Category Archives: My Projects

Are you making a SaaS app?

I am currently making a Software as a Service (SaaS) application which I hope will be a product people are happy to pay for as it will help their business. I’m currently looking for other local people who are doing the same thing so we can swap notes about marketing, problems we’re hitting, help inspire/kick each other up the arse when required, and so on.

I’ve met Trevor who runs a SaaS recruitment software solution ApplicantExtra, and Thomas who runs a Dropbox to long-term archive service I’ve also met Ian who is part of an agency who are also creating an application on the side of their client work.

If you live in the Brighton / Worthing / Eastbourne area and want to meet for a coffee or pint and swap notes, I’d be very interested in hearing from you. If you’re further afield, I’ll still be happy to hear from you but meeting up will be harder.

Please leave a comment, or send me an e-mail through


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.

Share ideas through Thought Pipe

During the discussion after my talk at Barcamp Brighton 4, several people wanted a place where they could publically swap ideas, in the hope that someone would pick them up and develop them. This came from Danny Hope’s experience where he described a CSS comment stripping service on his Flickr, and David Stone then built it for him.

As a developer, I like short projects I can build for a fun break from client work, and it looks like I’m not alone in that.

As a starting place for people to talk about ideas, I’ve opened this Google Group – – where people can start talking about their ideas. Please join up and put your oar in.

The inspiration for my small projects was the 5K App competition, organised by John Montgomery and you can read about what I did here in my 5K app posts.

I’ll put some ideas in to the group in the next day or so to try to kick things off. If it sounds interesting to you, please subscribe and join in.

5K App: Article Suggester

For my third and final 5K app for the £5 App competition I built a cut-down version of something I’ve been meaning to build for ages, which is part of the reason for having the 5K limit in the first place – it forces you to concentrate on the main point of a script or programme and leave out everything else.

At heart, the Article Suggester is a very simple application: you give it a bunch of text (for instance an article or blog post that you’re writing) and it will suggest a list of articles from the Guardian website.

Behind the scenes, things are slightly more complicated. When the form containing the text is submitted it’s first run through the Yahoo Term Extraction tool, which gives back a list of words and phrases it thinks are important from the text. The script then runs this list through the Guardian’s Open Platform content API and gets back a couple of articles related to each phrase, offering them up as links next to the submitted text to help with further research.

Try out the Article Suggester.

Both the Yahoo API and Guardian API have limits on their use, so if this gets popular it may not work. I’ll post up the source code soon so people can get their own API keys and extend it any way they want.

The code is written in PHP and uses SimpleXML to work through the data coming back from the APIs. Currently it’s only 2,292 bytes, so there’s loads of space left in the 5K, I just don’t have any time to add new bits before the competition presentation and judging on Monday.

If you’re interested in seeing the competition presentations, it’s happening at the Skiff from 8pm on Monday 20th April.

5K App: Portal Me

I enjoyed building my first 5K App, the Twitter Biorhythm bot, so much I started building another app. In fact, I started building the second app. before I’d even finished the bot because it was so easy to put together.

This app. was inspired by Jeremy Keith’s talk at the £5 App meet in February about HuffDuffer, his podcast creation service. Within HuffDuffer Jeremy uses Google’s ‘Social Graph‘ API to help broaden the usefulness of the site without bothering the person using it. For instance, if you give it your Twitter name it will use your Twitter icon as your icon on Huffduffer, and it will also offer links to other popular services that it’s found you on using the Social Graph. You can see this at work on the ‘Elsewhere’ section of a profile, the links are created by looking up where else you have profiles via the Social Graph API.

In the past I have thought it would be useful to be able to put someone’s name in to a web page, and get back a set of their posted information from various sites. This is a bit cyber-stalking like, but it’s helpful to be able to get a quick picture of someone’s online life, especially if you’ve just met them as a potential client or through networking.

The Social Graph information would give me a simple way of looking up at least some information about someone. After a poke around in the documentation I found I could easily build a URL that included the URL of a page about someone that could be included in the graph, e.g. their blog or Twitter page. Giving this to the API and asking for ‘otherme’ information meant it would give me back a bunch of XML which includes profile pages on sites registered to that person, including the URL of RSS/Atom feeds from  those pages. I could take those feed URLs and make a page of posts from the person from various sites.

As this was to be a 5K App, I started knocking the code up in ColdFusion, which only needs a very small amount of code for parsing RSS and Atom feeds using the CFFEED function, and it’s XML parsing is pretty short too.

I got a prototype working and it only needed a couple of K’s worth of code. As I had so much spare, I decided to add some basic caching so it wouldn’t request the RSS feeds every time the page was refreshed.

The caching first checks a directory where feeds are saved. If it can’t find a feed, or the saved one is over an hour old, it goes on to request the feed and save it in to the cache directory. Then it reads the feed out of the cache.

Finally, a bit of styling, giving away the fact that I’m not a designer, and it was finished. The code is 4041 bytes, and you can try it out for yourself here: Portal Me.

It works best with people who have several sites which are registered in the Social Graph, and it only works for sites which are tied to the person by using the ‘rel=”me”‘ microformat code on the link (places like Flickr and Twitter do this automatically for you.)

Here’s a Portal for Jeremy Keith from his website address, and one for my friend Josh Russell based on his Twitter account.

One problem with Portal Me is that the Social Graph isn’t perfect, and if you haven’t tied your accounts together properly it shows some odd effects. For instance, if you make a portal for me based on my Twitter account you get less results than if you look me up via my main website address. I’ve only recently started making sure all of my various profiles link to the same site, and also that the site links back to tie them all together, so it may be sorted out over time.

I’ll put some coments in the code and put it up for downloading soon.

Try Portal Me for yourself.