The Afterthoughts – Gmail forwarding and service interoperability – an interesting observation

“The Afterthoughts” is a series where I revisit some of my older blog entries and see how things have changed since the time I made the blog post and now.

The posts that I will choose initially will be from 2004 to 2006.

So here is the first one in the series:

Post: Gmail forwarding and service interoperability – an interesting observation
Originally posted on: 2005-11-21

The entry goes about explaining how when you connect various services together, you could end up with the same information multiple times.

This is increasingly becoming a problem these days. Services like Twitter and Friendfeed are not solving the problem elegantly, so you see more and more duplicates and links to the original post.

Here is a typical scenario today:
I make a blog entry. In order to ensure that my readers see my post immediately, I have a service that automatically posts a message in Twitter. This is like instantly messaging my friends (actually Twitter followers) telling them, “Look, I made a blog entry”.

Now, I use a lot of Web 2.0 services. So, in order to ensure that all my friends have a single feed to follow my activities, I use some aggregator like FriendFeed or Tumblr.

Some friend of yours (let's call him Bob) likes your blog entry and bookmarks it on del.icio.us. Another friend, Andrews bookmarks it in Magnolia.

Let us now say, there is another person Dave, who is a friend of you, Bob and Andrews. He is following all 3 of us in Friendfeed.

How many entries is Dave going to see of the original entry?
6 in total! 3 from you – 1 from your blog post directly, 1 from Twitter, 2 from Tumblr (1 via the blog post and 1 via Twitter), 1 from Bob via del.icio.us and 1 from Andrews via Magnolia.

The screenshot shows duplicate entries from mashable's blog feed and from Twitter:

Now this is real noise. And this is more true if Dave is not even interested in the blog post to begin with.

So the solution?
Friendfeed allows you to hide specific feeds from specific people. For example, Dave can hide all bookmarks from Bob or all Tumblr entries from me.

Now that is not a good solution because not all bookmarks from Bob are duplicates.

Tools like Feedblendr and Blogbridge have solved this problem for simple RSS aggregation. However things are different when it comes to social network and aggregation.

So right now there is no simple way of detecting duplicates and more and more people are complaining about this in the blogosphere explaining how Friendfeed is more noise than information and why the good old Google Reader is still relevant.

Here is one such discussion. As the discussion suggests, it is not just about eliminating duplicates; it also requires you to merge discussions/comments in each of these posts keeping in mind that not everyone is a friend of everyone else.

So what has changed over the last 2 years?
If anything, the problem has become a tougher one. I am sure the startup that does duplicate elimination and gives you a filtered feed taking your social networks into consideration is going to be the next hyped startup in the Web 2.0 world.

Privacy disasters with aggregation services

Imagine you have a host of aggregation services like Friendfeed, Tumblr, Suprglu, Lifestreams connected to each other, such that each one is reading from your various feeds and republishing the content.

Now imagine a disaster where one of these services, say Twitter, suddenly, because of some flaw, exposes your private messages.

It's like a Tsunami that cannot be controlled! Your private data would flow into various input streams in a matter of seconds and there is no turning back.

Things will only get worse with activity feeds and Beacon.

The bottom line is: Be careful about where your data is going and what data you put online.

Web 2.0 service aggregation tools

Recently I noticed a new trend in the Web 2.0 aggregation tools. These are tools which combine other web 2.0 services in one place and provide a way to host a single page containing all your services. The most common services provided by these aggregating tools are combining delicious, flickr, blogspot and rss feeds in one place.

Examples of such tools are:
Suprglu
Squidoo
Peoplefeeds

Here are my pages:
My Suprglu page
My Semantic Web page @ Squidoo
My Peoplefeeds page
(I had signed up for squidoo long back and got a chance to check out their public beta offering.)

I found an inherent problem in these services.

What I tried to do is to set up a page which contains feeds of my interest based on various other tag search results. In particular, I wanted it to aggregate feeds from delicious, Technorati, Google blog search, Yahoo news search, Feedster, Icerocket etc. I wanted search results for:
(semanticweb OR semantic-web OR semweb OR sw OR semantic_web) AND (owl OR rdf OR rdfs OR ontology OR ontologies OR taxonomy OR rdql OR SPARQL OR w3c OR metadata OR semantic OR semantics OR knowledge)

These are the problems I faced:
* Most tag search engines are not intelligent enough to provide RSS feeds for such searches.
* The page is not intelligent enough to remove duplicate links. For example, suppose I have a page bookmarked in delicious having the tags as semantic-web and rdf, then that particular link shows up in both the tag searches. So if I combine the tag search results, the page shows up twice.
* Most of the service providers do not have an option to turn off non-English pages. So many Japanese and French (or Latin?!) pages turn up in the results.
* I want a hierarchy. I should be able to create a group “Semantic web” which contains feed results for the search query given above and another group, say “Web 2.0” which has a similar query. I should be able to relate the results of “Semantic web” group with those of “Web 2.0”.
* The ability to view feeds using different views – “Technical” and “Non-technical” or “Office related” or “Non office related”.
* Finally, there should be a theme. I would like to read my “Technical feeds” once a day and “Comics” once a week. How do I separate them?

I am still looking for a solution.