Tag Archives: rss

How do I know if it’s Christmas?

Photo-A-Day #822b 07/09/07Its Christmas eve. Are you excited? In less than 24 hours Santa will have been, scoffed his mince pie and glass of port 😉 and gone on his merry way.

So just how long do we have to wait for Christmas?

If you Google “Christmas countdown” there’s a whole slew of sites with count down clocks (including some really old ones that I suspect were written as “my first javaScript program”). No, No, No, No, NoOne of the best, and very popular within Web Services, dedicated to the Christmas countdown has to be isitchristmas.com. Quite simply, every visit is met with an emphatic “No” until Christmas day. For rss die-hards there’s even a feed. You just know you’ll have to get the laptop out tomorrow just to see that is, in fact, Christmas. I’m sure, yule you’ll fit it in despite the present opening, bucks fizz, snowballs, Christmas breakfast, table laying, bird roasting, gut-busting pudding, family rows, tears, Queen’s speech, 3 o’clock film, mince pies, flat batteries, karaoke, Quality Street, After Eights, home-made sloe gin and droopy paper hats.

That’s for tomorrow. If you’re a believer (and you’ll only get a stocking full of sprouts if you don’t believe) or you have kids, you may also be interested in tracking Santa’s progress. HumbugYou’ll also find games for the kids to play.

Happy Christmas from Web Services, Edge Hill University. Now where did I put those humbugs?

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.

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.”

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.

Go Go Gadget Portal!

GO ScreenshotI thought it was time for a quick update on some of the work we’ve been doing over the last few months. We’ve been redeveloping the GO staff and student portals to make them, well, better!

You can see by clicking the picture some of the changes we’re making We’re trying to make the portal as customisable as possible – you can add and remove content and reorder it to suit how you manage your information. You can also take some of the information and use it in your own environment, by subscribing to RSS feeds for example.

The chaps in Core Services have also been working hard on the backend with a new version of Access Manager which looks to be faster and more stable than the previous version. Access Manager (formerly known as iChain), for those that don’t know, is the system that allows you to log in with one username and password and access a whole host of systems provided by the University.

We’re currently polishing off the roughest edges with some internal testing following which we’re rolling out to a select bunch of beta testers prior to full phased deployment from September.

Happy Birthday Blogosphere

The WSJ has decided that blogging is 10 years old. Their article, while having a bit too much of a US bias, is interesting reading to see the kinds of people who produce and consume blogs – it’s no longer the reserve of the tech community with all areas of life opened up to blogging.

It’s also interesting to see some of the blogs that other people read. Most people don’t openly publish their reading list and the web is often a very solitary experience – you can’t sneak a look at what magazine someone is reading like you could on a train. Sites like del.icio.us help sharing of individual pages but more often subscribing to a blog feed is about more than just an individual post – you’re in it for the long term!

So over the next few weeks – while I’m away from the office – I’m going to try to share with you, dear readers, some of the feeds I subscribe to, the reasons why and what I’ve learnt from them! Of course I will be self-censoring and picking mostly feeds that might be of interest to more than just me but hopefully it will spread the message about some useful sites.

Feel free to join in at home or work – post your own blogs about interesting feeds or leave a comment, and if you’re not yet taking advantage of the power of RSS, then why not log on to Google Reader* and get started!

Via GigaOM and The Guardian.

* Other listings magazines are available.

A hard day’s night

University of Leeds Web Content EditorThe University of Leeds have just advertised a vacancy for a part time Web Content Editor. I know this because it came up in Google Reader through the jobs.ac.uk feed. I think someone has been over enthusiastic in cleaning the data sent to the RSS feed – I don’t think they’ll get many applicants to work 24/7 (and a bit more!).

Overcoming Information Overload

I imagine that most people who’ve been using the internet for a while have at some point suffered from “Information Overload”. Andrew Sackville, at his inaugural lecture mentioned wilfing – surfing the web without any real purpose – and that can be a problem too. In fact I spent most of my time at University in one of these two states. Visiting the BBC News website every twenty minutes is a sure sign that you’re suffering. I’m here to tell you that there is a way to escape getting trapped by the internet like this and the answer is RSS.

RSS lets websites, bloggers and content producers provide a constantly updated feed of information for interested parties to subscribe to. It’s been around for years but it’s really starting to gain momentum and with Firefox or Internet Explorer 7 it’s built right into the browser – just look for the little orange feed icon in the address bar or elsewhere on the page. Most large websites and virtually all blogs provide feeds and over the coming weeks and months more and more services offered by Edge Hill will have RSS feeds available.

There’s many ways of subscribing to a feed – if you have Firefox or IE7 just click on the feed icon to get started. Subscribed feeds show up like bookmarks that update themselves. The LTD blog mentioned an add-on for Groupwise which integrates RSS and ways to add RSS to WebCT. You can also get standalone software that installs on your PC and sits in the background checking for updates.

I prefer to keep track of my feeds online using Google Reader (other web-based feed readers are available). The major advantage of online services such as this is that it follows you to whichever PC you’re logged in on – you can even read your feeds through a mobile phone. Google Reader lists your subscribed feeds down the left and shows the content of them on the right. You can “star” interesting articles so you know to come back to them later or share them with other people (either through a web page or, predictably, via RSS!). Google Reader has allowed me to spend less time wilfing and more time reading articles that are actually interesting.

If you’re wanting to give a news reader a try and want some feeds to test then check out some of the feeds related to Edge Hill:

As I said, even more services will provide RSS feeds in the near future – one of the first will be the Edge Hill jobs website – and RSS will be used behind the scenes for many sites so there’s no getting away from it!

Technology terminology is stupid. RSS (which may or may not stand for “Really Simple Syndication” depending on who you speak to) is just one name for this idea. You may also hear them referred to as Atom, news feeds, feeds, XML feeds and probably many other names. In most cases, it’s not worth worrying – news readers are generally compatible with all formats and most websites and web browsers have standardised on the orange feed icon – that’s the one we’ll be putting on our websites!