Simple Syndicating?

So on Friday – I was also accused on the campus nag mailing list of “sing[ing] the happy praises of buzzwords following by long emails on how things should be.”

I wasn’t directly accused, but it was in reference to me, most recently posting about RSS and blogging, instead of what the author would like to see more of on the nag mailing list.

That’s okay, it comes with the territory of talking about emerging technology I guess.

I wrote Friday about our Engineering web meeting and talking about RSS feeds and mentioning that the web meeting briefly segued into a discussion about content and content review, the gist of the discussion being that most content needs some kind of review – unfortunately that got tied up with whether or not one publishes content via an RSS feed.

It’s somewhat interesting that the same day the “blogosphere” erupted into an indictment about some very harsh commentary, by Michael Gorman, president-elect of the American Library Association – who said, among other things:

“It turns out that the Blog People (or their subclass who are interested in computers and the glorification of information) have a fanatical belief in the transforming power of digitization and a consequent horror of, and contempt for, heretics who do not share that belief. … [The Blog People] read what they want to read rather than what is in front of them and judge me to be wrong on the basis of what they think rather than what I actually wrote. Given the quality of the writing in the blogs I have seen, I doubt that many of the Blog People are in the habit of sustained reading of complex texts. It is entirely possible that their intellectual needs are met by an accumulation of random facts and paragraphs.”

He’s also written previously:

“Unfortunately, if there are writers of genius, or talent, or even basic competence out there blogging, I have yet to find them. In the early heady days of the Internet, we were promised that, in the future, everyone could be published. Alas, that promise is being fulfilled, which should remind us all to be wary of what we wish for”

Fortunately, Gorman’s Librarian peers, especially Karen Schneider are talking back and taking Gorman to task.

(all via: Ed Cone, Scoble and numerous other outlets)

Gorman has an childish axe to grind, and he does it in an exceedingly insulting fashion. But I agree with part of what he says.

A good portion of weblog writing is bad writing. A whole lot of content needs review. My writing is at times atrocious, as my copy-editor girlfriend would gladly attest to. Content review should absolutely, positively, unequivocally be part of any publishing workflow – especially with news, marketing, and support information. (This “ewe” code being used to help get this very commentary on the web has a draft/moderation feature for sites with multiple authors).

But that shouldn’t stop one from publishing their content via RSS. If anything, that gets the content in front of even more editors. And like Karen Schneider said in her response – blogging (and RSS) provide “an immediacy and intimacy you can’t get from any other form of publication, and it has widened the information world so that information is increasingly a conversation.”

One of the core design features of the Internet is that there are not, and should not be single points of failure. When a router fails, the Internet traffic “routes around the damage”. That’s become allegorical for information publication, software, and other points where “control” interrupts the data flow. The internet (or one’s constituency) routes around the damage. Heck, I’ve seen it with myself when I’ve sat on something for too long, I get routed around.

Michael Gorman will be marked as damage, and the Internet, the American Libraries, etc. will route around him.

I don’t want that happening to NC State.

More Simply Syndicating

Following up my own post that includes, among other things, the idea that RSS/Syndication feeds change the way that people get content and information

Ted Lueng:

my relationship to the web has changed. I hardly use a standalone browser anymore – mostly for searching or printing. I don’t have time to go and visit all the web sites that have information that is useful to me.

(it’s in the context of talking about how RSS aggregators are going to do a great deal of heavy lifting sifting through aggregated information sources)

Simply Syndicating

I’ve been on a bit of an evangelistic bent on campus recently, extolling, if not the virtues, the overwhelming presence of “Syndication” feeds (nee, RSS ).

Basically, that evangelism boils down to:

  • Look, ‘blogs’ are getting a great deal of press. This is something you should know about.
    (“Blog” was Merriam-Webster word of the year for 2004. “Blog” made the Time Magazine Person of the Year issue, and the Pew Internet & American Life Project issued a report that: “By the end of 2004 blogs had established themselves as a key part of online culture… Blog readership shoots up 58% in 2004 6 million Americans get news and information fed to them through RSS aggregators…”)
  • Blogs most often provide an alternative means of publishing, commonly referred to as a “RSS” or “Syndication” feed
  • RSS and other Syndication formats are becoming an alternative way for you to get your content published (or more, meta-information about your content published)
  • The browsers are beginning to support RSS built-in – Firefox has “Live bookmarks” – the next version of Safari will have RSS support. And we’ll soon be hearing from the IE Team about RSS support in IE7

I usually summarize (okay, ramble on) with the fact that RSS/Syndication formats are beginning to change the way that people get content and information – at that point I usually give a personal example, showing my collection of Syndication feeds and mentioning the fact that RSS has completely changed the way I access content.

We had an Engineering webmasters meeting yesterday, and RSS was one of the topics.

Our core web services folks culled together a great little presentation on “republishing content” – whether that’s using shared databases, rss/syndication feeds from other sources, or using web services. I then rambled for a moment, showing the client side of RSS via an aggregator, and my collection of feeds.

Well, at that point I lose people. Mostly because I’m an Information Junkie, and like a lot of people running RSS aggregators I keep up (or try to keep up) with a fair number of feeds (in my case, it’s 200+, almost all technology, but a little bit of Photography, Baseball, and Business news). I think the impression I gave was that publishing RSS is only for the Information Junkies, belied by the responses to my “are you using RSS feeds? why not?” question. The responses came back as “I really have work to do, I can’t keep up with all that”. Which is a bit of a (valid) indictment toward the Information Junkies – well, me.

(by the way, 200 is nothing, try Robert Scoble’s ~1300, he’s given talks on how to do this, but that’s still too much for me)

The discussion shifted a bit to “why does this matter for webmasters?” and the person doing the shifting, mentioned that RSS is great, because it allows you to aggregate other sources (say, a University News feed) into your web pages – in effect, it gives you a chance to build information “portals” – selecting and choosing feeds that would be relevant to your audience.

Well, at that point I disagreed a bit. I tried to mention (okay ramble) on that point, saying that really wasn’t the idea – the idea is that you publish your own Syndication feeds, and allow your visitors the ability to aggregate the feeds that they want. In my fateful disagreement, I made the mistake of correlating that “information portal” with the idea of a collections editor, saying that we don’t have to be in that role, we don’t have to be the editors and arbiters of the content, take out the middleman in this.

Well, unfortunately that was misconstrued – through every great fault of my own. And some commentary about the need for content editors and content review entered the conversation, which really has nothing to do with RSS, and everything to do with having a workflow (automated or not) for managing content (I have some comments on editors and content review coming up in the next blog post).

I guess my point, when it’s all said and done, was that website producers should be producing RSS alternatives for content, and that’s more important than trying to focus on building portals or hubs for other producers of RSS content. It’s not hard to create these feeds (that really needs to be a subject for a post). Even if you aren’t publishing “news content” or “marketing content”- even an Syndication feed of recently updated pages would be extremely useful. RSS and its cousins provide a standards (at least a de facto standard)-based way of doing that. A list of recently updated pages would be fantastic for Academic sites.

Even if RSS is for the Information Junkies (the comment was made that I’m the RSS aggregator for Engineering System Admins – they wait for me to read it and tell folks about it 🙂 – which it’s not, at least not from the growing trendlines – but even if it is, you want a way to get your information into sources of information that folks like me read. Robert Scoble at Microsoft recently opined on the topic in similar ways (from a marketing perspective).

At the end of the day, my tech evangelism should probably be more along the lines of the St. Francis of Assisi suggestion for non-technical evangelism: – “preach the truth continuously, if necessary use words” Time for some more tools, perhaps 😉

Microsoft Watch Unsubscribed

Hmmmm… Microsoft Watch suddenly went to a subscriber-only model.

I tried clicking on the non-fulltext(*) RSS feed only to have the site redirect me to a “get an account” / “Subscription required” page for Ziff Davis.

Oh well, it was real, and fun and, well you know the rest.


(*: off the topic note: I don’t mind non-fulltext RSS feeds, it’s fine with me if feeds have enough of a teaser, and then they can direct me to the site and get me to look at their site layout, advertising, etc. – I understand the arguments like this one at codepoetry, and I’m not Winer or Scoble – I don’t download my feeds to read later on the plane)

Quote of the Day

From Blake Ross:

We need an iPod that can monitor your body’s exertion level and flip on Eye of the Tiger when you need it most.

Highly agreed.

Speaking of iTunes/iPod’s. Everyone and their brother has an opinion/pontification on both, and their relative place in the grand scheme of things, blah, blah, blah. Of course this sets the various University folks scrambling about to figure out how to capture some of the iTunes/iPod mindshare and “do something” – especially after my colleagues just down the road “did something”.

The iPod does have great implications for education. e.g.

Could you _just imagine_, a students checks the RSS feed for course blog for his/her course, gets yesterday’s lecture as a .mp3 RSS enclosure (e.g. a “Podcast”) and their aggregator automatically puts on their iPod?

(The “just-a-tad-of-facetious-sarcasm” is that the idea is not bad, but requires a lot of “wouldn’t it be great if…” technology/infrastructure/help documentation to put together. Though I’m sure a year from now, someone on campus will have that very same bright idea, and it will be deemed revolutionary, etc.).

But as exciting as all that might be (and I imagine pitching the above idea would get lots of people excited in some corners of Campus) do you know what excites me the most about iTunes?

Rendezvous (nee, Bonjour). (of course, I say this as I’m listening to Credence Clearwater Revival’s Chronicles off the Lead System Analyst’s shared iTunes).

You see, one of the things that got one of our building Macintosh users excited recently was the ability to share their music to the rest of us via iTunes, a collection of unique Americana music. It’s easy, iTunes->Preferences->Sharing->Share My Music. No server, no middleman, no IT “control” just peer-to-peer creation, sharing, and communication/collaboration.

That’s what is exciting about iTunes.

And that folks, it’s what is really, really, really exciting about folks knowing a little about their own computers, and having application tools that help them collaborate together.

Computing at the ends, that’s what it’s about.


Why can’t I remember simple things like how to tar+gzip a directory? Well, I finally figured it out after going after “tar examples” via Google.

tar czvf archive.tgz archivedir

Then I mistakenly consulted the engr-sysadm jabber chat room:

9:32:23 why can't I ever remember how to tar+gzip a directory?9:32:34 Billy: Old age.9:32:38 tar czvf archive.tgz archivedir9:32:45 it's simple9:32:52 jerobins: you've been GUI'fied9:32:54 and I try to make it incredibly complicated9:33:12 Billy: WOW. You make things more complicated????9:33:20 Billy: I never would have thought...9:33:29 Billy: I kill me.9:33:42 Billy: At least until someone else does.

GUI’fied is right – normally I right-click the directory and pick “Create Archive Of” – in this tar case I couldn’t because it was a directory inside my Mysql database directory on the Macintosh.

I think GUI’fied works quite well when pronounced like bonafied from O Brother Where Art Thou?

XML Entities, How do I hate thee? Let me count the

I hate HTML and XML Character Encoding, what a nightmare.

This all started yesterday. Actually, this all started several days ago with a post to our Campus “Network Administrators Group” mailing list – in which I opined on the benefits of RSS and RSS aggregators and queried for the group’s favorites.

Well, a couple of people pointed out that Thunderbird does RSS – ala an old fashioned NewsReader. So I wanted to try it out.

Only the current release of Thunderbird doesn’t natively provide support for importing a bunch of subscriptions (using, say an OPML. file). Well, that led me to this blog entry Which adds OPML import/export support to Thunderbird.

Cool right? Well somedays it doesn’t pay to get out of bed and write your own weblog software.

See, on import of my NetNewsWire OPML output, Thunderbird reported that two of the feeds were invalid.

RSS feeds are XML, and like any XML/XHTML source – they should be valid XML. However, it practically seems that this can be a total nightmare.

When EWE was released, I checked all the feeds with sample data at to make sure things looked okay.

Valid RSS right?

Well, valid until it wasn’t valid 🙂

What broke one of the feeds was the innocuous Copyright symbol. (C) In the source text, it was actually the copyright symbol ( (C) ). I have been dutifully running the RSS output through the htmlentities() function, to convert things like that to their HTML entities representation. XML doesn’t know anything about HTML entities built-in, except for just a few. I understand that, but you’d think that I could supply some namespace or something and fix that.

Well, I probably can, but I don’t understand that. Trying to understand would likely make me curse a lot (more).

So I tried the xmlentities() function that was buried in the comments for htmlentities() – that was nice until it didn’t do the &nbsp because PHP’s get_html_translation_table() has a limited set of entries in it, none of which are &nbsp – which isn’t valid for XML.

So, heretofore I found this article – which has 2000+ translations.

So now I run the RSS text through htmlentities – then through a strtr() with the gigantic translation table (with the < and > and &amp translations commented out).

I think I’ve fixed things – until something else breaks.

But by then – I think I’ll be like this chap and if:

1) You can type a character on the keyboard;  2) Browsers can display it (they better if (1) is true)  3) Printers can print it  4) Humans can read it	then the RSS feed is valid. This whole valid-invalid BS is making RSS difficult for both reader makers and publishers.

Until then: