Tag Archives: RSS

All about RSS

This is a short post to accompany my appearance on The Dan Logan Show on Focal Radio this evening. Hello, Dan Logan Show listeners! If you’re wondering who on earth I am, take a look at my About page! 🙂

RSS – the basics

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication, and basically it’s a way of publishing information online. Once upon a time, you would have to open a bunch of web pages to keep up with the news and see what had been updated. These days, you can subscribe to the feeds that those pages provide, and the updates will automagically appear in your feed reader.

RSS and another similar technology called Atom are often grouped together and called “feeds”. If you’re into the visuals, then you’ll enjoy a short 3 minute video called RSS in Plain English which shows what this is all about. If you want the technical description, then take a look at Wikipedia which goes into way more detail!

The RSS or feed icon is usually a little orange square with 3 radar-like stripes, but you’ll also find it shown as a blue or orange box which says ‘XML’ or ‘RSS’ in it. Here’s an example of the standard icon shown at the bottom of my Flickr page:

FlickrRSS.png

[confusingly – on Dan’s blog, there’s no icon, but right at the bottom of the page is a link that says Subscribe to: Posts (Atom) – that’s basically the same thing, just without a nice orange icon]

What’s a feed reader?

A feed reader is a program or application you can use to subscribe to and read different feeds. They usually look a bit like an email program like Outlook or Thunderbird, with feeds on the left and items on the right. There’s an online feed reader called Google Reader which is easy to get started with, or you could use any one of a large range of feed readers for Windows, Mac or Linux.

Which sites use RSS?

Lots and lots of sites use feeds now – it is becoming a really common way of providing updating information. Flickr, Twitter, BBC News, and others all provide feeds. Facebook is a little more tricky because their feeds are quite well hidden, but one thing you can do with Facebook is point it at a feed you publish, and it can then import the information as Notes – there’s an article that talks about how to set that up. There are literally thousands of sites that provide feeds – one “directory” of them is Syndica8.

If you’re looking for events in your area then you could take a look at Upcoming which provides feeds based on your searches. For gigs there’s also the-mag (which seems to mostly list gigs in the south, but you could always publish your own on there).

What else can I do with feeds?

The first thing to realise is that you don’t need to be really into technology to use feeds. If you write a blog, publish photos on Flickr, or publish a podcast, then feeds are already being created for you, and you don’t have to do anything at all!

However, if you’re into coding, you can mash them up. You could use something like Yahoo Pipes to visually wire them together and combine the output. Things like this cool interactive map of BBC News stories are mashups of RSS feeds with Google Maps, for instance. It’s a bit techie but also quite straightforward when you learn how. You can see a whole load of different mashups that other people have built at ProgrammableWeb.

Audio clips

Andy talks to Dan and Dayve about RSS (download)

Dan and Dayve talk Geocaching (download)

Thanks to Dan and Dayve for inviting me onto the show – it was a blast! They are doing some great stuff around social networks, geocaching, Twitter, blogging etc – it’s a fun programme. Looking forward to following them in their new Sunday slot.

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Filtering photos from a feed

I sometimes use my Tumblelog to post the odd photo from my iPhone. Generally I don’t want to post iPhone images to Flickr (typically these are spur-of-the-moment snapshots and low quality). There are actually two very nice free apps for the iPhone that let me post directly to Tumblr (called, imaginatively, Tumble and TheTumbler – I’m still trying to decide which one I prefer).

The problem is that I also feed my blog titles and my del.icio.us links to Tumblr, and my Flickr images, and sometimes I will also post a text note there too. Tumblr does not provide feeds on a per-item-type basis, it only gives an aggregated feed containing all the stuff you’ve uploaded there, or pulled in from other sources. Plus, if you then add that to FriendFeed, you get duplicates, even though FF can now work that out to some extent and roll them up into single entries.

Anyway… I put together a quick Yahoo Pipe which filters just the photos that were uploaded directly to Tumblr (ignoring Flickr images, for example). Feel free to clone and re-use, you can just enter your own Tumblr feed URL in the entry box at the top.

Update: well, shoot. It doesn’t ignore the Flickr images at all, does it? Gah. Apparently they are imported to Tumblr as images… which makes me suspect that even when I remove photos from Flickr they will stay on Tumblr. How annoying. And the more I look at the way that the Tumblr feed is constructed, the more I don’t like it at all.

Mixing Pipes and Plazes

I keep meaning to write a more detailed post about the changes that have been going on at Plazes, but in the meantime here’s a little doobrey I hacked up the other day.

Plazes now has a REST API (the old, pre-Activities version used to have an XML-RPC API). However, the information it provides is sometimes a little verbose for my purposes… I’d quite like to be able to simply ask the Plazes server “where am i?” and be told in a really simple format. Right now it looks like I need to know my user ID, and then go get http://plazes.com/users/<id>/activity.xml, and then get the name of the <plaze> element from the verbose XML that is returned. Something that just returned my current Plaze would be neater (for things like the ecto Applescript that I based off of Peter Rukavina’s Adium Applescript of days gone by, which used the old WhereAmI API).

So I turned to Yahoo! Pipes to see how I could abbreviate the output. I’ve created a simple Pipe which can return a small piece of JSON containing a user’s location when a user id (short name or number) is provided.

The base Pipe is here. It is not very useful in raw form as Pipes returns RSS by default, so running it will result in an apparently empty result on the web page. Try the JSON option instead.

You can add a user parameter (it defaults to my ID number, 6032), e.g. http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/pipe.run?_id=ZCgigzK93BGPeu60ouNLYQ&user=6032&_render=json

Running this query results in a JSON collection containing something like:

"items":[
   {
      "city":"Farnborough",
      "last_updated":"2008-01-07T14:28:00Z",
      "user":"Andy Piper",
      "plaze":"Andy's Office",
      "description":"",
      "title":""
   }
]

Annoyingly, Pipes only allows me to publish JSON or RSS (I’d prefer just simple text, but hey-ho).

Something more I’d like to do with this is to use Project Zero instead of Pipes, and make it more configurable to enable me to get more information on the user and plaze if needed.