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In Wired’s “It’s Time For An RSS Revival“, RSS gets a bit of love – some would say: “much needed love”. RSS isn’t a new web technology; its original version was published in 1999.

“The most amazing thing to me about RSS is that no one really went away from it,” says Wolf. “It still exists…”

Well, of course RSS still exists, and there are many websites, personal and commercial, that publish one or more RSS feeds. What purpose do these “feeds” serve?

If you have never used an RSS feed, you may not know what you’re missing. RSS stands for “RDF Site Summary” or “Really Simple Syndication“, but that does not explain much. An RSS feed will publish a list of “items”, each pointing to a webpage on the site publishing the feed. Details about the link may include a page title, a summary of the link’s content or the whole text, an audio attachment (think ‘podcast’), publication date, etc. Usually, these lists are used to publish the latest updates on a site. That’s how they allow you to use them to discover new opinions, news, updates to pages, etc. without having to go to each individual page. “Feed reader” software combines the RSS feeds of multiple feeds, thus giving you a single tool to discover news from multiple sites.

Such feed reader software is what I have used for more than a decade now, to keep up with the many news sources I like to consult. Combining multiple sources in a single tool on a mobile device (tablet of smart phone) was the first driver for my decision to go that way. The possibility to read those feeds even when you’re not even online was the second driver: indeed, once you have downloaded the feed, you do not need an internet connection to get your dose of news – and that was very handy in those days when mobile internet access was hard to get and expensive!

Even today, when I’m practically always online, I still prefer browsing “the news” through a feed reader. That allows me to bypass the homepages of sites filled with screaming titles and adverts, and use just the item titles to judge their value to me. I find this so much more compelling than surfing from website to website, that an RSS feed reader was the first mobile app that I paid for – I’m using Byline on iOS, and I love it!

I can only encourage you to try out a web-based RSS reader like Feedly if you want to discover what RSS is all about. Then go looking for the RSS icon on the sites you care about, and add those feeds to your Feedly account. When you decide to use a separate application or app to read your feeds, there’s plenty of choice – and more may be coming, if Wired’s talk of a revival comes through. And no, you don’t have to be tired of Facebook to start reading RSS feeds – just don’t be surprised when you discover that RSS feeds are more interesting than a stream of messages on one of the many social media…

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On December 23, 1999, I wrote the first post on this blog. Remember Userland’s Manila? That was my tool of choice then, because it was available online, without installation, and free to try. In those days, I wasn’t ready to produce HTML by hand, and I still don’t want to do that. Picking a blog tool was the start of my study of content management solutions. Remarkably, the Manila website is still up and running, inviting you to start a trial site – I’m not certain where that will lead you, though.

When Userland seemed unable to continue to offer a good service, I started building a copy of my blog on WordPress. I did exactly what I tell everyone to avoid: I migrated each and every post from Manila to WordPress by hand. You see, Manila had this one feature that I also needed in whatever tool able to replace it: a complete, yet simple backup mechanism. The HTML from the Manila backup could be pasted into the WordPress editor without much intervention. That’s how this site remains what it became over the course of the years: a not so virtual memory for travels on the Web – and in real life as well, of course.

Happy holidays!

 

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I like WordPress a lot. It is, in my opinion, one of the best content management systems on the market, and being available as a free and open source tool is a big added bonus. WordPress is also a big internet site, of course, hosting many thousands of blogs and sites. That is another matter, and it’s also what makes this article more than bit frightening: “WordPress ignoring terrorist propaganda, campaigners say” (on www.telegraph.co.uk). Core of the message:

One of the world’s biggest blogging websites is turning a blind eye to pages run by Isil, even after they have been reported, anti-terrorism campaigners say.

I hope Automattic, the owner of WordPress, has a good answer for that situation; better yet: I hope they can change their stance on this. Even freedom of speech has limits, and should not be an excuse to allow hate speech and terrorist exhortations on the internet.

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It’s been a long time since I suggested that a system like S5 should include an editing mode, and see my post of March 15, 2012 repeated that suggestion. As it turns out, there is now a very similar tool that does just that: remark. No, it’s not a Wiki, it’s a lightweight CMS, using Markdown (plus extensions) to do its magic.

To be honest, between my first suggestions in 2005 and now a number of similar tools have been created, many based on S5, by the way – just check out http://wiki.s5project.org/HTML_slideshow_tools. But things over there aren’t too lively anymore, it seems…

I’m waiting for a good opportunity to try ‘remark’ out, if only to see  on how many platforms it can be used for editing without too many limitations.

For a quick try-out, head over to Platon.io – it’s an editable webpage powered by remark.

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Bye Bye, Woozweb

I have been using the services of the french Woozweeb to monitor the availability and the performance of a few of my own websites since many years. A free Woozweb account allowed me to define up to five (later up to ten) URLs to be checked on a regular base (I don’t recall the exact frequency, but it was multiple times per hour). Woozweb would accumulate the responses, display a graph of response times as well as the latest HTTP response code, analyse the response headers, etc. Every so three of four weeks, I would check my account, to verify that the different providers were not failing to do what they promised: host a responsive website.

This should be part of your content management solution: after all, content isn’t worth anything if it is not available. So monitoring your site is an essential part of your CM system, even if you do so in a separate tool.

Although I received a mail to extend my Woozweb account just few days ago, an attempt to log into the site just showed a shutdown notice:

byebye-woozweb.png

I will be on the lookout for alternative solutions like Woozweb (suggestions are welcome). And remember: if you’re going to close down your service, make sure not to send out renewal notices after the shutdown!

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Google is big, in numbers. Google is big business, in numbers. Google embodies “search”, and we no longer know Altavista and the like from a good decade ago. So I pretty sure that, given the task, you could find “26 Crazy Facts You Never Knew About Google“, a nice infographic with a few tidbits about Google.

crazy-facts.png

But there are alternatives to Google, especially if you prefer a more private and less personalised search experience. OptiLocal presents an infographic comparing Google to DuckDuckGo.

I am a longtime user of Google, because of the quality of its search results. But I must admit that I’m no longer appreciating the barrage of “targeted” ads after any occasional search on websites that have nothing to do with Google, or so it seems. So I will be using DuckDuckGo the next weeks, and see what that gives in terms of results and in terms of how it feels…

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Here’s what I happened to see on April 17th, 2015, purely by accident, really – I wasn’t on the prowl for a example of bad website management.

20150417-smartbiz-content-curation-required.be

The titles in blue are links to news articles published on the site; the text below is the latest comment on said article. This shows that a spammer has been at work on this site for at least two years or so…

Note: the image just shows a small piece of the webpage – but to be clear: those comments were next to one another at that very moment. No doctoring of the image was necessary to see them as shown.

I know it can be hard to read every comment on your website, especially if your organisation publishes a news website – but if you do not handle such cases, then you’re likely to lose readers (like me!) who visit your site in search of interesting, timely news. Spam on your site, even if it’s just in the comments, means that the website and its authors do not care about their reader’s feedback. So you’re just pushing news bits on your site, without a bigger story? Even that looks like a (mild) form of spam to me…

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