I've been to two zoos in China. The first was the Beijing Zoo. It was terrible and depressing. The second was the (old, apparently) Changsha Zoo. It was terrible and depressing. My friend, Colin, recently was dragged along to the new Changsha Zoo. Looking at his pictures, I can't believe how much better this zoo is than either of the others. Wonderful to see progress made on animal rights in China.
It seems like people really hate the new Maps in iOS 6. Now, I'm not disputing that Maps does give a lot of strange results to a lot of people all around the world, but for a large, large number of people, iOS 6 Maps has been a huge improvement over Google Maps. I'm talking about those of us who live in China (you know, the place with 1.3+ billion people and the second-largest economy in the world). Google Maps was always pretty terrible here. In the big cities and tourist centers, it was passable. Once you left China's large metropolises, however, you were pretty much on your own. You could usually see expressways, highways, and even a lot of smaller roads, but there were very, very few shops, restaurants, banks, ATMs, etc. listed. That has changed with iOS 6. Apple has chosen AutoNavi to provide map services within China. That was a smart move, because AutoNavi is a local Chinese company that provides very detailed maps of China. Google was never going to be able to map China as well as it has other parts of the globe because the Chinese government doesn't trust the motives of foreign companies—and it especially doesn't trust Google. (see update below)
Well, don't take my word for it. Check out the difference yourself. The first map is Google Maps on iOS 5. The second is Apple's iOS Maps on iOS 6. This shows the same location just outside of Lijiang, Yunnan. Lijiang is one of the most popular tourist destinations in China. Both Google Maps and iOS Maps covers the center of the city pretty well. As you can see, though, if you move a couple of miles out of the city center, Google Maps becomes pretty useless pretty quickly.
Update: Looks like I was wrong about Google Maps not using data from AutoNavi. Google also used (some, all?) maps from AutoNavi. I still maintain that iOS 6 Maps is way better than iOS 5 Maps for users in China.
Update: People are taking me to task for saying that iOS 6 Maps is better than the previous Maps (powered by Google). As someone who lives in China and has to find my way around, the superiority of iOS 6 Maps is clear. In my experience, the new version of Maps zooms in much further, shows more points of interest, clearly labels banks and cellphone shops (China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom), and gives the locations of ATMs and public restrooms (my original iPad running iOS 5 with Google-powered Maps doesn't show either of those things). The killer feature, though, is that iOS 6 Maps shows both English names and Chinese characters for everything, whereas Google-powered Maps only shows the English translation (on iOS devices whose language is English). This is killer. English translations are almost useless in China because—guess what—Chinese people don't speak English. For those of us who can read (at least some) Chinese, this feature is even more important. We can ask for places by name instead of just pointing at its location on a map. So, yes, I may have been wrong to say that Google doesn't use AutoNavi's maps (although, I can't see how they use the same provider since Google-powered Maps and iOS 6 Maps show such wildly different maps for the same location), and for that I apologize. Nonetheless, looking at Google-powered Maps and iOS 6 Maps side-by-side, I would choose iOS 6 Maps every time.
I'm thrilled to say that Sunstroke has been starting to get a lot of attention. The reviews/mentions are scattered all over the web, though, so I thought that I'd collect them here for anyone who might be interested. From newest to oldest:
- Robert Agcaoili at gridwriter just wrote a detailed review.
- Ben Brooks at The Brooks Review posted some positive comments about the most recent version of Sunstroke (1.3.1).
- Dave Bragdon at Readability did a nice writeup about Sunstroke and its recent inclusion of support for sending items to Readability.
- Brandon Pittman at Thank You For Your Cooperation wrote a mini review.
- Arno Richter at oelna.de put a lot of work into mocking up a version of Sunstroke that incorporates some changes he'd like to see me make to the app.
- Ben Brooks's original review.
- Joacim Melin at Macpro wrote a review in Swedish.
- Federico Viticci at MacStories did one of the first major reviews.
- Chris Cooper at AppStorm did another one of the first major reviews.
- Michael Rockwell at Initial Charge did what I believe to be the first comprehensive review of Sunstroke.
I really appreciate all of the work the people listed above put into writing about Sunstroke. It means a lot to me to see something I worked hard to create used by so many different people. That's all a developer could ever hope for (well, that and obscene wealth). If I forgot to mention any reviews, send me an email at anthony at goneeast.
Let's get this out of the way at the beginning. I'm the developer of Sunstroke—the first (and still best, in my admittedly biased opinion) iPhone client for Shaun Inman's Fever. I think the combination of Fever and Sunstroke is the single best way to stay informed and up to date. I want everyone who reads this to go out and buy Fever and Sunstroke. You'll be happy you did.
Why use Fever?
Well, I love Twitter, but it has been undergoing some fairly profound changes recently. These changes threaten to undermine how much control Twitter's users have over their information and the ways they can view the tweets of the people they follow. Still, ignoring whatever might happen to it in the future, using Twitter as it exists today to keep informed has a number of downsides. Twitter's greatest limitation (or, depending on your perspective, its greatest strength) is that it severely limits the length of tweets. This inevitably forces a user to follow an embedded link or search elsewhere for detailed information about whatever topic is being tweeted about. This extra step takes time and acts as a barrier between a reader and the information. Worse, if you do follow a link in a tweet, you might be wasting your time. The brevity of Twitter posts and the prevalent use of URL shorteners means that you don't always know what you're going to get when you click on a link in a tweet.
In general, RSS is a better way to follow the news. Many RSS feeds are full-text feeds that let you read every article posted to the sites you subscribe to. All the information you require is right there. No clicking on opaque shortened URLs to find out details. Of course, this too has a downside. RSS creates too much noise. Perusing high-volume sites like Engadget or The Verge takes forever.
Fever solves this problem by doing two things. First, it hides most of your feeds away from sight—freeing you from the compulsion to constantly refresh Fever to see what's new. Second, it curates (everyone's favorite buzzword!) your feeds and pulls out the most frequently linked-to items. Fever turns these items into a "Hot" list ranked by temperature. The more popular an item is, the higher its temperature is. One of the greatest features of Fever's Hot list is that its items don't necessarily have to come from feeds you've subscribed to. For example, a couple of weeks ago, when Twitter posted its infamous "Changes coming in Version 1.1 of the Twitter API" announcement, it very quickly made it to the top of my Hot list, even though I don't subscribe to Twitter's development feed. The announcement reached the top of my Hot list because so many sites I do subscribe to (Daring Fireball, The Brooks Review, The Unofficial Apple Weblog, etc.) linked to it. Thanks to Fever's Hot list, you don't have to spend all of your free time scrolling through endless feeds trying to find interesting items. You can go to Fever (or open up Sunstroke on your iPhone), check to see if there are any new Hot items, and then go back to whatever it was you were doing.
How should Fever be used?
Fever is unique among RSS readers in that it doesn't simply organize feeds according to groups ("Technology," "Politics," "Comics," etc.). Instead, it divides your feeds into two supergroups: Kindling and Sparks. Kindling (which can be further separated into user-defined groups like the previously-mentioned "Technology," "Politics," "Comics," etc.) contains the feeds that you want to see every update for. Ideally, the Kindling supergroup shouldn't contain too many feeds—just the key ones. Sparks contains everything else. In Fever and Sunstroke, Sparks is visible, but it's way down at the bottom and its count of unread items is never shown. It's designed to never be perused (although it can be, if you're particularly masochistic). The key to using Fever effectively is to know which feeds belong in Kindling and which belong in Sparks.
The only feeds you should put in Kindling are those whose updates are must-read. For me, that includes Ars Technica (full-text subscriber feed), Daring Fireball, The Brooks Review (full-text member feed), Marco.org, Marginal Revolution, Moneybox, Tea Leaf Nation, China Law Blog, Changsha Notes, and a handful of others. I never want to miss anything posted to those sites.
Everything else goes in Sparks. For me, that is the other 400+ feeds I subscribe to. I never read them directly. I only see their posts when they are promoted to the Hot list.
Of course, building an effective Hot list is not as simple as just throwing hundreds of feeds into Sparks. There are some kinds of feeds that contribute to building a valuable Hot list, and others that are completely useless.
The best feeds to add to Sparks are those with a lot of links to other sites. For this, the best are "linked list" feeds whose authors find articles that you consistently enjoy. Daring Fireball, Marco.org, and The Brooks Review are terrific examples of linked list sites. Of course, for most people, those sites are so interesting that they belong in Kindling. If you can survive not reading every post those sites make, though, you'd be well served putting them in Sparks. Another category of feeds that belong in Sparks are high-volume blogs, such as Gizmodo, Engadget, and The Verge. These and other similar blogs often link out to other sites. Plus, the sheer number of posts these kinds of sites make every day would overwhelm you if placed in Kindling. You should also add some "most popular articles" feeds from one or more of the various bookmarking sites. Personally, I love and heavily use Pinboard. I subscribe to Pinboard's "Popular items from Pinboard" feed. You may also want to subscribe to some Pinboard tags. For example, I subscribe to Pinboard's "China" tag feed. These particular feeds should never be read directly, but they do a great job of pushing interesting articles to the top of your Hot list. Another good source is Alltop. Alltop allows you to subscribe to targeted RSS feeds that collect the top articles around the Web. For instance, if you are interested in sports, subscribe to the RSS feed for Alltop's sports page. Again, because of the huge number of articles Alltop posts every day, its feeds don't belong anywhere near your Kindling supergroup. Stash them in Sparks.
The worst kinds of feeds to add to Sparks are those from traditional media outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post, and BBC. These feeds usually don't include the full text of their articles and almost never include any links. The Guardian does provide full-text feeds, but doesn't include many links in the articles. Occasionally, you can find some blogs associated with traditional media companies that are useful. One example would be James Fallows' blog for The Atlantic. In most cases, though, steer clear of traditional media.
As you can probably guess, it's very easy to build a valuable Hot list of technology-related links. Unfortunately, it's surprisingly difficult to build a comprehensive Hot list featuring links covering many different topics. If this is your goal, you must get creative. I, for example, wanted to include more general-interest news in my Hot list. So, first, I subscribed to Google News' "World News" feed. Then, I subscribed to other, more targeted Google News feeds (e.g., "Chicago News" and "China News"). After that, I subscribed to the Huffington Post. This turned out to be a gold mine, because, at the bottom of the Huffington Post's home page, it lists every news source and blog that contributes to its news coverage. I went through that list and subscribed to the feeds from the ones that seemed the most interesting. After doing all of this, my Hot list contained both technology-related links and general news links. Success!
It's not easy to build a valuable Hot list, but the reward—a short, well-curated list of the hottest news that doesn't take all day to read through—is well worth it.
Update: Ben Brooks mentioned another reason to use Fever. Just as an aside, take a look at the URL of Ben's post. This is something that I think everyone should suffer from. Amiright, ladies?
Earlier today, we learned that John Gruber has decided to leave the 5by5 podcasting network to join the Mule Radio Syndicate. For any fans of Gruber and Dan, this came as quite a surprise. I think I speak for a lot of fans of The Talk Show when I say that I'll really miss the interplay between them. I wish Gruber the best on his new show, though. Of course, I'll continue to read Daring Fireball, and I'll also continue to listen to a bunch of shows on 5by5, especially Hypercritical, Amplified, Build and Analyze, The Critical Path, and Back to Work.
I'm not going to talk about whether or not Gruber made a bad decision switching to Mule Radio. Who knows? Maybe his show will become better than ever. Also, I'm certainly not going to argue that Gruber had no right to switch networks. Although Gruber and Dan were (are?) friends and had created an incredibly popular show together, every man has to make the choices that he thinks are best for himself and his family. However, I think both of them have handled this situation absolutely terribly, and I'm disappointed by the lack of respect shown to the fans of the show—many of whom have expressed dismay at the dissolution of their partnership.
Gruber and Dan are both professionals, but in this they acted almost childishly. We didn't hear anything from Gruber about his move to Mule Radio until his post on Daring Fireball. We didn't hear—and haven't yet heard—anything from Dan about the cancellation of The Talk Show on 5by5. I can understand wanting to the keep the move a secret, but, after the secret was out, both of the guys should have said something publicly about what happened. I don't mean that they should have told everyone everything that led to the split, but, as professionals, they should have amicably acknowledged the split. A simple "I really enjoyed my time on 5by5, but I've decided to try something new" from Gruber and a simple "We'll miss John, but everyone here at 5by5 wishes him the best" from Dan would have sufficed. That would have been the correct (and professional) way to handle this situation. Petulant silence is most definitely the wrong way to deal with it.
What bothers me most about this whole situation is that Gruber and Dan's behavior (as well as some not-safe-for-work remarks by others) shows a profound lack of respect for the fans of the show. Both of the guys have worked hard to create a show that people care about. They were incredibly successful at this. A lot of people tuned in every week to listen to The Talk Show and, by listening so often, have come to feel like they "know" Gruber and Dan (in the same way that some of the 5by5 hosts have said that they felt like they "knew" Steve Jobs because they followed his life and work so closely). These listeners are the ones who—by tuning in every week, visiting the sponsors, buying T-shirts, and purchasing an iPhone app—made the show possible and profitable. They deserve better than the silence they've received thus far from Gruber and Dan.
One post that especially resonated with me is entitled "Don't Be a Stranger," which details the dichotomy between the way Chinese treat their family, friends, and guests and the way they treat strangers.
Colin isn't the first person to point out this contradiction. In fact, it has almost become cliché to say that China is a country full of contradictions. It's a country where people are, for the most part, incredibly friendly and polite. Yet, it's also a country where restaurant owners—with a smile on their faces—will serve their customers food prepared with gutter oil. Sometimes, I worry that Chinese people have lost their sense of being a single, united society—one that rises or falls together. Increasingly, it seems like more and more Chinese people are adopting the mindset of "if you're not a member of my family or one of my close friends, then I don't care about you."