it’s going to get ugly. UAL stock closed today at $11.09, still about a dollar short of when this whole thing started on Monday.

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Radar, cool hyper-local service from outside.in

Image representing Outside.in as depicted in C...Image via CrunchBase

outside.in, the local news site co-founded by geographer-historian Steven Johnson, launched a service called Radar which claims to feed you news from within 1,000 feet of your stated location. Similar to the other hyper-local services like EveryBlock and Topix, their service parses blogs and other social media for stories tied to a specific location.

outside.in also added GeoToolkit for publishers that want to geo-tag their feeds and take advantage of outside.in distribution. For users, they’ve synched with Yahoo’s FireEagle platform to automate updating of your location. The “news within 1,000 feet” is a compelling promise and hopefully it will generate enough interest in the service so they can reach critical mass.

Local news is a hard nut to crack. I still get the best results from a variety of bloggers that cover my home town which I can share via My Yahoo. The winning solution is going to be a hybrid of automated parsing (which has it’s own limitations) and crowd-sourced editorial that brings in the right people with the right set of incentives. Local Newspapers have the institutional clout to invite local participation but I’m still looking for a site that expands on the seemless integration of community blogs at the Lawrence-Journal (work incidentally started by EveryBlock’s founder, Adrian Holovaty).

Who’s going to write the CMS platform for the local newspaper that wants to go online?

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Taking your finger off the button

Shares of United Airlines dropped 75% yesterday because of a poorly designed template. The Google News blog has all the gory details including screenshots of the Florida Sun-Sentinal site which included links to a old story, UAL files for Bankrupcy, in its automated “Most Viewed” sidebar widget.

The Google News robot crawled that link and because the destination page had the default header and no date stamp of when the story was originally published, Google News incorrectly interpreted the story from 2002 as today’s news. The dominos began to fall as downstream news agencies that obviously were short on fact-checkers re-circulated this old news as something new eventually finding its way on to the Bloomberg wire service.

This has happened in the past but never with such devistating consequences (UAL stock eventually recovered but still ended the day down 11% and is still down $1.50 from before the incident as of today). Recall the false Engadget-iPhone rumor and, Bloomberg again, which had been duped in the past, when a crafty short-seller found a way to mainline a fake story into the news desk of a lower tier press release service back in 2000. One can only wonder if this news will have an impact on the SEC’s recent recommendation that websites can serve as the official channel for financial earnings.

The news industry is under seige and there’s more pressure than ever to balance speed and economy of automation with the wisdom and judgement of human editors. But like riding a bicycle without your hands – you need to keep your eye on the road or you might end up looking like a fool.

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Alameda Family Kicks the Fossil Fuel Habit

Congratulations to my neighbor Eve Pearlman who is challenging herself to life without an automobile. Eve sends her kids to the same school as ours and I’ve ridden with her husband a few times on the morning commute (I ride a bike to the local BART station now). I have a pretty good sense of what they are going through living in Alameda, our leafy suburban island off the San Francisco bay, without a car and it’s not easy.

The high cost of gasoline (around $4/gallon here) has changed many people’s driving habits. The speed limit on ever street on the island is 25 MPH which makes it ideal for people that want to limit their driving to these small electric golf carts which I see more and more around town. It’s also almost completely flat so it’s also great for those that want to get around on bike.

But with kids in the leafy ‘burbbs has to be a challenge. We all spend time shuttling the little ‘uns back and forth to school, soccer and swimming and I know it’d be tough for me because my son has practice on the other side of the island, a good 4 miles away. Put in a daily grocery run (because you can’t carry a week’s worth on your bike) and you’re going to be doing a lot of riding around.

Not that it can’t be done – I lived in San Francisco and Tokyo and didn’t buy my first car until I was 30. I salute the Pearlman’s and hope she can set an example for us all!

When Targeted Ads Hurt

Rachel Beckman of the Washington Post writes about her experiences with Facebook demographic targeting.

After my quaint status update about the muffin top ad, Facebook got even more vicious, like a schoolyard bully provoked by my initial reaction. With the knowledge that I was engaged to be married, the site splashed an ad across the left side of the screen playing into a presumed vulnerability. Do you want to be a fat bride? You’d better go to such-and-such Web site to learn how to lose weight before the big day.

. . .

I assumed that the diet ads would subside after I changed my relationship status from “engaged” to “married” in May. They did. I now receive these:

“Trying to get pregnant? Visit our site now. We’re a national network of fertility specialists treating male and female infertility.”

Ouch. I am reminded of the time Facebook tried to hook me up with an alternate wife.

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