Technobabbles I try to sound like I know what I'm talking about. Don't be fooled.

12Apr/081

Webapp Keyboard Focus Issues

I've found a pretty frequent problem with keyboard-enabled webapps. Gmail, Google Reader, Remember The Milk, and a whole bunch of other services (Google Calendar, for instance) all fit into this category.

It seems that nearly all keyboard shortcut-enabled webapps have one big annoyance in common (no, not AJAX): The shortcuts lose focus in certain scenarios.

The three apps I'm most concerned with are, of course, Gmail, Google Reader, and RTM. I do use them the most, after all.

I've found tab-switching to be the number one cause of focus switching. Keyboard entry is sent to the browser chrome or something, rather than the page. I've noticed that switching tabs with the keyboard (using Firefox's Ctrl+Tab and Ctrl+Shift+Tab keystrokes) is much less likely to cause a problem than clicking the other tab.

At this point, I should mention that I haven't checked other browsers for trouble; I've only been observing Firefox 2.0.0.x.

Yet, the problem does not seem to be webapp-specific. I have trouble with Home, Page Down, Page Up, and End when switching tabs, too. I'll switch to a new tab, hit Home or End (usually), and nothing will happen. I go back to the previous tab and find that the keypress was actioned there. Harrumph.

I really have no idea whose problem this is — app developers' or Mozilla's — but it's certainly annoying. When I'm trying to copy data from one site to another, without a clean import/export interface, I would prefer to not have to click in the page to get the shortcuts to work again.

Anybody have a definitive answer as to why this happens?

9Mar/081

Funny Randomization: Google: Web 2.0?

Here's a randomization from google.isyournewbicycle.com that is obviously untrue, this time about Google (rather than Microsoft):

That's really funny, considering that Gmail was one of the first major Web applications to use AJAX extensively. Google's Calendar, Reader, and Docs services (among many others) also use AJAX as a fundamental part of their inner workings, so it's even funnier in that case.

6Mar/081

Google Reader Adds "Most Obscure" Tab to Trends, More Reading Space

Continuing from the data available on the Official Google Reader Blog, and so as not to make my last post about the "show details" links too long, here are the other changes to Google Reader.

Aside from adding more languages (which is ongoing), the Reader team managed to find an extra 17 pixels, vertically, for content. They also added a small feature that shows which of your feeds have the fewest (Google) subscribers:

It's actually kind of neat to see how many sites I've subscribed to that have fewer than 10 readers on Google (right now I have five). Notice how my friend i80and's blog is in there. Will somebody please subscribe to him? (If he asks how you found his site, tell him it was through Google. ;-) While you're at it, if this site is interesting to you, why not subscribe here, too?

OK, enough feed-pushing, I'll stop.

So that's the latest batch of stuff from the Reader team. I wonder what they're working on next… Authenticated feeds, I hope. Maybe better Gears support so images will also be cached…

6Mar/080

Google Reader Adds "Show Details" for Quick Stats

A while back, the Reader team added pop-up, tooltip-like windows to the timestamps of posts in the reading pane to show the times that each post was published and added to Reader's cache. Now there are easily-accessible statistics for each feed, visible after clicking a new "show details" link:

*Click*

The bar that pops up contains info on the average number of posts per week for that feed and the number of Google subscribers. In these screenshots, I've included a sample of what the stats look like for the feed from xkcd.com (a webcomic you may remember, as I wrote a list of my personal favorites a while back).

xkcd's main feed has about 27,500 subscribers as I write this, and posts approximately 3.3 items per week, which is on par with the stated update days (Monday, Wednesday, Friday).

The write-up on this and a couple other new features actually showed up on the Official Google Reader Blog as I was composing this post. I swear, when I started writing, this was an unannounced new feature. But I will give credit where credit is due, as I wouldn't have found out about the increased reading area and the new "Most obscure" tab in Trends.

13Feb/080

Blogger Blogrolls and Bugfixes

In the last couple days, Google's Blogger team added a new sidebar widget to Blogger In Draft for testing. It's a "Blog List", in essence a blogroll. It displays a list of blogs, and optionally titles of each blog's latest post, snippets of the latest post, and how long it's been since each blog was updated. Users can add sites either manually or by importing from Google Reader subscriptions.

In other news, a list of bugfixes and enhancements were added to mainstream Blogger, including fixes for the label counts bugs (which I have never suffered from, AFAIK) and comment pagination for posts with more than 200 comments. The post editor now loads faster, the "Template" tab for dynamically served blogs (the ones that don't require republishing) is now the "Layout" tab, and the comment form now highlights identity options more clearly.

So, my take on all this is next.

First off, let me say that I want the comment pagination to be optional. Comment pagination drives me crazy on sites like Lifehacker, and comment-tracking services like Co.mments.com can't deal with paginated comments. I would like to see Google add options to 1) adjust the pagination threshold and 2) turn pagination on and off both for the whole blog and for a specific post.

Next, I'd like to comment on the Blog List widget. I tried it last night, and couldn't get it to save after importing my Google Reader list. That explains why I don't have one of those widgets yet; I couldn't get it to work. It would make my sidebar unbearably long anyway.

Finally, the improvements to the comment form, post editor loading time, and the labeling of the template/layout tab are all welcome improvements. Blogger's starting to shape up and become a little more powerful. Now all I want is the ability to create static pages a la WordPress. An integration between Google Page Creator (or whatever they're working on to replace it) and Blogger would be absolutely wonderful.

Update (02/29): There were a couple bugs with renaming and caching in the Blog List feature when it was first released; they are both now fixed.

26Jan/080

Google Reader Now Shows Publish and Retrieve Times

One persistent annoyance in Google Reader has always been that the item times shown are the time of pick-up by Google Feedfetcher, rather than the time the posts were published. Now, the Reader team has quietly launched a small new feature that shows you both when posts were published and when they were picked up by Reader's crawler. "Quietly" meaning there's no blog post about it, at least not yet. Google Operating System and Lifehacker both posted about it, though.

To get the new info, you can hover your mouse over the timestamp in the upper right corner of any item in the content frame. You'll get a tooltip-style popup that shows you both pieces of information.

Neat, huh? Finally, they add something useful, rather than focusing on useless sharing "enhancements."

26Dec/070

Google Reader Just Doesn't "Get It"

The latest post to the Official Google Reader Blog concerns the recently launched share-with-your-"friends"-automatically feature and the uproar it's caused among the users. I myself have no real reason to care, since (sadly) nobody I know uses Google Reader, but I agree wholeheartedly that Google's launch of the "feature" was, in its own way, worse than Facebook's Beacon program.

The fact that Google's system assumes that anyone you talk to in Google Talk is a friend is the first part of the brokenness. Add to that the fact that you can't turn it off and have just the feed, with nothing automatic. And add to that the completely useless solutions Google has published to work around the problem.

So, what would be the logical way to give control to the user? How about a Shared Items control icon on the Tags tab of Settings, in the same column as the public/private toggle for the other tags, that allows you to turn off the automatic subscription of your "friends"? How about, since we can hide friends from showing up in our list, a function to block certain friends from seeing your feed automatically (for more-granular, Google Talk "Block" function-like control)? How about both?

What's Google done? Neither. Nothing. They've only just now begun to admit that they might have been wrong about the feature's usefulness. It's already ruined Christmas for someone, according to Garett Rogers' post on ZDNet (there's also a great Lolcat in that post).

Before today's post, Google's responses to the problem have included things like:

December 17: "There's a "clear your shared items" link on the Settings > Friends page if you urgently need to remove the items you've shared in the past."

December 18: "We just added a new option for those of you wishing to rearrange your sharing habits in light of the new features."

December 19: "Additionally, please note that blocking a person in Google Talk doesn't remove them from your Reader friends list. They'll need to be actually deleted for this to happen."

December 21: "This should help with the issue of unrecognized nicknames."

December 21: "Let me reiterate: If you're uncomfortable sharing items, you can unshare everything in a single click."

None of the features or processes that those posts refer to actually solve the underlying problem. Why would I want to clear my shared items? Why should I even have to? Why can't Google go back and hit the Undo button? Sure, I can move things to a new tag, too, but then everyone to whom I've ever sent the Shared Items URL has to get an updated address from me to continue following the items I shared under the protection of an obviously obfuscated address.

And notice that December 19 comment, about blocking people in Google Talk. I have to delete my contacts to keep them from seeing my shared items (if I don't want them to)? Sheesh!

So, to keep this post from getting too long, let me just say that I think Google should rethink this "feature." I won't go through every possible point, but this has been, all in all, a very bad move on Google's part, and I hope that, by January 1 (or at least the first week of January), Google will have switched off the feature, and maybe provided an option to turn it on.

Of course, this might be the least of our worries if what this post at Wise Bread says is true. There are rumors that Google wants to build a "universal activity feed" that will show up in Reader and possibly other services like Gmail. If I want to broadcast things I do on the Internet, there's a wonderful little service written by former Googler Paul Buchheit to do just that (it has privacy controls and you opt-in for each service you want to broadcast). Perhaps George Orwell was right about everything (except who would be doing the watching)…

19Dec/070

Google Reader Shows Talk Friends' Shared Items

Google must really want to become a giant social network. Last week (boy, am I late) they added Google Talk friends' shared items to Google Reader, meaning you don't have to subscribe to their feeds; you just get them automatically.

Of course, that means all your Google Talk contacts also get to see your shared items. And people in your friends list aren't necessarily your friends. I'm not sure how I feel about this new feature, mostly because I don't share things (I star them, as you can see in the sidebar), and none of my friends have yet discovered Google Reader. It's an interesting idea, and a good one (and from what I've seen in screenshots, well-implemented), but I don't have a use for it.

29Nov/070

Google Reader Gets Recommendations and Drag-and-Drop

Everyone hide! It's the attack of the interns! Well, that's what the Google Reader Blog is calling it. Google Reader just got a couple new features today. In fact, it looks like they were just launched tonight, though I can't tell when the post was published because they've disabled the time part of the timestamps.

Anyway, Reader can now suggest additional feeds you might be interested in, based on your current subscriptions and Web History data. When I tried it, just a few minutes ago, it looks pretty good. It suggested several blogs similar to the ones I read already, though there were a few in foreign languages (such as Chinese). All in all, a very good addition, and one that will probably help me waste even more time not doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

Oddly, the interface got a minor tweak in this update. The positions of the icons for "Starred", "Shared", and "Trends" have moved to the right side of the text, though it is unclear why the change was made. Personally I prefer the old bulleted-list style approach, but perhaps other people requested that all the entries in the list line up with each other. Also, the "Browse" link that formerly led to the feed directory now reads "Discover" and links to the Recommendations page.

They've also added drag-and-drop reordering of subscriptions in the list on the left, which, interestingly, works whether you're using the sidebar in collapsed (drop-down) form or the default docked mode. It's most likely to work well if you select to view "all", of course, since in "updated" mode not all feeds will be displayed (unless, of course, all your subscriptions are extremely prolific, or you haven't checked them in a long time).

Update (11/30): The drag and drop feature is officially irritating. Moving new subscriptions around with it and dropping them into a folder puts them at the end. Dragging them back to the folder and dropping them again puts them at the top. Even using the menu puts them at the bottom. Being able to order the feeds is all well and good, but what about those of us who actually liked the alphabetical sorting?

6Nov/070

New Google Reader Feature: Blogroll Clip

Today, the Official Google Reader Blog announced a new feature developed by Steve Lacey in his "20% time" (a legendary Google practice) that allows placing a clip of the sites you've subscribed to and put in a certain tag. The tag must be public, of course, for a blogroll to show up, as with the starred and shared items. I'm planning to put one in my sidebar, near the Recently Starred Items module, but I first have to decide how to do it, i.e. create a new tag and share certain subscriptions, wait until they allow clipping all subscriptions, or what. How I do it will affect the way I read in Reader (ouch), so it will take some consideration after I'm done with the quarter. (Quarter's end is not the time to think about serious decisions…)