// Internet Duct Tape

Really Simple Syndication

Lifehacks and Productivity

What is RSS and what can it do for you?

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How to Get an RSS Feed for your XBOX 360 Gamertag

Hacking RSS with Yahoo Pipes

My geek want of the day is getting an RSS feed of my Xbox 360 game activity so that I can use it with lifestreaming services. For once I’m not the only person who feels this need. There’s at least two of us! :)

badger-tweet.png

I’m not sure why Microsoft doesn’t make an RSS feed of your Xbox Live activity available. The information is all there, they publish it as a gamercard. But they don’t give you access to the raw data to do with as you please unless you’re a member of the Xbox Community Developers Program. Here are the various ways you can access your Xbox 360 Gamercard to use with other websites.

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Building an RSS Templating System

Hacking RSS with Yahoo Pipes

The blog posts might have been slow lately, but that’s only because there’s been an accumulation of interesting projects piling up on my hard drive. Here’s a few things that are in the pipe (which I’m talking about to stop my procrastination and force me to release them):

  • Sandbox Theme for Tumblr so that you can use Sandbox CSS themes on tumblr.com
  • Tumblr Theme Templates to make it easier to develop themes for tumblr.com without having to upload your theme to tumblr.com
  • Tumblr automatic backup + restore
  • WordPress.com automatic backup
  • Twitter There Will Be Followers – program to automatically follow back anyone who is following you on Twitter
  • PostMaster html2blog – automatically post formatted HTML to Tumblr, Blogger or WordPress
  • rss2html – powerful templating system for converting an RSS feed into HTML

It’s the last one I want to talk about. I’ve gotten tired of using Yahoo Pipes + Pipe Cleaner to build digest posts. It’s kind of a pain in the butt. So I want something that can take an rss feed, convert it to html so that I can use another program for automatically posting it to the blog. I’m not going the plugin route because of WordPress.com’s inability to support javascript or PHP plugins.

This is what I’ve come up with.

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Tagged with:

How to Explain RSS to Normal People – 2008 Edition

Posted in Building a Community, Facebook, Humor, RSS Syndication, Ruby, Technology by engtech on February 28, 2008

Social Software and You

As a geek who enjoys spending too much time on the internet, I like RSS almost as much as delicious toast. As a blogger, RSS is the shiznitz because it lets you consume a lot more information and it makes it easier for other people to read your blog without having to drop by every few days to see if you’ve written something new.

For something so useful, it’s pretty hard to explain why people should use RSS. Lots of people try to do it. This is my take on it. It’s 2008 and explaining RSS should be much simpler because if you’ve used Facebook, then you’ve used RSS.

RSS for Normal People (who use Facebook)

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Tagged with: , , ,

Yahoo Pipe: Sub-Reddit Feed Filter

Posted in Delicious, Reddit, Ruby on Rails, Technology, Yahoo Pipes by engtech on January 28, 2008

Hacking RSS with Yahoo Pipes

Popular social bookmarking site Reddit has announced a great new feature: users can create their own sub-reddit. What does this mean in English? Users and communities can create their own social bookmarking sites around specific topics: blogging, wordpress, specific programming languages, etc but still use their regular reddit account for submitting links and voting.

You can see a full list of all the new reddits here, sorted by popularity. Of particular interest to me is the new Reddit created for Ruby/Rails related posts.

Of course, it’d be nice to be able to subscribe to a filtered version of these links. I’ve created a modified version of Dave S‘s “reddit popular on delicious” Yahoo Pipe that works with Sub-reddits.

  1. Click on the link
  2. Enter the name of the sub-reddit you’re interested in
  3. Enter the minimum number of saves on a delicious before a link is included in the feed
  4. Enter keyword inclusion/exclusion filters if you want to limit what you get
    • ie: include only rails-related posts or exclude all rails-related posts
  5. Click Run
  6. Click on the subscribe to RSS button

I’m using the Ruby sub-reddit as an example, but this is a great way to track links based around any topic there is a sub-reddit for. Even lolcats.

I’m looking forward to when this Reddit feature comes out of beta and it’s possible to create a few new sub-reddits like blogging, wordpress and lifehacks.

Related Posts

How to Subscribe to RSS Feeds with Google Reader and Internet Explorer

Posted in Google Calendar and Gmail, RSS Syndication, Technology by engtech on November 08, 2007

Mastering the Google

In August I was being the dutiful son and trying to get my father hooked on RSS feeds. (It’s like the Ring — if you get someone hooked on RSS you no longer have 700 unread items in Google Reader)

I hit a snag: his browser of choice is Internet Explorer and there wasn’t a simple way to “one-click subscribe” like there is in Firefox. I couldn’t come up with a quick solution while I was there, but I did bitch about it afterwards which lead to one of my readers coming up with a solution using Google Toolbar. Thanks!

To Install

Step 1: Install Google Toolbar (if you don’t already have it)

Step 2: Install the Add to Google Reader button for the toolbar

To Use

Step 1: Click on an RSS feed link

Subscribe to feed
Click to subscribe using RSS

Step 2: Click on the RSS icon in the Google Toolbar

subscribe with Google Reader and Internet Explorer

Step 3: Choose the Subscribe with Google Reader option

one click subscribe with google reader

The only gotcha is that you have to click on the feed URL before clicking on the Add to Google Reader button. This is because the Google Toolbar Button API doesn’t support RSS feed autodiscovery (something they’ll hopefully rectify). It’s still not as simple as subscribing to a feed with Firefox, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Thanks for helping me with this Eric, this is a great example of the lazyweb in action.

For the geeks in the audience, building a custom button is quite easy. I’m going to have to give it a try some time.


<?xml version="1.0"?>
<custombuttons xmlns="http://toolbar.google.com/custombuttons/">
  <button>
    <title>Add to Google Reader</title>
    <description>Add to Google Reader</description>
    <site>http://fusion.google.com/ig/add?feedurl={url.noescape}</site>
    <search>http://fusion.google.com/ig/add?feedurl={query}</search>
    <icon>...snip...</icon>
    <update>http://www.zouric.com/geek/addtogooglereader.xml</update>
  </button>
</custombuttons>

The Attention Age: Accelerando, Software Agents, Filters and Gatekeepers

Posted in Book Reviews, Digital Culture, RSS Syndication, Software, Technology by engtech on October 17, 2007

Last night I finished reading Accelerando by Charles Stross. Like many of the books I read these days, I heard about it from another blogger. It feels like a spiritual sequel to Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, John Brunner’s the Shockwave Rider and Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan. It is about information overload to the nth degree and too much change in too short of a time.accelerando charles stross

Accelerando is broken into 9 fragmented stories with decades passing in between them. This is too bad because it was the initial segment, only a few years in the future, that I found most interesting. Our protagonist is hooked up to a portable computing network of software agents that he uses to continually data mine and plug-in to a “river of news”. As he communicates with other people he spawns off parts of his “distributed brain” to research more information and get back to him.

The greatest inventions usually come from seeing the possible connection between two separate things (eg: peanut butter and chocolate). Like in the Shockwave Rider, our protagonist is successful because of his ability to gather and process information is so far beyond an average person’s. Being immersed in the information stream he sees the connections and trends that other’s can’t see.

These connections lead to so many successful ideas, that he can’t possibly execute on them himself – because the time it takes to implement them would take away from the information processing that is his true talent. He makes a career of giving away his ideas and surviving off of the reputation gain and support of his sponsors he’s made so successful. Very much like Doctorow’s concept of whuffie – reputation as currency.

The book progresses to talking about the post-human experience after digitization has reached the point that we can successfully digitally encode human personalities. Post-death society, heads in jars and living bodiless on the internet. There’s a really good bit on how the next major species will be intelligent corporations and artificial spam intelligence. But what really interested me was the initial chapters so close to the beginning 21st century: how do we use technology to deal with information overload?

(You can get a copy of Accelerando for free online – which is very useful because the copy I borrowed from the library was missing the last page – now that’s frustrating)

It’s Getting Harder to Find Information

We’re in the middle of a great revolution where anyone can become a self-publisher. But that’s the crux of the problem, isn’t it? Anyone can become a self-publisher. The low barrier to entry makes the competition for attention fierce. At some level we’re all on par with the lowliest spammers, trying to compete for other people’s attention. There is so much new content being created all the time at the only way old content stays in the public record is if the Great Google God returns it in a search result.

This is only going to get worse because Google has created a new caste of blogging serfdom. People create content and splash Google ads on it with the hope of that it will do well in Google search results so they can get paid.

There’s many a “business model” that relies completely on Google-Google Search for traffic and Google AdSense for revenue. And there’s an even larger amount of so-called business models that rely almost completely on Google for traffic, even if the money comes in via other means.

I think you know what happens to the money when the traffic stops.

I use the term “business model” above loosely, because a model that is entirely dependent on an outside company, for either traffic or revenue or both, is not really sound. You’re not in charge and you have very little control, because if Google decides to change the rules, you’re out of luck. Based on that, I would argue that relying on Google is not a business at all.

I’d say you work for Google.

From the Teaching Sells e-book

Where are the Smart Filtering Agents?

One of the things I remember clearly about the idea of intelligent agents in the early 90s was how it was going to revolutionize how we consume information. Instead of having to *gasp* pick up a newspaper, autonomous software agents would search the net finding tidbits of information what we were interested in and adapting and learning from how we interact with the results. Sci-fi books like John Varley’s Steel Beach dealt with the relationships between humans and these evolving artificial intelligences.

Take a moment to glance at the Wikipedia page on software agents; it’s quite good.

The 90s hope for intelligent agents has congealed. RSS has gotten us part of the way; now we can pick voices out of the chaos that we allow to push information to us. We can subscribe to alerts on search subjects that interest us. But aside from custom recommendation engines like Netflix and Last.FM there isn’t really a bot out there for finding information for us.

The Future: RSS Filtering

I see the fledgling baby steps of software agents delivering news. There are several sites competing for being able to filter through a list of RSS feeds and recommend the best news items to you.

There’s also the “build your own” filtering agent approach.

And let’s not forget the ability to monitor search terms.

One of the more enlightened concepts I’ve come across is FaveBot that wants to bring you the custom information you want about your favorite actors, authors and musicians.

Is the Answer Better Gatekeepers?

Is having an intelligent software agent the right approach or is it better to let humans do the filtering? The past year has seen an incredible rising in using crowdsourcing to decide what is the best information available. This is how digg, reddit, stumbleupon and the delicious popular page find interesting information by using the wisdom of mobs. Unfortunately when the user-base grows too large it becomes watered down to only common denominators.

The other approach is to find human editors to act as your gatekeeper. I’m not talking about hiring your man in Mumbai, but rather niche news sites like Slashdot, BoingBoing and Fark, and to a greater extent using the network of blogs you enjoy to act as your information gate keepers.

The last.FM music service is an amazing tool for finding new music to listen to. What makes it even stronger is its ability to find your “neighbours” – people you don’t know who have similar musical tastes. Listening to your neighbourhood radio is like having a friend who’s a DJ and always pushing new and interesting songs at you.

last.fm music neighbourhood

I don’t know any of these people, but I like their musical tastes.

Maybe instead of software agents we need software that connects us to other people who have similar interests? I read LifeHacker because I know the editors have very similar sensibilities to what I find interesting. Jon Udell shares my same love for information organization and manipulation. Jeff Atwood has perhaps one of the most engaging blogs for general geekery and love of programming, and his twitterstream is always full of interesting links.

The only downside to filtering information is that restricting your input to the people you already agree with creates a reinforcing feedback loop and destroys your patience and your ability to be around people with differing outlooks.

Related Posts

Blog Tip: Create a Link Post in 3 Seconds

Posted in Becoming a Better Blogger, Delicious, Technology, Yahoo Pipes by engtech on October 03, 2007

Bloggin Tips and Tricks

This is the successor to my post on how to build a weekly digest in 3 seconds.

One question I’m frequently asked is “how do you build those Best of Feeds weekly links?” The way I do it is pretty complicated, but I’ve found a much simpler solution that I want to share with you all. Building a list of links is something every blogger does at one time or another, and it doesn’t have to be hard.

Why Create a Link Post?

Link posts are great ways to share and acknowledge interesting links. Linking to other blogs is what makes the blogosphere tick. If you don’t routinely read and link to other bloggers then your using your blog as a one-way soapbox instead of as a medium for sparking communication and building relationships.

Link posts can be used for a variety of reasons:

  • Weekly Round-up
  • List of resources about a subject
  • List of group writing participants
  • List of contest participants

Here are some more tips from the experts on why create a link post

Step #1: Use Delicious to Save Links

I’m a delicious power user and it’s my favourite site for bookmarking interesting links. It integrates nicely with whatever web browser you are using.

This video explains how to use Delicious to bookmark sites

Delicious already comes with a way of posting a daily link report, but I don’t like it because I feel like I’m spamming my regular readers if my blog is filled with “links for 2007-10-02″ instead of stuff I wrote myself. I much prefer posting once a week, or having full control over when I post my list of links.

But the delicious tagging system is so useful for building a list of links around a specific subject, and for attaching short descriptions around each link. For instance, I used the ‘project3′ tag when I was picking out my favorite posts from the Project 3 group writing project on Daily Blog Tips.

Delicious also integrates nicely into your web browser, no matter what it might be.

Step #2: Use Delicious Link Builder

I’ve created a Yahoo Pipe that builds a list of your del.icio.us links that you can cut-and-paste into a blog post.

  1. Put in your delicious username
  2. Optional: Filter your links by a tag
  3. Optional: Filter your links by date
  4. Optional: Limit the number of links (maximum is 31, this is a limit from del.icio.us)
  5. Click ‘Run Pipe
  6. Cut-and-paste the results into a blog post using your WYSIWYG editor

Delicious Link Builder

The Results

This is an example of a list from my delicious saved bookmarks.

That’s all there is to it. Bookmark web pages with delicious, then go into Delicious Link Builder when you want to make a list of them.

You can start by bookmarking this post. :)

Advanced Users – Pretty Cut-n-Paste

I use a Greasemonkey script in Firefox to make the output of Yahoo Pipes a little bit nicer.

  1. How to Install Greasemonkey
  2. How to Install a Greasemonkey Script
  3. Install Yahoo Pipe Cleaner

Advanced Users – Clone Your Own Pipe

If you’re logged into Yahoo then you’ll have the option to ‘clone’ my Pipe (Delicious Links Builder). This means you have your own copy of it and you can change the default values for the fields to whatever you want, eg: always default to your username, and to 7 days worth of links.

Advanced Users – StumbleUpon

If you’re using delicious to save bookmarks, you can also use another handy Greasemonkey script I created that lets you save web pages to StumbleUpon at the same time you’re saving them to Delicious.

Related Links

There’s Plenty More

See the full list of free software I have created.

You can get frequent updates about all of my new software, tools or blog themes by subscribing to IDT Labs by RSS or by email. Or you could just subscribe to my main blog, Internet Duct Tape.

Subscribe to feed

This post was written as part of the Geeks Are Sexy Ultimate “How-To” contest.

Blog Tip: Creating a Blog Maintenance Start Page with Netvibes

Posted in RSS Syndication, Technology, Technorati, Twitter, WordPress.com Tips by engtech on September 25, 2007

Bloggin Tips and Tricks

In Blogger GTD, Leo mentioned that it was a good idea to have one inbox for all your blogging related notifications. I hate cluttering in my inbox, but I do agree that it makes sense to have a single point of reference rather to spend 5 minutes checking some information in one place and then spend 5 minutes checking information in another place. As Skelliewag says, those 5 minutes add up over the course of a day and by the end of it you’ve wasted an hour.

Directing everything to my inbox would never work for me, but it is possible to have a single start page for all your blog maintenance activities using Netvibes. If you aren’t familiar with Netvibes it is a combination of an RSS feed aggregator and a widget platform. It is analogous to iGoogle (but works better). In simple terms Netvibes lets you put lots of information in one place and look at information from several web pages on a single page.

blog maintenance netvibes start page

If you’ve never tried it out before then please visit http://netvibes.com — they let you play around with a default page even if you don’t have an account.

This is what I put on my blog maintenance start page. Replace internetducttape.com or engtech.wordpress.com with your blog URL.

Column 1: Comment Administration and Social Site Monitoring

blog maintenance netvibes comment monitoring

The first column is for things that I want to respond quickly to — comments and checking to see if my site is submitted to Digg or Reddit.

Box #1: Comments RSS feed: http://internetducttape.com/comments/feed

Or you could use my WordPress Comment Extractor / WordPress Trackback Extractor to get only the comments or only the trackbacks.

Box #2: Shortcuts to WordPress administration activities using the Netvibes Bookmarks widget.

Bookmarks: http://www.netvibes.com/subscribe.php?module=Bookmarks

I add the following bookmarks:

Box #3: Social Site Submission Watchdog is a custom Yahoo Pipe I created.

Click on this link then

  • change your blog URL
  • click on Run Pipe
  • copy the RSS link to Netvibes

Column 2: Blog Stats

blog maintenance netvibes check blog stats

It’s a bad idea to check your blog stats multiple times a day, but is it so bad if you’re also checking blog comments, emails and instant messages at the same time?

Box #1: This will only work for WordPress.com bloggers, which is too bad because it’s a great way to check stats at a glance.

WordPress.com Mobile Widget: http://gamespotting.net/wordpressnetvibes.html

Box #2: Technorati Rank from RSS. Another custom Yahoo Pipe. This one is a little more complicated to install because you’ll need your Technorati API key.

Click on this link then

  • change your blog URL
  • find your Technorati API key and cut-and-paste it
  • click on Run Pipe
  • copy the RSS link to Netvibes

Box #3: Filtered Blog Reactions from Technorati. This is another custom Yahoo Pipe. It shows the blog URL as the title and links to the front page instead of directly to the post.

Click on this link then

  • change your blog URL
  • click on Run Pipe
  • copy the RSS link to Netvibes

You could use this RSS feed instead: http://feeds.technorati.com/search/internetducttape.com

Column 3: Direct Communication

netvibes blog maintenance communication twitter

I use the second tab as a way to keep a quick check on how I stay in contact with other bloggers — through Gmail and Twitter.

Box #1: Gmail: http://www.netvibes.com/subscribe.php?module=Gmail

I use a dedicated Gmail account for blogging — I don’t receive any personal or work related email with that account.

Box #2: Twitter Replies RSS feed: http://twitter.com/statuses/replies.rss

This shows some of the power of Netvibes — you can view password protected RSS feeds.

Box #3: Twitter: http://www.netvibes.com/subscribe.php?module=Twitter

Create Your Own Blog Maintenance Start Page

This gives you a few ideas of how I use the service, but the possibilities are endless.

For instance there is a Facebook widget: http://www.netvibes.com/subscribe.php?module=Facebook

Not to mention several widgets that let you directly embed a web page. Using those generic modules you can embed Google Reader into Netvibes and other crazy stuff like that.

What are you going to put on your blog maintenance start page?

Greasemonkey Script: Yahoo Pipe Cleaner

Posted in Firefox and Greasemonkey, Technology, Yahoo Pipes by engtech on August 13, 2007

Hacking RSS with Yahoo Pipes

I’m a very big fan of Yahoo Pipes. It’s an amazing service that lets you take information from websites (using RSS, XML, JSON) and then do all kinds of filtering and manipulation with it. It is all done with a slick graphical user interface but it is not for the faint of heart — it is much easier to create new pipes if you have a programming background. But once a pipe is created it is simple for other people to use it. For example, this is how you can create a blog digest post using a Yahoo Pipe I’ve created for you.

Yahoo Pipes can create automated lists that you can cut-and-paste into blog posts. My only real complaint is with the HTML markup they create. It doesn’t look good when you cut-and-paste it into a WordPress blog. This is where Yahoo Pipe Cleaner comes in. It is a Greasemonkey script for Firefox that fixes the Yahoo Pipe output so that it looks nicer when you cut-and-paste it into a WordPress blog.

  • removes any H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H6 headers
  • dofollows the links (removes rel=nofollow)
  • replaces paragraphs with list elements
  • removes all class/id CSS selectors

Without Yahoo Pipe Cleaner

 

  • Facebook Tip: Broadcast your Facebook status as RSS

    RSS is one of the most useful tools out there for moving information around on the web. Recently the concept of “micro-blogging” status updates has become very popular with applications like Facebook, Twitter and Pownce. The only problem is that it is a pain to update many sites at the…

  • How Do People Use Google Reader with Internet Explorer?

    Any computer geek worth his salt has been through the drill: you go to visit a family member for dinner and eventually they mention some arcane problem they’ve been having with software you long ago expunged from all of your computers. Common culprits are the Unholy Triad: Microsoft Outlook,…

With Yahoo Pipe Cleaner

  • Facebook Tip: Broadcast your Facebook status as RSS
    • RSS is one of the most useful tools out there for moving information around on the web. Recently the concept of “micro-blogging” status updates has become very popular with applications like Facebook, Twitter and Pownce. The only problem is that it is a pain to update many sites at the…
  • How Do People Use Google Reader with Internet Explorer?
    • Any computer geek worth his salt has been through the drill: you go to visit a family member for dinner and eventually they mention some arcane problem they’ve been having with software you long ago expunged from all of your computers. Common culprits are the Unholy Triad: Microsoft Outlook,…

Get Yahoo Pipe Cleaner

You can find installation instructions for Yahoo Pipe Cleaner here.

Facebook Tip: Broadcast your Facebook status as RSS

Posted in Facebook, Technology, Twitter, Yahoo Pipes by engtech on August 08, 2007

RSS is one of the most useful tools out there for moving information around on the web. Recently the concept of “micro-blogging” status updates has become very popular with applications like Facebook, Twitter and Pownce. The only problem is that it is a pain to update many sites at the same time. It is better to pick one and broadcast RSS to the others. I’m going to show you how to broadcast your Facebook status to Twitter.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: The Twitter Facebook App now lets you control your Facebook status from Twitter. This tip lets you posts your Facebook status in Twitter. Using them together is a very bad idea.

How to Find the RSS Feed for Your Facebook Status

This is actually the hardest part.

  1. Login to Facebook
  2. Click on Profile tab
  3. Under the Mini-Feed heading click on See All
  4. Click on Status Stories from the right hand column
  5. Right click on My Status and copy the link

facebook rss status

Filtering Your Status with Yahoo Pipes

I’ve put together a Yahoo Pipe that filters your status. This isn’t necessary, but it makes the status updates look a little bit better in other applications like Twitter. It removes your name, and changes the link to go to your profile instead of the individual status. Feel free to clone it and tweak it some more.

Eric is washing his cat.

becomes

is washing his cat (from Facebook status).

and the feed link is set to your Facebook profile.

  1. Go to this Yahoo Pipe
  2. Copy your Facebook status RSS feed
  3. Click Run Pipe
  4. Click on Subscribe
  5. Right click on Get as RSS and copy link

You can now put this filter RSS into TwitterFeed, your blog sidebar, etc.

Special Thanks

Related Posts

How Do People Use Google Reader with Internet Explorer?

Posted in Firefox and Greasemonkey, RSS Syndication, Technology by engtech on August 06, 2007

Web Browser Tips & Tricks

Any computer geek worth his salt has been through the drill: you go to visit a family member for dinner and eventually they mention some arcane problem they’ve been having with software you long ago expunged from all of your computers. Common culprits are the Unholy Triad: Microsoft Outlook, Internet Explorer and Norton Anti-Virus. But what’s much worse than when solving some niggling problem that is only caused by their choice apps is when you volunteer to enter the belly of the beast and perform some “improvements” of your own free will.

To all the computer geeks reading this I offer you a humble warning: nothing good can come from volunteering to “improve” a family member’s computer. Don’t fix what ain’t broke.

I was at my father’s house this weekend. A relaxing day of pool, reading and sun followed by a delicious barbeque left me content and sated. My normal cynicism when it comes to technology was at an all time low. He isn’t as technically minded as me, and for a long time I’ve been wanting to get him set up using an RSS feed reader. He has never used them before but he understood the basic concept: RSS is like getting email newsletters of website updates, but without clogging your email. RSS is a blogger’s best friend. It lets us keep track of each other’s updates painlessly and effortlessly. He has a blog of his own and using Google Reader would make it very easy for him to share posts and links on his blog using the Shared Items feature and a widget in his blog’s sidebar.

rss feeds the oprah way

Google Reader was an easy choice because it is the feed reader I use every day. It is the most widely adopted web-based RSS reader with 50-60% market share. The interface is similar to Gmail. It lets you quickly scroll through items, starring stuff you want to find again later and sharing items with other people. But the deciding factor for me is that it is the reader I use every day — always get your family members using the same software you do if you want to have any hope of troubleshooting problems later.

The initial steps were easy: create a new Gmail account for his blog identity that doesn’t use his real name (since that is displayed by your Google Shared Items), add that identity to his Blogger blog as admin, and add his Google Shared Items as a sidebar widget on his blog. It all went very smoothly until I started subscribing to feeds.

Internet Explorer 6 Sucks for RSS

He is still a die hard Internet Explorer 6 user, and it’s all my fault because of articles like this where I explain how to downgrade from IE7 to IE6. Internet Explorer 6 is really bad for reading RSS feeds because it doesn’t understand RSS at all. I so rarely use IE6 that I had forgotten that it doesn’t know how to automatically find the RSS feed for a page (“RSS autodiscovery”) and that when you click on an RSS link it displays crap like this:

interet explorer rss feed looks like crap

What are you supposed to do with something like that? The answer is that you cut-and-paste the feed URL and add it to Google Reader manually. Is someone new to RSS ever going to do that? No.

There is an easier way of doing it using a bookmarklet — a piece of Javascript that you save as a bookmark (or “Add as Favorite” in IE lingo). You can find a bookmarklet for doing that in Google Reader under Settings and then Goodies. Unfortunately it didn’t work properly because of either his Internet Explorer security settings or because of a conflict with Norton Anti-Virus. He likes to save his bookmarks on the desktop to access them instead of using the Favorites menu, so the chances of getting him to use a bookmarklet were already slim to none. Back to the drawing board.

google toolbar example

Instead of trying to figure out the conflict, I decided to add the Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer. Google Toolbar is a great little add-on for any web browser. You can edit the buttons to add all kinds of neat things like searching within the current website, notification of new Gmail messages, toggling highlighting of search terms on the current page and Google Reader notification of new posts in your RSS feeds. But what is missing is a way to one-click subscribe to the current site in Google Reader.

Screw this. One of the “advanced” features of Internet Explorer 7 is better RSS integration, so it’s time for an unplanned upgrade. 15 minutes and one reboot later we’re running the latest and greatest IE7 — and having the exact same problems!

How Do People Subscribe with Google Reader in IE7?

When you click on an RSS link in IE7 you at least get something you can read with an option to subscribe to it. But it only defaults to the built-in Internet Explorer 7 feed reader — it doesn’t give an option to subscribe to Google Reader. It’s much better than IE6 but it still doesn’t solve my problem: I want him to be able to add subscriptions to Google Reader with one click. The bookmarklet still isn’t working properly under Internet Explorer 7.

I’m tired, frustrated and desperate so I decide to pull out the big guns. Firefox has this amazingly little tool called Greasemonkey that makes it trivial to add additional functionality to your web browser. I know that there’s a Greasemonkey script to let you one click subscribe to RSS feeds in Google Reader. I know that it’s possible to manhandle IE to force it to be able to run Greasemonkey user scripts… Google tells me that a plugin called IE7Pro can do it, but after I install IE7Pro it doesn’t understand how to install Greasemonkey scripts.

WTF? THIS IS SO SIMPLE TO DO IN FIREFOX! Why in the world is everything so hard in Internet Explorer? How do people surf the Internet like this?

For any non-believers in the audience, let me show you how easy RSS works in Firefox land.

Firefox + Google Reader = Crazy Delicious

Firefox understands when a website has an RSS feed auto-discovery link. You don’t have to search through the entire page to find the stupid orange button, you can click on the button in your address bar.

Step #1: Click on the Orange Icon in the Address Bar

rss feed auto-discovery

Step #Who Cares: You Only Do This Once

The first time you use it, it will display the feed in a nice, human readable way, with a yellow box asking you what you want to use to subscribe to this feed. Google Reader is one of the options and you can set it up to *ALWAYS* use Google Reader from now on.

always use google reader to subscribe to rss

Step #Skip This With Greasemonkey: Choose Between Google Homepage and Google Reader

Unfortunately, Google isn’t smart enough to remember your preference between Google Reader and Google Homepage — so you have to always chose the red pill or the blue pill. There is a handy Greasemonkey script to fix that though: always subscribe to Google Reader.

one click subscribe with google reader

One click subscription to Google Reader thanks to Firefox and Greasemonkey. Quite a bit easier than:

  1. Right Click on RSS feed URL
  2. Copy shortcut
  3. Log in to Google Reader
  4. Click on Add Subscription
  5. Paste short cut into form
  6. Click Add

…which seems to be the only way to do it in Internet Explorer 6 that worked reliably for me.

Please Tell Me I’m Wrong

When I’m writing rants about frustrating moments of needless computer complication there is always the nagging voice in the back of my head that I’m missing something obvious and making things much harder than they have to be. I hope this is the case.

I was surprised that someone hasn’t built a one-click “add auto-discovery feed to Google Reader” button for the Google toolbar. A little digging shows that it isn’t be possible because the kind of things you can do with Google Toolbar is actually quite limited. This is too bad because it would get more Google Reader users using the Toolbar and more Toolbar users using Google Reader.

My experience with Google Reader + Internet Explorer wouldn’t have been so bad if the bookmarklet had worked for me. But given the fact that 58% of people surfing the web are using some form of Internet Explorer (compared to 35% for Firefox) and that Google Reader is the most popular web-based RSS reader… well, it’s no surprise that more people aren’t reading RSS feeds. It’s hard enough to explain to people why RSS is useful when you can’t show them how to subscribe to an RSS feed consistently in one or two clicks.

If the best feed reading software doesn’t integrate seamlessly with their web browser of choice then why should they jump through hoops getting it to work when they’ve never even used RSS before? And it really doesn’t help that most of the mainstream news portals on the net still don’t offer full feeds. If you don’t read blogs then it’s hard to explain the power of RSS — mainstream sites still don’t get how RSS without full feeds isn’t worth reading.

FeedBurner Tip: Create a private area for your RSS subscribers only

Posted in Building a Community, FeedBurner, RSS Syndication, Technology by engtech on July 16, 2007

Reader SurveyWhen it comes to blogging the most important people are the ones who take the time to read your RSS feed. They’re your long term readers who are in it for the long haul, much more so than the people who stop by your blog because they found it through a search engine or a social bookmarking site. They’re the ones who promote your articles, and the ones who’ll let you know when you’re falling off your blog game.

It’s important to build a rapport with them, and one of the ways to do that is by giving them special offers that aren’t available to regular readers of the website. This could be an electronic book, information on how to submit reader links, or beta invitations to other websites like Pownce and Joost.

But how do you send these links to your RSS readers without displaying them on your blog?

FeedBurner to the rescue

customer feedburner feedflarIf you aren’t using Google’s FeedBurner service for your blog then you should be. (It has built-in integration with Blogger, and the rumour mill says that it will be added to WordPress.com at some point.) FeedBurner has these things called FeedFlares that show up at the end of your RSS feed. They can do things like dynamically list the number of comments on that post, or how many times it has been dugg or saved to del.icio.us.

It’s really simple to build your own FeedFlare that links to anything you want. Dosh Dosh has a detailed guide explaining how to do it. I wrote a list a while back explaining why I think FeedBurner is so great.

How to create a Custom FeedBurner FeedFlare

  1. Login to FeedBurner
  2. Click on My Feeds
  3. Click on the feed you want to edit
  4. Click on the Optimize tab
  5. Click on FeedFlare from the sidebar
  6. Under “Personal FeedFlare” cut-and-paste your generic feedflare link and click add to FeedFlare
http://www.feedburner.com/fb/variableflareunits/GenericFeedFlare.jspx?

text=Some+text&link=http://www.somelink.com

I’ve created a Password-Protected Post on my blog for my RSS readers at http://internetducttape.com/easter-eggs/reader-appreciation/

So I would use the following custom FeedFlare:

http://www.feedburner.com/fb/variableflareunits/GenericFeedFlare.jspx?

text=Thank+you+for+reading+IDT+(click+and+enter+password+-----)

&link=http://internetducttape.com/easter-eggs/reader-appreciation/

That will give you something like this:

create a custom feedburner feedflare example

Thanks to Dosh Dosh for showing me how to do this. I had a previous hack in place where I had a del.icio.us account and I would use the FeedBurner splice with del.icio.us to share things with my RSS readers only. Using a FeedFlare is much more elegant.

WordPress Tip: Create a Digest Post in 3 Seconds

Posted in Becoming a Better Blogger, Technology, Yahoo Pipes by engtech on July 13, 2007

It’s a good habit to post a summary of your recent posts once or twice a month, but like all blog maintenance it can be a pain in the butt if you don’t make it as easy as possible. Here’s a hack that’ll let you create a summary of all of your posts over X number of days using a handy-dandy Yahoo Pipe.

How to Create a Digest Post

  1. Click on this link to go to the Yahoo Pipe
  2. Change “Truncate feeds older than 7 days ago” to the number of days back you want to go
  3. Change “Enter RSS URL” to the feed address to match your blog
  4. Click on the Run Pipe button
  5. Cut and paste the output from the pipe into a new blog post using the WordPress rich text editor

Ta-da! Now you’ve made a digest post. You can edit the text and summaries as necessary, or adjust the date and re-run the pipe if the amount of time is not correct.

Advanced users can make a clone of that pipe and change it to have your feed url and the date range you want by default.

Sample Digest Post

This was cut and pasted from the pipe output with no modifications.

 

Advanced Users

It doesn’t look great when you cut-and-paste the code from the Yahoo Pipe to a WordPress blog post. You can fix that by using my Yahoo Pipe Cleaner script with Greasemonkey.

See the full list of free software I have created.

You can get frequent updates about all of my new software, tools or blog themes by subscribing to IDT Labs by RSS or by email. Or you could just subscribe to my main blog, Internet Duct Tape.

Subscribe to feed

More Pipes

Here’s a list of more Yahoo Pipes I’ve created.

Be My Friend (on social network sites)

Unless you’ve had your head in the sand (or *gasp* you aren’t obsessed with Internet culture), then you’ve noticed that we’re seeing more and more web service startups over the past few years. Last year I flamed the Bubble 2.0 soundly in “Web Too.Many.” Earlier this year I tried to get an idea of what websites people actually use by starting the What’s Your Web 2.0? meme.I think I’m past breaking when it comes to my attention span and the number of services that I use. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some I heartily recommend. If you use some of these services as well, then please go ahead and “friend” me. And yes, there is a Facebook account in the list.

Active

Software Hosting

Autopilot

  • Twitter – sharing, republishing
  • Tumblr – aggregating my online presence
  • Jaiku – sharing, republishing

Deadpool

These are sites that I used to use often, but I’ve given up on:

  • MyBlogLog – too much spam
  • Flickr – it’s easier to share photos with friends on Facebook
  • RottenTomatoes – it’s easier to share movie reviews with friends on Facebook
  • Technorati – never indexes me properly
  • Blogcritics – got some books, but they aren’t a very good source of traffic
  • LinkedIn – until the next time I’m looking for work
  • … more than I can possibly remember.

What got me thinking about this is trying out Pownce for the first time and seeing how horrible it is at re-discovering my friends.

I just sent out some invites to Kevin Rose’s Pownce to my FeedBurner subscribers. (Thanks for hooking me up, Adam)

Pownce First Impression

I’ve seen other complaints that the biggest problem of Pownce is “what do I do with it?” It’s probably the most powerful web-based instant messaging client out there.

I was very surprised that they Pownce doesn’t have an “import contacts from address book” feature. That is rapidly becoming the only way to easily import the list of your friends from one web app to another. I was trying out Blue Swarm the other day and they are using a very slick widget from Plaxo that does easy address book imports. All web startups should use this, since email address contacts are the only universal data format for identifying your friends on the web.

This is a perfect example of why the Facebook application experience is so powerful… signing up and maintaining a user account is the major barrier that prevents most web startups from gaining a massive user base. “Social” web sites have an even bigger barrier in that you have to move or re-find your network. Facebook apps allow for any application to have the same user account and social network.

Obviously I think it would be pretty awesome if that Plaxo contact importer also supported Facebook as well as Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook, and Yahoo.

What Others Have to Say

Scoble: “I see many of the same people in my friends list on Twitter, Jaiku, Facebook, and now Pownce. Pownce is growing faster than the other ones right now, though. 728 people have already added me on Pownce. I can’t take many more social networks.

Memoirs of a Bystander: “My question is this: Is there any value actually garnered from adding an obscenely large amount of random people as your friend on various social sites? Honestly, if a social networking site it meant to enhance you life through discovery of new interests, music, recommendations, etc…, is that easily done by wading through thousands of people?”

Mashable: “And it is this: on Pownce, you can send a message, or a file, or a song, or an event, to one person; or three of your friends; or only your family; or everyone.”

SocialHam: “Now more than ever Email seems to becoming a dead medium so can micro blogging sites fill in the gaps?”

JetPacked: “Can’t decide between pownce and twitter? This should help. Here’s how to post your pownces to twitter.”

Daily Grumble: “Social networking is a very difficult area for a new service to break into. How on earth are you going to persuade users of other, more established social networks to come to your service?”

Greg Verdino: “Are social media mavens living inside a bubble of our own making, artificially inflating the impact that most of these nascent technologies are having on the population in general, and ultimately getting our companies and our clients riled up over something that will, over time, turn out to be, well um, nothing?”

The Programmable Web – Yahoo Pipes

Posted in IDT Labs Software Development, Perl, Technology, Yahoo Pipes by engtech on May 30, 2007

Duct tape is a great tool because it is so shiny and sticky. You can use it to glue so many things together, even if they end up looking like Frankenstein by the end of it. All you need is a camera, a cellphone, an MP3 player and a piece of duct tape to get yourself the only mobile convergence device worth having. The programming language Perl has quite often been called “duct tape for the internet” because it lets you easily transform text and interact with web sites.


(photo by philgarlic)

Here is a simple Perl script that downloads an RSS feed and bookmarks each entry to del.icio.us:

my $delicious = Net::Delicious->new(
				    {'user'=>$user,
				     'pswd'=>$password},
				    'updates'=>'.',
				    'xml_parser'=>'simple',
				    'debug'=>1);
my $feed = XML::FeedPP::RSS->new($rss_url);
$feed->normalize();         # Sort by pubDate and remove non-unique
foreach my $item ($feed->get_item()) {
  my $description = $item->description();
  $description =~ s/<.*?>//g; # remove HTML
  my %args = ('url'=>$item->link(),
	      'description'=>$item->title(),
	      'extended'=>$description,
	      'tags'=>"from_feed",
	      'replace'=>'no');
  my $retval = $delicious->add_post(%args);
}

The problem with Perl is that you have to either run it on your own machine, or buy web hosting that lets you run your own Perl scripts (or Python/Ruby). This is a real pain in the butt.

Enter Yahoo Pipes

Yahoo created one of the most innovative web tools I’ve ever seen. Yahoo Pipes lets you do all kinds of conversions and filtering on the web without requiring a web host to host your programs. If you want to convert XML/RSS data to other XML/RSS then look no further.

There’s still room for improvement:

  • Scraping web sites that do not have information in XML/RSS. There are other companies that let you do this, but they’re even harder to use than Pipes (IE: dapper.net).
  • Notifying you when your pipes don’t work. That makes finding existing pipes and mashing up multiple pipes tricky as best. It’s hard to use a tool when things constantly change underneath you.
  • It would also be nice if allowed HTML in the Pipes descriptions as it is hard to describe how to use them sometimes.
  • Better debugging messages when developing your own Pipes

Yahoo Pipes is targeted towards programmers, not casual users, but there is still a million and one things you can do with it. Here are some of my pipes that are free for other people to use.

Simple

Social Sites

Personal

Got Pipes?

Are there any specific RSS feeds mashups you’re looking for but don’t have the Yahoo Pipes expertise to create? Leave a comment on this post and I’ll see what I can come up with.

See the full list of free software I have created.

You can get frequent updates about all of my new software, tools or blog themes by subscribing to IDT Labs by RSS or by email. Or you could just subscribe to my main blog, Internet Duct Tape.

Subscribe to feed

Get RSS Updates when your Site is Submitted to Digg or Reddit (Yahoo Pipes)

Posted in Digg, IDT Labs Software Development, Reddit, Technology, Yahoo Pipes by engtech on March 28, 2007

I’ve put together an RSS widget that I like to call Social Site Submission Watchdog. It creates an RSS feed for when people submit your site to digg.com or reddit.com. The reddit results are tweaked so that they link to the voting page on reddit instead of the page on your site. The link title indicates which site the source is coming from. I’ve also created a Reddit-only version of the Pipe.

This is an essential tool for building a dashboard for your blog.

This is an essential way to keep track of your site so that you can prep a post for the potential wave of traffic heading towards it by doing things like adding a Digg This widget. It’s also a good way for a reader to keep track of specific sites they want to support.

digg reddit rss mashup yahoo pipes

Any feature requests? Leave a comment.

Digg Pipes

Related Posts

See the full list of free software I have created.

You can get frequent updates about all of my new software, tools or blog themes by subscribing to IDT Labs by RSS or by email. Or you could just subscribe to my main blog, Internet Duct Tape.

Subscribe to feed

Hack – Display Your Technorati Rank in a Sidebar RSS Widget (Dapper + Yahoo Pipes)

Posted in IDT Labs Software Development, Technology, Technorati, Yahoo Pipes by engtech on March 26, 2007

technorati rank imageWordPress.com bloggers can’t use nifty WordPress plugins or Javascript to doing something as simple as displaying their Technorati rank in their sidebar. Dapper.net and Yahoo Pipes both give the users the ability to create their own mashups of existing web services. Neither of them quite get it right — Dapper doesn’t give you enough output / programming options and Yahoo Pipes doesn’t give you an interface for scraping any page the way Dapper does. Which is my long-winded way of saying I got Dapper to create RSS feeds that contain nothing but your Technorati rank.

Of course, the interface to the Dapper RSS feed is less than stellar, which is where Yahoo Pipes comes in. Yahoo Pipes also lets me create several flavours depending on what people want.

See the full list of free software I have created.

You can get frequent updates about all of my new software, tools or blog themes by subscribing to IDT Labs by RSS or by email. Or you could just subscribe to my main blog, Internet Duct Tape.

Subscribe to feed

(more…)

Broadcasting RSS Feeds with Twitterbot in Less Than 5 Minutes

Posted in RSS Syndication, Technology, Twitter by engtech on March 22, 2007

twitter logoEveryone is all atwitter about the Twitter web service. It’s a web-based broadcast instant messaging application where you can send updates by email or by SMS mobile. It has a limitation of 140 characters and is a lot like how people have always used their instant messenger away status (or their Facebook status). Like all public web communication people will lose their jobs and destroy relationships over Twitter before they realize that it’s all public, it’s all archived, and it’s all searchable (but you can restrict messages to only go to friends).

I’m not going to use Twitter to start posting all of the trivialities of my life, but I *am* interested in using it to broadcast my blog posts, my del.icio.us bookmarks, and the occasional aside (you can friend me here). Here is how you can do something similar using a program called Twitterbot by R. Tyler Ballance at the Unethical Blogger.

By the end of this guide you’ll have a program up and running that will download RSS feeds and broadcast them over your Twitter account.

(more…)

I display my FeedBurner subscribers count because I don’t have a choice…

Posted in Building a Community, FeedBurner, RSS Syndication, Technology by engtech on March 16, 2007

Maki tagged me with his Feed Count meme exploring the reasons why bloggers display their FeedBurner feed count statistics (this is my last post in a row talking about RSS, I promise).

Subscribe to feed Subscribe to feed
Subscribe to //engtech

Why FeedBurner?

Maki left out this question, but I think it’s a valid one. I choose to use FeedBurner for my RSS feeds because of the following things it gives me (for free):

(more…)

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