Thursday, March 14, 2013

Long Live Google Reader!


There is no easy way to explain RSS to those who don't use it, but here's my take on why the end of Google Reader is particularly bad for those of us who depend on it.

For a needlessly complex explanation, you can go here RSS(Wikipedia), but basically what it does is collect stories that a site posts under one web address, which allows you to subscribe to ANYTHING new that website posts.

I can use this blog as an example:

This blog lives at blog.robattrell.com. There are two common ways of getting to a story on this site, and then there is RSS. I will let you decide which way you like best. Keep in mind, this works best if you think of my blog as something that you want to be sure you don't miss updates from, which it OBVIOUSLY is.

Common tactics:

1. I share this story on Facebook and Twitter. You see it (Facebook: if News Feed decides that you probably want to see it, and you happen to check your feed while it's near the top) (Twitter: If you happen to check your feed when I post it). If you don't see it in the feed, you have to go to my pages on those networks and search for my stories. This is really tiresome, which brings me to...

2. You can bookmark my website with your browser, or type in blog.robattrell.com and visit it frequently to see if there is anything new. Keep in mind, my blog is just a baby and barely has anything posted, any bigger sites will be blasting you with ads and have magical algorithms which decide what you see on the homepage and when. The best example I have for this is Cracked.com. Every day between 8:30 and 9 AM they publish their stories, which either require you to hunt around to read all of them, or find the site archive to see all of the articles they've posted in chronological order.

Now, if there are 10-30 sites you visit that you like to keep up on every day (or in some cases many more) this is an absolutely terrible way to keep up with the news you want to read. It's also incredibly time consuming, and for me personally, really frustrating.

There has to be a better way! Luckily, there is!

RSS:

What I would much rather do, leading into exactly what RSS does, is keep a list of all the sites I visit, which I can access on any computer I sit at (or phone/tablet, etc.).

A website, as it publishes these new stories, could send the link and associated article information to a website (RSS feed), where you end up seeing a sorted list of all of the articles you want to read, like an email inbox for your news. The RSS Feed for this blog lives at http://blog.robattrell.com/feeds/posts/default The best part about Google Reader is that is also features an email-like feature wherein you can mark anything you have scrolled past as read, where it stays indexed for later perusal. It can also be used by other sites or apps, so you can read stories on your phone, or tablet, or through any number of other online services (NewsBlur, Feedly, Pulse, Flipboard).
This way, you don't miss any of your news, and you don't have to visit any of the websites you frequent to get all the information they post. If you visit their website, it is only because you want to read one of their stories. There are many sites I frequent whose homepages I never visit. 

I use Google Reader (and associated services) for multiple hours every day, and I read almost all of my news (from about 30 sources) through one website which brings me exactly what I want every day. You can also search sites like the JobBank and Craigslist by RSS, which is extremely useful when apartment or job hunting. The news of the death of Google Reader on July 1st will leave a gaping hole in my online life, and I'm sure millions of other people are feeling exactly the same as me.

I hope I have conveyed why RSS is the best way to read news, and I really hope Google changes course and rolls back the order to kill Reader. It's not the ONLY way to read RSS, it's just the best by far. It doesn't even need updating, just leave the service running for the millions of people like me who want to read their news efficiently.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Cause for Concern: Social Media and Photos

I just discovered something kind of disquieting about social networks and photos.

So basically, Facebook and Google have features where all the photos on your phone are automatically (if you allow it) uploaded to their websites, to make it easier to share the photos if you decide to do so. However, in doing that, they have made it possible to see literally any photo I’ve taken, just by going to the right web link.

For example, on Facebook: 


Your photos are described as being private, until such a time that you choose to share them. However, directing yourself to this link (copied from Facebook), you will find the photo below I just took, which I have never shared.

You are promised that your photos are private, until such a time that you choose to publish them. However, once again, a link to the "private" photo (from the Google+ website) is all that is required to view it.

https://lh4.googleusercontent.com/-wrXZsTZa51g/UTisKnz8EkI/AAAAAAAAGks/Ey0N4kzK_z8/s791/61748584-85D1-49AC-A1C6-47A7BADAE759.JPG


This link works the exact same way, for the same photo. I never authorized anybody to make this photo public, I just took the photo with my phone and continued on with my day.


A file sharing company, Dropbox, has a similar feature which uploads all your photos to its site, but watch what happens when I go to the link for the same photo:

https://photos-5.dropbox.com/t/0/AADDyomyHbSJHsrq9wlbNdLLk8T_N1b0ZxUzUevOCQrYIg/12/11464386/jpeg/154x154/3/_/1/2/2013-03-07%2010.01.23.jpg/mkfTmIRtVTf7Eu-AG6Oq3o290E0KGA5I0HDvByIxja0?size=1280x960


This is what should happen, you get a link saying you shouldn’t be here, and asking you to log in to see the photo. The photo is private, and is treated as such.

This is a huge privacy issue, and though I don't really take any sensitive photos, if I did this would really set me off. It REALLY shouldn’t happen; millions of photos per day are being published for anybody with time and the internet to see…

You should absolutely think twice about allowing this if you are someone who regularly takes photos on your phone that you might not want just anybody to see.

By the way, to turn off these features, there are instructions here:

for Facebook:


and Google+: