Tag Archives: feeds

Team Twitter

Twitter

Clock number 5Nearly everyone in Web Services has a Twitter account.
MikeNolanJanetHowarthstedanielstraffordtigerpiddyzedzdead

Many of the team have a Delicious account for storing all our bookmarks there’s even a team one.

We needed  a way to comunicate useful information from the team without it getting lost in the clutter of our personal posts.  We needed a team identity on Twitter.

Delicious

Most people have heard of twitter (its so mainstream, even the BBC now offer a #hashtag at the beginning of some of their programmes if you want to get in on the discussion) but if you haven’t heard of Delicious, it’s a social bookmarking site. It saves your bookmarks to a website, so as long as you have a connection to the web, you’ll have access to your bookmarks no matter what browser or device you’re working from. It’s social, because you can network with other users and push links to those who you might think would be interested them.

We push links to the ehu.webteam account that we think the team might find interesting or useful. Pushing a link is easy (in this case I’m using the Firefox plugin):

FireFox plugin

RSS

The link will be stored in the inbox of the ehu.webteam delicious account. Everything in delicious has an rss feed, including inboxes, so we can pull that feed into anything we like, even a twitter account. Pulling an rss feed into a twitter account is easy too. Just create an account at TwitterFeed.com and add your feeds:

TwitterFeed

Twitter Feed

As we also blog, so it made a lot of sense to add the feed from that too.

Finally we created our twitter account under the rocking title of @EHUWebServices. We’re using a HAL9000 image for our avatar, but we’ll change that if you have a better idea.

Christmas question: Why was the computer in 2001 a Space Odyssey called HAL?  Google Caesar cipher for a clue if you don’t want to go straight to the answer!

So now we have a twitter account for Web Services which automatically displays any worthy links spotted by team members and all of our blog posts. Follow us its good stuff!

Handling Social Media Overload

Wednesday night at Static played host to the second Liverpool Social Media Cafe and I was one of the speakers. The audio was recorded so you can hear exactly what I said or read below for some notes.

RSS is not dead

For the last few years various people have claimed that RSS is dead, like this article from TechCrunch:

“It’s time to get completely off RSS and switch to Twitter. RSS just doesn’t cut it anymore.”

– Steve Gillmor

And this one from ZDNet:

“RSS: A good idea at the time but there are better ways now”

– Sam Diaz

In my opinion claiming Twitter is a replacement for RSS is like saying you’ve stopped watching the news and find out what’s going on by listening in to conversations at the bus stop.  RSS readers may not have the same widespread appeal that Facebook has found but they are an essential tool for many purposes.

Google Reader

Google Reader

Many of the tips below make use of feeds so it’s important you know how they work.  I’ve been a fan of Google Reader for many years – it’s available for desktop and mobile and there are apps that integrate with it too.

Find a better Twitter client

Twitter.com isn’t perfect. Despite their best efforts to “fill holes” in the product there are still many things that the website doesn’t do on its own. Fortunately for the power user there are many third party clients available so find one that you like.

TweetDeck

If you’re sat at your desk most of the day a desktop client can be a very useful way to manage your Twitter stream.  The first thing you should do is turn off pop up notifications and sounds – they’re very distracting.  TweetDeck handles multiple accounts and even allows you to add Foursquare and Facebook to the mix.

HootSuite

HootSuite has quite a lot of fans.  Personally I’ve always been put off it by the awful ht.ly tracking bar it adds to links but recently I’ve started playing with it a bit more and I like some of its features.

CoTweet

CoTweet

But for companies wanting to track customer engagement, CoTweet is excellent.  It’s designed for exactly that purpose and you’ll see it being used by some very big companies like BT, Vodafone, O2

One feature CoTweet and HootSuite share is the ability to delegate access out to several members of a team without them needing to know the password. Both also allow you to make use of the carat syntax to show who in a team is tweeting, giving a personal fact to your account.

RSSFriends.com

rssfriends.com

Really simple site – plug in a Twitter username and RSSFriends will give you a feed to subscribe to showing new followers with far more detail than the standard notification email.  Helps you some way to achieving Inbox Zero.

search.twitter.com

Twitter Search

Search on the main Twitter website sucks so go to the standalone search.twitter.com. Better still grab your feed addresses and plug them into your feed reader.

TwapperKeeper

Twitter search has the fairly serious limitation of only keeping about 7 days of tweets available for searching. The solution is a service like TwapperKeeper which regularly polls Twitter Search and saves the results to an archive. You can access this through an API, as a feed or download the data for processing in other ways.

Automate, Consolidate, Mainstream

The final part of my talk was three ways of managing your social media presences better.

Automate: use a service like TwitterFeed#mce_temp_url# to send the contents of RSS feeds from a blog or news site to Twitter and Facebook.  Other sites such as Flickr or WordPress can auto-post to Twitter as well.

Consolidate: break up your messages into simple chunks that can be posted to multiple networks.  Both Facebook and Twitter have the ability to post to the other network but make sure your messages are relevant, for example by not posting @replies to Facebook.

Mainstream: once you know that a service is working for your organisation, try to mainstream its use – spread the load of people updating sites.  Make sure there’s a spread of people involved – it’s good to have both technical and marketing people for example.

Finally, don’t be afraid to Mark All Read and if something isn’t working, Fail Fast.

data.ac.uk

Last Friday I went to Liver and Mash, the Liverpool Mashed Libraries event held at Parr Street Studio 2. I’d been asked to speak by Mandy Phillips (formerly of this Parish) about – erm – something!

I’ll cover the rest of the event in another post but here I’d like to write about the topic of my presentation. You can see slides below or watch on the Slideshare website to see along side my notes:

It took me a while to think of a subject to talk about but eventually I started considering the role higher education institutions play in mashups and in particular what we can bring to the party.

This actually builds on some ideas I’ve been thinking about for a while. On Christmas Eve last year I posted as part of our 25 days series an entry about 2010 being the year of open data. Edge Hill was closed by that point so I’m not surprised few people read it but I said:

I believe there will be an increasing call for Higher Education to open up its data. Whether that’s information about courses using the XCRI format, or getting information out of the institutional VLE in a format that suits the user not the developer, there is lots that can be done. I’m not pretending this is an easy task but surely if it can be done it should because it’s the right thing to do.

So my presentation expanded on some of these ideas. Firstly we need to accept that what we do online isn’t going to suit everyone. HEI websites are huge unwieldy beasts. Doing a Google search for site:edgehill.ac.uk produces over 8,000 results; warwick.ac.uk has 236,000 pages! Combine that with Sturgeon’s Law and we’re in trouble:

Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crud.

[Before anyone says it... yes that means 90% of what I say is crap!]

If we accept that our websites aren’t going to deliver everything to everyone we have two options: firstly we could throw resources at the problem to add more and more content, but we know from experience how that ends up:

Alternatively we can strip down to our core audience and find other ways to satisfy the so-called “long tail”. To me that means providing data in an open, accessible form that users can take and use in ways that suit them. Let’s do that.

At IWMW 2008, Tony Hirst submitted an innovation competition entry to show what autodiscoverable feeds HEIs feature on their homepages. It seems in the two years since Aberdeen the number of sites with discoverable feeds has crept up but is still less than half.

Typically these feeds contain easily available information. News stories are recycled press releases. Often forthcoming events are available as an RSS or Atom feed or even as an iCal feed that can be subscribed to in Google or Outlook Calendar.

Universities also run courses and there’s a standard format for publishing them – XCRI-CAP.

So far, so general, but what other information are people looking for? Freedom of Information legislation came into force on 1st January 2005 applying to all public bodies including Universities. WhatDoTheyKnow from MySociety allows anyone to submit and track FOI requests – simultaneously the most awesome and scary thing for anyone working in a public sector organisation!

Most HEI websites also contain FOI pages or a publication scheme but often the information available is locked up in difficult to access documents. PDFs and unstructured webpages are typically the format of choice. We can make this information more open by publishing in more accessible formats. Maybe uploading to Google Docs (which allows export as CSV or through an API) would be an easy thing to do.

We also have systems containing interesting data – HR, Student Record System, VLE, Library Catalogue – but getting information out can be difficult. When procuring new systems we need to be asking the right questions about vendor’s approach to open data and APIs and building this into the requirements specification.

So my challenge is for us to create data.ac.uk. It would be great to do something sector wide along the lines of data.gov.uk (but, y’know, better!) but an easier model to get started with is something like the Guardian’s Data Store. Let’s start in the areas we have control over:

  • data.metropolis.ac.uk
  • www.metropolis.ac.uk/library/data
  • people.metropolis.ac.uk/~smith/data

Let’s create a webpage, publish some links to existing data. If we have spreadsheets upload them to Google Docs and post the link. If we have systems with a rubbish API, let’s knock up a wrapper layer do expose something more useful. data.ac.uk isn’t going to happen overnight but each of us can do our bit to build a more open sector.

In the pub following the event the discussion continued with Brian Kelly from UKOLN making an interesting point:

Interesting thought from @briankelly post #mashliv: expect the telegraph/daily mail to hit on public sector/HEIs about transparency/opendata

If that’s not a good enough reason to take open data seriously, I don’t know what is.

One final point about the presentation. I noticed a tweet from Alison Gow of the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo:

Not sure about bravery – I didn’t actually recognise Julian until after the presentation was over which is probably a very good thing!

Rose tinted json

Lately, we have been looking at providing a little automation to parts of the site which are less dynamic, by using some of the data serialisations that we create, with a sprinkling of javaScript magic.  Specifically we’ve looked at pulling Edge Hill event data, tagged with “rose theatre” into the Rose Theatre site.

This week I will be mostly using jsonCurrently events are added to the events Edge Hill events data, which can be duplicated. Our data serialisations come in four flavours, XML, JSON, PHP and YAML.

This week I have been mostly using JSON.

JSON is javaScript, and doesn’t need a server.  It runs on the site visitor’s browser (if enabled) and provides a way for us to access dynamic data and publish it on static web pages.

The first stage was to create the JSON feed.  Since Edge Hill already has data serialisations for Events and News, all I needed to do was to tweak it a bit and add a new function to the database to return events tagged with “rose theatre” and add a new URL to access the results which look something like this:

[{
	"title":"Alternative Stand Up",
	"slug":"alternative-stand-up",
	"summary":"Comedy at the Rose Theatre.",
	"content":"<p>Tickets \u00a35.50 \/ \u00a33.50 concessions<p><strong>Jamie Sutherland<p>One of the freshest and most natural talents to emerge in the last few years, Jamie has truly established himself on the comedy circuit, and is now very much in demand all over the UK.\u00a0 Liverpool born Jamie will keep you amused with gags, tall tales, and true stories garnered from everyday observational topics.<p><strong>Danny McLoughlin<p>Danny is a complete natural and destined for the top.\u00a0 Think Peter Kay for the confidence factor.<p><strong>Rosie Wilby<p>Rosie Wilby has been performing as a singer songwriter for many years and turned to comedy in 2004, storming through to the semi finals of So You Think You're Funny, on only her second ever stand up gig.\u00a0 In August 2006, Rosie unveiled her debut full length show \u2018Olympic Swingball Champion 2012' at Edinburgh Fringe.<p>Compere.....<p><strong>Ste Porter<p>A top class act who will be a regular comedy circuit favourite before long.\u00a0 See him in Ormskirk first!<p>For further information or to book, call 01695 584480 or email <a>rose@edgehill.ac.uk.",
	"start_date":"2008-10-07",
	"start_time":"20:00:00",
	"end_date":"2008-10-07",
	"end_time":"22:00:00",
	"location":7,
	"created_at":"2008-08-13 14:04:28",
	"updated_at":"2008-08-14 13:46:40",
	"building":"",
	"url":"http:\/\/www.edgehill.ac.uk\/events\/2008\/10\/07\/alternative-stand-up\/json",
	"tags":{
		"Stand Up":"Stand Up",
		"comedy":"comedy",
		"rose theatre":"rose theatre"
	}
}]

Next, add the following code to the html document into which you want to add the data feed:

<div id="rtevents">
  <h3>Next up</h3>
  <p>
    The Rose Theatre's <a href="/events/tag/rose theatre" title="List of events for the rose Theate">upcoming events</a>
  </p>
</div>

The div with the id of “rtevents” acts as a placeholder for the code which will be inserted. At this point, a level 3 heading has been applied with a link to the events page. This gives visitors without javascript capabilities a way of viewing the events (in this case a link to events for the rose theatre page).

In addition to the tags, the jQuery library was added. jQuery has a ready-made method for “getting” a JSON feed and the documentation is detailed, yet simple enough to get you started with a working example.  Using that example, I wrote:

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  $(document).ready(function(){
    $.getJSON(/events/tag/rose+theatre/json”, function(data){
      $(‘#rtevents’).html(<h3>Next up</h3>);
      $(‘#rtevents’).append(<table id="”eventrow”"></table>);
      $(‘#eventrow’).append(<tr><th>Date</th><th>Event</th><th>Time</th></tr>)
      $.each(data, function(i,data){
        urldate = data.start_date.substr(0, 4)+/+data.start_date.substr(5, 2)+/+data.start_date.substr(8, 2);
        date =<td>+data.start_date.substr(8, 2)+/+data.start_date.substr(5, 2)+</td>;
        time =<td>+data.start_time.substr(0, 5)+</td>;
        time = time ==<td>00:00</td>?<td>TBA</td>: time;
        oddeven = i % 2 == 0 ? ‘even’ : ‘odd’;
        $(“#eventrow”).append(<tr class="”‘+oddeven+‘”">+date+<td><a href="”/events/’+urldate+‘/’+data.slug+‘”">+data.title+</a></td>+time+</tr>);
        if (i == 5) {// sets the maximum number of records returned
          return false;
        }
      });
    });
  });

Let’s try to explain what’s going on here (row by row). The whole thing won’t work unless javascript is enabled in your browser.

  1. Line 1: A jQuery function which runs the javascript that follows it after the html page has loaded.
  2. Line 2: A jQuery call to the JSON feed and a function call to to tell the browser what to do with the data.
  3. Line 3: Find the element with the id “rtevents” and replace it’s contents with our <h3> element.
  4. Line 4-5: Append the table (named; “eventrow”) and table headers to the “rtevents” element (following the h3).
  5. Line 6: For each event returned in the JSON feed, do the following:
  6. Line 7-11: Format JSON data for output.
  7. Line 12: Append the table row to the table (named “eventrow”) with all the formatted data.
  8. Line 13-15: restrict the number of table rows returned if necessary.

Knowing this, you can parse any JSON feeds using jQuery, and there are plenty to choose from these days. A few examples:

Fancy yourself as a javaScript developer? Then add JSON to your bow strings.

10ish five-minute ways to improve your website

IWMWThere’s some speakers to do the conference circuit who recycle the same old material each time they present and if I’m not careful I could turn into one of them! At this year’s IWMW, they held a “BarCamp” session. If you’re already familiar with BarCamps then don’t get too excited as it wasn’t a proper one, but it stole elements of the unconference concept to provide a forum for anyone attending the workshop to get up and talk about something that interests them. The organisers converted one of the 45 minute discussion group sessions into two 20 minute slots and provided nine rooms of various sizes to use.

Since I suggested it, I figured I should support it and put myself down for a session. I was busy preparing for my main parallel session so I didn’t have time to think of anything new, so I recycled my BarCamp North East session and delivered that. In Newcastle I only had a few people turn up so I was very pleased to see the room packed with about 30 people this time (although that included three from Edge Hill, apparently there to give me “moral support”).

I came up with the idea for the presentation after realising there were some really easy things that I’ve added to the site that not many other Universities seem to do. [I should add that I'm not saying we were first or unique with any of the suggestions, just that they're not all "obvious"]. They include things like adding a link tag to your homepage so that the RSS feeds you provide can be easily discovered and wrapping your page footer in an hCard microformat.

It’s pleasing to note that the feed autodiscovery suggestion has got quite a lot of attention. A couple of weeks ago Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus, UKOLN) highlighted the that few Scottish universities were doing this and having already delivered my session at BarCamp North East I wasn’t too surprised, but one of the innovation competition entries showed autodiscovery is quite rare across UK HEIs. Tony Hirst explains the system on OUseful.info then check out the full name-and-shame list.

Edge Hill comes out fine for the feeds we offer on the homepage with news, events and job vacancies listed. There’s a few HEIs who offer other feeds – open days could be useful (and we have a feed available for it through a tag on the events system) – but the one that caught my eye was the University of Warwick’s recent changes feed which allows you to subscribe to find out when the homepage changes. Better still, they have this for every page in their CMS. Where this falls down is when feed readers like Google Reader just take the first feed in the page from those available through autodiscovery thus subscribing you to the recent changes feed instead of the more useful news feed.

You can see the ideas towards the end of my parallel workshop session slides (where I also went through the list) – skip to slide 41 unless you want to read about some of the “stuff what we’re doing at Edge Hill University“!

The other BarCamp session I went to was about Microsoft’s hosted student email solution, live@edu. A few institutions in the UK are in the final stages of deployment – Aberdeen already have some accounts live. Some aspects of Microsoft’s solution seem a bit less slick than Google’s while I was impressed with it’s potential for integrating with other Microsoft systems.

I really enjoyed the experience of presenting and attending the BarCamp sessions and I’d love to see them extended. My personal view would be to scrap the discussion groups, merge them into a solid block – say 2 hours in the afternoon of day two – and make the types of session clearer, whether they’re technical vs marketing or presentation vs discussion.

Other people talking about the BarCamp sessions:

  • Jeremy Speller: “I like the BarCamp idea – quite a lot of pressure to pack interesting stuff in in 15-20 minutes – but I think the format worked well.”

Use our data

I mentioned previously about some of the feeds we’re providing for news and events and said at the end of the post that we’d be doing some stuff for the Institutional Web Management Workshop. Well it’s finally time that we have to firm up what that stuff is!

Edge Hill – along with the Universities of Aberdeen and Bath – are sponsoring the workshop’s Innovation Competition. For this we’re letting people know what data we have available for people to use in the creation of innovate, lightweight demonstrations of web technologies.

For the Big Brief we’ve restructured several of our systems to allow information to be extracted in different ways. Now as well as viewing web pages, you can use our data the way you want to or access in more machine-readable forms.

Several of these feeds we use internally – for example, the JSON feed of events is used to populate the calendar in the sidebar to show what days events are on.

It’s all work in progress so we’ll be adding more formats in the coming months but I’m really looking forward to seeing the ways people can use information from the website as part of the innovation competition.

Choice Part 7: Bite the hand that feeds you

RSS Awareness DayI meant to blog about this last week but bank-holiday-weekend-fever caught up with me. 1st May was RSS Day – aimed at raising awareness of feeds and how they can be used to stay connected to websites that interest you.

I’ve blogged before about the topic and said then we’d be introducing more feeds in the future. Well we have – you can now subscribe to feeds of news, events and jobs so you can stay right up to date with what’s going on at Edge Hill. In most cases there are multiple feeds available allowing you to narrow down to just what interests you.

If you’re new to feeds then this video from the folks at the Common Craft show to see how they work and can benefit you:

To justify this post being part of the “Choice” series, I should probably say a little more about the developments in the new site. We’re providing feeds initially for areas of the site that are now in databases. The jobs website has been like this for a while but news and events are now structured properly to allow us to create a feed directly from the database. We’re using a plugin for symfony called sfFeed2Plugin which allows easy creation and manipulation of feeds and saves us from having to worry about the finer details of the Atom specification.

We’re going to provide more ways of using our data in the way you want in the future, including some stuff for the Institutional Web Management Workshop in July so stay tuned for more about that.

Just for Fun

Keeping on top of your feeds can be hard work – all that news and analysis flooding in every day can be a bit heavy so I subscribe to some which are a bit more light hearted.

As I mentioned previously I’m going to self-censor

  • Dilbert – I sometimes worry that I’m becoming more and more like Dilbert and frequently the comics mirror my own life. I just wish I had a tie that curled up.
  • User Friendly – if Dilbert isn’t quite geeky enough then try out User Friendly. It’s set in an ISP and it’s easy to identify some of the character flaws^H^H^H^H^H traits in the Real World.
  • Rusty Lime – this is one of those sites I stumbled across quite a while ago and subscribed to just to see what came along – it’s not disappointed and has a steady stream of off-beat news stories that slip under the normal news agenda. I’m sure it’s all stuff you could find by watching digg, but why waste time sorting through the crud when someone else can pick out bits for you? Rusty Lime have also had some really nice designs for their blog which unfortunately you miss out on in the RSS feed.
  • explodingdog – you send in the titles, sam draws the pictures.

What feeds do you subscribe to just for fun?