Krantenkoppen op popnuuz.com

Een tijdje geleden merkte ik dat krantenkoppen.be verdwenen was. Ik gebruikte die site regelmatig om een overzicht te krijgen van wat er in de kranten beweegde bewoog die dag, “wat ik gelezen zou moeten hebben”. Na enkele weken dacht ik: nou dan maak ik hem gewoon zelf, maar beter. Dus ik begon te experimenteren met het importeren van RSS feeds en het opvangen van het klikken op artikels zodat ik “populaire artikels” kon tonen. De eerste versie was nogal traag dus ik stak er op verschillende niveaus ‘caching‘ in, en de uiteindelijk goed werkende versie staat nu online:

belgie.popnuuz.com – overzicht van Belgische krantenartikels

Krantenkoppen: belgie.popnuuz.com

Ik heb mijn inspiratie getrokken uit zowel krantenkoppen.be als popurls.com . Je ziet een korte inhoud van het artikel als je over de link gaat met je muis (‘mouse-over‘) zodat je beter kan beslissen of je het artikel wil lezen of niet. Er is een splitsing op topics: zowel inhoudelijk (binnenland/buitenland/economie/…) als geografisch (per provincie), en per categorie wordt er een top 50 bijgehouden, alsook een globale top 50. Hoe meer mensen de site gebruiken als nieuwsoverzicht en doorklikken naar artikles, hoe waardevoller de Populaire Artikels in Belgie – belgie.popnuuz.com/pop link wordt.

De bronnen zijn, naast de kranten, ook de tijdschriftten (Knack/Trends) en enkele websites (Clint, Brusselblogt/Gentblogt). De URL laat vermoeden dat er ook een franstalige versie kan komen, en dat is dan ook correct. Ik ben nu nog bezig met het verzamelen van  de juiste RSS feeds daarvoor.

Check het eens uit!

CalendarBurner: Feedburner for iCal calendars

I am currently using my experience with milonga.be to build a similar site for Tango in Bulgaria. One of the major components of the site is the tango calendar. In this case I have chosen not to use a special iCal visualisation tool (more on that later in a series posts on Tango2.0), but just the standard Google Calendar IFRAME-based widget.

It’s not a bad widget, but it’s too limited. You can only display “Day/Week/Month/Agenda” style, the colors and fonts are fixed and it does funny stuff for events that continue after 12:00AM (which tango events regularly do, believe me).

I’ve already talked about the fact that iCal is a sissy format and that Gcal needs some more features. I was just thinking that it would be nice if some company would jump on that and provide the whistles and bells for iCal/vCal feeds (like those of Google Calendar), just like Feedburner did with RSS/podcast feeds (and they got bought by Google, so maybe their idea wasn’t half bad). So I introduce the following concept: CalendarBurner (since the Calburner/iCalburner domains are taken).

Continue reading CalendarBurner: Feedburner for iCal calendars

Reinventing the wheel: Twitter backchannel

I was chatting a bit with Bart about Barcamp, and I asked the inevitable question: “Should we do something with Twitter?” To which Bart’s answer was: “Maybe, but what?”. Let’s see:

  • create a “BarcampBrussels” Twitter account, which would serve 2 purposes: 1) be a source of Barcamp organisational info (“Speaker XYZ has to leave early, wants to do his speech before noon, anyone wanna swap?“) and 2) be the ‘glue’ between all Twitterers that are interested in Barcamp: the creation of a BarcampTwitterFriends group, of those who follow that channel.
  • But the Barcamp Twitter account also gets the updates of all its friends, so wouldn’t that be good info too? Well, you do get *all* updates, so not only the “Barcamp speech about XYZ rocks” but also the “feeding my cat” messages. What if you could create a filter on the aggregated messages? Hey: Yahoo! Pipes can do that! We take the RSS feed with all the Barcamp Twitter friends (twitter.com/statuses/friends_timeline/[code].rss), pipe it through Yahoo and only use the updates with the word “Barcamp”!

    There are some issues with that: people have to remember to prefix each Barcamp-related comment with “Barcamp” (they choose a differente namespace, as it were). That’s cumbersome and ugly. Also, the Twitter RSS only lists the 20 last updates, so the filter might easily remove all updates and leave an empty screen. Even worse, it seems the RSS feed is only updated every X minutes (easily 30, from my experience). So it seems we should have to use the Twitter API to create a live-updating feed. Imagine we do that:

    Then we refresh it every X seconds, project it on a screen and tada!! … ladies and gentlemen: the backchannel! We’re not the first to think of this, of course.

What’s your take: should we do anything with Twitter? Set up a group chat in MSN Messenger or Skype? Or use an classic IRC backchannel? (Who still has an IRC client on his laptop these days?)

Yahoo! Pipes: Get-Remix-Deliver model

Yahoo! Pipes is an RSS mashup application from Yahoo. It allows you to merge, sort, filter and combine RSS feeds. Since it is primarily a remix/mashup application, I’ve tried to list its features in my Get-Mix-Deliver model:
Yahoo Pipes

It’s easy to get excited about Pipes. I like working with it, because the UI paradigm (flowchart-based) matches the way engineers think. I’ve been testing it out a bit and while it is a very slick version 1.0, there are a number of features missing, in my opinion, some of which are crucial:
pipes-modules2

  • RSS input only: you can only use RSS feeds as input. There is not a way to add other types of input, nor something like Feed43 to parse a webpage and convert it into RSS.
  • More RSS Sources: specifically for search results on e.g. IMDB (‘official data’), Technorati (‘aggregated user data’), …
  • No regular expressions: you can’t really manipulate the data in title or description fields. If I start from IMDB’s ‘born on this day’ feed, all titles are like “Matt Groening (53)”. What if I want to lose the age, so I can do a search on Flickr with only the name?
  • RSS output only: it would be easy to add Javascript visualisation, or widget support. Oh, wait, a link with Yahoo Maps, that would be neat!
  • Modular approach: imagine the possibility to add custom made source modules, operator modules … That would make Yahoo Pipes a versatile toolbox. But maybe the Brickhouse team under Caterina Fake might already be working on that.

How to visualize a timeline

I am working on a timeline of animation movies: specifically to see when Disney started to fade and Pixar/Dreamworks took over. What films were made when, who made them and in what way do they coincide with activities of e.g. Steve Jobs. Oh, and to see where that new contender, Blue Sky Studios (“Ice Age”) fits in.

I first started out with Excel: I figured I’d have a bunch of dated events and throw a quick XY chart onto it. But that didn’t feel right. I then turned to Powerpoint and created a horizontal timeline, on which I could place blocks. That works OK for events that are far apart, but not for a quick succession, nor for events with a duration (from … to …). And, frankly, it looked rather ugly:
Timeline: animated movies

Which left me with two questions:

  1. how do other people create their timelines, and
  2. are there on-line tools that let me do it easily?

Continue reading How to visualize a timeline

Lies, damned lies and Google trends

Yesterday I was browsing through my freshly arrived Tufte book “The visual display of quantitative information“. One example of “garbage in, garbage out” that he gives is the London Stock Exchange index (which went way down one year in Dec) and the solar radiation in that same year (which obviously also went down in the winter). Plotting both lines in the same graph gives the impression of correlation (Stock Exchange went down because of lack of sun).

Now take a look at this chart:
Google Trends: RSS

This seems to imply that, since the term “RSS” is more searched for than “blogs”, that RSS is more popular than this whole “blogs” thing, right?

And this is exactly what was written in businessweek.com. It was cited by socialsoftware.weblogsinc.com, who -to their credit- added the wise remark that:

To be honest, I do think that RSS is as important as I said above, but in terms of use frequency it’s also got the semantic advantage of only having one tense. People will write about and search for blogs, blog and blogging for example – but RSS is a one-term wonder.

Continue reading Lies, damned lies and Google trends

PDF podcasts: proof of concept

Videography magazine: via PDFBackground
I read a lot of info on digital cinema these last months. I find there is little syndicated content (blog feeds) to be found on the topic. Some sites have a page of press releases and/or an email newsletter, but that’s about it. That’s why I have created some custom RSS feeds with feed43. (e.g. Digital Cinematography feed for the CMP Digital Cinematography Magazine)
What I do see is that some sites publish really nice magazines in PDF (Portable Document Format – by Adobe) format (see Videography on the right). You only know about these if you go visit the site of course – very Web 1.0. So if there could be a feed that alerts me of new issues of these PDF files … And while we’re at it, why not put the PDF link as an enclosure in the RSS feed, podcast style? And just like an MP3 podcast is automatically transferred to a portable MP3 player, could a PDF podcast be automatically printed? The answer is: Yes. Let me show you how.
Continue reading PDF podcasts: proof of concept

WizaRSS: a wizard player based on RSS


I had an idea recently that I probably won’t be able to work out, so I’m just gonna throw it here and see if anyone feels like putting the nuts and bolts together.

It’s about step-by-step wizards (i.e. the “Next-Next-Finish” idea). Please follow my thought process:
(a) I’ve made a pretty popular wizard for podcasting with Blogger and Smartcast one year ago; (b) I also have been following Jon Udell’s efforts with screencasting (and also more on mastuvu.typepad.com) and (c) I recently have made a project based on photofeeds.
Well now, eventhough I am wary of seeing everything as a nail just because I have the RSS hammer, I think there is a nice synergy possible.

Imagine a generic wizard visualizer. It takes as input an RSS feed and considers each of the RSS items to be a step in the wizard process. It then shows each step in a userfriendly way: either as a kind of slideshow, with “next” and “previous” button, or as a timeline, with zoom-in on a specific step if you click on it, or … All AJAX, CSS and multimedia wizardry is possible. That is purely a presentation-layer issue. Once the wizard content is made, the rest is make-up.

Some examples/remarks:

  • think of a photofeed” wizard: an image is shown for each step, with some HTML text underneath.You could zoom in on the picture. I have made a demo of such a feed on wizarss.blogspot.com and a stub of what such a generic wizard visualizer could look like: WizaRSS stub.
  • think of a “podcast” wizard: for each step, there is an audio clip of 10-60 seconds explaining in simple terms what should be done (with a small Flash MP3 player in the page).
  • think of a “screencast” wizard: for each step the screencast is shown to make things more tangible.
  • another type of visualizer could convert the RSS to a SMIL or ASX multimedia playlist.
  • a good wizard player would have templates, or customizable CSS stylesheets
  • anyone could make a nice wizard with Blogger (and Feedburner SmartCast). Like: recipees, how-to-repair-your-bicycle, bonsai-101, …
  • since RSS is reverse chronological, the last step is listed as most recent, so as the first item in the feed

All feedback is welcome!

Update: Pascal already has a WizaRSS Powerpoint-like S5 presentation player!

PS: I create a new blog on Blogger, and within 15 minutes I have a comment spammer. Some morons scraping the “Recently Updated” on the Blogger homepage?

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