RSS Stuff: Google Reader, Podcast Changes 

I use my RSS reader a lot. Currently, I use RSS Bandit, which I like a good bit. It does RSS very well, and doesn't try to do too much more, i.e. it does exactly what I need. I don't need podcatching abilities (though they'll be there in the next version) since I use an iPod and iTunes does an OK enough job.

It even allows me to do some manual syncing of my home computer with work, by FTPing the data files up to my FTP site, then downloading in the new location. So, I can keep my RSS/information habit under control by checking my feeds every few hours at work and at home, and never get overloaded. It's crude, but it works well.

Now, one of the things that popped up in my feeds the past week was about the interface and functionality improvements in Google Reader, Google's online feed reader tool. So, given that I use GMail and GCal, I figured I'd give Reader another shot. I'd tried it when it first came out and found it to be a complete abomination.

I exported my OPML feedlist from RSS Bandit, imported it into Reader, and off I went. The "River of News" view (all stories are sort of thrown together in one long column of news and you scroll through it), which is a view people swear by, but I've found cumbersome in every tool I've ever used. It's perfect in Google Reader. Literally, perfect. I had a few hundred items to read when I imported my feedlist, and I just scrolled through them. It marked them as read as I scrolled past. See something interesting? Stop and read it more closely. It works remarkably well and immediately made me realize I could probably add more feeds to my feedlist and move through them more quickly than I do through RSS Bandit. This shouldn't be construed as a knock on RSS Bandit -- I just think that the Google Reader team has nailed the interface. I'm probably going to spend next week only in Reader and see if I like it enough to switch permanently.
Oh, and, like GMail, you can use it from your mobile device (i.e. your cell phone). Again, it just sort of works the way you'd expect, and gives me something to read when I'm grabbing a meal or waiting in line.

Of course, since it's web-based, I can view my feeds from anywhere. No cumbersome syncing. That's handy.

The only knock on it, at least so far in a few days of use, is that it's not nicely integrated into the Google interface, I'll say. I don't use the Google Personalized homepage that much (I generally search right out of the search toolbar in Firefox). It's not part of the upper left nav in GMail or Google Calendar. I know Google Reader is technically still part of Labs, but I'd love if I could customize the Google upper left nav and add/replace links there. A real integration, just as a link there, would make it much easier for me to pop open the 3 Google apps I use.

Hopefully, I'll check back next week to update on how my switch to Reader has worked. I haven't even scratched the surface of some of the functionality -- like reading lists, where you can mark something you've read to share and then publish your reading list (as HTML or as a feed), which is kinda like without tagging. It's the old link-blog model, but done in a really really easy way.

On to other topics ...

I've been on vacation this week, with the last few days spent with some friends who came up to visit (and go to a football game that shall not be mentioned). Stories forthcoming. However, it sort of caused me to fall behind on my podcast listening. My RSS-based information consuming habit is sort of overbearing at times, but I'm becoming very good at skimming and not needing to check everything out.

I open iTunes, find 10 podcasts to listen to, and notice that 5 of them are the new Gillmor Gang episode. The show has already started testing my patience with it's 4.5 minutes of ads to start the show, and another 30 seconds at the end. Sure, I can skip through it with my iPod or iTunes (and I do), but it means that each individual episode is about 20-22 minutes of real audio, broken up into 4 or 5 chunks, and I just find it terribly annoying. On top of that, I've just found the content utterly lacking in anything meaningful for probably the past few months. It's not the Gang of old, with Jon Udell and nice guests talking about identity or groupware. You know, interesting technology discussion driven by the technology and accentuated by the knowledge and personalities of the participants.

Since the move to Podshow, the Gillmor Gang has been pretty much unlistenable and a general waste of time. There's little insight to be found, as it's simply a platform for the participants to bitch or proselytize for their meme of the day. I've stuck with it, hoping that it would eventually veer back into what made the show great. It hasn't, and after listening to one chunk of the latest show, I've decided I'm done. It's like 24. I gave it two years and gave up.

Now, what that has done, is reminded me that I most enjoyed the work of Jon Udell on the show. Fittingly, he had left the Gang a while back, and the show lacked his ability to take a new technology and immediately make real world sense of it. It was his explanation (and demo) of that made me go "a-ha" and realize what it was all about. Well, he's got a weekly podcast that much closer to what the Gillmor Gang used to be, and I've dropped the Gang in favor of his show, and I'm smarter for it.

Finally ...

For those of you who missed it, I'm trying the podcasting thing. Check out my last post for the details and give it a listen. I realized today that I hadn't included and obvious link to the podcast feed to add it to your iTunes or your podcatcher of choice, so that's now linked there. I've also submitted it for inclusion in iTunes, so we'll see how that goes.