February 29, 2008

MyBlogLog LifeStream Is a Quiet Trickle

What? You thought because I wasn't the first to jump on MyBlogLog's new lifestreaming option, that somehow I had missed it? Wrong. Sometimes, life can get in the way. And the travel to and from Boston meant just about everybody's already done the usual, anticipated, immediate analysis, response and FriendFeed comparisons before me. And so far, MyBlogLog doesn't look like it's winning. By and large, most reports see it as an interesting update, but not one that puts it in a leadership position by any means. Unfortunately, I have to agree.

(See: WebWare, VentureBeat, Webomatica, bub.blicio.us, and TechCrunch)

Two weeks ago, we first got an e-mail titled "MyBlogLog Profiles Going Dynamic" from Ian Kennedy, Product Manager for MyBlogLog, who said the new feature, called "New with Me" would "aggregate your latest activity on sites such as Twitter, Last.fm, Digg and YouTube." The idea? "Transform your static profile into a dynamic one."

As one of the loudest, most well-recognized FriendFeed advocates out there, I had personally asked Ian in December to add FriendFeed as one of the supported services for the popular "About Me" MyBlogLog widget. (See: Will There be One Profile to Rule Them All?) While his first response, saying "So many social networks, so little time!" made the trivial seem difficult, on February 19th, he followed up to say FriendFeed was added, but events wouldn't be pulled from the feed, given clear issues with duplicate items. (See: Ian's comment)

It's clear MyBlogLog, whether inspired by FriendFeed or not, fell in love with the idea of making the site something more than a stale page, which it had been for some time. Interestingly, this move toward lifestreaming is just about 100% the opposite direction of what I had expected out of them from a post in September, when I asked, "What Is the Future Of MyBlogLog?" In that post, I wrote, "MyBlogLog is exactly what its name implies - it is My Blog's Log, not My Personal Log." I already have sites that cater to following me around. What I want instead, is something that more directly follows my blog around - with increased statistics, linkage and visitor details. I wanted MyBlogLog to get more in touch with what made it interesting in the first place, its communities, and networking individuals, not showing me what they are doing somewhere else. This move only makes the data found elsewhere more important, and what MyBlogLog first served to do even less important.

So why would I dump on MyBlogLog for doing what FriendFeed and others have tried? Because MyBlogLog is way behind on day one.

FriendFeed delivers significant value not just because they aggregate my Web lifestream, but because they enable interaction, through comments and discussions. MyBlogLog doesnt. FriendFeed also lets me choose my friends, and doesn't force them on me based on how many times I've visited a site in aggregate. It's enough to make me avoid sites I've visited before just to keep out of a community. As MyBlogLog preferences can be set to auto-join communities thanks to visit frequency, I may often find out I'm "friends" with popular news sites, not "friends" with my real peers, the way FriendFeed has. And making things worse, MyBlogLog is way slow. Right now, according to MyBlogLog, I haven't done anything online for the past three hours. But FriendFeed knows the truth. FriendFeed shows in those same "idle" three hours, that I added a blog post, sent one note on Twitter, and shared four items on Google Reader, for starters.

I want to root for these guys, but this time, I can't. On day one, MyBlogLog is underfeatured against FriendFeed. It has fewer services than FriendFeed. It doesn't accurately track my friends, and it doesn't enable communication. It doesn't track as quickly. And it doesn't give me more information about "My Blog", which is in the service's name, for crying out loud. While I was once worried that MyBlogLog had gotten too static and lacking in development, I now see they were just focused on the wrong things. Maybe they'll continue to update the service and surprise me with new directions, but for now, I'm all too happy to stick with their blog widgets, and dam up their lifestream.

Dealing With Offline Companies Can be Such a Pain

Unless you're a brand-new visitor to louisgray.com, you might remember a post from a few weeks ago where I revealed my wife and I are expecting twins, our first children. While that announcement was sure exciting, there are a number of very real offline preparations which are going to take real physical labor and change - not the least of which being getting our home ready for two permanent visitors. But as easy as it is to plan things online, it's those offline who can throw snags into the whole operation.

With my wife having more than a decade's experience in teaching school, and the two of us having accumulated our fair share of material goods, we're going to need a place to put some of our own things and get a room in our condo ready for the kids. So, on Monday night, before my trip to Boston, I reserved a 10' by 15' unit at a local Public Storage, letting us start moving our items. I was able to register online, and gained a confirmation e-mail, saying, "This price and unit will be held for 7 days."

But during my time in Boston, Public Storage called my home phone number, which I had left on the site, on Tuesday and Wednesday to confirm we would be ready to move in by Saturday. By Thursday, the afternoon I came home, a final message was left by a woman who gruffly said as we hadn't returned her call, that we had lost our spot. Held for 7 days indeed. A short 7 days from the night of the 25th to the afternoon of the 28th!

Did I get a single e-mail asking me to confirm I would be ready to move in on Saturday? No. If I had gotten one, I definitely would have responded. And what am I supposed to do now? Sue them for breach of contract? It's not even worth it. So of course, I logged back on today and reserved a new unit at a different Public Storage somewhere else in town for about the same amount, and yes, its automated e-mail has the same "7 days" guarantee.

I recognize that I can't exactly compress my offline materials, attach them to an e-mail and send them to a new location, while that would be nice. But it's gotten to the point I expect customer service to be much better and for true online companies to be much more responsive and interactive than these offline clowns. That they wouldn't even think of sending an e-mail, after the initial confirmation made no sense. Why ask for it then?

February 29th's Leap Day Robs Us All

The idea of February 29th is a cute concept in some ways. It's quadrennial appearance has notoriety, and is a date often targeted by expectant mothers and fathers who think they can keep their children artificially young, by limiting the number of birthdays over their lifetime. But if you think about it, if you're a salaried employee, the very fact we have a February 29th this year means your employer gets this day for free. In fact, every single paycheck you get this year is less because of February 29th, and they never even asked your permission to dock your pay!

What do I mean by this? Well, in 2007, we had 365 days, in 2008, we have 366, and next year, we will have 365. Yet you're paid the same this year, if you're on salary, even though you put in the extra effort!

To make the math easy, let's pretend your salary is such that you take home exactly $73,000 a year. Under this scenario, in 2007, you would take home $200.00 even per day, but in 2008, for the same amount of work, you'd only be taking home $199.45. And those 55 cents can add up. Over the 366-day calendar, your employer has taken away a full day's pay from you. If instead you take home $109,500, that number jumps to $300 in lost pay for similar productivity! (See below chart)

Over time, a few cents a day starts to add up...

And you can see this in every single one of your paychecks. If you get paid over a 14-day pay period, at the $73,000 rate noted above, you would see only $2,792.30 coming home every two weeks, instead of the $2,800.00 you would have received in either 2007 or 2009. That's messed up, right? You think we want to be reminded 26 times this year that employers worldwide have asked us to come into the office and work for free?

I propose that from now on, all salaried employees should have the option of taking February 29th off. After all, if we aren't getting paid, why show up?

February 28, 2008

A's Spring Training Kicks Off Today

Though the games still don't count for a month or so, we're excited to know the Oakland A's are getting the spring training campaign started today, with a noon game against the Milwaukee Brewers. It's been far too long to go without baseball, and we can't wait to resume our regularly scheduled obsession with the Green and Gold. My wife and I have a trip planned in the second full week of March to head down to Arizona for our third consecutive year, and that should be a lot of fun. Until we're down there, though, we'll be staying tuned to Athletics Nation for A's news, rumors and game live blogging.

Hope you don't mind our occasional forays into fandom. I was an A's fan decades before I got really into RSS feeds and link sharing!

Starts With B, Ends With N: Six Letters.

If confronted with this empty space in your crossword puzzle, there are undoubtedly a wide array of solutions. But two featured prominently for me yesterday: Boston and Brogan. On the East Coast for a business trip, I notified my Twitter stalkers followers I was flying out Tuesday, and I got a somewhat in jest reply from social networking maven Chris Brogan and Boston area native, who wrote, "What's the plan?"

After connecting with him via e-mail and phone, I got the opportunity to bring Chris and a few friends to last night's Boston Celtics game, where they beat LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers by the score of 92-87, in a game that didn't seem all that close.

Though there was a game on, I got the opportunity to learn a lot about what makes Chris tick, what applications and Web services he's most jazzed about, and, continuing on this week's theme, evangelizing FriendFeed, which he joined last night. It was a pleasure getting to know Chris, sharing stories, and personally connecting with someone I already respected online. I believe when these opportunities present themselves, we should take advantage of them, so I appreciate Chris' taking time out of his busy schedule on short notice.

This open offer doesn't just stand for Chris. If you're out of town and visiting the Bay Area, or you find out I'll be in your area, please do contact me and let's see what we can do!

February 25, 2008

FriendFeed Opens Up, Raises $5 Million in Funding

After several months in closed beta, available by invitation only, FriendFeed, a leading social service for aggregating your Web lifestream, opened up its doors to the general public tonight, and announced Series A financing of $5 million, including funds from Benchmark Capital and two of the company's co-founders, Paul Buchheit and Sanjeev Singh.

In the competitive social activities aggregation landscape, FriendFeed has stood out from the competition thanks to its origins, founded by a small group of former Googlers, its clean design, and its rapid adoption of new features, implemented in a way that benefit users.

While FriendFeed has been at times compared with the FaceBook news feed, FriendFeed offers not a dumping ground for application spam, but instead a new way to "discover and discuss information among friends," as FriendFeed co-founder Bret Taylor put it in a press release issued late tonight. In my several months of using FriendFeed, it's become a must-visit site multiple times a day, as the service not only streams my Web activity in one central location, but also that of my online peers, giving us the opportunity to comment and share new ideas and findings.

The site has become such a big part of my Web activity, that just yesterday, I made FriendFeed.com my start page online. Also of interest, long-time FriendFeed holdout Robert Scoble finally jumped in to the service feet-first, following repeated prodding from me.

And the prodding hasn't just been focused at inviting new users. FriendFeed, over the last few months, has been overwhelmingly responsive to feedback, including my 10 suggestions for FriendFeed from last December. In just the last few weeks alone, FriendFeed added a new tabbed interface, opened a new company store for FriendFeed logo items, and added options to add items in a new window. They may seem like small details, but the company is constantly innovating.

With FriendFeed opening up tonight, we can expect the service to grow tremendously, kicking off the next wave of social networking services aimed not at posting busy profiles, but instead, aimed at collaboration, sharing and communication. We're excited to see FriendFeed grow, and look forward to their next stage.

Social News Sites Add Features Amid Some Criticism

On Friday, Deep Jive Interests' Tony Hung asked if we had reached "the pinnacle of social news", as he noticed that new social link aggregators, including ReadBurner and RSSMeme, were showing the same stories, and suggested that the sites themselves would be commoditized.

He added, "the stuff that is popular, and that is shared, gets shared so quickly between the various and sundry sites, it doesn’t really matter which site you go to."

To some degree, he's right. If RSSMeme's top story ("Switching to GMail" from Robert Scoble) has 19 shares and ReadBurner's version of the same story has 15 shares (which it does as I post this), it's trivial. If it just so happens that this particular story might also hit TechMeme and might also be Dugg, then the social news aggregators aren't adding a dramatic level of intrinsic value, aside from showing who shared it.

But what's different about these social news aggregators and the old standby is that this is a purely democratic process - not in terms of politics, but in that every vote is equal. While so many people try to decipher just how Gabe Rivera's TechMeme algorithm operates, RSSMeme and ReadBurner just make sense - mathematically speaking. RSSMeme and ReadBurner take the power out of the hands of an unseen robot algorithm, and put it in the hands of the people. So does LinkRiver, who also does a good job tabulating popular shared items.

Speaking of LinkRiver, developer Adam Stiles posted a new "LinkRiver LeaderBoard" on Sunday, showing the top 25 most-shared sites. In most cases, the top sites were what you would expect, including the aforementioned TechMeme, Mashable, Twitter, TechCrunch, and FeedBurner. But lurking just outside the top 10, at #12, was the occasionally humble louisgray.com - no doubt artificially inflated thanks to my first talking about LinkRiver back on February 13th. It's no surprise people who read my blog or Twitter are unequally weighted in his first rankings, and I expect my position to fall over time until I'm not there at all.

Giving LinkRiver some early positive feedback was Charlie Anzman of SEO and TechDaily, who writes in "Shared feed mania - What's in it for YOU?", that LinkRiver, above all other shared feed sites, is delivering him visitors. Developer Adam Stiles referred to LinkRiver as "Twitter for Shared Items", in that you can follow whomever you want. And as Anzman reports, some people are clicking through to follow his work.

If you do log in to LinkRiver, you'll see the site has a simple interface, letting you toggle between your own "stream" (here's mine) and your "river", which includes all those folks you've opted to follow, through the use of tabs. (See: LinkRiver Popular to get an idea) Interestingly, FriendFeed opted to go the same route this afternoon, adding tabs for "friends", "me" and "everyone", offering the same toggling capabilities. (See: FriendFeed blog: We've got tabs!) The addition isn't an issue of copying by any means, but it's interesting to see the look of some very similar services converging.

Web users at large want to break away from a small number of big sites deciding what's important and telling them how to view the news. Social news sites have risen up, organically, seeing a need to let the users speak for themselves. There will always be a desire for a democratized way to view the news, and it's fun to watch these sites grow. I don't think we're anywhere near a pinnacle.

February 24, 2008

My Double Standard for Web Services

I don't play fair. I admit it.

The kind of miscues and errors that would get big headline, keyboard-pounding rants from me when the biggest of Web services fall short might instead get a pass if I know the service is run by a small handful of developers, or if I'm on a first name basis with the author. Instead of joining a chorus of complainers about why a service doesn't act the way I wanted it to, or implying they are unresponsive or nefarious in some way, I give them the benefit of the doubt.

Part of me wonders if this is just due to my own personal biases, or if I should expect companies that operate to the masses to perform at a higher level. Just as you would expect to get better service from a paid relationship than a free one, does it follow that a company with hundreds of thousands of users should be more tightly honed than one with a few dozen or a few hundred?

I was thinking of this over the weekend as on Saturday, I logged into AssetBar, and found, to my surprise that none of my feeds were updated. Peeking over at Google Reader, I knew that blogs were still being posted to, news was still being written, and keywords were still being discovered by search engines. But AssetBar lied to me and said I had nothing to read. A shame!

Given how fond I am of their service, and its potential, I could have jumped up and down, shaking my fist. But I didn't. Instead, I lobbed a quick note to the site's developers and said there had to be a glitch somewhere. No big deal. And sure enough, AssetBar posted a note to their blog saying they were updating the servers, which had caused my issue.

But if it were Google Reader who had gone hours without updates, there's no doubt I would likely have said something, and many others would have stood alongside me, calling them out. Just see our reactions when this type of thing has happened before:
Google Reader Down Overnight?
Google Reader Glitch Deletes Feeds: Blogosphere Weeps
Ack! Google Reader Update Wipes Out History
Now is that entirely fair? Probably not. Poor Google Reader team. I know they work hard and do a great job. But I also know that when it comes to smaller services just getting off the ground, like AssetBar, FriendFeed, LinkRiver, ReadBurner or RSSMeme, if they blow up something, or a key feature goes bump in the night, I'll likely give them a pass.

After all, ReadBurner did go down hard on February 1st, and took the entire site history away. (See: ReadBurner Down) When it did, I jokingly posted, Forget Twitter Issues... ReadBurner is Down!, and in the same post, gave Alexander Marktl praise for taking the opportunity to eliminate duplicates and add new features.

I never would have let Google get away with that, or Microsoft, YouTube, Apple, you name it. The big guys are held to higher standards, and always will be. It comes with the territory. That might not be fair, but that's the way it is.

February 21, 2008

Google FeedFetcher and FeedBurner Miss Each Other Again

This hasn't exactly been FeedBurner's best week.

First, the RSS syndication engine dropped all-time statistics due to a code error, and didn't quickly respond to user complaints, leading to questions from around the blogosphere, mine included. Making the problem worse was that the company's blog, once quite active, hadn't been updated in three months, most notably called out by Mashable.

Seemingly, both those issues were resolved, first, with the restoration of all-time stats, and second, seeing FeedBurner update their blog with a post, Hello? Hellooooo?, where they outlined their recent activity. First on their list? "Full integration with Google", no doubt much harder than it sounds.

But now, the very next day, it looks like Google's FeedFetcher, which reports how many RSS subscribers a blog has from Google Reader and iGoogle, didn't update FeedBurner. And around the blogosphere today, statistics are undoubtedly plunging. For example, louisgray.com saw subscribers more than cut in half, from 606 yesterday to 241 today, and ParisLemon plummeted, from 550 yesterday to 288 today. It's not the first time this has happened, but past instances have always led to promises of improved integration, and they're clearly not there yet.

It's enough to make me curious how RatingBurner is going to handle this data, once they synchronize their stats tomorrow.

February 20, 2008

If You Talk About Ice Cream, You'll Attract People Who Like Ice Cream

I humbly continue to be astounded by the rate at which my RSS subscriber base is growing. At just 200 in December, and around 350 just 30 days ago, we've rocketed through the next marks, hitting 500 subscribers just Monday, and a whopping 606, according to FeedBurner, as of today - showing 85% growth in the last month alone!

But then I started thinking. It's all my fault. It's not necessarily due to good content, or scoops, or anything like that... as much as I'd like it to be... it's because as I've gravitated toward talking more and more about RSS readers, RSS distributors and link blog aggregators, I've attracted the people most likely to be comfortable with RSS, and want to know more about RSS, and who are most likely to be no more than 2 clicks away at any time from adding yet more feeds to their undoubtedly overflowing reader software.

It's essentially a byproduct of gaining a focused audience who is in line with one of the metrics by with this blog is measured. While total page views are increasing, due to the niche focus we've had here of late, that number is growing even more. Every time we talk about AssetBar, FeedBurner, FriendFeed, LinkRiver, ReadBurner, RSSMeme, or Shared Reader, we're only offering an article as the next drug hit for RSS addicts.

So I came to the conclusion that this otherwise impressive spike is no more valuable than saying the ice cream man does better business when the sun is shining, or that if I made this blog all about my beagle, I just might get a lot of dog lovers here. While I can get all excited about plowing through 500 and 600 like a hot knife through butter, it's silly to do so. Now, the hard part will be keeping on topic and keeping my new RSS converts entertained.

Getting the Word Out in 2008

A few years ago, reaching the greatest number of people with news, in the quickest amount of time, would seemingly be an easy task. Get a list of people to call, prioritize, and then start dialing, starting with the most important, and eventually, reaching the last person on the list, before going back to the top of the list and calling those who didn't pick up. And if you didn't want to talk to the person face to face, you could type out a letter and send it out, leaving the time between sending and receiving it in the hands of the postal service.

For news like that we posted last night, announcing a near-term addition to the family, this pre-2008 process could take hours, and eventually seep into days.

Thank goodness those times are behind us. Last night, I essentially took 4 ways to get the news out. I first posted it here, on louisgray.com, then followed on by posting the news to FriendFeed and Twitter. When I'd hit all the instant routes, I then crawled through my address book, and sent out an e-mail to those who likely wouldn't be at any of the online media. Sure enough, even as I was creating the e-mail, I started to get comments flowing into my in box, as those RSS-enabled subscribers wished us well.

All told, I sent the e-mail to 57 people, and got 22 replies, for about a 40% hit rate. The blog did just as well, with 24 comments (so far), and FriendFeed surprised me, with a solid 15 responses. Twitter was the lagger, with 8 replies. In aggregate, we got about 70 friendly notes of congratulations, and after a few quick calls to my grandparents, who aren't as Web connected, I think we got just about everybody, and it was a lot easier than getting a crick in my neck after a telephone marathon.

As for why I sent the notes out in so many places to so many folks, as I reminded my wife, I majored in "Mass" Communications, not "Minor" Communications, so that's the way we do things around here.

February 19, 2008

Gray Family Forecasts Expansion Plan With 2 New Hires

Taking a break from our tech-focused early adopter RSS-oriented lovefest, we thought we'd share with you the biggest news we've kept under wraps just about four months now.

This summer, a pair of entrepreneurs have planned for the near-simultaneous release of two startups, which if they meet their full potential after incubating for a few decades, could go public.

Having gained access to the entrepreneurs' private vault, I can only now release these photos, the first of which was captured this afternoon at a top-secret Silicon Valley facility.

One of our two from this afternoon, in full glory...

And since we couldn't fit both of the business plans on a single scan at this stage in their incubation, I can show that the startup is not alone.

Both our babies, from December, at 10 weeks along...

So yes, all tech geekiness aside, we're excited to finally take the cover off this secret. My wife and I are now 18 weeks along, pregnant with twins, our first (and second). If this were a single birth, we'd be forecast to deliver on July 21st of 2008, but as is common, the due date will likely creep into early July or late June.

And in the big news of the day, we can confirm that we are expecting one girl, and one boy - gaining us both genders with one fell swoop. Pretty dang exciting. 2008 has already started out a big year for louisgray.com, and now, as you know also, 2008 will be an even bigger year for our household, as we learn to make the transition from a fledgling two-person startup (plus an 18-year-old dog), to a corporation.

Feedburner Restores All-Time Feed Statistics, Google Not Proven Evil

In the world of blogging, feedback can be widely and quickly disseminated, and in a modern version of the kid's game "Telephone", a message that gets passed around can take on new meaning. That's why companies that step up before a rumor gets out of control, and transparently talk to their users, have an innate advantage over those that let the story keep rolling.

As I said this Sunday, companies that listen to their users will win. We saw a fantastic example of this today, when FeedBurner, after I noted a much-liked feature had gone missing, commented on my blog that the missing all-time statistics was not a nefarious move by their new Google overlords, but instead, simply a bug. (See: Steve Olechowski's comment)

My All-Time Stats are Back!

It was only yesterday, after seeing FeedBurner's silence on their company blog, and letting user complaints sit for a few days over the weekend, I had asked, "What's the deal, FeedBurner?"

And my questioning of their intent with the missing features had far-reaching echoes, from Mashable (Google Nixes FeedBurner’s “All Time” Stats) to Search Engine Journal (Feedburner Takes Off All-Time Stats Without Notice?), HipMojo (Web 2.0 Free Gravy Train Stopping, Abruptly), Web Log Tools Connection (FeedBurner: No more all time feed stats), Search Engine Land and even TechCrunch, who got a note from FeedBurner's CEO saying it was just a bug.

It was interesting to see how many people immediately assumed Google must be at fault. While I certainly was curious as to the reason behind the change, and saw it as running contrary to Google and FeedBurner's stated mission, I didn't outright blame Google - unless you think I did. It just seemed like a well-liked feature was taken away with no good reasoning.

But in just over 24 hours, what did we get? We got an answer, as poor Steve Olechowski had to go from blog to blog letting people know it was being fixed, and by this evening, I saw it fixed myself. There's no evil Google plan to see here, guys. Just some technology that didn't do what it was supposed to. That's why those who were in less of a rush to blame the Internet giant, like Steven Hodson of WinExtra, ask, was it "another rush to publish a story?"

So, thanks to FeedBurner for restoring the capability, and for transparently responding to its users, and to bloggers interested. It definitely shows the FeedBurner community values their service!

February 18, 2008

FriendFeed Discussions Break Through the Walled Garden

Part of FriendFeed's allure is the concept of openly sharing comments and items from various Web services with friends and other like-minded individuals. The service, started by a group of former Googlers, so far has maintained its lofty technophile intellectual bent, largely as former Googlers have linked to friends who are current Googlers, and other technology-loving people have been drawn to the service, like moths to a flame, myself included.

But as the service has grown more popular, and as comments or shared items are typically made visible to the entire world, it's no surprise that the idyllic concept of these conversations forever remaining private is starting to show cracks. Today, we saw the first fissures in that foundation, as a pair of Google-focused or tech-watching blogs keyed in on comments made via FriendFeed, and pulled them outward to the unfiltered blogosphere.

See: Criticism of Unreserved Google Praise and Valleywag: Quotable

As recent FriendFeed hire, Kevin Fox, wrote in response to seeing one of the articles, "ripping the blanket of implicit FriendFeed privacy through obscurity seriously wigged me out, though I of all people should have known better." Another, Jim, simply added... "Uh oh, the party's over."

Only yesterday, a virtual war of words broke out between TechCrunch's Michael Arrington and Fred Wilson of A VC over the responsibility that bloggers attempting journalism should take - including original research. But those in the public eye, including those of us publicly making comments on FriendFeed, should expect those conversations to be at risk of repeating as primary source data, just like you take a risk any time you send an e-mail, make a comment on another blog, or post a note on Facebook. Anything that can be copied and pasted is fair game for a lot of people trying to make news and break news.

While it's with some regret we see FriendFeed moving beyond the initial stage of "a small beta site filled with a small group of friends", as Kevin Fox put it, it's also a wonderful milestone. I hope FriendFeed continues to grow rapidly, and that those using the service, notable quotables or otherwise, don't suddenly clam up due to the increased risk of potential exposure.

FeedBurner Quietly Kills All-Time RSS Feed Stats

FeedBurner, the RSS syndication engine behind the vast majority of leading blogs, now part of Google, quietly turned off the ability to view all-time statistics for individual feeds at the end of last week, erasing years of accumulated data, without any explanation. Now, instead of seeing options for "One Day", "Last 7 Days", "Last 30 Days" and "All-Time", feed owners can only see statistics over the last 30 days at maximum, and it doesn't look like there is an "Pro" version that lets us get them back.

When FeedBurner was acquired by Google last year, the company made a lot of noise about how what had previously been premium services would now be free, with Google footing the bill. (See: FeedBurner: From Fee to Free: Should We Flee?) I was then worried that the company, not seeing inherent revenue-associated value, might slow the innovation. But to remove features outright, possibly in an effort to reduce data storage or bandwidth demands? I never expected that.

Google is great! So... where are my all-time stats?

So, what's the big deal? The big deal is bloggers that have relied on FeedBurner for any good length of time just lost all access to historical data. We can no longer see how our RSS subscriber growth rates are changing over time. We can no longer see accumulative statistics for click-throughs to popular articles, and and we can no longer show when our feeds reached specific milestones.

For a great example, just look at my December 28th post, "Feedburner Milestone Reached: 200 Subscribers". In that post, I noted when we hit 50 subscribers, 100, and then, 200. Well, the big news would be that last night, for the first time ever, we reached more than 500 total subscribers to louisgray.com, but now, I can't show you that all-time graph. It's gone.

And FeedBurner remains silent. Their official blog hasn't been updated since November of 2007, and as customers beg for an explanation in the site's support forums, there hasn't been any response.

We already know the blogosphere loves their RSS. We know they love their stats too. So, I'm a little surprised more folks haven't caught on to the fact this data's been erased. What's the deal, FeedBurner?

February 17, 2008

Companies That Listen to Their Users Will Win In the End

Continuing in our discussion of acting in the role of early adopters, I've really enjoyed having the opportunity to communicate with developers of new services as they've come to market - sometimes getting the first public account, and helping shape how these new products are interpreted and discussed. And more often than not, while I've certainly been exposed to a lot of new applications, it's those that keep innovating and keep listening that have me bookmarking and engaged.

In August, I wrote a post entitled "Use Your Blog To Talk To Companies", illustrating a few good examples of how companies like Google, MyBlogLog, Technorati and LinkedIn took suggestions I had made on my blog, and made changes to their product, sometimes coming back to tell me they'd upgraded.

In the ensuing months, I've seen this on an amazing scale. Whether it's been ReadBurner, RSSMeme, AssetBar or FriendFeed, my favorite new applications are working together with their users, as partners, to make their products even better.

FriendFeed co-founder Paul Buchheit spells out this process in his blog today, saying, the most important thing to understand about new products and startups is that it's important to release a product early, gain users and listen to them. If you don't, you might keep tweaking and tweaking a product, never finding it complete. (See also: Mathew Ingram: Being smart isn’t always enough)

AssetBar is another perfect example of this. After opening up the service in beta to some early accounts, they've gotten some strong feedback from different corners of the blogosphere, begging for updates to their user interface. Some have said it's too slow or too complicated, or they've erred in favor of features over simplicity. And AssetBar has answered. In a post on Valentine's Day, called "Lots to Learn", Israel LHeureux wrote "the bottom line is that we are really excited to improve Assetbar UI so it’s simpler and easier...Thanks for the critiques, folks–we have our marching orders. And I still have lots to learn."

The key word? Humility. The AssetBar guys have it in spades, and I know they'll get there with time, if they continue to listen to their users, who continue to offer feedback, from th@talldude to Two Point and Unique Frequency.

As famous NHL star Wayne Gretzky once said, "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been."

I think I know where the puck is going. It's going to the companies that continue to listen. When it comes to developing new Web services, it makes sense not to copy those companies that have come before, as to offer a me-too solution that completely lacks differentiation wouldn't attract users the way a new service that continues development would. And there's no question some of the new ones won't have everything nailed in the first round. Development takes time, and it's hard, or else somebody else would already have it nailed.

FriendFeed listens and participates with you. AssetBar listens. Benjamin Golub of RSSMeme and Alexander Marktl of ReadBurner listen. Adam Stiles of LinkRiver listens. I love it. Keep up the good work, everybody, and keep listening.

Updated Blog Design and New Features

While the changes aren't too dramatic, I am pleased to introduce a cleaner, more informative look to LouisGray.com, including the introduction of a new site logo and slogan, as well as newly introduced pages - one to serve as an "About" page, and the other, an ever-growing repository of "Coverage", highlighting select links from around the blogosphere and media discussing content here.

As the new slogan suggests, LouisGray.com is "Home for early adopters, technology geeks, RSS addicts and Mac freaks." With the site's gaining newfound attention from a greater number of sources, ranging from Mashable and Read/Write Web, to ReadBurner, Twitter, AssetBar and FriendFeed, I thought it made sense to have the site speak to new visitors as well as repeat visitors.

The new pages can be found here:

LouisGray.com: About: http://louisgray.com/live/about.html
LouisGray.com: Coverage: http://louisgray.com/live/coverage.html

If you find bugs, please do let me know. If you think I missed something major, or you hate the new updates, also please let me know.

February 16, 2008

Yes, Macs Can Crash Too

The first sign I had a problem was when my iTunes started to sound like a broken record. It just played the same note over and over. Then the e-mail I had half-written stopped letting me type into it. I tried to force quit, and nothing happened. The Mac was toast. My cursor had disappeared, and not even the famous three-finger restart would flip it back on. I had to hold down the power key until the MacBook Pro shut down all the way. After bringing it back up, not only was that e-mail gone, but the new blog template I had been working on reverted to the state I had it, around 1:30 this afternoon. I wasn't working on it for the full five hours or anything, but I definitely lost some work.

So... yeah. I'm not feeling too tech friendly right now. More tomorrow.

Mashable Divides Early Adopters and Harsh Reviewers

A Web service's adoption cycle certainly has multiple stages - from its initial development, to seeding with bleeding-edge adopters and test accounts, gaining word of mouth and referrals, leading to more early adopters and tech aficionados, before being poked at by more mainstream folks, and eventually, technology laggards.

A key element of graduating a service to the mainstream is a positive review from an objective, trusted, third party. Once the trusted third party gives the service their blessing, it's a sign the masses can sign up and expect it to work flawlessly.

In a great post this morning, where I happen to be mentioned a few times, Mark Hopkins of Mashable admits to both wanting to be in the early adopter role, and find services first, but also, needing to play the more cautious role of harsh reviewer, a role shared by blogging compatriot Steven Hodson. Where I may express excitement about potential, they can express caution or annoyance if a bug gets in the way.

In marked contrast, when I find a bug in one of these new services, I typically have made a screenshot and e-mailed it to the developers... and I'm currently in the QA phase for a few services we'll be talking about in the next coming weeks, playing that role before it's time for their unveiling.

So... depending on where you live in the adoption cycle, you might love a new service's potential, or you may hate that it doesn't do everything you want immediately. But we know our role, and when Mark thinks these services have passed the threshold for a Mashable endorsement, that will be an exciting day for entrepreneurs who keep tweaking their code.

See: The Early Adopter vs. The Harsh Reviewer

February 15, 2008

FriendFeed Admits They Know Me Pretty Well

Of all the different sites I've talked about over the last year which look to bring people together with similar interests and shared viewing habits, none has driven more consistent activity and real sense of community than FriendFeed. The site offers friends a meeting place to aggregate, follow, and interact with a diversified set of Web services. Starting first as a centralized in box for all my activity across the Web, it's added social functions with comments and "Likes", the ability to post directly to the site, and now, as of yesterday, FriendFeed has unveiled a sweet set of statistics worth obsessing over.

FriendFeed co-founder Bret Taylor, in a blog post titled "Personalized FriendFeed stats", shows how the team rolled out a set of simple graphs, showing the top ten people I find most interesting, the top ten people who find me interesting, what types of services my friends like, and what are the top sites which I like. People I find interesting are tabulated by entries I've commented on or liked, and top sites are determined by the last 30 days of my activity.

Looking at these statistics at first glance, I'd have to say there aren't any major surprises.

I have a pretty good idea whose updates I most look forward to, including those of FriendFeeders Paul Buchheit, Bret Taylor and Kevin Fox, B-Listers MG Siegler and Frederic Lardinois, Mashable's Mark Hopkins, RSSMeme's Benjamin Golub, and Mathew Ingram.

I also knew that the highest percentage of activity I deliver to my own FriendFeed is through my Google Reader shared items. Nothing can compare to it in sheer volume. Lagging behind Google Reader for me are Twitter, Del.icio.us, louisgray.com and FriendFeed itself. Of more interest was seeing how my friends' top sites show Twitter almost equal to that of Google Reader, and del.icio.us playing a smaller role, with Digg and Reddit breaking out of the "Other" category.

Also extremely interesting (and humbling) was seeing the stats from Bret Taylor and Paul Buchheit.

Paul Buchheit's statistics (shared on Flickr) show me as the FriendFeeder he finds most interesting, narrowly beating out his own wife, Jess Lee of the Google Maps team, Bret Taylor and MG Siegler.

Meanwhile, Bret Taylor had me in the #3 overall position, behind Paul and Jess. Not too shabby.

Now, the question is, with these stats available, will I try to over-compensate by using less-favored services to give them a piece of the pie? Will I start making more comments to other friends and mentally reduce those for others, to affect the rankings? I hope not. In order for FriendFeed's latest innovation to work, the data needs to be true and not manipulated, despite human nature. Regardless, it's yet another sign that FriendFeed is innovative, fun and listening to its users. Now, I've got to go back to FriendFeed and add some more comments...

Also See: Paris Lemon: FriendFeed Can Now Tell You Who You Find Interesting

Expanding and Explaining the Early Adopter Role

Over the last few days, I've been delighted to see some very positive comments tossed my way, discussing my recent focus on social feed aggregators, and shared link engines. I've been excited to see some of these new services be discovered and launched through louisgray.com, and it now seems the blog's turned the corner, if I were to rely on my e-mail box as an indicator.

A significant percentage of traffic to my personal e-mail now consists of would-be PR reps hoping I'll cover their story, small bloggers hoping I'll link their way and share their story with readers here, or notifications that I've gained new subscribers to my Twitter or FriendFeed accounts.

As the author of one stealth service wrote me the other day, "One thing I know for sure - if we get beat to market by a competitor, you will likely be the one to post that scoop! :)"

Another developer in quasi-stealth, writing on Thursday, seeing the early discussion we've had around AssetBar, ReadBurner and others, sent an e-mail, "It seems like you're fast becoming the blog expert on various types of content aggregation services."

That's quite a little niche. Don't you think?

I've talked a bit before about what I want to do with louisgray.com - share new and exciting services as they come to market, talk about how I'm contributing to or benefiting from technology, and continuing to offer a human face to the fast pace of Silicon Valley. That this is happening more and more is exciting and daunting. Now, it's no longer enough to tell you I upgraded the software in my Apple TV (which I did) or give you an update on my bowling scores from tonight (crappy and a little less crappy), or whether I think the Oakland A's Rich Harden has any merit in his case against their medical staff (he does). Now, I expect to share ideas with entrepreneurial spirits in the RSS and link aggregation space. Now, I am playing a more journalism-like role, seeking out interesting services that have been neglected. And it's a lot of fun - not that I'm without detractors.

On Wednesday, My B-List partner in crime, Steven Hodson, complained of "Aggregator Overload", saying "There comes a point when too much is really just too much." He said, like social networks, there are many players in the space, and he won't need to join every one, that it's already "a flooded field". While there's certainly some overlap between each of the services, in my opinion, they've all been noble in their goals, and each has something unique to share. I count myself as an avid user for just about all of them.

Part of being an early adopter and a champion for the entrepreneur means giving early versions of the software a little slack and seeing where developers want to take their service. If it's too much, then pick the ones you find useful and keep using those, while the more bleeding-edge folks will play the early adopter role and wait for you. The best services will still be there when you're ready. Hopefully, more of them will choose to start their lives here.

February 13, 2008

AssetBar Adds River of News, Extends New Invites

Every time I talk about AssetBar, the next generation RSS feed reader with cutting-edge social interaction features built on the back of a robust database system, which we've discussed a few times before, I get inundated with e-mails and comments from users eager to try out the product.

I blew through fifty invites in the space of a few hours just last month, and we once again have the opportunity to open up the new service to early adopters.

Go to www.assetbar.com | Code: "2friendly" | My ID is "louismg" | Bring OPML

AssetBar, as you'll recall, takes feed reading to a new level, beyond the passive, silo-like activity one sees now with Google Reader, BlogLines and other Web or desktop applications. Instead of reading alone, you get to read alongside your friends, learn whether they saw an item first and liked it (or not), post comments and hold discussions within AssetBar.

Note how in AssetBar, you can see who shared an item to whom.

You also, unlike with Google Reader, can share items directly to AssetBar, without the need for an RSS feed intermediary.

While AssetBar has been leading the pack in features, the team behind the service has taken dramatic steps forward in recent weeks, with the addition of a "river of news" interface, letting me read many items in succession, and using keyboard shortcuts to both navigate through my RSS feeds, and to mark them "worthwhile", "view now!" or "shared". This addition has moved AssetBar from the "science experiment" level to that of a real challenger to today's market share leaders.

River of News in action. See the # of items per folder on the left.

To be one of the early adopters who doesn't want to just passively read feeds, but instead, share the feed reading and discussion experience with friends, in a new way:

1) Head to www.assetbar.com
2) Enter the invite code of "2friendly", and post your OPML file.
3) Add me as a friend. My ID is "louismg".

Hope to see you there. AssetBar has some amazing potential, and we've been excited to watch it grow. Please be sure to post any comments on the site you may have here, or to their developers within the site.

Also, don't forget to check out their great write-up on some of these new features: " They Still Put Cocaine In Breakfast Cereal"

LinkRiver Enters Life Streaming Fray, Focused on Link Blogs

If 2007 was all about Facebook and Twitter, 2008 is shaping up to be all about link blogs, and sharing what you're consuming on the Web with friends. The newest service to enter the picture is an intriguing entry, LinkRiver, which harnesses your RSS streams from multiple services, including Google Reader shared items, Twitter, del.icio.us, Yahoo! Bookmarks and others, and posts them to a single "Stream". As your friends join the service, or you choose to subscribed to other LinkRiver users, these small streams become a "River" of shared links, hence the name.

Seeded with a number of high profile "who's who" members of the blogosphere, from Marc Andreessen, Mathew Ingram and Robert Scoble to Andrew Chen, Nick Bradbury and Jeremy Zawodny, the site's early beta stage gives an excellent window into a simplified river of links from you and your peers. And as the service is all about sharing what you're doing and what you're interested in, you can "share" any item that flows through your river, or even use a handy Javascript tool to share any page on the Web directly to your own stream.

The brains behind the new service is Adam Stiles, who first gained a following on the Web due to his work on NetCaptor from 1999 to 2004, where among many other innovations, he developed an alternative, tabbed, browser interface for Internet Explorer, well before Microsoft adopted them. Since then, Adam developed an anti-phishing solution, licensed to AOL, and sold to MarkMonitor in 2006, where he remains today.

The focus for LinkRiver, as he wrote me in an e-mail on Tuesday, is "to be laser-focused on links and link blogs, breaking down the many silos (del.icio.us, Google Reader, Ma.gnolia) to let anyone share anything with anyone regardless of which services they use."

LinkRiver users, after being granted beta access (sign up here), can add any number of services to their stream, so long as the services support RSS. In my trying out the service, I added my Google Reader shared items, my Del.icio.us bookmarks, the blog's RSS feed, StumbleUpon activity and Twitter. While LinkRiver so far doesn't offer the ease of adding differing services as FriendFeed does today, copying and pasting a URL from any feed you generate really isn't all that difficult.

Not only can you generate your own stream, but LinkRiver enables you to follow anybody you want to, like Twitter for link blogs. Your river will get more busy with the more active people you follow, just like it does if you add more friends to your FriendFeed. In my last few weeks of trying out LinkRiver, not only have I added on Silicon Valley notables like Steve Rubel, Jason Calacanis, and FriendFeed founders Bret Taylor and Paul Buchheit, but fellow B-Listers MG Siegler and Frederic Lardinois. In fact, Adam was all too happy to show off the flexibility of his service by developing a "L33T Tech News River", highlighting all the shares from those authoring the "Elite Tech News" Reddit, which just crossed the 400 subscriber mark.

LinkRiver, at first glance, offers a clean, simple interface to sharing all relevant items in one place, and getting connected or following friends. The ability to "share" other shared items and calculate the total number of shares is unique to LinkRiver among life streaming sites, borrowing a page from other intriguing new services like ReadBurner. Also, with the ability to follow friends in this simple, river-like format, it trumps the folder-driven concept of Spokeo.

LinkRiver is launching without a vast array of interactive features, as FriendFeed has developed in its months of availability, but we can expect the service to continue to innovate. Comments to shared items are expected to be rolled out, dependent on user feedback, and you can already see the most popular items shared in the last day, week, month, or all-time.

If you would like to gain early access to LinkRiver, sign up to their beta program. If you were one of the link bloggers Adam first started with, you'll no doubt get near-instant access. If you would like to see my stream, you can start here: http://linkriver.com/louis.

February 11, 2008

Dear LazyWeb, Won't Somebody Notice RSSMeme's Updates?

When RSSMeme debuted on February 6th, I took a look at developer Benjamin Golub's ReadBurner competitor, and believed that while it had done a great job scraping ReadBurner's features, there were a number of ways the fledgling service had come up short. Listening to my feedback, and that of others, Golub has continued to make updates, often multiple times a day, in a race to catch up, and in some way surpass, the efforts of ReadBurner.

In the ensuing week or so, RSSMeme has seen the debut of overall statistics, the ability to search by user name or source (See: search for author: "louis"), and added filters by how long it has been since the story was published, how many total shares it received, and highlighting the fact that every feed has its own dedicated page.

Not so bad for a week's work.

Responding to my original story, Golub also was quick to highlight that the service offers pages for individual authors, pages for tags, etc. Essentially, every single page on the site has its own custom feed, an amazing level of flexibility.

Cooler still, RSSMeme debuted an option to find similar users, based on stories you share, and the ability to view all the shares for a specific site.

See that for louisgray.com here:

If that weren't enough development to keep him busy, Golub has also been working on a service that interacts with Twitter whereby you can ask questions to Twitter users en masse, by using the username @dearlazyweb. If you tweet to @dearlazyweb and ask a question, that question will be posted to dearlazy.com, showing the person's icon who asked the question, and displaying any answers. In fact, Dear LazyWeb got some love today from the official Twitter Blog. (See: Lazy Much? and Golub's note, dearlazyweb Made the Twitter Blog!)

If you use Twitter and have a question for the field, it's certainly one option. I gave it a shot a few days ago, and while it wasn't the LazyWeb that gave me a response, I did get noticed and got my question answered.

Not so bad for one guy who looks like he's innovating for the sheer fun of it, seeing what kind of services he can offer through attacking technology head-on. We'll keep watching both services, and see if ReadBurner will feel compelled to respond to the moves made by RSSMeme in the last week.

Monday Mayhem and Linking Back

Real quick... it's likely posting will be erratic this week. Despite best intentions, sometimes real life gets in the way. But we'll be dropping in from time to time to catch up. In the event of low posting, the best way to follow what I'm doing, as always, is on FriendFeed.

Of interest, since I've been using Del.icio.us to track links back to louisgray.com, using the "coverage" tag, it's been fun to see the total number of individual links grow, sometimes from big sites, like TechCrunch and Mashable, to middle-sized sites, including Maple Leaf 2.0 and Internet Duct Tape and small ones, like MrOnTemp and Akkam’s Razor.

Some recent highlights with the tag of "coverage" in Del.icio.us:
MapleLeaf 2.0:
Twitter as the new email and killer app. Now is the time to grow it.
Akkam's Razor:
My Linkblog…
Starling and AssetBar - comparative views on Twitter performance
Rojo Blog:
Free the Music; Demo 2008; Political Foreclosures
Madan's Blog:
Super Tuesday in Silicon Valley
We'll be back with more original content soon, but enjoy the links. I'm sure many of these sites have some great discussions on the world of tech you might find useful.

February 09, 2008

Yahoo! Calls Microsoft Cheap, Will Reject Offer

The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that Yahoo!'s board will rightfully tell Microsoft to go pound sand on their offer, unless the total value of that offer is increased, more than 30 percent ahead of their initial approach, making the value of the deal not $44.6 billion, as originally planned, but now, nearly $60 billion.

As I mentioned last week, Microsoft came after Yahoo! at a time when the company's stock was depressed, and tried to "get the company on the cheap", offering, instead of a massive cash outlay, exchange for fractions of Microsoft shares, which at the time amounted to $31 apiece. But in the ensuing market downturn, the offer became less and less substantial, as Microsoft stock eroded, as repeatedly noted by Henry Blodget of Silicon Alley Insider.

Typical in things of this nature, the conflict isn't over technology leadership or how the products and people would overlap, but instead, simply dollars. As Jason Calacanis tweeted this morning, "(translation: $5 bucks more please!)"

I believe that in the face of innovation by Google, Apple, Facebook and many others, Microsoft and Yahoo! don't represent technology leadership and forward-thinking the way they once did. Regardless of the price, Yahoo! should say no to Redmond, and take a new approach to their business to make themselves relevant once again.

February 08, 2008

Friday Fanmail

From an author behind a new service yet to debut:

"You're doing a fantastic job covering the next generation of content consumption and aggregation services. I think that by now you pretty much cornered this market :) To me, at least, your blog has become a must-read ever since you broke the ReadBurner story."

Stay tuned to see what they've got in mind. You'll hear more in a few weeks... and yes, I'm not used to such nice notes, so I thought I'd share.