- Google Reader Getting Overhauled, Removing Your Friends
Today Google announced its long-ignored RSS app Google Reader is getting an update. Most notably, it’s getting a fresh new design along the same lines as Google’s other products, like Docs, Maps, Search and Gmail. While I’m not entirely thrilled about this change (I prefer the utilitarian look for the service), I understand Google’s need to maintain user interface consistency across its online products.
What really bothers me, however, is Google’s casual decision to remove all of Google Reader’s “social” features, including friending, following and shared link blogs.
Look, I get that there’s probably only ten of you out there reading this who care much about changes to Google Reader. For mainstream news consumers, that Google is now streamlining and beautifying this neglected product is probably welcome news. But for those of us who use Google Reader regularly as a utility – as a place to track, follow, archive and search dozens of sources of information from favorite blogs to company feeds and more – any change to Reader has the equivalent impact as an overhaul of Gmail. In other words, proceed carefully or prepare for an earful.
And in this particular case, here comes the earful: I’m going to miss the “social” features Google Reader delivers.
Wait, don’t laugh!
To be clear, I don’t really consider or use Google Reader as “social” product like Facebook, Twitter or Google+ (hence the quotes). I don’t comment much on feeds, or friend and follow dozens of users. But I do enjoy reading the shares from a select group of heavy-duty RSS consumers who are consistently sharing interesting items. When I’m behind on the day’s news, all I have to do is read TechCrunch, TechMeme and this carefully constructed “human curated” list of shares. It is, and will be up until the day it disappears, one of the most regular and enjoyable news consumption behaviors I engage in every day.
Although there are many other services out there that promise to bubble up relevant content based on my interests, the best product I’ve used to date was the human curation of my Google Reader friends. Not only did my group consistently share the top tech news I’d want to read, they also share those oddball but interesting stories from outside of tech, including humorous cartoons, popular videos, space and science news, parenting tips and other news completely unrelated to tech, but still compelling.
Of course, there were probably only a handful of us really using this feature, so of course, like all those other services Google is shutting down, it’s getting axed too. But Google, if you think I’m going to “Circle” this group in order to continue reading their shares, you’ve got another thing coming. You can’t force me into using Google+ by stealing pieces of Google Reader. That’s not how that’s going to work.
- Careful Listening
- Mylo Xyloto, or, Things Change
So Coldplay has a new record coming out next Tuesday (Oct 25th) called Mylo Xyloto. (I got no clue what that means, either, but the record is streaming online here if you want a first listen.)
In the past decade Coldplay has gone (in the course of only 4 studio albums!) from being this cool British band with a hit song (“Yellow”) to now being so big and internationally popular that it’s more cool to hate on them than it is to engage with their music. I’ve been in tension the past couple of years as their last two albums (X & Y, Viva La Vida) have music that I really enjoyed but that many of my music-loving friends have seriously panned. (Geof, for one, thinks that Coldplay has been on a long decline ever since their debut record came out.) Which is why I was so heartened to see this exchange on twitter yesterday between two of my favorite Nashville musicians, Andy Osenga and Jeremy Casella:
Can I get an amen?
Then there was an even more bold prediction from Brite Revolution main man (and sometime Andy O band member/organist) Winn Elliott (whose website is worth at least a couple of chuckles):
This was a heartening thought. The next decade will tell us whether Coldplay even approaches the heights of greatness that U2 has called home over the past 30 years. But if they do, the haters can form their own little support group along with those folks who think that U2 hasn’t put out a good record since October back in 1981.
As for me, I’ll be buying a (digital) copy of the new record when it hits the (virtual) shelves on Tuesday.
- Gadaffi captured, claims official (Update: killed)
According to an NTC leader quoted by Reuters, Colonel Gadaffi was shot and captured today. Update: And he’s dead.
- In Wonderland
Here are more smiles.
- This makes me feel like my smartphone isn’t being used properly
- Scientists are from Mars, the public is from Earth
The American Geophysical Union blog has a link up to a very interesting table, and I feel strongly enough about this topic that I want to share it with you. It’s a list of words scientists use when writing or otherwise communicating science, what the scientists mean when they use that word, and most importantly what the public hears.
[Click to enverbumnate.]
I’ll admit, when I read it I laughed. But then my chuckle dried up when I realized just how dead accurate this is. And the smile pretty much left my face when I read that this table is from an article called "Communicating the Science of Climate Change," by Richard C. J. Somerville and Susan Joy Hassol, from the October 2011 issue of Physics Today.
Yup. I think they have a pretty good point.
My career at the moment could pretty much be called "Science Communicator". I do it here on this blog, I do it on Blastr and in Discover magazine, and when I give talks. Before that (and I guess it’s an occupation that never really leaves you) I was a professional scientist for many years. My training ran deep: 4 years undergrad, 6-7 in grad school, then a decade or so of research after that. I could toss around the phrase "Don’t over-iterate the Lucy-Richardson deconvolution algorithm or else you’ll amplify the noise and get spurious data spikes" with the best of ‘em.
As a science writer, though, I can’t use that! I have to say, "Cleaning up a digital image means using sophisticated mathematical techniques that can sometimes mess the image up and fool you into thinking something’s there that really isn’t."
I hope you can appreciate the difference.
So when I write, I try pretty hard to make the science topic accessible without "dumbing it down". I assume my reader is intelligent, but unfamiliar with the concepts I might be discussing. I try to define words if a reader might not know them, or link to someplace they can get more info if they need it.
But as that table shows, there are plenty of words I use all the time that someone else might know, and think means something else. And this is incredibly important, especially if a science writer — as happens more and more often these days — needs to defuse some sort of political spin thrust upon a topic. A classic example in the wholly-manufactured Climategate "controversy". A lot of hot air was generated over the use of the word "trick" in the stolen emails — which most people interpreted as meaning the scientists did something underhanded and sneaky to hide something important. In reality, we use that word to just mean a method of doing something that’s clever. It’s like saying, "The trick in never losing your car keys is to always hang them on a hook by the door that leads outside." See the difference?
But over that, political battles are won or lost.
There are times I fret over a word in a post. It took me a while to start using the word "denier" instead of "skeptic", for example, but the difference is important. I’ve fought for years to teach people that skepticism is not cynicism or denial; it’s asking for and looking at evidence logically and rationally (in a nutshell). What’s funny is that now the media uses phrases like "climate skeptic" when talking about some people who are not skeptics, in that they are not looking at the evidence logically and rationally. They look at evidence so they can figure out how to spin it, cast doubt in the mind of the public over something that is actually a fact.
That’s why I call it "denial". The word fits, and I intend to continue using it when it does.
I could go on and on.
But here’s the point: communication isn’t simply casting out information from atop a tower. There are two parts to it: presenting an idea to someone, and them understanding it. Sometimes we have to change the way we word things to make that second half happen. Otherwise we’re shouting all the facts in the Universe to an empty room.
Tip o’ the thesaurus to Joanne Manaster.