June 01, 2007


Google logo

Send yourself a voicemail message using Google Talk and you'll get it as an MP3 audio file via email. This makes it a great general purpose voice memo service.

Google Talk voice memo service

The ability to record up to 10 minutes of audio and get it as an MP3 via email makes Google Talk's voicemail a useful and flexible tool for recording audio. Sending yourself voicemail gives you several options: listen to the MP3 using Gmail's embedded player, forward it to others (even if they don't use Google Talk), download it, post it to a blog or website, etc.


Send yourself voicemail using Google Talk in 3 easy steps.

Before you begin, you'll need some kind of microphone or headset (I use the Bluetooth headset I bought for my mobile phone) setup as your computer's audio input device. Once that's setup, go to Google Talk's Settings to make sure the right input device is selected. For now, you have to use the desktop version of Google Talk — voicemail is not currently supported in the Gadget version.

  1. Search - Search for yourself in the "Search all contacts" field. (Hey, Google Talk Team: It would be really nice if we could send voicemail to ourselves without having to search first!)
  2. Hover - Once your name comes up, hover over it, and a dialog box will pop up. Click the "Send voicemail" button. (If "Call" is the only button that comes up, use that; it'll ring briefly and indicate that the call was not answered, and you'll see the "Send voicemail" button.)
  3. Record - Wait for the "meep", record your message, and click "End Call". You'll receive the voicemail message via email shortly afterward.

The Google Talk Blog has more information about using voicemail.

Tips & Tricks

  • To find all your voicemail messages, click the phone icon at the bottom of Google Talk, or type label:voicemail in Gmail's search box.
  • Easily record a quick podcast without having to find & setup additional software. (Audacity is a free, open source option for more extensive audio recording.)
  • Enrich email to far-away family & loved ones with the sound of your voice, even if they don't use Google Talk.

Thanks for yet another great free service, Google, and for such a well-designed & useful service, Google Talk Team!

March 21, 2007

Google Calendar Logo

Here are my ideas for improving Google Calendar

  • Display the current time, in all views. Knowing the current time of day is relevant and useful when working with a calendar. I often find myself switching browser tabs to look at the clock gadget on my Personalized Homepage when I'm looking at my day. I'm sure there's a desire not to clutter the interface, but an unobtrusive clock could be added; perhaps a simple digital readout under the current month display. As a bonus, add a thin horizontal time indicator bar in Day and Week view that moves vertically down as the day progresses. The hour indicator on the left of the page could be highlighted in the same color as the bar. This is a quick & easy way to see where you are in the day relative to what's on the agenda.

    Update: 2007.03.22 - A day after I wrote this, Lifehacker published a post with an image that shows an example of this horizontal indicator — go check it out to see what I mean. The post was an intro to today's Rock Your Google Calendar in 18 Ways, by Anne Zelenka at Web Worker Daily. She noted that GCal doesn't seem to get a lot of love or attention lately; well, see below for some from me. Thanks for your useful post, Anne!

  • Add background shading to Saturday & Sunday in Month View. On the small month indicator, Saturday and Sunday are lightly shaded, making them easy to distinguish from weekdays. This useful visual cue would be a great enhancement for the main Week and Month views.
  • Sync with mobile devices. (I'm happy to see this is already on the list, but I have some comments.) The SMS/text messaging interface is useful, and it's really nice to be able to add events that way. I hope this won't go away or be deprecated even when sync is enabled. For planning, though, we need to be able to refer to the calendar, and browse it. The inability to sync is a serious deficiency, and kept me away from Google Calendar for a long time — the fact that so many of us use it without sync is a testament to how good everything else is!

    Update: 2007.05.24 - Google released the mobile web service, Calendar for mobile devices. Thanks, Google! This goes a long way toward solving the problem of real mobile access. I still think sync is the ideal, but maybe that'll be an option for the future. It would be nice to be able to delete entries, though, as well as modify them. (I know it's new.)

  • Add ability to link events to other calendars as an alternative to copying them. I copy several events among my and my wife's calendars, because we each want the ability to filter the other's calendar, but still see things we're doing together. That means when I update an event, I have to do so in two places. Since I have the ability to write to her calendar, it would be nice to designate some events as linked, so they show up independently on shared calendars, but can be updated on either one, with the changes reflected on both.

This list, which I'm publishing in March 2007 — when Google Calendar is just shy of its first birthday — is almost certain to grow and develop.

Google Calendar is amazing

I recently switched to Google Calendar and I'm really impressed. I wanted to use it when it first came out, but was waiting to switch from Yahoo Calendar because I (and many others) wanted an easy, Google-supported way to sync with my Windows Mobile smartphone. I switched anyway, and even without mobile phone sync, I can't get over how much I like Google Calendar.

The team that built it invested a lot of research and effort into doing so, and it shows. For a look at how they did it, check out Rakesh Agrawal's blog post with notes and commentary about Product Manager Carl Sjogreen's presentation [.pdf] at the Future of Web Apps Summit, 2006.

Google Calendar feels good and is enjoyable to use — it makes me want to use a calendar, and that makes me more organized and productive. It's a great example of what a web application can be now. It's fast, easy, and knows it's connected to the web. Google Calendar isn't perfect — in fact, it's beta — but it's worth serious consideration.

March 06, 2007

Grazr is a really cool feed widget you should check out

Grazr logo

If you've discovered the benefits of using feeds, you should take a look at Grazr. It's an embeddable, web-based feed browser widget that augments your primary feed reader & lets you put feeds anywhere on the web.

Grazr isn't a replacement for a full-fledged feed reader — it's an addition to your toolkit: a blazing fast feed widget that makes sharing and interacting with feed content easy. It's multimedia capable, so you can look at pictures, listen to audio, and watch video in the feed, all without having to subscribe. You can put a Grazr widget on several popular personalized start pages, a blog post/sidebar, a regular web page, even your Windows desktop.

Grazr.com recently achieved two important milestones

  • Funding - Grazr just completed a Series A financing round of $1.5M. They've already developed an impressive tool, but clearly that's just the beginning.
  • Outline & feed hosting - Now you can host your web outlines (OPML) & feeds in your own account at grazr.com. This is a great service for people who want to use and share web outlines and feeds, but don't have a web server on which to host them. I have my own web server, but just as hosting & sharing my links at del.icio.us is far better than I could do it myself, I expect Grazr.com to add significant value when you use their service to host feeds and outlines.

These are two very positive events for the company, and I'm excited to see what they'll do next. You can help influence that by participating in the forums. The team really listens to and values input from people who use Grazr, so if you have ideas, share them!

Grazr makes feeds fun and easy

Grazr was originally built to let people "graze" feed content without having to subscribe. It makes feeds fun and easy, and lets people use them without having to understand how they work, install software, or sign up for anything. It will help feeds break out of subscription jail, and that should promote more innovation in how feeds are used.

I expect to see a lot more from the Grazr team, and I think we'll all be beneficiaries of their successes. Congrats, and keep up the good work!

Example Grazrs

Explore interesting Flickr photos, watch the most recent YouTube featured videos, and listen to CNN updated news updates.

(If you're reading this in a feed reader, click on an image below to launch the corresponding Grazr.)

Here's a web outline that displays the 3 feeds above in a single Grazr panel

February 28, 2007

Yahoo keep me signed in


Yahoo services require re-authentication too often.

Being forced to sign in to Yahoo services again and again was frustrating. I use several on a daily basis, almost always from well-protected computers at home & work. I appreciate the value of security, but the timeout was short enough to be annoying, especially given my access from very low-risk environments.

This stood in stark contrast to using Google services, where I'm asked to re-authenticate so rarely that I don't even notice — that's how it should be.


Keep me signed in — for 2 weeks

Yahoo recently added a "Keep me signed in" checkbox that allows me to stay signed in for 2 weeks. This relatively minor improvement has a big impact because it helps reduce friction when using Yahoo services. User-configurable timeouts would be ideal, but this is an effective solution. It will certainly help keep me signed in to and enjoying Yahoo services.

Thanks, Yahoo!

February 14, 2007


Mix feeds with Yahoo Pipes — enhance and analyze them by publishing with Feedburner.

Burn your Yahoo! Pipes

Yahoo Pipes is a feed mixing service, and Feedburner provides tools for enhancing, analyzing, and publishing feeds. It doesn't always make sense to combine the two, but when it does, these complimentary services provide a good set of feedmastering tools.


Publish with Feedburner when a pipe's feed is more valuable than its architecture.

Creating a Yahoo Pipe produces two significant outputs:

  • Architecture - The ability to publish pipes makes it easy to copy and build on each others' work. This is how a lot of us started learning HTML when the web was new, and it's a great way to share knowledge and help something catch on fast. Publish your pipe with Yahoo Pipes when its architecture is important.
  • Feed - In some cases, the feed a pipe produces is more important than sharing its architecture. Gina Trapani at Lifehacker writes about using Pipes to create a master feed of all the feeds you publish. In this case, the feed and its readership stats are likely more valuable to the publisher than the details of its construction would be to other people. (Gina offers her useful example pipe for people to copy, but most will consider this a pretty basic pipe once they get the hang of feedmixing). Publish your pipe's feed with Feedburner when its feed is important.

I'm not encouraging anyone to withold publishing pipes using the Pipes publishing interface, but when the pipe's feed is more important than its architecture, publishing it using Feedburner offers several benefits.


Feedburner is an established feed publishing service that provides valuable feed analysis and management tools, making it a good front end for publishing feeds.

  • Free basic readership statistics, with graphs.
  • Feed promotion services that make sure feed search engines know about your updates.
  • Human-readable feed address. You can choose a meaningful name and address for your feed, rather than publishing the complex one produced by your pipe. This makes it easier to talk about and identify when you are working with your feeds outside the Pipes interface. (Hint: Name your Feedburner feed the same as you name the pipe that produces it, so they're easy to match up.)
  • Flexibility and persistence. Publishing your feed via Feedburner means its address will remain the same if you decide to use something other than Yahoo Pipes to produce it.
  • Centralized feed publishing & management. If you're already using Feedburner (e.g., to publish your blog's feed), you may want to consider using it as a central service for publishing all your feeds.
  • Add various enhancements to your feed.


Build, burn, and share.

  • Build a pipe. Create a Yahoo Pipe and "run" it to get its feed address. Don't publish the pipe — if you do, people will subscribe directly to its feed, and you want them to use your burned feed. (Running the pipe gives you its feed address without publishing the pipe.)
  • Burn the pipe's feed. Create a new feed in Feedburner using the pipe's feed as the "Original Feed". Feedburner will guide you through adding any enhancements you want.
  • Share the burned feed. Feedburner offers various feed promotion and publishing services, but once you've burned it and have the new human-readable address you chose for it, you can share it any way you like — email, social networking services, etc.

February 07, 2007

Apparently, some smart people at Yahoo! were listening to both of us, and they sure did deliver!

Yahoo! Pipes icon

I've only just begun to play with Yahoo! Pipes, and I can already say, it's gonna be hot! I considered my feedmixing wishlist fairly forward-thinking for its time, but a quick glance at the things Pipes can do and the ways it lets you do them shows some real vision.

From the Pipes website:

Pipes is a hosted service that lets you remix feeds and create new data mashups in a visual programming environment. The name of the service pays tribute to Unix pipes, which let programmers do astonishingly clever things by making it easy to chain simple utilities together on the command line

That's really just the beginning of how to think about it; the true description and definition of Pipes will evolve through the innovation it's sure to produce.

Unfortunately, I don't have time to play with or write about Pipes more right now, but I definitely plan to do both, and I strongly encourage you to go check it out. The site provides a good overview — for some in-depth discussion, explanation, and analysis, read Tim O'Reilly's Pipes and Filters for the Internet. I look forward to having a lot of fun, and doing some really cool things with Yahoo! Pipes!

January 10, 2007


Live outline icon

A "feedmap" is an outline that provides a central place to find, subscribe to, and see how feeds are organized — much like a traditional web sitemap. A feedmap takes the idea further by making it possible to preview and actually interact with feed content.

We didn't realize we needed sitemaps until the web became popular and websites became complex. Although feeds aren't quite mainstream yet, many sites already publish more than one. As this trend continues, people will want a central place to find feeds. Some sites already recognize this, and publish a list of feeds. A feedmap expands on this by showing how feeds are organized, and letting people preview and interact with the content. Since it's written in OPML, a feedmap;

  • allows publishers to organize feeds in a meaningful structure
  • makes it easy for people to preview feeds
  • can be imported into most feed readers
  • makes it easy to subscribe to individual feeds
  • may enable people to subscribe to entire feedmaps in the future

An example feedmap

Here's a feedmap for my blog, (if you're reading this in a feed reader, you'll have to use the link) displayed in Grazr:

Update: 2007.01.15 - There have been some intermittent problems displaying my blog's feedmap in Grazr. I'm working with the Grazr team to try to figure out what's going on, and plan to contact Yahoo! Webhosting support as well. Sorry for the inconvenience! Since the problem is intermittent, it's possible you might be able to see the feedmap in the Grazr panel on my blog's sidebar; it's also listed there, and sometimes that loads even though this example doesn't.

Update: 2007.03.31 - Yahoo's tech support has been quite unhelpful in resolving the problem I mention above, so I'm hosting my feedmap at Grazr.com's new hosting service, which wasn't available when I created this post. Ultimately, that's where I want to store my outines. Unfortunately, this allows the outline to display quickly, but doesn't solve the problem of actually displaying the feed content within Grazr, since there's something blocking a couple of grazr.com's servers from accessing my Yahoo-hosted site. I'm really disappointed that I wasn't able to get better support from Yahoo. I haven't given up, but they seem to have decided to ignore my most recent response in our correspondence.


Anyone who publishes more than one feed should consider publishing a feedmap.


A feedmap organizes feeds in one place using a standard format, and lets people preview feed content without being forced to subscribe.

The newest versions of popular web browsers are just beginning to get better at helping people subscribe to feeds, but they're still not very good at it, and subscribing won't always be the goal. Once feeds become mainstream, people will see them as another source of potential information overload and become more selective about subscribing. As James Corbett predicted, we'll want to graze feeds more and subscribe less.

There's a new generation of embeddable, "widgetized", web-based feed browsers that are purpose-built for grazing feeds and interacting with feed content — Grazr, Optimal, and Bitty Browser are examples. Grazr is my favorite; it lets you see pictures, listen to audio, and watch video, right in the feed. You don't have to worry about subscribing, but it's easy to do by right clicking on the feed, copying the link, and pasting it into a feed reader.


Build it in OPML, display it in Grazr

This post isn't a tutorial, it's a recommendation for feed publishers to start publishing feedmaps. The details are an exercise for the reader, but it's not hard to create a feedmap:

  • Use OPML to build your feedmap. OPML is an outlining language you use to define the structure of your feedmap. Among its other uses, OPML has become the de facto standard for import and export of feed reader subscription lists. If you're familiar with HTML, OPML is easy to pick up, and the Grazr team has developed really good OPML primer that will get you started.
    • OPML isn't an "official" standard, but until or unless one emerges, having your feedmap in a well-known format that's as widely used as OPML will increase the likelihood that it's easy to convert.
  • Use Grazr to display your feedmap. Grazr is the key to bringing a feedmap to life, since it makes feeds immediately usable. You don't have to use Grazr to display your feedmap — you could just link to the raw OPML file — but that's like linking to the source code of a web page. To make it easy for people to check out your feeds, display it in a feed browser.

Tips & Tricks

  • Make your feedmap modular. If your site publishes various feeds in different topic areas, consider creating separate OPML files for each area and including them in the feedmap. This way you can use them in other outlines, and people can access the specific one they want. (Determining the appropriate level of granularity for doing this will undoubtedly become an art.)

December 30, 2006


Live outline icon

I propose we use the term "live outline" to refer to dynamic content — such as OPML files that contain lists of feeds — that people create using XML outline formats.

I've seen some discussion about what to call the information organized using these formats, but there doesn't seem to be a convention for referring to them in general. This leads to difficulties sharing ideas related to the formats, and explaining them to people who aren't familiar with them. I really like Dave Winer's idea of a reading list, but that's just one kind of live outline; these formats can be used to create live outlines that can serve various purposes (for example, the one on my blog's sidebar or a travel outline).

"Live outline" is friendlier and easier to talk about (and say!) than "OPML", "XOXO", etc. It's a good general term everyone can use and understand without too much difficulty. It's fine to use "outline" and "outlining" in context; "live" can be omitted when people know what's being discussed.


This proposal is intended for people creating content and applications using structured outlines based on XML formats, such as OPML, XOXO, and OML.


To encourage widespread adoption and use of these formats and reltated technologies, we need simple, non-technical terms that convey meaning well. People are much more open to learning something new if it has a name they can relate to, understand, and pronounce.

Live outlines will have a significant and growing role in how people consume, organize, and share feeds:

If we want people to get comfortable using structured outline formats, we need to talk about them in terms that won't alienate or put people off. Try telling someone about the cool OPML file you're building, and watch how quickly their eyes glaze over. Changing the language we use can make all the difference, and we already have a familiar example of this: Consider the idea that live outline is to OPML document as web page is to HTML document. People can relate to the idea of writing a web page, and it's easy to talk about web pages; a major reason is the lack of hard-to-pronounce technical acronyms.

  • People are already familiar with the concept of an outline. They don't have to learn an entirely new concept to understand a live outline, just a new use for something they already know.
  • People can easily understand that live = dynamic (e.g., feeds). Again, though, "live" sounds better and is easier to say than "dynamic". I know that OPML, etc. are not just for feeds, but I think organizing and managing feeds will be the highest-profile common use for the formats, at least for a while.
  • Firefox has already begun to popularlize the term and concept of "live bookmarks". We can take advantage of that and extend the idea to live outlines.
  • Non-technical people who use these outlines aren't going to (and shouldn't) care much about the details of the format in which they're written.. They'll need to recognize names for compatibility, but only until services and applications interoperate well (how many feed readers support RSS and not ATOM, or require a specific version of either?) Recognition can be important for a while when a technology is new, but how many people that use the web care about the language in which web pages are written? In most cases, they don't want to know.

I'm not arguing that we should stop using format-specific terms in technical discussions and documents; they certainly have their place. I just want to promote the use of terms that insulate people from unnecessarily technical, specific acronyms that aren't likely to be relevant to them. Plus, I want a general way to talk about the information structures we build with these formats. "Live outline" conveys meaning without being overly technical or specific to a particular format or technology. I hope the term will help these formats and creative uses of them proliferate more quickly and easily.

What do you think?

I hope this proposal will provoke some discussion. Unfortunately, I've had to disable comments due to spam (and the lack of a good mitigation capability), but if you have thoughts on this proposal, link to this post from your blog. If discussion ensues, I'll add a live search feed of links to this post to tie it all together.

December 21, 2006


When you're drawing a diagram, write the words first. Draw the box or circle around the words after you've finished writing what will go in the container.

Diagramming tip: write the words first


Writing first ensures the words will fit inside the container, since you'll draw it around what you've already written. You won't get stuck trying to squeeze the words into a space that's too small.

How many times have you seen people draw boxes on a whiteboard, then try to fit words and phrases into them, and have to start writing smaller or erasing the lines to make more room? Writing the words first

  • eliminates the problem of running out of space,
  • results in a nicer looking diagram, and
  • helps you look better while creating it.

Sometimes it's good to be inside the box.

December 15, 2006

Feed Icon

For both subscribers and publishers, feeds are a useful addition to the tools we use to distribute, consume, and manage information.

Benefits of subscribing to feeds

Key steps toward addressing the problem of information overload include classifying & prioritizing the information you receive, and reducing the amount of work required to get the information you want. Feeds and a feed reader can help you redirect some information away from your email inbox and automate the retrieval of information you may currently be getting manually.

  • You can stop checking websites for updated content — the content comes to you. Once you subscribe to a website's feed, you never have to go back and check for updated information. Think about how many sites you visit on a regular basis &mdash news, sports, weather, stocks, blogs, etc. A feed reader automatically checks sites you choose on a regular basis, and lets you know if there's anything new. You can truly "set it and forget it".

    Dave Winer, widely credited as the "father of RSS", described feeds as automated web surfing:

    "...when people ask what RSS is, I say it's automated web surfing. We took something lots of people do, visiting sites looking for new stuff, and automated it. It's a very predictable thing, that's what computers do -- automate repetitive things."

  • Free up your email inbox for correspondence. As an information tool, email has long been overloaded as a catch-all for information people want to send and receive. A lot of the email we get isn't correspondence, and often doesn't deserve a high priority. The problem is, we don't have enough control over what we get via email — it just arrives and competes for our attention. One part of the solution is to direct information away from your email inbox and into your feed reader, a tool that's purpose-built for managing information you want to see but don't need to necessarily respond to via email.
  • Put "read-only" information in its place. Feeds are well suited to one-way and "read-only" communication, and a good feed reader can help you manage a wide range of information you might be getting now via email or by visiting individual web sites. You can use feeds to:
    • keep current with the latest news
    • monitor stock prices
    • get weather updates
    • check the traffic report
    • track a package
    • share links to websites
    • monitor topics of interest (using a "search feed"; a feed of search engine results)
    • read blogs
    • keep up with busy discussion groups

    Consider how much less cluttered your email inbox might be if you redirected some of the information above to a feed reader. It's worth noting that the tagline for Google Reader is "Your inbox for the web." Email is great for two-way communication, but for information you just want to read, a feed is often a better choice.

  • You can unsubscribe with confidence. You own and manage your list of feed subscriptions, not the publishers. Unlike with email lists, when you want to unsubscribe from a feed, it's your choice and it happens immediately — you don't have to ask, wait for confirmation, or wonder if it's really going to happen.
  • The content has a consistent look & feel. Given the variety of website designs, getting to the actual content you want on each website can take a while. With a good feed reader, the content is all displayed using a consistent interface. Feeds are typically more content-centric than design-centric. Some feeds contain ads, but they're often displayed inconspicuously compared to looking at the same content on the publisher's website.

Benefits of publishing feeds

Publishing feeds lets you maintain and update your content centrally, and stop worrying about how to distribute it.

  • You get the centralization benefits of a web page & distribution benefits of email. Once you send email, you can't make changes if the information needs to be updated; you have to send a new message. When you publish a feed, you maintain the content centrally. When you update content, subscribers automatically get the current version &mdash in some cases highlighted as updated, depending on the feed reader — even if they already seen the previous version. Any time they refer back to it, they'll have access to the most current version; with email, they'd have an out-of-date copy. (Note that some feed readers keep copies of previous versions.)
  • You don't have to do anything to notify your audience. Feeds solve the problem of notification; there's no more having to ask people to "check back soon" for updates, or ask for their email address. Neither the publisher nor the subscriber has to do any work to be notified when new content is published; feed readers do the work for us.
  • You don't have to maintain email lists — you can stop sending content and let subscribers come get it. When you publish a feed, subscribers take responsibility for consuming your content. You just publish it, and you're done; people who want it can get it. People may be more likely to subscribe knowing that they have full control over unsubscribing. (If you want to know who your subscribers are, you can create an individual subscription form and publish a unique feed for each subscriber. This could be a great way to provide spam-free, individualized, direct communication with your audience.)
  • There's a high probability your audience wants what you publish. People have to consciously subscribe to feeds, and don't usually do so by accident. When someone subscribes to your feed, there's a good chance it's because they want the information you provide.
  • Non-email communication may be better received by your audience. People are tired of being inundated by email, and often ignore it when they feel overwhelmed. By publishing a feed, you give people a choice in how they consume your content, and they may be more likely to do so as a result.


Feed Icon

You can reduce noise and clutter in your email inbox by subscribing to feeds of discussion groups and forums. Keep your email subscription so you can participate, but filter the group's email list messages away from your inbox.

  • Check to see if your discussion group publishes a feed. If you're on an email list for a discussion group or forum, but don't usually participate in the discussion, see if you can subscribe to a feed of the discussion. For example, you can subscribe to feeds for both Google Groups and Yahoos Groups. (Regrettably, feeds from Yahoo Groups seem to be just summaries of each post.)
  • Subscribe to the feed, but don't remove yourself from the email list. Instead, setup a filter in your email to bypass your inbox, and send the list messages to a folder. This gets them out of your way, but allows you to access them if you want to respond to a message.


Use your feed reader for "read-only" monitoring, and reserve your email inbox for correspondence.

Redirecting the discussion to your feed reader reduces the clutter and interruptions competing for attention in your email inbox. This reduces the burden on email — a tool we all know is overloaded — and makes it easier to use for correspondence; two-way communication.