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Published: 2005-04-07T17:38:37-07:00


New Feed2JS Mirror and Some India Students Feed Aggregating


More on the feed front. Sam at KinScape has offered and become the newest of the Feed2JS public mirror sites: serving up feeds to JavaScript from a server in Michigan. Again, it was about a 30 minute install via ftp (mostly me finding my own typos and errors). We're ready for more takers, let's span the globe! Also, I got a cryptic email from Sunil, a student at the International Institute of Information Technology in India, where it looks like theyh have set up some modified versions of Feed2JS to aggregate a bunch of student blog posts into a one page blogroll (a lot of local hits but it does not take forever)... Sunil and friends ("Intellectual Depravity") are running some Bloxsom blogs there but some, like "reality bites" are blogspot sites: I'm someone who thinks Arundhati Roy is a spectacular blend of Michael Moore's wit, Noam Chomsky's intellect, and Howard Zinn's hands-on approach to activism. I'm someone who thinks Richard Stallman is a god, for he gave us the very concept of free software. I'm someone who thinks Rituparno Ghosh is one of the finest movie directors ever. I'm someone who thinks Yash Chopra and Karan Johar simply suck. And yes, I do think Aishwarya Rai is overrated... I cannot say if I agree that Aishwarya Rai is overrated ;-) There is some of that way out on the long tail sort of discovery here in student voices... and this network of IT students do a lot of back and forth commenting in their blog-scape.

That Canadian Factor- Maricopans are Asking About Wikis and RSS


Okay, maybe we've gushed a bit already, but something has happened here in our system. I think it is the Canadian aura, but after Brian Lamb's Dialogue Day with us last week, people are now popping out of the ground like prairie dogs, and seeing a beautiful wheat filled plain of lovely information technologies... We'd published internally before on RSS (Fall 2003) and wikis (Fall 2004) without much of a measurable ripple. But already in a few days: (1) Our Blackboard admin has seen how Feed2JS and RSS feeds from the Maricopa Learning eXchange can be used to pipe content from our Blackboard Support materials MLX collection into a Bb site for the staff around our system that use/support Blackboard: Yeah, this is not exactly new or earth shattering, but they went and did it on their own. (2) Another group is using a new open wiki (unspecified, sorry) for creating a place for their People Soft Portal team to do some brainstorming. (3) We convinced a few folks who attended this week's NMC Online oCnference on Visual Literacy to use a wiki to declare which sections they would review and to post some notes. We were able to send up to 10 people from our system to this conference, and at our first suggestion to use a wiki to collaborate, there was silence and an offer from one leader to have everyone "email their notes so he can blog them". I snuck ahead and created the wiki site, and that turned the bulbs on for the group. Maybe-- it appears that only 3 of the 10 actually got their fingers in the wiki. But we'll take any bits of progress we can get. (4) And emails like this: Dave _______ has been looking at the MLX section of the mcli site and had incorporated some of it for Blackboard. He had an idea of possible doing something similar and harnessing the power of RSS for our Peoplesoft SIS Project web site. Where can I find out more about how this works, what we would need to do to get it going, and some ideas on how to implement this?   We might be getting some traction finally in these technologies that to me, have budded passed "emerging". So if you are struggling in your system to get some adoption, bring in a Canadian!

My Dentist Has an RSS Feed


Two years, a year ago, it was noteworthy when feedless-sites were worth announcing they had added an RSS feed. Is it really newsworthy anymore? There is some sort of tipping point at work here, just curious if the threshold has been lost. It takes me back 10, 11, 12 years ago when the first web sites were popping up. Every (almost) new site was nesworthy in its presence, announced in the NCSA Mosaic What's New Page. I recall combing through my multimedia magazines, noting the first companies that had a URL in their ads. I was collecting them like mad in manually edited collections. There was no Google, no Internet Explorer, not even a Yahoo (well maybe a baby Yahoo). It was a trickle, then a steady rain, than a constant flow, then it is just part of the scenery. Will the same happen to RSS? Will its absence be more noteworthy for an organization than its presence? Is it still mildly geeky to use? Has it arrived? is arriving? will not arrive? Meanwhile, according to my aggregator, Dr. Green today is performing a root canal, 2 crowns, 6 checkups, plus a golf match at 4:30 pm ;-)

Mothers Guard Your RSS Feeds, Someone Wants to "Monetize" Them


Look out for your RSS-- as warned the vultures are still circling, and maybe hovering closer to your feeds. It's interesting, curious, and quirky when the PR factories roll new verbs off the assembly line- Moreover's FeedRSSDirect Ads offer this savory description: Moreover Technologies, the premier provider of aggregated online current awareness information, today announced FeedDirect RSS Ads, the first self-service integrated RSS feed delivery and monetization service... RSS feed publishers will now benefit from the ability to insert content-targeted, revenue-generating sponsored links within posts or as an individual post, providing publishers with unparalleled flexibility to monetize their content. Ohhhhhhhh, "monetizing" the content sounds so sexy. Magical. Alchemy. Turning plain old content into cash. I am not predicting gloom and doom, and will likely exercise my right not to read content that has been created in the pure goal of "monetization". It's bad enough that in this pursuit some web sites have web sites with 7% of weight (or 20% by volume) of content among the ads. But can you imagine wading through loud billboards when you are trying to digest information? While I would never begrudge anyone to make a living off the web, is the "clown pants" visual impact of ads something you really want to wear? And here I as hoping that Monet-ization was some sort of Impressionistic graphics design approach. Viva la difference.

Wists = flickr +


I am not sure yet what to make of wists - visual bookmarks, yet another variant following the flickr trail through the mountain pile of folksonomic tag mania. Create a wist account, load a browser bar tool, and when you are surfing and want to track a site in your "collection" (a task), wist offers to create an icon based on any image it can find in the page (quasi flickr-like). Slap on some tags, and see where your tags lead you. There is a friend of a friend thing there too, but I lack friends (apparently). You end up with a collection of tagged icons representing sites you have "wisted". Since it syndicates, this is another one in the pack of Rip. Mix. Feed. I am wisting but I have no idea what I am doing.

Shelley Is On It: "Using RSS Feeds in English 102" MLX Package


One of my colleagues has gotten bit severely by the weblog / RSS fever--- this is a good thing. Shelley teaches English at Mesa Community College and is experimenting this semester with having her student review resources via Bloglines, and she is crafting an extra credit assignment for them to post entries in the Bloglines weblog (not the greatest blog tool, but good enough for a start). Today she sent me an e-mail describing what she had created, with an attachment of her assignment. Since she has a good sense of humor, and I am just so tired of people in our system only sharing via e-mail (the syndrome I refer to as "e-mail attachment disorder"), I relied with this message: WARNING WARNING This email program has returned the message to you as the owner of the account prefers that all such items be sent as URL links to content in the Maricopa Learning eXchange. Wouldn't great ideas live longer and wider if they were not confined to e-mail? She laughed, and sent me the MLX link 10 minutes later.. so, here hot off the press, is MLX Package #1503: Using RSS Feeds in ENG102. Now id her "bite" can only infect a few more colleagues ;-)

Podcaster Request: Feed With a Summary


I continue to put my pennies in a piggy bank towards a future iPod. Until then, in scanning more and more RSS feeds that contain references to the audio enclosures, I am bothered/irked/annoyed by the scant details available to the summary in an RSS Reader: My Views on the Cheese Curdling Controversy Today's podcast on the big stink about cheese. Download file (6.4MB mp3) Now regular cheese enthusiasts might automatically listen to my daily cheese diatribes, but if I am casual visitor, trying to make a decision if I ought to subscribe, I would be looking for a perhaps three sentence summary in text form, to accompany the feed. Not only that, if a visitor wishes to write their own blog entry referral to me, citing my eloquent argumentative style on this important issue, without a good summary for copy/paste posting, they have to try and make up a summary. Podcasters, take note- you put a lot of time and effort into the recording, but you are not serving a wider feed audience without a decent text summary in the feeds.

Not Ready for Prime Time: feed://


I forgot who's WordPress blog I was surfing this morning, but a mouse hover over their RSS link turned the cursor to a question mark, and clicking the link actually auto subscribed that feed to me aggregator. The link was written differently than the typical link: feed:// That is correct, note the feed:// protocol on the URL. This was interesting as many newbies wonder what all the wonder there is about RSS after they click a "syndicate" link or an organge icon and see a screen full of geek code (raw XML). I did some googling but found nothing definitive on whether this was reliable, so I played a bit on my own site. At home, it worked perfectly on Mac OSX in Safari, FireFox, and even the protozoic Internet Explorer 5.2. Looking good! Not so good when I got to work on my PC laptop. No go in Firefox (well it asked for an application, then I picked a RSS reader, and now links do nothing. Worse, on IE, it just generates an error. And sadly, that is the tail that wags the web, so for now, fuggedaboudit. At least, quickSub still works cleanly on all browsers, platforms, and RSS readers I've been able to test. It is still a bit of a side hack, as it leans on JavaScript. Basically, a hover over the RSS link brings up a floating window (CSS div) where you can select which reader you want to subscribe the feed with. And if you really want to see the geeky XML (I admit it, I have an often need for that to see the structure), well, you cans till click the link. It's one of the cleaner approaches around now...

Feedback Gems: Small Pieces In Spain


Among the chaff of email spam are a few gems. Here is one from Ian in Spain who has figured out how to leverage RSS, blogs, and Feed2JS to generate a dynamic site: Hi Your rss2js service is first class. I love the code generator and the service itself - what a great job! I have a web site '' about Asturias in Spain. It has lain pretty dormant for a few years. I don't have time to produce lots of content for the site, but what I have wanted to do for a while is be able to at least pump news through the site, but without having to re-work the site too much or build myself a backend news database. Anyway a couple of days ago I saw that Ask Jeeves had bought out Bloglines, and when I took a look it was so easy to set up a blog that I went ahead. Then I thought if only I could get the blog rss into my web site I'd have the news issue sorted. Then I found your site and - hey presto! Many thanks for a great service. Great job Ian! Score another one for Rip. Mix. Feed. Just add a sidebar photo feed from flickr and you are set! P.S. Kind of interesting that the Jeeves buy is funneling more people into the mix.

(Not) Killing Me Softly With Your Feeds


Just having set up some stats reports on this server, I find with no surprise the big consumer of activity is our Feed2JS script, which according to the data, in the last 7 days felt: 3,182,586 hits (96% of the total) 455,000 hits per day 18,943 hits per hour 315 hits per minute The server is fine and there is no intent to shut this down. I monitor the CPU usage and am trying to unravel some periodic swings where it maxes 100% of the CPU. There are some patterns there to try and detective my way through. We run another server at a different address off the same XServe, and that site was getting way too much crawling action, so knocking out all the bots with a robots.txt exclusion seemed to help the whole box out alot. As mentioned before, at sometime in the next month or two, I will be moving Feed2JS to its own dedicated server (a new PC laptop has freed up a PIII box in my office-- every second hand PC in our office gets the Linux touch and is put to work). Have no fears, there will be ample warning and clean server redirects from where FeedJS sits now.

Distilling inbound links via and Furl


This is one of those found be serendipity things, what happens when you just freely poke around the web. Maybe it is obvious to many others, but it's new to me. Some folks rely on technorati for taking a pulse of links going to their content, and it sure provides some good insight. I just blindly stumbled into two ways to look at how other people are connecting to specific URLs you may be responsible for (or just curious about). So it started with an email notification of a Trackback from my post first on A Cup of Connotea: A New Flavor of Social Bookmarking (and now a 4 in 1 bookmark tool) and a new site created to be a "Delicious-Furl-Connotea-Bag" bookmarklet tool, now abbreviated to Site Submission MultiTool-- Alan's Marklet Maker. Now although Trackback is now a spam problem and many smarter than I think it is the wrong mode of communication, I still get somehing out of it, because almost daily, Trackback connects me to some other blog author I had never heard of. Well, this one lead me to German site I could not read, but it had an RSS feed displayed of a "furl" tag in (isn't that an interesting mix!): where I saw my little page listed (and it was but 2 weeks old), with an indication it had been tagged by 142 other people (yikes! better check the spelling on that page!): And clicking that pink link gives me a URL for all the other users who had tagged it: Now my hunch is that the long numeric string on the end of the URL is a "hash" or a conversion of the URL to a unique string to identify it, so there is no direct way to build it via a URL alone. You see that a majority of posts are made without extended descriptions, and the ones there are perhaps from people who have modified their bookmarklets to include the selected text from a highlighted web poge (a feature built into my Marklet Maker). But there are some ways, I have yet to do more than ponder, to look at who is delicious-ing particular sites. So I jumped over to Furl to see if it has something similar, lo and behold it does, and even easier to use. The "About This Link" page has a form field to type in a URL--, so plugging my URL in there gives me a listing of 81 Furl members who have "Furled" this URL, listed first by ones that include comments, and then links to others lacking comments. I am not writing this solely to toot my own porcupine horn and say, "Wow, 81 people Furled me", but to suggest to look into your tools and see if there are less subtle ways they offer to examine their large holdings. Data is just data in a database, and lacks meaning until we interpret, analyze, conjecture it. I find a more interesing curiosity into who is Furling, why, what they got out of it.. Back to Small Pieces Loosely Joined Hyperlinks are not just an incidental feature of the Web. They are what turn the Web from a library of pages into a web... nothing on the Web is independent of us and our meanings and our interests... On the Web, there's only passion, words, and the presence of others, in grand, shifting, ineffably messy relationships. Those connections bind us into something more than we are as individual pieces of organized matter; the are what's most real on the Web." [SPLJ pp170-171]

Feed2JS Feature Testers Wanted
Following a recent a brief server outage I have been tinkering with an approach to solve problems that might occur on external sites using our Feed2JS service. I'm lookng for some folks willing to test some extra JavaScript aimed at preventing page hangs should we blink out on you. Here is the issue. The whole magic works because your web pages are looking to link to an extneral file of JavaScript commands that output the content. Typically this is done as a link toa file, say of some common routines used on many pages, so the JavaScript is linked via a command like:

Feed2JS does the same, except the src= points to a script which dynamically builds the JavaScript output statements. The problem is what if the URL in the src= tag is not available? It does not seem to time out the browser, like an unfound link, and for many users, their browser is stopped from displaying any content. Bad mojo, indeed.

Since moving my web development to PHP a few years back, I avoid where ever I can using JavaScript- it is just too browser dependent, prone to idiosynchrocies, and always feels like a "kludge" approach. But sometimes, it is the only recourse. So the end around I am trying would go through a process like this as a Feed2JS page loads:

  1. Javascript first turns a flag variable to "off" to indicate we have not heard back yet from the Feed2JS server.
  2. Javascript starts a timer that goes off in say, 15 seconds. If the flag variable has been flipped "on", we de-activate the timer, If it is still in the "off" position, it means we have not heard back from the server. So we pop up a confirmation box, asking the user if they want to try another 15 seconds, or to cancel the request. Here is where it gets tricky-- there does not seem to be a 100% reliable way to have JavaScript tell the browser to abort the transaction, the equivalent of hitting the "stop" button on the browser. The methods I dug up include:
    1. For NetScape/Mozilla/FireFox: window.stop()
    2. For IE, there is an undocumented but-sits-on-Microsoft's-site command: document.execCommand('Stop');
    3. For Safari, well neither seems to work.
    So The confirmation box let's the user know it will try and stop the browser, but it may fall on the user top do it manually. At least the get a message that feed2JS is OOC (out of commission).
  3. The current Feed2JS script is set now to return to all requests, a JavaScript command that sets the variable in step 1 flip to the flag variable to the "on" position (see an example of the raw JavaScript output) -- this has no effect on anyone's current use of Feed2JS.

So below is some HTML to test this functionality out:

I am providing a zipped template of my test file. I am just looking to try this out before rolling it in as the standard template (it would not be required, but optional). Or if anyone has some JavaScript insight as to a better way to do this, please let me know. Thanks!