Posts Tagged: opinion


12
Sep 10

The Last RSS Reader

Bloglines, one of the big RSS readers before Google Reader, just headed to the dead pool. Surprisingly, even “visits to Google Reader are down 27 percent year-over-year“. Competitors for RSS reader services have all died long ago. While Bloglines let the product slip into neglect, it’s still quite shocking to see that we are now left with Google Reader alone. The most telling part is that, as of now, not many of the major blogs are even talking about the shutdown of Bloglines. What happened to RSS readers?

The prevalent argument is that social news networks have replaced the need for RSS readers. In fact, according to a recent CNN survey, 75% of people get their news from email or social media. The argument is if you don’t hear about it from the people you’re connected with, it’s probably not worth knowing. Twitter is definitely a wealth for news because you have links and updates. You literally have access to people experiencing it in real time and the analysis and reactions to these events coming at you real-time. Sites that aggregate the flow of information to show you what’s hot like Tweetmeme are really useful and the results are always fresh though it might not have the personal touch of TechMeme.

At the end of the day, RSS readers stop scaling very fast when you have a steady stream of content from a growing number of sources. Pruning and tending to your RSS subscription list can be a task of its own and you need to be constantly on the lookout for great content. However, no matter how you try, even with one hundred feeds or so there’s no way you can stay on top of all your feeds.

There are many companies trying to innovate by making it easier to discover news that’s relevant to you, usually in combination with your social graph such as Flipboard. The need for information that is both timely and relevant is a fundamental need for us as social creatures. We will continue to see innovation in this space but now that Google is the almost the last RSS reader standing, I hope we see something great rise from the ashes.

The Death Of The RSS Reader | paidContent The Ask.com Blog: Bloglines Update


8
Sep 10

The Big Rewrite, Digg’s Woes Continue

Digg’s woes continue with their new architecture. The rewrite is a mythical dragon in the software world that lives in a cave and occasionally wipes out entire cities. The idea for a web application is that you create all the software from scratch, leaving the data in tact, then on the big day you do a sleight of hand and “voila!” your site is running on a brand new platform. You avoid all the mistakes you made along the way in architecture design and rid yourself of nasty legacy code written by that snarky engineer you fired for incompetence years ago. Now your set for years of growth on a platform that scales with ease and grace. Everything is just faster. Engineers are happy. That’s the theory but it rarely happens in practice.

In reality, engineers are working overtime for months on end with no weekends slowly getting disillusioned by the sheer amount of work involved. The technical leads start seeing other unforeseen issues with the new architecture that lead to potential problems. Data needs to be preserved and migrated seamlessly. As the rewrite drags on code gets sloppier and what’s more there’s no feedback from the real world so people are coding against a subset of test data and not getting pounded by real traffic. When the rewrite does go live, people rejoice, and then the “wait” begins (negative feedback or bugs, lots of bugs). When the system starts coming down in flames everyone’s overworked and drained, not to mention a part of them let go when the switch was flipped, so it takes a lot of mental effort to get back into the flow. Stress levels are even higher than during the rewrite. People start panicking and yelling. Everyone’s unhappy and full of regret.

Of course, this is when rewrites go terribly wrong. Rewrites will always involve some kind of negative adjustment. There are cases where products vanish from the face of the earth after a rewrite because the product becomes something totally different or the competition keeps chugging along while you’re fixing problems. It can be done in style like Foursquare did. Reddit also rewrote their system (not counting the original version done in Lisp) from one framework to another. It can be painful but rewarding in the long-term like Apple’s rewrite of the OS which gives us OS X and provides the underpinnings of their current success.

Digg’s current rewrite involves both architecture and function which is rarely a good thing. On the surface it makes a lot of sense, if we’re going to write it from scratch why not improve the algorithms and functionality in one go. However, in practice, it’s hard to fix things that are broken because your fixing something totally different.

One thing about Digg’s current predicament is the circumstances the VP of Engineering was either fired or quit in the middle of this crisis. If he was fired, it begs the question why because he’s the one who made the decision and should be the one to fix it or guide the team in the right direction. If not, he shouldn’t be leading the team to start with. Of course, his past experience aside from being “VP of Engineering” doesn’t seem to indicate anything relevant to running a highly trafficked web application. If he did walk out on his own, that’s also not good because you’re basically leaving a mess behind you. Either way it’s career suicide and I wonder what would lead to this kind of drama.

On the plus side, Digg is getting lots of attention of late from all the drama surrounding the rewrite. The dust will eventually settle as the issues get sorted out and hopefully they’ll be able to incorporate feedback to make the site better.

As Digg Struggles, VP Of Engineering Is Shown The Door


3
Sep 10

Digg and Reddit, A Retrospective

The rivalry between Digg and Reddit is something of a staple in the social news scene. Now with the latest revolt over Digg’s new design (version 4) that gives media a more powerful presence accompanied by a total rewrite, people are what this means for the future of Digg and attention is shifting towards Reddit. Perhaps even more now that Reddit now has 300+ million pageviews compared to Digg’s 200+ million.

Even before the latest revolt, the scene around Digg changed quite dramatically. At the beginning of 2009 Digg downsized staff amidst declining revenue. The long-time CEO Jay Adelson stepped down not to mention . The rewrite/redesign is preceded by an exodus of former engineers. In addition to all this Digg now has a new CEO that takes over from Kevin Rose.

Digg has long held the dominant position in social news. It’s hard to estimate the impact Digg has had on the web without reflecting on how instrumental Digg was in launching major media staples such as TechCrunch or Mashable among many other blogs and websites. Unknown sites were suddenly thrust into the spotlight would see their servers go down in flames. The next day they would write about the experience of going down from Digg traffic and make another appearance on the front page.

The power and simplicity of Digg inspired many competitors. In fact, so many that have since faded from memory. Perhaps one of the more memorable episodes was when AOL re-appropriated their popular but under-utilised netscape domain (now propeller), put Jason Calacanis in charge (from their Weblogs acquisition), and built a social news clone and hired away prominent Digg users for $1000 a month in compensation. This was launched at about the time Digg removed user rankings from the site when there was an exodus of power users.

On the other hand, Reddit has more or less quietly polished their own product since its launch in 2005 as a Y Combinator startup and later acquired by Conde Nast. The founders of Reddit with the exception of Chris Slowe have also moved on. While Reddit content is user-voted like Digg, they take a more hands off approach to the community whereas Digg is known to moderate or squash certain users that fall afoul of their policies or values. Reddit’s algorithm is based on user karma (a trust metric) that comes from submitted content and comments. Another feature of Reddit is for users to create their own “sub-reddits”. Reddit code is also open source. They operate on a small team with a small budget.

These days people are more likely to discover topics relevant to them through twitter of facebook rather than sift through the flood of generally popular things on social news sites. If you want a cross section of what’s popular right now TweetMeme probably gives you the most balanced bird’s eye view. The hacker crowd most likely check up on Hacker News created by Paul Graham for both links and quality discussion. For an overview of the latest tech news, TechMeme is another go to source. For example, lets take a look at the front page of Digg and Reddit to see what’s trending.

Digg:

  1. 25 Awesome Animal Attack Videos
  2. Ten TV Shows You Never Knew Existed | Gunaxin Media
  3. NASA planning mission to visit the sun
  4. NASA Outdoes All Homemade Flamethrower Videos [Video]
  5. Ford readying Fiesta-based crossover, captured for the first time!
  6. The 14 Most Brutal College Hazing Rituals
  7. Internet Sensation Antoine Dodson and Auto-Tune the News Sell ‘Bed Intruder’ on iTunes
  8. New Research Challenges Marijuana Gateway Theory
  9. tokeofthetown.com— The widespread belief that marijuana users will eventually and inevitably move on to harder drugs has yet more evidence against it with the release…
  10. Video Artist Transforms YouTube’s TOS Into a Paranoid Nightmare

Reddit:

  1. I am William J Lashua’s Grandson. Please read this. (self.reddit.com)
  2. Peeping Tom, caught on camera (youtube.com)
  3. A woman named Hilda Yao has just donated over $1 million to fund the wish-lists of EVERY teacher in California. Note to Glenn Beck: this is what a sincere effort to “restore honor” looks like. (sfgate.com)
  4. My dog Hickory playing in puddles in our backyard…yes, I am sitting in a puddle holding the camera. [pic] (imgur.com)
  5. Your move, captcha… (imgur.com)
  6. With reddit’s help, the Internet just broke down a border! On an unrelated note, two reddit guys were guests on a podcast last night. (blog.reddit.com)
  7. Am I the only guy that doesn’t like one night stands? (self.AskReddit)
  8. Minecraft sells its 100.000th copy!!! (Thats a Million euros now – for a game still in Alpha! – by ONE guy) (minecraft.net)
  9. Wisconsin, the number one cheese-producing state in the United States, named this bacterium in 2010 as the official state microbe, the first and only such designation by a state legislature in the nation. (nytimes.com)
  10. Israel is willing to make a sweeping concession – dividing control of Jerusalem – as part of a historic final peace pact with Palestinians and drop its demand that Jerusalem would “remain the undivided capital of Israel” (nypost.com)

As you can see, the sites have moved away from their tech focus long ago. However, one thing remains is that with social media sites like Digg or Reddit, you live by your users and die by your users. In any popular website that relies on user-generated content, the top people making the most important contributions that drive traffic to the site are only a small handful of the thousands or even millions of registered users.

One thing that hasn’t changed with Digg over the years is the cult of personality around Kevin Rose and the largely anonymous but rowdy masses that dwell in the comments section. At one point it was driven by power users that have since moved on or became demoralized. On the other hand, Reddit has been consistent in maintaining a hands-off approach to direct moderation (by innovating on their karma algorithm) while keeping a fanatic commitment to their community (even if it means revolting against their corporate parent). It’s a classic example of the tortoise versus the hare.