Tag Archives: Serence

Blindsided by Google’s Sidebar

I’ve had the Google Sidebar aboard for nearly a month now and, sadly, I’m not impressed. I had hoped early teething problems would somehow fix themselves, but they haven’t. These are the problems I’ve encountered (some of which may be down to my own ineptitude, or conflicts I grant you):

  • unable to access Gmail account in Email Plug-in (password not recognised). Others report a similar problem;
  • unable to access AdSense account in third party Adsense Status plug-in;
  • Unable to ‘train’ News Plug-in so it gives me news I can use. I’ve been telling it what I don’t like by clicking on the ‘Don’t show me items like this’ for weeks now and it still gives me news even my broad interests don’t embrace;
  • The otherwise neat Todo Plug-in occasionally won’t allow me to add items — the box appears but won’t accept text.

I know we shouldn’t look gift horses in the mouth but this is one of the biggest (in terms of features and file size) pieces of software Google has shipped to consumers and it doesn’t bode well that it works so poorly. I think that, for what it was, the Desktop Sidebar was better. I also heard that Serence is planning a sidebar version of Klips that doesn’t take up as much space as the Google version. Watch this space.

Undermining the Browser

If it was from any other company it wouldn’t really matter, but Google’s Desktop Sidebar is important, not because it’s particularly new, but because it undermines the primacy of the browser.

Loose Wire ‘s WSJ.com column in June looked at desktop widgets like Konfabulator and Klips before, as well as existing sidebars like the Desktop Sidebar, put together in his spare time by software engineer Damian Kedzierski, 34, who lives in Katowice in southern Poland. Or the SpyderBar from New Orleans-based TGT Soft. In the longer term, Microsoft has indicated that it plans to incorporate a very similar approach in its next version of Windows. Yahoo!, of course, have already bought Konfabulator and I would be very surprised if someone doesn’t snap up Serence, the folk behind Klips, pretty soon.

That’s probably where the battle is going to be: the space on top of the browser. Google can find a way past Microsoft only if it’s able to supplant, or bypass, the browser as the main tool for not merely looking for information (like the search toolbar) but also how the information is displayed once it’s retrieved. That’s where the Sidebar comes in.

While I don’t think Google have done a particularly good job with the Sidebar. The weather widget, for example, only shows U.S. cities. There’s nothing new in there to surprise anyone who has used Damian’s Desktop Sidebar. But the power is not there, it’s in the fact that it channels all existing Google products — search, Gmail, presumably Google Earth etc later — straight to your desktop without going anywhere else first. The heat, finally, is on.

Interview With The Guy Behind The Klips

In today’s Asian Wall Street Journal and in WSJ.com (subscription only, I’m afraid) I talk about widgets — sometimes called dashboards — as an alternative, or addition, to RSS.

Here is the transcript of an email/IM interview I did with Allan Wille, president and CEO of Serence, the company behind Klips:

The new Folio looks good. what’s the main new feature in this version?

Based on customer feedback, mostly from Content Providers, images and a richer content experience were very key. Much of that had to do with increased branding capabilities as well. So images are likely the BIG feature in KlipFolio 3.0. Enterprise to a lesser extent were also asking for images – charts, graphs that can tie into CRM or other enterprise applications

 

why would someone go for Klips over an RSS reader or similar device?

We are positioning KlipFolio as a dashboard – a personal dashboard for consumers or an digital/business dashboard for enterprise. We are not an RSS reader, and I see our paths moving appart, such that the two products –KlipFolio and an RSS reader– can exist in parallel. Klips are intelligent agents, where the value lies in their ability to inform and alert users of complex data. Klips are very good at allowing personalization of content, and persenting users with alerts to critical data. Of-course Klips can do news feeds, but the differentiation there is less apparent, and in some cases, an RSS reader will do a better job.

 

You seem to have a lot of European users. is that right, and if so, any reason for that?

KlipFolio started to have sucess with a number of key German news outlets – Tagesschau, Heise, Spiegel Online etc … this started back in 2002, when RSS was not quite as hyped as it is today. I believe this gave us significant visibility among other content providers in Germany and Europe, and has led to a very large European userbase, and subsequently a good source of leads and customers. North America was hesitant to try new technologies and as RSS was adopted by more and more content providers in NA, Klips were caught in a difficult differentiation battle. With the features present in 3.0, wer are looking to overcome these challenges in NA.

 

You’ve been doing Klip for a while, and while as you know I’m a fan, it doesn’t seem to have caught on as I might have expected. I don’t see that many Klip buttons on websites. any thoughts on that?

When you compare the visibilty of Klips to RSS, you are quite right – it seems to be taking a back seat. It is important for us to continue to get the Klip buttons out there, as this is a major marketing program for us. Again, it is a question of differentiation, of added value over RSS. 3.0 will be addressing much of this, and we need to aggressively make sure we educate key content providers of the value – a trend we are seeing though is that the major content providers are contacting us not for simple Klip publishing, but more so for the development of branded desktop clients …

 

Related to the last one, where do you see the market for this? it seems to be different fields you’re playing to, from the RSS on a stick audience, to the secure corporate feeds…

Interesting question – our markets are (a) Content Providers (ie: CNET, Kluwer, Penton, Spiegel) for branded versions of KlipFolio (branded KlipFolio, downloadable from their sites, with their Klips bundled), (b) Enterprise (Wells Fargo, Advanded Telcom, Curtiss-Wright, NDR) who license KlipFolio Enterprise as an internal dashboard, and, (c) Application Vendors (Connotate, BizActions) who wish to OEM distribute KlipFolio as their own product, sublicensed to their customers (in other words a channel play). End users are not a market for us – they are a source of leads.

 

Critics might say that because its proprietary software, Klips are a step backwards, locking users and providers into something that’s Old Economy.. any thoughts on that?

It’s not proprietary. Anyone can build and publish Klips. We publish our APIs, and a full SDK free of charge, and with no need to register. We use XML and Javascript. Konfabulator, Apple dashboard, and Macromedia Central (or Adobe now …) are more like Flash (as a mini-application environment). I must say it’s very cool, and I have tried it a number of times, but the inconistency of the interfaces have ultimately gotten in the way. I do think it will attract a number of Content Providers due to it’s brandability.

 

Where do you see this space (Klips, but also RSS, Konfabulator etc) going? Do they at some point move off the desktop?

I see a clear short-term trend where RSS readers are going to be melded into browsers and email-clients. I see them as becoming more capable of rendering html (and soon video, and audio), where their value as an “alerting” tool become less apparent. I also would consider this a very dangerous time to be an RSS reader client company – even for the forerunners, I don’t see competitive advantage, or amongst themselves, competitive differentiation. Longer term, I believe RSS will become an important background technololgy — and enabler — much the same way html is today to the web. RSS will not be a house-hold name among the early majority and on. There will be readers and alerting tools on various platforms and form-factors (and likely powered by xml/rss/whatever), but people won’t be calling it rss.

 

What are the most exciting uses you’ve seen of Klips? How do you use them yourself?

On the consumer front, I find the email watchers (the hotmail, yahoo, gmail and pop3 mail) Klips to be very exciting – they are secure, access complex data and present users with dynamically generated setup options. One the enterprise front, two very interesting ones are a company that is using a Klip to alert their call-center agents of key data from their CRM system, and a bank who uses Klips as part of their work-flow system to increase productivity and review speed. Where the Bank’s internal processes saw documents, policies, forms, and client applications being worked on by many employees and managers, the current work-flow system put the onus of moving forward on the employees and manager’s shoulders and relied on email to notify them when a document was edited, or in need of approval. We improved on this process by working with their work-flow application where each individual user is now alerted to pending documents, policies and applications via KlipFolio – it’s relevant to what the manager or employee is responsible for, and a popup alert ensures they take action, and of-course with a single click from the Klip, they can jump right into the familiar work-flow system.

 

So far there are only a few 3.0 feeds. what else is in the pipeline, feed-wise?

We will be updating all of the email Klips, the stock tracker, eBay monitor Klips and as with Betanews, we are working with a handful of key content providers globally to update their Klips. In general we will be focusing our efforts on more service oriented Klips, and encouraging our community of developers to do the same – part of our efforts to differentiate.

 

How do you make your money from this? And how would you characterise the journey so far? I first wrote about Klips more than 3 years ago, and a lot has happened on the internet since then. Are Klips struggling to keep up with these changes?

The hype of RSS has both helped and distracted our progress. On the one hand, RSS has educated the markets, and generated interest in desktop alerting. On the other, RSS has made our position more difficult to define – educating the market that we are not an RSS reader, but rather an alerting dashboard targeted for commercial purposes. The markets are more conductive – more educated, more financially willing, and more competitively driven. Also, I truly believe that in our space – alerting dashboards – we are positioned as one of the best players.

I’m not sure it’s a matter of keeping up with RSS – we support RSS among other standards. One thing we have found is that real-customer deals are hard to find the closer you get to RSS – it’s a very early adopter marketplace – lots of hype, not much real value or money yet. As we distance ourselves from RSS we find the client conversation is more focused on solving real business needs.

As mentioned in an earlier answer, we target content providers, online retailers and premium content providers as our KlipFolio Branded customers; application vendors, service providers, ISPs as our OEM customers; and corporations as our KlipFolio enterprise customers. We have a solid base of customers in all three areas and (with out venture funding I might add) are profitable.

You are right – lots has happened, but I think the interesting stuff is yet to happen. Same goes for Serence …

 

 

Thanks, Allan.

The Klip Marches On

Serence, the company behind the RSS-like Klip, is about to launch a new version, which offers some interesting new features that could well give the standard a bit more edge in the face of the RSS revolution. Indeed, given that practically any RSS or Atom feed can be read in Klip form, one could argue that Klips are just a better way to read RSS. (Here’s an earlier posting on Klips.)

KlipFolio version 2.6, to be launched today (no URL available at time of writing), will include the following new features (I’m quoting from an email from Serence’s Allan Wille here):

  • Networked and Local Data Access. A Klip can monitor an accounting database over a local network for changes, a shared network directory for updates, a remote directory via FTP, and a POP3 server for new email.
  • Real-Time Push. Klips can now receive updates via a real-time push from a remote server.  Real-Time push is vital for weather warnings, earnings alerts, stock trades, sports scores or any type of live-data. KlipFolio is now able to handle both push and pull depending on application.
  • New Mini-Toolbar. KlipFolio’s L-shaped Toolbar can now be collapsed to a small square … less intrusive and more flexible when placing it on the desktop.
  • New Klips. In concert with KlipFolio 2.6 comes a Hotmail inbox watcher, a POP3 email monitor, an FTP directory Klip and a Klip to keep an eye on local or remote file folders.

What does all this mean? Well, I guess Serence sees Klips as more flexible than RSS and other kinds of feeds, as well as being more secure. The press release, for example, portrays KlipFolio as “a world leader accessing and monitoring networked or local data-sources or applications” where “unlike other news and information monitoring applications that are limited to specific data formats, KlipFolio is an open platform that is extensible through thousands of pluggable, task-specific information services called Klips”.

This extensibility is backed up by what Serence bills as a as “Enhanced Security Model”, where “Serence can now certify and digitally sign Klips to enable advanced functionality … to prevent tampering by 3rd parties and provide end users with increased security.” So anyone can make a Klip but for them to be ‘official’ Serence would have to review them before any “digital signing”.

All this makes sense, although I can hear some folk complaining about the idea that the manufacturer of the software positioning itself as the authenticator of Klips. But so long as RSS feeds are easily absorbed into the KlipFolio world I can only see good things happening for both formats if a company like Serence is trying out new ways of pushing and pulling different kinds of data to the desktop.

A New Kind Of Klip

An alternative to RSS? Or an advance? Or can the two sit together?

Canada’s Serence will today announce a new version of KlipFolio, which describes itself as a a ‘uniquely powerful and globally-adopted information awareness and notification platform’ but could probably be better termed a variation of RSS that uses a proprietary software and a slightly more modular approach than most RSS fans are used to.

This new version of KlipFolio, 2.5, has advanced statistics for content providers, encryption for Klip data and some enhancements to the Klip software for end users, including audio alerts, scroll-bars and configurable fonts.

There are some advantages to some in using Klips over RSS or Atom feeds, and this seems to be the direction that Serence is taking: Corporate data, or any other material where the provider wants to ensure it doesn’t get into the wrong hands, and where the provider wants plenty of data back on who’s reading what, when and how much.

The small modular approach also lends itself to small chunks of deliverable data rather than the big grab-bag of news that RSS readers have become. This is something I’ve mentioned before.

A Way Forward For RSS Content

RSS is one of those technologies that’s hard to explain to casual users of the Internet. When you tell them they can have their news and site updates in the form of a feed, direct to their desktop, they usually ask

a) can’t I do that already? I thought I could do that already.
b) you mean like email? I don’t want more programs on my computer. Or
c) OK, sounds good but what kind of things can I get?

Don’t get me wrong. RSS, or something like it, is the future. But it’s a hard sell to folk who haven’t downloaded a program in their life (more people than you’re care to imagine; I wonder what the stats on that look like), or to folk who are so worn out by spam they don’t want to sift through more bits and pieces arriving on the computer. But even if people do like the sound of it, RSS still doesn’t lend itself to grabbing information. It’s great for folks looking to read what other people are writing, or even keeping up to speed on general news, but it doesn’t quite have the customisation necessary to lure ordinary folk. Not everyone considers reading blogs in another format to be their idea of fun.

This may be changing (not the idea of fun, the customisation of RSS.) Klips, an RSS-type desktop feed from Serence, have introduced modules that include feeds of more specific, user-defined data, allowing you to track selected currencies, UPS and FedEx packages and stocks. (While I love the design and simplicity of Klips, I don’t think they work for large bodies of information, such as blogs and news, so expect to see Klips move more and more in the direction of small clumps of changing data, such as traffic reports, flight departure and arrival times, or hot deals, scattered around your desktop.)

RSS could do a lot of this too, but so far hasn’t. You can harvest a lot of information via RSS but most of it is passive: You can’t tailor it too much. Either take the feed or don’t. This will change, and already is beginning to, thanks in part to a guy called Mikel Maron from the University of Sussex. He’s come up with a way to deliver some of the personalized data from your My Yahoo! account to an RSS feed, a neat trick that arose from his university studies. (If you’re interested in the technical aspects, here they are in PDF form.) So far his feed — which is not related to Yahoo! in any way — can handle market quotes, weather and movie listing, depending on how you’ve configured your Yahoo! account. But of course his approach offers great potential for funnelling all sorts of personalized data straight to your RSS browser. Let’s hope Yahoo! support, or even buy, Mikel’s efforts.

(Thanks to Chris Pirillo’s LockerGnome RSS Resource for pointing out Mikel’s site.)

Box: New to Newsfeeds

 New to Newsfeeds? RSS for beginners
 
How do I get started reading newsfeeds? Newzcrawler and Feedreader, both mentioned in the main article, are the best programs to start with. Feedreader is still in development, but felt pretty stable to me. To add a Really Simple Syndication, or RSS feed, just paste in the link [more on this in a bit] and it should start showing up immediately. Newzcrawler even lets you send stuff from other people’s feeds to your own blog, or on-line journal, or RSS feed. Each program adds the feeds in a slightly different way, but in most cases you’ll be asked to copy a link [the Web site address that appears at the top of your browser] into the newsreader. These links usually end in a full stop, then three letters: RSS, RDF or XML (don’t worry which; they all do the same thing).

This sounds scary. If all this is a bit daunting, try Serence’s KlipFolio (www.serence.com), which is a bit more polished — though still free to the end-user. Now into its second version, it supports Korean and Chinese language Klips. Download the software and then browse the various Klips on offer. An Outlook user? Try NewsGator (www.newsgator.com) which folds all your RSS feeds into an Outlook folder. Or if you’re brave, check out clevercactus (www.clevercactus.com), which is an Outlook-style personal organizer with RSS built in. Here’s a provisional list of newsreaders: www.hebig.org/blogs/archives/main/000877.php

How do I find interesting feeds? A couple of places to start: Feedster (www.feedster.com) is the Google of the RSS/blog world. Another option is Syndic8 (http://www.syndic8.com/), a more select, and searchable, list of feeds. You’ll notice a lot of sites offer their own feeds so you don’t have to go hunting for them. Can’t find a feed for a site you’re interested in? Check out MyRSS (http://myrss.com/) which allows you to build a custom feed for any site, even if it doesn’t have a feed. It’s pretty straightforward, too.

How do I set up my own newsfeed? First you need material, which means setting up a blog. That’s easy enough: my favourites are Weblogger (www.weblogger.com) or Blogger (www.blogger.com). Once you’ve set up a blog, both sites offer simple options to add an RSS feed automatically. That’s it. If you’re a company thinking of setting up a feed, you may want to talk to the pros. The coding is quite simple, but there are ways to add your logo, and other corporate stuff, to ensure some quality control.

Tell me more? Can’t, sorry, I’ve run out of space. Here’s where you can find out more about the whole thing, however:www.faganfinder.com/search/rss.shtml

Column: No More Information Overload

Loose Wire — No More Information Overload
 
 Now, the news you choose to read can be delivered in a friendly format that won’t clog your inbox
By Jeremy Wagstaff
 
from the 3 July 2003 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

This is not another column about spam, but that’s where I have to start. Spam, or junk e-mail is, we’re all agreed, the bane of our lives. But what if the problem is not so much spam, as e-mail itself?

Look at it like this: E-mail is our default window on the Internet. It’s where pretty much everything ends up. I have received more than 1,000 e-mails in the past week. The vast bulk of that is automated — newsletters, newsgroup messages, despatches from databases, press releases and whatnot. The rest is personal e-mail [a pathetically small amount, I admit], readers’ mail [which I love, keep sending it] and junk. While it makes some sense to have all this stuff in one place, it’s hard to find what I need, and it makes my inbox a honey pot for spammers. And when I go on holiday, it all piles up. Now, what if all that automated stuff was somewhere else, delivered through a different mechanism you could tweak, search through easily, and which wasn’t laced with spam? Your inbox would just be what is e-mail, from your boss or Auntie Lola.

Enter the RSS feed. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, Rich Site Summary or variations of the two, depending on who you talk to. It’s a format that allows folk to feed globs of information — updates to a Web site, an on-line journal [a Weblog, or blog], news — to others. These feeds appear in programs called news readers, which look a bit like e-mail programs.

This also makes sense for those folk who may not subscribe to e-mail alerts, but who regularly visit any number of Web sites for news, weather, movies, village jamborees, books, garden furniture, or whatever. Instead of having to trawl through those Web sites each morning, or each week, or whenever you remember, you can add their RSS feeds to your list and monitor them all from one place.

RSS feeds aren’t just another way to deliver traditional information. RSS feeds have become popular in part because of blogs — on-line journals, usually run by an individual chronicling their experiences, thoughts and journeys around the Web. While many blogs are more like personal diaries, others are written by people who know what they’re talking about, and have become a credible source of information and opinion for industry insiders. Many of these bloggers now offer updates of their Web sites via RSS feed. “There’s an awful lot being created by individuals who are key figures in their markets,” says Bill Kearney, who runs a Web site, www.syndic8.com, that lists more than 20,000 such newsfeeds.

Blogs and RSS have, despite their unwieldy names, helped to level a playing field between traditional news suppliers — news agencies, newspapers, news Web sites like CNN — and those in or monitoring a particular industry. Some call it “nanomedia”: An often-cited example is New York’s Gawker (www.gawker.com) which collects gossip and news from the Big Apple, many times scooping the local dailies. Indeed, blogs themselves came of age this year, first during the Iraq War when a young Iraqi translator calling himself Salam Pax ran a massively popular blog (dearraed.blogspot.com) from Baghdad, offering a compelling perspective on the conflict. Later The New York Times felt the growing power of blogs when the plagiarism crisis prompted by reporter Jayson Blair was fuelled by blogs and other Internet sites, all in real time.

We don’t want to go too far. There’s a lot of dross in blogs, and therefore a lot of dross in RSS feeds. And while the software has improved in recent months — check out news readers such as Newzcrawler (www.newzcrawler.com) or Feedreader (www.feedreader.com) — it still feels slightly experimental. But as the format matures, I think our once-bright hopes for the Internet as a democratic, intelligent medium might be realized.

Part of it means throwing away what we traditionally think of as “news.” Corporations are beginning to sense that blogs make an excellent in-house forum for employees. Small companies have found that running a blog for their customers — say a real-estate agent sharing news and opinions about the neighbourhood property market — pays better than any newspaper ad. Individuals — consultants, columnists, one-man bands — have, through well-designed, well-maintained blogs, built a critical mass of readers, some of whom become paying customers or subscribers. Teachers are finding RSS feeds useful for channelling subject matter to classrooms and sharing material with other teachers.

Is there money in it? One Canadian company, Serence (www.serence.com), targets its form of RSS feed, called Klips, to companies automating specific tasks — monitoring competitors, prospects or industry news, accessing critical internal data. There is, of course, a danger that what ailed earlier formats ends up ailing RSS feeds: This month, one company started carrying ads in an RSS feed, with mixed results. In the end, I think, some of this data will be good enough to pay for, some will be supported by ads, and some will continue to be done out of love.

RSS’s strengths are simplicity and versatility: It can be added on to other programs — the browser, Outlook, or be delivered to your hand-phone, hand-held device, or even as audio on your MP3 player. It’s a lot more powerful than e-mail, and — we hope — will be guaranteed spam-free. Hurrah.

Column: Klips

Loose Wire: When Push Comes to Shove

By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 25 April 2002 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c) 2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

I think I can safely say it, though others have been saying it for years: Push is dead. In which case I’d like to be the first to say: Long live push.

For those of you who weren’t following closely, push was much hyped in the mid-1990s when computers were first being hooked up to the Internet in a big way. The idea was simple enough: instead of users going to Web sites to get information — pull — the information could be sent — pushed — to the user. You could then sit back and watch it all — cricket scores, share prices, headlines — scroll across your screen. For the corporate world it was an opportunity to also push ads, special offers and branding.

So what went wrong? First out of the starting gate, PointCast earned lasting opprobrium because its software hogged computer and Internet resources. PointCast retired hurt, and was eventually bought by EntryPoint in 1999, which a year later merged with Internet Financial Network Inc. to form InfoGate. This stopped offering its free ticker in mid-April, and now can only be found in the technology behind the subscription-based USA Today NewsTracker ($40 a year from newstracker.usatoday.com), which somewhat fittingly looks like the PointCast of old.

Actually, it’s not push that is dead. It’s the gravity-defying business models and catch-all products that don’t offer anything other people can’t offer for free. InfoGate fell by the wayside because it didn’t make any money. USA Today’s NewsTracker won’t, in my view, attract users because you can get the same thing free elsewhere — try the BBC’s excellent Newsline ticker (www.bbc.co.uk/newsline).

Why then has yet another scrolling-ticker business thrown open its doors to the public in the same week as InfoGate closed them? Enter KlipFolio from Serence, a small Windows program that at first blush is not much different. The scrolling is familiar; the clicking on a headline to see the full story is the same. The only visible change is that each Klip contains information from one source only, so instead of one big scrolling ticker with everything in it, from CNN to your local rag, Klips are small and independent.

Below stairs, it’s very different: a content-service provider (what you and I would call a Web site, whether it’s a magazine, news service, an auction site or whatever) adds some lines of Klip computer code so that every time they add some data to their Web site (a news story, an updated stock price, a new item for sale) that data is added to the Klip’s scrolling headlines.

Users, meanwhile, select which Klips they want to view on their screen, which will then update in real time with the new story, price or item for sale. Simple. Serence operates merely as the provider of technology to the content-service providers. For the user, the Klip software is free (www.Klipfolio.com), though Serence says some providers may charge for content in the future.

So what’s so different about this? Well, first off the software looks and works beautifully. Secondly, the back end is simple enough for content-service providers to be able to incorporate it without any extra computers, technicians or PhDs. This means that Serence is just an intermediary; it just provides a site where users can find what sources are available, and it licenses the software to the providers.

Where I believe Klips might really take off, however, is in delivering more specialized content. Sure, we can monitor Web sites, get stuff by e-mail, even have stock prices sent to our mobile phone, but imagine having a Klip that monitors, say, the prices of fast-moving items on an on-line auction site, or jobs in a particular industry.

What’s more, Serence has priced the product so that even individuals who produce specialist newsletters can jump aboard for about $100 a month. Indeed, as Blogs — Web sites that collate niche news and analysis — become more organized, Klips may emerge as a great way for individuals to provide a valuable real-time service which grateful users may pay for.

If that happens, it may well mark the coming of age of push: an information-delivery service that gives me stuff I need, doesn’t take up space and doesn’t go out of business.