Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Human editing giving Techmeme a very different feel already

Right now, the top story on Techmeme is the piece I just posted on - Google Chrome coming out of Beta.

In case you missed it, last week Gabe Rivera the creator of the Techmeme aggregator announced he was adding a human editor to his payroll. Ironically, I was involved in a blog conversation about two years earlier with Gabe over the merits of a human editor versus an all-automated solution and Gabe at the time suggested he would look at human interference at some point in the future but probably not for Tech.

A couple of years later down the track, he’s changed his mind and Techmeme now has a journalist adding editorial judgements to the mix of story rankings and grouping.

So let’s go back to that Google Chrome story. Right now, it has just one link from Tech BLORGE. Under the old algorithm model, one-link would never be enough to get a story up to the top of Techmeme especially on a busy news day like we’ve seen over the past 24 hours.

I also just saw two links that were previously attached to that story – but which were actually about Google Native Code rather than Chrome dissapear from the Grouping. Not sure, if they were added their manually or removed manually?

So the obvious advantage of the new human-editing approach is clearly that stories can rise to the top far quicker based on an editor’s decision rather than waiting for the blogosphere to decide its a hot issue and promote the piece algorithmically. However, that’s kind of why I go to Techmeme – I want to see what the community has decided is the hot news – not what an editor thinks as I can after all get that anywhere.

The removal of those too, means, you’ve got that element of human error (or correction) which again makes it more like a traditional news site. I don’t know, the site just feels different and I’m not sure I’m digging it.

There have been many complaints about Techmeme as a self-perpetuating echo-chamber where people simply write about a story because its at the top of Techmeme. Now, having a human interfere (enhance) the rankings means you can prevent this happening somewhat, but it introduces the equally problematic issue that now you have bloggers writing about something just because Techmeme’s editor thinks it is a cool story.

I would suggest Gabe has gone the route he has because it makes his software platform far more valuable than it was previously. The idea doesn’t work unless you have a critical mass of people linking to each other and there aren’t that many blog categories where that happens. It also means that you can’t really on-sell the technology because you would just end up with each user of the platform having pages that look identical.

By introducing a human-editing angle to the memeorandum platform, Gabe will be able to potentially sell his platform to any media company who can then use machine-editing to enhance its human editing process. That will potentially enable media companies to run more sites with less resources but still maintain the overall editorial control and feel with their own real-life editors. It’s a pretty attractive model.

P.S. It will be interesting to see what happens with this post as it links to the aforementioned Google story but has done so in a tangential way. I guess the way it should work is the algorithm will add it and then the editor would remove it? Let’s see…

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

Chrome is ready for prime-time

Google is taking Chrome out of Beta according to Steve Gillmor and already I’m starting to see blog posts questioning whether its ready or not.

I shifted to Chrome as my browser three weeks ago. Driven by the desire to take advantage of its super-slick running of Javascript apps, of which I’m a particularly heavy user, it was the third time I’d given it a go – my two previous efforts abandoned after finding too many sites that simply rendered wierdly.

I really haven’t looked back. Speed was my main motivation, but I’m now in absolute love with the tab-at-the-top interface as it affords so much extra screen landscape. Even if Firefox catches up with 3.1 in terms of performance, I think I’d find it difficult to go back to the traditional browser interface that both Firefox and IE use.

So yes, Chrome is ready to come out of beta. For people lamenting that it doesn’t have plugins and this feature and that, let’s just remember that it’s a browser – it’s job is to render web pages and it does that flawlessly now based on my own experiences.

What this means

As we all know, Google doesn’t exactly like to rush products out of beta, gmail being the obvious example but its OEM relationships necessitates sticking the 1.0 label on Chrome. Watch the Google marketing machine shift into overdrive now. You’ll see it strike more and more deals with PC makers to have it installed as the default browser and I’m already seeing Download Chrome links all over Google properties. 

This is one project, Google clearly cares a lot about.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

Has Google just validated Microsoft’s Software + Services

Very interesting post from Google about their Native Code project, which is essentially a browser plug-in that lets developers execute native code on the user’s PC rather than server-side.

The Google Blog post starts like this:

“Modern PCs can execute billions of instructions per second, but today’s web applications can access only a small fraction of this computational power. If web developers could use all of this power, just imagine the rich, dynamic experiences they could create.”

That’s exactly what Microsoft has been saying for a long-time. What’s the use of having all this computational power on the PC if we run all of our computations across the cloud? 

I guess you could say that Google’s approach is Services + Software, although it’s worth pointing out that the developer documentation does indicate that you can run Native Code applications without a browser. The only real difference then between the Microsoft approach and the Native Code project is that Google’s effort adopts OS and Browser portability as a core foundation of the effort. 

From my read, the Native Code project will give developers far more power to exploit the desktop’s processing power than other like-efforts, the most obvious of which is Java. However, in doing so it really is going to open up a Pandora’s box of security issues and you can see from the Google blog post that security is something it admits is going to be a problem and that is going to require a community-wide effort to deal with.

Microsoft can probably quite rightly argue that for all the flack Windows gets on a security front, it is absolutely lightyears in front of an effort like Native Code.

So the question is, how important these days is OS/browser portability vs security. 

I’d suggest they’re both bloody important and that’s why Javascript rules the roost. Javascript is getting faster and better all the time and with new standards on the way like HTML 5 and better browser support like what Google has delivered in Chrome, one has to ask do we really need to build apps along the Native Code route?

The fact that no-one has built a decent online competitor to most-all of Adobe’s applications, the fact that I still find Google Docs absolutely useless when it comes to printing documents and so on, suggests there are many places Javascript and AJAX just can’t go right now. Who will get where first is the question nobody can answer, but in the meantime Native Code will be worth keeping an eye on.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

Taking Gmail to task

Ironically I just got back from picking up some milk from the local servo (that’s a gas station for non-Aussies) when I read the news that Google had finally added tasks to Gmail.

I used to be absolutely hanging out for this feature. But now, my response is basically ‘meh’.

In fact, I’m kinda sad because it means Google won’t be acquiring little Aussie start-up Remember the Milk.

This doesn’t surprise me. I asked a senior Google body about a year ago if they had ever had the  ‘let’s become better friends’ conversations with the RTM folk and he suggested they had but this was more likely the kind of stuff that would be developed in-house.

I think the problem with the approach Gmail has taken to tasks, is that is has been implemented as a feature of Gmail. Any one who has actually set themselves to properly using a task list, knows you can’t do it by halves. You have to commit to your task list, which is the one thing RTM has realised.

Which means, you log into a dedicated website when you really want to get on top of it. Which means you log a task if your on the road via your iPhone or Blackberry. Which means you convert a mail to a task, when needed. Which means you can see all your tasks as you digest your upcoming calendar. RTM has made it a mission to embed its task management software in as many places as a user can wish to imagine.

The reality is 90 per cent of people who use computer-based tasks lists don’t stick it out. Also, your desktop sidebar is a far better place for your tasks as its in front of you no matter what applications your using.  And those remaining people who really are task freaks, will soon hanker for far more than Google is currently offering.

Google should have bought Remember the Milk and made tasks an application in itself that integrated into all of its other properties.

So what next for Remember the Milk. Some are calling it a shot duck. But I’ve long-felt it has needed to keep expanding itself out and evolve into a really simple Web 2.0 project tool. Keep expanding up the food chain as that’s where the money is, anyway.

I’ve always been stunned at the amount of companies who don’t implement a company wide task/project system. I will admit its a challenge because to work it really needs to be tightly integrated with your workflow processes and preferably your other apps. I think there would be a great market for RTM to use the skills it has developed in integrating its solution to try and task-enable other web apps who don’t want the bother of having to re-build the world. We’re about to launch a Workflow module with task management we’ve been building for a while now. I would much preferred to have white-labelled RTM.

P.S. Two and a half years ago I wrote a post GMail: The one app to rule them all that made it to #2 on Digg. Its looking kinda prophetic now!

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

Why moving my taskbar radically improved my computing experience

If you’re a heavy browser user like myself and have tended to switch to mostly web-based applications then I’m willing to bet you’ve become very accustomed to looking towards the top of the screen where your browser tabs are, when making navigation decisions.

In fact, I think its largely down to this habit and the fact it has become so counter-intuitive for me to look to the bottom of the screen that I’ve developed such an aversion to using desktop apps of late.

For example, I used the “application shortcut” feature of Google Chrome (which also can be done with Mozille Prism) to create application-like versions of our MediaConnect web portal and a couple of my favourite web apps but despite the fact that these make really effective use of screen landscape, I found I was still launching them in the browser because of my preference for having all my tabs aligned together at the top of the screen.

Then it struck me that I didn’t actually have to have my taskbar at the botttom. I unlocked it and dragged it to the top – and suddenly my desktop started to make a lot more sense again. I started re-using a couple of desktop apps I’d shelved and my whole computing experience just seems a bunch more intuitive now. I was frustrated initially that I couldn’t swap my Taskbar buttons around like I do my browser tabs but then I installed a little shareware application called Taskbar Shuffle and those buttons now behave pretty much the same as my browser tabs.

I now wonder why on earth the decision was ever made for the taskbar to run at the bottom of the screen. The popularity of browser tabs have shown that’s a much more intuitive interface – and it makes more sense for the eye to drift to the top of the screen.

So if you’re like me you’ve become used to jumping around all day in your browser tabs, shift that Taskbar to the top – you’ll never go back.

Filed under: AJAX Challenge

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