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Showing posts from May, 2013

The Next Generation of Aggregation and RSS Readers

I've been thinking ( again ) about RSS readers, what they are, what they are for, where ( if anywhere ) they're going next and lastly, how I might maybe make my own ( on the cheap ) .

What is an RSS reader anyway? Avoiding the technical specification of what RSS is... it is just a way of collecting explicit subscriptions to news from various sites. It is markedly NOT email.

Along the way, RSS forgot, or were told to forget, they were also aggregators. Aggregators were cousins of RSS readers in that they collected lots of news together and re-published it, normally as a web page. In the olden days ( 2005ish ) there were lots of aggregators. There were tools to make your own aggregators and aggregators were important, in my opinion because they did the hard curatorial work or selecting related news sources and making them available, normally in a format you could subscribe to.

As more and more people came online, producing news, consuming news, many aggregators - who were normal…

Google Apps, New Possibilities for Old Tools?

Last week Google announced a number of new Apps Script features that have been added to Google Documents and Forms and Spreadsheets.

The features themselves may not seem worth shouting that loudly about, but the ability to add Sidebars to documents and add menus and arbitrary user interface items that run Apps Script code means you can start to dream about how you could extend and combine these really powerful objects in new ways.

Google Apps was already a collection of powerful objects ( Documents, Spreadsheets, Drive Files, Forms, Calendars, Sites ) that could be easily combined with Apps Script to create really useful applications, but with the arrival of these new features, the ability to combine them can be more elegant. And because you can create tools and interfaces within the documents you can extend the tools - rather than just combine them.

We've already seen a demo of Bibsto, an Apps Script Bibliography manager that changes Google Documents into Research papers - with a…

Getting RSS from a site that doesn't offer RSS using Dapper and Yahoo Pipes

I was asked if it was possible to get RSS from a site that doesn't offer RSS.

One site whose content I was interested in was "Community & Networks Connection" - it aggregates lots of "community and collaboration software" news.

 Although the site offers RSS feeds, the news in the RSS feed looks like this below - all of the articles are chunked into daily digests forcing you to click through to the site and never, ever, catching your eye.


Of course it would be possible to screen-scrape the data from the site and republish as RSS, maybe using a scripting language or the excellent ScaperWiki tool, but I really wanted something that anyone could use... in seconds.


Dapper To The Rescue I began by visiting Dapper, a tool that lets you point and click and select which bits of a page you want to scrape. I began by clicking on the images of the news articles at the top.



After a little fiddling, you can choose whether you want that data in RSS or CSV or even as a G…

Document Sidebar and Menus in Google Docs

For a long time I've been saying that Google need to make sure that their left hand knows what the right is doing. There are pockets of innovation in some products that are notably missing from other products. And whilst I don't advocate insisting that each department should consult with each other department before a beautiful carbuncle can be brought into the world, it's nice when you feel that different Google teams are at least on speaking terms.

One example ( and there are dozens and dozens ) of innovation insularity is the features that are in a Google Spreadsheet. With a little code and ingenuity you can add menus, and pop ups and whole new interfaces to a spreadsheet, but this can't be done in a Google Document. "Why not?" you might ask. And rightly so.

So, I was very pleased when Google announced at Google I/O ( their big developers conference happening right now ) that the features from Spreadsheets were being added to Google Documents. Take a look …

Information Freedom Fighting

My eye caught the City of York Council announcing that they publish all the "Freedom of Information" requests as PDFs ( here ).

The sharp-eyed amongst you will spot that the requests are organised by weeks. Each week's requests are stored in a PDF for that week. Each PDF would need clicking through to that week, then clicking through to that page and then downloading separately (using the handy "Download Now" link ) and then reading. The search engine is pretty hopeless and can't just return FOI requests and so gives you hundreds of results for any query.

Organising FOI requests by week is completely ridiculous, almost as ridiculous as ordering them by the number of words used or alphabetically. Now of course it probably makes sense from the point of view of compiling the requests - it sounds like a "once a week" job for somebody, but to then publish them once a week seems madness.

One of my pet hates is information that is made available but tot…