PimpMyNews: Make Blogs Talk

I have been experimenting a bit with PimpMyNews, an Xzibitly named service that allows users to create a feed list of blogs, news and other selected sources and listen to that content over the web or on an iPhone, iPod Touch or other mobile device that can play MP3s.  While this is a pretty handy tool for anyone, I think it’s greatest potential may be as an accessibility device.

Let’s take a look.

According to co-founder John Atkinson, PimpMyNews, which launched its first generation platform in 2008, “puts consumers in control by automatically collecting the news and blogs they wish they had time to read – and converting them to audio – so they can listen while doing other things, like driving, working out, riding the train and more.”  The service allows users to choose from over 1,200 sources to create personalized audio playlists, and to share that content with friends via email or on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Digg and other social networking sites.

Once you’ve completed the quick registration process, and clicked on the expected email confirmation link, you can easily create playlist of feeds.  You can start with a pre-selected group of feeds via a “FastPack” or you can browse the available feeds and create your own mix.  There are FastPacks for Apple, Entertainment, Politics, Sports and Technology.  At present, you can’t add feeds to your playlist that aren’t already available in the various PimpMyNews categories.  If the ability to add new feeds is ever added, it would be cool if you could also import OPML files exported from your feed reader.

But there are plenty of feeds available to get you started.  After you have your initial feed mix set up, you can access your playlist via the My Account tab at the top of page and you’re off and listening.

The audio conversion is excellent, with the read text sounding about as natural as can be expected.  I like the fact that you get an assortment of voices.  Here’s a sample of how it sounds.  Note that you can view the text by hovering over the View Summary link.

Once you have your playlist set up, you’ll want to enable your podcast so you can listen on the road.  Click the set up link, and add the content from your playlist you want to include (which can be all the feeds or just some of them).  Click the save button, and you’re presented with a one-click button to subscribe in iTunes and a link to use to subscribe elsewhere.  Here’s my feeds podcast link if you’re interested.

You can rate posts and share them easily, via the handy buttons at the bottom of the View Summary pop-up box.

And, of course, there’s an iPhone app (iTunes link).  A Blackberry app is forthcoming.

I’ll be using the iPhone app this weekend as I run errands and do my chores.  As noted above, I also think people with accessibility issues could find PimpMyNews very useful.  I can’t wait to see what new features are added in the coming months  There are lots and lots of cool possibilities.

And the best thing is, now I can make those so-called A-List bloggers talk to me, whether they want to or not!

Take a Email, Betty

Send a copy to my inbox, gotta organize my life.  Apologies to R.B. Greaves.

Cc:Betty, not to be confused with CC Rider, CCR or the German techno band C.C.C.P., is a service that turns an email exchange into a threaded message board-like page, and archives attachments for easy access.  Getting started is a simple as adding betty@ccbetty.com to the cc (e.g., carbon copy) field in an email.

When you do that, the service creates a page like this:

Email replies (assuming they leave betty in the cc field) show up on the list, and attachments are archived too.  Additionally, participants can comment and leave attachments directly from the Cc:Betty web page.  The process works smoothly, with attachments showing up as thumbnails (see the screen clip above) you can click on for a full size view:

More info via the FAQ.

I’m not exactly sure how I can use Cc:Betty, but I want to find something to do with it.

Because it’s just cool.  Sometimes just cool is enough.

There’s Something About Mixx

As a part of my content/Twitter superpage I have created on iGoogle, I set up a section for feeds from various content sharing sites.  I used the handy Feed Tabs Reader gadget, which lets me create a tab for each site so I can quickly scan for interesting stuff to read, blog about or push to Twitter (follow me on Twitter to enjoy the fruits of all this work).

I populated this section with RSS feeds for Delicious (Popular), my Delicious bookmarks, the Onion, Fark, Digg-Tech and Digg-Entertainment (which will soon be deleted unless I get relief from the hated DiggBar), Yahoo Buzz, Mixx, Reddit, Propeller and my FriendFeed feed (which is useless because people tend to post a lot of items at once to their FriendFeed and there isn’t a feed for one item from each person you follow).  Let me know in the Comments if there are other feeds I should add.

Until I was surfing around looking for sites to include, I had never used Mixx.  I decided to add every promising site I could come up with and then delete over time those I find unhelpful.  Boy, am I glad I added the Mixx (Popular) feed.  So far, it has proven to be, by a large margin, the site with the best ratio of interesting content to static.  The current Mixx tab shows 20 items (the most you can have in a Feed Tabs Reader tab), all of which are at least semi-interesting.

According to Wikipedia, Mixx was created in 2007 by a team of industry veterans with deep internet, news publishing and online content expertise, including several former executives from Yahoo, USA Today and AOL. The private beta version of the site was launched on September 21, 2007, and the public beta of was introduced on October 10, 2007.  It has content partnerships with various old media outlets, including USA Today, Reuters and CNN. The LA Times owns a stake in Mixx.

There is a Mixx blog for more information (though it should be a lot more active), a Firefox plugin and some other tools.

I played around a bit with the Digg-like adding stories and voting up features, but those don’t interest me nearly as much as the content feeds, which just seem to be of a higher quality that the alternatives.  I wish Mixx had a private bookmarking feature like Delicious.  If it did, I would consider consolidating my bookmarks there.  I’m far from a Delicious power user, but I do use it to store content I find on the web- as opposed to in Google Reader– for future use.  You can add content to your Mixx Conversations page from within Mixx and there’s an RSS feed for your saved Conversations, but I didn’t see an easy way to add content from the web directly and privately to your Conversations page.  Still, I came to Mixx for content and as long as the ratio of interesting content to static stays high, Mixx will have a place in that Feed Tabs Reader.

My only material complaint about Mixx is that its front page doesn’t render well, at least in Firefox.  I have seen this word jumbling issue with other sites, but in 2009 there ought to be a design fix to prevent this from occurring, regardless of font selections (I generally “control+” sites in Firefox to take advantage of my large monitors and to assist my aging eyeballs).

I’m surprised it took me a year and a half to find my way to Mixx.  But as they say, better late than never.

7 Ways to Improve Blip.fm

blipfm

I’m a big fan of Blip.fm, the “Twitter for music” service that lets you search for songs, post them to your Blip.fm page with brief, Twitter-like commentary and, if you want to, export that post to Twitter or another service.  It’s a great way to introduce others to good music, and to allow others to do the same for you.

While my primary music genres are classic rock, blues and alternative country, I am in the middle of an A-Z survey of new wave bands.  Using these two lists from Wikipedia, I am finding and “blipping,” the Blip.fm jargon equivalent of “tweeting,” a song from as many new wave bands as possible.  At the end of this exercise, I’ll have the greatest new wave mix on the internet!  In the meantime, I am turning people on to some great music, and the Twitter integration facilitates some good discussion.

As cool as Blip.fm is, it could be better.  Here are 10 things that would improve the Blip.fm experience.

1. Survival.

This sounds trite, but it is probably the biggest hurdle Blip.fm has to overcome.  Between the catless bag holding RIAA slinking around looking for innovation to quash and the inevitable end of the Web 2.0 cash supply (undoubtedly heavily contributed to by said slinking by the RIAA), there is the unpleasant possibility that Blip.fm could just shut its doors. leaving music lovers sad and silent.  Unlike most Web 2.0 services, Blip.fm actually has at least one revenue source- Amazon affiliate purchase links to each song.  See the “Buy MP3” link at the bottom of the box below.

image

I have long proposed that services like Blip.fm be permitted by the priority-challenged record industry to pay a share of the affiliate revenue in lieu of royalties.  Face it, lots of people hear songs on Blip.fm, especially via the Twitter integration, that they would not otherwise hear.  Some of those people buy the songs.  That market simply would not exist without services like Blip.fm.  In other words, the RIAA should be thrilled about Blip.fm, and not anxious to kill it.

2. Queued Blips.

While the process to search for, locate and blip a song is not hard or time consuming, it would be a lot easier if there was a dedicated place to store blips until you are ready to post them.  That would make it easy to search for and save a queue of songs and blip them later, one or two songs at a time.  Currently, I use my playlist to queue blips.  Your playlist is a separate page where you can add songs by clicking on the star (see the star at the bottom right of the box above).  If you’re willing to use your playlist for this purpose, you can store songs there to blip later, but it would be preferable to have a separate place to queue blips without having to use your playlist page for that purpose.

For example, I don’t want to blip any non-new wave songs until I get through my alphabetical survey.  But I see other good songs all the time on Blip.fm and via Twitter.  There should be a dedicated place to save those songs for easy access later.  Sure, you can do this with a third party service like Blipster, but it should be a native feature.

3.  Multiple Playlists.

Speaking of playlists, an easy way to solve both the queued songs problem and vastly improve the playlist concept would be to allow the creation and naming of multiple playlists.  Currently, you get one playlist (see the navigation box below; the 3 means I have 3 songs in my playlist).  I’d like the ability to have a separate playlist for classic rock, blues, alt. country and queued blips.

image

4. Ability to Rearrange All Songs.

Once you have blipped a song, you can delete it from your main Blip.fm page, but you can’t rearrange the order on that page.  You can drag songs around to rearrange the order on your playlist page.  But I’d like the ability to rearrange songs on my main Blip.fm page.  The lack of this feature prevents me from dragging other new wave songs I previously blipped up into the grouping of the new wave songs I am currently adding.  It also limits my ability to control the genre, tempo, etc. mix for better effect, as more blips are added.

5. More Developer Interactivity.

On the one hand, I could argue that @blipfm is a clinic on how not to use Twitter.  None of my @ twits have been answered, even though I write often and positively about Blip.fm, and the activity there is sporadic at best.  On the other hand, it seems Blip.fm may be operating with a skeleton crew.  I want to see Blip.fm secure its survival, and then take advantage of the built-in interactivity of Twitter and other networks to improve its service and build its brand.  You don’t have to hire people to do that.  You can create an group of dedicated volunteer users (like Blogger does, and like Microsoft’s MVPs) and let them brand build Montessori style.

6. Improve Embedding.

Blip.fm allows you to embed songs.  Here’s a great one:

The problem of course is that gigantic, space eating graphic and the fact that the embedded player is just too big in general.  The graphic needs to be a lot smaller, as does the player in general.  Compare Blip.fm’s embedded player to the much more elegant divShare one (more on divShare here):

7. Don’t Get Bought by Last.fm.

There has been speculation that someone will scoop up Blip.fm if it gets in dire straits, rather than let it die.  If that’s the only way Blip.fm can survive, so be it.  But please don’t let Last.fm buy it.  I tried to like Last.fm. I really did.  But it is the Photobucket of the music space.  Good idea, but horrible design.  If someone has to save Blip.fm, let it be Google.

I really want Blip.fm to survive and thrive.  I hope it happens, and I hope we see some of these features added over the coming months.  If I am ever able to connect with anyone at Blip.fm, I will invite him or her to our next podcast to discuss Blip.fm in more detail.

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.