Google News RSS Feeds

So most of you know that I’ve been using www.bloglines.com to read about 20 RSS feeds, both blogs and news, for some time. You can see many of them in the Blogroll to the right. Big deal, I’ve still got information overload syndrome. But now Google just released a technology that NOT ONLY lets you get RSS feeds from Google News, but also lets you read search results feeds.

i.e., I can create a feed in Bloglines like

http://news.google.com/news?q=lemurs&output=rss

and it will feed me the latest news on lemurs. For some reason, I’m thinking this is really cool. It makes me think that almost any one-way communication that used to be delivered by email would be better served as RSS. Newsletters, for example. Announcements, updates, etc.

RSS needs to catch on a bit more now. Vista will have it. Apple’s Safari does a pretty good job at doubling as an RSS reader. I wonder how KDE and Akregator will evolve, keeping in mind that Plasma will thrive on dynamic, content-focused data.

UPDATE: Why is this Google search feed so cool? Because you can have an RSS feed about ANYTHING now. If you want an XBOX 360 feed, you got it.

“Give me AJAX or give me death”

After reading the recent Wired news story claiming a web revolution based on AJAX (Slashdot coverage), I’m excited to see where web developers will take us. Although I really like the direction KDE is taking, most futurists agree that high-powered desktops will eventually be obsoleted by low-powered networked computers and thin-clients. AJAX is the perfect platform with those devices in mind.

AJAX can be nearly anything:
Personal Information Manager
Calendar
Webmail
Server-data-dependent app, like Point of Sale, Content Management, Customer Management, Shopping, and Databases

AJAX might work well for:
Word processing
Spreadsheets
Presentation creation

AJAX wouldn’t work at all for:
Pro image editing (although basic photo sorting / editing could work, and already exists)
Pro video editing (not really until Internet 2 would this even be thinkable)
Pro sound editing (ditto)

The secret is…(shh)… Google could do it all and make billions!!!

Usability – Real and Virtual

Alright, fine! I’m back and I should be posting more often, but I’m lazy. Has it ever bothered you that software developers are often terrible at designing interfaces? These guys are, and I am too. But software developers aren’t the only ones…

Microwave Ovens are the worst offenders of keypads on appliances. There is no standard, so it is a free-for-all whenever an appliance maker designs a new oven. Here is the keypad on a 1993 GE SpaceMaker:

Microwave Oven

How do you enter 1:30, judging from this image? You’re thinking “just press 1, 3, 0” but you’d be wrong. Actually, to enter exact cook times on this cooker, you have to press “TIME COOK” first. So for some reason, it is now faster to enter 1:30 by pressing 1 (which gives 1:00) and “ADD 30 SECONDS” (which gives 1:30). A word to GE – number keypads should all work as expected, okay? And we expect them to work when we first press them. Imagine having a cell phone where you had to press a “DIAL NUMBER” button before dialing the number.

I’m a little upset with my microwave, as you can see.

Here’s another useability flaw that I came across today. This is the page shown when you click “Help Center” at buydomains.com, where I have one my domains registered:

BuyDomains.com

As you can see, it presents a FAQ index. But it doesn’t show the most popular FAQs. It does allow for searching the FAQs, but at first glance a user won’t notice that, because it is in a separate box that includes a list of links to other locations. Wonderful. Next you’ll see the “Contact Us” link, which takes you to a webform where you can fill in your name, email, problem description, and “traceroute if it is a connection problem with one of your sites.” Are you kidding me?

They don’t provide any contact email, phone number or IM. A hint to all web startups: make it EASY for the customer to get answers from a real person. FAQs are fun to make, and sometimes fun to read, but are useless when not exhaustive knowledgebases (such as Microsoft’s KB). For a real world metaphor, read on.

You’ve just walked up to the Customer Service desk at your local Walmart SuperCenter. There is no receptionist nor representative. There is no telephone. There is only a 3 ring binder which, upon opening, reveals a list of questions that Walmart customers frequently ask. The top page is an index, and thumbing through it you see answers to all kinds of questions. Not surprisingly, you are unable to find the answer to your question. Now you have noticed that there is a ticket machine. It is tucked away to one corner, so you didn’t even see it when you first approached the desk. You take a ticket, and read the text on the back of the ticket: “Thank you for your inquiry. You should receive a response within the next 48 hours.”

We would never put up with this at Walmart, so why do so many of us put up with it on Customer Support websites?

New website, and words on WordPress

For those of you keeping track of philipandjenny.com, I have finally got something up and running. Whilst perousing the web, I stumbled across a PHP-based weblog server. Sure it has tons of useful features, but the best features are its GPL licence and compliance with web standards.

Then, to my great surprise, Slashdot mentioned a serious problem with the way WordPress is generating revenue. It apparently started here and was followed with a rebuttal here. Since I’m brand-spanking new to the WordPress community, I don’t know what side to take. I can tell you that Google-Spamming is evil, and yes, that is what it’s called.

I’m not upset. Just confused. But I am feeling better since Gmail upped my storage to 2GB, and started a new Rich Text feature. Plus, I found a new Google Labs toy to play with.

Update: Apparently Matt, the creator of WordPress, has been able to respond to the contraversial advertisements. And since he has taken them down, we can’t call WordPress evil, so I’m gonna keep using WordPress. Yay!