Monday, April 23, 2007

Feeds - Detail

I’ve been asked a few questions on the feed reader I built. If you’re not into technical stuff, you don’t need to read this post. Except for the bolded text below, that’s some good information. But I live for projects like this – they keep me sane. This was a short one, just a few days. But I really need to focus and immerse myself into things like this, it’s important to my mental health.

First, a quick, high-level overview. I knew very little about feeds prior to starting this project, and I still know little about the technical side of them. All I can say is it provides a quick and simple data stream you can pull into a “reader” and display. This data may be news, basic web pages, or in this case, blogs. You may have noticed links on blogs, they may say "RSS" or "Feeds" or ""Atom". These are all methods of providing feeds for our blogs or web pages. People use these feeds in different ways, the way I used them is described above.

There are a lot of feed readers, Google Reader is a popular one. I use Google to display the news headlines on the side bar of this blog. But there are so many ways to use feeds and readers you need to look around for one that does what you want, or can be modified to do what you want. In my case, the tricky part was displaying multiple feeds in a single interface. It took me a lot of research to figure out how to do this. Somebody else may have been able to do it in minutes, but it was a learning adventure for me.

Jumping to the solution, I took all the individual feeds and combined them into an OPML file. This is a file that combines multiple feeds. I found a site that will do that for you:
Once you have the OPML file built from your feeds, then go to Grazr and use that OPML file to build a reader widget:
You can configure your reader in a number of different formats or colors, and Grazr will do that for you. Once it’s configured it gives you the code to paste into your blog or webpage. That’s the basics, and it does work. Just maintain a list of feed URLs and use the method above.

But now the fun part, tweaking it to make it really usable and easily updated. If it takes too much time or it’s too much work to update, it will never be used. A few things about that process.

First, if you’re still maintaining links yourself, stop that! There are several good, free services that make it so much easier to maintain a list of blog links. And they add so much versatility to future projects just like this one. I use blogrolling, but there are several out there. Build your blogroll, they guide you right through the process. Then you can generate the code for your blog. Don’t stop reading when I say code! Go to Blogger, Layout, and add a page element. Select HTML/Java Script and paste in your code. Drag the page element where you want it, and you’re done managing links in Blogger forever. For the ultimate in ease, add a toolbar button to your browser that you merely click to add a link to your blog. Blogrolling will show you how to do that also. OK, those not desiring additional tech information can stop reading now. But the point of this sidebar, If you have a place you can upload and store an OPML file online, and if you create a blogroll of feeds, you’ve cut way back on your maintenance time. Once you have a blogroll of feeds (not basic urls), you can export that blogroll to an OPML file. Blogrolling calls it "backing up", but it’s the same thing. With Blogrolling I have to manually edit that OPML file a bit. On each line you change:
and :
In your html or text editor you just do a replace with the information above, and it’s done in a second, even if you have hundreds of feeds. Then you have a working OPML file.

Note to Suni: If you add a title to the feed when adding it to blogrolling, the title pulls into the feed. Otherwise you can manually edit the OPML file to add the blog title in the “text” portion of the feed line. But I don’t know how to tell you to do that unless you are storing your own OPML file. I don’t think the feedshow link above does that for you.

Then, as described above, use the grazr widget builder to build your widget using the url of the OPML file you’ve built. If you want to change anything, you merely change the OPML file you have stored, and the changes immediately pull into your feed reader.

Clear as mud, huh?

Oh, and the design is a template I downloaded and slightly customized. I don’t have the patience to set up the CSS to do design from ground up. I’m still adding to and tweaking the basic site.

Next step: Adding different feed readers for resources, and maybe other categories as well. Also, the email for updated blogs as described in the previous post.

Any suggestions anyone may have? I’d like to hear other ideas and suggestions.


Stephany said...

i can barely get through basic html and usual stare at it for hours to see the math equation it appears to be in my mind. i manually add everything and *dread* trying to add stuff to the template. this is practically reason for a bipolar meltdown, yet i have maintained and not tossed the computer outside yet.
ack. i can hardly remember codes and passwords for what ive done. :)

Jon said...

Stephany - I completely understand. But what helps me is to organize the code. My code has to be clean and organized. Neatly indented, opening and closing tags at the same level of indention, child tags indented further. It has to be organized and pleasing to the eye. Disorganized code drives me nuts! Also, comment everything! Until you know things perfectly, put in a comment for everything you do.
(I just tried to put a comment example here, but Blogger won't let me use the tags.) But an HTML comment is a "less than", followed by an exclamation mark, followed by two dashes. To close your comment use 2 dashes followed by a "greater than" symbol. Leave notes to yourself as comments so you remember exactly what you did and why. You can also "comment out" sections of code, or links, or anything else the same way.

One other tip, if you're putting in links or other tags, start with both the opening and closing tags, and then fill in the middle.

I'd be happy to help in any way I can, just IM or drop me a line any time.