SXSW: Dawn Foster on Hacking RSS

So I’m at Hacking RSS by Dawn Foster. She’s got some more stats about how much data we have in the world. Seems to be a big topic this year here at SXSW. [Incidentally she’s got some stats on her slides if you’d like to look. I didn’t scribble down the numbers.]

We’re talking about how to manage your RSS feeds. We subscribe to feeds that we mostly like, but everything in them may not be interesting. And it’s hard to keep up. And there are lots of feeds out there that we don’t subscribe to.

Some tips:

  • Spend the time to categorize.
  • Stuff you really care about at the top.
  • Don’t try to read everything.

How do you find sources you wouldn’t run across?
The Tweeted Times. Takes links from people you follow, and people they follow, and displays in a newspaper format with most-tweeted stuff at the top. Great way to catch up on Twitter.
Techmeme. Good way to get a global sense of what’s popular.

Foster says the magic is in filtering. Sets up Yahoo! Pipes to filter feeds on keywords she cares about. She also uses PostRank to filter up the blog posts that have lots of comments or mentions.

Big fan of Yahoo! Pipes. You can filter on any kind of data that shows up in the feed. Downsides: Learning curve, sometimes flaky. And it could be killed by Yahoo!.

FeedRinse: Easy to use, not as flexible.
FeedDemon: Allows some filtering.
Many of the smaller services have gone out of business.

Foster has a lot of screencasts on her blog about how to use Yahoo! Pipes.

Simple filter: Gives Yahoo! Pipes two RSS feeds, a few keywords to filter on, and it will spit out one RSS feed that displays only the posts matching the criteria.

PostRank takes a feed and ranks the posts based on engagement. Then you can get the output as an RSS feed. Then, the PostRank info goes into the RSS feed, so you can use it again in Yahoo! Pipes.

RSS feeds should include title, author, dates, links, content, but many also include things like latitude, longitude, and lots more — but your RSS reader likely isn’t displaying that. Also, many APIs include even more data and can be turned into RSS.

So using Postrank, she runs 3 RSS feeds through PostRank and then takes those best-post feeds and runs it through Yahoo! Pipes and sorts by best posts overall on a topic she’s interested in.

She also uses Yahoo! Pipes to modify the format of RSS feeds. This is cool. You’ll have to pull her slides, but she has one that shows you exactly how she’s reformatting feeds to make them all look and feel the way she wants.

Now Foster’s talking about using APIs. She’s going to show us what she does with BackTweets. This service tells you who’s sharing links, regardless of the shortening service they use. They used to offer info in a feed, but don’t anymore. So now you can use their API to get it. She’s building a feed that will show her who’s talking about her posts on Twitter. It involves the BackTweets API, the Twitter API and Yahoo! Pipes. Get the slides to see all the details.

Also has a nice flow for doing a vanity search using Yahoo! Pipes. I’m going to check this slide out later.

Foster’s caveats:
Don’t ever use this in a production environment. Instead, write it in a real programming language with cached results and error-checking. You can’t build your business on Yahoo! Pipes.

Oh good audience questions: Can you manipulate audio and video files included in the RSS feeds via Yahoo! Pipes? Foster says, you can definitely pass that through into your output feed, but doesn’t know of any way to evaluate that info in Pipes.

Also, question from the audience prompts Foster to clarify that when you use RSS, you still have to abide by licensing and copyright restrictions that the original content creator has.