Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Is Delicious for saving? Or for sharing? Or both?

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Today, Delicious released a pretty hefty set of features, and it’s a good occasion to talk about a couple of issues related to what this blog is about. First, as I mentioned in my last post, I feel like I can post more frequently and with more relevance over at my CloudNotes group on FriendFeed. The group provides an easy way for me to share a few of the many posts and blogs that are already covering the Delicious update more ably and quickly than I could.

A story about a major site’s significant update is going to be covered by every major blog outlet in the tech-o chamber, and each of them will have a slightly different take. Why not keep track with a few of them in FriendFeed? Certainly no need to duplicate the story with my own blog post. But I can still add my own commentary if I want. It’s the best of both worlds.

That being said, I do want to emphasize one thing the Read / Write post mentioned:

We've long believed that Delicious is one of the most under-appreciated social media services remaining from the early days of the social web. This new version could help win back some of the early love, but it does represent a radical shift away from the original vision most people have of the service as a tool for bookmarking things you want to return to later. The founder of Delicious, Joshua Schacter, said on Twitter last night "i hate the delicious twitter integration (sharing != saving) but i like the new search a great deal."

If I were writing my own blog post (and I guess, really, I am) that’s pretty much the story I would tell. Indeed, my post last year contrasting Delicious and FriendFeed, says something eerily similar:

I think people undervalue what's so great about del.icio.us. Better than any other Web site, Del.icio.us (along with its Firefox add-on) functions beautifully as a personal, extremely useful map of the Web. I wonder whether the tech-o chamber tends to overvalue social media and undervalue important, foundational functions, such as information collection and quick reference. It's worth asking the question: could FriendFeed do what Del.icio.us does? My answer is no.

I suppose some people might want to use Delicious primarily as a sharing vehicle. But not me. If I want something in my Twitter feed, I’ll usually post with Bit.ly. Twitter is for conversation. It’s ephemeral. I certainly don’t use it for things I’m planning on saving for later. For more permanent reference I use Delicious and Evernote.

So why is Delicious trying to partake of Twitter’s conversational, real time paradigm if it’s ultimately contradictory? Maybe Techcrunch’s analysis provides a clue. Their criticism both today and a few weeks ago pushes Delicious in two directions. Arrington and Siegler can’t seem to decide whether to criticize Delicious for adding features too slowly or attack it for being too complicated. So they do both. And maybe there’s some method to their madness.

Techcrunch is a pretty good proxy for the market, and today’s marketplace has declared real-time search and conversation to be sexy-land. Saving stuff for later is boring-ville. Delicious thinks it can be both your mistress and your wife. And given its scale (still unmatched by any other bookmarking service), maybe it can. As I’ve already said, Delicious is better than anyone when it comes to creating a social map of the internet’s past. What if they could bring you the present, too?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Join the new CloudNotes group on FriendFeed

Join up now! Then read on for more details if you wish…

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If you’re a reader or subscriber to this blog, you know I don’t post more than once a month—if that much. CloudNotes is really not intended to be a news source or conventional watering hole. From the beginning, I’ve conceived of this forum as more of a personal tech-quest; an exploration of how I personally use web-based notetaking and bookmarking services. My posts tend to be infrequent but longer, and I try to be as partial as possible. You’re getting my opinions—there’s nothing journalistic about what I’m trying to do here.

But also, from the beginning I’ve wished for an in-between way to share casual thoughts and links during those long droughts between posts. A place where I could quickly stash links and bits of news that might not ever merit a full post. This, of course, isn’t so different from note-taking. And at first, I simply shared my Google Notebook. When Google announced they would cease further development of the project, I switched my link blog over to Tumblr, which is perhaps the most elegant and easy blogging platform available.

But a blog isn’t quite what I wanted. Nor does a shared notebook quite meet all my needs (although I do maintain a public Evernote notebook, here). I wanted something interactive. A place where I could post my links, but where others could post their thoughts as well. I think there are people who care about the same web-apps and services I care about. People who require powerful research tools for both work and play. I wanted a place where like minds could share tips and tricks and ideas about notemarking

Admittedly, I could have invited users to contribute to my Tumblr, but I don’t want co-authors. I want full-on exchanges in a place where everyone’s on equal footing. After abortive attempts at using disappointing services like Social Median and Twine, I’ve finally figured out that FriendFeed is perfect for this. Why is FF so great at community building? As I said on my final Notemarks post:

    1. I want a simpler way to share things, and it doesn’t get simpler or easier than FriendFeed.
    2. I want more interaction with people who care about Notetaking and Bookmarking services. I want to make conversation easier. And FriendFeed does conversation better than anyone.
    3. It should be easy for you to submit your own links and stories. You know I don’t blog all that often, but I’d still like to see daily conversation about how we’re keeping track of your thoughts in the cloud.
    4. I really need an excuse to use FriendFeed. It’s a brilliant service, but very few of my pals are here. This group is a great opportunity to make some new friends who care about a fairly narrow tech subject.

Sure there are already rooms devoted to single services like Evernote and Delicious. But I wanted forum where people feel free to talk about any service. In my dream scenario, about 10 percent of my readers will sign up and be active participants. That’s still small enough where it won’t be attractive to spammers. But, really, I’ll take all comers.

That includes you.

Let’s get started.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Win a scanner darkly

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Me: So I saw your Twitter message just now. What the hell is “#evernote_scansnap”?

Eve666: Oh, it’s so awesome. You know that thing where, like, companies were giving away free Macbooks and iPhones on Twitter if you add their hashtag to your posts?

Me: Yeah, I guess. So this is like #moonfruit and #squarespace?

Eve666: Yeah, well, Evernote is doing the same thing, except they’re giving away this bad-ass scanner. All you have to do is tweet publicly to @evernote with the hashtag #evernote_scansnap somewhere in your message.

Me: hmmmm

Eve666: But it’s kinda dumb too, because unlike the other ones, where you could put those tags in all your tweets and have lots of chances to win, Evernote is limiting entries to only one per week.

Me: I see. So you’re kinda bummed because Evernote is taking a quasi-ethical approach to the whole “co-opt your twitter feed” thing.

Eve666: ..

Me: I mean you’re upset because you won’t be able to spam your friends with bizarre promotional hashtags quite as often as before.

Eve666: This is NOT spam.

Me: So you’ve asked all your friends, and this is what they expected when they agreed to follow all your updates?

Eve666: What is your deal? It’s just a few characters. And in exchange I get a freaking sweet scanner.

Me: No. You get a chance at winning a free scanner.

Eve666: ..

Me: And the chances of you winning go down the more douchebags there are who think spamming their friends with ads is a good idea.

Eve666: (away)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Techcrunch: Ditch Delicious for some dude’s side project

Today Mike Arrington is suggesting to his readers that they should ditch Delicious and use Pinboard, a private beta “side project” developed by former Yahoo Brickhouse engineer. What’s so great about this new product? It basically recreates the Delicious bookmarklet, adding a nice “Read Later” button to the standard layout:

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It looks like Delicious. Only without the help of suggested tags added and curated by a large community of users. Uh, no thanks. I think I’d rather use Delicious. What’s really weird is that Arrington doesn’t offer any evidence there’s anything wrong with Delicious, nor does he offer a convincing argument explaining why Pinboard (or any other service) is any better. Here’s what he does say:

[Delicious is] slow, sometimes offline. A couple of weeks ago it wouldn’t let me log in, saying my password was incorrect. I was sure it was right, but I requested a password reset anyway. The email never came.

The service has languished, and has the feel of a product that’s on life support. There doesn’t seem to be a passionate group of developers loving and caring for the product and making it better over time. Or at least not worse. Traffic is stagnating or dropping, depending on which analytics service you look at. Founder Joshua Schacter left long ago in frustration, and is now at Google.

All Delicious really needs to do is let me bookmark sites without a lot of distraction. It hasn’t been good at that for a long, long while.

Let’s go through this carefully…

“It’s slow.”

For this claim, Arrington offers no evidence other than his own experience. I looked at the Delicious User Forum, and there is indeed a year-old user thread in which Delicious promises to correct a speed issue for IE7 users. As of today, at least one user is stating the problem with IE 7 is still there. From what I can tell in the screenshot, Arrington’s using Firefox. And I’m using the latest version on a Vista machine. The site loads in less than 2 seconds. Consistently.

As an aside, you know what service actually is slow? Twine. That hasn’t stopped Techcrunch from covering it twice in the last three months.

“Sometimes offline.”

I’ve not once noticed Delicious being off-line. And there’s not a current thread on the Forum complaining of the problem.

“A couple of weeks ago it wouldn’t let me log in, saying my password was incorrect. I was sure it was right, but I requested a password reset anyway. The email never came.”

Again, there’s no post to the forum active in the last month from any other user with a similar complaint. There are a few threads of IE 7 users of the Delicious Bookmarks add-on complaining about not being able to stay logged in. That does suck, and Delicious seems to be working on it, but at some point people really need to stop using IE.

“The service has languished, and has the feel of a product that’s on life support. There doesn’t seem to be a passionate group of developers loving and caring for the product and making it better over time. Or at least not worse.”

First, it’s obvious Arrington hasn’t bothered to visit the Delicious support site or the separate site for the Delicious Bookmarks add-on. There, he would see developers who are active every day in response to user questions and concerns. Many problems, such as their hiccup last December are related to interactions with other third-party add-ons. Dealing with issues that can have so many causes isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but Delicious is trying hard every day to help their users.

I do agree that Delicious could be adding features at a faster clip, but I can’t think of any features I’d absolutely have to have. And neither can Arrington. In fact, he doesn’t want any “bells and whistles.” He says that Pinboard is exactly what he wants because it’s got “No graphics. no design. just easy, easy bookmarking and tagging. I love it.”

So which is it? Do you want a site with passionate developers and bug-fixers or a site with one developer who’s created a barebones side project? There’s no coherence in this post. At all.

“Traffic is stagnating or dropping, depending on which analytics service you look at. Founder Joshua Schacter left long ago in frustration, and is now at Google.”

I too was troubled by the departure of Joshua Schacter, but I really liked the Delicious 2.0 release that came after he left, especially the ability to bulk-edit my bookmarks. I’ve been a happy user for several months, and I’ve not seen one service that does it better.

I suppose they may be losing users, which should concern those of us who love the service and want to keep it around. But for now, I’m not going to abandon something that continues to work in a speedy and reliable fashion. I’m certainly not leaving Delicious for a tiny site that’s still in private beta. Again, there’s no coherence here.

All Delicious really needs to do is let me bookmark sites without a lot of distraction. It hasn’t been good at that for a long, long while.

imageI’ll just say that I’m not buying it. Delicious is working awesome for me. No one else is reporting the problems Arrington is claiming, and I can’t figure out what distractions he’s talking about. Note that he’s still got his beloved Firefox add-on installed. And if you operate it in classic mode, it’s freaking identical to what he likes about Pinboard.

_________

Whew. So none of this is to say that Delicious is perfect or that Pinboard isn’t a worthy project (I’m not a user, but I’m impressed by their listed features). I’m just taking a bit of time to fisk one of Arrington’s lazy posts. I started to write a comment over at Techcrunch, but this post is too long, and the comments there are only slightly better than YouTube quality.

I’ll be back in another month. :)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Why Google Reader is still hugely important (to me)

image I read Steve Gillmor’s elegiac goodbye to RSS a month ago, around the same time I read Farhad Manjoo’s exhortation to “kill your RSS reader” and in that month I’ve asked myself a few times “Could Twitter or Friendfeed completely replace Google Reader in my daily webbernetting? Could I do without my RSS reader altogether?”

This has been roundly debated all over the place, including tech blogs much larger and more well respected than mine. And if you’re reading this blog, I trust you’ve already digested the more popular commentaries. But I’m going to come at it somewhat differently.

Why I prefer Google Reader

Imagine, for a moment, there are sites out there that aren’t tech blogs or news aggregators like Techmeme. News sources that can’t be easily read using Twitter and Friendfeed. News sources and blogs that talk about medicine and law and parenting and music.

As a healthcare lawyer, musician, and soon-to-be dad, that’s the world I live in. And RSS still matters to me. Briefly, here’s why I still prefer Google Reader over Twitter, Friendfeed, and all the other real-time web engines.

  • Real time doesn’t matter to me. I’m a lawyer who works at a hospital. I’m not a pro-blogger or journalist. I don’t have time to sit around reading FriendFeed and Twitter all day. I check in on my pals, sure. But any just-for-fun reading I do has to occur at lunch and in the evenings. When I’m not doing my freaking job. If I used real-time sources like Twitter or Friendfeed to read the news, much of what I want to read would simply pass me by.
  • But speed does. And with Google Reader, I usually don’t have to click links to see what I’m reading. It’s already there. And if I want to share a post with friends, it’s a single click or SHIFT-S away.
  • I care about more than just the tech-o-chamber. If I were a tech journalist / blogger, I’d find just about all the sources I could ever want or need via Twitter / Friendfeed. But for other areas, like law and music and healthcare, the coverage on Twitter and Friendfeed is not cast nearly so wide. There are some enthusiastic users in all those fields using real-time tools and social media, but there are a lot of influential bloggers and news sources who are still pretty old school. They have RSS feeds, but that’s it.
  • I need deep—not wide—commentary. Much of what I consume is long form, niche material. I read longer posts on blogs that are updated far less frequently. These same blogs are not widely read, so they also aren’t widely shared. I’d miss these posts if it wasn’t for Google Reader.
  • There’s less noise in my RSS feed. There’s no @replies. There’s no “I need to pee.” There’s no links to Perez Hilton. When I finally take time to read my stuff, I want to read MY STUFF. There’s a place in my workflow for conversation and sharing with friends. And I actually like some of what Google Reader has done with respect to sharing and commenting. But when I’m in Google Reader, my focus is usually more narrow.
  • My RSS reader offers a more feature-rich, versatile, and efficient experience. I can do lots of things with Google Reader that I can’t do with Friendfeed or Twitter. Or at least, couldn’t do as easily. This is because Google Reader is about much more than reading. It’s an inbox with multiple outputs that serve multiple purposes. Yes, Friendfeed is great for sharing. So is Facebook. But I also use the Web for research and plain ole private reading for personal edification. That’s where Google Reader shines: reading and keeping track of what I’ve read.

This last point is important. I like Twitter. I like Friendfeed. But they’re a small part of my news-reading work flow. Google Reader’s speed, focus, and rich feature set simply allow me to do more with my news. Here’s a few examples of Google’s flexibility:

Tagging and Saving

Google Reader saves everything, so it’s easy to go back and search for something I’ve read in the past. I usually get lightning fast results with Google-like accuracy. That’s better than Twitter, isn’t it?

But suppose I want to make things easier to find? I can just tag them and come back to the collection. I’m fond of keeping track of cool desktop apps I’ve read about at Lifehacker or Download Squad. So, I usually tag these posts with “apps” and review them when I’ve got some free time. I don’t need all my friends reading these posts, it’s just for my use and later enjoyment. So when I’m ready to review my “Apps” posts, I click “Trends” then scroll down to my tag cloud.

image Publishing and Sharing

Google Reader allows you to create link blogs for all your shared or starred items, both of which can be made public. And, it’s easy to publish. Just click the share or star buttons. If you want, you can import your shared items into Friendfeed or Facebook. It is faster and more effortless than re-tweeting. And you can reach a larger audience with minimal setup.

I take this concept a step further by using some items as inputs into my Tumblr blogs. If you read my Cloudnotes companion, Notemarks, you might have already noticed this. To publish an excerpt on Tumblr, all I have to do is tag an item, and then import the shared RSS feed for that tag into Tumblr. I use the tag “cloudnotes” to designate an item for publication on Notemarks.

imageTaking notes

I write a weekly post for a music blog, and all week I take notes and do research for that one post, which is usually kinda long. Google Reader is only one of several sources for that research material, but it’s an important tool nonetheless. To make sure I get all my music links together, I like to keep stuff in Evernote (I finally converted!).

So how do I get Google Reader posts into Evernote? I use the email feature. Evernote supports email importing, so it’s a pretty simple process.

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I just address it to Evernote, and it shows up for later organization with all my related notes from other sources. Plus, I usually send a copy to myself, so it’s also available in my Gmail. Since I tend to use “Send to Gmail” as my all-purpose bookmarklet (works with any service that imports email), Gmail is a pretty handy backup for all my notes.

Reading it later

Finally, sometimes I just want to mark an article for later reading, nothing more and nothing less. For that I use the outstanding Read It Later add on for Firefox. Sure, it works everywhere in your browser or on your iPhone, but I absolutely LOVE its Google Reader integration.

imageThat friendly red check mark just says, “I’m coming back to this later today or this week when I have time.” Since I usually only have time for light reading at lunch, this this little tool is a godsend for helping me read longer, more involved pieces.

So that’s it.

I use Google Reader because it’s flexible enough to encompass everything I need to do when I’m consuming content online. And I can do quite a bit with keyboard shortcuts and single-clicks. Let me know when Twitter and Friendfeed are that flexible.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ten Steps Evernote Can Take Toward Perfection

image After Google announced the demise of their awesome Notebook product, I was pretty bummed. In the aftermath, I looked at a few other tools, but I’ve mostly been using Evernote. I haven’t been totally happy about it, though. As I said my earlier post reviewing Evernote’s Google Import utility:

Overall, I think Evernote has done a nice job … and it’s definitely a strong contender to replace Google Notebook as my app of choice. Next week, I’ll let you know why I’m withholding my full endorsement.

As you’ve probably noticed, I still haven’t followed up. Frankly, I forgot I was supposed to get back to my readers. A couple weeks ago, a commenter named Larry reminded me of my outstanding obligation.

So here it is, 3 months later, and I’m about to tell you how I think Evernote could improve on what I must admit is the leading notebook product available. Where possible, I’ve linked to other folks articulating similar complaints.

Major issues

  1. Keyboard shortcuts in the Web version. I find the Web version of Evernote nearly unusable, thanks to a near complete lack of support for keyboard shortcuts. I can’t bold or underline. Can’t create bulleted or numbered lists. And you can’t cycle forward and backward through your notes. As a Google Reader / Gmail user, I know perfection in this regard is possible. But in Evernote Web, just about everything has to be done by clicking on a damn menu button. This is item number one for a reason.

  2. Shared notebooks need an overhaul. In the sidebar, I used to link my readers to a shared page in Google Notebook. That’s not really possible in Evernote, because the shared notebooks look like ass. They need to ditch the framed navigation and make each shared notebook look more like a blog, and less like Evernote. You can tell there’s an ambition to make their notebooks more like blogs, because there’s a permalink  button and tags right up there with the title and link. But the framed navigation and lack of a tag cloud kills the natural inclination to browse. And, of course, there are no comments. Which is kind of inexcusable given the lack of more advanced collaboration features. I should say I don’t mind the ads, but they’d get a lot more impressions if they made a more readable product. For real, Evernote could make for a killer Tumblelog, but until they get it right, I’m using Tumblr

  3. Collaboration in shared notebooks. This is a nice-to-have, but it’s something Google Notebook did very well. Because Evernote is a cross-platform behemoth it’s a bit tougher nut to crack, but they could speed it up by enabling collaboration in Web mode only. And make it a premium feature. Now that’s something people would pay for. P.S., I’m aware this is on Evernote’s 2009 to-do list, but it would be silly not to include such a major feature on this list.

  4. Sane tag navigation. Evernote features a fantastic import tool for your Delicious bookmarks, but I’ve avoided it because adding all my Delicious tags to the already crowded sidebar would make things entirely unmanageable. For a small amount of tags, Evernote’s vertical hierarchy of tags makes sense. But once you achieve a critical mass, tags become unusable. You can’t quickly identify or locate your content. I realize tag clouds aren’t universally appreciated, especially in the blog context. But in an app like Evernote conserving screen real estate and minimizing scroll time (in an already scroll-heavy app) becomes very important. Also, the size convention common in tag clouds, in which larger font size indicates greater tag frequency, would allow users to quickly identify their most important content. Tag clouds should at least be an option.

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    This still isn’t all my tags. Keep scrolling…
  5. Highlighter would be awesome. I’m struggling to think of another notetaking app that doesn’t offer a highlighter. Guess what? Nearly every major Evernote competitor offers a highlighting function. Certainly every app I’ve covered here does. Usually in more than one shade. This feature is also included in Zoho Writer and Google Docs. Ditto Gmail and Yahoo Mail. Not sure what Evernote is thinking here, but if the idea is that it’s an overrated, underused function, just about every other user and developer on earth seems to disagree.

Minor issues

  1. Would a little color kill you? There’s a certain stoic panache to Evernote’s palate of green and gray, but it sure would be helpful to add a little color that helps differentiate content. Gmail is the model here, with options to color code tags/labels. An even better model would be the Gmail labs feature, SuperStars, which itself is similar to the visual tags in OneNote. This could add an additional categorization feature to the already helpful tags and folders. The use of these small, colorful cues would actually enhance the function of apps relatively monochrome color scheme, because the color-marked items would stick out all the more.

    image
  2. Nested folders in notebooks. I realize that under the current Evernote regime, tags are nested. Notebooks are not. This makes very little sense, but it’s not quite the dealbreaker that lack of a tag cloud option is. Still, notebooks are, by definition, designed to house broad categories of information. As you see in OneNote, it’s natural to subdivide these broad categories into tabs (or subnotebooks).  Evernote mysteriously avoids this organizing principle in favor of nested tags. I say mysterious, because one of the foundational justifications for tags over folders is that they can apply in a variety of contexts. That is, one tag might belong to several “folders” or ideas. They are atoms, free to combine and recombine according to their different valences and properties. But in Evernote’s bizarro world, the very strengths of tags are neutralized so that you end up with a large clump of useless folder-like tags. Meanwhile, your Notebooks are static and cannot themselves contain sub-units.
     
  3. Click-less access to edit menu. Both the Web and desktop versions of Evernote force you to 1) Select a note, then 2) click again before you can access the rich text editing menu. In a perfect world, like Google Notebook, you’d only have to click once. Obviously, in the Desktop app, this doesn’t annoy me as much because keyboard shortcuts are available once you’ve selected a note.

  4. One click Web mode. I absolutely love Read It Later, mostly because to save an item for later reading, I only have to click once. No tagging, no confirming. It’s great. The desktop version of Evernote has this feature, and I love it. The Web-based clipper and bookmarklet require an extra step, as you have to confirm your saved item. Evernote could easily create a second bookmarklet, that allowed users to save links using a single click to which they could return.

  5. Additional email options. I recently started using Evernote’s email function so that I could simultaneously save items to Gmail. Unfortunately, when you use Evernote’s email option, there’s no way to indicate which notebook the item should go in or which tag should be applied. For example, it would be nice to add #hashtags to the subject or body of the email and have Evernote automatically read this as a tag or notebook. I saved this for last because Evernote’s saved searches feature can be used to accomplish the same thing: Simply create a saved search for {your hashtag here}. Then, including that text in your email will ensure it shows up in your saved search. Still, Evernote could easily add a syntax parsing feature that allowed you to define notebooks and tags for your emailed items. I would love it because I could then take advantage of Gmail’s highlighter feature in every note I clipped. :p

Well, there you have it. My suggestions for Evernote. Most of them aren’t new or groundbreaking. Indeed, the fact that so many have suggested these changes is a sign of Evernote’s overall strength as an incredible cross-platform notetaking option. Still, there is some frustration because many inferior apps and services already include the above features. These glaring omissions and design errors are sometimes enough to make you forget that Evernote has a peerless mobile app, voice recording, and text recognition in photos.

I look forward to Evernote improving because they responded to many of these ideas within their user forum (many of which are included above as links). Despite what Robert Scoble or Facebook thinks, I believe listening to users is usually a good idea, and I’m glad to see Evernote is listening to people like me.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I like Likaholix. A lot.

First, four ex-Googlers launched Friendfeed to expand on Facebook’s news feed idea. They ended up creating the gold standard for Lifestreaming services. Now two more former Google employes have launched Likaholix, and it looks a lot like Facebook’s “I’m a Fan” feature. And as with Friendfeed, it’s like Facebook, only better.

Facebook caught a lot of flak for their Beacon feature, but as they’ve refined their brand-interaction strategy, they’ve also proven that users love giving props to the products, services, and entertainers they LIKE. Every week, I notice friends of mine become “fans” of TV shows (e.g., Dexter), Bands (Jesus and Mary Chain), Beers (Lone Star, Shiner), and politicians (Barack Obama).

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Likaholix expands on this idea with an entire site devoted to sharing your favorite things, whatever those things might be. As with “fan”-hood on Facebook, you’re broadcasting your affinity for something that isn’t necessarily defined elsewhere on the Web. On Facebook, for example, you can be a fan of Pizza. Or Sleep

But unlike Facebook, Likaholix doesn’t force you to receive spammy updates from the Page administrator. In fact, you don’t have to wait around for someone else to create a page at all. Instead, Likaholix works more like a traditional bookmarking site. So, let’s say I like Doritos (a fair statement).

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Likaholix’s built-in search engine locates several links I can choose to represent the popular site. I’ll choose the obvious one, Doritos.com.

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Next, if I want, I can explain why I like Doritos so much, and I can add some topics (i.e., tags). Also, I can search for images and videos I want to associate with my Doritos page.

Now, the delicious snack food has it’s own spot on my Likaholix page, where my pals can watch the videos I chose and comment on my page. The can also piggy-back on my Like, if they share my love for the delicious snack food.

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And finally, I can close the loop using either Facebook Connect, sharing my likes with an even wider audience. As you see below, my likes can seamlessly integrate with my Facebook feed.

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Those are the basics, but there’s an impressive array of features for such a new product:

  • Bookmarklet allows you to Like any web page
  • Link your account with Facebook, Twitter, or Friendfeed
  • Import reviews from Yelp and Amazon
  • Bookmark your favorites
  • View a stream of recommendations based on your Likes
  • Become a tastemaker in up to two topics of your choosing, and earn a snazzy star for your profile
  • Subscribe to your friends’ Likes or keep up with your favorite topics (e.g., coffee, video games)

imageThe more you explore these features, the more you come to realize that Likaholix isn’t really like Facebook at all. Instead it bears an uncanny resemblance to Friendfeed. Does this sidebar header seem familiar to you? What about that playful logo? Or the careful cultivation of white space? Yeah, me too. But I’m not knocking it. There’s nothing wrong with clean design and transparent usability.

Likaholix isn’t the only site aiming to stake a claim to Twitter-length microreviews. Blippr (recently acquired by Mashable) comes to mind immediately. But think I prefer Likaholix’s open-ended simplicity. There are no categories except the ones you create. There’s no rating system. And there’s no pressure to write reviews. You just “like” something. That simplicity is what was so great about being a “fan” on Facebook. As I’ve said before, a great bookmarking service should work to reduce friction. How many clicks does it take? The closer you are to 1, the better your service.

That’s not to say Likaholix couldn’t be better. The Facebook Connect integration could work more simply and smoothly. And they definitely need a de-duping / disambigution engine. Right now, anyone can create a Doritos page. So even if it says I’m the “first” to like something, it doesn’t mean there aren’t 8 or 9 other nearly identical pages and conversations going on. Now where have I heard that before?

I actually raised both the above issues with Likaholix co-founder Bindy Reddy. She responded almost immediately and said they were working on both issues. Indeed, since I first emailed her, they’ve already improved the Facebook Connect feature so that you can post likes to either your status or your feed. For a timeline of other features they’re working on, click here. Also, check out their room on Friendfeed.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Shareaholic homepage gets a makeover

One of my favorite Firefox add-ons has fancied up their landing page quite a bit this evening. It’s a good time for me to tell you how much I rely on this one little extension. Basically, it’s a bookmarklet aggregator that allows you to consolidate some of your most used Web tools into one easy button.

What sites does it support? A lot:*

Share Icon bit.ly buzzster! connotea delicious digg diigo evernote facebook foxiewire friendfeed gmail google bookmarks google reader healthranker kaboodle magnolia meneame mixx myspace plurk reddit simpy soup streakr stumbleupon techmeme tipjoy truemors tumblr twine twitter weheartit yahoo buzz ycombinator news

Sure, you could just collect all your bookmarklets in a single folder on your toolbar (and even sync them using Xmarks), but it wouldn’t be as elegant. Besides, Shareaholic also shows you how many times certain pages have been shared or Dugg, something a normal bookmarklet can’t do.

But as much as I love Shareaholic, I think there’s still some room for improvement:

  • For starters, there should be a sync feature that ports your preferences across browsers.
  • In the same vein, why not aggregate all the links you share regardless of the service you use? It could be one garage that tracks all your sharing activity. Of course, you’d need granular privacy settings, but Shareaholic could still collect aggregate data that allowed to amass Web-wide statistics similar to AddThis or Add to Any. This might be a better use for Shareaholic’s sister site, Bzzster.
  • A killer feature would be the ability to add your own bookmarklet to Shareaholic just by dragging and dropping.
  • But if they can’t do that, at least add some important missing bookmarklets (e.g., Amazon’s  Add to Wishlist, Posterous, and the new and totally awesome Likeaholix).

A while back I submitted a Delicious bug to Shareaholic co-founder Jay Meattle, and he promptly resolved my issue with an experimental build that fixed the problem (the latest version includes that fix). He could not have been nicer. I also shared my Amazon recommendation with him, so hopefully that will be part of the next version. Until then, it’s not leaving my browser anytime soon.

*Note that my current version of the add-on (1.6) doesn’t have support for Evernote and does not include the newly updated Twine bookmarklet. I assume he’ll be adding support for these soon soon.