Monday, February 22, 2010

My Web Brain: Create a new context while processing your thoughts

After some valuable prodding from a helpful user (again, thanks Adam!), I have brought forward some changes to My Web Brain, my Getting Things Done application,  that allow users to create a new context as they process a thought or edit an action.

Normally when a user processes a thought into an action, the only contexts available to select are those that have already been defined.

The new version of the Create Action /Edit Action/Process Thought into action form includes a link to 'Create a new context' which allows the process to occur inline without disrupting the thought processing or action editing workflow. This is a definite improvement, especially for new users who may not have a definitive list of contexts defined.

Let us know how this new features works for you. Feedback or other ideas about how My Web Brain can be improved are gratefully accepted at the My Web Brain Google Group.

My Web Brain now supports Unicode (sorry for the oversight)

Last week I received some excellent feedback from a user (thanks Adam) who let me know that there were some problems in the way My Web Brain handled non-roman character sets. Over the weekend I rolled forward some changes that make My Web Brain compatible to all character sets in the Unicode standard. This is a common courtesy for any English-web application that seeks an international audience, and one I wished I understood more clearly prior to this.

Internationalization is an important design requirement for My Web Brain. If you come across similar issues of any sort, please bring them to my attention by commenting on the My Web Brain Google Group.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Put Full Text in your Feeds

If your organisation, group or blog has a news feed, think long and hard before deciding not to provide a full text copy of each entry.

News feeds syndicated with RSS are a powerful tool for any organisation or service with timely news to share. But when an organisation choses to truncate or poorly summarise the content in the feed, they erect a barrier between their news and their users' consumption of it. Users like syndicated news feeds because they allow news from a hundred or more different sources to be aggregated within one environment - their feed reader - and rapidly browsed and consumed with little friction. 

Asking users to leave this experience by not providing the full text of an entry makes the bet that your story is compelling enough for the user to actively seek out more information, and that you have communicated this to your audience. I believe many users simply pass on the story, or find another comparable news source with no such restriction. This is an opportunity lost.

You can imagine advertising supported websites wanting to draw traffic to their site for their advertising revenue. It is difficult to say for an outsider to say how effective this is, but some blogs (such as Google Operating System) have started sending advert inventory in the feeds themselves, along with the full text of the story. 

In many cases though is hard to understand why an organisation wants to drive traffic to their sites, when they most probably do really want is simple engagement with the people who subscribe to their news. 

The two examples that are currently bothering me are:
  • The Australian Government Media Releases feed, which shows only the first 100 words or more for each Media release. Unfortunately this is most often boilerplate text for each ministry, so it does nothing to provide any additional information beyond that provided in the story title. As this news feed is in fact a government service, there is no reason to not put the full text of the entry in the news feed.  It is public information.
  • The SOE Everquest II news feed. Gamers who like to adventure in dynamic worlds want to keep up with changes in the game, such as new items, events, adventuring zones and quests. The dynamic nature of the game is one of the core attractions that keep gamers paying money every month. The Everquest II team post monthly updates to their feed with boilerplate entry titles and text, rendering a subscription to their news less valuable. Is the SOE Everquest II team trying to drive traffic to the game site, or increase engagement with the game? It is hard to see how the news feed works for them. 
If you want your blog post, product news or branding message to reach people who will be interested, you should include the full text of the entry. Driving website traffic in most cases is not, and should not be, the primary objective. A full text news feed creates engagement; A truncated or poorly summarized news feed is often ineffective and sometimes, simply annoying. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Someday / Maybe Item Tickle feature added to My Web Brain

Across the last week I have implemented Someday/Maybe item reminders in my GTD application, My Web Brain. Previously, Someday Maybe items had a title, information and a tickle date. They did not have a way to remind you when the tickle date came around.

Now when you define a tickle date for a specific Someday / maybe item, the item will appear in your unprocessed thoughts on the tickle date for you to reconsider. You then have the normal options to create a reference item, new action or someday /maybe item. The original tickle date on the someday maybe item is removed.

I hope you find this feature useful. I expect the operation of the Someday / Maybe item reminders to mature in the future, so watch this space.