March 06, 2007

Grazr is a really cool feed widget you should check out

Grazr logo

If you've discovered the benefits of using feeds, you should take a look at Grazr. It's an embeddable, web-based feed browser widget that augments your primary feed reader & lets you put feeds anywhere on the web.

Grazr isn't a replacement for a full-fledged feed reader — it's an addition to your toolkit: a blazing fast feed widget that makes sharing and interacting with feed content easy. It's multimedia capable, so you can look at pictures, listen to audio, and watch video in the feed, all without having to subscribe. You can put a Grazr widget on several popular personalized start pages, a blog post/sidebar, a regular web page, even your Windows desktop.

Grazr.com recently achieved two important milestones

  • Funding - Grazr just completed a Series A financing round of $1.5M. They've already developed an impressive tool, but clearly that's just the beginning.
  • Outline & feed hosting - Now you can host your web outlines (OPML) & feeds in your own account at grazr.com. This is a great service for people who want to use and share web outlines and feeds, but don't have a web server on which to host them. I have my own web server, but just as hosting & sharing my links at del.icio.us is far better than I could do it myself, I expect Grazr.com to add significant value when you use their service to host feeds and outlines.

These are two very positive events for the company, and I'm excited to see what they'll do next. You can help influence that by participating in the forums. The team really listens to and values input from people who use Grazr, so if you have ideas, share them!

Grazr makes feeds fun and easy

Grazr was originally built to let people "graze" feed content without having to subscribe. It makes feeds fun and easy, and lets people use them without having to understand how they work, install software, or sign up for anything. It will help feeds break out of subscription jail, and that should promote more innovation in how feeds are used.

I expect to see a lot more from the Grazr team, and I think we'll all be beneficiaries of their successes. Congrats, and keep up the good work!

Example Grazrs

Explore interesting Flickr photos, watch the most recent YouTube featured videos, and listen to CNN updated news updates.

(If you're reading this in a feed reader, click on an image below to launch the corresponding Grazr.)

Here's a web outline that displays the 3 feeds above in a single Grazr panel

February 14, 2007

What?

Mix feeds with Yahoo Pipes — enhance and analyze them by publishing with Feedburner.

Burn your Yahoo! Pipes

Yahoo Pipes is a feed mixing service, and Feedburner provides tools for enhancing, analyzing, and publishing feeds. It doesn't always make sense to combine the two, but when it does, these complimentary services provide a good set of feedmastering tools.

When?

Publish with Feedburner when a pipe's feed is more valuable than its architecture.

Creating a Yahoo Pipe produces two significant outputs:

  • Architecture - The ability to publish pipes makes it easy to copy and build on each others' work. This is how a lot of us started learning HTML when the web was new, and it's a great way to share knowledge and help something catch on fast. Publish your pipe with Yahoo Pipes when its architecture is important.
  • Feed - In some cases, the feed a pipe produces is more important than sharing its architecture. Gina Trapani at Lifehacker writes about using Pipes to create a master feed of all the feeds you publish. In this case, the feed and its readership stats are likely more valuable to the publisher than the details of its construction would be to other people. (Gina offers her useful example pipe for people to copy, but most will consider this a pretty basic pipe once they get the hang of feedmixing). Publish your pipe's feed with Feedburner when its feed is important.

I'm not encouraging anyone to withold publishing pipes using the Pipes publishing interface, but when the pipe's feed is more important than its architecture, publishing it using Feedburner offers several benefits.

Why?

Feedburner is an established feed publishing service that provides valuable feed analysis and management tools, making it a good front end for publishing feeds.

  • Free basic readership statistics, with graphs.
  • Feed promotion services that make sure feed search engines know about your updates.
  • Human-readable feed address. You can choose a meaningful name and address for your feed, rather than publishing the complex one produced by your pipe. This makes it easier to talk about and identify when you are working with your feeds outside the Pipes interface. (Hint: Name your Feedburner feed the same as you name the pipe that produces it, so they're easy to match up.)
  • Flexibility and persistence. Publishing your feed via Feedburner means its address will remain the same if you decide to use something other than Yahoo Pipes to produce it.
  • Centralized feed publishing & management. If you're already using Feedburner (e.g., to publish your blog's feed), you may want to consider using it as a central service for publishing all your feeds.
  • Add various enhancements to your feed.

How?

Build, burn, and share.

  • Build a pipe. Create a Yahoo Pipe and "run" it to get its feed address. Don't publish the pipe — if you do, people will subscribe directly to its feed, and you want them to use your burned feed. (Running the pipe gives you its feed address without publishing the pipe.)
  • Burn the pipe's feed. Create a new feed in Feedburner using the pipe's feed as the "Original Feed". Feedburner will guide you through adding any enhancements you want.
  • Share the burned feed. Feedburner offers various feed promotion and publishing services, but once you've burned it and have the new human-readable address you chose for it, you can share it any way you like — email, social networking services, etc.

February 07, 2007

Apparently, some smart people at Yahoo! were listening to both of us, and they sure did deliver!

Yahoo! Pipes icon

I've only just begun to play with Yahoo! Pipes, and I can already say, it's gonna be hot! I considered my feedmixing wishlist fairly forward-thinking for its time, but a quick glance at the things Pipes can do and the ways it lets you do them shows some real vision.

From the Pipes website:

Pipes is a hosted service that lets you remix feeds and create new data mashups in a visual programming environment. The name of the service pays tribute to Unix pipes, which let programmers do astonishingly clever things by making it easy to chain simple utilities together on the command line

That's really just the beginning of how to think about it; the true description and definition of Pipes will evolve through the innovation it's sure to produce.

Unfortunately, I don't have time to play with or write about Pipes more right now, but I definitely plan to do both, and I strongly encourage you to go check it out. The site provides a good overview — for some in-depth discussion, explanation, and analysis, read Tim O'Reilly's Pipes and Filters for the Internet. I look forward to having a lot of fun, and doing some really cool things with Yahoo! Pipes!

January 10, 2007

What?

Live outline icon

A "feedmap" is an outline that provides a central place to find, subscribe to, and see how feeds are organized — much like a traditional web sitemap. A feedmap takes the idea further by making it possible to preview and actually interact with feed content.

We didn't realize we needed sitemaps until the web became popular and websites became complex. Although feeds aren't quite mainstream yet, many sites already publish more than one. As this trend continues, people will want a central place to find feeds. Some sites already recognize this, and publish a list of feeds. A feedmap expands on this by showing how feeds are organized, and letting people preview and interact with the content. Since it's written in OPML, a feedmap;

  • allows publishers to organize feeds in a meaningful structure
  • makes it easy for people to preview feeds
  • can be imported into most feed readers
  • makes it easy to subscribe to individual feeds
  • may enable people to subscribe to entire feedmaps in the future

An example feedmap

Here's a feedmap for my blog, (if you're reading this in a feed reader, you'll have to use the link) displayed in Grazr:

Update: 2007.01.15 - There have been some intermittent problems displaying my blog's feedmap in Grazr. I'm working with the Grazr team to try to figure out what's going on, and plan to contact Yahoo! Webhosting support as well. Sorry for the inconvenience! Since the problem is intermittent, it's possible you might be able to see the feedmap in the Grazr panel on my blog's sidebar; it's also listed there, and sometimes that loads even though this example doesn't.

Update: 2007.03.31 - Yahoo's tech support has been quite unhelpful in resolving the problem I mention above, so I'm hosting my feedmap at Grazr.com's new hosting service, which wasn't available when I created this post. Ultimately, that's where I want to store my outines. Unfortunately, this allows the outline to display quickly, but doesn't solve the problem of actually displaying the feed content within Grazr, since there's something blocking a couple of grazr.com's servers from accessing my Yahoo-hosted site. I'm really disappointed that I wasn't able to get better support from Yahoo. I haven't given up, but they seem to have decided to ignore my most recent response in our correspondence.

Audience

Anyone who publishes more than one feed should consider publishing a feedmap.

Why?

A feedmap organizes feeds in one place using a standard format, and lets people preview feed content without being forced to subscribe.

The newest versions of popular web browsers are just beginning to get better at helping people subscribe to feeds, but they're still not very good at it, and subscribing won't always be the goal. Once feeds become mainstream, people will see them as another source of potential information overload and become more selective about subscribing. As James Corbett predicted, we'll want to graze feeds more and subscribe less.

There's a new generation of embeddable, "widgetized", web-based feed browsers that are purpose-built for grazing feeds and interacting with feed content — Grazr, Optimal, and Bitty Browser are examples. Grazr is my favorite; it lets you see pictures, listen to audio, and watch video, right in the feed. You don't have to worry about subscribing, but it's easy to do by right clicking on the feed, copying the link, and pasting it into a feed reader.

How?

Build it in OPML, display it in Grazr

This post isn't a tutorial, it's a recommendation for feed publishers to start publishing feedmaps. The details are an exercise for the reader, but it's not hard to create a feedmap:

  • Use OPML to build your feedmap. OPML is an outlining language you use to define the structure of your feedmap. Among its other uses, OPML has become the de facto standard for import and export of feed reader subscription lists. If you're familiar with HTML, OPML is easy to pick up, and the Grazr team has developed really good OPML primer that will get you started.
    • OPML isn't an "official" standard, but until or unless one emerges, having your feedmap in a well-known format that's as widely used as OPML will increase the likelihood that it's easy to convert.
  • Use Grazr to display your feedmap. Grazr is the key to bringing a feedmap to life, since it makes feeds immediately usable. You don't have to use Grazr to display your feedmap — you could just link to the raw OPML file — but that's like linking to the source code of a web page. To make it easy for people to check out your feeds, display it in a feed browser.

Tips & Tricks

  • Make your feedmap modular. If your site publishes various feeds in different topic areas, consider creating separate OPML files for each area and including them in the feedmap. This way you can use them in other outlines, and people can access the specific one they want. (Determining the appropriate level of granularity for doing this will undoubtedly become an art.)

December 30, 2006

What?

Live outline icon

I propose we use the term "live outline" to refer to dynamic content — such as OPML files that contain lists of feeds — that people create using XML outline formats.

I've seen some discussion about what to call the information organized using these formats, but there doesn't seem to be a convention for referring to them in general. This leads to difficulties sharing ideas related to the formats, and explaining them to people who aren't familiar with them. I really like Dave Winer's idea of a reading list, but that's just one kind of live outline; these formats can be used to create live outlines that can serve various purposes (for example, the one on my blog's sidebar or a travel outline).

"Live outline" is friendlier and easier to talk about (and say!) than "OPML", "XOXO", etc. It's a good general term everyone can use and understand without too much difficulty. It's fine to use "outline" and "outlining" in context; "live" can be omitted when people know what's being discussed.

Audience

This proposal is intended for people creating content and applications using structured outlines based on XML formats, such as OPML, XOXO, and OML.

Why?

To encourage widespread adoption and use of these formats and reltated technologies, we need simple, non-technical terms that convey meaning well. People are much more open to learning something new if it has a name they can relate to, understand, and pronounce.

Live outlines will have a significant and growing role in how people consume, organize, and share feeds:

If we want people to get comfortable using structured outline formats, we need to talk about them in terms that won't alienate or put people off. Try telling someone about the cool OPML file you're building, and watch how quickly their eyes glaze over. Changing the language we use can make all the difference, and we already have a familiar example of this: Consider the idea that live outline is to OPML document as web page is to HTML document. People can relate to the idea of writing a web page, and it's easy to talk about web pages; a major reason is the lack of hard-to-pronounce technical acronyms.

  • People are already familiar with the concept of an outline. They don't have to learn an entirely new concept to understand a live outline, just a new use for something they already know.
  • People can easily understand that live = dynamic (e.g., feeds). Again, though, "live" sounds better and is easier to say than "dynamic". I know that OPML, etc. are not just for feeds, but I think organizing and managing feeds will be the highest-profile common use for the formats, at least for a while.
  • Firefox has already begun to popularlize the term and concept of "live bookmarks". We can take advantage of that and extend the idea to live outlines.
  • Non-technical people who use these outlines aren't going to (and shouldn't) care much about the details of the format in which they're written.. They'll need to recognize names for compatibility, but only until services and applications interoperate well (how many feed readers support RSS and not ATOM, or require a specific version of either?) Recognition can be important for a while when a technology is new, but how many people that use the web care about the language in which web pages are written? In most cases, they don't want to know.

I'm not arguing that we should stop using format-specific terms in technical discussions and documents; they certainly have their place. I just want to promote the use of terms that insulate people from unnecessarily technical, specific acronyms that aren't likely to be relevant to them. Plus, I want a general way to talk about the information structures we build with these formats. "Live outline" conveys meaning without being overly technical or specific to a particular format or technology. I hope the term will help these formats and creative uses of them proliferate more quickly and easily.

What do you think?

I hope this proposal will provoke some discussion. Unfortunately, I've had to disable comments due to spam (and the lack of a good mitigation capability), but if you have thoughts on this proposal, link to this post from your blog. If discussion ensues, I'll add a live search feed of links to this post to tie it all together.

December 15, 2006

Feed Icon

For both subscribers and publishers, feeds are a useful addition to the tools we use to distribute, consume, and manage information.

Benefits of subscribing to feeds

Key steps toward addressing the problem of information overload include classifying & prioritizing the information you receive, and reducing the amount of work required to get the information you want. Feeds and a feed reader can help you redirect some information away from your email inbox and automate the retrieval of information you may currently be getting manually.

  • You can stop checking websites for updated content — the content comes to you. Once you subscribe to a website's feed, you never have to go back and check for updated information. Think about how many sites you visit on a regular basis &mdash news, sports, weather, stocks, blogs, etc. A feed reader automatically checks sites you choose on a regular basis, and lets you know if there's anything new. You can truly "set it and forget it".

    Dave Winer, widely credited as the "father of RSS", described feeds as automated web surfing:

    "...when people ask what RSS is, I say it's automated web surfing. We took something lots of people do, visiting sites looking for new stuff, and automated it. It's a very predictable thing, that's what computers do -- automate repetitive things."

  • Free up your email inbox for correspondence. As an information tool, email has long been overloaded as a catch-all for information people want to send and receive. A lot of the email we get isn't correspondence, and often doesn't deserve a high priority. The problem is, we don't have enough control over what we get via email — it just arrives and competes for our attention. One part of the solution is to direct information away from your email inbox and into your feed reader, a tool that's purpose-built for managing information you want to see but don't need to necessarily respond to via email.
  • Put "read-only" information in its place. Feeds are well suited to one-way and "read-only" communication, and a good feed reader can help you manage a wide range of information you might be getting now via email or by visiting individual web sites. You can use feeds to:
    • keep current with the latest news
    • monitor stock prices
    • get weather updates
    • check the traffic report
    • track a package
    • share links to websites
    • monitor topics of interest (using a "search feed"; a feed of search engine results)
    • read blogs
    • keep up with busy discussion groups

    Consider how much less cluttered your email inbox might be if you redirected some of the information above to a feed reader. It's worth noting that the tagline for Google Reader is "Your inbox for the web." Email is great for two-way communication, but for information you just want to read, a feed is often a better choice.

  • You can unsubscribe with confidence. You own and manage your list of feed subscriptions, not the publishers. Unlike with email lists, when you want to unsubscribe from a feed, it's your choice and it happens immediately — you don't have to ask, wait for confirmation, or wonder if it's really going to happen.
  • The content has a consistent look & feel. Given the variety of website designs, getting to the actual content you want on each website can take a while. With a good feed reader, the content is all displayed using a consistent interface. Feeds are typically more content-centric than design-centric. Some feeds contain ads, but they're often displayed inconspicuously compared to looking at the same content on the publisher's website.

Benefits of publishing feeds

Publishing feeds lets you maintain and update your content centrally, and stop worrying about how to distribute it.

  • You get the centralization benefits of a web page & distribution benefits of email. Once you send email, you can't make changes if the information needs to be updated; you have to send a new message. When you publish a feed, you maintain the content centrally. When you update content, subscribers automatically get the current version &mdash in some cases highlighted as updated, depending on the feed reader — even if they already seen the previous version. Any time they refer back to it, they'll have access to the most current version; with email, they'd have an out-of-date copy. (Note that some feed readers keep copies of previous versions.)
  • You don't have to do anything to notify your audience. Feeds solve the problem of notification; there's no more having to ask people to "check back soon" for updates, or ask for their email address. Neither the publisher nor the subscriber has to do any work to be notified when new content is published; feed readers do the work for us.
  • You don't have to maintain email lists — you can stop sending content and let subscribers come get it. When you publish a feed, subscribers take responsibility for consuming your content. You just publish it, and you're done; people who want it can get it. People may be more likely to subscribe knowing that they have full control over unsubscribing. (If you want to know who your subscribers are, you can create an individual subscription form and publish a unique feed for each subscriber. This could be a great way to provide spam-free, individualized, direct communication with your audience.)
  • There's a high probability your audience wants what you publish. People have to consciously subscribe to feeds, and don't usually do so by accident. When someone subscribes to your feed, there's a good chance it's because they want the information you provide.
  • Non-email communication may be better received by your audience. People are tired of being inundated by email, and often ignore it when they feel overwhelmed. By publishing a feed, you give people a choice in how they consume your content, and they may be more likely to do so as a result.

What?

Feed Icon

You can reduce noise and clutter in your email inbox by subscribing to feeds of discussion groups and forums. Keep your email subscription so you can participate, but filter the group's email list messages away from your inbox.

  • Check to see if your discussion group publishes a feed. If you're on an email list for a discussion group or forum, but don't usually participate in the discussion, see if you can subscribe to a feed of the discussion. For example, you can subscribe to feeds for both Google Groups and Yahoos Groups. (Regrettably, feeds from Yahoo Groups seem to be just summaries of each post.)
  • Subscribe to the feed, but don't remove yourself from the email list. Instead, setup a filter in your email to bypass your inbox, and send the list messages to a folder. This gets them out of your way, but allows you to access them if you want to respond to a message.

Why?

Use your feed reader for "read-only" monitoring, and reserve your email inbox for correspondence.

Redirecting the discussion to your feed reader reduces the clutter and interruptions competing for attention in your email inbox. This reduces the burden on email — a tool we all know is overloaded — and makes it easier to use for correspondence; two-way communication.

December 06, 2006

What?

Google logo

You can see several of your Google Reader subscriptions at once by putting multiple Google Reader gadgets on your Personalized Homepage. Each gadget can display a different folder or tag in your Reader subscription list.

If you use Google Reader (it's worth serious consideration!) and you're not using the Reader gadget on your Personalized Homepage, you're really missing out. This miniature interface to the full version of Google Reader is extremely useful, with pop-up "bubbles" for quick reading, the ability to switch between your folders & tags (but sadly not individual subscriptions) and smooth scrolling, all without taking you away from your homepage. You can multiply the benefits of using the gadget by putting more than one on a single homepage tab.

Google Homepage Reader Gadget Birds-Eye View

Why?

Look at a single page for a "birds-eye view" of your Google Reader feeds.

  • Scan the latest headlines or read entire articles right from your homepage. You don't need to go to Reader to see your feeds. You can get a quick update on several feeds at a glance, right from your homepage. If you want to read more than a headline, just click on it, and a "bubble" will pop-up and display the entire article. It's lightning fast, and you don't leave the homepage.
  • Syncs with full version of Google Reader. All the Reader gadgets stay in sync with your full version of Reader, so if you read or star something in a Reader gadget, it'll be that way in the full version, and vice versa. The basic feed gadget doesn't do this, since it has nothing to do with Reader.
    • This is a key feature, and it's worth highlighting: I can use the full version of Reader, Reader gadgets, or Reader Mobile to read feeds from almost anywhere, and state is always maintained. That means there's no downside to any of the methods, and it makes reading feeds easy and efficient.
  • Manage just one set of subscriptions. You've long been able to put multiple basic feed gadgets on your homepage, but if you do that and use Reader as your primary feed reader, you've got two sets of subscriptions to deal with. The Reader gadget uses the subscriptions you're already managing in Reader.

How?

Add a Google Reader gadget, press the Back button, add another, repeat. It's that simple.

Tip: Create a separate tab. If you plan to put multiple Reader gadgets on your homepage, you may want to start by making a separate homepage tab for them. Once you've done that, make sure you've got that tab selected, since gadgets get added to the current tab.

To add multiple Google Reader gadgets to your Google Personalized Homepage, follow these steps:

  1. Find it. Find the Google Reader gadget in the Homepage Content Directory. (You can either click on the link here, or go to your homepage, click on "Add stuff", and search for "reader").
  2. Add it. Click the "Add it now" button.
    • This will take you back to the Homepage Content Directory, and you'll see a "Back to homepage" link at the top left of the page. Do not click that link yet.
    • If you are not redirected to the Homepage Content Directory, you'll probably see the "Add it now" button disappear, and in its place, a check mark next to "Added". If you see that, you should be able to reload the page, and skip the next step.
  3. Go back. Use your web browser's Back button to go back to the previous page.
  4. Add it again. Click the "Add it now" button again.
  5. Repeat. Repeat the two steps above until you've added as many Reader gadgets as you want.
  6. End. After you've added your last one, click on the "Back to homepage" link.

Tips & Tricks

  • Each Reader gadget is an individual. You may find that you want different behavior for different feeds, depending on what they contain or how often they update. Try configuring gadgets to display various numbers of items, or changing whether or not they display items you've read.
  • See what you've starred. I star articles to highlight them for further reading or action. Putting my Starred Items on my "BirdsEyeView" tab ensures I don't forget about them, and makes them quick & easy to access.
  • You can scroll within each gadget. If you want to see more than the max of 10 items per gadget, you don't have to open Reader, you can just click on the up/down arrows, or hover over the gadget and use the scroll wheel on your mouse.

Feedback and suggestions to the developers

I've become a strong advocate of Google's Personalized Homepage, and an was instant convert to Reader as of it's redesign. I'm really impressed that the two work together so well, and the developers of both should be proud.

To the developers of Reader and the Reader gadget, thanks for such a nicely executed, well thought-out tool (and service)! Please consider these suggestions:

  • Enable us to choose individual subscriptions to display in the gadget. Currently, the gadget allows us to choose a folder or tag to display, but not individual feeds. (Each "folder" in Reader is a mix of the feeds it contains.) I know "river of news" style feed reading is all the rage, and it certainly has its benefits (I've advocated feedmixing myself). That said, it would be nice to be able to specify a particular feed to display in a gadget, just as we can do in the mobile version of Reader.
  • I'd like the option to auto-hide the bubble if I move the mouse away from it. That would mean one less mouse click, and potentially faster navigation. (Note the word "option"!)

Credit

I was inspired to try putting multiple Reader gadgets on my homepage by thinking about:

  • Dave Barnard's comment that he'd like to be able to customize what shows up on PopUrls.
  • Marshal Kirkpatrick's recent comments on using a startpage as a component of his feed-reading in his recent Open Sourcing My TechCrunch Workflow post. Marshall writes:
    Almost anything can be read by RSS feed, so you can display almost anything on a startpage. These services fulfill a very specific function for a person working on the web - they provide a one click view of updates from various sources, inside the browser and distinct from the more heavy duty environment of a feed reader.
    Exactly!

May 08, 2006

What? 

If you're using a small Grazr panel, add a link to display a larger version of the same panel.  This makes it easy to quickly "supersize" the panel so it's comfortable for longer periods of reading.

SCREENSHOT: Grazr - supersize this panel

If you're using Grazr in a blog sidebar or as part of a page that has other content you want to keep visible (e.g. Google or Live.com start page), you're probably using a condensed Grazr panel to fit within space requirements.  It's easy to add a link in your outline to supersize the panel. 

Update: New version of Grazr makes this unnecessary

Shortly after I posted this article, Mike released a new version of Grazr that effectively removes the need for this technique.  You can still use it if you want to make things really easy for the reader, but the new version allows the reader to change the font and panel sizes using a built-in configurator.  You can detach a panel from the page you're looking at and resize it just like a normal web browser window.

 

Why?

A larger panel makes reading within Grazr more comfortable.

  • A small panel is great for quick access to status feeds, bookmarks, headlines, and for exploring & grazing feeds.  One of Grazr's strengths is its ability to display information in a compact space.  The tradeoff is that it's not so great if you end up reading for a longer  period in that compact space.
  • A larger panel
    • Reduces the need to leave Grazr (e.g. to read a long article in a feed).
    • Gives the reader the benefit of Grazr's speed of navigation without the size constraint of a blog sidebar panel.
    • Makes it quick & easy to switch from a brief glance to extended reading.

I have an OPML "start file" -- a collection of OPML files I've customized for my regular use -- that I access from my Google home page using Grazr.  I use this as my primary feed grazing interface, but it's too small for anything beyond a quick check of headlines.

For example, I include my Bloglines subscriptions in my start file (1), so I can peek in on my feeds without changing their read/unread state.  Typically, when I found something that I wanted to actually read, I'd either have to switch to Bloglines or use Grazr as a service to open my OPML file in a larger panel.  Both of these are cumbersome and time-consuming, and I wanted to make the process more convenient; that's when it occurred to me to add a "Supersize This Panel" link to the panel itself.

You can try this out using the Grazr panel in the sidebar of my blog.

 

How?

Go to "Get Grazr for Your Page", enter the URL of your OPML file, customize the settings for your supersized panel, then copy the URL and add it to your panel.

Here's an example of the OPML code to create a Supersize This Panel link:

<outline type="link" text="Supersize This Panel" url="http://grazr.com/gzpanel.html?fontsize=14pt&amp;file=http://alwaysaskwhy.com/jameselee/outlines/forBlog.xml" />

Note: Grazr uses URL encoding for many special characters, but the ampersand is HTML encoded (&amp;).

Disclaimer: I'm learning OPML, and am by no means an authority or expert, so please excuse any  errors, syntactic or otherwise.

 

Tricks

  • Make the font larger in the supersized panel.  After all, this is about comfort!
  • Put the "Supersize This Panel" link at the top.  This way, it:
    • is immediately, easily accessible
    • seems like a browser control; that's effectively how it's functioning, and people will look for it at the top once they think of if that way
  • Consider putting a supersize link at the bottom too, if it's a long list in a small panel.
  • Also add the supersize link to any OPML files you include (if they're yours), so "branches" can also be supersized.
    • Re: "branches" - I think there's a great deal of thinking to be done on the appropriate level of granularity for outlines.  For now, I'm creating what I consider to be functional modules, but I'm far from having any static taxonomy.  I may share some thoughts on that topic in another article.
  • Firefox users: Open the supersize link in a new tab!  If your mouse has a middle button, it just takes a single click to open a supersized Grazr panel in a new tab.


Further Thoughts

  • Might this be a good built-in capability for Grazr?  I could imagine using the real estate on Grazr's back "button" for more than one purpose; perhaps a "supersize" button?  I love that it's large & easy to hit, and don't want to clutter it up, but this might be worth it.
  • It seems to me that most people are familiar with the term "supersize", but I'd love to hear suggestions for a better way to get the point across.  I considered various terms before settling on "supersize", but they were either clunky (too many words) or had implications I didn't want to make.  For example;
    • "View Larger Version of This Panel" isn't exactly succinct.
    • "Expand This Panel" might imply that the panel would expand in place, so I decided against it.  I'm not sure if Grazr has the capability to dynamically resize, but if so, I'd love to know!  Opod, which uses the Grazr API, does dynamically resize, so perhaps it's possible.
  • Mike, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the two points above! (Built-in capability idea & dynamic resizing.) Update: Mike responded.
  • I imagine it's possible to do something similar with other configurable OPML browsers, like Optimal, and Bitty, (both great tools for their respective purposes) but I haven't had the time to try yet.  The supersize link doesn't keep you in the original OPML browser even if it's Grazr, but it does work even if you're reading an outline in something other than Grazr, since it just points to a "Grazr-skinned" version of the outline.


(1) I manually export my subscriptions and copy the file to my web server.  This isn't terrible, as I don't update my subscriptions that often, but I sure wish I could just point to the OPML file in my account!  (Are you listening, Bloglines?)

April 19, 2006

What?

You can embed an OPML browser like Grazr or Optimal in your Google Personalized home page using Bitty, an embeddable mini web browser.

SCREENSHOT: Grazr and Optimal in Google Personalized Home

 

Grazr and Optimal are OPML browsers designed to be embedded in blog sidebars & web pages.  Usually, embedding one of these in a page requires that you have the ability to edit the page's source or template.  This isn't an option with your Google Personalized home page, but you can circumvent the problem by adding Bitty -- an embeddable web browser  -- as a content  module to your Google page, and use that as a "wrapper" to display your Grazr or Optimal browser.

Bitty can display OPML too, and may be a good choice depending on your needs.  Grazr and Optimal are a bit more purpose-built for the task of displaying and navigating OPML, whereas Bitty is a good general-purpose embeddable web browser that can also display OPML.

Update: 2006.04.25 - I tested this with my Windows Live home page, and it works, but doesn't seem to pass through the parameters I included in the URL for Grazr (e.g. size, run solo). 

Update: 2006.07.03 - Grazr blog: Tom Morris (who just joined the Grazr team) has hacked Grazr into a Google home-pages widget so you don't need to use Bitty Browser as a wrapper for Grazr. 

 

Why?

Embedding an OPML browser in your Google Personalized home page extends the capability of the page by enabling you to browse & graze content without having to navigate away from the page.

This is a good way to aggregate multiple instances of Grazr and/or Optimal that you use on a regular basis, or to ensure you always have an OPML browser handy any time you're looking at your Google home page.  I won't enumerate the potential uses for this capability here, (but free free to share your ideas in the comments) but consider the basic idea that you can setup a collection of several easily-navigable, miniature content sites, all of which are accessible from a single place

Despite the bad rap they often get, I think there's a lot of potential value in personalized home pages, especially with the addition of customizable modules, and new tools & capabilities like these embeddable web and OPML browsers.  More on this another time...

Update: 2006.04.24 - Apparently, I'm not the only one who likes the idea of using Bitty in the Google home page!  Steve Rubel is using it to make his personal mobile wiki always available.

 

How? 

The general idea

Add a Bitty Browser module to your Google home page, and within Bitty, load an instance of Grazr or Optimal that points at the content you want to display. 

 

First, consider how you'll use it 

There are two approaches to using embedded OPML browsers on your Google page.  Each has its merits, and they are not mutually exclusive; in fact, you may want to use a combination of the two.  It's important to think about which approach you want to use before you begin, so you can configure the OPML browser in the appropriate mode:

  • Approach 1: Create multiple instances, each to display specific content
    • Description: Display more than one OPML browser, each with its own purpose or topic.
    • OPML browser mode: When you point the OPML browser at the content you want it to display, select "Run Solo" (Grazr) or "Standalone" (Optimal) to get a clean page with just the browser and no controls.
  • Approach 2: Create a general-purpose instance
    • Description: Use a single OPML browser to load different content at different times.
    • OPML browser mode: Do not click the checkbox next to "Run Solo" or "Standalone", and you'll be able to enter the addresses of different OPML files (and feeds, with Grazr) you want to view.

Grazr and Optimal have different strengths for different uses, so experiment to determine which works best for you using either approach.

 

5 steps to embed an OPML browser in your Google home page:

  1. Use Grazr or Optimal to "skin" an OPML file, and copy the address of the resulting page.
    • Here's where you would select "Run Solo" (Grazr) or "Standalone" (Optimal), depending on the approach you chose above.
  2. Go to the Bitty Browser configuration page and select "contents/home page" from the "Customize" section:
    • Bitty Browser config 01
  3. Enter the address of the skinned OPML file you created in Step 1:
    • Bitty Browser config 02
  4. In the "Add this Bitty Browser:" section, select Google:
    • Bitty Browser config 03
  5. Google will ask you to Confirm that you want to add Bitty to your Personalized Home page
    • Bitty browser config 04

After you add Bitty to your Google home page, you can easily change it's Home Page (the address of the page it initially displays) using the "Edit" link on the module:

Bitty browser config 05

This is an easy way to switch between the two approaches discussed above, and experiment with loading different content n the OPML browser without having to re-add the Bitty module to Google.

Of course, you can use Bitty to display much more than an OPML browser on your Google home page, it just happens to be a perfect solution for this problem.  I really appreciate that the developers at Google, Bitty, Grazr, and Optimal are providing these tools & services, especially that they're doing so for free!

April 04, 2006

 What?delicious logo

The "for:" tag enables del.icio.us users to send links to one another.  Subscribing to your "links for you" feed from your del.icio.us account ensures that you automatically see links people send to you this way.

 
When someone sends you a link using the "for:" tag, it shows up on your "links for you" page in your del.icio.us account.  (The page used to be called "for", but was recently changed to more clearly communicate its function.)

delicious links for you

 

Why? 

The "for:" tag is a great way to send links.  If you aren't monitoring your "links for you", you could be missing things people are sending to you.

I don't know how commonly people use the "for:" tag -- and its inherent privacy prevents us from looking at others' accounts to find out -- but I suspect it's underused.  Even if this isn't popular now, it may become reasonable to expect people to check their link inbox nearly as often as their email inbox.  This could evolve into the equivalent of an email inbox.  Note that while "links for you" is effectively an inbox, it's distinct from the del.icio.us concept of the "inbox".

I make this speculation conscious of the fact that this way of sharing is limited to del.icio.us users.  Remember, all Yahoo! users will likely soon be able to use del.icio.us with their Yahoo! account, just like any other Yahoo! service.  That plus the non-Yahoo! del.icio.us userbase is a substantial network for sharing!

People will increasingly recognize these and other benefits of sharing links this way:

  • It's the right system for managing links - Email can be a good way to share links with specific individuals, but if your recipient is a del.icio.us user too, using the "for:" tag gives you both the benefits of the service you're already using; one designed to manage links.
    • You can see what tags the sender associated with the links, so they're in context
    • It's easy to copy them to your own account.
    • It produces a feed, which is arguably a more appropriate and efficient (in most cases) way to share links than email.
  • Targeted sharing reduces information overload - The "for:" tag enables you to create individualized feeds for sending links to specific people.
    • People are likely to pay more attention to links you tag explicitly for them.
    • Subscribing to the feed of just those links might be more appealing than subscribing to your entire shared links feed, since it would likely be lower volume.
  • Adequate privacy - Most everything about the "for:" tag is invisible to anyone but you and the recipient.
    • Others can't see the fact that you tagged something "for:username".  NOTE: Doing this does not make the link private; only the fact that you tagged it "for:" someone is hidden.
    • The feed is "private" but not authenticated.  It's just got a long string attached to it, presumably to make it unique and somewhat obfuscated.
    • I had no problem subscribing to mine with Bloglines.
    • I think the degree of security it provides is totally reasonable, and people should know better than to expect serious privacy in feeds and social bookmarking services at this point anyway.

How? 

It takes very little effort to monitor your "links for you":

  • Copy the feed address into your favorite feed reader, and you're done!

Speaking of "how", it's a good idea to think about how you use the ability to send links to other del.icio.us users; remember, people can choose to be antisocial toward individual users!

April 02, 2006

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.

March 11, 2006

A feedmix is a "metafeed" made by combining individual feeds into one:

Metafeed Diagram

  • Feedmixes are to feeds as feed readers are to blogs (and other syndicated content).  By collapsing and reducing the number of information flows we manage, feedmixes can dramatically improve the efficiency with which we consume and distribute information.
  • You don't need to read related feeds one at a time any more than you needed to visit individual sites and blogs.   You probably read more than one feed in areas like Finance, Music, Productivity, Business, Friends, etc.   Wouldn't it be convenient to read all your friends' blogs in a single feed?  Do video clips from Google Video or YouTube really need separate feeds?  Why not read about the latest toys from Engadget and Gizmodo in a "Gadgets" feed?  A good feed mixing service will include the source of each item in the feed, so you don't lose that information by mixing.
  • Feedmixing makes it easy to corral "loosely coupled" content, focus it, and redistribute it as an attention stream.   People tag content on blogs, news sites, social bookmarking sites, wikis, search engines, video & photography blogs, etc.  Using common tags makes it possible find all that related content, even though it exists in totally different systems.  This is considered "loosely coupled" content, and it can be used by an individual, or a loosely coupled community.  Feedmixing is a tool for bringing together and redistributing content you choose from several different sites.

(I originally wrote this "elevator pitch" as an update to my article about feedmixes.)

 

Some of my feedmixes

Not all feeds are ideal for mixing, and there are good reasons you might not want to mix some feeds, even if they're related.  Here are some general examples of feedmixes I've made for myself, with explanations of why I think they're good candidates for mixing:

  • From Friends - A single feed of my friends' various content feeds becomes valuable as more friends start producing more and more feeds:
    • Photos on Flickr - Flickr conveniently mixes all my contacts' photos into a single feed, so in this case I'm actually adding a "pre-mixed" feed to my feedmix.  The fact that all my friends don't use Flickr isn't a problem, since I can add any feed-enabled photosharing site to my mix.
    • Blogs
    • Music playlists
    • Links tagged for me in del.icio.us

I may use this mix to blend a broader "People I Know" mix.  As more people start using feeds, we'll need tools to filter and manage all this content, which will grow in volume as feeds catch on as a way to share information.  It may take a while, but the usage explosion that happened with email and static web content will soon happen with feeds and tagging.
  • References to Me - Blog search engines like Technorati and Google Blog Search offer feeds of blog search results.  These "search feeds" scan for links to my blog, telling me when and where people link to my blog.  There's no reason I need to have more than one feed for these alerts, though it makes sense to use more than one engine in this relatively new area of blog search.
  • Finance - Bankrate publishes several related feeds I want, but I don't need to read them separately, and I can add financial feeds from other sites too:
    • Mortgage news
    • Market trends
    • Savings and investing advice
    • General financial news, analysis, & reports
These are feedmixes I've made for my own use - for ideas on using feedmixes to share and redistribute information, read Marshall Kirkpatrick's excellent article about attention streams.  Leave a comment if you have other ideas for how mixes could be used!

How to make and use a feedmix - 3 quick & easy steps

  1. Mix - Choose a feedmixing service, (some don't even require you to sign up) then copy the addresses of the feeds you want to mix from your feed reader: Select a feed, right-click on its address & select "Copy link location...", and paste it into the mix form.
    • I like Feedblendr so far.  The site has a cool tip; to add to a "blend" of feeds, just put in the address an existing blend, and add the new addess(es).
    • Update: 2007.02 - For really advanced (but easy to use) feedmixing, try the new Yahoo! Pipes.
  2. Burn - FeedBurner is a good "front-end" for a feedmix (as well as individual feeds) that provides several useful benefits, including:
    • Easy to feed address - many feed mixing services just give you a non-descriptive serial number.
    • Feed address stays the same - even if you update your mix and it's address changes, or you change feedmixing services.
    • Several free tools for managing your feed - statistics, "browser-friendliness", routing feeds to email, etc.
    • Insert useful content - You can include a "Post to del.icio.us" link in each feed item, so they're easy to bookmark & share.
    • And more - Take a look at this guide to How and Why To Use FeedBurner; it convinced me!
  3. Subscribe - Add your new feedmix to your feed reader, delete your subscriptions to the individual feeds, and enjoy fewer feeds!
    • It might be interesting to keep an eye on a few individual feeds for a while after including them in a mix, to see what delay (if any) FeedBurner introduces.  I  recommend against using feeds for time-sensitive information -- that's not the point of feeds -- so this is just for academic curiosity.

July 14, 2005

Problem

Feed overload!

Feed readers are an efficient way to read content from several sources, but now many of us are feeling inundated with feeds, and often don't have time to read even those we really want to prioritize.
 

Solution

Feedmixes: customizable "metafeeds" made by combining multiple feeds into one

 

 

Why mix feeds?  My "Elevator Pitch"

(I'm excerpting this section and using it in another article about some cool feedmixes I made and how to make them.  If that's how you got here, you can skip the bullet points below.)
  • Feedmixes are to feeds as feed readers are to blogs (and other syndicated content).  By collapsing and reducing the number of information flows we manage, feedmixes can dramatically improve the efficiency with which we consume and distribute information.
  • You don't need to read related feeds one at a time any more than you needed to visit individual sites and blogs.   You probably read more than one feed in areas like Finance, Music, Productivity, Business, Friends, etc.   Wouldn't it be convenient to read all your friends' blogs in a single feed?  Do video clips from Google or YouTube really need separate feeds?  Why not read about the latest toys from Engadget and Gizmodo in a "Gadgets" feed?  A good feed mixing service will include the source of each item in the feed, so you don't lose that information by mixing.
  • Feedmixing makes it easy to corral "loosely coupled" content, focus it, and redistribute it as an attention stream.   People tag content on blogs, news sites, social bookmarking sites, wikis, search engines, video & photography blogs, etc..  Using common tags makes it possible find all that related content, even though it exists in totally different systems.  This is considered "loosely coupled" content, and can be used by an individual, or a loosely coupled community .  Feedmixing is a tool for bringing together and redistributing content you choose from several different sites.

More Detail

A feed reader eliminates the need to manually retrieve and read several sources of information because it aggregates the information in a single place.  In a similar way, a feedix combines  multiple feeds into one, so you can reduce the number of different feeds you subscribe to.  You could create a "Must Read" summary feedmix that consists of some of the content from each of the feeds you consider most important.

When I first heard about feed readers, I didn't think I needed one.  Only after I started using one -- and entered all the different sites I regularly read -- did I see how inefficient it was to visit each individually.  When I first heard the concept of feedmixes expressed, (see credit below) I didn't think I needed them either.  Now, having tried for a while to read my 80+ feeds regularly, I see significant potential value in feedmixes as a way to address feed overload and help manage the flow of information.

 

Mixing feeds

Some close approximations of what I envision already exist, but I think the real value in metafeeds will be in customization, and I haven't yet seen any service that provides that.  (Update: 2007.02 - Yahoo! Pipes looks like the service I've been wishing for, and then some!) Here’s how I want to build and customize feedmixes:
  • Choose individual source feeds – I know there have been some recent services that create tag feeds (which are a kind of feedmix themselves), but there's value in being able to select specific, individual feeds, rather than all that match a particular tag, though that's useful too.
  • Specify the number of items to get from each source feed.
  • Specify the order in which the feeds are spliced - e.g., A B C, A B C, B B B, C C C, A A A, etc.  I do realize this can get complicated especially for novices but providing defaults along with the option to customize can mitigate that problem.  This is probablly best left as an advanced feature, and is likely overkill.
  • Get the results as a feed - This may seem obvious, but I've seen approximations of feedmixes that are available only as web content.

Example feedmixes

  • "Productivity" feedmixThree productivity blog feeds combined into one, with an equal number of articles from each:
 

  • "Friends" feedmix - Adam saves a lot of stuff into his Furl linkblog feed, so it would be nice to look at only the 5 most recent items from him when we're pressed for time.  We share a lot of interests with Beth, so let's get her entire del.icio.us feed, but Chuck is pretty prolific, so we’ll just grab the latest 10 things he's written in his blog:

 


Some close equivalents of feedmixes

I'm curious to know if there are any service that provides this kind of service as I've described it?  It seems like a perfect enhancement for feed readers.  I haven't tried many feed readers, and I tend to lean toward web-based readers over desktop clients, so I'm not sure if this is already a commonly implemented idea.  In any case, I haven't yet seen a service that provides much customization, and I think feedmixing is ideally suited to being a web-based service.

Here are the close equivalents of feedmixes that I’ve seen:

  • My Yahoo! – I don't prefer My Yahoo as a feed reader – nor does it presume to be a full-featured one – but one could argue that it was one of the first.  One of the reasons I liked My Yahoo! is that it does allow customization of how many items from each feed, and displays them all on a single page.  When I look at the resulting page of feeds, I see a quick summary of each of my feeds - not quite a feedmix, but close.
  • Furl's "My Headlines" – is a summary of latest items in all my Furl subscriptions, but it's not provided as a feed, and I can't customize what's included.  (Furl is not a feed reading service, so I can't really complain.)
  • Rojo's "Recent Stories from all feeds" - Close, but as far as I know, it's not customizable, and I don't believe I can subscribe to it as a feed.  In a way, this makes some sense from Rojo's perspective; one could argue this is a feature that adds value to the service.  That's fine, but I'd like to be able to customize it and be able to treat the resulting feedmix like any other feed, and not have it only available in a particluar feed reader.
  • RSS Digest's upcoming "Feed splicing" - After having this article in draft for a while, I happened to stumble on a service called RSS Digest, and I see that the upcoming new version plans to provide "Feed splicing. Mix multiple feeds into a single digest."  Great!  That’s exactly what I'm talking about.  I hope the developer will consider the value of customization when creating that capability.
  • Update: 2005.07.26 - I just heard about a service called Feedshake, which is an "RSS merger" service.  I haven't checked it out yet, but it sounds like exactly what I've been describing!
  • Update: 2006.02.09 - del.icio.us provides a way to create rudimentary feedmixes:  Using the Inbox, you can specify tags or users you want to track, and assign labels to multiple tags/users to aggregate them (e.g. subscribe to the tags "apples", "oranges", "pears" and label the subscription "Fruit").  Of course, any label you create generates a feed.  This means you could subscribe to Adam's, Beth's, and Chuck's del.icio.us feeds in your Inbox, label the subscription "Friends", and you've got a feedmix.
  • Update: 2006.03.07 - FeedBlendr looks promising!  I especially like one of the tips, which I think is a great idea: "Did you make a blend and forget an ingredient? Wanna add another feed to your blend? No problem - use the FeedBlendr URL as one of the feeds in a new blend, then just add the ones you forgot into that one as well."
  • Update: 2006.03.09 - FeedBurner as front-end for feedmixes - I see there's been some discussion about feedmixes in the FeedBurner discussion forums.  Although FeedBurner doesn't support it "natively" yet (March 2006) it can be done!
  • Enough updates, already!  Rather than continuing to manually update this list (which will probably become irrelevant soon, since this idea seems to be catching on), I'll just refer you to my lists of feedmixing services and feedmixing examples at del.icio.us, since they will get updated as I find new ones.

 

Credit for the idea, and a very close equivalent

Jon Aquino has written a "Bloglines Splicer" that begins to implement this idea, using the feed reader Bloglines.  I haven't actually checked it out, but after reading his description, I see he's got a similar idea in mind.  In fact, I credit him with giving me the idea for feedmixs, even though when I first read what Jon said about it, the idea didn't really register with me.  It was only since I started subscribing to more and more feeds that I've started to realize this is what I want.  Thanks, Jon, for helping me to articulate the problem as well as a good idea for helping to solve it!


May 07, 2005

What? Bloglines icon

Tracking packages demonstrates a benefit of using a feed reader

Feed readers, also called "RSS readers" and "news aggregators", are designed to collect (aggregate) information feeds from the sources you specify, and alert you when there's something new. Consider which is easier; visiting each web site you regularly read, or going to one place that keeps an updated list of the new information on those sites?

Bloglines is my current feed reader, and package tracking is a recent addition to the service. There are many feed readers to choose from, but I'm not sure they can all track packages (I'm sure this will be a standard cabability in the future, or even better, package delivery services will all start publishing tracking feeds.)

Why?

Feed readers are perfect for "disposable" information that's only valueable for a while

Tracking packages is one of many reasons to use Bloglines. The service is perfect for managing this kind of information, since it does the work of checking for updates, and the information isn't valuable after the package is delivered. You can also use a feed reader for keeping up to date on other disposible information, like current traffic conditions in your area and new messages in your groups and mailing lists.

Let computers alert you of status changes & new information

Why spend effort on a task that's perfectly suited to computers? I recently ordered something online, and just got a "your order has shipped" email message that includes the tracking #. Rather than having to constantly check on the status, I just plugged the tracking # into Bloglines, which will alert me when there's new information about the package.

SCREENSHOT: Bloglines package tracking

Feed readers are not just for blogging!

Many people think Bloglines and other feed readers are just tools for people who are "into blogging". They are indeed a great way to keep up with constantly-changing information, such as blogs, but they're useful for much more than that. We'll soon start to see more benefits of feed readers, because RSS — and "web feeds" in general — are versitile and powerful technologies/ideas. We're just starting to see innovations in how feeds can be used (for example, to keep up to date on the status of a package).

RSS newspaper icon

Feeds are used for syndicating much of the news information on the Internet right now. News agencies & web sites have known about the advantages of syndication for a long time — think AP. But they're using syndication so their servers can exchange news information; Feed readers allow people to start realizing the benefits of syndication for all kinds of content. For example, all this incoming information generated by syndication soon leads to a need for more efficient ways to manage it, which leads to the use of feed readers to bringing it all together in one place.

To see if a web site you read provides a feed, look for the words like "Site Feed", "Atom", "RSS", or "XML" often in small orange buttons, like this: RSS icon ATOM icon XML icon. Update: A new movement has has been started to standardize on a universal feed icon that looks like this: Feed icon

Hopefully, this gives you a sense of why you'd want to use a feed reader. Most (like Bloglines) are free, and it's easy to get started!

May 03, 2005

What?

It's a snap to try out different feed readers with your real list of subscriptions, and doing so enables you to get a true sense of how they compare.

Bloglines logo Rojo logo

I recently found out about Rojo, a new web-based feed reader, similar to Bloglines, which I currently use. I'm very happy with Bloglines, but Rojo has some features that caught my eye (e.g. tags) and I want to check it out.

Why?

It's hard to give a new service or application a fair shake if you don't use it as you do your "real" one.

I wouldn't really be able to see how it is to use Rojo without "living" in it as my primary feed reader for a while. The problem is, I've been deterred from doing so by the prospect of having to add and organize my feeds all over again. I've been using Bloglines for a while, and have a pretty long list of feeds that I've spent a lot of time organizing.

How?

Export your subscription list from one feed reader, and import it into another.

Then I remembered some reference to exporting feed subscriptions to an OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language) file. OPML is — among other things — a de facto standard language for import and export of feed subscription lists. Recalling that made me realize that checking out other feed readers should be relatively easy, since it seems blog-related service providers understand the fact that holding our data hostage is not the way to win users.

So, to test out this process, I

The whole process took less than 2 minutes. I'm sure this is just as possible to do with most combinations of feed readers, web-based or not, these two just happen to be the ones I'm checking out at the moment.

April 05, 2005

I'm in the process of evangelizing blogs & feeds to my friends and family, and just saw Michael Hyatt's post, How to Read Blogs on his blog, Working Smart (one of the first productivity-related blogs I found).

The article Michael references provides a good introduction to reading blogs. Although I could link directly to the article, Michael already wrote a nice introduction, and should get the credit for the reference. Plus, his blog is worth a look, so I've linked to his intro rather than the actual article.

Feed readers -- the tool of choice for reading blogs -- are important technology and will dramatically improve our ability to manage information more efficiently. As the referenced article's author says, it's tough to convince people of why they should read blogs. I think, though, that we can at least help them do so efficiently, and the benefit of feed readers is that they are useful for any syndicated content (e.g. AP news), not just blog content per se. So, even people who aren't "into blogging" can get value from feed readers.

February 25, 2005

I was getting tired of trying to figure out a good way to keep track of the cool stuff I've been finding online (more and more in blogs these days), so I did a little research and found Bloglines, which showed me the value of using a feed reader, something I didn't realize I needed until I tried it.

One of the main reasons I started using Bloglines is because of their "Clip Blog" and "Clippings" features, which allow you to save blog entries you read via Bloglines to either your own Clip Blog (which you can make public to share with others) or your private "Clippings" folder.

Update: 2005.06.10

Goodbye Clip Blog, hello Furl - I've completely abandoned my Bloglines clip blog in favor of Furl, a service that does a lot more than Bloglines' clip blog, and is a much better tool for keeping track of anything (not just blog entries you read in Bloglines) you find on the web.

Update: 2006.02.02

Switched from Furl to del.icio.us for most things.

There may be others and/or better feed readers out there, but none has yet jumped out at me.  I think Bloglines could/should be stronger in the blogging department, (I have yet to figure out, for example, if I can have another Bloglines blog aside from my Clip Blog, but I've just begun learning about all this) but I'm not sure that's their focus.  They seem to be one of a small number of web-based aggregators who see the value in providing some blogging service (specifically Clip Blogging) together with aggregation.

Now you can keep track of the stuff I find online at your discretion, and without me having to constantly send you email.  It's one of the great things about the "publish and subscribe" paradigm!

Update: 2005.05.08

I inserted this section months later, after having written it as part of an article about using Bloglines to track packages.  I think it belongs here, because I didn't really cover the other uses for Bloglines before, as I'd just begun to understand all this.

Feed readers are not just for blogging!

Many people think Bloglines and other feed readers are just tools for people who are "into blogging". They are indeed a great way to keep up with constantly-changing information, such as blogs, but they're useful for much more than that. We'll soon start to see more benefits of feed readers, because RSS -- and "web feeds" in general -- are very versitile and powerful technologies/ideas. We're just starting to see innovations in how feeds can be used (for example, to keep up to date on the status of a package).

RSS newspaper icon
Feed technology is used for syndicating much of the news information on the Internet right now. News agencies & web sites have known about the advantages of syndication for a long time - think AP. But they're using syndication so their servers can exchange news information; Feed readers allow people to start realizing the benefits of syndication for all kinds of content. For example, all this incoming information generated by syndication soon leads to a need for more efficient ways to manage it, which leads to the use of feed readers to bringing it all together in one place.

To see if a web site you read provides a feed, look for the words like "Site Feed", "Atom", "RSS", or "XML" often in small orange buttons, like this: RSS icon ATOM icon XML icon. Update: A new movement has has been started to standardize on a universal feed icon that looks like this: Feed icon

Hopefully, this gives you a sense of why you'd want to use a feed reader. Most (like Bloglines) are free, and it's easy to get started!