It’s 2015, and I still use RSS (and sometimes even bookmarks)

A couple of weeks ago, I belatedly decided that it was time to catch up on my RSS reading–and try to stay caught up on my Web feeds instead of once again letting the unread-articles count ascend to four-digit altitudes.

RSS Twitter Google Now iconsAfter a couple of days of reacquainting myself with using various RSS apps to read the latest posts at my designated favorite sites, I had another overdue realization: Much as Winston Churchill said of democracy, RSS remains the worst way to keep up with what’s new on the Web, except for all the others.

“Really Simple Syndication,” a standard through which sites can automatically notify an RSS client about each new post, is old-in-Web-years and unfashionable. But it retains a few core advantages over its alleged replacements. One is control: my RSS feed only shows the sites I’ve added, not somebody else’s idea of what I should know. Another is what I’ll call a tolerance of time: A site that only posts an update a week is less likely to get lost when it occupies its own folder in the defined space of my RSS feed.

The third, maybe most important feature: Nobody owns RSS. When Google shut down Google Reader, I could export my subscriptions and move them to any other RSS host. I went with Feedly and have since been contentedly using that site’s free iOS and Android apps and the third-party Mac program ReadKit ($6.99 then, now $9.99).

I know many people now employ Twitter as their news feed, but I can’t make that work. I love Twitter as a social space, but in practice it’s been a miserable way to get the news. That’s not the fault of the service or its interface, but because it’s full of humans who often get excited about the same things that are really important to them in particular. The result: constant outbreaks of banter about inconsequential-to-normal-people developments like the addition of custom emoji to a chat-room app.

Twitter does help me learn about things happening outside of my usual reading habits, alerts me to breaking news hours faster than RSS and provides an incredibly useful way to talk to readers and hear from them. And yet the more I lean on Twitter as a communications channel, the worse it functions as a news mechanism.

(Facebook… oh, God, no. The News Feed filter I need there most would screen out all updates sharing outside content, so I’d only see things written, photographed or recorded by friends instead of an endless stream of links to content posted in the hope that it will go viral.)

Google Now’s cards for “Research topics,” “Stories to read,” and “New content available” can serve as an RSS substitute in some contexts. Unlike RSS, they’re not stuck with your last settings change and instead adjust to reflect where Google sees your attention wandering and where readers have clicked at the sites you visit. And unlike Twitter, these cards don’t get overrun with me-too content.

But relying on Google Now puts me further in Google’s embraces, and I think I give that company enough business already. (I’m quasi-dreading seeing cards about “RSS” and “Google Now” showing up in Google Now, based on my searches for this post.) It’s also a proprietary and closed system, unlike RSS.

I do appreciate Now as a tool to help me decide what sites deserve a spot in my RSS feed–and, by virtue of Feedly’s recent integration with Google Now, as a way to spotlight popular topics in my RSS that merit reading before others.

Safari favorites headingAs I was going over this reevaluation of my info-grazing habits, I realized that I haven’t even gotten out of the habit of using bookmarks in my browsers. Yes, bookmarks! They remain a major part of my experience of Safari and the mobile version of Chrome–thought not, for whatever reason, the desktop edition.

Mine are embarrassingly untended, littered with lapsed memberships and defunct sites. But they also let me get to favorite sites by muscle memory and without excessive reliance on auto-complete (less helpful for going straight to a particular page on a site) and search (like I said, Google gets enough of my time already).

And my bookmarks would work better if there weren’t so many of them. I really should edit them today… right after I see if my signature file needs new ASCII art.

Weekly output: location tracking, lost iOS passcode

I hope this week and next involve a minimum of actual work for you all. But if your jobs have any connection to CES, I know that’s not going to happen.

Location-tracking Yahoo Tech story12/23/2014: Smartphone Location Tracking: How to Turn (Some of) It Off, Yahoo Tech

This was a pretty wonky topic, and I don’t know that I addressed it to my own satisfaction. But if it got even a small fraction of my readers to log into Google or Facebook to see their own location-history records–and then think of the equivalent data AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon keep but won’t display–then it was worth the trouble.

12/28/2014: Lost iOS passcode plus no backups equals lost data, USA Today

I was worried that a column on a holiday weekend about a problem most users don’t experience would get zero readership. Instead, there’s a lively if not always coherent debate in the comments. It includes one complaint (rudely phrased but not off-base) that I didn’t note that you can tell your iPhone or iPad to trust a given computer–which should let you run a final backup cycle to iTunes without unlocking your device before doing a complete restore that will remove that screen lock.

Weekly ouput: Ello, smart-home privacy, Tech Night Owl, Google Voice MMS

I’m starting the first week since August that won’t have me going any farther from home than Metro can take me. (Each of those trips made sense on its own as a business proposition, but halfway through I could not stop thinking “what have I done?”) That is an exciting thought.

A week without my team playing baseball: not so exciting. Sigh.

10/7/2014: Our Relationship with the New Social Network Ello: It’s Complicated, Yahoo Tech

I’m instinctively suspicious of hype over a new social network without much of a track record, but in this case I think the record supports my cranky-old-man reaction.

Tech Cocktail Celebrate Hagins interview10/7/2014:  Can We Protect Privacy in the Smart Home?, Tech Cocktail Celebrate

I interviewed Jeff Hagins, CTO and a founder of the home-automation firm SmartThings, about where the “Internet of Things” idea is taking us. The two big takeaways: Hagins is interested to see what Microsoft can bring to home automation (me too), and he’d be happy to see this progress lead to a home without light switches (not so much).

10/11/2014: October 11, 2014 — Josh Centers and Rob Pegoraro, Tech Night Owl

I talked to host Gene Steinberg about (among other things) my Yahoo column of two weeks ago critiquing Apple’s unwillingness to talk in public to its customers online. Also on this episode: TidBITS managing editor Josh Centers.

10/12/2014: What’s new in Google Voice: MMS, USA Today

Google’s belated expansion of multimedia-messaging support to most carriers besides Verizon invited a column; Verizon telling me that it plans to remedy that omission made it a more news-worthy piece.

Weekly output: tax prep, Google Glass, Heartbleed, Nearby Friends, online banking

This was a multiple-microphone week, and two of my three broadcast appearances involved shows that hadn’t booked me as a guest before. That’s good.

In other news: Happy Easter!

4/15/2014: The Strange and Successful Campaign to Make Taxes More Taxing, Yahoo Tech

A lot of material had to get left out of this already-long column denouncing the crony-capitalism campaign by Intuit and such Washington groups as Americans for Tax Reform and my former client CCIA to stop governments from letting citizens file and pay taxes at their own sites. (For example, these direct-filing sites cost little to run–$80,000 a year at California’s ReadyReturn, $150,000 for Pennsylvania’s soon-to-be-shuttered padirectfile.)  Comments debuted at Yahoo Tech late Tuesday afternoon, and as you can see I did not wait long to show up in them myself.

Speaking of feedback, you might as well see ATR’s latest post opposing IRS-run tax prep and stories, mine included, that suggest it would be a good thing… which, in a coincidence too weird for me not to disclose, was written by the guy who’s done my taxes since 2012.

4/16/2014: Google Glass and privacy, Al Jazeera

The news network’s Arabic-language channel had me on the air to talk about Google Glass and privacy issues. Since I was being translated into Arabic in real time, the producer emphasized that I speak slowly and simply–a challenge when my usual habit is to speak too fast on the air.

To the Point Heartbleed show4/16/2014: Heartbleed and Internet Security, To the Point

KCRW’s news show had me on to discuss the Heartbleed bug and how  open-source development broke down in this case. I wish I’d thought to compare major tech companies’ unwillingness to kick in any money to the OpenSSL Foundation with all the effort they’ve put into finding ways to pipe income to shell corporations in overseas tax havens.

Most of my input happened in the first 20 minutes or so, but keep listening to hear Internet Governance Project founder Milton Mueller discard some silly objections from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s Daniel Castro to the government’s proposal to hand over supervision of the DNS root zone.

4/18/2014: Nearby Friends, WTOP

D.C.’s news station had me on the air for a few minutes via Skype to talk about Facebook’s new location-based option, its privacy implications and how it competes with such existing apps as Foursquare and the D.C. startup SocialRadar.

4/20/2014: Safety you can bank on: Chromebook, Linux, phone, USA Today

A relative’s question about whether he should buy a Chromebook for his online banking gave me an opportunity to note a couple of cheaper options to separate your Web financial transactions from your regular use: booting your computer off a Linux CD or flash drive, or using your bank’s app or the built-in browser on your phone or tablet.

Weekly output: net neutrality, teens on Facebook, Chrome and passwords

I had two stories this week show up online without the links I’d added. Since two different sites and CMSes were involved, I’m left with the conclusion that I’m personally snakebit. Or that I maxed out a monthly link quota that I didn’t know existed.

Yahoo Tech net-neutrality post1/14/2014: Why Is Tuesday’s Court Decision on Net Neutrality Such a Big Deal? And What Happens Next?, Yahoo Tech

This was not the column I’d originally written for this week, but when a federal court handed down a ruling Tuesday morning that gutted the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to enforce net-neutrality regulations, I had to drop everything and write an analysis of a result that I saw coming back in 2010. This post initially appeared without any of the links I’d added, for reasons nobody has been able to figure out; we fixed that earlier today.

1/16/2014: Rob Pegoraro, columnist for USA Today and Yahoo Tech, talks about teens dumping Facebook, WTOP

WTOP had me via Skype to talk about an iStrategyLabs report, based on usage data Facebook provides to advertisers, of declining teen Facebook use. About 10 minutes afterwards, I remembered that only two months ago, I’d heard about some enlightening research into teen social-media use that would have been useful to cite on the air.

1/19/2014: Why does Chrome ask for your Mac Keychain password?, USA Today

For the second time in three weeks, my USAT column dealt with a problem I’d experienced on my own computer–in this case, annoying Keychain prompts by the Mac version of Chrome. The column somehow got posted without any links; I’ll ask management about that.

On Sulia, I observed that Netflix’s data on average streaming rates across different ISPs showed how much viewing there involves lower resolutions, heaped scorn on the Weather Channel’s attempt to guilt DirecTV into paying a higher carriage fee, confessed to having a Digital Compact Cassette in my office, shared a fix for Evernote’s iPad app not digitizing scanned business cards, and complained about Netflix becoming unwatchably slow over my 15-Mbps Verizon Fios connection.

 

Weekly output: NSA surveillance, PR and the press, digital journalism, Android-iPad photo sync, deleting photos, Republic Wireless

On my first week back from vacation, I attempted to catch up with the NSA-surveillance story and took part in a couple of great panel discussions. I’d hoped to get a little more writing done, since I’ll be in New York from Tuesday through Thursday for the Consumer Electronics Association’s CE Week conference.

6/18/2013: More Tech Firms Now Question Government Snooping. What About Congress?, Disruptive Competition Project

My timing on this piece–in which I expressed my appreciation and alarm that large tech companies, in which I have no vote, seem to be doing a better job of advocating for our civil liberties online than the elected representatives we hired to do that–was pretty good. Maybe two hours after it went up, Google filed suit to challenge the gag orders that prohibit it from discussing the decisions handed down to it by the secretive, compliant and largely unaccountable Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

6/19/2013: Behind the Story: Breakfast Series With the Media, Cision

I talked about the intersections of journalism, PR and social media with the Washington Business Journal’s Jennifer Nycz-Conner, USA Today’s Melanie Eversley and moderator Shonali Burke. There should be video posted soon, and I’ll add a link when that happens.

Vocus panel photo6/20/2013: The Evolving State of Digital Journalism, Demand Success

I talked about some of the same topics, plus such bigger-picture issues as how much the chase for Web traffic should influence story assignments, at the marketing firm Vocus’s conference with WJLA journalist Jummy Olabanji. Tech Cocktail co-founder Jen Consalvo and moderator Paul Sherman of Potomac Tech Wire. Again, I’ll link to video whenever it’s posted. (There’s more at my Flickr set from the event, which took place at the the Gaylord National hotel in National Harbor, Md.)

6/23/2013: Tip: Google+ transfers photos between Android and iPad, USA Today

This question came straight from my father-in-law, who had just picked up a new iPad and upgraded from one Android phone to a newer model. The tip part of the column advises making a habit of deleting lesser photos to develop your photographic skills; I remember writing something like that for the Post but I can’t find it anywhere now.

6/23/2013: A $19 Unlimited Smartphone Plan: Just Add Wi-Fi, Discovery News

I tried out Republic Wireless’s WiFi-centric smartphone service and liked it, aside from the embarrassingly obsolete Android phone this company hopes to replace with a newer model soon. (Update, 7/1: I didn’t realize this at the time, but Mashable reposted the story, as part of a content-sharing deal it has with Discovery. And now I have a bunch of comments to read…)

On Sulia, I noted the demise of ESPN’s 3D channel, reported on my experience with the “Auto Enhance” photo editing at Google+, discussed NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen’s thoughtful presentation at Demand Success, described my experience getting a cracked iPad screen repaired and suggested a few tools to help you spot the International Space Station overhead.

Weekly output: Web radio, Facebook privacy, Windows 7, Windows 8 backup

The good thing about driving home from Thanksgiving on a Monday is skipping the Sunday traffic. The bad thing about that strategy is giving yourself a four-day week when five days is the legal minimum to catch up on everything that got shoved aside in the previous week. And then I had to burn half a day on a solid-state-drive upgrade for a laptop that remains unfinished… but I’ll save the ugly details for later.

IRFA post11/26/2012: The Internet Radio Fairness Act, And Two Things I Hate About Copyfights, Disruptive Competition Project

It had been a few years since my last rant about the illogical and unfair royalties charged to Web radio outlets (as compared to satellite and, especially, FM and AM), so I was already due. Then a few weeks of seeing Pandora demonized in ads and Congressional testimony further set me off, resulting in this essay about the inanity of intellectual-property absolutism. Fortunately, I’m not the only one thinking such subversive thoughts.

11/28/2012: Facebook Privacy Changes Not as Bad as You Think, Discovery News

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, something else irked me: Yet another round of uninformed panic over a proposed change in Facebook’s terms of service, this time featuring Facebook users sharing copied-and-pasted gibberish asserting their rights under the nonexistent “Berner Convention.” I hope this post didn’t make me sound like an apologist for a company I don’t trust completely.

12/2/2012: Tip: You can still buy a Windows 7 PC, USA Today

A reader wrote in to ask about putting Windows XP on a Windows 8 computer, which my editor and I thought a bit out there. (Seriously, about XP: Let it die already.) But we did see sufficient interest in a piece about getting a new computer with Windows 7. The column wraps up with an item about Windows 8’s backup options, which are sufficiently complicated that I may have to revisit them at greater length later on.