Archive for the ‘Browser Technology’ Category
“Agglom’s basic function is that you can publish your current browser session to the web, requiring little more than a single click…. The saved session then becomes available in three formats: as a web page that displays the links, as a URL slideshow, and as an RSS feed.”
Every couple of weeks I scan Mozilla’s Firefox Add-on site for new additions. I’m especially attracted to the ones that affect browser tab behavior. Last week, while I was actually looking for a Firefox 3.0 compatible alternative to SessionSaver, a little gem popped up that I hadn’t come across before: Agglomerator. Contrary to many browser add-ons that I only keep enabled on my system for a few hours, I’m finding Agglomerator and accompanying service Agglom.com promising enough to stay.
Agglom’s basic function is that you can publish your current browser session to the web, requiring little more than a single mouse click. Shared links can be multi-media or just plain web pages. I created a simple one from Chris Brogan’s personal-branding posts. An even richer example of what Agglom is capable of doing is this Agglom set I found, with videos, photos, links and other resources about Olympic ‘pool shark’ Michael Phelps.
If you’d like to experience hands-on what Agglom can do for you, just read this paragraph. Start by signing up for an account on the Agglom service. Then, install the Agglomerator add-on and restart your browser. Now a new, modest toolbar button becomes available, labeled “Share session”.
Next, make sure you have a bunch of tabs open that you’d like to save as an organized set. Press the Agglom button to save any or all of the tabs you currently have open, then label this custom tab set with a title of your choosing, assign tags as you see fit and lastly publish the set as a private or public list. The saved session then becomes available in three formats: as a web page that displays the links, as a URL slideshow, and as an RSS feed.
Besides the ease with which you can publish collections of URLs, I am particularly impressed with how slideshows are implemented in Agglom. Any set you create on Agglom automatically has a slideshow attached to it that uses the original URLs. At the moment Agglom slideshows are not progressing automatically. From what I understand the Agglom developer is planning to add this feature, depending on user feedback. Here’s what the Agglom slideshow interface looks like:
Agglom sessions can be easily changed: you can change the sort order of the links by drag and drop, you can add new links and remove old ones, change their title and URL and adjust the privacy settings.
Public Agglom session links can be accessed through their URL by anyone—no Agglom account is required. Agglom users can leave comments on the lists that you share and even submit suggestions for improvements to the owner of any list. Here’s what an Agglom page looks like in edit mode, in this case for an Agglom set I created from David Tebbutt’s series of posts on how to handle the press, Media Skills 101:
Agglom is the prodigy brainchild of 23-yr old Enrico Foschi, an Italian web developer living in Bray, a town close to Dublin, Ireland. Enrico launched the first version of Agglom just over a month ago and has improved the service at an amazing pace since then. Here’s a 3-minute video from Agglom’s early days, in which Enrico explains what the service does:
Today Enrico launched Agglom Beta 3.1 with the blog post Agglom.com adds URL slideshows, RSS and easy link suggestion.
Realizing Agglom was only launched fairly recently, I am already much impressed by its current feature set. In the past few days Agglom developer Enrico displayed a remarkable flexibility in not just listening to and rephrasing the suggestions I made, but even more so by implementing the majority of the improvement ideas we generated together. Yet, there are a few aspects of Agglom that deserve attention:
- Unclutter the web site. Agglom offers lots of functionality. New users might be overwhelmed by the many links, icons and other pieces of information.
- Leave out the advertisement for the Agglomerator add-on when a user has already got that add-on installed.
- Replace the current list of bookmarking service in the sidebar by one generic link to a service like ShareThis.
There are several ways you can integrate the superior Twitter search engine Summize into Firefox or Flock, turning your browser into a very efficient Twitter research tool. In this post I discuss these three:
- adding the Summize search plug-in
- creating a Summize quick search command
- using the SmartSearch add-on to perform in-context queries
Summize Search Plug-in
Add Summize to your Firefox search bar by clicking on the “Install Search Plugin” link on the Summize home page:
The search plugin is available for use immediately after installing. To enter a Summize query, put cursor focus on the search bar with your mouse or press the Ctrl-K keyboard shortcut. Then type your query as usual and press Enter.
Summize Quick Searches
Besides performing searches from the search bar, Firefox also offers the browser address bar to execute search commands. It comes in handy if for some reason you’d rather not change search engines from your search bar. The functionality to search from the browser address bar is generally called Quick Search. In our case you would type in something like “s Obama”, press Enter and then, because of a keyword shortcut command that points to Summize, a query is run automatically to find tweets about Obama. The Quick Search command you can create by following the step-by-step instructions is also useful for in-context searching, which I describe in the section Summize Smart Searches.
The Summize Quick Search command is universal and only needs to be created once. Luckily, Firefox makes this creation process a piece of cake: right-click with your mouse in the Summize search input box on any Summize web page and select “Add a Keyword for this Search…” from the context menu.
Now you may try your newly created Quick Search command by carrying out a query from the address bar: Type “s [keywords]” without the double quotes and press Enter.
Summize Smart Searches
With a few simple steps you can perform a Summize search for any word on any web page displayed in Firefox. The steps to create the Summize Quick Search command that I described in the previous section are required to make this Smart Searching functionality work. First, install the SmartSearch Firefox add-on.
Note that the default, version 3.10, is meant to be used with Firefox 3 beta. Users of older versions of Firefox should install version 3.7, which you can find here: SmartSearch add-on for Firefox 2.
Restart your browser.
Next, open the SmartSearch Settings dialog box and put a check mark in the option Show “Search Web for …” item
Next right-click or select any word(s) that you want to search for on Summize, and select Search for [keyword] on…“, then select @Summize. The following screenshot shows a fun recursive search right from my WordPress editor window, looking for tweets about Summize:
This nifty SmartSearch in-context search functionality works immediately by right-clicking individual words, without the need to select a word with your mouse first. Alternatively select multiple consecutive words, right-click on the selection, and follow the same steps.
My compliments to Ben Goodger and Chris Povlrk for providing the excellent SmartSearch add-on, and of course to the Summize folks (@abdur, @gregpass, @ericcj, @jayvirdy), who in my opinion really created even more than the Google of Twitter. Chapeau bas!
Grazr widgets are popping up everwhere on the sidebars of people’s blogs, usually performing the task of a little browser displaying one or more feeds relating to the author’s interests. Creating such a Grazr is pretty straightforward: visit the Grazr Create a Widget page and provide the first box in the wizard with one of these types of URLs:
- an RSS feed, try it now: CleverClogs Incoming Links, on Grazr
- an OPML file with several feeds, try it: Marjolein’s Writings, the OPML, on Grazr
- a website with feed auto-discovery enabled, try: all feeds provided by CleverClogs, on Grazr
Assuming you clicked on the link in the third option, the Grazr configuration screen will look like this:
Do you see box 1, where I put the URL for my website? Because the source code of my website contains links to RSS feeds and to OPML files, Grazr is capable of detecting those and displaying them in a list. You can easily substitute your own blog URL there or use the URL of a feed or of an OPML file.
Default themes and views
As you can see, I’ve applied sateen_black, one of the many cool themes that were introduced by Grazr recently. Of course you can pick your own theme from the list. Maybe you’ve also noticed that all my Grazr widgets are based on the 3-pane view and that I prefer to display the address bar, revealing the URL of the feed or OPML I am showing. Although these choices are all directly available from the Grazr wizard interface, they are not the default settings. If you like my new settings too, then please feel free to adopt them by dragging this URL to your bookmarks toolbar: default Grazr widget configuration settings.
Grabbing the Grazr code
Embedding the Grazr on your web page is now just a matter of grabbing the piece of HTML that the Grazr wizard generates, displayed in the box with the green background, and inserting that piece of code into your blog.
CleverClogs Grazr template
If this all seems a piece of cake to you, then feel free to have a preview of what’s up in my next post: download the template that I have been using myself to create more advanced RSS applications, such as the Power 150 Kitchensink for Todd And, the Yahoo! Pipes News Radar for MasterNewMedia.org and the Grazr News Radar for Grazr.com. The template is a plain text file, located here: CleverClogs Grazr Template. If you study this file closely, you’ll see that you could create your own application by substituting several parameters inside the file. A few weeks ago James Corbett told me he successfully created his Irish Twittersphere Search Engine based on my template.
Summary of the next tutorial
A few weeks ago GrazrScript was pretty much a mystery to me. It took me a whole week to build Todd’s Power 150 Grazr application. Using this fairly new template, I can now create a full-fledged Grazr application in about one hour, including the option to offer feeds based on custom keyword searches across all feeds in an OPML.
In the next tutorial I’ll tell you for which third-party RSS services you need to sign up, which parameters you could change and give you some insider’s tips to get you started fast.
As I just talked about this post to Mike Kowalchik, head developer with Grazr.com, he told me the stunning news that most likely today Grazr.com is going to release a new version of GrazrScript that allows the use of procedural code. Here’s the link to the official announcement: GrazrScript v1.2 Beta.
Needless to say I’m very excited to be able to squeeze this bit of news in, just before my own post goes live. Obviously I’ll need some time to figure it all out myself—not a programmer anymore—but I’ll definitely devote one of the posts in this new Grazr Tutorial series to it. I’m also sure several of my diehard programming friends will take the new Grazr to its extremes in the mean time. Here’s Tom Morris’ description of the GrazrScript potential: New Grazr Launch (March 19th, 2007).
And you, my readers, will you please let me know if indeed this first part of this post is correctly called a tutorial for beginners?
Some coverage in the blogosphere on GrazrScript:
“As far as I know OnePipe is the first solution to offer generic, on-the-fly feed filtering based on URL parameterization.”
OnePipe is a browser bookmarklet I created to filter any feed by topic. It’s simple to use: install the bookmarklet, navigate to any website whose feed you’d like to filter and click the OnePipe button. You’ll be prompted to enter any topic or word after which OnePipe will generate a custom feed that only contains those items that match your keywords. The exciting part about OnePipe is that it can be used over and over again.
Welcome, Lifehacker visitors. I’m very proud and grateful for Wendy Boswell’s announcement that OnePipe is now Download of the Day.
Before I explain the technical details let me illustrate OnePipe with a snapshot:
A typical use case: let’s assume I am visiting the FeedBurner blog Burning Questions. For the moment I’m really only interested in blog posts about their Headline Animator service. In fact, I would like to generate a feed based on just that custom keyword “Headline Animator“. With the OnePipe bookmarklet in place, I can just click the OnePipe button on my browser bookmarks toolbar, type in my topic. Next, a hyperlink pointing to the custom feed appears in a tiny rectangular pop-up in the top-left corner of the page. For convenience’s sake the hyperlinks that OnePipe produces automatically open the filtered feeds in a Grazr window.
Why the name OnePipe?
After processing the desired keyword, OnePipe calls upon the URL parameterization capabilities of Yahoo! Pipes to generate the feed. Look closely at the full URL processed by Grazr: there are really only a couple of parameters:
- a URL pointing to the Pipe I created (direct link: OnePipe : The CleverClogs Generic Feed Filter)
- the “_render=rss” suffix to force the output to RSS
- a query parameter
- the URL of the feed that is being filtered.
What this means is that you could substitute any feed, alter the query and parse those with one and the same Pipe—hence the name OnePipe. If you’re curious what OnePipe does behind the scenes, then please feel free to take a peek, then clone and tweak it. Here’s the link that takes you directly to the source of OnePipe : The CleverClogs Generic Feed Filter.
Grabbing your feed
OnePipe feeds are just feeds as any other. With the bookmarklet I offer an easy way to view feeds created with OnePipe. Of course you can use any other tool too: to subscribe to your newly created feed in
your feed reader, grab the entire URL off the Grazr address bar. Select the URL,
copy it to the clipboard and paste it into the dialog box that your feed
reader provides for new subscriptions. Let me know if you have any issues with this.
Where to take your feed
Apart from subscribing to a OnePipe feed in your feed reader, you could also consider the following possibilites. Start out by creating a filtered channel of highly relevant posts about a certain topic, about a person, or about an event.
- Receive a system tray alert or a sticky desktop message when a new feed item matches your filter, or display your channel as a running ticker on your system. To enable this, subscribe to your OnePipe feed in Touchstone.
- Have all Twitter posts from your “With Friends” page that mention @yourname, forwarded as SMS messages to your cell phone using Rasasa or ZapTXT. Just sign in to your account with any of these services, fill in the URL of your OnePipe feed and set your preferences.
- Receive the items in your OnePipe feed as instant-messaging notifications through your preferred IM system: for Skype there’s Anothr and, since fairly recent times, ZapTXT. For the other main IM systems, consider Rasasa (all systems) and Feed Crier (AIM and Jabber).
- Forward the items in your OnePipe feed to your email inbox, for example using FeedBlitz, R|Mail or Zookoda.
- Use your OnePipe feed as a building block to create a topic radar. To merge your OnePipe feed with other feeds, consider using newsmastering services such as mySyndicaat, Feed Digest and Feed Blendr.
- There are literally hundreds of RSS Tool Vendors—yes I track them myself. Excellent resources where RSS tools are discussed in depth are John Tropea’s Library clips, who’s not just thorough and smart, but always points to other relevant tools in the same category, and 3Spot’s incredibly comprehensive RSS Tools page.
As you may have noticed, OnePipe is capable of detecting all of the feeds offered on any web page you visit. You may know that the mechanism of recognizing feeds is usually referred to as feed auto-discovery. Most blog publishing services offer this capability automatically and you should be able to use the bookmarklet with most blogs and sites offering RSS feeds. The bookmarklet component of OnePipe is mostly an adaptation of the OPML Auto-Discovery bookmarklet that I published a couple of months ago.
The concept behind OnePipe
For me the exciting part about OnePipe is not so much the bookmarklet itself, but the generic feed filtering mechanism that I built for it using Yahoo! Pipes. Feed manipulation is an essential part of newsmastering, the techniques used to build feeds matching a particular topic, person or event. As far as I know OnePipe is the first solution to offer on-the-fly feed filtering based on URL parameterization. With other feed filtering services the source feed and sometimes the search query get obfuscated, hindering direct finetuning of the settings.
Room for improvement
These are some ideas I have to make OnePipe better:
- offer tag, category, author and title search capabilities (already in progress in Pipes)
- integrate with John Forsythe’s Feed Preview add-on for Firefox
- general debugging and fine-tuning
I’m very curious for your feedback on OnePipe. Moreover, if you’ve been able to successfully use OnePipe for a particular purpose, then please share your experience. David Tebbutt provided me with lots of useful input in this project. Thanks!
Mike Kowalchik understands this is a proof of concept and there maybe some wrinkles to iron out. Indeed, Mike. It seems Pipes only searches through excerpts of feed items, and not the full feed.
Mike Gotta calls OnePipe innovative on his blog and suggests you give it a try. Thanks Mike!
James Corbett (through IM) points out that OnePipe could be especially useful to filter the noise from one’s Twitter Friends’ stream. He requested a Yahoo! Pipe that lets you create a feed that lists items that do not match certain keywords. Ok, James, here’s the AllButPipe bookmarklet, and the link to the Pipe that fuels it: AllButPipe : The CleverClogs “Exclude This” Feed Filter
Seems I’ve got another fan down under! Better Communications blogger Lee Hopkins gives a fine example of how he might use OnePipe to track “Second Life” posts from Neville Hobson‘s blog. Lee is making a serious study of Second Life for his PhD, so I can fully imagine how OnePipe comes in handy there.
On his blog Knowledge Jolt with Jack, Jack Vinson calls OnePipe a “Cool Tool”.
I’m happy to see my German colleague and friend Siegfried Hirsch, who maintains a blog entirely focusing on RSS technology in German, also covered OnePipe. His story is here: OnePipe – Filtern von RSS-Feeds auf Knopfdruck
The story has been on TechMeme for a while now.
If you’d like to digg this post, then feel free to click this button:
And as usual, a Grazr to let you track mentions of OnePipe:
Include the code snippet into your blog and you’ll see the familiar Digg icon, including the number of current Diggs, right next to the content on your page. Full customization details are available on the Digg Tools page. Before I found out about this Digg tool, I used Bitty browser to achieve almost the same result. Read on to learn how useful Bitty is when combined with anchored urls.
A couple of weeks ago my CNET rant was promoted on Digg for a couple of hours, mostly thanks to the impression I seem to have made on one particular digger named chrisek (have I thanked you enough?) It was really fun to see the counter go up each time I refreshed the page. One particular extension for Firefox by Jaap Haitsma, called Reload Every, which lets you set a refresh frequency for Firefox tabs, came in very handy in this situation. Still, keeping the news to myself didn’t seem the right thing to do, so I did some quick thinking.
It made sense to me to update my blog post and see if I could boost its popularity on Digg even more. I couldn’t find a suitable solution on the steadily growing TypePad Widget Gallery and I had explored the Digg Tools page for clues months ago already without much success, so I figured there was no way I could show the live Digg button unless I’d be prepared to migrate my entire blog just to be able to use the Digg plugin for WordPress.
I did some quick thinking and found a pretty acceptable solution by using "the browser in a browser" Bitty, displaying just the top-left part of the page:
I was reasonably satisfied with this outcome, but still wanted the image to be cleaner, smaller. Then I wrote to Scott Matthews, the Bitty developer, and asked if he could think of some way to have the Bitty scroll down the page, so that just only the Digg button would be visible inside the Bitty view port. Scott replied almost instantly: "Have you considered using one of the # anchor tags?"
I looked at the source of the Digg page for my blog post, discovered that there was an anchor id named "header-secondary", and added the id as an #anchor to the url used in the Bitty code. This was the result:
I promise I won’t overdo it with these Digg buttons. I’ll only display one if someone else diggs any of my posts.
The discovery about Bitty is quite cool I think, especially when you have control over the HTML source of the page that you are displaying, or when there are useful anchors available already.
"Keep reading, or if you can’t hold your horses, head straight for the meat of my latest achievement: an RSS-enabled Marketing Search Engine created using GrazrScript, a relatively new language to create web-based RSS applications …"
Next time I meet someone new on the web I should write down the whence, the where, the why and the how of the connection taking place. I do recall clearly that I took the initiative to connect to marketing and PR specialist Todd And about a week ago, but I’ve completely forgotten how I found out about his website in the first place. His attractive banner logo definitely must have prolonged my attention span:
Let’s forget (!) about my deteriorating memory, because what’s about to follow will hopefully blow your socks off.
Keep reading, or if you can’t hold your horses, head straight for the meat of my latest achievement: an RSS-enabled Marketing Search Engine created using GrazrScript, a language to create web-based RSS applications that was launched a few months ago by the Grazr development team. If you want to explore it yourself, I suggest you start with the GrazrScript Tutorial.
I immediately noticed Todd has a rather remarkable and attractive blog layout that he self-hosts using WordPress: two sidebars on the left-hand side, the left-most one containing an intriguing link to what turns out to be an impressive, ranked list of 150+ US marketing blogs. Here’s a quick live peek of Todd’s Power 150 – Top Marketing Blogs page using Bitty Browser. You’ll immediately understand why it caught my eye: it has RSS written all over it.
There was just one thing blatantly missing from Todd’s Power 150 page: OPML awareness. "Wouldn’t it be cool if your list were browsable, discoverable and even … searchable?", I asked him on Skype. Todd quickly understood where I was heading. Our ideas matched perfectly and over the course of less than a week, with our time zones not exactly catalyzing effective communication, I helped Todd to display an advanced Grazr widget on a page we now nickname as the "Kitchen Sink". The sections in the remainder of my blog post discuss the functionality of this RSS application and some details on how we built it.
Search Engine Functionality
Todd’s Power 150 RSS-enabled marketing search engine lets you do the following:
- Search all listed marketing blogs by keyword
- Generate a custom keyword-feed from your search that you can add to your own RSS aggregator
- Browse all marketing blogs as a combined, River of News feed
- Browse all marketing blogs from an alphabetically ordered list
- Grab the URLs to the feeds and OPML files offered in the widget to import or subscribe to in your own feed reader
- Send feedback by e-mail
Details about the RSS Tools Used
Dynamic OPML file
I started out with the OPML file from the feed list that Todd maintains on web-based feed reader NewsGator Online. This OPML file is web-based, public and dynamic, meaning that when Todd adds, changes or removes a feed in NewsGator Online, his OPML file will reflect this update immediately. RSS specialists refer to such an OPML file as a "Reading List". The other components in the Power 150 search engine fully rely on the availability of this OPML. You can browse Todd’s OPML by clicking on "Full List of Marketing Blogs" in the Power 150 Grazr panel.
Combining into a ‘River of News’ feed
The next step was to create a River of News feed from this OPML file using a feed digesting service. I prefer mySyndicaat, an advanced newsmastering tool that I’ve found indispensable in multi-tier projects involving the merging of RSS feeds, OPML files and Reading Lists.
FeedBurner for Cleanliness and Transparancy
On my cue Todd created a FeedBurner version of the mySyndicaat output feed. This is the feed that we used for "The Power 150 – River of News" feed link in the Power 150 Grazr panel. Most of my RSS applications involve the use of FeedBurner: most people know it creates clean URLs that are easy to remember, that it renders a browser-friendly page when displayed as HTML and that it offers pretty neat feed analytics features. There’s another less talked about reason why I personally use FeedBurner a lot: if for some reason any RSS tool used in the previous steps of a project like this is no longer available, all I have to do is adjust the source feed of the FeedBurner feed and my application runs fine again.
ReFilter Feed Filtering through Parameterized URLs
ReFilter is not such a widely known RSS service. In this case I use it because it lets you filter feeds by providing keywords within the parameters of the original feed URL. Such URL parameterization is essential for vertical search engines like this marketing search engine, because we wanted to offer Todd’s readers the option to subscribe to a custom-keyword RSS feed using their own RSS aggregator. I only used a portion of ReFilter’s functionality: ReFilter’s also offers an advanced syntax for sophisticated feed filtering: you can filter by field, use boolean commands and combine several searches into one URL. ReFilter is open-source, is based on the MagPie RSS parser for PHP and was developed by Sam Deelie.
GrazrScript, Creating RSS Applications
I had played with Grazr widgets plentiful in the past, but never taken the plunge to fully explore its scripting language until this week. GrazrScript is a language that is still fully in development and I very much appreciate where the Grazr people are heading with this. As I wrote earlier, the best way to get started with this is how I did it too:
- download the GrazrScript examples
- study the GrazrScript tutorial
- modify the sample applications using a text editor
- upload one of these applications back to your own server (!)
- try it out by entering the URL of your Grazr application on the Grazr.com configuration page
I’d like to point out—magna cum gratia—that head developer Mike Kowalchik from Grazr was of enormous help to get this project off the ground in such a short amount of time. No matter how we moved our goal posts, Mike offered great input. Mike created a branded Power 150 theme with a status bar logo and custom hyperlink icons that perfectly match Todd’s strong brand.
I’ve also had quite a few fruitful chat sessions this week with Giovanni Guardalben CEO of mySyndicaat, my preferred feed digesting service. Gianni was kind enough to tweak his servers so that I could configure the combined feed with all the bells and whistles we required for this project.
Lastly I’d like to mention how rewarding the collaboration on this project was with Todd. I look forward to working with him more and extending our friendship. And, Todd…: thank you so much for the wonderful new logo for CleverClogs. I truly like your design a lot.
By the time you read this, no doubt the counter is at 314 😉
And you, readers? Would you care to tell me what you think of this ambitious project? If so, please feel free to leave a comment.
Apparently the TypePad people liked my implementation of AnswerTips (see my earlier story Instant On-site Facts: AnswerTips from Dec 22nd 2006) so much that they’ve now approved this Answers.com service as an official TypePad widget.
To add AnswerTips to your own TypePad blog, follow the wizard at I Want AnswerTips Too! Note that —rather contradictorily if you ask me—TypePad widgets can only be implemented on TypePad blogs without advanced templates.
Recent mentions of AnswerTips through a Google Blog Search, displayed in a Grazr widget:
Leon Ho, the Brisbane-based editor of A-list productivity blog LifeHack.org, sparked my inspiration today with a post on his personal blog, titled 0 to 12,000 RSS Subscribers. As his post title reveals, Leon shares several tips that might help you reach a larger readership on your blog within a relatively short amount of time.
First I bookmarked Leon’s post on del.icio.us (direct link to all bookmarks for Leon’s post), then I turned on coComment tracking so that I could follow the conversation. Still, I had some ideas of my own that would fit in nicely with Leon’s and I thought I’d submit a comment myself to add my own 2 cents to the story.
Unfortunately, Leon’s blog comment form seems to lack any basic kind of formatting so I decided I might as well devote an entire blog post to my take on increasing your subscriber base, although I realized all too well my subscriber count is at a mere 1% of his.
Summarizing Leon’s tips: use full feeds, give the RSS icon a prominent
position, provide consistent, high-quality content, offer email
subscriptions and make it easy for people to share your posts with their friends.
I’d like to a couple more tips to the mix that seemed to make a huge difference for me:
- Use large, attractive feed icons, preferably the ones that by now have become the defacto standard. They are freely available for download from FeedIcons. Host the icons yourself.
- Obvious to some: offer a browser-friendly version of your feed with FeedBurner and display the number of subscribers by embedding a FeedBurner FeedCount chicklet into your page, if you dare.
- Let people browse your feeds live from your pages by embedding a piece of code in the sidebar of your site. Really it’s not that difficult. Pick any of the many excellent tools so diligently demonstrated by David Rothman on his current and comprehensive, hands-on review page here: RSS to Web Page: Tool Output Examples.
- Make your feeds auto-discoverable and double-check that they are auto-discoverable indeed. Most blog hosting services take care of this already. If not: make sure the header of your pages contains code like this:
<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml"
title="Blog Posts Feed"
- Stick to a certain average posting frequency. To be totally honest I personally need to apply this principle to my own working discipline. When people first add your feed to their aggregator, the feed is likely to be included in a group called Probation or something similar. While your feed is there it has the attention from your subscriber. Your goal is to convince that reader to move your feed to a more permanent group, preferably the one named High Priority. So it’s ok if you don’t blog every day, as only a few people would be able to keep up anyway—just don’t drop the frequency to below once every two weeks. People lose interest or even get annoyed and bounce you off their list.
- Validate your feeds. Paste your feed URLs at feed a validator, such as FeedValidator. Fix errors.
- Consider offering email subscriptions through R|Mail. I’ve noticed a 20% increase since I signed up with Randy Morin’s service. Recipients are apparently very satisifed with how the posts are delivered. R|Mail is free.
- Subscribe to your own feed, both as a feed and by email, so that you know what your subscribers are receiving. Open the email version through web mail: sometimes the plain-text version looks awful. Switch to a different RSS-to-email service if this happens.
"Then Firefox 2.0 ruined it all. Everybody knew beforehand that the
Mozilla developers were going to introduce enhanced support for RSS: Firefox 2.0
would make it easier to use one’s own preferred RSS aggregator and there’d be an
RSS viewer. "
Though I wasn’t a very early adopter of FeedBurner—I only signed up little over
two years ago—I’ve always very much appreciated that I could offer my visitors a
formatted version of my web feeds using the BrowserFriendly feed optimization
method. Basically this service adds a stylesheet to your feeds so that they
don’t look ugly with <xml> tags when displayed in a browser.
Then Firefox 2.0 ruined it all. Everybody knew beforehand that the Mozilla
developers were going to introduce enhanced support for RSS: Firefox 2.0
would make it easier to use your own preferred RSS aggregator and there’d be an
RSS viewer. Well, contrary to my expectation, they did not integrate the code
from the excellent FeedView extension by Tom Germeau, even worse: they made
Firefox 2.0 insert its own displeasing stylesheet, overriding any existing one,
whether or not the feed was created with a 3rd-party service like
Apparently I wasn’t the only one complaining about this: luckily the
FeedBurner team recently improved the BrowserFriendly service so that the
original stylesheet is re-enabled, thus effectively restoring the original
FeedBurner rendering of your feeds in Firefox. Just tick the box "Always use my
selected landing page in all browsers" in the BrowserFriendly settings of the
Optimize Feed section and you’re all set.
Try the FeedBurner BrowserFriendly version of my newly created feed CleverJots, for
example. CleverJots is the feed that I’m currently also displaying in an
experimental, animated widget at the top of my blog, rotating a mash-up of
personal IM-like jotlets loosely joint with bookmarks from several of my
del.icio.us bookmark accounts.
There are a few caveats that Eric Lunt was kind enough to point out to me:
the proper stylesheet is only displayed when you click on a hyperlink that leads
to a BrowserFriendly FeedBurner feed. It won’t work if you manually type the URL
of the feed directly in your browser address bar. Secondly, sometimes your
browser cache may contain a copy of the previous rendering of the feed, causing
you to think that the BrowserFriendly service isn’t working well. If you clear
the cache, all should be well.
Another improvement to the BrowserFriendly service that’s mostly of interest
to non-English speakers is that you can choose to display your feed’s
subscription instructions in several languages: Spanish, French, Polish, Dutch,
German, Italian, Swedish, Portuguese and Russian. Several native speakers helped
to provide the translations.
If Firefox add-ons are your thing, there’s one that I find indispensable and
that you might find of use too: RSS Panel,
created by Johannes La Poutré. Once installed RSS Panel displays an orange
drop-down panel in the upper left-hand corner of your screen, showing you the
most recent feed entries tied to the page you are visiting. In collapsed state
it looks like this:
And this screenshot shows RSS Panel in expanded state for CleverClogs:
As an aside: this last screenshot painfully but clearly illustrates why from today I’m going to refrain
from posting del.icio.us bookmarks to my blog: they make me lazy and make my
site look rather bland. So as I see it now the bookmarks will go into the animated widget at the top of the page and I’ll be doing some proper blogging again.
Update November 30th, 2006: I’ve found several very interesting blog posts and conversations on the web:
Howto Disable Firefox 2’s Feed Preview by Paul Baker on October 27th, 2006. Paul’s post explains how to modify the file feedconverter.js so that Firefox no longer inserts its own stylesheet. (Pointer gratefully received from Mike Kowalchik of Grazr.com)
firefox, rss, xsl – from anger to apathy on 0xDECAFBAD, November 7th, 2006. In the light of the Feed Preview ‘misfeature’ Lee Orchard—XML/RSS/OPML expert—considers giving up geekhood in favor of farming sheep. I’d say "once a geek, always a geek". Besides, some geeks keep sheep (I do).
Firefox 2 Feed Support on Tins, October 5th, 2006. Rick Klau (of FeedBurner) is disappointed too by the fact that FeedBurner feeds are no longer displayed with their original stylesheets. In short: "But where publishers include an XSLT declaration – especially where that XSLT is superior to Firefox 2’s own – they should pass it through."
XML in Firefox is a Major Problem lengthy thread on the Google Group mozilla.dev.apps.firefox, started by Adam Scheinberg on November 2nd, 2006 and still running. Opponents (among whom Mark Pilgrim) and proponents (from the Mozilla Dev camp) defend their point of view. Several solutions are being offered, but so far it doesn’t seem like the Mozilla Foundation is going to withdraw their decision. Note that there are several other threads in this group that are relevant to the discussion.
XML+RSS with XSLT in Firefox 2.0 Beta 1 short thread on MozillaZine from August, 2006, which has this ‘solution’: "You can force mozilla to render the document as xml (using your style)
by ensuring that the rss tag does not appear within the first 512
Feed View overrides XSLT stylesheet defined in XML document Bugzilla entry started by François Gagné in May 2006 (!). Although this conversation is still running, commenters are requested to post their submissions to the Google Groups thread (listed as #4 here).
Custom styles for RSS, a wiki page on the Mozilla Development Documentation Center proposes three solutions to work around the Firefox Feed Preview feature:
- putting the
<rss>content in a prefixed namespace
- preceding the
<rss>element with an XML comment
- serving the content as UTF-16
The Goowy developers let the cat out of the bag yesterday by announcing the availability of YourMinis.com, a fully-configurable web-based desktop based on Flash. Everything about YourMinis is configurable and redistributable: you can create as many tabs as you like and drag so-called minis onto them. Minis are widgets with specific functionality: from PIM applets such as calendar, notes and to-do lists to bookmarks, photos, videos, email, weather, stock quotes, it’s all there. Similar to applying a regular desktop wallpaper the tab background and the title bar of each mini can be individually changed. Here’s a screenshot of what you can create in just a few minutes after signing up:
Even in pre-release mode YourMinis offers quite strong support for RSS reading already: it comes with a preloaded catalog of popular feed categories, you can add as many feeds of your own as you like and even import an OPML file from your local hard drive. Feeds can be viewed as a quicklist (with each entry’s contents in a pop-up) or as a regular two-pane browser.
The nice thing about YourMinis is that everything about it is dynamic, interactive and very attractive to the eye. From the YourMinis team blog I understand the developers are proud they have some outstanding graphic designers on board.
Click on this badge to open a transparent, live version of the very same tab:
Each mini has a drop-down menu icon containing a list of functions that are specific to that mini: for the Flickr widget these are functions like Thumb View, Full View, Photo Search, User View and Set As Background.
Published tabs are differentiated from unpublished ones through a little orange antenna next to the tab drop-down menu icon. Apart from embedding a tab on a website, you can also point your visitors to a full-page version of the tab: my public page for example is at http://ct.yourminis.com/cleverclogs. It seems you can create as many pages as you like. At this moment I’m also displaying my GMail account on the tab, I’m not so sure I’m going to keep it that way.
According to the Welcome to yourminis.com blogpost several impressive enhancements are on the drawing board already:
- a browser plugin for quick access to your personalized page (Firefox and Flock add-ons to be launched first, others to follow)
- auto-detection of web feeds, videos and other data sources on pages that you visit with the option to add those to your personal page
- tabs for communities with the option to for community members to contribute and subscription to tabs
- YourMinis badges
Suggestions for improvements
YourMinis still deserves the ’beta’ epithet: it sometimes behaves a bit unexpectedly and still seems a tiny bit rough on the edges. At one stage earlier today the service became unresponsive and I had to close the Firefox tab and reload the service. I had no unsaved data on any of my tabs, so this wasn’t a big deal for me. Then, while preparing this blog post the Flickr mini lost connection to my photo stream and showed no images. Several other minis were added to my tab without my asking. There’s a YourMinis support forum where users can connect to the developers directly and bring up issues.
Track what others wrote
I quickly created a news radar for YourMinis (thanks for choosing a unique name ;-))