Help Me Find Some Techy Fun For The Kids

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I’m currently involved in helping organise a library festival for our Children’s library services and I’m trying to find an engaging and fun interactive online service that will help us promote the festival to children (a broad age range from primary school up to mid-teens) and their parents.

At the moment we’re open to ideas, but initial thoughts are it could:

  • Be online and available to anyone with an internet connection
  • Be able to automatically pull in feeds from our social media accounts with minimal manual intervention.
  • Allow us to edit those feeds and add extra information from other sources.
  • Be engaging for children and parents, fun and look good.
  • Be interactive and encourage participation from people who visit the site.
  • Complement the festival and add a unique feature to it.

The sort of creative tools I like are Glogster, Prezi, Brickflow , Tiki-Toki and Montage. The sort of interactive sites I like are RoaldDahl.com, NFBs interactive documentaries (eg http://bear71.nfb.ca/#/bear71, http://holymountain.nfb.ca/#/holymountain ). I’m not suggesting we’d have the time or money to put something as elaborate as the Roald Dahl and NFBs site together, but it just gives an idea of the sort of interaction I’m thinking about.

So, if anyone’s got any sites they think might be of interest to us, please let me know. Thanks.

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Popular Bookmarks Yahoo Pipes Search Experiment #MashLib

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A while ago I experimented with Yahoo Pipes to put together a search tool that aggregates links everyone has saved to social bookmarking sites Digg, Pinboard and Delicious and returns the most popular recent sites based on a simple keyword search. NB: I’m not talking about only the bookmarks I’ve saved, but all bookmarks saved by the communities on these sites.

So, if you enter the phrase “technology” you might get the following results list:

http://www.nytimes.com [13]

http://www.theatlantic.com [13]

http://www.theverge.com [9]

http://www.youtube.com [7]

…etc

The results are displayed in popularity order and the number in square brackets indicates the number of times anyone has bookmarked the site recently on Digg, Delicious or Pinboard. Each of the sites that appear in the results list also act as a clickable link to that site.

As it’s been created in Yahoo Pipes you can also get a variety of useful data formats as output, including RSS, JSON and PHP.

I decided to put it together as a way of discovering new sites, based upon sites other people had recently found useful. It’s doesn’t currently provide a comprehensive list of sites, but it does offer an alternative way of discovering sites that I might not have been returned by big name search engines.

It’s something I’d like to develop, but had forgotten about it until @AgentK23 mentioned something to me recently about collaborative bookmarking.

How I’d like to develop it…

  • Include as many social bookmarking sites as possible as part of the aggregation process to improve the comprehensiveness of the search results. The 3 mentioned are ones that I could easily generate a hackable and useful search/result query url for. For example, I couldn’t do anything useful with Diigo bookmarks, as it limits the results of community RSS feeds to 20 items (Edit: See positive update at foot of blog post). I’d be happy to receive suggestions about other social bookmarking sites I could tap into in this way.
  • The clickable links to the websites mentioned in the search results currently just go to the home page of those sites, but I’d like to work out a way to go directly to relevant articles on the site instead. Because different websites have different search query structures I couldn’t turn the links into ones that just focus on the search keyword that had been entered. For example, the New York Times link for the “technology” search mentioned earlier goes to www.nytimes.com , not http://query.nytimes.com/search/sitesearch/#/technology
  • Yahoo Pipes is a useful tool to try out ideas like this, but I’m still not sure about its reliability. So, I should think about developing this without relying on Yahoo Pipes.

Here’s the link to it if you want to try it out. Any feedback would be appreciated… and remember, it’s just an experiment and not a commercial product.

As most search tools have a daft name I thought I’d call it “DiPiDel POP!” – An abbreviation of Digg, Pinboard, Delicious Popular. 🙂

Update: Thanks to Marjolein Hoekstra who followed up on this post and got in touch with Diigo about my issue. They have now extended the RSS feed to 100 items, which is very responsive of them and great news too, as I can now use the site as an aggregation source. As well as including Diigo in the aggregation process, I’ve also now included Blogmarks and Bibsonomy. Thanks to Marjolein for suggesting them too.

Replacing Google Reader With Ifttt and Pocket

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A couple of days ago Google announced they were getting rid of Google Reader, which was a bit of a blow for me, as I use it as a main source of news for sharing to a broad range of social network accounts and sites semi-automatically. I used it in conjunction with ifttt, so that if I added a specific tag to an item in a Google Reader feed it would trigger an action to automatically post it to 1 of a number of accounts I use regularly.

Google Reader was flexible and because I could connect it to ifttt in this way it meant I didn’t have to log in and out of various personal and group Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Buffer and bookmarking accounts sharing links and news – I could do it all in one place. I could also do it via any device I had connected to the internet – PC, smartphone, tablet. Google Reader was also useful in the fact that you could organise RSS feeds into folders or tags and didn’t just have a huge jumble of unrelated links filling up the page. The whole set up was such a time-saver.

So, when I heard about the planned retirement of Reader my heart sank for a few reasons (1) Another popular service was being ditched by a high profile company without any thought for their users – I’d have happily paid to use Google Reader if I’d been given the option.  (2) How was I going to continue sharing this information if I had to do it all manually? (3) This ifttt setup was a key part of a presentation I was supposed to be giving at a conference about a week after Google Reader was due to close down – I could end up with very little to talk about at it!

So, I knew I had to try to find another solution. I’d looked at other RSS and news services some time ago to see if there were any decent alternatives to Google Reader. My main concern back then was that news articles were quite slow at being pulled through into the feed. Ideally if NewsNow.co.uk had an RSS output feed I’d use that for all my news – it’s got a wider coverage and is more up-to-date than Google News. Anyway, there wasn’t anything that worked in the way I needed it to that would provide all the functionality and flexibility in one place. Looking at lists of recommendations for Google Reader that have also appeared over the last couple of days nothing still met my specific needs in one package, although I’ve discovered some handy services I didn’t know existed.

However, after a bit of tinkering with ifttt I have managed to come up with a solution that works in a similar way to my Google Reader and ifttt set up, but instead I use a service called Pocket. This is a service for bookmarking items and articles to be read later.

Firstly I had to set up ifttt recipes to pull in all the RSS news feeds I follow into Pocket . Each separate RSS feed required a new RSS to Pocket ifttt recipe to be set up, so if I have 20 feeds I’ll have to set up 20 recipes. Alternatively, I could use something like Yahoo Pipes to pull all RSS feeds into a single one and set up a single RSS to Pocket recipe. I’m reluctant to do this though, as Pipes can be temperamental.

As you can tag items/articles in Pocket in a similar way to Google Reader it means you can organise the RSS items into related articles when they’re saved to Pocket.

Once you’ve pulled the items into Pocket with the tags, you can also add tags manually to specific items that will trigger the items to be posted to a variety of sites and services, as I had done previously with Reader. eg Add the tag “linkedin” to an item to send the article to LinkedIn. Here’s an example recipe for this.

As with Google Reader you can also mark items as read or delete them so they aren’t clogging up your feed on Pocket.

I’ve set up a number of RSS feeds going into Pocket, but as this is the most time consuming part of the process I haven’t added all of my old feeds yet. I have tested a few of the triggers and they’re working fine.

So, fingers crossed for this new setup and farewell to Google Reader – it was a great service for my needs and it’s a shame Google are binning it.