Experiments in writing, by Marjolein Hoekstra @OneNoteC

Archive for the ‘Web Alert Services’ Category

The CNET Ultimate RSS Make-Over

with 7 comments

"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, 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 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
  • 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
  • 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 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 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:

Written by CleverClogs

February 12th, 2007 at 5:28 pm

Personal CustomScoop Invites

without comments

Today Personal CustomScoop surprised me with 5 invites that I can give away to anyone who’d care to try out their service. CustomScoop currently runs a free-to-join beta program that allows you to track news on any topic that you like. I’m particularly interested in their service because I already reviewed their full-service, professional offerings in an article about Market Intelligence News Radars in February 2005. 


As you can see from the snapshot, I am currently using the CustomScoop service to be notified when any of the 40,000 newspapers, magazines, blogs and political web sites monitored mentions the availability of alert services (RSS feeds) based on user-selected keywords. Currently CustomScoop’s limited, ‘Personal’ offering consists of two notification messages a day, mind you, by email.

I found the CustomScoop search criteria form very easy to use. It seems to allow an unlimited number of search words and phrases, and even allows to specify document properties like language, country, document type and so on. Something tells me I should insert a couple of quotes in my queries to reduce the noise.

Now wouldn’t it be truly stunning when the CustomScoop people themselves would start offering exactly those custom, keyword-based RSS feeds to their customers? I trust their very own service will notify me about that news as soon as it’s real…

If you’re interested in an invite, don’t hesitate to let me know.

Written by Marjolein Hoekstra

October 8th, 2005 at 8:33 pm

Posted in Web Alert Services