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RSS Feed Reader Graduates To Social News Aggregator: Adobe MyFeedz
myFeedz is a new service aimed at personalizing and adding a democratic, social dimension to the RSS feed reading experience. Here we have an interesting attempt to roll together the success of social news sites such as Digg, services that quickly learn your viewing preferences such as Stumble Upon and the familiar process of aggregating your online news into a single space using a feed reader, such as Google Reader.
The result is a new breed of feed reader that delivers to you a personalized stream of news generated at the intersection of your own interests and other users' ratings, so that - theoretically at least - you get the cream of the latest news in your personal areas of interest.
Early reviews of this hybrid creature have been mixed, however, with both praise and damnation expressed from different corners of the blogosphere. Chief among the criticisms leveled at myFeedz is that it doesn't do a good job of being a feed reader, when stacked up against the likes of Google Reader and its ilk.
Certainly this isn't a tool for power users ploughing through countless streams of RSS feeds every day - as we do here at Robin Good's Media Network to bring you our news stream. But comparisons with traditional RSS aggregation tools would seem to miss the point of what is a very interesting experiment.
myFeedz strength is not so much in aggregating reliable RSS sources for the newsmastering process, but is instead in turning up interesting news items you might otherwise have missed using a more standard approach. Just as StumbleUpon makes for a refreshing way to find websites you might never have seen if you relied on Google search, myFeedz taps into a repository of other users' favorite feeds to supply you relevant, personalized news.
And in the same way that Digg users vote the most interesting news of the day onto their front page - so that news is forced to compete in a democratic process - myFeedz draws on this wisdom of crowds and applies it to the world of the feed reader.
So who is going to find this useful? And how can myFeedz be effectively put to use by independent publishers looking to tap into another valuable stream of news? In this review and overview of the service, I take an in-depth look at myFeedz strengths, room for improvement and place within the universe of online news gathering.
myFeedz - an overview
What myFeedz is not
myFeedz is described by Adobe as a ''social newspaper'', and this is at the heart of what the service is trying to offer. In spite of what you may have read elsewhere, this is not another feed reader, even if it has been described as such in most blog coverage given to it to date.
I would personally argue that a lot of the negative criticism leveled at myFeedz has arisen from the expectation that myFeedz would be very similar in terms of features and benefits to the existing line of online feed readers. Note, for example, that Robert Scoble finds myFeedz lacking when compared to Google Reader, while Andy Beard expresses his frustration and asks if myFeedz should really be called a feed reader at all.
The answer is indeed no, it shouldn't. Leaving therefore open the other key question - if myFeedz isn't a feed reader, what exactly is it?
Feed reader + social news + personalized browsing = myFeedz
As I will try to explain myFeedz is a unique hybrid of existing Web 2.0 news aggregation trends. Let's take a look at them in turn before discussing how myFeedz manages to draw on each.
The aggregation trends that myFeedz effectively taps into are:
- Feed readers
Feed readers are a great way of bringing a collection of RSS data into a single location, which takes the pain out of having to visit and keep an eye on tens or hundreds of individual websites. Every time a website is updated, the latest update plops into the feed reader of anyone who has subscribed to the site feed. The person using the feed reader can quickly scan through the updates of however many sites they have subscribed to, plucking out only the most interesting information to read, aggregate or blog about.
- Social news services tap into the opinions of their site visitors to democratically decide on what news is hot, and what isn't. News from around the web is submitted to social news services, and users cast their vote for news they find interesting. The more votes a news item has, the further it rises up the ranks, with the most popular items appearing on the front page of social news sites.
- Personalized browsing services attempt to customize the web surfing experience to the tastes of individual users by tapping into user responses to web pages. Users with similar tastes will be offered web content that was found to be agreeable by their peer. This is achieved through users responding with simple positive or negative feedback on the sites that they visit. Sites given the 'thumbs up' are recommended to users with similar interests, sites given the 'thumbs down' are quickly buried.
myFeedz is none of the above
myFeedz manages to deftly borrow from all three, characterizing itself for its unique approach to gathering news. myFeedz rolls the three types of service together by offering a news-stream that has been a) created from the RSS feeds that are tagged by myFeedz users, b) rated by them using a one to five star rating, and then c) offered up to different users depending upon their previous news browsing history. So that:
- From news feeds it borrows the source of its news items - they are not submitted by users individually, as they might be through Digg, but rather grabbed from individual users' submitted feeds, and the subsequent tags applied to discrete news items by users
- From social news
myFeedz inherits its user ratings, so that popular news items find their way to the top of the pile, and poorly rated items are seldom recommended to other users, creating a democratic, social approach to news filtering
- From personalized browsing services
myFeedz borrows a predictive feature that attempts to learn the reading habits of its users and serve them with news it 'thinks' they are likely to be interested in
There is nothing else like myFeedz, and the ingenious mix of feed aggregation and social networking approaches makes indeed for some very interesting results.
It is also true that myFeedz is not yet always "spot on" in its predictive capacity, as it will need further time to grow, and to build on its users' input. This makes for a dynamic process that goes beyond the traditional tasks a standard RSS feed reader challenges itself with.
Getting myFeedz set up
When you first start using myFeedz you are given a number of quick, easy options as to how you would like to customize your news feeds to your personal interests. First of all, you can enter as many tag words as you like, and this is a good place to start in training the myFeedz as to what you're interested in.
In the beginning of your myFeedz usage, you may not have yet the experience or desire to narrow down the type of news to be received by selecting a number of keywords (what I call tags). In this case you can choose from a selection of pre-defined categories provided by myFeedz to get you up and running in the shortest time possible. Selecting a category, such as Technology or Art & Culture, will automatically generate a "tag cloud" for you, so that you can easily navigate within sub-categories of your topic of interest. These automatically-generated tags can be easily edited, removed or added leaving you maximum freedom and flexibility to quickly customize your news.
Choosing the 'Technology' category, for instance, will give you a tag cloud containing 'technology trends', 'business', 'mac', 'linux' and so on, and according to your tastes you will more than likely weed out those tags that are of little interest to you.
For the casual user the above features might indeed prove to offer already plenty of personalization, especially given the fact that myFeedz will learn further over time which news articles will be your favourites and which it should filter out form you. However, to truly get the best out of what myFeedz has to offer, you will want to pay a visit to the personalization tab.
Personalizing your myFeedz account
myFeedz has some impressive personalization options that include:
- The ability to manually add new tags to your collection at any point , and delete existing tags with a single click, thus broadening, or sharpening the news feed that will be generated for you
- The ability to select or delete tags suggested by myFeedz, based on analysis of your feeds and your reading habits
- The ability to set up an "ignore list" of tags you would like to be persistently ignored whenever you are served with news. This can serve as an effective filter for content that might seem to myFeedz to be related to your interests, when actually it isn't
- The ability to add RSS feeds of your own to your account, allowing for further personalization and bringing new content into the social sphere of the myFeedz community
- The ability to import OPML reading lists into your collection, either by uploading a OPML file or by selecting your account with an existing RSS feed reading and aggregation service, such as Bloglines, Google Reader or Rojo.
By allowing you to tightly customize the tags that you use to create your news feeds, and also by facilitating the importing of your own RSS feeds and OPML reading lists, myFeedz demonstrates an impressive flexibility and openness to other, pre-existing services. Rather than presenting itself as a competitor to other feed reading platforms, it openly invites you to bring the news aggregated through them into the myFeedz environment, to further enhance its unique personalization capabilities while tapping directly into the tastes and preferences of the wider myFeedz community.
The myFeedz interface
myFeedz has a well designed, easy to use interface that dispenses with clutter in favor of simplicity. Key to your navigation of a service centered around tags are the tag clouds created from your preferences. Moving around the different news in your areas of interest is as simple as clicking on the tag that you want to explore. From here you can decide to sort articles in a number of ways:
- From all feeds or just from feeds that you have personally imported
- By popularity, or by date
- By English only content, or content in all languages
As the service grows it would be nice to see localization of this final option, so that feeds could be filtered for content in specific languages.
Individual news items are easy enough to navigate, so that clicking on the title of an article opens it up in its original location in a new browser window, and clicking on feed details provides associated meta-data.
Three key features available on each news story are the ability to "save it for later", to mark it as 'off topic' if you feel that it doesn't fit the tag it has been presented under, and to give the specific item a star rating from one to five.
The last two features provide a great service to the wider myFeedz community, given that poorly tagged news items can be flagged and duly weeded out, and highly rated items will find themselves appearing more prominently for users searching under the same tag.
This social dimension adds a small but significant degree of editorial control to users, and should, in theory, have the effect of letting the best and most relevant news find its matching audience automatically.
Teaching myFeedz what you like
myFeedz learns what you like (and don't) by tracking your reading habits, and this is a process that takes a while. The longer you use the service, the more it is likely to make useful suggestions of relevant content to you.
You can help the process along for yourself and other users by rating items that appear in your personal news feed, and this is a simple matter of rolling the cursor over the stars and clicking when you have made your judgment, with one star being the poorest rating, and five the highest. This in turn helps news to rise and fall in the rankings, in terms of how often it will be suggested to other readers.
myFeedz does indeed need a some time to learn and spit out the best news stories to match your tastes, but given enough training time, you should start to notice that its recommendations grow less and less wide of the mark, and closer and closer to your tastes.
Exporting your feeds
Finally, myFeedz offers the ability to export the feeds you have helped to generate by means of RSS syndication. Should you wish to keep abreast of the tagged news as it is updated, or to publish a particular news stream to your website, with this feature you are totally in control of your re-publishing desires.
Who is going to use myFeedz, and why?
The danger of creating such a hybrid feed aggregator is in trying to satisfy everyone, while pleasing no one. In creating this three-headed monster born of social news, personalized browsing and RSS news feeds, myFeedz faces the very real danger of losing out to all three, given that each has its own specific strengths.
That said, myFeedz has also the potential to replace one or more of the RSS feed aggregation services for the casual news surfer and amateur blogger looking to occasionally stumble upon some news relevant to their audience. In myFeedz, smart use of user-generated tags and ongoing user ratings of news content, provide the needed horsepower to serve up news items that would not appear on traditional meme trackers, news aggregation services or even the social bookmarking networks.
It is for this same reason that myFeedz could prove useful to web news professionals, such as NewsMasters gathering news from a range of sources across the web to present them to their niche-targeted site visitors.
Certainly no right-minded NewsMaster would make myFeedz their sole source of news - just as they wouldn't limit themselves to a single social bookmarking, meme tracking or news aggregation service. But by combining myFeedz with these other sources, making use of the RSS feeds that can be generated from myFeedz news streams, this could well prove a valuable addition to a newsmaster advanced news-gathering toolkit.
Room for improvement
Slow learning curve
myFeedz is still in its early days, and sometimes that shows through a little.
For one thing, the personalization and suggestions featured are not yet as effective and performing as a new user would expect them to be. Obviously you can't expect myFeedz to instantly work out what you're interested in from your OPML reading list or set of initially selected tags alone - as like StumbleUpon, also myFeedz takes a while to learn about your tastes and preferences.
In fact, I personally didn't find the news suggestions offered up to me too far off target, and while there were some news items that didn't really hit my specific focus, my experience certainly wasn't as bad as that of Andy Beard, who writes that:
''As far as I am concerned, MyFeedz were successful in creating a... Total disaster... Only one of the blogs on my front page is in my OPML file, and the article listed is 3 days old.''
The integration of OPML reading lists from other blogging platforms would seem to be one of myFeedz weaker points, and there is room for improvement here.
When working with tags myFeedz seems a lot more capable of providing relevant content, and this is in no small part due to its solid grounding in the world of user-generated folksonomy.
myFeedz is a resolutely social news service, and relies very strongly on the tagging input of its users to filter in consistent, highly-targeted content.
This is what sets myFeedz apart from the RSS news readers and aggregators it has been compared with as it is positively among the first to insist on drawing more on its users' opinions, rather than simply drawing on their generic reading lists.
If you are looking for another feed reader that does basic aggregation of RSS news feeds that you have personally selected, while combining them into a stream of news, myFeedz may not be your best choice. There are in fact countless RSS feed reading and aggregating alternatives which are already doing a very good job of this.
On the other hand, if you are looking for a more effective and refined way of gathering thematic online news while drawing on the worlds of RSS feeds, social news and content personalization services, myFeedz may be indeed your very best choice.
myFeedz is not the holy grail of news aggregation, but it is a refreshing take on a now familiar concept.
myFeedz leverages three powerful information gathering and management approaches in a new way: folksonomy, the wisdom of crowds that drives social bookmarking, social news and the powerful Technorati blog search.
Furthermore myFeedz draws on the opinions of its users, and their ongoing, updated preferences.
Casual bloggers and those interested in having a personalized stream of news delivered to them will find this a useful tool to tap into their own niche interests, perhaps as a source of inspiration for their own blog posts. But I would argue that myFeedz is very capable of going beyond this function, and serving professional NewsMasters looking to gather and sort the latest news into valuable News Radars.
Given that the results unearthed in this novel way can be subscribed to as an RSS feed themselves, what you have here is another source of news to add to your News Radar. Combined with Technorati searches, news and meme trackers and the vast world of social bookmarking, this could prove a valuable resource to add to your existing stable of information feeds.
In short, while I can't see myself using myFeedz as my sole source of online news, I think that the new feed aggregator from Adobe will appeal both for certain casual users as well for the some news pros. For the first it provides the benefit of a personalized (and to an extent socialized) RSS reading experience. For the pros, it brings definite added value in the research and news discovery process given that it relies on novel means of finding and gathering news and sources that you may have never run into using the more traditional approaches available until today.
If only for its unique ability to provide a new gathering approach for breaking news coming from the RSS universe, myFeedz is definitely worth a serious try.
If you would like to learn more about myFeedz, you might want to check out the following links:
- The myFeedz FAQ
- Andy Beard on whether myFeedz should really be called a Feed Reader
- Robert Scoble's thoughts on Adobe's entrance to the feed reading scene
- Pete Cashmore's June 2006 coverage of myFeedz pre-Adobe service
- A Feed Is Born on the earlier incarnation of myFeedz
- Amit Agarwal's thoughts on myFeedz
- Ad Globe's coverage of myFeedz
- Stephen Shankland's Webware review of myFeedz
- John Tropea's July 2006 coverage of myFeedz
Robin Good and Michael Pick -
Originally written by Michael Pick for Master New Media as:
RSS Feed Reader Meets Personalized Social News - MyFeedz Is Here
Thanks for the mention
The hardest part of reviewing MyFeedz is the system is so unresponsive.
Your ping of my review prompted me to take another look as I hadn't read most of my RSS feedz for the last couple of days, so it might give me a good overview of things I missed.
For some reason it hadn't remembered my password when I set things up, and Roboform hadn't picked up the password either, so I reset my password.
After filling in a new password, it took the system 2 minutes to actually respond and log me in.
On my new front page:-
Of the 5 stories, 3 are articles from articlebin.com
They are not in my OPML, and whilst I have a high respect for article marketing, and actively promote it, I don't expect them to appear by default in a news reader.
All I can read is an excerpt on the page, and I have just checked out their RSS feeds for a tag, also excerpts even for feeds published as full content.
Browsing the tags, they are relevant to a certain degree but still lots of old content 3 days old on a term like SEO, even though I subscribe to lots of SEO blogs
The speed at which results appear I would expect from a small startup whose system is taking a pounding after gaining some unexpected press coverage, but this is Adobe and they seem to not be able to cope.
It reminds me of when Google releases Analytics, but people were signing up to Analytics because it was good, and they were heavy users.
You might like to take a look at Serph as well, which is closed beta.