Musings of a Data professional

Stuart Moore

Month: March 2013

What I want from a Google Reader replacement

Like a lot of other people I wasn’t best pleased to see the announcement on Thursday that Google were killing off Google Reader. I’ve got it set up just right for quickly sorting through all the blogs I follow to find the stuff I’m interested in.

I follow a lot of different blogs on a number of different subject, so there’s often a couple of hundred posts to get through, which I can currently do pretty quickly. So to be a credible replacement for Google Read I’m looking for a service/app that does the following:

  • Keyboard shortcuts. This has to be there, and there should be a shortcut for every major operation. This is one of the greatest time savers I’ve found with Reader. I can quickly ‘n’ my way through entire folders, ‘s’ing the ones I want to read when I’ve got time and ‘e’ing others to people who’d appreciate them
  • Should be open to any client. Over the years I’ve tried various mobile clients to reader to get the best one. So I don’t want to be lumbered with a single client option
  • Clean simple interface. I really don’t want anything that tries to look like a newspaper or insists on silly transitions between articles. If you want to offer that, great, but let me turn it off and just have a plain view
  • Integration with IFTTT – OK this may be more down to IFTTT picking who it’s supporting. But I use this a lot. I take articles and then let IFTTT do the sharing to various streams for me. Quick and simples.
  • Folders, really this is basic stuff, but some of the suggested apps I’ve seen don’t have them
  • Don’t push the ‘Social’ aspects too hard. I just want the feeds aggregating. Not interested in what’s hot or what others are reading. If it’s genuinely good on the subject it’ll filter through the normal channels
  • No ads. I’m happy to fork out a few sheckles a month to keep a service running, and if I do then keep the ads out of the way. Or if you want to use me as the product (like Google do/did) then that’s fine, but no injecting junk into my feeds.
  • Easy subscription mechanism. Getting new feeds into Reader was nice and simple, so let’s have that carried on

So that’s the wants. Does anything meet that at the moment? Well feedly seems OK, but falls down on an overly fussy UI, not enough keyboard shortcuts, you have to use their mobile client and there’s no IFTTT support (yet).

I’ve had a look at fever which seems to offer lots of features. You have to host it yourself, but with a couple of domains to choose from that’s not a problem. Doesn’t do everything, but having source code means I could probably tinker in the bits I want.

Reader’s not disappearing till June, so hopefully in the next 3 months we’ll see some of the existing products upping their game, and some new players appearing. So for the meantime I’m going to carry on as I was, but keeping an eye out for the next ones to follow.

Using Evernote for note taking at conferences

Taking notes when learning something new is a pretty key part of how I learn. It helps me concentrate on the key points, and gives me some quick things to jog memory when reviewing the information later.

I’ve always been a notebook and pen type of guy for this. I have reams of A4 paper covered in scrawls, all of which is ‘filed’ away. Well, I say filed, there’s a couple of large folders roughly labelled “SQL”, “Maths”, “Everything Else”. So of course once I’d read it, it could take a while to find it when I needed it again.

Having become a convert to Evernote I started copying some of the notes over into it so I’d have them to hand wherever I was. I used a mixture of typing them up, and photographing them with my iPhone. Both worked pretty well, with the main limiting factor being my rushed handwriting.

So I decided that the next conference I was going to I’d try to take notes straight into Evernote, and skip the paper step. The next conference happened to be SQL Saturday 194 in Exeter. So armed with my trusty Nexus 7 I decided to give it a go.

I stuck with typing notes. I found that I could just about keep up with a combination of thumb typing, some swypeing and using plenty of abbreviations. I realised just how much I haven’t ‘programmed’ the internal dictionary for technical terms, so I’ll be making sure to type plenty of keywords till it’s learnt some of the basics. The next event I attend I’ll also give drawing/jotting notes a try, that could be quicker, but may lead to the same handwriting issues as the paper version.

I also found that the tablet itself sometimes made me feel a bit self-concious about taking notes on it. I think this is due to it being something new to me, so I was concious of having to concentrate on using it. Whereas paper and pen I don’t even think about when I’m jotting stuff down.

I still had to do some tidying up of the notes, but could usually do that quickly in the breaks, or while settling down for the next speaker. And after the event I found it handy that I could quickly annotate the notes with Twitter handles and blog links, so when I do refer to the notes I’ve got all that to hand as well.

So overall it was a success, but it’s definitely going to be a process to get this right.

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