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Podcasting Professionals : Advanced News Radar using Grazr

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Ever since I started developing Grazr RSS applications, I’ve been wondering if it were possible to integrate other services intothe Grazr widget. Today I’m presenting you with my most advanced project to date: Podcasting Professionals. This news radar demonstrates that Grazr RSS applications can be enhanced with the functionality of other, quite useful services. For this particular Grazr I
picked ZapTXT, Particls and BlogRovR. In this post I’ll discuss the
value they each add to this particular news radar.

A full-page version of the Podcasting Professionals news radar is hosted on the PODHANDLE servers. To give you an idea here’s the reduced-size version:

Besides integrating external services, this news radar contains some
more goodies: firstly, users of Firefox and Internet Explorer 7
can add a Podcasting Professionals search plug-in to their drop-down list of search engines. More about this in the second part of my post.

Theme_picker

Secondly, if you don’t like the custom color scheme, then you can instantly select any of the other thirteen Grazr themes.

Lastly, you can send feedback to me using email or Skype chat right from the Grazr panel.
The
Skype icon at the bottom of the news radar reflects
my online availability and instantly opens a chat session with me.
Needless to say I look forward to your reactions. I’ll conclude this
post by summing up the challenges I’m still facing developing advanced
Grazr applications.

The conception of this project
Before I start explaining what you can do with Podcasting
Professionals, I’d first like to thank Karin for inspiring me.
Throughout the development of the widget Karin has given me
very valuable feedback on its functionality, looks and usability.

Credit to Karin Hoegh
When
I met up with Danish podcasting consultant Karin Hoegh during my brief
stay in Copenhagen last August, she told me that as far as she knew
there was no reliable and up-to-date list of podcasting consultants
available yet. Such a list would be relevant to anybody professionally
involved with podcasting technology and consulting. Karin happens to be
co-founder of PODHANDLE, a web
service that allows unexperienced users to create podcasts and embed
them on their site in a straightforward and visually attractive way.

I asked Karin if she’d like me to help her create a list of
feeds from podcasting consultants and
easily convinced her to use Grazr to build the list. After refining the
scope of the project, Karin and I spent quite a few hours collecting
the feeds, defining relevant keywords and debating criteria
for list inclusion. More details about these criteria in Karin’s post about the project: Podcasting Consultants Use News Radar To Expand And Professionalize Their business.

Soon I decided to focus my efforts on the
Grazr stuff while Karin handled the feed management using BlogBridge
Feed Library
. I’m very grateful to the BlogBridge people that they allow me to experiment with this web service to host my CleverClogs public reading lists.

News Radar Features
Every news radar I build starts with a
list of feeds. The one I’m presenting today contains the feeds from
over 50 podcasting consultants and professionals, supplemented with the
results from two highly focused Google Blog
Search queries. I merged these feeds into one new feed called Recent headlines.

Most people like the instant search functionality in Grazr. I’ve
taken this feature to the next level by providing links to services
that let you process the search results in your preferred way. What
each of these external services have in common is that they allow feed URLs as a keyword parameter. Simplified, such a URL would look something like this:

http://www.feedservice.com?feed=http://myfeed.xml

If you happen to know of other services that allow URL parameterization like this, then please let me know.

Here’s what you can do with your search results:

1. Grazr search and custom-keyword feeds
As usual, you can
search through the recent headlines
by keyword. Just click Search, provide your search word(s) and press
Enter. As soon as you run a query, you’ll
notice that there are three additional options available. The first one
is to simply display the filtered search results inside Grazr. Behind
the scenes, Grazr opens the recent-headlines feed and adds a keyword
filter to it. The underlying technology for this is provided by mySyndicaat, for several years in a row the most powerful newsmastering service on the market.

Copy_search_feed_url_2

If you like the search results and would like to track them in your feed aggregator,
then right-click on the node with the orange RSS icon and copy the feed
URL to the clipboard. You can then pass this URL on to your RSS reader.

Please note that some of the more advanced features of this news radar have been disabled in August 2008 due to technical issues.

2. ZapTXT notifications
If the keyword search you created
is important to you, then you may want to explore more immediate
notification options, for example ZapTXT. This service notifies you of new search results via e-mail, instant
messaging, Skype or SMS
. ZapTXT works independently of your operating
system, works with any e-mail client and supports Skype and all of the
major IM systems.

Zaptxt_badge

By clicking on the green ZapTXT badge in the Grazr panel you’ll summon the web service to create a
so-called ZapTask from the custom search that you just created. If
you’re not a ZapTXT user yet, then you’ll be prompted to create an
account. Just specify through which channels you want to receive your updates and you’re all set.

While implementing the ZapTXT integration, I teamed up with CEO Sameer
Patel and lead developer Paul Vaillant of ZapTXT. Both went out of
their way to make their service play nicely with Grazr. Sameer maintains the ZapTXT Blog.

3. Particls attention stream on your desktop
The third option, offered by
Particls, is primarily of interest to Windows users. Particls is a
desktop utility that offers relevant news items while you work. I’ve
written about Particls more than once on CleverClogs, but here’s a summary:

The default notification mechanisms used by Particls are a system tray notifier and a vertical
ticker bar that docks to the left-hand side of your screen. From your web-browsing behavior, from your bookmarks and
from various other interests Particls distills a personalized, granular
ranking scheme. This scheme is called an APML file, or attention
profile that is stored on your hard drive. From the many sources that
might be of interest to you, Particls selects the most relevant ones
and presents them to you while you work. The more important a news item, the more persistent its means of disrupting you.
Both in functionality and visual design Particls is the most
sophisticated personal-ranking tool I’ve evaluated in the past few
years.

Particls_badge

As soon as you click on the orange Particls badge, a custom
installation package is built based on the search that you just created
in the Grazr panel. If you have Particls installed already, then it
will complement your existing attention profile with the data from the
new search. If you don’t have Particls installed, then of course the installation file will take care of that.

BlogRovR news fetcher
If
it’s part of your job or passion to track whether your podcasting peers
have or have not yet covered some new exciting service, product, event
or headline, and to quickly be informed of in-context news updates while you are browsing the web,
then have a look at BlogRovR. I’ve tried various ways to explain this
extraordinarily cool service, and this one seems to stick with people
well: once you enable BlogRovR, it will provide you with summaries of blog posts that discuss the page you are currently visiting, from people you determine as being authoritative.

Blogrovr_badge

In this news radar I’ve incorporated a custom version of BlogRovR
containing 50+ feeds from podcasting professionals. When you click on
the BlogRovR node in the widget, you’ll be prompted to install the
BlogRovR plug-in for Firefox and you’ll be guided through the
installation (browser restart required). If you already are a BlogRovR
user, then your BlogRovR subscriptions will be extended with a group of
Podcasting Professionals feeds.

Search plug-in
I’ve always been jealous of people who are
able to customize the behavior of Firefox, be it with an old-fashioned
extension, a bookmarklet, a Greasemonkey script or any other add-on. I
know enough about Javascript to do a decent amount of staring and studying
of someone else’s code in order to adapt it to my own needs and I’ve actually
gotten away with some RSS-related scripts I wrote in the past. I hadn’t
looked at search plug-ins until a couple of months back, however.

A search plug-in lets you add  a particular search engine to the
Search Bar in your browser (Firefox or Internet Explorer 7). In Firefox
you can put cursor focus on the Search Bar by pressing Ctrl-K. Most
people have Google and a couple of others listed among their preferred
search engines.

The search plug-in I’m presenting today demonstrates that the same
Search Bar technology that is used to search on the bigger search
engines can also be used on a much smaller scale: in this case to search through the posts from all podcasting professionals without having to visit the Grazr panel first.

Search_plugin

Creating your own search plug-in isn’t that difficult. Visit searchplugins.net
and just fill in the text input fields on the Plugin Generator page. If you want to be credited as
the owner/creator of a search plugin, then sign up for an account so
that you can assign the plugins you created to your account. This also has the advantage that you can edit your plug-in at a later stage.
Searchplugins.net also provides you with the code that you need to
embed on your site to let people add your search plug-in to their
browser.

Installing_search_plugin

To install the Podcasting Professionals search plug-in, just click on the link with the PODHANDLE icon.

To do
Here’s a list of things I wasn’t able to resolve:

  • Instantly show the search results of a query, instead of having to click on the “Show recent headlines, filtered” node.
  • Immediate_search_results

  • Make the feed names under the Full list of podcasting professionals
    indent, so that the entries align nicely to the right of the RSS icons.
  • Text_alignment_ugly

  • Make the feed names in the News Items panel consistent with the feed names from the Full list of podcasting professionals.

  • Inconsistent_feed_names

Challenges
Although I’d have liked to make you believe
otherwise, creating advanced news radars like Podcasting Professionals is truly complex.
As you may know, Grazr basically parses an OPML file and presents its
content in a web-based browsing panel. Most people these days think
that an OPML file is a list of feeds, but Grazr can handle much more
than that. I’ve included my own visual effects (an entirely new CSS
theme), links, textual paragraphs, background images, icons, javascript
code and I’ve integrated services from third-party vendors.

The complexity from this news radar is probably only visible if you’d study the underlying OPML file. Let me know if you’d like access to it.

What’s
struck me most is that although most vendors are extremely helpful,
relying on them in order to make the next step in the project can
sometimes be painstaking. All of the services that I use here,
BlogBridge Feed Library, mySyndicaat, ZapTXT, Particls, BlogRovR and of
course Grazr, are either free services altogether or their use has been granted to me for
free for this project (thanks guys). Free tools are nice, but it also
means getting timely support is increasingly difficult.

My biggest challenge of all is to find alternatives for each of the top-notch services I use, should they become unavailable for whatever reason. A clear example of this is mySyndicaat: a few months ago the owners of this outstanding newsmastering tool informed me that they’ll soon change their business model to that of a paid service. None of the other feed-splicing services currently available could replace mySyndicaat.

Written by CleverClogs

September 23rd, 2007 at 6:26 pm