Hey Scoble, Why Doesn’t connect.microsoft.com have RSS?

This post is directed at anyone in Microsoft that can push the Connect team to implement some new, useful functionality.  I’m baiting Robert Scoble simply because he has complained about this issue in the past.

I would argue that connect.microsoft.com is all about marketing.  Not the advertising definition of marketing, but the customer-interaction, product-development definition.  Many of the folks that are willing to be guinea pigs by participating in betas probably also have jumped on the RSS bandwagon.  These factors seem to make it a no brainer that RSS would add significant value to the Connect site.  Specific feeds I would like to see include:

  • All new publicly available beta programs.

  • New public programs based on a filter setup by the user.

  • New invitation-only programs based on user login (not sure how to do this with Passport, but if Microsoft ever adds a full-featured feed reader, passport feed authentication could be a bonus feature).

  • Required actions as they arrive for enrolled betas.

  • Daily/Weekly Update with reminders of unfinished required actions.

This is an excellent opportunity to enhance your interactions with your customers.  If Microsoft is really serious about incorporating RSS into the platform, then this is an great opportunity to lead the way and show how RSS be useful for more than press releases and product info.

Microsoft’s local.live.com is, um.. Live!

I got a chance to take a quick look at the new local.live.com this morning. The Bird’s eye views in Washington D.C. aren’t all that spectacular, but the ones in Microsoft’s home town are awesome. 

The service is great overall, but my impressions so far include a couple of negatives.  These are:

  • The zoom feature still does this choppy redraw thing.  If I double-click the UI goes to all the trouble to do this neat zooming action, but when it arrives at the new zoom level, the screen goes black while it redraws the tiles.  If I’ve viewed a particular area at that zoom level before, I don’t notice this, but for new areas, it’s quite distracting.  It would be great if they could find a way to keep the previous image on screen until the new one is fully ready to display, and then maybe throw a DXImageTransform.Microsoft.Fade at it to minimize the distraction of the user.

  • The back & forward buttons don’t work.  I know that the implementation of the UI doesn’t allow this easily, but maybe you could provide some working back & forward buttons in the UI near the zoom controls.

  • I have to click the permalink menu option to open a popup before I can copy the permalink.  Maybe give me a right-click option on that same menu to copy the link to the clipboard?

All in all though, the service is coming together nicely.  In the locations where they have good imagery, the Bird’s Eye stuff looks great!  It makes me want more features, like a real tilt/pan/zoom & real 3-degree or 6-degree-of-freedom navigation.  For now though, this gives me the best view of some neighborhoods that I’ve ever seen on the net.   

OPML Chaining

OPML is a simply, yet very useful format.  I have an idea that I believe would make it more useful.  I’m not sure if this would fit best as an extension, or an addition to the spec.  I did a quick review of the spec, and I don’t believe this functionality is included yet.

What I would like to be able to do is add an outline element that instead of being a node contained within the OPLM file, would link to another OPML file.  Basically something like this:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″?>
  <head />
    <outline title=”Scoble’s Blogroll” text=”Scoble’s Blogroll” link=”http://scobleizer.wordpress.com/scOPML.opml” />
    <outline title=”Hallihan Family Blogroll” text=”Hallihan Family Blogroll ” link=”http://hallihan.us/familyblogs.opml” />
    <outline title=”Geek Blogs I Like” text=” Geek Blogs I Like” link=”http://blobservations.net/publicblogroll.opml” />

What does this get me?  It allows me to define my attention field using dynamic outlines.  Assuming that Scoble actually posted a straight OPML file, and kept it up to date, I’d have a dynamic view of what he had in his blogroll.  The Family Blogroll could be maintained by one family member to include any family-related blogs.  Everyone could add it to their own OPLM file, and now a new family blog only has to be added in one place for everyone to have it show up in their feed reader. 

The missing piece to this pie is that RSS Aggregators would have to allow me to use an arbitrary OPML file, and then they’s have to process the links.  I’d like this better anyway, but the impression I have gotten from most readers I’ve tried is that they are maintaining feed lists in some internal data structure, and they only export OPML.  They would have to start using OPML more natively, and then they either have to extend OPLM to handle things like read status, or maintain a separate data structure.  There’s a ton more details on the implementation front (cycle detection, removing duplicates, etc.), but if the basic idea is sound, then these can be overcome.

Taking this one step further, we could expand the above to include:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”utf-8″?>
  <head />
    <outline title=”Scoble’s Blogroll” text=”Scoble’s Blogroll” link=”http://scobleizer.wordpress.com/scOPML.opml”>
      <filter type=”random” value=”1:100”/>
    <outline title=”Hallihan Family Blogroll” text=”Hallihan Family Blogroll ” link=”http://hallihan.us/familyblogs.opml”>
      <filter type=”priority” value=”10”/>
    <outline title=”Geek Blogs I Like” text=” Geek Blogs I Like” link=”http://blobservations.net/publicblogroll.opml” >
      <filter type=”priority” value=”5”/>

Now I only get a 1/100 sampling from Robert Scoble’s extensive blogroll & my family’s blog posts go to the top of my news stack.

If you think this is useful, then trackback with your thoughts & ideas.


Note, as I was doing some due diligence on this post, I stumbled upon Attention.xml.  That format already incorporates some of what I outline above, with the notable omission of the filtering.  Attention.xml looks like more of a swiss-army-knife solve every problem fortmat, and I’m not sure if it still comes in under the “simple” format idea, but it’s not a simple problem so I guess that’s ok.  I had seen many mentions before about Attention.xml, but I never “got it”.  Not I “get it” and I’m hopeful that the Newsgator’s and Bloglines’ of the world catch on soon.

Say Something Interesting… Feedscanning and Commentary on Feed Management Interfaces.

I recently joined about 80 other folks in the blogosphere and imported Scoble’s OMPL file into my newsreader.  Why would I do this?  I like reading Scoble’s blog, and he tends to find some interesting posts.  I thought it might be interesting to take a peek through the ScobleFilter and see the raw stream of data.  Interesting?  Yes.  Overwhelming?  Yes!

I added an extra <Outline> element to the file so that Newsgator would keep the feeds contained to a subfolder, and then loaded it in.  My first impression had nothing to do with the OPML file or the list of feeds.  I was reminded that Newsgator Online doesn’t have a “Delete All” function (that I could find) anywhere on the web interface.  What a pain!  I remembered that the mobile interface does have that magic “delete all”, so I browsed to the Mobile URL and waited forever for it to load all the feeds, and then hit the “delete all”.  It timed out a couple times, but eventually I was left with a clean slate.

After watching these feeds for a while, I must say that there is quite a large volume of content coming through Scoble’s blogroll.  I decided that I would basically put all feeds on probation.  I’ll read the first one or two posts that come through on each feed.  If I’ve already read something on this topic elsewhere in my blogroll, then I unsubscribe.  If the post is nothing more than a thinly veiled advertisement, I unsubscribe.  Scoble has many interests reflected in his blogroll that I have no desire to read about, so those feeds go away too.  How does a feed stay in my list?  They have to say something interesting and relevant to me.  It’s a very personal choice, and I can usually make the call one or two sentences into a post.

I think I’m picking up about 1 in 50 from Scoble’s list as the feeds come through.  There are many that I had already subscribed to, so that number is a little lower than it would have been otherwise.  The ones I’m keeping are going into a second “probation” folder.  They have to prove themselves before I’m going to commit to keeping them on.  

All in all it’s been a fun little exercise.  I’ve been pairing down my blogroll over the last year, and it had started to seem a little stale.  It’s good to get an infusion of new content, and many of these folks I would never have discovered if not for Scoble’s blogroll.

This entire exercise has left me with a short wishlist for Newsgator’s feed management interface, or for any rss aggregator.  If you know any that fit the bill, feel free to leave a comment here.

  • I’d like to tag my feeds.  Not just posts, but feeds.  Then let me build “Views” that are combinations of tags. 
  • Let me manage my feeds as I read them.  This should include deleting feeds, moving to different folders, or tagging.  I generally make decisions about feeds when I’m looking at the articles.  I hate having to go to the “Organize Folders” in Newsgator. Give me an AJAX’y little icon that pops up a submenu.  Doesn’t take much real estate, but gives users much more control.
  • Let me add feeds without jumping through hoops. Again, a little AJAX’y popup dialog from a small icon at the top.  Let me paste in a URL, and then retrieve it and offer me a choice on importing individual items (if it’s OPML) or placement into a specific folder (for RSS).
  • Let me “catch up” or “delete all” from any view.  And then let me roll back my read state to a specific date/time if I feel that I missed something.

I’ve also got some new ideas on OPML, “Views” and attention, but I need to hash them out a bit and try to pull together something coherent.



Live.com Classifieds

Dare Obasanjo has two great posts with some background and details on Microsoft’s entry into the classified ad service space.  Microsoft’s Fremont (formerly know as Casbah, later to be known as Classifieds.Live.com?) is an atypical classified ad website that allows you to limit viewing to trusted persons in your social network.

Of all of the recent entries into the social networking space, this is one that I think I might actually use, and encourage my friends to use.  I really like the idea of being able to limit my posts, and reading, of ads to trusted or semi-trusted people.

Dare’s post talks about social circles, and tribes based on email and buddy lists.  I think an important part of the success of Fremont is going to be the ability of users to build, manage and share circles that are based on more than just email addresses.  Let me build a circle that includes all of my college classmates that currently live in the Washington D.C. area, or a different circle may include any friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend.  After I build cool, useful circles, I want to share them with my friends.  That way I could build a circle for a model airplane club, or a Scout troop, and then share it with the members who could then use it to post relevent information or items for sale to the entire circle.  Hrm, seems to have come full-circle to MSN Groups eh?  Merge Groups with Fremont, and now you have a ton of “Special Interest” tribes, ready built, and ready to make use of the new service. Cool…

The major drawback to this social model is that one of the biggest features is based on limiting visibilty of ads.  The only way that Fremont will come out ahead is if Microsoft can build users’ trust high enough that they are willing to post more ads, enough more ads to make up for the limited visibility.  Building more interesting circles will also require that users are willing to include personal details in their profiles. Again, this will come down to trust.

This is going to be interesting.  Microsoft’s ability to integrate this accross Messenger, email, groups, and maybe Spaces is going to make it unique in the field.  Yahoo! can play this game, AOL can play too.  Google is still playing catch-up with their application base, but they’re closing fast.  Whoever makes it easy & seamless wins.