Google Reader is retired next week – have you switched to Feedly?

Next week, Google is set to retire Google Reader. When I wrote this post (back in March), almost 75% of the subscribers to my feed (already dwindling, partly as a result of Google algorithm changes that seem to penalise independent views in favour of branded content) came via Google Feedfetcher (used by Reader to grab RSS or Atom feeds), suggesting that lots of you use Google Reader.

Hopefully you’ve all found a way to move forward but, if you haven’t, I recommend checking out Feedly.

If you migrate before Google turns off Reader, it’s a one-click migration (just log into Feedly with your Google account) – I did it weeks ago and haven’t looked back since!

Here are a couple of links that might be useful:

Now I need to look at moving my site’s RSS away from Feedburner, before Google kills that off too (I’m sure it’s only a matter of time…)

Adding Twitter’s RSS to Feedburner

I spent some time yesterday afternoon working my way through an article on SEO-ing Twitter profile pages.  Whilst I don’t agree with absolutely every point in the article (e.g. tinyurl.com is too many letters for a URL shortener – I like to use bit.ly with a custom domain), it does contains some good advice (who would have thought of naming their Twitter profile picture to include appropriate keywords?). One point that doesn’t work though, is feeding your Twitter RSS feed to Feedburner.

There is a workaround though. Following Michael Phipps’ advice, I created a page called twitterfeed.php with the following code:

I then fed the URL for this page into Feedburner. I’d prefer to use an address on my own domain though – and it’s simple enough to create an HTML page to redirect to the correct location (and to add information for browsers to recognise the RSS location):



@MarkWilsonIT on Twitter

Redirecting to the @MarkWilsonIT Twitter RSS feed. If you’re not redirected within a couple of seconds,
try this link: @MarkWilsonIT on Twitter


The downside of this is that Outlook doesn’t like an RSS feed that’s redirected from HTML. Google Reader seems happy with the redirection although, because it does actually resolve to the Feedburner address, it won’t help me should I move the feed elsewhere in future…

In the end, I’m not sure what this achieves, but you can now subscribe to my tweets via RSS

Finding your Twitter RSS feed

Unlike many people, I quite like “new” Twitter (although it doesn’t seem that new any more!) – compared with “old” Twitter, the website is far more usable but it did lose one item of functionality – that of finding the RSS feed for your Twitterstream.

For those who think RSS is dead – it’s not dead – it’s just not something we have to think about too often (like HTTP) and (just like HTTP) it’s still a very useful technology. I think I once saw a response from Twitter that suggested browsers can identify RSS feeds in pages now, but all that seems to turn up is a feed of my favourites.

Anyway, Twitter came to my rescue on this one – not the website/API people, but the people who follow me (thanks guys).  And then I saw the same question asked again today, so I thought I should blog the answer.

Your Twitter stream is available at http://twitter.com/statuses/user_timeline/twitteruserid.rss.

So how do you get your Twitter user ID? Well, there’s a website that will help to get a Twitter ID from a username and your Twitter user number is also available in the properties displayed for your user on many Twitter clients. For me it’s 56967616 so my Twitter stream is at http://twitter.com/statuses/user_timeline/56967616.rss.

Why blog feeds should include the whole post (and not just an excerpt)

I’m trying to catch up on a four-month blog reading backlog (I was incredibly busy at work at the back end of 2008/early 2009 and switched roles in February… only now am I making the time to catch up on the things that have gone by in the intervening period). One thing I noticed (apart from that Google Reader has marked a bunch of posts as read… even though I haven’t read them) is that, in order to stand any chance of catching up, I need to be able to skip through posts and read them in my reader.

Some of the blogs (like the Office Offline comic) have recently switched from publishing the whole post in the feed to just publishing an excerpt. Even worse, if I go to the web page, there is no way to easily navigate forwards and backwards between posts… just a single post on each page. Ultimately that means it’s too slow for me to read it… so I won’t. (OK, I could start at the home page and read 10 posts at a time, next, next, etc.).

Other examples include prominant writers like Paul Thurrott and Mary-Jo Foley, whose editors may want me to visit their websites to click on ads and jump to other posts, but the whole point of an RSS subscription is that it should be easy for me, with the content delivered to my reader, in full (even if it means that ads need to be run in the feed… which, coincidentally, is something I’m trialing here).

If you can’t make life easy for your readers, ultimately you’re limiting your audience. Still, at least it means I have a few less posts to read each morning…

Submitting podcasts to iTunes

One of the few things I managed to get done last week was to submit the enhanced podcast (AAC) version of the Coalface Tech RSS feed to Apple for inclusion in the iTunes podcast directory.

Actually it’s remarkably straightforward but here’s a few pointers for anyone who is getting started with this podcasting lark.

First up – you need to understand that there are two things called iTunes:

  • Apple’s online store with audio and video content (depending on whereabouts you live in the world).
  • Apple’s media player for Windows and Macintosh PCs, used by millions of iPod and iPhone owners worldwide (as well as many people with other devices, I’m sure).

Next – you need to understand that podcasts are generally distributed using an RSS feed (just like blogs but with enclosures containing the media files). The RSS feed is structured using XML.

You can subscribe directly to the RSS feed (and even view it in a browser), or you can use a podcast directory (such as the iTunes Store).

James had created the original XML for our RSS feeds (one for the MP3 version and one for the AAC version of the podcast) using a feed generator (I’m not sure which one he used but there is a basic podcast RSS generator available in the TD Scripts webmaster utilities). Not all feed generators support the iTunes-specific metatags though and it’s useful to know what these do.

Armed with the two feeds (one with iTunes metatags for the AAC feed and one without for the MP3 which is not on iTunes), I tested them in my iTunes client application (selecting Subscribe to Podcast… from the Advanced menu to see what metadata is displayed in the feed and the downloaded episodes). This let me tune the tags until I saw something that approximated the desired information.

Once I knew the XML was correctly formatted (tested in iTunes and in various web browsers), the final versions were uploaded to the web (in testing you can use any accessible HTTP server but for live deployment you probably want to think about providing a reasonably permanent URL and the media files themselves need to be somewhere that bandwidth is not a problem – for Coalface Tech, that hosting is kindly provided by Australian Personal Computer, Internode and Sun Microsystems but I also considered using Liberated Syndication).

Next-up was time to submit the podcast to Apple for inclusion. There is a moderation process but within 24 hours we had received confirmation that we were live in the iTunes directory!

Coalface Tech in iTunes

And that was about it really – remarkably straightforward, especially when armed with Apple’s detailed instructions for making a podcast.

All I need to do each time we create a new episode is update the XML for the RSS feeds (create a new section for each episode) and notify iTunes that we have posted a new episode (although it should automatically check every day).

Deleting multiple RSS feeds in Outlook 2007

I have two mailboxes at work and one is permanently diverted to the other – every now and again I have to go in and clear it out (as a copy of every inbound message is left in the first mailbox) and it looks like I should do it more often (I was within a few KB of having inbound mail bounced until I logged in this evening…).

I wondered what was filling my Inbox so I checked out the folder sizes and found that the biggest culprits were RSS feeds from Outlook 2007’s integration with the Internet Explorer (IE) 7 RSS reader (even though the computer still runs IE6 in order to access some legacy web applications – so there is no Outlook to IE integration, as described in Microsoft knowledge base article 920234 – the mailbox has been accessed previously on a machine with Outlook 2007 and IE7 installed and, as Tim Anderson noted a couple of years back, Outlook copies feed contents from the local machine to the mailbox and then keeps it synchronised).

As I read my feeds in Google Reader, I decided to remove them from Outlook – but how (other than individually)? Thanks to Jaap Steinvoorte’s post on deleting RSS feeds in Outlook 2007, I found the answer in the Outlook Account Settings, on the RSS Feeds tab, where there is a big remove button. The same approach can be applied to SharePoint Lists, Internet Calendars and Public Calendars.

Unfortunately, the cached content is still retained and RSS Feeds is a special folder it can’t be deleted… unless you use a downlevel client as Daniel Moth suggests – I used OWA on an Exchange Server 2003 server.

Sure, deleting the entire folder is overkill but it seems to be the only way other than inducing carpal tunnel syndrome through repetitive mouse/keyboard clicks and the end result is a considerably less full mailbox.

Outsourcing syndicated content from WordPress to Feedburner without losing readers

Earlier, I wrote about some of the measures I’ve taken to reduce the bandwidth usage of this site, one of which is outsourcing the RSS feeds to FeedBurner (i.e. put them on Google’s bandwidth bill!).

The new feed location for syndicated content using either RSS or Atom is http://feeds.markwilson.co.uk/marksweblog/.

Hopefully, I’ve done everything that I need to to make sure that no-one has to make any changes in their feedreader – yesterday’s 176% growth in subscribers (according to the Feedburner stats, which are now picking up the traffic that was previously split across multiple feeds) certainly suggests that it’s all working!

FeedBurner FeedStats showing significant increase after consolidation of feeds

If all you want is the new address then there’s no need to read on; however as this is a technical blog, I thought that some people might be interested in how this all works.

Firstly, the feeds from the old Blogger version of this site (http://www.markwilson.co.uk/blog/atom.xml and http://www.markwilson.co.uk/blog/rss.xml) have permanent redirects (HTTP 301) in my .htaccess file to redirect clients to the equivalent WordPress locations. This has been working since the migration to WordPress back in March.

I’ve had a FeedBurner feed at http://www.feedburner.com/marksweblog/ for a few years now and this remains in place. It’s using FeedBurner’s SmartFeed technology to translates the feed on-the-fly into a format (RSS or Atom) compatible with the visiting client. Since FeedBurner have made their MyBrand service free, I’ve set up feeds.markwilson.co.uk as a DNS CNAME record, pointing to feeds.feedburner.com so basically http://www.feedburner.com/marksweblog/ and http://feeds.markwilson.co.uk/marksweblog/ are interchangeable (although there is no guarantee that I will always use FeedBurner, so the http://feeds.markwilson.co.uk/marksweblog/ address is preferable).

Because I needed to make sure that anyone using the standard WordPress feed locations listed below would be redirected to the new feed, I used the FeedBurner FeedSmith WordPress plugin to redirect readers to http://feeds.markwilson.co.uk/marksweblog/ from any of the following:

http://www.markwilson.co.uk/blog/feed/
http://www.markwilson.co.uk/blog/feed/atom/
http://www.markwilson.co.uk/blog/feed/rdf/
http://www.markwilson.co.uk/blog/feed/rss/
http://www.markwilson.co.uk/blog/feed/rss2/

For the time being, the per-post comment feeds are unchanged (very few people use them anyway).

The really smart thing that FeedSmith does is to redirect most clients to FeedBurner except if the user agent indicates that the request is from FeedBurner, in which case access is provided to the syndicated content from WordPress. This is shown in the extracts below from the logs offered by my hosting provider:

HTTP 307 (temporary redirect)

This request (from an Internet Explorer 7 client) receives a temporary redirect (HTTP 307) as can be seen in the results from the SEO Consultants check server headers tool:

SEO Consultants Directory Check Server Headers – Single URI Results
Current Date and Time: 2007-09-13T15:22:18-0700
User IP Address:
ipaddress

#1 Server Response: http://www.markwilson.co.uk/blog/feed/
HTTP Status Code: HTTP/1.1 307 Temporary Redirect

Date: Thu, 13 Sep 2007 22:22:03 GMT
Server: Apache/1.3.37 (Unix) mod_fastcgi/2.4.2 mod_auth_passthrough/1.8 mod_log_bytes/1.2 mod_bwlimited/1.4 PHP/4.4.7 FrontPage/5.0.2.2635.SR1.2 mod_ssl/2.8.28 OpenSSL/0.9.7e
X-Powered-By: PHP/4.4.7
Set-Cookie: bb2_screener_=1189722124+216.154.235.143; path=/blog/
X-Pingback: http://www.markwilson.co.uk/blog/xmlrpc.php
Last-Modified: Thu, 13 Sep 2007 21:40:23 GMT
ETag: “d7e58019e9dbb9623c54b0721b0e1f3c”
Location: http://feeds.markwilson.co.uk/marksweblog
Connection: close
Content-Type: text/html

HTTP 200 (OK)

Meanwhile FeedBurner receives an OK (HTTP 200) response and is served the full feed. The advantage to me is that each visitor who receives a redirect is served just 38 bytes from this website whereas the full feed (which varies in length according to the blog content) is considerably heavier (over 17KB based on the example above).

So far the most visible advantage to me is that I’ve consolidated all syndication into a single feed, upon which I have a variety of services running (or available). The as yet unseen advantage is the consequential reduction in the bandwidth taken up with syndicated content – with some feedreaders polling the feed several times a day, that should be a considerable saving.

An interesting approach to information management

Most of us have far more information in our feed readers than we can ever cope with (on top of all the unread e-mail newsletters) but a couple of nights back Microsoft UK’s Paul Flaherty gave out a great tip for searching for information contained in favourite blogs. He suggested adding all your favourite RSS feeds to an Outlook-integrated feed reader and then using Lookout (or any desktop search tool) to search Outlook when trying to find that snippet of information that you’re sure you saw something about somewhere…

Time for a new feed reader

Ever since I started using an RSS aggregator, I’ve used Feedreader. It’s a simple, but functional RSS and ATOM feed reader and I like it a lot, but twice now it has lost my headlines. The first time was probably about a year ago, so I downloaded the latest version and installed it. Then, a couple of days back, my PC crashed and when I restarted, Feedreader couldn’t read the headlines file. There was no option to retry. It just recreated it, downloaded the most recent headlines again, and I didn’t have a clue what I’d read and what I hadn’t (and of course had lost most of the earliest posts that were cached). I was running version 2.7, build 646 (the latest version is 2.9) but instead of upgrading (that’s the mixed blessing of open source software – there’s always a later version), I think I’ll try something different…

I thought about using Firefox’s Live Bookmarks, but they are just not quite what I’m after (and I couldn’t import my blogroll via OPML). Then I found Sage – a feed reader for Firefox.

Sage: a feed reader for Firefox

One of the things I love about Sage is the “newspaper style” rendering of feeds, as shown above. Another thing that I found out is that the line breaks do actually work in the RSS and ATOM versions of the feeds from this blog (sometimes there seems to be problem whereby the text appeared in Feedreader as one long block and I thought the problem was Blogger‘s ATOM generation).

It’s early days yet, but Sage is looking good so far.

Supplying logon credentials within a URL

Alex e-mailed me earlier and told me that the RSS feed on my family blog was broken. Actually, I’d password protected the site, and forgotten to update the details in Feedburner (which translates Blogger’s Atom output to RSS for me). I couldn’t find any fields in the feed service settings to supply username and password credentials until an unusually helpful error message suggested that I should enter the URL as http://username:password@domainname/document.extension.

I knew that particular syntax worked for FTP, but not for HTTP too! Of course, if I was really that bothered about security I should secure the site using HTTPS, but in this case, the username and password is only a deterrent and there’s not really anything there that needs SSL security.