Archive for the ‘RSS’ 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.
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:
Particls is entering public beta today. If you haven’t come across the name before: the product first started under the name Touchstone about a year ago, and then last April when it went private beta to a larger audience of testers, a much desired and appropriate name change was carried out.
Read on if any of these catchwords appeal to you:
- information overload
- personal relevance
- attention profile
- keyword monitoring
- importance-correlated disruption
I’d like to point out two remarks in today’s announcement on the Particls Blog that I definitely consider highlights: firstly it is now confirmed that a Particls version for OS X is in the pipeline. Secondly, bloggers and web site owners can share their Particls setup with a custom sidebar badge, such as this one:
Particls for OS X coming
The upcoming OS X version of Particls now officially being mentioned in a communique issued by Faraday Media is a real milestone. Ever since I got acquainted with the two creative minds behind Particls, Chris Saad and Ashley Angell, in February 2006—and also when I briefly met with Chris in person in San Francisco last December—the sensitive topic of Mac lovers feeling heavily neglected was frequently brought up.
"Ping me as soon as they make an OS X version available!", has probably been the most often heard reply from the tech journalists on my contact list when I would approach them with a brief but substantial update about Particls.
Ok, that said, what I haven’t managed to get hold of from the developers yet is an estimate release date for the OS X version, but I trust they’ll attract sufficient additional funding soon to make the first prototype available within a year from now. Until then Particls runs fine under Parallels Desktop for Mac.
Getting the download
Particls is now freely available for download from the Particls Download page. I suggest you get acquainted fast, because I’ll be shifting to fourth gear shortly.
I figured that a couple of other tech news sites would likely do a perfect job offering an introduction to the core functionality of Particls (see Track Your Favorite Topics … on Digital Inspiration from a few days ago, glance through my Particls news radar for a live-updated list of reviews, or refer to the Particls FAQ), so I decided in this post I might as well focus primarily on the publisher aspects of the product. Please follow me to the Particls inTouch introductory page while I describe the technical, practical aspects of this new Particls partner program.
Particls inTouch installer packages
Particls inTouch lets you share your own customized version of the full Particls installer package on your website. There are two flavors of inTouch, a basic one that generates an installer from a single feed or from a set of feeds (OPML), and an advanced one targeted at publishers obviously offering more granular control. I’ll describe both here.
inTouch Basic is the most simple way to offer your readers a Particls installer package: just type the web address of the website you’d like to track and copy the code from the box on your screen.
inTouch Basic also lets you enter the URL of a single RSS feed or from a set of RSS feeds, a so-called remotely hosted OPML file. Most online RSS aggregators allow you to create an OPML file and they’ll host it for you. The advantage of this is that any changes you make to your list of subscriptions is immediately reflected in the OPML file. Remotely hosted OPML files are often referred to as Reading Lists. If you are looking for high-quality OPML files around a certain topic, then browse the BlogBridge Topic Experts Guides. This library of OPML files offers tons of feeds on topics such as marketing, politics, online education and science & technology.
Here’s my inTouch Basic badge that simply tracks CleverClogs posts using Particls:
inTouch Partner offers publishers full control: after signing up for an account, they can choose which feeds to include with the package, which keywords to look out for, which ones to avoid, and they have the option to change the look and feel of all of the Particls screen elements, such as the logo and text color on the ticker and on the pop-ups. A personalized set-up file is generated and then hosted on the Particls servers so that your readers can download and install it. The inTouch user account allows Particls Partners to modify their settings later on.
My CleverClogs installer package, should you want to try it, is located at
and the underlying web address points to
Creating a Particls inTouch Installer Package
To have Particls host an installer package on its server, a user account needs to be created through the Partnership Sign-up form.
After signing up, a rather straightforward edit form opens that lets you enter the details to create the package:
Just for the fun of it, I added a CleverClogs logo to my ticker bar by changing the following options in the Settings and Skins. I then followed the instructions to upload the Particls skin file to their server:
This is what my Particls ticker looks like now:
Creating your own branded version of Particls
I had no difficulties creating my own Particls badge. In fact, you could use any badge image as long as you make it point to the web address at which Particls stores the installer package.
In short, these are the steps once more:
- Read the overview page of the Particls inTouch Partner program
- Sign up for the service at the inTouch Admin Console
- Create your custom installer package
- Get the code for your badge
- Insert the badge code into your blog
Ideas to improve Particls
It’s obvious I like Particls as it is very much already. Still, there are a couple of things I’d like the developers to pay attention to (!):
- Commit to releasing the OS X version and communicate about it
- Allow the Particls client to regularly poll a remote OPML and adjust the feed list accordingly
- Make it easier to quickly find back items that just scrolled off the screen
- Increase the font size of the ticker items
- Display the source of individual feed items in the alerts if not identical to the feed source (especially important for "River of News" feeds)
- Allow changing the URLs of feeds in the "Manage my feeds" panel
Particls News Radar
I’ve collected a couple of feeds related to Particls. Please feel free to use the comments section to suggest another feed.
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:
The FeedBurner View of the Feed Market report 2007 was released today, much to the delight of many industry analysts closely following the movements of RSS tool vendors. These analysts had been waiting for the report long enough: since the previous installment of the report, in November 2005, RSS marketing has become a much more serious business.
The illustrated report that FeedBurner made public today has a focus on web-based aggregators, which means that we can expect separate blog posts with FeedBurner’s take on the role of desktop readers, widgets and e-mail-based headline viewers. As a whole, FeedBurner is capable of differentiating over 3,000 different user agents.
Since its first Market Report for 2005 in the blog post Feed For Thought, FeedBurner’s various RSS services have gained tremendous popularity: according to information handed to me last week by Rick Klau, Vice-President of Publisher Services, FeedBurner currently handles these immense numbers:
- 340,000 feed publishers, who publish
- 600,000 feeds, resulting in
- 300 million feed requests every day
As explained in the FeedBurner report, these absolute numbers of subscriptions per se are not an ideal instrument to assess an individual aggregator’s market share, firstly because each of these vendors uses specific methods to report feed data. See the various kinds of metric that each vendor delivers in the table. Another issue is that the action of subscribing to a feed alone doesn’t guarantee that the feed items actually get read. Last week, when FeedBurner was finally able to incorporate realistic subscriber numbers for Google Reader and Google Personalized Homepage, the default feed sets included by many aggregators were the main cause that a lot of FeedBurner publishers reported subscriber increases much higher than the average of 59%.
Introducing "Audience Engagement"
A more realistic view of the web-aggregator market is obtained by embracing what FeedBurner calls Audience Engagement—"people reading feeds and people clicking on feeds". It turns out that from all clicks measured coming from web-based aggregators, those from My Yahoo!, Google and Bloglines represent 95% of the traffic.
A few bloggers have taken an in-depth, demographic-breakdown perspective on their FeedBurner pie charts this week:
- Google Reader | FeedBurner Stats Show Significant Market Share – Google Reader Now #1? by Andy Beard, 2007-02-17
- Google: World’s #1 Feed Reader by Jeremy Wright on Ensight, 2007-02-17
Read the conversations with each of these posts. One commenter named Franky writes: "… if Scoble links to you today you’ll see a huge shift in your feedburner
stats, because many Scoble subscribers will visit your blog from within
Google Reader, but only for today and the following days the number
will go down again."
Representatives from FeedBurner closely track mentions of their service and never seem to grow tired to explain their calculation methods. I’m sure there will be a very animated conversation on FeedBurner’s own blog too. Update: of course there is, particularly about the part i just quoted.
Here’s a live Grazr that lets you track the 100 most recent mentions of the FeedBurner Feed Market report:
"Please, CNET, look at these screenshots, read my comments on each of
them, and then tell me if you agree your website is in desperate need of a
make-over with respect to RSS support."
I don’t often use CleverClogs to rant about things or to complain about broken websites, but as I currently lack a proper connection to anyone responsible for the underwhelming implementation of RSS functionality at CNET News.com, I’m publishing some complaints here in a hopeful attempt that someone with enough influence will consider my feedback as constructive criticism and will have the suggested improvements carried out.
What I’m offering here is like a blueprint, a checklist to see if you really are offering your visitors everything you could be offering with regard to RSS technology. I hope others will benefit from this also.
Things to fix on the CNET News.com RSS feeds landing page:
- Use the common feed icon instead of the old-age XML one—not just on this page, but throughout the CNET domain. This icon is available for download in all kinds of formats and sizes from feedicons.com.
- Get rid of the abundance of ugly feed reader chicklets. A repetitive page such as this one hurts on the eyes, distracts from the actual list of feeds and makes me want to close the page straight away. Instead, rely on the browser-friendly feed subscription landing pages offered by FeedBurner, or use the attractive Subscribe button offered by iFeedReaders:
Once people indicate that they want to subscribe by clicking on a button, you can offer them the list of supported feed readers. iFeedReaders offers you a whole bunch of chicklets, including your own NewsBurst, and it allows your visitors to subscribe by email through RMail and FeedBlitz.
- Increase the number of items in each feed to at least 30.
- Offer full-length rich-media feeds instead of just the first sentence of every post.
- Provide an OPML for each section, or even better: let your readers select to which feeds they want to subscribe, and create a custom OPML for them on the fly. Use the standard OPML icon available from OPMLicons.com.
- Make any OPML that you provide auto-discoverable by using the <link rel> tag in the header of your HTML source.
- Run your feeds through a feed validator. I’m saying this because a number of errors show up when validating your feeds. I also notice heaps of empty lines when investigating their source.
- Provide links to the HTML versions of each of your columns: "Business Tech" on the feeds page would logically be hyperlinked to the Business Tech column.
- Fix the discrepancy between the number of News.com blogs mentioned in the sidebar of each blog (I count 37) and the number of blog feeds listed on the RSS feeds landing page (I count 28). I trust this is caused by the (recent?) additon of several new blogs.
- Don’t make me guess what each of your blogs has to offer. Put a Grazr widget in your sidebar that allows me to browse live other blogs/feeds/columns that might be of interest. You could even offer your readers keyword and keyphrase search among all of your feeds and let them generate custom-keyword feeds from their searches. For an example, see the one designed for the Power 150 by Todd And.
CNET’s prompt to subscribe to a specific keyword by email looks promising at first glance, but it’s a real disappointment once you click through.
Here are some suggestions for CNET Alerts:
- Allow readers to select from which CNET News.com sources they want to receive alerts: from specific columns, from any favorite authors, from selected blogs.
- Don’t just offer e-mail alerts—provide the whole range of output options: e-mail, My News, RSS, IM, web widgets, SMS. There are plenty of RSS tool vendors who can assist in setting up gateways to enable these channels. With the risk of leaving out others, I suggest you consider at least the services ZapTXT, Feed Crier and MuseStorm.
- Offer the option to subscribe to a single news post with its comments. You can use RSS for this, or so-called microformats.
- Fix the bug that allowed me to create the following appalling screenshot (note the spelling error)
Someone at CNET has been sleeping over the past few years. A whole truckload full of RSS and search techniques has become available in the recent years and in my opinion CNET is not offering enough of these to its readers.
Please use the comments section to share your ideas.
Update: I just realized I can use Bitty Browser to show you the live number of Diggs that this story has received:
"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.
Quite a few bookmarks being labeled with the tag "RSS" on del.icio.us refer to stuff I’ve already seen before: sites that I bookmarked myself, RSS tools and services that everybody seems to know about already or—especially annoying lately—pages undeservedly tagged "RSS", aka downright spam.
This morning, however, something showed up that did grab my attention: a project by Kent Brewster in which he demonstrates how useful it is that some major RSS-enabled web services have opened up their architecture. For a day-time job Kent works at Yahoo! in Silicon Valley, but from what I read on his side-projects page, he enjoys spending a lot of his spare time programming as well.
Let’s look at a screenshot, as usual. Click on it to open a full-size version of the image:
So what does FeedFlinger let you do?
Quoting Kent’s blog post:
"FeedFlinger is a prototype nothing-but-net RSS explorer, mashing up Feedburner’s sweet tasty new JSON return for source material, two flavors of Yahoo! Search for search and term extraction, and del.icio.us for storing and sharing."
And in my words: the Find Me instant search box allows you to type in the name of a feed. In this implementation it’s the Yahoo! Search API that limits the search results to just FeedBurner feeds. Selected feeds get added to a list in the right-hand panel. I chose my own River of News feed and the FeedBurner blog Burning Door, for example. You can see that each feed in the collection is displayed with all its feed items.
Hover your mouse on any entry and a pop-up is shown with a summary of its contents. Then Yahoo!’s Term Extraction API comes into play, generating a list of terms ordered by frequency of occurrence. This keyword list is displayed in the top-left column, called Interesting Terms.
The final step is to bookmark your custom collection of feeds, on del.icio.us of course.
A summary of FeedFlinger is listed on ProgrammableWeb in the category RSS mashups: FeedFlinger on ProgrammableWeb.
Final words: FeedFlinger is a work in progress, but definitely a fine one at that: Kent diligently documents the bugs he’s still working on, most importantly the lack of cross-browser compatibility. In real life I’m not to sure limiting feed search to just FeedBurner results is that useful, but that’s beside the point of Kent’s project: he clearly wants to demonstrate what’s currently possible.
Here’s a Grazr about FeedFlinger, to finish off the icing on today’s cake:
Chris Saad, CEO of the young Australian start-up Faraday Media that produces Touchstone, published a rather cryptic screenshot today of the new interface for the Touchstone version that apparently is going to go be available in private beta anytime soon. His blog post is titled I love the new Touchstone Beta + FlickrBabes.com.
A few weeks ago I described Touchstone’s functionality and the potential I see for it in a comment on Dave Winer’s blog:
"I’d vote for the talented guys behind Touchstone … basically scans your browsing history, your bookmarks, e-mail, documents and other stuff that characterizes your personal attention stream.
You then select the sources that are likely to produce information that might be of interest to you. It makes sense to use web feeds for this of course, or people could develop their own input adapter.
I appreciate this method of managing information overload because the Touchstone engine will only display bits of incoming information if they match your attention profile above the granular thresholds that you determine. The more important that information is to you, the more persistent and disruptive its presentation.
With lots of bloggers talking about handling information overload and attention management, I believe Touchstone provides a viable solution for a real pain.
Ties: the CEO’s a Skype buddy of mine and he once paid me dinner."
I’ve fought quite a few Touchstone alpha releases myself over the past few months and exposed several of my closest blogging friends to its bugs, so it’s not that I don’t know what Touchstone is about. What these Australians didn’t tell me so far though is that their new product apparently is capable of sending Flickr feeds to my Windows system tray—look at the enlarged version of the Touchstone screenshot that Chris put in his blog post:
Will the new Touchstone be able to offer streams of rich media to my desktop?
If Chris publishes a screenshot like this, it most likely means he and his development team, led by Ashley Angell, are very close to announcing the private beta. I’ve already Twittered in his direction about it this morning. He’s awfully quiet on Skype, so now all we can do is wait. If you haven’t signed up yet, then rush to the sidebar of the Touchstone website and fill in your e-mail address.
Update: Someone submitted this blog post to Digg (visit to vote) just now. It’s such fun to see my TypePad stats page being swarmed by Digg visitors: