or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Bloglines is Back(ish)

   November 9th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Trojan Horse replicaAfter it was announced in September that Bloglines was shutting down (although Chris knew better), I sadly and reluctantly started testing replacements. So you'd think that the recent announcement that Bloglines will continue after all would send me tearing back, right?

The answer, actually, is no - and I think there's a lesson in there for libraries.

When Ask.com announced they were ending Bloglines, that's what they said - service will be terminated. They didn't say they were looking to spin it off, or really give its users any obvious signs of hope. The deadline extensions implied they were exploring ways to continue the service, but my feeds were too important to me to sit around and hope.

After evaluating a few alternatives, I switched to Netvibes. And now that I've invested a month tweaking it and getting comfortable with it, the idea of switching again - even back to something "familiar" - is just not appealing and I'm not going to do it.

I say "familiar" after reading about the future plan for Bloglines - fewer features and more ads. To me, this indicates a shift in focus, from "user as customer" to "user as product" (meaning, "what's good for me" versus "what's good for them") - which gives me zero incentive to use it anymore*.

So, I think the moral of the story also applies to libraries:

  • If you have something successful (like a storytime, newspaper column, podcast, Sunday hours**, book group, etc.) that has to be temporarily interrupted, make sure people know they can count on it coming back
  • Don't be gone too long, because in the meantime people will find alternatives and might not be there when you're ready to welcome them back (communicating reminders and updates is a good idea)
  • Don't open up room for doubt - say what's going to happen, and then do it. If anything changes, let people know (again, communication is key). Once trust is lost it's tough to recover, and it's far easier to keep supporters than it is to win them back
  • And when you do come back, make sure you're still offering what it is that people liked in the first place, and not just something that suits you better

My gosh, why is this all sounding so bitter? I'm really not, I promise. I just think this is a good cautionary tale on how easy it is to lose support - and support is everything to libraries.

 


*Incidentally, this is, as I see it, exactly the business model Facebook uses (and exactly why I don't use Facebook). All the ways Facebook's users' privacy is violated can be traced back to it - the more information about you they sell to advertisers, the more money they make. Facebook's customers are its advertisers, and Facebook users are the product.

**Sunday hours might be a bad example - we could be open only even-numbered Sundays in odd-numbered years when the temperature is greater than the square root of 1764, and we'd still be busy.



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So Long Bloglines, And Thanks For All The Feeds

   September 21st, 2010 Brian Herzog

Bloglines tombstoneBy now you've probably read other peoples' laments about Bloglines closing down. It makes me sad because I've depended on it for years, personally and for work.

I'm hoping someone will take over Bloglines and continue it, but just in case, I've been testing replacements and thought I would share my findings. (I've heard that RSS readers are a thing of the past, but I have also heard the same thing about email, radio, and libraries, which are also things I use almost every day.)

Anyway, the two I looked at were Tiny Tiny RSS (tt-rss) and NetVibes. There are also others like Google Reader, Pageflakes, FriendFeed, but I already knew I wasn't interested in those.

My criteria was basically everything I liked about Bloglines - a tool that let me get at the information I wanted to read, rather than getting in the way. Specifically, these were:

  • organize feeds into categories
  • sort feeds any way you want, not just alphabetically
  • bookmark posts to read later
  • load quickly
  • email posts to people
  • posts go away automatically after you view them
  • three view options for posts - titles only (click to expand to read fully article), post summary, and full post. And the view option can be set differently for individual feeds

Tiny Tiny RSSTiny Tiny RSS
One catch with tt-rss is that it's not just an online reader like Bloglines, but software you install and host yourself - or, if you're like me, ask someone else to host for you (word up, Chris). But listen to this: Blake Carver of LIShost.org has created LISfeeds.com to host tt-rss for librarians to use! So if you can't host it yourself but would like to use tt-rss, contact Blake to create an account. Thank you Blake!

  • simple and clean interface
  • didn't see a setting for view options - it displays the titles and you have to click to expand
  • can organize feeds into categories, but sorting within categories is just alphabetical
  • doesn't always display videos inline (Netvibes seems better on that score)
  • no ads, which Bloglines did have (although there was a greasemonkey anti-ad script called Stylish to remove them)
  • a little slow - switching between feeds, marking as read, etc. - just everything seemed sluggish
  • unsure about updating - button doesn't always seem to work, so Chris created a special url that forces updates (which take a few minutes)
  • harder to read/skim, because titles are same font and weight as everything else on page
  • lots of options listed under articles, which I don't use and kind of distract me
  • couldn't find a way to email posts
  • no way to see how many other people are subscribed to the feed (which might not be important if it's not a widely-used tool)

NetvibesNetvibes
It looks like Netvibes' online RSS reader is just one portion of what they do. It's all I want though, so I just ignored all the widgety dashboard parts.

  • the overall interface is nice, but reading posts was still a little easier in Bloglines
  • top portion of the screen seems wasted - Bloglines devoted entire screen to feed reading
  • no ads, which Bloglines did have (although there was a greasemonkey anti-ad script called Stylish
  • setting in top right lets you chose display options per feed - title list, full post, or mosaic
  • a little bit slow - not horrible, but just enough to make me notice it
  • allows categories, and has drag-and-drop feed sorting which is nice (and easier than Bloglines)
  • plays videos inline, which Bloglines had problems with
  • updating can be wonky (which happened to Bloglines too) - sometimes you have to click into each category before new posts are displayed
  • a couple times every feed showed tons of new posts, but most didn't have anything new - but Bloglines did this too
  • it looks like one bad feed can prevent a whole category from loading - I had to delete and then re-add PLA blog feed because it wasn't working for me (but had to go through the category feed by feed to find it)
  • there's a link on each post to click right through to the comments, which is nice
  • one minor annoyance is that the posts' "mark as read" button is all the way on the right side of the screen, which is a pain with wide screen and a trackpad, because everything else I need to click is on the left side. But there is a "mark as read" button for the whole feed right where it should be
  • seems to randomly import posts from long ago, but might be because I'm just starting with it
  • have to either scroll past a post or manually click to mark things as read?
  • opening one article automatically closes another, which means you can't have more than one open at a time
  • handles oddballish feeds better than Bloglines, like Twitter streams and Flickr recent activity
  • does allow emailing posts, but I think it might send a link that requires a Netvibes account to clickthrough to - unless I'm doing it wrong
  • no way to see how many other people are subscribed to the feed (which might not be important if it's not a widely-used tool)

At the moment, I'm leaning towards using Netvibes. Mainly because it's a little bit faster, it lets me email posts (I'll have to work on the link issue though), I can set individual feeds to show either just titles or entire posts, and it seems closest to what I was used to Bloglines. I'm still sad about Bloglines, but I think I could get used to either of these.

Oh, but something else: since I've been using Bloglines for 5-6 years, I have hundreds of posts bookmarked in there, which I now what to retrieve somehow. Sigh, change.



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Reference Question of the Week – 6/21/09

   June 27th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Twitter @bloglinesThis week's reference question is one of my own. I use Bloglines to read rss feeds, and a couple weeks ago they changed their interface.

I didn't like the changes, so I used their Contact Form to express this and ask if there was an option to change it back. This was two weeks ago, and I still haven't gotten a reply.

Then it occurred to me that perhaps Bloglines used Twitter, and maybe I could ask them that way. I found an @bloglines user, but even though he's using the Bloglines logo, he indicates it's not an official Bloglines account.

I asked him my question anyway (noticing he was fielding the exact same question a lot lately), and got a reply in 5 hours. And best of all, his suggestion worked perfectly, and now I'm back to using Bloglines happily, the way that suits me best.

But this experience got me thinking. It's easy for organizations to let email messages slide, because only that one person knows they sent it in. But Twitter is public, and if someone is questioning or complaining, ignoring it won't make it go away.

Unofficial or not, @bloglines did exactly what I would have expected an organization to do - respond quickly and helpfully.

This is what librarians do, and it reminded me of Kate's post about their library suggestion box. I like that she's publicly displaying suggestions and answers, because in this case, one-to-many communication seems better than one-to-one.

So I thought, why not encourage patrons to use Twitter as a suggestion box? Being public, the library has to address patrons' concerns, but it also means all patrons can benefit from the answer, rather than just one.

I know a public forum isn't appropriate for every issue, and anonymity can be necessary, so I think traditional suggestion boxes (whether physical or online form) are still useful. But I bet there are some libraries already doing this very thing. I know I came late to Twitter, but it really is turning out to be a very useful tool after all.



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