Blog related things I’m playing with at the moment

In my limited spare time I’ve been fiddling with two minor ideas recently.

The first one was a little utility to give me a list of all the blogs written by people I follow on Twitter. I follow a lot of people in the web industry, and I know a lot of them have blogs, but I can’t be bothered to go through everyone’s details to find the blogs I don’t know about. So, enter some quick ColdFusion scripting to get the details of the people I follow from Twitter’s API, then I scrape some likely pages from their website’s looking for references to RSS and Atom feeds.

This went pretty well, although I found some problems with parsing feeds using CFHTTP, which meant I wasn’t always happy with the results. I might package this up in to a small website to give people the ability to do the same (if you want this, please let me know.)

I was quite happy with the results, and it let me find the blogs of several people in the Farm that I didn’t know wrote, leading me to find Arthur’s FTP CMS, which sounds very interesting.

Then, I hit the normal problem I have with following lots of blogs: I’m rubbish at looking at RSS readers. I’ve only had a few over the years and am currently using Google Reader, which is pretty good and has everything I could sensibly want from an RSS reader, except the ability to make me read it. Once I’ve been through my client related e-mail and got a decent amount of work done, and then checked the mailing lists I’m on and a bit of Twitter if I have time, I completely forget to look at my RSS reader.

I may be a bit of an internet dinosaur, but I find e-mail a great way for me to follow things. I’m now using Gmail, having had a falling out with my previously beloved Fastmail last year and moved fully over to Google’s service. I use e-mail all day and always have it open, so it seemed sensible that if I could get the blogs I’m following in to my e-mail, I’d read them more often.

Feedburner gives you the ability to have an e-mail feed from your RSS feed, but not all the blogs I am interested in use Feedburner. I couldn’t find a service that would e-mail them to me, so decided to hack one together. A few hours spread over a week or two later, and I have roughly what I want…

Blog posts in an e-mail folder

I’ve got a database holding a list of the blogs I found from my Twitter investigation, that’s now coupled up to some PHP using SimplePie to parse the feeds, and using Rmail to send them to me. A cron job polls the RSS feeds at regular intervals, looking for new posts.

I’m not sure it’s working very reliably yet, although it doesn’t seem too bad. SimplePie is much better at converting all sorts of RSS & ATOM feeds in to HTML than CFHTTP is, which is why I’ve gone from ColdFusion over to PHP. It’s running on my shared hosting account and seems quite happy. Once the posts hit Gmail I’m filtering them in to their own ‘blogs’ label so they don’t clutter up my inbox.

Most importantly, I’m now reading a lot more blog posts by my friends.

I’ve had to unsubscribe from a few that were linked up to Flickr as too many images were coming through in large batches, and from one or two aggregator blogs that were just showing me shorter copies of a lot of the feeds I was already subscribed to. Overall, I’m finding this a lot more helpful than a full RSS reader, it’s simple enough to do what I want and fit in with the way I like working, rather than giving me another thing to check.

Side note: if you’re subscribed to any of the blogs in the screenshot and you’ve noticed that the name of the feed is not who the e-mail has come from, that’s because I’m using their Twitter name as the sender’s name, rather than the blog title. I find it a lot easier to remember who is writing what that way.

Once again, I’ve wondered if this is worth developing in to a small service for people. I’m presuming I’m not the only person who finds RSS readers a hassle. So, if you’d be interested in this, please leave a comment or get in touch.

One thought on “Blog related things I’m playing with at the moment

  1. Joanne Munro

    I use a brilliant RSS Reader called Feedly. Once I got the bookmarklet doo-dah on my toolbar, a faint little icon appears at the bottom of any blog I’m on, and when I click it, it takes me to my RSS Reader where I can add the blog to a group. It’s really easy and I love it.

    You do have to find the blog in the first place though! It does suggest similar blogs though. Maybe take a look; it’s really clean and looks nice too – plus you can customise the appearance. Google Reader was hideous but Feedly is niiiiice!

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