Tweetdeck – Initial Review


I love Twitter for it’s simplicity and versatility; everyone seems to use it a little differently so the interactions that you observe on Twitter can be overwhelming at a glance. Enter Tweetdeck.

Tweetdeck is an Adobe AIR application that runs on Windows, Mac and Linux. It’s not an information consolidator but an information organizer. Tweetdeck allows you to organize your information into columns and by default, they give you 3 – all friends (your entire twitterverse), directs and replies. The replies function is smarter than the built-in replies in Twitter. The default replies function in Twitter searches for all tweets that start with @[your usename] where as the replies function looks for @[your username] in any messages. I wouldn’t have caught some of those messages directed at me if I didn’t have Tweetdeck.

The next most useful function in Tweetdeck is the ability to group users. This is useful as different people use it differently. The people I know outside of @jasonlewin and @gerrypower, don’t tweet as much. So often it’s easy for their tweets to get lost in the deluge of messages from the twitterverse. For myself, I decided to create groups for “friends and family” as well as “work” as those two groups interact very differently from one another.

The ability to have a dedicated search column is interesting as well. By default, I have #rogers, #telus and #bell as one of my columns as I’m curious to see what’s going on in the mobile industry in Canada.

Twitter is also famous for its ability to report news long before it hits the mainstream media. For this purpose, the Twitscoop column is fantastic. It shows you what words are hot and what terms are trending. Every once in a while it’s neat to see what’s going on out there. It would be interesting to see if there are ways to generate trend information by limiting information by either geography or keyword. That would make it an even more powerful product.

Another feature that is a big deal is the alerting. When a new message comes up, it categorizes by columns so it tells me where I should focus on instead of just being overwhelmed with lots of messages all the time. I really like Tweetdeck as it makes my Twittering more informative and relevant.

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Getting news aggregation to work for me – Attempt 1

The challenge of news aggregation has been quite an interesting one for a while. The overall business problem I've been trying to address for a while now is to find a system that will aggregate my news information, read the information and allow me to share interesting articles with others through email or RSS feeds and allow me to tag the information so that I might easily locate this for future use. To top it off, it has to give me this ability on my desktop and through my Windows Mobile device. On the web, the best newsreader for me is Google Reader by far. However, since I read most of my news on my Windows Mobile device, there has been no other program that synchronizes well with an online reader like Newsgator so I find myself using Newsgator for both the web and Windows Mobile device. While pRSSreader has the ability to synchronize with Google Reader, I find that it somehow never seems to finish synchronizing all of my feeds when I reorganize my RSS feeds into folders. Organizing the feeds into folders is critical because I have over a hundred RSS feeds that I subscribe to and continue to find blogs that are interesting and am eager to follow them.

So here's my kick at the can for trying to solve this problem. My folders are typically organized by topics anyway and truth be told, I don't find myself reading most of the blog entries because not everything someone writes is relevant to what I'm interested in. It's the nature of the beast and it in no ways demeans the writer of any blogs that I follow. Social Median is probably the closest thing to an aggregator right now but the site itself works more like a newspaper site and not an RSS aggregator but it does give you the ability to subscribe to RSS feeds of your news network of choice. There are two dilemmas with the RSS feed in Social Median is that it only produces a summary of the feed which for its business purpose makes sense and the other is that it doesn't allow me to interact with the network which is a big part of using Social Median.

After some thinking, I figured that I could leverage Social Median and Google Reader to give me the best of both worlds – at least on the web front. What I've recently done is to export my Google Reader feeds, delete them from my main Google Reader account and re-subscribed to them in my other Google Reader account. I then proceeded to subscribe to create news networks by the topics that are most important to me. I did this at 2 am in the morning when I couldn't sleep; in hind sight, I should have actually looked for existing news networks that best fit my needs as the most powerful feature is the activity of the people within a particular news network. I think I'm going to have a hard time recruiting people to join my news network as most of my friends really aren't that social online. By integrating it to Google Reader, I get an user interface that I'm familiar with and works very well for me. I automatically get the ability to share through the Google Share functionality which I then publish to Twitter. I also get to email people through an integrated contact manager with GMail. There issue where only part of the entry is published through RSS feed is resolved through a combination of Firefox add-ons called Greasemonkey and Better GReader. This gives you the ability to click on the header and it gives expands to bring the page of the entry directly into the Google Reader page. This also then gives you the ability to clip, set the mood or mark it as irrelevant.

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Social Median – Initial Review

The wonderful thing about the internet is that there is such an abundant of good information out there. There isn't a day where I don't come across an entry from another blog that I find interesting and end up following. The unfortunate outcome is that I end up having a huge amount of blogs that I find myself having to catch up on. The other issue is that not everything a blog site publishes is interesting or relevant to me. So I find myself going through blogs in my RSS reader, reading a few and discarding the rest. While it's doable, it's not necessary that efficient use of my time.

So here's where I think Social Median comes in. Social Median has the potential to be a true RSS aggregator instead of an RSS consolidator. The foundation of Social Median is the concept of a News Network. A News Network is basically a theme or topic of interest. You can either subscribe to an existing news network or create your own. The implementation of the news network is quite simple but powerful as it provides you with multiple levels of filtration

Trust at the Source
As part of the creation of a news network, you select the sources of information by inputing the RSS feeds of the source. When I create an news network, I use this as filtration of trust and relevance. I only put in news sources of sites that I think can provide me with relevant entries by people whom I trust either by reputation or by knowing them.

Word Filters
The next step that the Social Median does is to filter out your consolidated sources by applying a word filter. You enter all the words that you think could be relevant to the topic and depending on the noise level that you set, it only shows you entries that match your filters. Noise levels have 3 settings – high, where it needs to only match your primary topic filter; medium where it matches your topic filter and any one of the secondary filters or low where it tries to do an intelligent match of all the filters that you've set. I've found this a bit tricky especially for broader topics. Right now I can't think of all the appropriate keywords for my topics and so I don't always get all the blogs that I'm looking for.

Social Filter
This is where the most powerful step of the news filter lies. Once your news network is created it is then published to a directory for anyone to subscribe. The people in your news network can then clip it which makes increases the popularity count of the particular entry, select the mood whether it's positive or negative or simply click it as irrelevant. The more popular your news network is, the more powerful this is going to be as a filter.

Even though I've been a Social Median subscriber for a while, I have struggled on how to use it. Social Median doesn't work very well as a news reader but to its defense, it doesn't claim to be. There are multiple tabs that you can go through that provide you very useful information. The first tab summarizes all the hot and trending topics. Followed by a summary of news from your network and then a tab with all of the news that you have contributed.

There are a few things I would love to see Social Median be able to do. The major struggle I have is that I find it hard not to be able to mark a news item already read so whenever I come back to the site, I can't immediately tell if there is new information that I should be interested in at a glance. The second is to give me the ability to see what entries I've clipped and tag them. If not, then give me the ability to integrate it into something like delicious. I usually clip an entry not only because I find the article interesting and that perhaps other people might as well, I often also do it because I think it might be useful for later use as well. Another useful capability would be to be able to link articles together. For instance, when Microsoft introduced Windows Mobile 6.5, at least 3 blogs created entries on the topic but all 3 provided relatively the same information and it would have been useful to have the ability to link the articles together so someone could easily just read one, browse through the summary of the other 2 and then move on.

Overall, I like the idea of Social Median. It has the potential to be a powerful aggregator and they have approached the problem in a very intelligent way. It is an excellent hybrid of technology and people and is certainly one of the smartest way of leveraging a social network.

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Why Google is THE Killer Platform

Google has the right idea; there's no doubt about it. Even though Google is most famous for it's search, it actually provides a killer service platform for someone like me. When I look at all the web tools that I use today, Google provides a reasonable use of it. It is definitely more useful and provides a much more complete service offering than Facebook. The strategy to expose its APIs is brilliant; it is a simple way of extending functionality while only investing in what they can deem as their core competencies. Here's a summary of how I use or would use Google for the way I live my life.

Personal Information Management/Personal CRM
Any platform that wants to focus at an individual typically starts here. The core functionality to manage my personal life starts with managing my contacts, schedule and tasks. The point of entry for this functionality is through GMail. While I don't particularly reply to or write many emails, it's the natural point of entry for me. I usually start of my relationships through email and if the relationship matures, it eventually evolves to the instant messenger. So email is a natural place to start a contact. Usually people will email me their contact information and we will initiate correspondence that way.

There are multiple ways of synchronizing my contacts and schedule with my other platforms. Google Sync is provided for free. I've run into some issues synchronizing between Outlook and Google for schedule. For some reason, it does something unpredictable with time zones. Plaxo allows you to indirectly sync LinkedIn contact information with Google contacts. And as of recently, Google allows for Exchange ActiveSync synchronization for contacts, email and scheduling. It's starting to provide a very strong case for me to replace my Exchange Server with Google Apps. The one weak link is tasks. Right now, there really isn't very done for tasks. A stronger task manager is Remember The Milk which integrates with Gmail screen.

Even though I don't naturally think of email that much as the main means of communicating with others is usually through instant messenger. I like the fact that I can write short messages and if the person is around, I can get relatively quick responses. Otherwise, they will ping me when they get back. Integrating GTalk to GMail was a smart move. It allows me to not have to leave that screen to look at my day. In a lot of ways, it provides a very "Outlook'esque" view of mail; it's a single screen where I can perform everything I need to do from there. While people who are extremely security conscious freak out about the fact that GTalk allows you to archive your conversations online, I personally find it useful. As I'm constantly bouncing between instant messaging clients, I like the ability to have a single place to look up previous conversations. Since this is the primary means of my communications, it's really not that different from archiving my GMail.

Google allows you to integrate with GMail through IMAP which is significantly more powerful than POP3. There's nothing more annoying than downloading all your messages and then there's no server copy to refer to when you cannot access your desktop client. IMAP also allows you to synchronize more than just your inbox folder; it allows you to subscribe to any folders that you have as well. For instant messenger, it's based on the Jabber protocol which the majority of multi-headed instant messenger clients now support.

News reader
A news reader is not a news aggregator; it's just a reader. That being said, there is nothing better on the web than Google Reader in my mind. I love the fact that you can tag and share right from it. Another killer feature is that it automatically marks something as read if you've scrolled through it. While it's a detail, the user experience impact is phenomenal. It makes reading all the feeds in my messages a lot quicker. Newsgator allows you to clip an article for further reading and then you can then expose the RSS feed for it to others who are interested in reading your feed. Google makes it much simpler, I have the option to star or share an article. I use starring as an indicator for me to take a look at it later and sharing as a means to share with other people what I am reading. The cool thing about this is that I also get to see what other people are sharing automatically from it. News reading is one of the things that there isn't an ideal way for me to do things right now. I have a few requirements. They are:
I don't want to have to re-sort, re-tag or re-share articles I've already processed if I read it on my mobile device or from another computer
I want to be able to tag my articles as I have shared or starred an article for a reason. It's something that I'd like to refer to again later
I don't want to read read multiple articles that have essentially the same information.
So there is no easy way of integrating my needs for this right  now. pRSSReader and Viigo is supposed to have the ability to integrate with Google Reader right now but it doesn't work well. So for now, I'm stuck using Newsgator.

Picasa has been a surprise for me. It's relatively easy to upload photos to it and for Windows, the Picasa client is the closest thing to iPhoto, which is my favourite photo editing tool for me. Picasa allows you to do all your standard things like tag, create albums and share with others. The one thing that I think is especially interesting is the facial recognition functionality. Once you tag someone's face, it will try to recognize other photos for the same person. A bit freaky but useful if you don't care so much for privacy. There are two major downsides for me – most of my friends who are really into photography are on Flickr and secondly is the price. Flickr's basic service allows you for unlimited storage and limits you to the number of albums and bandwith of upload. This basically means that upgrading to the Pro service is a fixed cost. Doing a pro service by capacity means that what it's going to cost me is going to continue to grow if I were to use Picasa as my primary photo sharing tool.

Jaiku provides you all the features that Twitter does minus the limitations such as no instant messenger client on Twitter. On top of that, it has the concept of groups which is pretty useful. The downside – it doesn't have nearly the volume of people that Twitter has. This is a detriment for me based on how I use Twitter. It's a natural way for me to get current pulse on any topic. Recently Google released Latitude with a very simple functionality – publish your whereabouts using Google Maps for Mobile. It's doesn't even allow you to put any texts like BrightKite. The good thing about it is that integrating it to Google Maps is a very natural way to publish where you are since Google Maps for Mobile will either triangulate your whereabouts using your GPS or cell phone towers whichever is available at the moment.

The ability to use instant messaging as a means of publishing my status in Jaiku makes it a very versatile way of integrating to other platforms.

Document Sharing
In the past, the most common way of sharing information was through email. The problem was doing this was that you would have to go through a tonne of emails and always wondering who has the latest copy of any particular information. Another issue by doing this was that what happens if you lost email. If you're hosting your own environment like I am, losing email is still a reality. Lately, I've been using Google Docs to create email and then share them with co-workers for managing some of the status of where we are with hiring some of the students. I've used it to share my build-books with others who are trying to build out similar infrastructure environments like I've done at home. One feature that I think is really underrated is that if a document is relatively simple, it's just as easy to view and edit it directly on Google Docs without having to go through the tediousness of downloading, updating and uploading.

Integration for Google Docs is pretty straight forward. You can upload any document to Google Docs. If it's one that it can convert, it does. You have the option of either downloading the document to review it offline or installing Google Gears to work with it.

Social Networking the natural way
I'm not talking about Orkut. To me Social Networking really is more about Personal CRM. It's a mean of keeping track of my activities with my friends. I need something that will help me to organize the things that my friends are helping me with or I'm helping them with, communicate where I am with these things, perhaps even broadcast any thoughts, ideas or needs to solicit feedback.  All of the tools I've listed above if fully integrated make it a very natural way of organizing my life. Google is almost there. The best part of all this is that I can "integrate" my friends into how I do things without them being members of the Google ecosystem.

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Catching up with photos from New York City in December

As I was preparing for my snowboarding trip to Colorado, I decided that I should take the time to post some of my photos from my New York City trip. A group of our closest friends take approximately trip a year together and New York has been the place of choice for us. The earliest trip included 5 of us staying in a "family" suite – those were the days. Today we stay in separate hotels but the last night were spent together in our hotel room with 3 of people sprawled on the floor. Those were the good old days. This trip was mostly about food – expensive and Japanese ๐Ÿ™‚ Here are a few of my favourite pictures from the trip. For the rest, please click through my New York City 200812 set on Flickr.

DKNY by you.
DKNY! There's something about Manhattan and advertising/branding

DSC_0050 by you.
Underneath the Brooklyn Bridge looking towards Manhattan. I love the stillness of the water during the long exposure shots.

DSC_0118 by you.
Kate Winslet – Celebrity sighting locally

Joe Ades in Action by you.
Joe Addes, A Local Celebrity – Passed away recently. May You Rest In Peace

DSC_0180 by you.
Lanterns in the restaurant. I really like how the colours were reflected.


Off to Steamboat Springs, Colorado

I'm going to be in Colorado for a few days. There is a handful of us who are absolutely nuts about snowboarding and we plan two trips a year as that is all we can afford in terms of time and money. As the work week makes me super busy. I am also hoping to take the time on the flight to catch up with a few things I've been working on in terms of blogging and the like.