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Michael Gracie

Winding up the month of July

The next couple of weeks are going to be fun…

  • Alex Landeen hits Colorado today. We’re going to be fishing like madmen, and probably drinking with similar fury. Scouts were sent out to check conditions, and the report back was good-to-go. Some of the Primal Fly gang are going to be in on the mayhem.
  • Going to hack together an internal RSS parser, as subcontractor to a real engineer. It’ll be a novel use of RSS, and I can’t believe that knowing a little PHP actually led to doing some coding on the side for real compensation. I find coding fun, but don’t think I’d want to do it full time – the entire internet would crash and burn if I did.
  • I’m hitting the carp water the first of next week with someone who needs convincing that they should compete in the Carp Slam. I consider it a done deal already.
  • Over the next few weeks I’ll be reviewing the buy-sell agreement for small business client. They’re concerned that either the agreement is weak or that the amount of insurance they have doesn’t fit the bill for the business size. Valuation may be in order, and since the entity itself is light on hard assets, I’ll probably be playing the discounted cash flow game.
  • By month’s end I hope to have the operating plan done for a direct sales plus lead generation concept. It’s in the green energy space, and the crew we’re assembling is A #1 top notch. Creating a sales and marketing organization from the ground up – entity, people, technology – means my hands get very dirty. I like that a lot.
  • And it may leak into August, but I’ll be tearing to pieces reviewing two pieces of fly fishing gear, an overlooked pair of rubber soled wading boots and a waist pack by someone with big name recognition. This means I’ll have to do some fishing, and while it is beginning to feel like work that in and of itself may be the best excuse ever.
  • Adieu.

    WordPress and FeedBurner FeedSmith: Getting to your category and tag feeds

    Last time I touched on WordPress and Feedburner, the topic was how to tweak the Feedsmith plug-in so you could get access to your raw feed with Yahoo! Pipes. This time, I’m making some alterations to the plug-in so you gain access to your raw category and tag related feeds without those requests getting redirected back to your blog’s main Feedburner feed.

    For most folks using the Feedburner redirect plug-in, getting access to WordPress’s category and tag feeds seems like a nightmare. I searched and searched myself, and all I found was numerous iterations of .htaccess file solutions. None of them worked for me, so I decided to go back to the Feedburner_FeedSmith_Plugin.php file and tool around. This turned out to be a quick fix, with one caveat – I don’t care to burn additional feeds for each of my categories, and this change won’t work for you if that’s your intention. In my case the blog categories are organized by “origin” of the post, not subject matter – what I really wanted was access to the tag feeds, which do relate to the subject of the post at hand. Here’s how to do it…

    First, look to the bottom of the Feedsmith plug-in file (located under /wp-content/plugins/feedburner_feedsmith_plugin_2.2) for this:

    if (!preg_match("/feedburner|feedvalidator/i", $_SERVER['HTTP_USER_AGENT'])) {
    add_action('template_redirect', 'ol_feed_redirect');
    add_action('init','ol_check_url');
    }

    That “!preg_match” bit tells WordPress to ignore redirect requests from Feedburner or FeedValidator so those services don’t wind up in an endless loop when trying to grab your raw feed. And it’s this same section of the plug-in code that pushes requests for category and tag feeds back to Feedburner for so many agitated users. We change that block of code to this (changes emphasized):

    if (!preg_match("/feedburner|feedvalidator/i", $_SERVER['HTTP_USER_AGENT']) && !preg_match("/category|tag/i", $_SERVER['REQUEST_URI'])) {
    add_action('template_redirect', 'ol_feed_redirect');
    add_action('init','ol_check_url');
    }

    That additional “!preg_match” string tells WordPress to ignore redirects to Feedburner when the requested URL contains “category” or “tag”, but there is still one more thing you’ve got to do. In this blog’s case, my category base is “origin” – so in place of “category” I use the word “origin”; I still use “tag” for my tag base, so that stays the same. You set your category and tag bases in the WordPress admin panel under Settings..Permalinks – look for this:

    wordpress-optional-permalink-controls

    If your optional permalinks are set, change the code snippet above to reflect the same (/’s excluded) and save – otherwise set them as desired first then do the same. Now you should have raw category and tag feeds that work.

    Two of the most popular tags on this blog are “Fly Fishing” and “Fannie Mae” – and here are their feeds:

  • Fly Fishing
  • Fannie Mae
  • Try it for yourself!

    Revisiting NewsGator makes a fan out of me

    Smart work regarding user experience

    I’ve been intermittently testing some new feed reading resources, hence I’ve been spending a little more time on Google Reader and a lot more time on Bloglines Beta (being as Bloglines has been my default reader for years). NewsGator, which I’ve tinkered with intermittently over the last few years, has renewed my interest too. Each has its quirks, but for now I think NewsGator has me wrapped up. The reason…seamless, ubiquitous access.

    Read anywhere

    [singlepic id=399 w=240 h=183 float=left]I’ve always been a fan of speed, and desktop readers win in that category. Having tested NetNewsWire long ago, and Vienna since, I’ve found desktop suits me for real-time use. I can keep the application launched and hidden, and check the toolbar every now and again for new posts. However, should a person find themselves away from the desk – say sitting in a conference room at someone else’s office with an offering of a desktop in the corner with which to say check email, that favorite desktop feed reader becomes useless since it’s no longer available. You become a slave to whatever web-based reader you happen to keep maintained as a backup. Not so with the NewsGator offering – you subscriptions are your subscriptions, wherever you are. I’m using NewsGator Online to funnel through the large inbox first thing in the morning, and then I use the application to check news during the day – everything marked read is sync-ed between the two. On my latest test runs with NetNewsWire, I also discovered a great feature – Growl notifications. Every time the application polls for new postings, I get a little pop-up window telling me so – it’s not intrusive – and I don’t have “to act” to know there’s news.

    [singlepic id=449 w=100 h=75 float=left]Let’s go a step further – a run to the post office and meet an hour long line. I’m one that can’t even talk on the phone without pacing back and forth – I’ve got to have multiple things to do, always. So I get an itch to catch up on some midday reading. I could steer the Curve to the mobile versions of Bloglines or G-Reader, but they are fairly slow and not particularly user friendly from an interface standpoint. And I’ve found (at least with Bloglines) that messages I’ve read remain in the “inbox” when I return to the desk. None of this is a problem with Newsgator Go!. On my Blackberry, said mobile version is an application – it’s simple to install (they even identify your device and operating system for you ahead of time), and almost as easy to use as the desktop unit. When I read, it’s read – on the desktop app and online.

    I believe this seamless integration between desktop app, web interface, and mobile access is what dummies are missing. Everyone in my age bracket I try to explain RSS (and readers) to first looks at me funny, and then exclaims that they either can’t install applications at work, or if they have to open a browser anyway so why shouldn’t they just go to the site of interest. At least I know where to point them now.

    My favorite features

    • Sync-ing – Did I say you could sync your feeds between the web-based, desktop, and mobile editions? Yea, I did, and that’s clearly my favorite feature of these products.
    • Blackberry access – After wondering where the RSS for dummies explanation was hidden, and laying particular emphasis on the lack of tools for the Blackberry, I got it. I’ll admit I played with NewsGator Go! when it was still in the beta-ish stages (and even found a bug with the mobile clipping function), but I thought when the final release came the company would be charging for it. That didn’t happen, and the mobile app is now good enough that I frankly wouldn’t even mind seeing an ad now and then.
    • Respecting the privacy – NewsGator went free with their apps some months ago, foregoing direct sales revenue for accumulation of attention data. But you can “privatize” that attention data nonetheless. I know…I should be sharing (and therefore I should also being using Google Reader). Sorry, but I don’t see the point when everyone else is already sharing what they read and doing it a heck of a lot faster than I anyway. Let’s face it – sharing what’s coming through your reader is probably great for journalists and/or professional bloggers, but I’m neither (and 99.9% of the internet using population isn’t either).

    Some recommendations

    I don’t think the NewsGator “suite” should rest on its laurels. I’d like to see:

    • The online reader allow “mark as read” upon scrolling through the items (like Google Reader and Bloglines Beta) instead of just marked when accessed (like Bloglines classic);
    • The mobile reader allow viewing headlines by folder, versus just feed source by feed source. Everyone using these types of apps likely has an unlimited mobile data plan (so let ‘er rip);
    • NewNewsWire should allow me to set my own refresh time, instead of going with the minimum 30 minutes.

    Hardly outrageous demands – in fact they’re fairly picky. Some of feature ideas may seem a bit complex to the RSS newbie, and I’ll admit even I spent a fair share of time tweaking the NewsGator suite as best I could. But to the new feed user I’ll say “don’t worry.” The stuff is plug and play – just create a free account, add a few feeds (the company will suggest some for you if you don’t already have some in mind), download the apps (if you like speed), and just read. I actually found some pretty good news selections on the web-based version too – I’ll have to do a bit more exploring as time permits. For those just catching a clue, simply look for little icons like this ( ) wherever you may surf, copy the URL of the page you are on from your browser’s address bar, and paste into you reader after clicking the caption that says “add new feed.” Good feed readers (like the ones I am talking about here) should take care of the rest.

    Still don’t have a clue what RSS is and how it can keep you better informed while actually saving you boatloads of time? An RSS dummy, so to speak? Then click here and you’ll find the best thing since sliced bread for the uninformed, a simple Q&A.

    Side note: NetNewsWire is a Mac OS X application. If you are a Windows user, the desktop apps you’d be going after are FeedDemon and/or NewsGator Inbox (for Outlook). I haven’t tested those, but I’d suspect they work much the same. And I am curious to know too.

    RSS Needs An Easy Button

    Adam Ostrow:

    While I might expect a start-up going after the early adopter techie crowd to take so much for granted, this is Microsoft, the world’s largest software company that is virtually unavoidable in at least some part of everyone’s digital lives. But Microsoft has made no effort to explain what RSS is, how to use it, and why it might matter to people outside of the Xhundred thousand (or however many) people use RSS religiously.

    Agreed, wholeheartedly (and Microsoft isn’t the only culprit either).

    Feed readers get some press

    In the last few days…

    The former has a recommendation engine and inline comment reading. The latter has a knockdown, dragout, top-end team (which often counts for more than any whizbang features they cook up). Both are late to the social game, but I think news consumption is still in the first inning and the service that finally offers up something simple for the masses could come out a winner.

    Nevertheless, I’m stuck in Bloglines version one-point zero because I don’t have the time or inclination to save, resave, clip, tag, retag, etc. etc. like I seem to be forced to do in fanboy favorite Google Reader or the coming knockoff beta dot bloglines. Neither do most of my friends. If I can aggregate my sources in one place and consume from multiple locales, I’m fine right there.

    I’m waiting for someone to improve on that concept.

    Distribution 2.0 and Notice by Association

    Growing friction between the haves and have nots?

    Scott Karp observes that a lot of bloggers are using “web 2.0” services to cross-post their entries – he thinks it inefficient. I agree – it is inefficient to find yourself reading the same material via your RSS reader, then via Facebook, only to see it again via Twitter (or Twitter via mini-feed via Facebook, etc. etc.). But a lot of bloggers, particularly those trying to “break out,” are innocently using the distribution channels made available to them to spread their word. For every A-list blogger, well connected to like-kind digerati, there are a million more unknowns. And if those unknowns can garner one extra eyeball a day using the growing number of free services they are simply going to do it. That some heavy users wind up caught in the crossfire is simply a by-product of being an early adopter – you are ahead of the game as far as feed consumption goes and are now paying the price for the proliferation of mashups. Distribution 2.0.

    The same goes for Facebook invites. Like a case of rock stars and groupies gone mad, there’s a reason the popular set are declaring “bankruptcy” – everyone wants a piece of them, even if the chunk is nothing more than a name on a friend’s list. The Z-listers have an inkling that curious folks are going to peruse the friends lists of the real players, and if they can get their name on that list they may just get noticed. There is value being in the rolodex, even if you get added so haphazardly. Notice by Association.

    Now, the disclaimer: This blog sends linked entries entry titles to Twitter each time a post is done. I’ll probably continue this for immediate future. I’ve since stopped it because seeing updated blog posts on the sidebar was seeing redundancy. (I got rid of the sidebar stuff instead) I also have Twitter included in my Facebook profile, and I include recent posts from this blog as well (via Feed Invasion). Neither data source is included in the Facebook mini-feed or news feed (Scott is right – that would be spammy). In addition, I don’t generally make unsolicited friends requests on Facebook for people I don’t know personally, although I will follow folks on Twitter with already large followings or working in an area I’m interested in (I view them as information nexuses). Following should be based on the flow of information, not the person, in cases where you don’t have a pre-existing personal relationship. Those worth following don’t have the time to make friend/no-friend decisions all day, particular when it can result in the disclosure of more personal information. And I don’t consider passive attention grabbing efforts worthy of my time anyway. If I create something worthy of said attention, I’m pretty certain anyone is going to find out about it, actively, anyway.

    UPDATE: Somewhat related – a different take on some of the recent chatter. A bit harsh – many websites wouldn’t gain critical mass (or necessary funding) without the attention or resulting distribution A-listers provide or prime.

    UPDATE 2: Loren Feldman mentions Notice by Association on CalacanisCast.

    RSS Mixer

    Interesting. But couldn’t find the OPML importer.

    Where is RSS for dummies?

    This has to be one of the most comprehensive RSS tool lists I’ve ever seen. My favorites are Bloglines and Vienna – and I wish there was a better reader out there for Blackberry. But that’s just me.

    As for everyone else, well RSS has been around for years yet I still hear everyday folks asking what it is. Is the xml format a technology that will forever be relegated to geekdom, or does someone know where I can find a half-page explanation of it which will appeal directly to tax accountants, bankruptcy attorneys, and soccer moms?

    RSS feed readers vulnerable, if you read sketchy sources

    A report presented at Blackhat suggests RSS is vulnerable to security risks – malcreants can inject Javascript into feeds that reek havoc on certain browsers.

    Now, you have to be lured into subscribing to a feed that does this on purpose or pull comments as feeds from sites that don’t strip code from them. That means your source was fishy to begin with, or your favorite blog isn’t taking good care of you. The report noted that popular readers such as Bloglines, RSS Reader, RSS Owl, Feed Demon, and Sharp Reader were vulnerable.

    This is a sticky fix – you can’t enable the stripping of special characters without getting rid of HTML links, and some tools are rumored to run Javascript even when the script tag is removed (I’m curious to hear what those are). I think the web-based readers can knock this issue off the list in a heartbeat – it is all the standalone readers who have to rethink the situation. Still, I wonder whether feeds validate with Javascript inside, and whether a simple plugin would at least warn people when a feed is potentially unruly.

    NewsGator talks RSS’s future, and a reaction ensues

    Newsgator posted a company roadmap a few days back. Techcrunch picked up on it.

    I reviewed both offerings, and concluded the following: first, Bloglines is fine for me, and considering the fact that I have been using it since nearly day one, I’m going to need some hell of a compelling reason to switch readers (which I wish NewsGator would provide, since they are a local outfit – but then again, I suspect they are doing pretty well targeting the commercial enterprise); second, I am now enthralled with FeedBurner.

    Henceforth, tweaked feeds, now playing at Thought Market and Spamroll.

    Ode to RSS (and independent reviews).