Full text RSS feed sharing with FeedsAPI

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I’ve been taking a look at a service called FeedsAPI recently, after one of the team got in touch with me. It focuses on pulling through full text of articles, blog posts and news items in RSS feeds instead of just the stub of article text you often see in your feed reader. This is something I’ve used Pocket for in the past. You can also set up feeds for static web pages, so that you’re alerted when content has been updated on the web page, which is similar to Web2RSS.

Once you’ve subscribed to an RSS feed you can either get any newly published items sent to you as an email alert or you can add the feed generated in FeedsAPI to your feed reader. Obviously the benefit of having full text articles being pulled through and sent to you is in the time you save in not having to click through to another web page from your feed reader and also that it makes the articles easier to read without being distracted by content elsewhere on the original page eg. adverts; links to other irrelevant articles; etc. When you subscribe you can also decide if any links in the text remain as they are, are removed, or appear as footnotes to the item (I like the footnotes option).

On top of this it has some handy subscription features – you can add other users to subscribe to your feeds and add further feeds, and you can decide who gets to see what on a feed by feed basis. So, for example if I was a librarian responsible for maintaining current awareness in an organisation and I was pulling in feeds with a range of topics, I could share certain feeds with some subscribers based on their interests. So, from the single dashboard you could control all the subscriptions you need and ensure they are shared with the right people. I’d probably need a ‘Professional’ account for this. There is a charge for the service, but you can try it for free for 14 days. For the Professional account you also get access to the API, meaning that if you want to manipulate the data generated from your RSS in FeedsAPI you can.

I can see how this could be useful for people or organisations who would tick all/some of these boxes:

  • Would prefer to get their RSS articles as full text, rather than having to click out to the full article
  • Would prefer to read their article in as clean a style as possible ie without ads etc
  • Want to manage their RSS feeds and page alerts in a single place
  • Want to either get the feed as email or read in their RSS reader
  • Want to be able to manage subscriptions in a single place for an organisation

As I say, you can get a 14 day free trial, if you like the sound of FeedsAPI and want to find out more. It’s worth taking a look at.

(Originally posted on Discover Organize Share 27/07/2014)

Discover Organize Share – A new blog

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I’ve created a new information based blog at http://www.discoverorganizeshare.blogspot.co.uk/ . The new blog will focus on search tools, content creation, curation, aggregation and discovery ie more online information and less library focus.

To tie in with this I’ve also set up another Twitter account @a_p_8 , which will focus on similar areas as the blog.

I’m avoiding the angle of content creation, curation, aggregation as a money making marketing tool and focusing on it as an information tool. I say this because so many of the articles I’m finding are purely focused on information = money, but if they still have an interesting information angle I’ll share them.

I’ve also set up a Google Play account (AP8), as I’ve created a few low key information based Android apps, which are on there. They are:

Library Jobs U.K. (an aggregated feed of UK based library jobs from a range of sources)

Surrey MIX (an aggregated feed of news, events, photos, videos from Surrey, UK)

Hot Poppi (a search experiment using Yahoo Pipes and social bookmarking services)

I’ll still share techy ideas on this blog, but I’ll also cross-post them on Discover, Organize, Share too.

 

Automating Information Discovery and Sharing (Umbrella Conference Presentation #UB13)

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This is the presentation I gave at this week’s CILIP Umbrella conference, focusing on automating the discovery and sharing of information across many online networks using services like IFTTT and the importance of information literacy in this context.

Many Places = Many Conversations

Many websites now provide users with the ability to participate in social networking – by social networking I mean the 2 way communication between users.

This communication often revolves around the need to discover and share information.

To give you some idea of numbers of websites and users on them, the ebizmba.com site lists each of the the top 15 social networking sites as having more than 4 million unique monthly visitors each. The most popular service (Facebook) has 750 million unique visitors per month. Wikipedia list 220+ popular social networking sites. “Popular” is the keyword here – there are many more that do not have such a high number of regular users.

On a personal level ,I regularly use 3 Twitter accounts; 2 Facebook accounts; 2 social bookmarking sites; 2 Tumblrs; LinkedIn; Google plus; Flickr and Youtube, as part of my day job, advocacy work and personal life.

So you can see that if you want to maintain an effective information discovery and sharing presence on these sites at this scale it may be difficult, especially with limited time and resources.

Automate to Overcome Problems

So, I’m going to talk about one way to overcome some of the difficulties of discovering and sharing information in this context, & I’ll cover…

Automating the discovery and sharing process.

I’m going to focus on a specific service found online at http://www.ifttt.com , because it’s a service I’m most familiar with. But I will also give you links to a handful of other services that work along similar lines to ifttt, that might be of interest to you and might suit your circumstances and ways of working better.

I’ll talk about when automation is useful, when it doesn’t always work and why human input is just as important.

And I’ll talk about the importance of information literacy in this context.

What is IFTTT?

It’s a free web service that can be found online at http://www.ifttt.com

Ifttt stands for “If This Then That” and I’ll explain why it’s called that later in this presentation.

It allows you to connect over 60 online and messaging services (referred to as channels on the ifttt site) together.

Ifttt automatically feeds information and data from one channel to another and it gives you some control over how that information is fed between channels.

Why is it useful?

It makes the pulling together, discovery and sharing of information across a variety of online networks easier and less time consuming than if you had to visit each site and manually login to either discover or share information.

I know some social networks allow you to automatically share information to other networks, but the good thing about ifttt is it allows you to manage your information connections/flows in a single place and it makes it easier to keep control .

Which Services Connect?

Here are the types of services/channels you can connect. The graphic on the right illustrates all of the services (as of June 2013).

For example, there is Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Yammer, App.net, Hootsuite, Delicious, Diigo, Pinboard, WordPress, Tumblr, Blogger, Youtube, Vimeo, Soundcloud, Last.fm, Storify, Flickr, Instagram, Google calendar, Evernote, Dropbox, Gmail , Pocket, Etsy, Google Drive, SMS messaging, Weather, Date alerts, and also remote controlled services.

There is also a dedicated RSS channel, which means that any site with an RSS output can be plugged into ifttt.

How Does it Work?

It works by creating a link between 2 channels/services.

In some cases you need to authorise ifttt to be able to access some of your accounts on these channels.

One channel acts as a Trigger and another channel acts as a response to that trigger.

It takes its name from the idea that “IF the trigger channel does THIS action, THEN the response channel does THAT action.”

However, not every channel can be used as a trigger or a response. For example there are no Twitter triggers.

Different channels use different criteria as triggers/responses and you define the criteria to be used.
A single combination of a Trigger and a Response is known as a Recipe.

Recipes are automatically & regularly checked to see if they need to be run.

You can share your recipes with others.

The same trigger can be used for different recipes.

Recipe Example

This is how a recipe actually looks on the screen in edit mode:

This example auto tweets a link to a specific blog every time a new blog post is published on it and it adds appropriate hashtags to the tweet.

The trigger shows the RSS feed of the blog and the Action section shows the response.

In the box underneath “What’s happening?” you’ll see some of the text appears in curly brackets. This indicates a data field that is pulled through from the trigger channel – in this case {{Entrytitle}} is the blog post title and {{EntryURL}} is the link to the blog post. The + next to this box will list any data fields from the trigger channel that can be pulled through.

All other text that appears in the box is text entered by the user.

The final shot shows the tweet that is generated.

Further Examples (1)

These are a few of the 50+ recipes I have running at the moment, just to give you an idea of how you can use it.

There are a lot that use a service called Pocket here (red symbol with a V in the centre). I use Pocket as an RSS feed reader, as it allows me to pull in news articles to one place and tag them. The tags I use allow me to define which channel the article is shared to via an ifttt recipe.

I’m using recipes to send information to Buffer, which is connected to Twitter. This schedules when I send out my tweets. You can see what looks like the same Recipe going to buffer, but they’re different, in that each of them adds a different hashtag to the tweet that is sent out eg #lovelibraries #ebooks etc.

Further Examples (2)

In these examples you’ll see that Twitter only appears in the response channel column. There are no Twitter triggers, as Twitter aren’t keen on having content shared in this way.

The recipe that includes the weather channel as a trigger automatically tweets from our library account if there’s a chance of snow in the area to forewarn people about any possible library closures. It tweets “Snow forecast tomorrow. Please check our website for possible library closures.”

A couple of recipes here are also used for backup/archiving purposes – my bookmarked links on Diigo are backed up on Pinboard; and any photos I share on Facebook are also backed up to my Flickr account.

I also use ifttt to build up a work and CPD log by connecting my Google calendar, blogs and Linkedin account to Evernote, which I find useful for appraisals and one-to-ones with my line manager.

Services Similar to IFTTT

So, I’ve focused on using ifttt here, but there are other similar services available that you could try. And it might be that if you like the look of ifttt, but it doesn’t quite suit what you want to do or the way you work, it’s worth having a look at some of these other services.

I’d say Zapier & WeWiredWeb are the most similar services to ifttt.

Wappwolf is limited to activity when uploading files to Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive – you can convert files, unzip or share to other places eg Flickr; Google Drive; Slideshare; Kindle. The focus here is on the automation of processes rather than sharing to networks.

Issues and Drawbacks

So, what are some of the issues of using a service like ifttt?

If you’re increasing the amount of information you’re discovering and you’ve made it easier to share with others you can bombard people with too much information.

Sometimes uninformative or misleading articles or news headlines are pulled through. For example, the news headline pulled through from an RSS news feed “New chapter for town library” isn’t very informative. What’s the story behind that? Which library is it talking about? Or maybe the headline isn’t factually correct.

Also, will the information pulled through from the trigger source be informative enough for your readers on the site you’re sending it to?

Human Input

So that’s why it’s important to have some human intervention, so you can keep some control over the discovery and sharing process.

Make sure you regularly check that your recipes are running smoothly.

I control how information is shared by using Pocket as an RSS feed reader (eg like Google Reader), which I use to sift out irrelevant information before sharing. Recently over an 11 week period 3771 news items were fed into my Pocket account from 9 different resources, and I only shared 668 of these items to 10 different channels via Pocket. Therefore only 17-18% of items were worth sharing.

If a blog title or news headline isn’t appropriate or informative enough you can decide to share it manually instead of automatically.

Ifttt can still do a lot of the repetitive gathering of information, logging into different accounts and sharing, but you can also keep control over it.

It also helps to think about your discovery and sharing of information from an information literacy perspective…

Search, Identify, Gather

Think about where the useful sources of information are going to be.

I find the most useful ones are services that either have a dedicated ifttt channel , or one with an RSS feed of search results as an output.

It’s surprising how many original sources of information aren’t fed into social networks, and that’s one of the reasons why you shouldn’t just rely on social networks as your main information source.

Assess and Evaluate

Assess and evaluate the information coming through from your ifttt recipes.

Some of my ifttt recipes don’t need to be filtered in any way – for example, any backup or archiving I’ve setup; or if it’s a feed from a trusted source. They can just run automatically without any intermediate filtering stage.

But if I need to filter information I use Pocket. This allows me to read and assess the value of the information coming through. If I want to share that information I add a tag to the item in Pocket and the tag I use dictates where the information is shared. Eg. “ggtwitter” will send that item to the my personal Twitter account; “ggLinkedIn” will send it to my LinkedIn account. In this instance I need to use recipes to pull the information into Pocket and another set of recipes to share the information from Pocket to another service.

Communicate and Share

Think about where, when and how you want to share that information.

Which of your social network accounts do you want to send this information to?

When do people need this info? Straight away; Soon; or is it not time critical? For example, it’s generally no good posting an important piece of information on Twitter at midnight when most of your followers are asleep, so you might want to use Buffer to schedule these tweets instead.

Adapt or tailor the way you share the information depending upon which network it’s being shared to. For example, you may want to add hashtags to the updates you send out on Twitter, but you wouldn’t include hashtags on updates you send to Facebook.

Organise and Archive

Think about standardising the way you pull information together and share it with different services/channels.

You could use ifttt to keep a record of what you share with others; creating archives, logs or backing up your social networking data.

And don’t forget that if it the information saved in these archives isn’t perfect you can always go in and edit it to tidy it up.

Automating Discovery and Sharing

So, in summary if you either do spend a lot of time juggling different web presences to discover and share information with others, or you want to have more of a web presence, consider automating some of these processes to reduce your efforts and standardise your information discovery & sharing practices.

Ifttt or one of the other services I mentioned can help and it lets the machine take some of the strain, whilst keeping enough control of it yourself to ensure that the right information is discovered and shared more effectively.

NewsNow News search engine

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I wanted to give a mention to one of my favourite news search engines that I’ve been using for some time now – NewsNow.co.uk. It’s straightforward to use – type your search into a box and it gives you a list of news items from across the world matching that search.

Reasons why I find it so useful include:

  • It’s got a wide resource coverage and picks up more local and international news than other news search engines I’ve tried.
  • It doesn’t focus on high ranking news stories only.
  • Each news item appears with a little flag for the country of origin against it, so I know which part of the world the article is focused on.
  • You can choose to hide results from specific publications – this is useful to me as I’m generally focusing on UK related news and I hide a lot of international publications. There is however a limit to the number of publications you can hide.
  • The search results will indicate if any results are hidden and the number of results hidden.
  • If you set up an account it will remember which publications you’ve asked it to hide.
  • If you set up an account you can save your favourite searches.
  • It’s got a decent mobile version of the site too.
  • It’s quick – a few other news search engines I’ve tried have been incredibly slow at retrieving results.

The only area it falls down on (for my use) is lack of sharing options of results, including the fact that the search results aren’t available as RSS feeds. However if you’ve got a sharing widget on your internet browser or you have a smart phone with sharing options most of the sharing issues can be overcome apart from the results RSS feed.

Shifts in Reading and Information

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I contributed to a Guardian online chat recently that focused on the question: “What does a library look like in 2013?”

During this live chat Sandy Mahal (programme manager, The Reading Agency) made this point:

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that we’re in the middle of one of the biggest changes in reading in human history, experiencing a shift similar in magnitude to the move in Greek times from an oral to a literary culture. Our reading brains are changing, the way we share reading experiences is changing, and of course the book itself is changing dramatically. We’re being challenged to think very differently about what the reading experience is – by things like JK Rowling’s online Pottermore world, Profile’s Frankenstein app which uses reader input and non-linear text. Very little of these multi-platform, literary experiments seem to be making their way into libraries’ reader development work, and of course, there’s ebooks too…we need to take a big, bold step to create a future library service that will keep ahead of developments and cater for and inspire a generation of digital natives.”

And I responded with:

“Possibly the problem here is that libraries are still focusing more on the container of the content (the book) and not the content itself. Not only is the way we read changing, the way we access information is changing too – whether that’s a focus on infographics instead of pure statistics; using multimedia (videos; audio, etc) to provide information, etc – it all needs to be considered, not just focusing on information or even story telling as text in a book or on a page.”

My comment was actually answering a question in my own head, as a lead on, rather than in response to Sandy’s comments. I agree the shift is happening, but we also need to be mindful that the shift won’t just happen in how the written word is presented, as libraries aren’t just about the written word. I’m thinking around this idea from a libraries=information perspective, rather than libraries=reading, as a fair percentage of my library use has been informal learning and information finding. The shift will also happen around how information is presented (video, audio, infographics, etc) and how we interact with it.

I just wondered what other people working in libraries and information based roles thought about this?

Radio 4: Start The Week: The Digital Future (7 May 2012)

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In this episode of Andrew Marr’s “Start the week” radio programme, he spoke to a number of guests about how technology might impact on us in the future, raising issues such as:

  • How we can retain control of our interaction with the digital world.
  • Ethics of technology.
  • Inequality of digital access.
  • How technology has changed social interaction.
  • Augmented reality.
  • The changing value of games.
  • The idea that digital experiences may be more successful when presenting them as a “physical simple imminent experience” rather than a “complex informational one”.
  • Users seen as livestock – being coralled by those who control technology.
  • New technology developments.
  • The suggestion that most of society is not prepared for things that are just around the corner (some already here).
  • Who controls technology and what would happen if leadership changed in Microsoft, Apple or Google to a more traditional corporate style?

It’s well worth listening to, particularly with its focus upon the social impact of technology. One of the key things I picked up from it, was the idea that there are just as many opportunities for the individual to take control of their own experience in the digital world as there are opportunities for others to lead us down a path they want us to go.

Education And Games = Unfun Games #DigitalSurrey

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I attended an event organised by Digital Surrey last night. The speaker was one of the original programmers behind the game M.U.D., Richard Bartle.  His focus this evening was trying to predict what virtual massively multiplayer online (M.M.O.) game worlds might be like in 2022. He gave us various scenarios, some positive and others negative and it was all very interesting seeing how things might turn out, but the but one thing that really got me thinking was his comment that Edutainment doesn’t equal fun education, it equals unfun games

I can see what he’s saying. I remember receiving “French is fun” with my MSX computer back in the mid 1980s. LIES! It might have been fun if the game consisted of throwing onions at blocky images of The Eiffel Tower that exclaimed “Mon dieu” or “Zut alors” every time you hit it… but unfortunately all it did was try to give you French lessons… Which wasn’t fun at all, despite the fact that I wanted to learn French.

Edutainment! by Videocrab Flickr

Edutainment! (c) Videocrab/Flickr

After Richard’s Edutainment comment and with my “Libraries give information” hat on, I’ve got some thoughts going around my head – wondering if virtual games can/could successfully educate by providing information subtly as an integral part of the game? For example, if you’re playing a game set in a fantasy world based around ancient Egyptian mythology could you drop in facts about ancient Egypt as part of the narrative if it didn’t impinge on the game play? Or actually include those facts as part of the game play? Would the player think “Hang on a minute. Someone’s trying to teach me something here!”? If it’s true that serious M.M.O. game players get engrossed in the game, wouldn’t their immersion in the virtual world work in the educators favour? Wouldn’t the gamer take in those facts readily in a willingness to be enveloped in the story, or if they believed remembering the facts were essential to progress through the game? But then again, if you’re giving gamers facts and fantasy in the same world could they also equate the fantasy as fact too? Could the division between fantasy and reality be blurred and any value that the factual parts have be undone by the misinformation of the fantasy? I suppose if that was the case you could also say that “The Mummy” film was also giving out confusing information and messing with our heads… On one hand it talks about known Pharoah’s and other ancient Egyptian facts, and on the other it raises them from the dead to wreak chaos! I’m not sure many people believe The Mummy to be an accurate account of Egyptian history.

So, what information could you plonk in there and how could you do it so it was disguised as part of the fun? Could you do it so that it was genuinely part of the fun, not just disguised as it? How far could you take it before someone realised it was no fun any more and had become edutainment? And, if you were devising the game for edutainment purposes, would you already be involved in a losing battle, because games are for playing and your primary purpose in this instance is serving up the information, not playing the game?