SiliconFilter

Techmeme Gets a New Look

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Tech new aggregator Techmeme just gave it self a major makeover. While the site’s utility was always (relatively) undisputed, it never won any design awards. As the site’s founder Gabe Rivera notes in his announcement, this redesign is mean to make the site look “less cluttered and encumbered.”

Where did the Underlined Links Go?

Among other things, the new site does away with underlined links, but the most radical changes are in the overall layout of the site. Instead of a two-column design that put the main stories in a large column on the left and new stories, sponsored posts and job ads in a sidebar on the right, the new design now features the sponsored posts more prominently in a column to the right of the main stories and the new stories in a smaller sidebar on the far right side of the page.

NewImage

This new layout does take away the focus from the newest stories on the site a bit, though, and, just like GigaOm’s Om Malik, I would have preferred it if the position sponsor and newest stories column was swapped.

It’s now also easier to expand the list of related stories in the discussion section and the tweet functionality has now been moved to Twitter’s standard “tweet” button that makes tweeting a story a two-click affair (though it doesn’t allow for editing the headline).

In addition to all of this, the site also introduced a new About page today, which explains Techmeme’s curation process in a bit more detail and also highlights the site’s editors.

The other members of the Techmeme family, including the politics-focused Memeorandum and the media news-centric Mediagazer will get this redesign as well, though it’s not clear when exactly this will happen.



11:15 am


The Golden Age of Tech Blogging Is Just Getting Started

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Given that the week between Christmas and New Year's Day is usually very slow in the tech blogging world, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Jeremiah Owyang’s linkbait post about the end of the “Golden Age of Tech Blogging” is getting its fair share of attention today. My old boss Marshall Kirkpatrick and former TechCrunch writer Sarah Lacy already wrote some pretty good rebuttals of Owyang’s ideas, but I want to add a few thoughts to this discussion as well.

Owyang argues that there are four trends that show the end of this era (though he never fully defines what that “Golden Age” actually looked like). Let’s take a closer look at these, as I don’t think they work as signs for the end of this first era of tech blogging.

1) Corporate acquisitions stymie innovation

Owyang argues that as TechCrunch and ReadWriteWeb have now been bought, the age of innovation in tech blogging is over. Nothing could be further from the truth, I would argue. The fact that these sites were acquired simply shows that some smart investors think there is money to be made in this market.

And what was the last big innovation to come out of TechCrunch or ReadWriteWeb anyway?

2) Tech blogs are experiencing major talent turnover

I’m not going into the details why ReadWriteWeb, for example, lost plenty of its writers in 2010 (including myself), but it’s obvious that lots of writers moved around last year. Again – I’m not sure how that’s a sign of how the “Golden Age of tech blogging” has passed. It simply means that writers moved to places where they could earn more money, get more benefits and better support from editors. If anything, that means the Golden Age of tech blogging for the writers themselves is still going strong, as there is clearly a market for them.

3) The audience needs have changed, they want: faster, smaller, and social

That’s not a new trend. What’s worth noting, though, is that the attention, if it really has shifted, has shifted more towards the aggregators like Techmeme. Owyang also uses Mashable as an example of a blog that has shifted its strategies in the face of these trends. I would argue that Mashable long ceased to be a tech blog.

4) As space matures, business models solidify –giving room for new disruptors

This is, of course, true in every business. Given that the cost of entry into the tech blogging world is close to zero (or $20/month for a hosting account), there has always been space for disruptors. Tech blogging isn’t an easy business, though (or an easy beat, for that matter), so we have seen relatively few people try to disrupt the business from the outside.

Oddly enough, Owyang also argues that “long gone is the scrappy new media entrepreneurs like Arrington who built a decent sized empire, cashed out, and moved on to to a traditional industry like venture capital.” This, of course, makes little sense, given that Arrington only cashed out a year ago, those at ReadWriteWeb who had equity only cashed out two or three weeks ago and that there are plenty of sites that could still cash out nicely in the future.

We’re just Getting Started

Basically then, I don’t agree that any of Owyang’s points demonstrate that the “Golden Age” of tech blogging is over. I do agree that we are at a turning point, though, but for very different reasons. I think the slow decline of ReadWriteWeb over the last year and a half, the high turnover at TechCrunch and a general sense of instability in the tech blogging world and the rising importance of the aggregators is opening up the door for disruptors large and small.



10:31 pm


Five Apps and Web Services that Deserved More Attention in 2011

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For every hyped app or web service (think Foursquare, Quora etc.), there are at least a dozen of competitors out there that are often better, but never quite get the attention they deserve. At the end of every year, I round up some of my favorite apps and services that mostly flew under the radar of the tech press during the last twelve months, but that deserved a lot more attention. Last year, I featured my6sense (still alive and kicking), Pearltrees (growing steadily, just launched an iPad app), Producteev (also doing well this year) and EchoEcho (which got a nice investment led by Google Ventures earlier this year).

This list is obviously quite subjective, so feel free to chime in with your personal favorites in the comments.

Trover

I’ve never been a fan of check-in services like Foursquare, but I’m a big believer in location-based apps nevertheless. The reason I like Trover  (available for Android and iOS) is that it strips out all the unnecessary gamification crud and just plain focuses on letting you share and discover cool stuff around you. Instead of virtual badges, you simply send a friendly “thank you” to the person who first shared that cool place you found thanks to the app. While it focuses on sharing photos, there are no filters and nothing to distract you from what you really wanted to use the app for in the first place.

In my review earlier this year, I called it “the best location-based app you’re not using (yet).” Thankfully, more people have discovered the app since, but overall, it mostly flew under the radar this year.

Spool

With Apple adding reading lists to iOS and a lot of attention on Instapaper and Read It Later (though that service also doesn’t get the attention it deserves), time-shifted reading hit it big this year. Spool is the latest entry into this market and it’s quietly building a very competitive product which doesn’t just offer support for text, but also videos.

Another feature I really like about the app is automatic detection of multi-page articles. It doesn’t always work 100%, but often saves you a few clicks on sites like the New York Times, for example. There are also Chrome and Firefox extensions for Spool, which provide augmented links on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Techmeme. Given that the service is still new, though, it isn't integrated into any third-party apps yet, which is a bit of a problem if you want to switch from a well-supported service like Instapaper.

You can find my full review here.

Wunderlist

wunderlist_logo_150Everybody who owns a smartphone has probably downloaded a few task management apps at one point or another. My personal favorite is Wunderlist from Berlin-based development shop 6Wunderkinder. The company got an investment from Skype-founder Niklas Zennstrom in November, so it definitely popped up on some peoples’ radar this year, but while it got lots of traction, it never quite got the hype it deserved. The services’ apps and web services are beautifully designed and focus on simplicity over features.

This isn’t a tool for the hardcore Getting Things Done crowd (this isn’t OmniFocus, after all), but it’s among the best task management tools out there for those of us who just want to keep lists of things. The fact that it’s available virtually anywhere (Windows, Mac, Linux, Blackberry, iOS, Android and on the web), also gives it an edge over some of its competitors.

With Wunderkit, the company also plans to expand beyond its basic service next year, so keep an eye on the company’s blog.

(If you are looking for a more fully-featured service that includes support for small teams, by the way, take a look at Producteev, which was on this list last year and which added some nice new features over the last few months.)

Rhapsody

rhapsody_logo_200With all the talk about Spotify, MOG and Rdio, it’s easy to forget the granddaddy of all online music services: Rhapsody. When the service launched a full 10 years ago, it was among the first online music services to offer on-demand music streaming for a flat fee. Today, it can boast of being the largest on-demand music subscription service on the Internet, but it gets very little attention from the tech press (maybe because its legacy as a part of Real Networks is still a major turnoff for those of us who have been around the net for long enough). With 11 million songs and apps for every major mobile operating system (including support for offline caching), it’s worth taking note of and worth a try if you are looking for a subscription alternative to iTunes.

Microsoft’s Office Web Apps and Windows Live Web Services

skydrive_logo_official_200It’s obviously not cool to like a Microsoft product (except for the Xbox and Kinect, I guess), but even though the tech press loves Google Apps, Gmail and (almost) anything else Google does, Microsoft’s web apps don’t get the attention they deserve outside of the Microsoft blogs.

All of Microsoft’s online products took a major step forward in 2011, though. The latest SkyDrive update, for example, makes Microsoft’s online storage service for more competitive with startups like DropBox. The Office Web Apps suite (and, by extension, the paid Office 365 solution for small businesses) offers a far better online editing experience and document fidelity than Google Docs (and include support for OneNote, the underrated star of the MS Office suite). Hotmail has massively improved thanks to adding features like Active Views

All of these services are worth another look, especially now that Microsoft is rumored to launch an iOS version of its productivity apps, too.



6:09 pm


Techmeme Posts The Techmeme Guide to Getting on Techmeme

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More so than any other site on the Internet, tech news aggregator Techmeme reflects and influences what the big tech news stories of the day is going to be. What started as a small project by former Intel engineer Gabe Rivera in late 2005 has now become the go-to site for tech enthusiast and the writers who write for them. What’s remained pretty illusive for quite a few writers and readers, though, is how Techmeme actually decides whether a given story is worth a full-blown headline, a “discussion” link or not worthy of inclusion altogether. Earlier today, Rivera provided the site’s users (that is, both its readers and the writers who want to be featured) with some insight into how the site works and why he and his team pick the stories they do.

What’s this Techmeme Thing You are Talking About?

techmeme_small_sideFor those not steeped in the arcane arts of Techmeme, it’s worth noting that the aggregator uses a mix of algorithms and human editors to choose the tech-focused stories it features on the site. For publishers, getting on Techmeme – and especially getting the headline for a major story – brings a major boost in traffic directly from the site, but also follow-up links from other sites, as many writers today look at Techmeme as a kind of virtual assignment desk. Besides the main headlines, Techmeme also often picks secondary headlines that provide additional context. In addition, it aggregates related stories in the “discussion” section underneath the main headline, but these generally don’t drive a lot of eyeballs to a story.

So How Do I Get on Techmeme? Write Good Stories, Be Smart and Be Fast

According to Rivera, he and his team look for three main factors when deciding on which story to feature. A story can either be a “huge exclusive story, well conveyed,” a “huge non-exclusive story, exceptionally conveyed,” or “an interesting, yet not so (obviously) huge story.”

All of these things will help you to get on Techmeme, though given how the algorithm works, it also helps if lots of people link to it or if you alert the Techmeme team of the story by  posting a tweet with a link and the words “tip @techmeme” in it.

In addition, Rivera also spelled out some do’s and don’ts for those who want to get on Techmeme. The basic gist here, I think, is that you should write interesting stories – and do so fast enough for them to still be relevant. You don’t need to have a huge exclusive story to be featured, but your analysis has to be interesting (and preferably different from what everybody else is writing).

Some of the advice is obvious (stories with major factual errors will likely be ignored, don’t write about old news etc.), but its nice to see the Techmeme team emphasize that speed isn’t all that matters and that writing a good headline can often be more important than being first.

Most tech writers figured most of these things out long ago and often tailor their writing accordingly, of course. As Rivera notes, though, it’s not just about Techmeme, “the very same practices can lead to more retweets and more pickup beyond the world attuned to Techmeme.”

For more details on how to land that elusive Techmeme headline, take a look at Rivera’s full post.



12:05 am