Why It’s Good that Scoble Un-followed Me

unfollowRobert Scoble, the incredible hulk of the social networking space, un-followed over 100,000 people on Twitter this week.  I was one of them.

But that’s OK.  In fact it’s a very good thing.  Here’s why.

My single biggest gripe about social networks in general, and Twitter in particular, is that far too many people use them to blast out the content they want others to see.  With little or no concern about what others are saying.  When that happens, the platform becomes a stage at best and a spam-fest at worst.  I’m all about conversation and back and forth.  And face it, that is impossible when there are 100,000 people in the room.

There’s nothing even remotely social about trying- or pretending to try- to interact with that many people.  A follow becomes a virtual autograph.  Most of us don’t want autographs, and even real celebrities are beginning to realize that they are better served with a more direct connection to a smaller group of people.

So when an influential person like Scoble makes a considered decision to manage his content in a way that is actually manageable and allows meaningful social interaction, that’s a very good thing.  If Robert rejects, even indirectly, lecturing as a proxy for interaction and follower numbers as a proxy for authority, then maybe others will follow suit.  When that happens, the social networking space might actually become social.  And useful.  Maybe even a little conversational.

Granted, it would have been better to adopt this approach from the start, before building up a six figure following.  To do it this way necessarily opens the door for criticism- non-reciprocity, the gatekeeping thing, etc.  There’s nothing to be done about that, and I say better late than never.

A manageable social network is better, in every way that counts.  I hope others will un-follow me too, if that’s what it takes.

How TweetDeck Could Take Over the World

And maybe kill Google, Microsoft and Wolfram Alpha in the process.  OK, that was a joke, but since all tech blogs use absurd, over the top headlines in a juvenile effort to attract readers, I thought I’d give it a try.

Back to TweetDeck. . .

tweetdeckI’ve dabbled with TweetDeck for some time, using it periodically but always finding my way back to my home-grown Content Master.  The Twitter part of Content Master, of course, is the excellent TwitterGadget, which does a lot of really neat things that other Twitter apps have surprisingly not implemented.  TweetDeck comes about as close as any desktop app I have used.  With a few additions, I think TweetDeck could become my Twitter app of choice.

But make no mistake, for that to happen, this has to happen:

First, it absolutely must allow multiple columns of “All Friends,” to allow users to better manage screen space.  The most important part of Twitter is the river of posts from the people you follow.  Having a single column to view this limits you to 6-10 posts on your screen.  That is far too few (sure, I could scroll down, but I’d rather allocate more screen space).  Users should be able to allocate multiple columns to the river, with new posts appearing in the first column and then moving to next column(s) before they rotate off your screen.  This is a must-have feature that should be implemented today.  Literally.

Second, how about a Google Reader implementation.  There’s already a way to add your Facebook data to TweetDeck.  Give me a way to access my Google Reader information from within the application and I’d be hooked.  Something similar to, but more robust than, the Google Reader gadget would be a great start.  I’d be happy with Google Reader.  I’d be thrilled if other apps were also incorporated, like Delicious, Read It Later, Photobucket, Dropbox, etc.  In other words, make TweetDeck as good for publishing Twitter content as it is for reading it.

Third, once all that additional source data is available from within TweetDeck, allow articles to be dragged from the applicable column (i.e., the Google Reader column), into the Tweet message box.  Populate the message box with the title of the article you dropped in there, and populate the link box with the URL, which should then be automatically shortened.

Fourth, provide a way to export all, filtered portions or individual items from your TweetDeck to other services, via RSS feeds.  That would allow you to use TweetDeck as the publishing platform not only for Twitter, but also for other services.  If I could selectively embed some of the content I read and publish in TweetDeck to my blog or some other site, that would be very helpful.

Fifth, create a top row of tabs for different TweetDeck page layouts, content and implementations.  If I could have my Twitter stuff under one tab and my Google Reader and Facebook stuff under another one, that would give me the flexibility I seek.  iGoogle, My Yahoo and other apps already have tab or tab-like features, so this shouldn’t be hard to add.

That should keep you busy for the rest of the day.  What are you waiting on?  Time’s a wastin’.

Spymaster: Big Fun, Twitter Spam or Both

I don’t live on Twitter, so Spymaster, the Twitter-based online spy game, didn’t cross my radar until I got a DM from someone I follow inviting me to join her spy network.  I followed the link and discovered an apparently easy-to-come-by invitation to Spymaster’s public beta.  It looked like a pretty well-designed site, so I decided to give it a try.

After signing up, you first decide what spy organization you want to work for.  I was hoping for CONTROL (Don Adams version), but it wasn’t a choice.  So I picked the CIA, being an American and all.  Afterwards, you’re a junior spy working for the Company.

In sum, the game then involves performing various spy tasks that, if you are successful, result in payment and an increase in experience points.  Pretty standard game fare.

As you accumulate money, you can buy weapons and defensive gear- body armor, etc.- for yourself and your spy ring, which consists of your spymasters (those of your Twitter followers who also play spymaster) and your regular spies (those of your followers who do not yet play the game).

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As you accumulate experience points, you progress up the spy ladder.  I am currently a Level 11 spy.  As you move up the ladder, you can perform more difficult- and lucrative- spy tasks and buy better gear, thereby increasing your attack and defense numbers.

You can also assassinate rival spies, though your success or failure rate is tied to the overall strength of your spy ring in a way that is not easily discernable.  As a result I have, thus far, generally engaged only in retaliatory strikes and public service first strikes against those who link bomb Twitter by adding a bunch of Twitterfeed posts at one time.

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If you are successfully “assassinated,” you don’t die.  You just lose money and perhaps other assets.  If the attempt fails, you get a portion of the assassin’s money.  Thus far, I’ve made a little net money via unsuccessful assassination attempts against me, but not much.  I tend to see the assassination thing as an annoying distraction so far, which is odd since I assume the interactivity of assassinations is intended to be the focal point of the game.

As you accumulate more money, you can- for a price- deposit it in a Swiss bank account, so it won’t be subject to loss via assassination.  You can also purchase “safe houses” in remote location to generate additional revenue.  So far, this has been the focal point of my game, with some success and a little uncertainty.  While risk and payment numbers are provided, it is not clear how that matrix works, and it is not clear how often safe house payments accrue.  In sum, there should be a lot more detail about some of the game play details.

But the purchase of safe houses keeps my account balance low, which is a disincentive for those who might seek to assassinate me.

There’s been a bit of an uproar on Twitter over the game feature that allows players to increase their power by recruiting their Twitter followers to the game, via DMs, and the game setting which increases your payouts if you post certain game events to your Twitter feed.  Personally, I haven’t been overwhelmed by DMs, so I don’t have a problem with that feature.  I only post two major game events to my Twitter feed (level ups and assassination attempts), but I have seen a bit too much game related activity in my Twitter stream.  So while I wish people would keep their game-related posts to a minimum, I haven’t un-followed anyone for posting game-related stuff.  Yet.

The big question, of course, is whether Spymaster is a brief diversion or something that will have the staying power to become a permanent part of the Twitter experience.  While it’s clearly in beta at the moment, it needs more depth to have the permanence it seeks.  At present, there’s a lot of clicking on tasks, waiting for your energy level to return, and clicking on more tasks.  Notwithstanding the “social” nature of the game, interaction with other players is limited and, as far as I can tell, interaction with those in your spy ring is non-existent.  On the plus side of the ledger, those of us with game playing pedigrees are conditioned to climb up the money/experience ladder and will probably do so, at least for a while.  And the web site is well designed and highly functional.

It’s a good start, for sure.  But the final story won’t be known until we see what else the developers have up their sleeves.  There’s not enough depth now, but there could be later.

As far as the Twitter spam goes, I have not sent any recruiting DMs, because I am a vocal opponent of anything resembling spam.  Given the free for all (and, candidly, already heavily spam and quasi-spam infested) nature of Twitter, I don’t consider the Spymaster-related communications spam.  But I can see how some people would.

For now, I’m mildly interested in Spymaster.  If you want to be in my spy ring, send me a DM and I’ll send you a return invitation.  Let’s go assassinate some geeks, shall we?

The Line Forms Here: How the Man Controls the Social Networking Game

Toss a bunch of nerds in a room and I guess generations of nerd conditioning combine with nerd DNA and compel them to form a line and then apply their Trekkie logic to sorting and resorting each other.  It’s like a supercharged version of that video of those two rats.  Actually, that’s not right.  Those rats are funny and you can tell by their expressions that they know they’re acting stupid.  There’s nothing funny about nerd self-sorting.  Boring, yes.  Sad, maybe.  Funny, not so much.

So why in the world someone would want to slice and dice their Friend-fracking-feed is completely beyond me.  It’s bad enough that I actually have a FriendFeed.  God, spare me the unmitigated embarrassment of ever talking about my FriendFeed stats.  If I ever start yammering on about the clicking average of my FriendFeed with readers in Tweeting position, please taze me bro’ and take me straight to man-camp for an immediate stones transplant.

But there must be a lot of people who, astonishingly, care about this sort of thing, because there seem to be tracking apps for everything.  In fact, I guarantee you that somewhere as we speak some pasty geek is working feverishly on a fantasy social networking league.  With the first pick in the first round, the Cucamonga Slide Rules take Robert Scoble.

The not-so-hot stove league is not limited to FriendFeed.

You can track your Twitter use various ways.  You can theoretically analyze your RSS subscribers (except, of course, for the fact that Feedburner is utterly and completely broken).  I guess if you have the time, you can spend 24 hours a day pouring over your social networking post and commenting percentage.  Of course that would be profoundly boring, but you could do it.  I guess some people do.

But here’s the thing.  The fundamental purpose of most self-policed lines is to allow those at the front to better their position at the expense of those who can be initially shoved to the back.  School children to sports pages- it’s all about the line these days.  There is- or at least used to be- a fuzzy correlation between line position and success, and so people latched on to the only objective criteria available and suddenly the place in line became the goal, as opposed to the result of achieving some more legitimate goal.  In online endeavors, the line often takes the form of traffic, evidenced by subscriber numbers, page views, etc.  So people want to find a shortcut to the goal- more traffic.  Why work to grow your readership when you can just spam people with the latest get more Twitter followers scam?

And of course as soon as the line is formed, the focus turns to guarding one’s position in the line.  And the entire system becomes a giant tug of war, often at the expense of merit or content.  Or logic.

Adding to the chaos are the ranking/listing algorithms that people trot out to validate their position in the line.  No matter how you dress it up, most of these allegedly analytical algorithms eventually come down to the same thing: popularity.  Popularity has been the stand-in for authority and value on the internet since Dave Winer invented it.  Not only is that a faulty and debilitating correlation, all of these algorithms that spit out the same oligarchical list propagate the falsely established order at the expense of those whose authority is eclipsed by their exclusion.  Stated another way, popularity does not equate to authority.  To say otherwise is to confuse People Magazine with an encyclopedia.

Python incoming.  Surely we all agree that strange applications lyin’ in internets distributin’ lists is no basis for a system of social networking.  Supreme social worth derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical statistical hegemony.

People simply don’t need some algorithm or starter list to tell them who is interesting or who they should read or follow online.  People are perfectly capable of finding content they like without a helpful nudge from the establishment.  The whole idea of suggested reading lists and their ilk- which as noted are usually based on popularity, which is another word for the status quo- are just a confidence trick.

Designed to allow the man to control the game.

Getting the Picture with TweetPhoto

I’ve used TwitPic to link photos to my Twitter posts almost as long as I have been a semi-active Twitter user.  I like applications that do one thing, simply and well.  Sort of like Foxmarks before they ruined it, but that’s another story.  TwitPic works perfectly for my purposes.  It’s embedded within Tweetie, my preferred and only iPhone Twitter application.  I also like the TwitPicGrid in small doses.

Today, I read about TweetPhoto, a new Twitter photo sharing application (isn’t it great when multiple developers fight to see who can give away stuff to more people?).  At first blush it looks like TweetPhoto suffers from the internet stats obsession (who saw my photo, god-awful trending tags, etc.) that I most affirmatively do not share, but let’s take a closer look.

Once you sign in with your Twitter credentials, you get a nice looking upload screen.

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That seems like a lot of work compared to the Tweetie/TwitPic integration or the integrated Trunc.it photo sharing via TwitterGadget, my Twitter app of choice.  When you upload the photo, a box pops up asking if you want to push the photo to Facebook too.  Nope, I don’t.  The app then adds a Twitter post with a photo link to your Twitter stream.

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OK, that’s fine and dandy.  But it’s no different than TwitPic.  Let’s see what else TweetPhoto has to offer.  It shows me how many times my photo has been viewed, but (1) I don’t really care and (2) so does TwitPic.  You can enlarge the photo, as you can on TwitPic.  You can retweet it, which is a feature that’s not important to me, but one that TwitPic doesn’t have.  And you can mark favorites.

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Test Photo: 1970 in the Astrodome

It geo-tags photos posted via a mobile phone.  I emailed a photo to test out the geo-tagging, but it hasn’t shown up on my TweetPhoto page 20 minutes after I emailed it.  Hopefully that’s a glitch.  If not, that’s not good.  Time is everything online, just like offline.

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The My Friends Photos tab leads to a page where you can see other TweetPhoto users’ photos and invite your friends to join (I don’t like my chances).  You can supposedly show photos posted by your Twitter friends, but the app said I didn’t have any Twitter friends.  It may be that this option only shows photos posted by your Twitter friends who also use TweetPhoto- which would be of limited value.  The Public Stream looks like it shows other photos posted via TweetPhoto.  Again, that’s not as interesting as TwitPicGrid.  You can upload photos via email, which is nice, but, once again, not as easy as the Tweetie/TwitPic combination.

Navigation between those tabs was very Twitter-like (e.g., slow).

TweetPhoto is well-designed, and it has some neat features.  But it’s not evolutionary enough to supplant the incumbents.  Maybe like the rest of the online world, it is betting that the general population continues to flock to Twitter, so it can make its bones with new Twitter users.  Maybe, maybe not.  Only time will tell.

There’s a Thousand in Every Crowd

Despite the fact that it often feels like a mashup of Deepak Chopra and P.T. Barnum, I continue to enjoy Twitter.

But Twitter has a growing content problem, that if not checked will ultimately reduce Twitter to an online version of your email junk mail folder.

For starters, the volume of MLM, get rich quick and grow your follower count posts (3 versions of the same thing) is light years beyond absurd.  Add to that an endless supply of self-help posts, many of which are either nonsensical to the point of self-parody or disguised spam.  And then there’s this one dude who obsessively posts the same links day after day, which doesn’t particularly annoy me except that I can’t figure out why he does it.  If he doesn’t have an angle, he’s the most dedicated linker in the history of html.

One conclusion I have reached after spending a good amount of time on Twitter is that there are thousands of people trying to sell the same thing to each other.  MLM opportunities, get rich quick schemes, self-confidence, karma, etc.  There are vendors everywhere and, as far as I can tell, not a customer in sight.

I also wonder how potential Twitter advertisers feel about this demographic.  If everyone is selling, who is left to buy?

But among all the noise, there are many benefits.  I have seen links to interesting articles, beautiful photographs and great songs.  Most by people who, if you can believe it, aren’t trying to make money off of me or sell me some get (them) rich quick scheme.  I have also made contact with developers who have answered questions and provided assistance with respect to their applications.  In return, I try to add value and fun by posting links to interesting articles, and by posting music.  I have been doing an alphabetical survey of new wave music, via the Blip.fm/Twitter integration.  It takes time to find the music, and to add short commentary to each.  But it’s fun and I’m building a good playlist over at Blip.fm.

But maybe I am misusing Twitter by doing all that.  Maybe I should forget about content and focus on MLM and how to increase my follower count and whatnot.  Because in the midst of all of the Twitter chaos, it seems that posting music makes me a spammer.

I’ve received many positive responses to my music posts, and a grand total of two complaints.  This dude and another guy from Houston, thereby proving what I already sort of knew- that I live in a town of music haters.  Not really, but it’s interesting that anyone who has spent 5 minutes in the great Twitter flea market can get all pissy over a series of song posts, manually done, with commentary (to be fair, he later said that maybe spam wasn’t the best word to use).  He un-followed me, which is exactly what he should have done if he didn’t want to see my music posts, and this little issue was resolved.  But I think this exchange is indicative of the bigger content problem Twitter is facing.

In sum, there is a huge spam problem on Twitter, but in the words of Lynyrd Skynyrd (another annoying music reference), I ain’t the one.  Yet it seems I’m not the only one being labeled as a spammer, just because I’m not trying to game Twitter or sell people a bill of goods.

Another tech blogger who isn’t trying to make money on Twitter is Louis Gray.  It seems that the Twanalyst application, one of the many barnacles that cling to Twitter’s traffic-rich API, believes that Louis is spamming Twitter, in part because he doesn’t retweet (e.g., repost) a bunch of other people’s posts.  That is even more absurd that these muddy sticks squawking about my music.

Louis presents a logical and iron-clad defense of his Twitter philosophy:

In my opinion, begging for retweets, and retweeting is simply lazy, just like live tweeting a conference panel is lazy blogging. It’s the equivalent of forwarding e-mail, or copying and pasting someone else’s blog post to your site and adding a short link. If Twitter is truly conversational, as many argue, then repeating what someone else has said doesn’t do much to add to the conversation.

Amen, brother, although I don’t think Twitter is as conversational as we would like, or as many would have us believe.

Interestingly, Twanalyst doesn’t think I’m a spammer.  It says I am a “renowned obsessive cautious” personality with a “chatty academic” style, whatever that means.

All of this nonsense demonstrates that the rules and expectations on and about Twitter have been turned upside down.  If you blast links and mindlessly retweet posts by others, you’re viewed as adding value.  If you obsessively post about MLM, getting more followers and making money, no problem.  But if you post actual content or- God forbid- music, you are a spammer.  Or at least an annoyance.

At the beginning and end of the day, I don’t care if someone thinks I am spamming- just stop following me.  And I’m not going to unsubscribe from Louis’s blog because some application thinks he needs to change his Twitter approach.  But I think Twitter needs to develop a plan for encouraging good content.  So far it looks, at least from the outside, like Twitter is solely interested in traffic, at the expense of just about everything else.

At some point the coolness factor will fade, and Twitter will have to rely on good content.

Like music.

Content Master Page (2.0)

After using Version 1.0 of my Content and Twitter Juggernaut Page for a couple of weeks, I decided it was time to knock it down and see if I could come up with something simpler and better.  Among the areas I wanted to improve were:

1. A more unified interface, on a single page.
2. One instance of Google Reader and one instance of TwitterGadget.
3. An easier way to add items to my Google shared items.
4. Avoidance of the flashing/font reset problem I was experiencing when posting via TwitterGadget.

After trying several iGoogle hacks and scripts, some hand-written, I decided to trash iGoogle completely and do something I never thought I’d do again.  I decided to use. . . a frameset.  Why?  Because by using frames, I could solve all four of the above issues, and enhance navigation too.  By creating a frameset with a menu frame across the top, a 40% width TwitterGadget frame on the right and a 60% full Google Reader (not the gadget) frame on the left, I can do several things that improve my content reading, blogging and Twitter posting.

I can keep a TwitterGadget box open and always visible on the screen on the right hand side.  This is critical for dragging links into the message box for commentary and posting.

By taking all of my content that was previously in the Google News gadget and the Feeds Tab Reader gadget and adding them to organized folders in Google Reader, I can access all of my content in one, unified window.  If I am reasonably current in my feed reading, there is little need for scrolling, but if not I find scrolling to be preferable to stacked windows.  All of this is done in a single instance of Google Reader and one instance of Twitter Gadget.

Because I now have the full Google Reader open in the left column, I can add items to my Google Reader shared items directly, instead of having to use the bookmarklet.  Plus, I can access my starred items more easily.

And by having the Twitter Gadget in its own window, I avoid the annoying flashing/font reset problem.

In other words, I went through old school to get to new school.

The drawback to Version 2.0 is that it requires some work to organize your feeds within Google Reader.  I don’t always want my traditional news feeds to be in alphabetical order.  For example, I want Google News “Top” items to be at the top, not the “Business” items.  To solve this I added a numbering convention at the front of the renamed feeds (the ability to rename a feed being one of Google Reader’s best features).

I was also able to add a navigation bar at the top of the page to allow me to return to another of my most common destinations.

At the end of the day, I have a content reading and Twitter pushing page that is smaller, faster and easier to use (click the image below for a bigger view).

If you’re interested in experimenting with this setup, here is the frameset.  You don’t have to have server space- you can open the file from your hard drive.  If you don’t want to do that, you can use the Newsome.Org Content Master (Update: now depreciated) page.  If you are logged into Twitter and Google, your information will appear in the appropriate windows.  All I ask is that if you use that page, please Tweet about this post and subscribe to the Newsome.Org RSS feed.

There is still room for improvement.  I would like to get rid of some of the screen waste on the Google Reader Home page, such as the entire right hand column, but all that unnecessary stuff is hidden once you start clicking on folders and individual feeds, so it’s not a huge problem.  Additionally, Google needs to implement native column resizing in Google Reader.

What I really want is for TwitterGadget to add a feature to copy the headline, followed by a shortened URL (and not just the URL) when you drag a headline into the message box.  That one feature would reduce Twittering time by over 50%.

Otherwise, I’m pretty pleased with this setup.

For now.

Twazzup: Don’t Judge a Web 2.0 Application by Its Name

Compare how cool most new wave bands were named to how stupidly most Web 2.0 applications are named.  Where is Prefab Sprout when you need them.

Speaking of stupid names, Twazzup, perhaps a new low in naming, wants to be your better Twitter search engine.  Taking a page from the FriendFeed beta, Twazzup search results are real-time (assuming Twitter is, which it often ain’t) with a pause button.  Stupid name aside (and it’s a little hard to put it aside), Twazzup has a really well designed interface.  I like the tabs at the top, and the photos on the right side.  And even the colors.

twazzup

I don’t see an RSS feed to export search results to a feed reader or to my new love iGoogle, which is the feature of Twitter Search I use the most.  As part of my very half-hearted efforts to monitor my “online reputation” I have a Twitter Search feed that picks up my Twitter mentions, replies and retweets.  Here it is, if you want to use it as a go-by to create one for yourself:

h t t p://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=%40kentnewsome+OR+%22Kent+Newsome%22+OR+Newsome.Org.

A try or two at Boolean searches also came up empty.  I didn’t find any meaningful help or support options, and job one for Twazzup should be an FAQ.  I would also like to have a list of saved searches that I could click on for easy access, and maybe a way to search only people I follow or who follow me.  Or better yet, who follow a particular user.

One cool feature it does have is a clickable tab for relevant hash tags.  For example a Grateful Dead search returned hash tag tabs for #musicmonday, #grateful dead, and #1071 (which is some sort of Grateful Dead playlist thingy).  Another thing I like is the way thumbnails of attached photos show up in the applicable Tweet.  You’d think Twitter would have added that functionality months ago.

ReadWriteWeb likes the fact that Twazzup displays a list of the “most authoritative” Twitter users for any given topic.  I suspect we are, once again, confusing popular with authoritative, which is probably the single biggest fallacy of Web whatever.whatever.  Just because there isn’t a readily available method to accurately measure something doesn’t mean you have to come up with inaccurate methods.  The New York Times doesn’t call its bestsellers list the most authoritative books on the subject.

Mashable wonders if we really need a Twitter search alternative.  I agree with the point that most if not all of these alternative search engines may shortly suffer the dual death knell of redundancy and remoteness once Twitter integrates a better search component on Twitter pages.

CNet likes the fact that Twazzup doesn’t monkey with the time-sorted results, but also likes the fact that it does have those popularity features in the right hand column.  The CNet post looks at three Twitter search alternatives and concludes that Twazzup is the best.

Like many, I suspect these Twitter search alternatives may have a limited shelf life, but so far, only the lack of an RSS feed for search results is keeping me from making Twazzup my preferred choice for Twitter search.  At least for a while.

How to Turn iGoogle into a Content Reading and Twitter Posting Juggernaut

Until last night, I hadn’t looked at iGoogle, Google’s personalized homepage service in some time.  But I was interested in Steve Rubel’s Twitter setup, so I took a look.  It became instantly clear to me that I could use iGoogle, along with some other applications, to create a fun and efficient page to consume content and push it to various places, including Twitter.

So, with thanks to Steve for the idea, here’s how I turbo-charged my iGoogle page for content and for Twitter.

There are a couple of limitations to Steve’s initial setup that I wanted to fix.  First, ironically the weakest link in the iGoogle implementation is the Google Reader gadget.  If you have a lot of feeds, it is hard to access and manage them via a single Google Reader gadget.  There also needs to be an easier way to share items from the iGoogle page to your Google Reader shared items.  That is important to me, because I use those shared items to populate the “Interesting Reading Elsewhere” box on the right hand side of this page (or, if you’re reading this in a feed reader, the Newsome.Org pages).  Finally, I wanted to access more data, more ways, and without cluttering up my iGoogle page.

So here’s how I created what I think is the most efficient content reading and pushing (to Twitter, etc.) page reasonably possible with readily available and easy to use tools.  The resulting setup allows me to consume content centrally and quickly and to add lots of cool stuff to Twitter by dragging and dropping right into the TwitterGadget message box.

Feed Mashups

This part is, by far, the most time consuming part of this exercise, but it also resulted in one of the best features of my iGoogle page.  You can skip to the next section if you don’t want to create these feed mashups (but I am going to make it easy).

Largely because of my concerns with the Google Reader gadget, I wanted to create a list of headlines only – no photos, no summaries – for the feeds I read the most.  And I wanted to group them into genre-specific lists, like “Tech,” “Hardware,” “Music,” etc.  Fortunately, there is a free, powerful and largely underappreciated tool that will let me do this.

Yahoo Pipes.  Oh how I love Yahoo Pipes.

I decided to create a combined feed for several genres.  I used Tech Blogs (broken into 3 separate feeds, because there are a lot of them), iPhone, Music, Entertainment, Life, Blogs (broken into 2 separate feeds), Tech, and Hardware.  You can choose your own.  All you have to do is create one Yahoo Pipe and then clone it and replace the source RSS feeds.

Let’s take a look at my Tech Blogs 1 group.  Here are the steps to create this Pipe.

1. Select Fetch Feed from Sources menu, and add the feeds you want.  I try to keep each pipe at around 10-12 feeds, otherwise, the feeds can become unwieldy.
2. Select Sort from the Operators menu and select Sort by “item.pubDate” and in “descending” order.
3. Select Loop from the Operators menu and select emit “all” results.
4. Select Item Builder from the Sources menu and place it in the box on top of the Loop module (here’s a picture):

yp1

5. Complete the options in the Item Builder module as shown above.
6. Connect the items above together by dragging between connection points and connect output of the Loop module above to the Pipe Output module.

This will generate a combined feed of the sources you added in step 1, with links and headlines only.

yp2

Note the “Get as RSS” button above.  You can right click on that button and copy the combined RSS feed for use in iGoogle.  Once you have one pipe working, all you have to do is clone that Pipe, rename it and replace the source RSS feeds.

Configuring iGoogle

Now, back to iGoogle.  The first problem I had to address was to avoid screen clutter.  iGoogle makes it easy to do this, by allowing you to have multiple pages.  Click the down arrow in the left column beside the page you’re on and select “Add a tab.”  The new page will be added to the left hand column.  You can rename it, and (and this is a big timesaver) you can drag gadgets from one page to another.  Thus, if you want to have a gadget on three pages, you can add it three times (by refreshing the gadget page and adding it again) to one page and then drag the extra copies to their desired location.

At the moment, I have three pages on iGoogle: Google Reader, Headlines (for the feeds I created above with Yahoo Pipes) and Google News.  Let’s take a look.

First, there are two gadgets you’ll want on every page.  TwitterGadget and Google Mini Search.  Add them as described above.

My first page is for reading and pushing content from Google Reader.  Yes, the Google Reader gadget can be unwieldy, but we can vastly improve it with one simple trick: you have have multiple instances of the Google Reader gadget on any page.  I have a 24″ monitor, so I used the three column layout for this page (only) and added Google Mini Search and TwitterGadget to the middle, and eight Google Reader gadgets on the sides.  In the first one, I show All Items and hide items I have already read.  This lets me quickly scan for fresh content.  The other seven show other of my Google Reader folders (the display selection stays in place when you close iGoogle).  I show items I’ve already read in the other seven boxes, since I may have seen something in the native Google Reader application that I want to push to Twitter.  Here’s what it looks like (click on the picture for a larger view).

igoogle1
A Cornucopia of Tweeting goodness.

My second page is for the headlines I created above with Yahoo Pipes.  If I’m in a hurry, I want the ability to scan lots of headlines very quickly.  A great gadget for serving those headlines is Feed Tabs Reader.  I added each one of the genre-based combined feeds that I made with Yahoo Pipes to this gadget.  I love the efficient tabs-based navigation.  This allows me to quickly scan headlines and push a little content, even when I don’t have time to fully consume my feeds.  Note that on this page, I use the two column layout to make TwitterGadget bigger.

Here’s what this page looks like.

igoogle2
You can quickly tab through the various topics.

My third page is dedicated to Google News.  In addition to TwitterGadget and Google Mini Search, this page has the Google News gadget.  Along with selectable regular sections (news, sports, etc.) the Google News Gadget makes it beautifully simple to create custom news sections.  Click the + button at the top right of the gadget and enter the applicable topic in the blank.  So far I have custom sections for “Social Networks,” “Blogging,” and “Digital Music.”  Again, I love the efficient tabs-based navigation.  Again, on this page, I use the two column layout to make TwitterGadget bigger

Here’s what this page looks like.

igoogle3
The Google News gadget is extremely flexible.

The Shared Items Problem

Inexplicably, the Google Reader gadget does not allow you to add items to your shared items list with a single click (you can add a star with one click).  So we need a work-around.  The best I have found so far is to install the Google Reader bookmarklet.  You can add to your shared items by clicking on the bookmarklet, though this requires that you have the actual article or post open.  It’s not ideal, but it works.  Another option I tried and discarded is to have the mobile version of Google Reader open in the browser’s sidebar.  You can one-click items to your shared items that way, but even a big monitor starts to get crowded.

Putting it All Together, via TwitterGadget

Once you have everything in place, this setup rocks.  Completely.  And largely thanks to TwitterGadget.

You can drag and drop items from any of these sources into TwitterGadget.  Once the link is in the TwitterGadget message box, simply highlight the link, click “Control+Y” and the link is shortened.  Following, unfollowing and retweeting are also easier- just hold the cursor over the user’s picture.  Again, there’s simple, tab-based navigation for replies, DMs, favorites and even the public timeline (“Everyone”).

The beauty of this setup is that it is both infinite and flexible.  You can tailor it to your preferences.

I hope this helps.  Enjoy!