Memo to Bloglines — Please Ignore Dave

Dave Winer posts today:

Question for Yahoo, Google, Bloglines, anyone else who wants to run a centralized aggregation service. I can’t speak for anyone else, but the user interface I want is the one in the Convention Bloggers site. It’s derived from Radio’s aggregator, which was derived from My.UserLand. It’s designed to let the reader skim over hundreds of articles in just a few minutes. It works. Why mess around emulating three-paned email interfaces. In my humble opinion, if you just emulated this interface you’d clean up.

You think Dave might think to ask once in awhile if his method isn’t broken when so many other popular sites use different methods.

As I’ve said before, the problem with Radio is that this simply doesn’t scale. I didn’t check my Bloglines account at all since late Thursday, so there are currently more than 27,000 unread stories there across almost 300 different feeds. Simply lumping them altogether in one single scrolling display would be a horrible interface — and one of the reasons I and others stopped using Radio in favor of sites like Bloglines (actually I’m still waiting for a deal breaking feature to be fixed in the otherwise excellent FeedDemon).

Instead, I have my feeds divided into a couple dozen categories and I can quickly get to information I really need to see while ignoring and marking as read the rest. WHy do Bloglines, etc. use the three pane system — because it just works for users, even if a handful of developers still don’t like it.

Well, There Might be a Total Asshole Company In Here Somewhere


Seth Dillingham points out that I didn’t do my homework here. Google might be starting out with the Open Directory database, but they are then modifying it apparently using Page Rank.

The bizarre thing is they’ve apparently truncated the listings — the Open Directory database has many more weblog tools listed than does the Google version (unless Google’s version is old and not being updated, which seems unlikely).

In that case, it is indeed odd that Radio Userland doesn’t show up there is odd. It may not be the best or most widely used tool, but it certainly has a significant base, and leaving it out is odd.

This certainly validates part of Winer’s point — that Google’s got a stupid way of producing its directory. It looks like they’re using Page Rank to create a half-human/half-machine created directory which is actually less useful than if they’d just reproduced as-is the Open Directory data.

– Brian

Dave Winer has this (unintentionally) amusing slam at Google over the lack of inclusion of his blogging tools in their directory of blogging tools,

Google’s directory of weblog tools. None of the tools I wrote made the list. Centralized directories on the Web are like buggy whips for cars. Let’s fix this bug.
Google, this makes you look like a total asshole company. Your tool is
listed first, and your competitor’s tools aren’t listed at all. When
will it become too embarassing to support this antiquated mode

But, of course, this is not Google’s directory — they have no responsibility at all over what gets listed here. They’re simply rebranding the Open Directory project whose directory is available to anyone. I guess the Open Directory folks are probably in some sort of conspiracy with Google or something like that.

As far as Open Directory, it’s not a bad directory but runs smack into the main problem that creating a general directory of the Internet is pretty much an unmanageable task at this point. Dave’s got his own proposed solution which doesn’t do anything that I can see to obviate the obvious problems with creating a directory of a network that has millions of sites and billions of pages.

I’m surprised that anybody uses these general directories like Yahoo! or Open Directory anymore. It’s a little like encountering an old card catalog for a library with a sign reading, “Warning: this catalog only indexes 5% of the actual known books in the library.” Would you actually bother to use such a tool? Then why bother with Yahoo! or Open Directory?

Software On Brian’s Laptop

Windows Utilities

  • Stardock Object Desktop
  • ActiveWords
  • Norton Utilities
  • ZIP Backup to CD
  • Spybot Search and Destroy
  • Serials 2000


  • Freedom Force
  • Unreal Tournament
  • Civilization II
  • The Sims


  • Adobe Photoshop Elements
  • Adobe Photoshop Album
  • Macromedia Fireworks
  • Hypersnap Screen Capture
  • Hypercam

Document Management

  • Adobe Acrobat 5.0
  • Ominpage Pro 12.0
  • DT Search


  • Mozilla Firebird
  • Trillian
  • Eudora
    • Spamnix
  • Groupwise
  • Radio Userland
  • Analog
  • Feed Demon

Document Creation

  • Dreamweaver
  • Textpad
  • Microsoft Office XP
  • Grammar Expert Plus
  • Inspiration 7


  • DIVX Pro Encoder/Decoder
  • Pinnacle Studio 8


  • MusicMatch Jukebox
  • Total Recorder


  • Personal Vault
  • PGP 8
  • ZoneAlarm Pro



  • Campaign Cartographer Pro
  • Fractal Terrains


I’ve complained several times that the current RSS aggregator I’m using — Radio Userland — doesn’t have any way to categorize the dozens of RSS feeds I’m monitoring and, unfortunately, what looks like the aggregator with the featureset I want is only available on the Macintosh.

The upside is that people seem to be developing new RSS aggregators right and left so there are plenty of ones to choose from that come close to what I want. The best I’ve come across so far for Windows is BlogExpress which has the advantage of also being free (with a donation suggested).

BlogExpress is almost perfect. It is built on top of Internet Explorer and lets me do most of what I want — I can create categories and subcategories for the various RSS feeds I’m subscribed to. It can give me a category level look at how many new items there are on each RSS feed, but alas it cannot yet aggregate all of the feeds under, say, the Africa category, and simply show me in one page all of the new stories in all of the RSS feeds I’ve tagged as being about Africa. That’s what I’m really after.

BlogExpress uses a tabbed interface much like Mozilla, so new stories I click on in the aggregator pane show up as new tabs. Works great, but I’m spoiled by Firebird’s ability to background load new tabs which I find a much better way of opening new tabs, especially when I’m going through a list of 20-30 stories I might want to open.

Radio Userland Is Broken

Dave Winer complains today that a story about RSS left out any mention of Radio Userland. According to Winer,

There are two schools of thought about aggregators. One says that they should work like a mail reader, the other that it should work like a weblog. The former shows you each feed as a separate thing, the latter shows all articles in reverse-chronologic order, grouping them by time. Imho we already have enough mail readers, wire up RSS to email and you’re done. Who needs another piece of software to do what an already-existing category does so well. But the latter, which is the approach I used in Radio’s aggregator, works incredibly well. People who are just using mail-reader style aggregators are really missing something. Articles that only write about mail reader aggregators are also missing something.

No, actually Radio’s aggregation features suck for precisely this reason. I know this because I’m using Radio as an aggregator.

Well, technically I’m ignoring it at the moment because it’s impossible to actually use Radio Useralnd if you want to subscribe to a lot of feeds.

This is something I’ve written about before. Net News Wire has a very nice system that lets you organize and aggregate feeds by categories the user defines (see this nice screenshot). But Dave doesn’t work that way, so the odds of seeing this in Radio is non-existent (please port Net News Wire to Windows!)

Dave says all you need are your feeds in reverse chronological order like a weblog. Earth to Dave — relying on reverse chronological listing as the main organizing principle for news is stupid. Ever visited Google News? Notice how they divided the stories into categories? Same thing with the New York Times.

But the world according to Dave is that all anybody ever needs is a reverse chronological listing and so that’s that. As a result I see RSS feeds arranged like this:

Wi-Fi Networking News (2 items)

AllAfrica News: Zimbabwe (2 items)

AllConsuming ( 9 items)

BoingBoing! (6 items)

CNET News.Com (5 items)

Moreover Animal News (3 items)

Moreover Asia (6 items)

NYT Business (1 item)

NYT Homepage (5 items)

Tomalak’s Realm (1 item)

BBC News Home Page (7 items)

Animal Concerns News Service (5 items)

Moreover SE Asia (14 items)

Moreover Asia Pacific (15 items)

Samizdata.Net (2 items)

Register (1 item)

FARK (5 items)

Yahoo! Oddly Enough (5 items)

Yahoo! Strange News (2 items)

Reuters Science (2 items)

Scientific American (1 items)

New Scientist (2 items)

EurekAlert (1 item)

Economist:Books (1 item)

Dave would never have the animal-related feeds and tech-related feeds grouped together, so why would I ever want this? It’s the Henry Ford principle — any color you like as long as it’s black (or reverse chronological).

The upshot is that I rarely bother to even check Radio’s aggregated feed anymore. It’s much more efficient to visit these sites in groups using Mozilla’s tab features than it is to wade through the chaotic output of Radio Userland.

Good Example of How Dave Winer Edits and Reputation

Back when Mark Pilgrim’s Winer Watch was up and running, Dave Winer posted in several places that most of the edits he makes are relatively minor. That may be true, but Pilgrim provides a good example of how drastically things can change at Winer’s sites in the course of just a few hours.

Here’s what Winer’s site says at the moment about Pilgrim complaining about a bug in Radio Userland’s implementation of Trackback,

Mark Pilgrim’s bug report. Just a bug, not a conspiracy.

Here’s what it apparently said earlier today (emphasis added),

Mark Pilgrim’s bug report has all the grace of a Rush Limbaugh rant. Shoot first and ask questions later. Someone should kick his ass, hard.

One of the things that Dave is really setting himself up for is for someone to simply making something up and start claiming that Winer actually said it but then deleted it.

Suppose, for example, I decided to make up a particuarly over-the-top statement and falsely attribute it to Winer. So I post it to my weblog and say that Winer posted this earlier and then almost a quickly deleted it.

How’s Dave going to convince people that he didn’t? He’s not going to be able to say he wouldn’t make that kind of inflammatory statement, because we have plenty of evidence that he does. He also can’t credibly claim that he wouldn’t post and then delete an inflammatory statement because there’s plenty of evidence he does it regularly.

Dave himself pointed out the problems attendant with having a reputation for that sort of thing when he linked to an Andrew Orloski story but noted that given Orloski’s track record the story only had about a 10 percent chance of being true. But Winer himself has a long-standing reputation, and his habit of constantly modifying what he writes is really setting himself up for the above scenario.

Which is a very good reason not to make the sort of wholesale changes Winer makes to his weblog posts. If you make a mistake or post something extremely inflammatory, it’s much better to simply leave it there and append it somehow (possibly with strikethrough text) rather than completely erase it. At least that way, visitors know they can rely on you standing by the things you write. Once you start editing to the point that you are regularly changing the entire context of weblog entries you open up a whole can of worms that gradually degrades the trust readers have in your weblog.