Author Archives: gregr

Project 365

Well, it’s been 6 days now, so it seems I’m committed enough to tell you all about this. :-)

Many of you have seen my photography work…however, what I’ve found is while I do take a lot of photos, they’re generally part of some sort of fashion-related shoot, and there’s at least as much (often more) time in setting things up and logistics as there is in actual photography. I don’t really seem to just get out and take pictures just for the fun of it – so this year I’ve decided to change that.

Inspired by this Project 365 article at Photojojo, and many other related posts, I’ve started a Project 365 of my own. I’ll be taking a picture every day in 2010, and posting them on my new site (Greg’s Daily Photos). No particular theme, just whatever strikes my fancy that day. Or whatever I see on the drive home. Or whatever’s in the airport while I’m waiting for a plane!

So today is day 6. To get you caught up, here are thumbnails of the pictures so far:

#1 - A splash after work #2 - shakin' it #3 - It will warm up eventually
#4 - Speedy, watch out! #5 - Pink and Gold #6 - North Woods Inn

I have some local friends who are doing this too, and you can see lots of folks on Twitter as well!

My take on Apple’s Magic Mouse

Never one to let new toys sit on store shelves too long, I picked up a Magic Mouse as soon as they were available in the local Apple stores. I was one of those rare folks who actually liked the mouse-formerly-known-as Mighty Mouse, so thought I’d write about it from that perspective.

First, I love the scrolling action when you slide your finger on the mouse. _Love_ it. I also find that I really like the momentum scrolling option, which, like the iPhone, dampens the scrolling effect when you lift your finger rather than stopping abruptly. I thought I’d hate the momentum (makes sense on the iPhone, but on a computer?!?), but it didn’t take long to get used to it, and then like it, and then actually be bummed when it didn’t work well in an app. The only app I’ve found so far that it doesn’t seem to work well in is Tweetie; I think it is actually working, but it’s so highly damped that you can’t really tell. [I saw a tweet from Loren saying he’s waiting for his mouse to come in so he can work on it.]

If you want to stop the scrolling abruptly, like other mice, just don’t pick up your finger when you’re done scrolling…and it will stop in its tracks. Perfect.

The only scroll-related gotcha I’ve found is when you’re in an app where you can scroll down one line at a time (the example for me is the ThinkOrSwim trading app, looking at level 2 quotes, trying to scroll down one line at a time)…with the mighty mouse, it was easier to scroll down just one line, or three lines, or whatever you wanted. With the magic mouse, it’s still possible, but takes some finesse, which I haven’t mastered yet.

The other thing I really like is the fact that you can use the whole surface of the mouse for scrolling. Sometimes I’ll be reading a long web page, and take my hand off the mouse. Now when I want to scroll down a bit, I don’t have to position my finger right on the scroll ball, but in fact can just stick a finger anywhere on the mouse and scroll around.

Right-clicking on the magic mouse works exactly like it did on the mighty mouse, which works well for me. The two-finger swipes to go back and forward in a browser do work…but I haven’t trained myself to do it yet. It’s a touch awkward now, IMHO, but who knows, maybe I’ll grow to like it.

I do miss the extra buttons on the mighty mouse, which I had assigned to dashboard and expose. My hope is that Apple maybe adds some options in the mouse preferences to re-map the two-finger swipe to other functions, so we can customize the behavior to our liking. Or perhaps there are other gestures the mouse can recognize that just aren’t implemented in the driver yet. I’m not holding my breath, though. :-)

All in all, I like it a lot. I’ll probably end up buying another one for my other computer now. And, in case you want one, here are make-me-rich Amazon links for the Magic Mouse and the wired mouse!

FeedDemon, NewsGator, and Mr. Bradbury

Way back in 2005, NewsGator acquired FeedDemon. I vividly remember sitting down with Nick Bradbury and talking about our shared vision for the future of FeedDemon and the NewsGator platform…and many a night drinking a lot of beer and talking about RSS and what we now call social computing. Through it all, Nick remained laser-focused on both the future of FeedDemon, and his customers and how they would be brought forward.

Along the way, we added NetNewsWire to the family, as well as SmartFeed (renamed NewsGator Go! for Windows Mobile). All of it was part of building out the original vision for a core online content platform, and best-of-breed applications on nearly any device to consume content. All in all, I think we delivered on this vision – we built the platform, added the best applications on the most popular platforms, and made it all work together.

Since then, as you may have gathered, our enterprise business has grown faster than we anticipated (this is a good thing!). As the company has started to focus more and more on enterprise customers, we made the difficult decision to shut down NewsGator Online, and focus our online platform in on our commercial clients. As part of this transition, most of our client applications (FeedDemon, NetNewsWire, and NetNewsWire for iPhone) were re-released to sync with Google Reader as an online store, rather than NewsGator Online.

As part of that transition, Nick has gone “back into the wild” as an independent developer. FeedDemon remains a NewsGator product, but Nick is 100% focused on it, and he has complete control over the product direction and feature set. I like to think of this not as the end of anything, but rather the beginning of the next phase of FeedDemon’s life. Just as the initial deal with NewsGator opened up new opportunities for it, so does this new direction…and FeedDemon customers will see lots of exciting things coming up.

On a personal note, I’d like to extend a big “thank you” to Nick, on behalf of myself and everyone at NewsGator. Nick has been instrumental in forming our consumer product direction, always makes sure we’re taking care of our customers in the best way we can, and has provided a huge amount of input on our other products. He’s been a very influential person at the company, and we look forward to this continuing in the future!

When to covet thy neighbor’s Kindle DX

By now, you all know the Kindle DX was announced. Much of the same Kindle goodness, with bigger screen. What’s surprising is all the negative comments about it that I’ve heard.

Here’s the thing. The “old” Kindle 2 works great. For me, it’s the perfect size – it fits in my laptop bag, roughly the size of a paperback. It’s got paging buttons on both sides, which is great if you’re like me and you keep shifting around and switching hands when you read. For plain old text, like a novel, it’s just the ticket.

I also read the Wall Street Journal on it; it actually works better than I expected. It takes a little getting used to how the navigation works – but once you get it, it’s pretty easy to work through the paper pretty quickly.

Where it breaks down in my experience is reading technical books which have charts and figures that you want to refer to when reading the text. If the chart fills a half page, say, then there’s not much text left on the page…and if you need to continue to refer back to that chart when reading the text, it’s pretty inconvenient. I never noticed this until the past few weeks, when I’ve been working through a book on stock trading, and there are of course lots of charts the text refers to.

This would be the same situation for textbooks, I would imagine. Lots of pictures and charts, and lots of text referring to them. Keep it all on the same screen – just like a book tries to keep it all on the same page. If the Kindle DX can do that effectively (and I have no reason to doubt that it can), it will be a great device for these use cases.

Will I buy one? Well, not right away…I like the form factor of the Kindle 2. But when I’m reading technical books, I’ll undoubtedly quietly covet a DX.

After a day with the Kindle for iPhone

By now, you’ve undoubtedly heard about Kindle for iPhone. It’s pretty cool, actually…pretty bare bones functionality, but it tries its best to get out of the way and let you read.

Yesterday evening, I was meeting someone at Starbucks, and she was running about 15 minutes late. I was fiddling with my iPhone, and remembered that I had the new Kindle app on there, and had already downloaded the book I’m currently reading on the “big” Kindle.

I opened the app, which was already on the page I’m currently on. I read for a bit, and actually finished a whole chapter before my friend arrived. When I was done, I closed the app, and it did its magic sync back to the Amazon cloud with the page I had made it to.

When I got home later, I turned on my Kindle just to see what would happen. I clicked into the book from the home screen, and a message popped up saying something like “you’ve read up to location 2500 on gregr’s iPhone; would you like to move to that location now?” (those weren’t the exact words, but pretty close). I clicked yes, and that’s all there was to it – I was exactly at the point I left off earlier.

Pretty cool – better than I expected. I can totally imagine reading a bit of my book when waiting for an appointment, standing in a long line, or something like that.

So the good and the bad?


– Pretty much does exactly what you’d hope. You can read your book, and the rest of the GUI disappears.

– It’s free!


– While the “swipe” is intuitive to change pages, it’s not very much fun after you’ve done it 50 times in a row. They should make it so if you tap somewhere, it skips to the next page.

All in all – it’s not the same as a Kindle, or similar to a book for that matter. The screen is small, and it’s backlit and less comfortable to read, at least for me. I wouldn’t want to read a whole book on this screen myself – but for short breaks, it works quite well. And somehow, I feel like my e-books are worth more now that I can read them in multiple places. :-)

My Thoughts on the Kindle 2

Kindle 2Pretty much everyone and their uncle has written about the Kindle 2 now. Not one to be left behind, I wanted to write down my thoughts.

I never had a Kindle 1. I looked at a friend’s once, and read some reviews and such, but that was the extent of my experience. But when the Kindle 2 started shipping last week, I ordered one. I’ve now read about one and a half books on it, and wanted to write about it.

First, why did I buy one? Well, a few reasons:

1. I like to read bestseller types of books, usually paperbacks; I don’t like hardcovers as much, as they’re too big to fit in my bag, and more expensive. But, this means I’m usually a year or so behind my favorite authors. With the Kindle, the brand new books (otherwise only available in hardcover) are only about $10.

2. I travel a lot, and I like to read on planes. But don’t you hate it when you only have 40 pages left in a book when you get on, so you have to take two books? And, to add to the problem, I’m a procrastinator, which means I’m always perusing the airport newsstands looking for a new book…and if there’s nothing there that sounds good, I have to settle for something that doesn’t.

3. I’ve got hundreds of old paperbacks piled up in my house, and have no idea what to do with them. Can’t really sell them, as they’re generally not worth anything. I could give them to friends, but I’ve got more books than I have friends who read the same genres. And based on past experience, with only a couple of exceptions, the likelihood of my re-reading one of these books later is approximately zero.

So…in came the Kindle.

My first impression? It’s thinner and lighter than I thought. I also got the leather cover for it, which snaps onto the Kindle with a couple of metal clips. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about this cover, but it seems to work fine for me.

Downloading books works as advertised – and it’s truly seamless. Seems to take about 20 seconds for a new book to download, which I can’t complain about.

The menu system seems painfully slow. I think it’s just the nature of the display, in that updates take a while. This doesn’t affect the reading experience at all, though – so it’s only when you’re in there screwing around do you notice it.

So on to the reading experience. I was a little nervous about this; I actually read an e-book on an iPaq way back in the day, and it was somewhat painful…enough so I only read one. So I was a little apprehensive about the Kindle. I asked Brad about his – he said it took him about 5 Kindle books, and then he was ambivalent as to whether he read a new book on his Kindle or on paper. That didn’t sound so bad.

So I sat down on Saturday, downloaded a new book, and started reading it. At first, everything seemed weird…but then, actually very quickly, the Kindle sort of disappeared and I became engrossed in the book, just like I do with a paper book. The screen contrast was fine, the paging controls were convenient enough, everything just worked, and got out of the way. By the time I was halfway through the book, I was noticing how it was actually more comfortable than a regular book in some ways…for example, you can hold the Kindle, and page through it, with one hand.

It makes buying new books a little too easy. Similar to the Apple TV (which I will write about one of these days), the Kindle is like a cash register that’s hooked up to Genius in that way.

I do wish it had more screen and less keyboard…but I suppose you can’t have everything. It should have come with a case, and maybe a credit for a free book. But once you get past all that, get your case, order a book, it works. Really well.

So all in all, I’m liking the Kindle a lot. It’s small, light, and should be easy to travel with. I don’t notice it when I’m reading. It just works.

(Note – links in this post are affiliate links; if you use one to buy something, maybe I’ll make enough to buy a new book!)

Enterprise RSS – the State of the Industry

There has been much talk over the last few days about Enterprise RSS, and whether it’s dead, still being born, or alive and well. Since I’ve got a pretty unique view into this particular industry, I thought I’d write some thoughts and try to give you a more clear picture of what’s really happening.

First, let me get this out of the way – RSS use in the enterprise is definitely alive and well. But it’s not in the obvious places. No one is writing articles talking about how their desktop feed readers are revolutionizing the way they do business. No one is talking about how they’re retiring their Exchange servers because so much content is delivered via RSS instead of email (and in fact, email is alive and well). No one is saying “if I only had Google Reader behind my firewall, I could save millions of dollars.” Few companies even say their users are clamoring for some sort of enterprise RSS application.

So if not all of that, then what?

My team and I, collectively, have detailed conversations with at least 50 different large companies every week, talking about the real problems they do want to solve. Many of these include 10 or more people on their side, ranging from IT folks to business owners with line-of-business responsibility. And these conversations rarely start with any mention of enterprise RSS. These include:

  • Portal enhancement. They want to pull additional content into their portal to make it more useful, or get content out of the portal to distribute in some other way. Or in many cases, they want to add personalized content capabilities to the portal. A while back, an analyst told me “this could be the technology that saves the corporate portal.” Indeed – that scenario is playing out today.
  • Alerting. There are many use cases where folks want to alert certain groups or individuals of a specific event. For example, we have a large bank that uses our system to deliver fraud alerts to teller desktops, replacing a legacy system that worked via fax and paper. Incredible efficiency gains and cost savings.
  • Competitive tracking. Or tracking any other external news for that matter – many companies wish to track media mentions and online conversations about themselves, their competitors, or anything else; once they have this information, then, they need to filter and distribute it appropriately. Increasingly, these systems are being used as a replacement for high-end premium content services. We have a large bank who reduced their premium content subscription expenses by over $1M per year by using our solutions – we’re talking about real savings here.
  • Knowledge capture. In large companies, mountains of information are created every day, in many different systems. If there is some way to collect all of this information, and surface it in appropriate places, the content’s value is multiplied.
  • Social networking. More and more, companies are investigating the idea of implementing social networking within the enterprise. The use cases for this are numerous; we have a large PR firm, for example, who uses this to manage their talent globally. A global advertising firm uses this technology to connect not only the people working on a specific account, but also others in the company who might have relevant experience or interests; it’s amazingly effective.
  • Collaboration. This is sort of a catch-all, I suppose…but it’s a popular use for this technology. For example, one of largest banks in the world is using our system to unify groups of people who are on different communication systems (due to acquisitions and such); their analysis indicates rolling this out will be much faster and cheaper than attempting to unify their email systems in 2009, and provide other benefits such as social connections.

For any of these specific problems, RSS forms the underlying plumbing to transfer content around the organization. And if you can track the user interactions with the content, using enterprise RSS infrastructure, very rich data is collected – and the combination of the content plus this interaction data forms the underlying foundation for a social computing solution. One that can even form relationships based on implicit behavior, rather than explicit actions.

An interesting tidbit – of the content recently added to NewsGator Online, 40% of it is content related to social computing (e.g. Twitter updates, Facebook feeds, etc.). In the enterprise, this percentage can be even higher in active social computing environments. But the point is, RSS (and associated enterprise infrastructure) is increasingly used as the basis for social networking and collaboration.

From a business perspective, momentum for all of this is accelerating dramatically. As Brad mentioned, NewsGator added over 30 paying enterprise customers in Q4 2008 – most of whom were large Fortune 2000 companies (there is some breakdown by industry in this press release). These enterprise installations (plus ongoing maintenance) represent about 75% of NewsGator’s revenue, the rest coming from our enterprise SaaS offerings. Enterprise RSS-related infrastructure, including social computing, is growing quickly in demand.

RSS in the enterprise is not about “reading feeds.” It’s more about enterprise integration, search, feedback, etc. It’s about extending the value of existing systems, and leveraging efficient content distribution and tracking into new applications (e.g. social computing) as well as existing applications (e.g. portal enhancement). It’s not about installing FeedDemon on every desktop to enable folks to read content.

And, thus, it’s hard to see from the outside. But it’s there, forever an enabler, making new things possible. It’s enterprise infrastructure. And it’s in more places than you probably think.

Enterprise RSS and security

Peter Verhoeven wrote an article a few days ago talking about security features he feels are missing from Enterprise RSS tools, including NewsGator Enterprise Server. I wanted to address his concerns directly, explaining exactly why NGES handles secure feeds the way it does, and talk about how specifically one could address the issue he brings up.

Public feeds

So first, let’s discuss the general case where no security is involved. If user A and user B both subscribe to publicly accessible feed X, the feed content is the same for both – so there exists only one copy of the feed in the system, and everyone sees that same copy and the contents therein. This is highly efficient for all systems involved.

Secure feeds

Now on to the slightly more complicated case. When NGES encounters a secure feed (more specifically, a feed which requires user credentials to access), it treats the content from the feed as secure. When user A retrieves feed Y using his credentials, the contents will be stored specific to user A. When user B retrieves the same feed Y but using her own credentials, the contents will be stored for user B. So now we essentially have two copies of the feed.

Why, Greg, why would you do this? It’s the same feed, so you should only store it once. Right?

As it turns out, the answer it no. The issue is that NGES has no way of knowing if feed Y will return the same content for every user that has access to it. Just because the feed URL is the same, doesn’t mean user A and user B will see the same thing when they retrieve it using their own credentials. So, the system stores the content separately.

“Shared” secure feeds

Ah, but now we get to the heart of Peter’s issue. He has a case where he _knows_ the content for a given feed will be the same for every user that has access to it. The problem is, Peter knows, but NGES has no way of knowing.

The only part of the system that could possibly know this is the publisher of the feed – because it’s the application generating the feed, and it knows whether it would generate the same feed for everyone that has access. But it’s a valid case – there are indeed situations where the publishing system knows this is the case.

So, in NGES 3.x, it will actually look for a specific header in the feed that basically says “this feed will be the same for everyone.” If it sees that header, it will still individually authorize access for every user trying to access the feed, but it will only retrieve and store the content once. So essentially, authentication and authorization works the same way – we are just making the behavioral assertion that the content in the feed may be shared among the group of people who have access.

[note: I’ve slightly simplified here, but this is very close to what is actually required.]

This code was initially written to optimize some of the content-retrieval that goes on with our SharePoint-integrated Social Sites Enterprise product…but there are definitely use cases for this feature beyond just SharePoint.

TopStyle acquired

I’m pleased to announce that Stefan van As has acquired TopStyle, and is already planning a major release for Q1 2009.

As many of you know, NewsGator had TopStyle as a result of the acquisition of Bradbury Software a few years back. Since then, its development has been somewhat slow; the company’s focus was on RSS and social software, and TopStyle, while a very successful product, didn’t really fit directly into that mix.

So that’s why I’m so excited that Stefan will be taking this over, and putting some serious effort into TopStyle. To all the customers that stuck with the product, a big thank you! And now, sometime in the next few months, you’ll have a new release to look forward to…and I know that Stefan is eager to hear your feedback and feature requests, so don’t be shy. :-)


Q&A with Stefan and more TopStyle information

Nick Bradbury’s take

NewsGator Related Content

As you may have read by now, NewsGator has released the Related Content services as part of the media-targeted offerings. This is available either using a widget, or also available via API for data services customers. The widget (or API) will serve up content that is related to the content the user is reading; that content can be from across the web, or restricted to just your own site (or a set of sites you choose). In the latter cases, it can be used to drive additional traffic from existing visitors.

The system can also automatically create topics pages, whereby the user can see a list of articles matching a specific topic of the currently viewed content.

The system uses our online database of over 3 billion articles, which sees over 8 million new articles per day. At the moment, it matches content based on tags/categories, including categories derived from analyzing the content. You can also specify “fallback” tags to use in the case where you have, say, multiple unrelated articles displayed on one page, and still want to have relevant content.

Two blogs you can look at that are using the widget are the NewsGator Widget Blog, and the NewsGator Daily blog.

Give it a try, and let us know what you think!

Update: here is a tutorial on creating a related content widget!