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Use Grazr to "skin" OPML files and feeds

What?

Grazr logo

Grazr is a good front-end for OPML files ("live outlines") and feeds.  When you publish or share an OPML file, offer a way to see what it contains by using Grazr as a service to "skin" the content.

The typical way I've seen people using Grazr is to embed it into a blog sidebar, but it can also be used as a service, to skin any OPML file or feed you want to publish or share.  This means you don't have to embed it to get a lot of value from using it!

I'm going to focus on outlines (OPML files) here, but as Adam Green points out, Grazr works directly on RSS too, making it a great way to share feeds as well.  The majority of feeds people publish and share are generated from blogs, so people already see them in human-readable form.  OPML files don't have an equivalent; they're typically published "raw", with no formatting.

Why?

This is a great way to share outlines and feeds so they're immediately useful to the reader.  Grazr makes it easy to quickly preview the content without having to commit to subscription.  

People are starting to publish OPML files, which is great, but:

  • Many (most?) people aren't familiar enough with this technology to see the benefit of it.
  • Most of the OPML files I've seen recently don't include a useful way to see what they contain.
    • Sure, the reader can click and see them as rendered by a web browser, but this is about as valuable to most people as looking at HTML -- fine for those who are learning or know it, but not very useful otherwise.
  • Seeing OPML rendered in a human-readable form makes it much more useful.

John Palfrey recently wrote about his a-ha moment in "Getting OPML", and provided the example of toptensources.com, which publishes OPML content.  Check out how their Science News section looks as a raw OPML file, vs. the same OPML content, skinned by Grazr:

Raw OPML vs Grazr skinned 

How?

One of the nice things about Grazr is that the developer made it easy to use as a service — something that differentiates it from some of the other current OPML browsers —  by providing a simple way to plug in the address of a feed or live outline (OPML file) and see it in a Grazr "panel":

SCREENSHOT: Grazr as service

Method 1: Copy, Paste, Publish

  1. Copy the URL of an outline or feed.
  2. Go to the "Create a Grazr" page (hint: click the bottom of any Grazr), paste in the URL, and click the "Display this URL" button.  (You can configure your Grazr's font, viewing mode, etc. at this point.)
  3. To publish a link to the Grazr-skinned version of the outline or feed,
    1. Find the "Save your Grazr to a Web Page" section, and click the "Type of Web page" drop-down list.
    2. Select "Generic Web Page".
    3. Find the "Grazr URL" section, click the URL to select it, then copy and paste it.

Method 2: Create a link by hand 

  • URL syntax: http://grazr.com/gzpanel.html?file=http://address-of-your-feed-or-OPML-file

Using either method, you can customize the size of the panel.

 

Now What? 

  • Publish the Grazr-skinned link alongside the raw OPML file - When you publish an OPML file on your blog or website, add a link next to it that says something like "Graze It!", with a link to the Grazr-skinned version alongside the raw OPML.  Don't remove the link to the raw OPML; that's still useful as a separate link.
  • Here's a "Graze It!" button - I made a button that I plan to use for publishing my outlines.  Note that this button is not Grazr-specific.  Rather, it's specific to the concept of grazing.  For grazing, I happen to like Grazr most among the current OPML browsers I've seen (though others are useful too, depending on what you want to do), but this idea could apply to any that can be used as a service and allow users to link to a rendered version of an OPML file.  You're welcome to copy this button and use it on your own site (I'd prefer you do that vs. linking to my copy):

    Graze It button

     

    Update: 2006.09.19 - The Grazr team developed their own, Grazr-specific button:

    Grazr button 

  • Tag & share it - To share an OPML file, use your favorite social bookmarking service to tag & share the Grazr-skinned version.  I've created a "grazr-skinned" tag so I can easily find these links.

What the heck is Grazr? 

Grazr is an outline browser that you can use to view OPML files, and graze feeds.  It's designed to be embedded in blog sidebars & web pages, but can also be used in standalone mode as a service, to provide a front-end or skin for OPML files and feeds.  You can read more about Grazr in the FAQ.  Marshall Kirkpatrick posted a list of various ways to use grazr.

 

Is Grazr meant to be used as a service?  Yes!

I don't know if the developer of Grazr meant for the "Try Grazr" interface to be used as a service.  You can see from the URL that the sandbox is under "/api", but it's possible he intended for it to simply be a place to preview it so you can choose whether or not to embed it in your own page or blog sidebar.  I hope he'll comment and say it's ok to use it this way, because it's a great tool, but also a valuable service! 

Update: 2006.04.02 

Mike, the developer of Grazr, responded and said yes, this fits with his approach in developing the tool, which "involves allowing people to discover new and interesting uses for Grazr".  Thanks, Mike; your attitude will continue to encourage a lot of innovation.  And yes, please do feel free to use the button on the Grazr site!

The thing is, plugging an address into a form is easy, and that's all it takes to use Grazr to skin an OPML file or feed.  This is much easier than embedding it in a blog sidebar or webpage, and enables people who don't have that option to benefit from Grazr. 

In addition to making it easy to share OPML files, this is a great approach for people who want to experiment with creating OPML files.  When I first heard about Grazr, I went through the work to embed it into a web page, then point it at different OPML files I was learning to write.  I'd have saved a lot of time & effort by just using Grazr as a service.

 

This also works with other outline browsers

As I mentioned above, you can also do the equivalent of what I described with other outline browsers that can be used as a service.  Bitty Browser and Optimal, are two other very useful outline browsers that can do this.   I'll leave the details as an exercise for the reader.

Comments

James, I definitely intended it to be used a service as well as an embeddable widget! My development philosophy involves allowing people to discover new and interesting uses for Grazr, especially things I'd never imagined. In that light I think this post is great! One option I added specifically for 'skinning as a service' like you mention is the 'solo' checkbox. That option produces a 'standalone' panel to display content but strips the configuration options. Basically it just displays the content (although leaving the configuration info is a perfectly legitimate option as well so users can tailor the size and add their own OPML/feeds as well). One word of caution is that being in alpha, the actual shape of the URL to run the service will change a bit over time. I wouldn't recommend counting on that specific URL. I love the 'graze this' button btw, can I offer it as a downlaod on the Grazr site? Thanks for the post and the feedback, -MikePK Grazr.com
Mike, I'm glad to hear your perspective; I think it's going to do a lot to encourage innovation. Thanks for the tip about the 'solo' checkbox; I'll check it out, and update the post. You're quite welcome to offer the button as a download on the Grazr site! Thanks for creating such a useful tool!
I put Grazr to a very specific and simple use at the end of this post: http://netsquared.org/hudson That's an interview with a fellow working on an open source project if South Africa and at the end of the interview I posted an OPML file of the project's press releases, Icerocket.com blogsearch results for links to the project, the funding organization's newsletter and all future interviews of people I did for the site this was posted on. Instead of naming the sites featured in the OPML file, linking to them, etc. -- I posted a Grazr box below the OPML URL so people could get a live preview of what they could subscribe to. I think there are lots of possiblities just within the OPML as bundled RSS feeds paradigm and I know there are people who find other ways to use the format even more exciting. Thanks for this long post on the topic!

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