Feed Compass 1.0 Released

I’ve put the finishing touches on Feed Compass 1.0 and uploaded it to the App Store.  Feed Compass makes it easy to find and preview blogs.  If you like the blog you previewed, it makes it simple to subscribe to it in your favorite RSS Reader.  I find it a really useful app, especially if you are an Apple Developer since it has the iOS Dev Directory OPML files in it.

It is a free app, so there is no reason to not check it out.

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Because one of the shortcomings of Feed Compass is the lack of OPML files available on the net, I built a companion application for it, Feed Curator.  Feed Curator makes it easy to create OPML files and publish them for free on the internet.  I wrote about the design behind Feed Curator in Curated Blog Lists.

In the end, the applications had references to each other so I wanted to release them together at the same time.  Feed Curator 1.0 is also available in the App Store and is also free.

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Give these applications a try.  If you read blogs, you should check out Feed Compass.  If you have a collection of blogs you think is special and want to promote, you will want Feed Curator too.  Feed Compass and Feed Curator together make it easy to share blogs with the world.

Algorithmic Blog Lists

In my previous post, I talked about curated listings of blogs.  This time I want to talk a little bit about computer generated lists.

Following

A following list is a staple in social media.  Who you are following and who is following you are very useful pieces of information.  You can tell a lot about a person from who their friends are or who they are interested in.  

If we knew what blogs a person was reading on a regular basis, would could do the same kind of following recommendations that social media platforms do.  For example, if Bob is following Suzy and Suzy is following Karen, then we could recommend Karen’s blog to Bob.

OPML

So how do we get that following information for blogs?  Fortunately a good number of people still rely on RSS and use RSS readers to get their daily blog fix.  The RSS readers themselves know who people are following.  Also fortunately, the various RSS readers all allow you to export this information in a standard format.  

(OPML has many uses besides managing feed subscriptions, but for the this article I am going to focus on subscriptions only.  When I use OPML in this post, just consider it a list of RSS feeds in an open format.)

If we could get people to export their OPML file and upload it to a common database, we could do a simple algorithmic recommendation list.

feedBase

It so happens that this database of OPML files already exists in feedBase.  This is a project that allows you to upload and manage your OPML subscriptions.   It also publishes a Hotlist of the top 100 most popular blogs in feedBase and exports it as OPML.  It will be of no surprise to anyone familiar with RSS and OPML that this is one of Dave Winer’s projects.

Unfortunately, feedBase doesn’t currently do a suggestion list.  feedBase, like all systems of this sort, could also use more data in its database.

Feed Compass Integration

Feed Compass needs more and higher quality OPML lists to make it more useful.  Being able to consume a specialized recommendation list from feedBase is very desirable.  Also, the more data in feedBase the better the lists from feedBase in Feed Compass will be.

I’ve spoken to Brent Simmons, the creator of NetNewsWire about making possible to directly request a users subscription OPML.  This would be of course with the user’s permission.  Feed Compass would pull the OPML from NetNewsWire and upload it to feedBase.  This removes the friction of exporting it and going to the feedBase website to import it.

My hope would be that by making it easier to upload you subscriptions and getting a customized recommendation list for your effort, more people would be inclined to share their subscriptions with feedBase.

How I envision this working:

+----------------+
|    feedBase    |
+----------------+
  |      |     ^
  |      |     |
Hotlist  |     |
  |      |     |
  |  Suggested |
  |      |     |
  |      |     |
  |      |   Subs
  V      V     | 
+----------------+               +----------------+
|  Feed Compass  |  <-- Subs --- | NetNewsWire 5  |
+----------------+               +----------------+

Better Blog Discovery

I don’t think that this idea is going to revolutionize how the web is used or that it’s going to take down the social media silos.  I do think it could make blog discovery better which could drive traffic to more blogs.  It may be a small contribution to making blogging more mainstream again, but I think it is a worthwhile one.

Curated Blog Lists

The Problem

I recently wrote app for the Mac called Feed Compass.  It is an app that displays lists of blog feeds, allows you to preview them, and then subscribe to them in your RSS reader.  It is designed to solve the problem of not having enough content in your RSS reader.  The problem I’ve run into is that Feed Compass also has the same problem of not having enough content.  In this case, it is not having enough lists of blogs to show to the user.

One solution to this problem is for users to take their personal listings of blogs from their RSS readers and upload them to a service for aggregation.  The only service I know that does that currently is feedBase.  Feed Compass already utilizes the Hotlist from feedBase.  The Hotlist is the top 100 most subscribed listing.  There are currently plans to do more feedBase integration to get more content from it into Feed Compass.  What I want to talk about to day are curated or custom lists.

More on Curated Lists

Feed Compass already has a small handful of curated lists that provide the majority of the content.  Some of the best ones come from the iOS Dev Directory.  They are awesome if you are an Apple developer.  I think that Feed Compass needs more curated lists like this, but with a wider background of interests.  The problem is that they simply don’t exist.

I think one of the things that makes iOS Dev Directory successful is that it has a process where people can submit blogs to be included in the listings.  This process utilizes Github with forks and pulls for its workflow.  In the end it produces an OPML file that can be used by RSS readers and Feed Compass.

This seems to me like a pretty good way to get a curated listing of technical blogs, but is too complicated for the lay person to use.  I’d like to propose a new application to make it easier for for the average person to curate and publish a listing of blogs.

The New Application

This application would be a Mac app originally, but could be ported to other platforms.  It would be able to create and edit OPML files.  OPML files have entries in them for blogs.  All together the entries comprise a blog listing.  

The application would allow you to drag URL’s from another application, such as a web browser, to it.  It would then produce the correct OPML entry for that page, including finding the RSS feed in the page.  There should also be a Safari plugin so the you can add the blog to the OPML listing without having to drag the URL.

For publishing, it would upload the OPML file to a Github Gist.  It would also be able to edit OPML files stored as Gists.  This gives us a way to distribute the OPML for free.  As a bonus it also provides a full revision history.

It should also have a button to submit the listing to Feed Compass for inclusion which would produce a Github Issue that would be reviewed to see if the feed should be included in Feed Compass.

The application would be Open Source and MIT Licensed the same as Feed Compass.

What I Like About It

This would give us a way to distribute and maintain OPML files without having to set up, pay for, or maintain a centralized server.  As long as Github doesn’t drastically change its business model and start charging for Gists or Open Source projects that is.

If done correctly, it should be easy enough for your average person to add to and maintain the OPML file while they are browsing the internet.  I envision people visiting their daily websites and adding to the OPML as they go.

It provides a workflow for reviewing lists via Github Issues to help prevent Spam from getting into the system.

Discussion

Feel free to leave a comment below.  You can also join the discussion on Github: We Need More Curated Lists.

The Road to Padre Island

One of the things I wanted to do on this trip was figure out where good places for Nic and I to stay weeks on end were.  If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you would know that I am primarily looking for free camping next to a city with a Planet Fitness in it.  Padre Island and Corpus Christi fit that description perfectly so we had that as a destination, but we wanted to find more spots on the way.

Our first stop was to be near the Suwannee River in the Florida panhandle.  It was about a 4 hour drive from Bradenton and the last stretch of road to the campgrounds was the roughest we’ve ever been on.  I really appreciated the offroad suspension and lift.  

One spot in the road looked impassible.  Water covered the entire road and spanned about 20 feet of it.  I dipped the from tires in to see how deep it was and we went for it.  Water came up to the bumpers and the tires spun a little, but we didn’t have any trouble making it through.  We figured we should at least have some privacy if you had to traverse a road like this to get to the campsite.  What we ended up with was a mixed bag.

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The view of the river was pretty nice.  You could tell that campground was beautiful at one time.  The problem was that it had been completely trashed.  The grounds were torn up by 4×4’s and picnic tables burned.  

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Due to the vandalism, the place had a sundown curfew.  Since it was close to sundown by the time we got there and we were tired, we decided to stay anyway.  Besides, the campground was at the end of that crazy road and the government was still shutdown.  Who’s going to bother us?

A state ranger in a 4×4 pulled up right after Nic and I got settled in and started reading our books.  She wasn’t amused to see us after sunset and pointed to the big sign with red lettering that we had chosen to ignore.  I decided to not play dumb and just told her we had been driving a long way and would be gone first thing in the morning.  She wasn’t having any of it and ran our drivers licenses and plates.  In the end she was cool and let us off with just  a warning citation.  According to her, the campgrounds had actually been cleaned up before we got there.  The vandals had also chained up the port-a-potties and dragged them around in addition to all the damage we saw.  I’d like to eventually visit again after they get it straightened out.

With no place to sleep, Nic and I decided to head to Apalachicola National Forest over by Tallahassee, FL.  It was only about another hour drive or so.  The campsites weren’t very nice.  They were basically just open spots in the woods with dumpsters and port-a-potties brought in to support the deer hunters.  The only thing interesting about Apalachicola was that the hunters brought their 4×4’s in on flatbed trailers because they broke them hunting deer so much.

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I wasn’t really impressed with Apalachicola and it wasn’t close enough to Tallahassee to make the trip in town to the Planet Fitness worthwhile, so we left there and headed toward our next prospective campsite.

The next national park in Alabama we went to was closed down due to the government shutdown.  The one we drove to after that didn’t exist anymore.  I’d finally had enough.  Out of the last 4 free campsites we had been to, only one was open and that one sucked.  We decided to drive straight through to Corpus Christi.

Bradenton, FL

Our next stop after the Everglades was Bradenton, FL.  I wanted to stop and visit with some friends that had a winter home there.  Friends is probably not a strong enough word.  Second set of parents would be closer to my relation ship with Chuck and Barb Willkomm.

Throughout High School and College, Chris (their son) and I were pretty much inseparable.  We lived together, partied together, and hung out at each others parents houses.  More often than not it was at Chris’ parents house that we ended up.  If it was late at night and Chris and I (often with other friends in tow) were hungry, we would raid his parent’s kitchen.  Barb, rather than yell at us for waking her up and stealing her food, would visit with us and even cook for us.  I even went with them on a family vacation to Wisconsin once.  I have many fond memories of the Willkomm family.

I hadn’t seen Chuck and Barb in over a decade since Chris and I grew up and moved away from each other.  It was a more emotional reunion than I had prepared my self for.  Barb hugged me and burst into tears.  I got a big lump in my throat and hugged her back.

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The Willkomms have their main home in Branson, MO.  There they see shows daily, even sometimes multiple times, a day.  Barb was bringing a little of that with her to the Bradenton park community they lived in with a Neil Diamond tribute act.  The performance was the same day that Nic and I got there and Barb was busy preparing for it, but not too busy to make us a homemade spaghetti dinner.  It was amazing.

The next day, Barb and Chuck took us to see the manatees at a local power plant spill basin.  The manatees like the warm water coming out of the power plant and it makes for good viewing.

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They even had a petting zoo for stingrays.

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After we saw the manatees, we drove out to Ana Marie Island and had a late lunch at The Rod and Reel Pier.  It was a restaurant at the end of a fishing pier that had an amazing view of Tampa Bay.  The food was awesome.

By the time we got back from Ana Marie Island, we were all wiped out and crashed for the night.  The next morning, Barb was up bright and early and cooking us breakfast.  After breakfast and having some coffee and visiting, Nic and I got ready to leave.

We had an amazing time hanging out with the Willkomms and will be trying to visit them in Branson next time we head that way.  After we left Nicole told me that it felt like she had known Barb and Chuck forever and that we should stay longer next time.  Many thanks to them for hosting us and showing us around Bradenton.