Categories
Semantic Web Social Web

My Feedly wishlist

Richard MacManus wrote about the state of feed readers as he saw it in his AltPlatform.org post titled “The state of feed readers”. He mentioned a couple things in his Feedly wishlist that prompted me to think more about what I’d like to see added to Feedly.

Feedly – ye olde feed reader for the Information Age

If you haven’t heard of Feedly, it is a feed reader. Yup, those old fashioned services that use RSS to subscribe to new blog posts and other content available through RSS and then present it to you to read through at your leisure.

Many people have announced that RSS died with the advent of Twitter, Facebook, Flipboard or any number of other “Web 2.0” services. They are wrong.

While feed readers may not be as popular as they once were[1], they remain one of the best ways to receive the updates you care most about.

I loved using Google Reader back in the day and I switched to Feedly when Google killed Reader off. I still don’t understand why Google did that. Thankfully Feedly stepped into the void that Reader left behind.

It’s where my stuff is

I really like using Feedly. I think I’ve been using it since about 2008. Twitter is useful for breaking news but when I want to go through the content that matters most to me, I generally go to Feedly.

Like MacManus, I am a Feedly Pro user and it’s been worth it. I probably couldn’t tell you what all the Pro features are but I’m happy with the end result so I keep renewing my subscription.

I was meandering through some dusty directories on my Mac recently and I came across a Feedly benefit that I completely forgot about. It turns out that Feedly has been backing up my OPML files[2] to Dropbox since 2014 (possibly when I started paying for Pro).

Feedly has a “read later” feature but I haven’t really used it all that much. I have preferred using Instapaper or Pocket for that.

I also realised that I forgot that Feedly has also been saving articles I marked to “read later” using its native tool as PDFs in my Dropbox folder. This is a pretty useful feature and it probably would have been even more useful if I remembered that I had enabled it!

A more recent Feedly feature is the ability to highlight text in feed items rendered in Feedly itself. This only really works when you subscribe to full feeds and doesn’t extend to pages that open from Feedly.

I love this feature in Instapaper which I started using as a research tool because I could highlight text as well as annotate it with comments. Feedly doesn’t go quite that far but it has real potential.

My Feedly wishlist

As much as I enjoy using Feedly, I’d love to see a few more features added. For one thing, I’d really like text highlights to be made portable somehow.

I can definitely see myself using Feedly as the research tool I thought Instapaper may become (for me at least) but I’d need to be able to do more with those notations. Here are a few ideas that, if implemented, would make Feedly so much more useful to me.

More useful highlights

I’d like to have the ability to capture text highlights into some sort of text file that preserves the context/source of the highlights (in other words, the article title, source and perhaps even highlight timestamps). IFTTT doesn’t have access to highlights so that isn’t an option at the moment.

It would also be great to be able to share highlighted text coherently and contextually through 3rd party services including to blogs, perhaps using IndieWeb tools.

Better sharing options

On a related note, imagine if Feedly baked IndieWeb functionality such as Micropub that enables users to share highlights or some other form of marked up content outside Feedly?

In particular, I’d really like to be able to share a highlight or even just a post I like directly to my blog on my phone.

I can already do something like this in my desktop browser. Sharing to WordPress from my browser invokes the WordPress “Press This” functionality, which is great.

At the same time, I find that I use my phone more than my laptop and given how many people use their smartphones as their primary computers, it makes sense for Feedly to make mobile a first class citizen.

Perhaps this could take the form of a pre-formatted share directly through the WordPress app or an intermediary step with a text file.

Feedly doesn’t even seem to offer an option to see my highlights in one place like Instapaper does.

Instapaper notes
Instapaper highlights and notes view.

I’m not sure what is possible, technically. At the same time, I’d like to be able to select something I have highlighted and share it on my blog with the contextual data about that highlighted text preserved, much like you can see in this screenshot of some of my Instapaper notes.

You could even take that further and enable other Feedly users to highlight that text and capture it into their own profiles almost like Amazon enables people to see what other readers have highlighted in Kindle books and add those highlights to their own collections.

Doing more with Feedly Boards

Feedly has something called “Boards” which are basically lists of articles you save to pre-defined lists. I’d really like to be able to share an RSS feed of my boards on my blog, for example.

Feedly board example
An example of a Feedly board.

Fortunately, I can use IFTTT to capture the articles I save. Still, I’d like to be able to create a sort of link roll based on my Feedly boards as an option from within Feedly.

I imagine I can do something similar to this through IFTTT but this is something that would probably work better as a native Feedly feature.

Just putting the thought out there

As I watch this IndieWeb thing gather steam, I’m hopeful that the ethos spreads not just throughout the online publishing world (aka the Blogosphere vx.0) but also to services like Feedly.

There is a lot to say for social media services. In many ways they have connected the online world in a way that Humanity hasn’t experienced. At the same time, we desperately need independent services like Feedly that empower us to consume the information we choose the way we prefer to do it.

My suggestions may not be even remotely on Feedly’s roadmap so I’m not expecting them to be implemented. At the same time, if they are, the result could be an even better service that we have at the moment.

Featured image credit: rawpixel.com


  1. Thinking back, I don’t think feed readers ever actually had mass appeal, just a dedicated core group of users who saw the value in customisable content streams.  ↩
  2. OPML stands for “Outline Processor Markup Language”. My OPML files are basically lists or indices of my RSS subscriptions. They are a great example of data portability in action because you can usually import OPML files into new feed readers and retain all your content sources.  ↩
Categories
Events and Life Travel and places

Tips for new Olim moving to Israel

Our friends have been asking us about our move to Israel late last year so I started preparing a list of tips that have helped us and thought I’d share them.

First, a little disclaimer:

  1. These tips don’t replace advice you get from the various agencies and Israeli Ministries that have published terrific guides and “how tos”. These organizations include the Israel Centre in South Africa; the Jewish Agency and the Israeli Ministry of Absorption. Read those first, they are great resources, very helpful.
  2. These tips are our hacks that worked for us (mostly). You’ll find other people have their own too (check out Adventures in Aliyaland and Welcoming Olim too). These may work for you, they may not.
  3. We moved from South Africa so some of these are more relevant to South African Olim who are moving to Israel from there.
  4. I’ll probably update this post as new tips come to mind and I’ll indicate the changes in the text. Feel free to suggest tips of your own in the comments and I’ll add them to the list and credit you.

Shipping your stuff from SA

  • Share containers are cheaper but make sure your container will ship soon or you could wait a long time for your stuff. Sometimes it is cheaper in the medium term to take a container for yourself if you have enough stuff.
  • Weigh up the relative costs of taking all your appliances versus just buying new stuff when you arrive in Israel. Think about how long you may need to wait for your fridge, freezer and washing machine.
Flying into Tel Aviv
Landing in Tel Aviv

Aliyah admin

  • Do your citizenship stuff at the airport if you can. It makes a huge difference and means you can start functioning effectively when you walk out of the airport building.
  • It is worth making sure you have the right Hebrew spelling of your names before you arrive so you can give that to the Ministry officials in the airport. Sometimes they come up with weird spellings of names and changing names afterwards is possible but a bit of a pain.
  • Make appointments to meet with the Absorption Ministry and schools liaisons as soon after you arrive as you can. It gets the ball rolling.
  • You will need to open a joint bank account before you meet the Absorption Ministry liaison so do that as soon as you arrive (we went with Bank Leumi and we’re happy with them – we also received our cards in a week which helped with other stuff).
  • Start ulpan as soon as you can. Knowing Hebrew isn’t essential but it really helps day to day. Check when classes begin and whether the ulpan schools in your area offer convenient classes.
  • You’ll need to pick a healthcare provider when you become a citizen so research the options before you arrive. We went with Maccabi and we are happy with them.

Communications

  • We went with 012 Smile/Mobile and they have been pretty good. Good coverage and pricing.
  • Mobile contracts are theoretically 12-24 months but, in practice, you can usually cancel on a month’s notice so changing isn’t too problematic as far as I know.
  • You’ll probably need a credit card to place your orders so open your bank account ASAP. We received a credit card in about a week.

Bank accounts

  • Credit cards work a little differently. The whole balance is paid off on a day you can select each month. You’ll need to make sure you have enough in your check account to cover that payment and remember that your day to day card transactions don’t come off your cash balance as you go, only when the balance is paid each month.
  • Israelis use checks so order a checkbook and refresh your memory how to fill them out. Remember to use American date formats!
Crossing the street
Crossing the street

Travel

  • You don’t need a car as much as you did in SA, not nearly as much.
  • Cars are really useful for travel beyond public transport routes and when public transport doesn’t operate (like שבת).
  • Aside from that, get a Rav Kav card (you can often get one from the train station but ask around). Pre-pay money for your bus rides (each bus line/company may require a separate balance). You can also load train travel passes onto your Rav Kav card so it becomes a sort of universal public transport card.
  • You can pre-pay money for bus rides on the bus itself when you get on. I pay about 50 Shekels at a time. You’ll figure out how much you’ll need as you use public transport. I think the minimum deposit is 30 Shekels. A bus ride in Modi’in is about NIS 4,20 and about NIS 6,90 in Tel Aviv.

Getting stuff done

  • You don’t need to be able to speak Hebrew for most of what you need to do but it helps, even if you know 5 words. You’ll learn more.
  • Don’t be too polite. As helpful as Israelis generally are (some aren’t), they are also really busy and work hard so you have to be persistent and nag at times.
  • You may think that sending a text message or email will help move things along but, often, you just have to go to an office and deal with it in person.
  • Its ok to be forceful. You don’t have to be aggressive but be assertive. It isn’t that easy for ex-South Africans but it is an important life skill for us newbie Israelis.
  • Don’t take it personally when Israelis give you a hard time or are abrupt, it usually isn’t meant to be personal. Israelis aren’t big on patience.

Advice from other Olim

  • “If there’s one (general) suggestion I can make, it’s to leave your expectations behind – things work differently here (especially, for example, the education system). Don’t compare your new reality with your old one – just go with the flow and your life will be a lot easier. Also, don’t send out birthday invitations too early – parents just look at the day of the week and send their kids on the next relevant day (so you may end up with 15 kids on your doorstep 2 weeks early).” – Shely Mowszowski Cohen
  • “I don’t advise to apply or get your Israeli ID from the airport. Rather do it in the city you are settling in [Paul: I still recommend doing this at the airport, just remember it can be a bit chaotic getting the family through]. Due to the fact if you loose your id you can’t do it in your city but in Lod.” – Rael Jacobs

 

Categories
Photography

Great tips for newbie photographers

I just read Simon Dingle’s terrific post titled “Choosing a first DSLR” and it is definitely worth reading if you are thinking about buying your first DSLR camera. I sort of went through this process in December when I decided to splurge on a DSLR after years with Canon point and shoot cameras and my iPhone as my day to day camera.

I say that I “sort of” went through this process because I have had an SLR before. My first real camera was a Minolta 5000 which I received as a Bar Mitzvah gift from my parents back in the late 1980s. I think I still have my Minolta in my house somewhere but haven’t used it since cameras went digital. I took a few lessons about the technical stuff photographers who strive to do more than point and shoot should know and managed to forget much of it in the last two decades.

I did a lot of reading about camera brands and models in the months leading up to my purchase. As Simon pointed out, everyone has their own opinions about which brands are best. One of the best stories I read was Scott Bourne’s post about his switch to Nikon from Canon after 17 years as a Canon photographer. Bourne is a fairly well known photographer in his space and his decision sparked an almost religious war. His point, which Simon echoes, stuck with me:

In the end there are no wrong choices here. Each brand has its strength and weaknesses. The good news is that each makes fine gear and it really comes down to personal choice/preference when selecting which one to use.

As Simon suggests I went with the brand that appealed more to me and felt better in my hands. I went with Nikon. I like how the camera looks and feels and my Dad was a Nikon guy so that also works for me. Simon recommends not going with a camera kit but that is what I did. I bought a Nikon D5100 kit that came with AF-S Nikkor 18-55mm f3.5-5.6G and AF-S Nikkor 55-200mm f4-5.6G lenses. On Darren Smith’s advice (the same amazing man Simon suggested you follow) I read a couple reviews by photographer Ken Rockwell, particularly his review of the D5100. Between Rockwell’s review and my budget, I decided to go with that model.

One important decision I made and which I am really glad I made was to buy a 50mm lens even though the kit lenses that came with my camera covered that range. I went with the AF-S Nikkor 50mm f1.8G lens (the 1.4 was considerably more expensive) and that lens is awesome. It is my primary lens and I do about 75% to 80% of my photography with my 50mm.

Of course getting the DSLR doesn’t make you a pro. I quickly realized that I had my settings set up wrong and couldn’t focus very well at all. Its been a humbling experience because I secretly thought I was pretty good. That was largely because my old point and shoot and my iPhone took care of the messy details for me and all I had to do was aim in the right direction. I have probably taken a thousand or so photos since I got my D5100 and while much of it is about taking endless photos of my kids, a lot of the work is about getting a little better at taking clear and focused photos. Its an ongoing process.

I am really glad I went with a DSLR in the end. It was a bit of an expense but photography has been an enduring hobby and buying a better camera has given me an opportunity to take better photographs and, more importantly, capture more meaningful memories.