Technical Difficulties

Like a normal tech podcast, but broken.

How do you read these days? Gabe and Erik talk about the devices and apps they use for casual and serious reading.

You Do Much Reading?

Listen to this section on SoundCloud: 0:00

While we’ve already delved a bit into books on previous episodes, reading is a subject that can take a conversation in any direction. For people of a certain generation, reading often connotes a book of one sort or another, but the 80s generation may be the last to make that connection. With the ever increasing popularity of hand-held computers, you no longer have to know what you want to read, only that you want to read. Gone is the now-ancient requirement to literally “pick up” a novel, history (chemistry?) book, or magazine.

Casual Reading

Listen to this section on SoundCloud: 0:57

Reading on the web used to be as simple as opening up Google Reader and browsing through your (thousands) of feeds, but the RSS landscape is a little less clear these days.

Syncing

After reading an exhaustive set of reviews there may not be a clear winner, but since Gabe stuck with Feedbin, I think it is probably the best choice for the otherwise unconvinced. I chose a fourth option by quitting RSS altogether. I may go back someday, but for right now, I visit a handful of sites manually (while carefully avoiding others) and haven’t missed any big news yet. I do continue to miss subtweets, however…

What the RSS market comes down to now, really, is selecting a client and then adding in the feed syncing afterward. All of the top Reader replacements have easy OPML import and export, and all of the top clients support multiple sync services. This is a pretty sane way to operate overall, but a little more innovation wouldn’t hurt either.

There are many great RSS clients available for iOS and Android, and the decision likely comes down to preference in the end. Most of the audience has probably been using Reeder and Mr. Reader for years now, anyway.

More on Press

Most of our users have an all-iOS device stable, but for those who use Android I highly recommend Press by TwentyFive Squares. It has quickly become my favorite mobile RSS reader on any platform for its elegant design, intuitive functionality, and speed.

My favorite feature is double-tapping on an article to bring it up in Readability mode, which is handy for sites without full RSS feeds. It also handles XKCD image titles gracefully, which has lately become a primary yardstick by which I measure RSS apps.

When I’m reading feeds on my iPad, Press is the app I wish I was using.

Gabe has given up on desktop RSS apps, but Erik is still clinging to the dream. He uses ReadKit.

  • Readkit
  • ReadKit is a full-featured read later and RSS client that supports services from Instapaper, Pocket, Readability, Pinboard, Delicious, Feedly, Fever, NewsBlur, Feedbin and Feed Wrangler and has built-in RSS capabilities.
  • Price: $6.99

The Chromebook

I’ve been trying to move to a more cross-platform, web-friendly workflow recently, and as an experiment I’ve been toying around with an HP Chromebook 11.

Fast, Cheap, Good… Well, it’s sure not fast.

Even in the age of the iPad, sometimes it’s nice to have a keyboard-equipped device. The HP Chromebook is great as a cheap laptop if you have reasonable expectations and are willing to tinker a bit. It reminds me of the old plastic MacBooks in the absolute nicest way.

The HP has an ARM processor, which isn’t speedy, but will charge with a micro-USB connector. The IPS display puts the 11” MacBook Air to shame, which says less about the Chromebook than it does about the MacBook.

I took my little Chromebook on a business trip last year as my only laptop (and also brought no Apple products, a story for another day) and the machine worked great for light web development (mostly in Ubuntu) and day-to-day web use. The display was perfect when I had to demo a new website design for a client, and the battery was surprisingly long-lasting. What was even cooler is that I only took one charger with me for the entire trip.

A full review of this thing is beyond the scope of this aside, but I’m sure I’ll get around to writing it up eventually.

Whether using Feedbin in the browser or just reading a site in place on the web, viewing a blog with its intended styling does have its own merits. That way you can enjoy the hard work that designers put into the presentation of their ideas, while also appreciating the various shades of green they employ. In any event Fluid is still the finest implementation of site-specific browsing there is.

  • Fluid
  • Fluid lets you create a Real Mac App (or Fluid App) out of any website or web application, effectively turning your favorite web apps into OS X desktop apps.
  • Price: Free/$4.99

Reading Later

Listen to this section on SoundCloud: 6:35

While reading on the web, it is easy to come accross something you would like to save for later reference or for later reading. Bookmarks have long existed to satisfy both needs, but features like offline access and improved mobile presentation brought read-it-later services into common use. Instapaper was (arguably?) the first of these services, but many great options exist now.

  • Instapaper
  • Instapaper is the simplest way to save and store articles for reading: offline, on-the-go, anytime, anywhere, perfectly formatted.
  • Price: $3.99

  • Pocket
  • Don’t lose track of the interesting things you find by emailing yourself links or letting tabs pile up in your browser. Just save them to Pocket.
  • Price: Free

  • Pinboard
  • Pinboard is a fast, no-nonsense bookmarking site. No ads, no fluff.
  • Price: Varies (Currently $10.35)

Pinboard Reading

I have just a few tips for getting the most out of Pinboard. First, get the archive account so that you can search the full text of your bookmarked content. With an archive account, Pinboard caches a copy of the content. If the page goes away, you can always view Pinboard’s last known cache. It also means you get access to full content searching from right within Pinboard.

Second, use tags sparingly and with a system. I have a few tags that I combine to provide a lot complex meaning in favor of overly explicit tags. For example, “humanity”, “politics”, and “programming” can all modify other tags to change their meaning. For example, “politics” and “humor” is going to be very different than “programming” and “humor”. “Politics” and “humanity” rarely occur together though.

Third, group links for a project together with a unique tag. I pre-pend a project tag with an underscore. If I was writing a book, all of the reference links would be tagged with “_book”. Filtering by that tag shows me what I have but it also shows all of the other tags I added to those links. It makes filtering really easy.

Finally, use the note field in Pinboard. That content is searchable too. Often, the article title can be misleading. The note field is visible inline with the Pinboard bookmarks so finding the needle becomes a lot easier.

When it comes to iOS apps, I really like Pinswift. It’s fast and supports full text search. Pushpin is nice but I regularly have issues with it not loading bookmarks. To each their own.

For those who do use Pinboard for read-it-later links, you really ought to check out Paperback by the very talented Nick Wynja.

Cheap

The value proposition offered by Paperback is unbelievable (seriously, the man does not place a single pixel awry), but I reject Gabe’s notion that $15 is cheap. Why, that is an entire quarter’s worth of earnings for a podcast show notes producer! I’m saving up.

News Filter

Listen to this section on SoundCloud: 13:32

Many of us have a handful of sites we like to read regularly or have systems to parse our own RSS lists, but that often leaves a gap in news or new content discovery. This gap in knowledge and awareness is one that many of us used to to fill with a newspaper, but a handful of services try to stand amidst the torrent of information online in our stead. One of them, Zite, clearly stands out for Gabe, although he fears for its future.

Zite Training

Zite isn’t just an aggregator of news and social feeds. The topics can be tuned to provide a custom tailored reading experience that still offers a lot of pleasant surprises. It pays off to provide Zite some basic categories for news, like “technology”, “brewing” or “writing”. The categories you choose influence the tops stories but they are also a topic-specific reading library.

Rating articles as thumbs-up increases the likelihood that similar articles will show up in the top stories feed as well as the category feeds. You can also give a topic a thumbs down or even block entire domains or sub-categories. The culmination of this fine-tuning is a reading experience that is perfectly tailored to my current tastes. If I decide I want a bit more science in my Zite feeds, I give the sciency stuff a boost with some thumbs-up ratings. All of my other categories and main news feed will immediately start to show more articles with scientific slants to them.

Banning entire domains really helps with a news discovery service too. I pretty much never want to see anything from Buzzfeed or Mashable so I block those domains in Zite. That forces Zite to fill the space with better content.

Zite offers a wide variety of categories for building your news experience. I recommend experimenting and tuning. For example, I have a “Python” category which started out as a mix of programming and unfortunate stories about snakes in Florida. After a few rounds of rating articles the category became much more focused on code than pet store accidents.

Another Contender

Flipboard is another popular online, magazine 2.0 thingie, and is by most accounts very good. None of us use it enough to offer a full opinion on it though.

Shaun Inman’s customer-hosted RSS service Fever offers a grand premise, mostly delivered: chuck at it every link you find remotely interesting and let Fever filter the news by “temperature.” The developer makes sure that it functions properly, but it’s officially not a priority for him. He gets points for honesty.

  • Fever
  • Fever takes the temperature of your slice of the web and shows you what’s hot.
  • Price: $30

News

In recent weeks, I have been getting my filtered news from two sources. Each weekday morning (on the US East Coast, at least) Stefan Constantinescu releases a new issue of Tab Dump, which is essentially half tech news and half “real” news. It is a great snapshot of both worlds, and Stefan presents it with just the right amount of commentary. You should become a supporter.

My other weekday news source is Dave Pell’s NextDraft. This one is likely more familiar to most, and it provides a nice summary of the day with more of a E! TV feel to it.

More News Sources that Don’t Stink

In addition to Zite, I really like Quartz and Digg. Quartz has some stellar writing and reporting and Digg generally has high quality articles to recommend. The Digg iOS app is also very good.

Serious Reading

Listen to this section on SoundCloud: 21:32

While there is plenty of serious reading to be done on the web, books still mean serious reading, right? As Gabe explains, and Erik laments, it is realy time to leave paper behind (maybe). Many or most (who knows how many, Amazon won’t tell us) serious readers adore their eInk Kindles, and the close approximation of paper combined with Amazon’s vast library make a compelling argument. Only time will tell whether younger generations will be just as comfortable home reading a glowing LCD screens as on the facsimile of a printed page, but no matter what, the contents of an electronic books are less secure than those of a tome on a shelf.

One particular niche of books that seems inarguably better on a tablet is that of technical books. With the benefit of more responsive text manipulation, better search, and color, a retina LCD screen is likely to best for a while. Erik gives highest marks to O’Reilly and Pragmatic Programmers, and both companies have rejected DRM from the beginning, and that is worth a lot. O’Reilly’s Safari Books Online provides a Netflix type of access to its own books and many more.

DRM Sucks

Enough said.

Inkling’s interactive eBooks are another example of innovation in a very traditional market, but as Gabe explained, there are still some kinks to be worked out.

  • Inkling
  • Inkling’s interactive eBooks are designed to help you learn, study, and discover just about anything, whether it’s for school, work, or play.
  • Price: Free

One final example of how reading can still be advanced is in Amazon’s Whispersync for Voice. While the mechanism can be a bit opaque in its execution, if you own both the Kindle and Audible versions of a book whose publisher permits, then you can sync your place between the professionally narrated audiobook and the Kindle version on any of your devices. There are discounts provided when you buy both versions, but this is a relatively expensive way to enjoy a book. It is pretty magical though. You can visit Amazon’s Matchmaker to see what your existing “audio upgrades” would cost.

Until next week

Well, that’s it for this week. If you have anything that you’d like to add to or correct in the show notes you can find me on Twitter @potatowire, or feel free to send an email to me at potatowire dot com.