Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Using Twitter and Paper.li to Create a Focused Daily Paper

Over the years, I have developed a few techniques to cope with the information overload that most of us deal with these days. Internet searches return millions of results, so I focus my search terms. My favorite sites are constantly updating their information, so I subscribe to their feeds in a feed reader. I bookmark hundreds of sites that interest me and I store hundreds of my own documents and thousands of email messages. When you throw in real time social services like Twitter and facebook, the information flow turns into a flood and it becomes nearly impossible to harvest the most relevant bits of information from your environment. There is a way, though, to simply harvest some of your Twitter gems with an interesting service called Paper.li.

Paper.li is a service that culls the top links from your day's Twitter feed and organizes them into a newspaper-like format. The links are converted into short blurbs like article headers and are then organized into categories. You end up with a summary of trending links that represent your follow list. This paper can be shared with others and even has an announcement feature that tweets the latest edition for you. My latest edition can be found at http://paper.li/reftechrob

The real value of Paper.li comes when you have an extremely focused follow list on Twitter. For example, if your professional field is engineering and you make a point of primarily following a large number of engineers who are active on Twitter, your paper would probably read like an extremely up to date trade journal. On the other hand, if your follow list is mostly your friends, your paper would read like a random assortment of quirky stories--the feed comes from shared links, not ordinary tweets.

So, if you really want to stay on top of a topic, open a Twitter account, create a focused follow list, and route it through Paper.li. It may give you some of the best reading you've had in some time.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Opinion: Google is Dropping the Ball

As readers of this blog may already know, I have been a fan of Google since its search engine burst onto the scene. It was fast, clean, and accurate and was quite a find for a reference librarian. In its early years, it was almost indistinguishable from magic. Later on, I fell for Google Reader, gmail, Google Docs, and I was already a Blogger user when Google took over that operation. I envisioned a day when I would be able to access my information from anywhere I had access to an internet connection, and Google Gears gave me hope that I would be able to access my most important items from my laptop even when I didn't have a connection. I also hoped that all of Google's products would tie together for easy information processing, creation, and publication.

In Google's battles with Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook, though, this vision has disappeared. Google has become a "me too!" company that looks at innovation and tries to recreate it (or buy it) in piecemeal fashion. The drive for a web friendly OS (Chrome) and for an open social network (Open Social and Google Me) does not solve my immediate problems--besides, facebook is king and there's no need to duplicate it. Google Wave was innovative, but Google killed it by not linking it to other products, and not allowing everyone in. Without tools and a built in audience, there was no incentive to use the product, so Google dropped support.

No, what I need is a service that will use search to tap into the web's data and my personal data. I need a service that will allow me to sift through the data provided by Google's services and create an organized reading/research list. I need something that will allow me to take snippets of relevant information, create citations, and allow me to easily create a document for publication, or aa study guide, or a project summary. I also need it to be open to working with other services.

Why can't I send a question through Twitter, generate a series of keywords that will search through my feed reader for relevant blog entries, search the web for relevant pages, search my Delicious bookmarks for appropriate sources, and pull in any Twitter responses. All of this information could be dumped into something like paper.li that would also allow me to clip notes with references and add my own thoughts. I could then publish it to my blog or on the web. 

All of this data is available to Google in one way or another, but Google has not opened up all of the APIs that would be necessary for an amateur to piece them together. I have been able to generate something in Yahoo Pipes that will search my Twitter account for questions and generate a list of key words, but that is as far as I have been able to get--I have no access to the data in my Google Reader account. Instead of allowing me to work with my data in new and useful ways, Google is fighting facebook. I have always admired Google's 20% philosophy allowing workers to pursue new ideas, but I think that they have neglected to pursue the more important task of unifying their products. 

I would love it if somebody at Google read this and did something about it, but I think that Google has become too big to hear one voice and too shortsighted to focus on the bigger picture. Facebook is not the threat to Google that Google is.