Month: August 2013

Is it so difficult to maintain a free RSS reader?

A few months ago Google decided to retire its Google Reader (it stopped working on July 1st, 2013). As it was simple, effective and good-looking, a lot of people complained about this demise. A few days ago The Old Reader, one of the most successful replacement for Google Reader, also announced it will close its gates, only to keep early registered users. And today Feedly, another successful alternative, announced it is introducing a pro version at 5.00 USD per month.

One of the reasons often evoked is the difficulty for these relatively small projects (before Google Reader demise) to handle the many users who migrated to their platform. Difficulties in terms of hardware resources but also human resources, finances, etc.

So, to answer my own question, yes, it looks like it’s difficult to maintain a free RSS reader with an extensive number of users. And free software alternatives like Tiny Tiny RSS, pyAggr3g470r or Owncloud can be difficult for users to install (and especially maintain – same type of difficulties: necessity to have a host and technical capabilities, time, money (even if at a different scale), …).

Two thoughts on this. Fist people are used to free products on the internet (count myself among them). And we take for granted that services on the web are and will remain free. RSS and its associated readers were a great inventions to keep track of information coming from various sources. However with the explosion of the number of these sources is RSS still a valid tool? One solution is to restrict ourselves to some, carefully selected sources of information. The other is to imitate statistics: summary statistics exist for raw data, datamining should become as easy to use for raw information (but I don’t think datamining is as easy as summary statistics).

Which leads me to my second thought: aren’t this just signs of the end of RSS as we know it? People thought of it because of a giant web service provider removed its “support” for RSS. What if it is just the end of RSS because it is not adapted anymore to “modern” use?

Let me try a comparison. E-mail is an older system than RSS. It is however still there. It serves another purpose: one-to-one or one-to-few communication. But since its origin e-mail clients tried to innovate by adding features, among which is automated classification of e-mail. Spam filters exist since a long time. Rules can be defined in most e-mail clients. GMail (again from Google) is now classifying your own e-mail with “Priority”, “Social” etc. These tools help us to de-clutter our Inbox and keep only relevant e-mails in front of us when we need them. I think RSS would benefit from similar de-clutter/summarizing tools. We just need to find / invent them.

Will we see more babies named George in England and Wales?

A few days ago Prince William and Duchess Catherine of Cambridge gave birth to Prince George. Today at the office we were wondering if we will see more babies names George in UK. Very important question indeed!

So I went to the UK National Statistics website and looked for baby names in UK. Let’s focus on England and Wales only. There are two datasets for what we are looking for: one for the period 1904-1994 (by 10 years steps) and one for 2004 (if we want to be consistent with the 10 years step in the first dataset). I extracted the ranking relevant for us here: for babies called William, George (and Harry, William’s brother). The data is here.

If we plot these rankings we see for William that there could be a “Prince effect”. Indeed this name was less and less used in the 20th century (blue dots) until Prince William’s birth in 1982 (blue dotted line). Idem for the name Harry (green dots) that didn’t even made it into the top 100 in 1964, 1974 and 1984 ; but it reappeared at the 30th rank in 1994 (he was born in 1984, green dotted line).

Evolution of ranking of baby name popularity - William, Harry and GeorgeNow for the name George, it’s a bit different. The name was also going down the ranking until 1974 when it reached the 83rd rank. After that it went up again. So does it invalidate the “Prince effect” mentioned earlier? Maybe it’s more a “famous effect” since other famous Georges were famous (George Michael, George Clooney, George Best, George Weasley, … from Yahoo!). Maybe the appearance of television shows in colour (1966 for BBC) made this name popular? Do you see other reason? But even from the already high 17th in popularity now I still expect the name George to gain even more popularity.

Btw I discovered that The Guardian ran a similar story (excluding Harry however).