Tuesday, June 15, 2010

RSS Feeds 2: The Remixinator

RSS feeds are great for reading. But it's also possible to use them to do interesting things! Think of the information in RSS feeds as a simple raw material - like all purpose flour.

Flour itself can be used for a few things. You can use it to clean up oily spills, as dry shampoo(?!), or to put out a grease fire. But flour plus other ingredients becomes many things, from play-doh and paste to complex sculptures:

(Flickr photo courtesy of zakwitnij)

Here are a few neat-o things you can do with a cup or two of all purpose RSS feed and a few other ingredients/appliances.

1. Put it in a pretty container.

Roy Tanck's Flickr Widget requires Flash Player 9 or better.

Get this widget at roytanck.com

This widget takes the photos in my Flickr account and displays them in a post or a sidebar. All I did was enter my own Flickr RSS feed and a few other pieces of information, and voila! It will automatically update with new photos whenever I upload them to Flickr. You can click on the floating mini-photos to see the real deal on Flickr. Cool!

2. Put it on a map.
The map below was made using an RSS feed about earthquakes (from the U.S. Geological Survey), Google Maps, and an online application called rssmapper. Rssmapper is still in beta (that's techie-speak for "has a lot of kinks to be worked out"). I tried setting up a map of UFO sightings, but it didn't work. :(

Still, this is pretty spiffy, isn't it? As new earthquake reports are published in the feed, they show up on my map. I swear, I made this map MINUTES BEFORE the earthquake up in Ontario-Quebec today - cue the Twilight Zone theme...Anyway, here it is:

3. Blend, then pick and choose what you want.
Let's say you want only news about dogs from both the New York Times and the Boston Globe. There are many tools that can help you subscribe to just the news you want from just the sources you want.

One of the most powerful of these tools is called Pipes; it's designed and maintained by Yahoo. Pipes is so powerful, it's kind of intimidating at first. There are a lot of tutorials out there to get you started, though, and you can't break anything, so why not play a bit?

I made a Pipe that does the following:
1. combines book-related RSS feeds from Salon Books, Bloomsbury, The NY Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and the San Francisco Chronicle
2. selects only items that contain "children", "kids", "children's", and "kid's"
3. spits out an RSS feed of those selected items

Of course, I could just subscribe to all of these feeds and then scroll, scroll, scroll to find the reviews of children's books - but that would take a long, long time. This is much faster.

It's not 100% perfect, as there are a few irrelevant (to me) items that contain those words, but it works pretty well - I'd rather get a few irrelevant items than miss the important ones. I think it could be even better if I spend more time tweaking the filter to get it just right...maybe later.

So, as you can see, RSS feeds can be about much more than reading. You can remix and re-purpose them to make the Web do new things!

Mighty nifty, ain't it?
(Flicker photo courtesy of Bohman)


Adrienne said...

This was very informational-- I learned some new things! Thanks for sharing!

Ann K said...

Wow. I didn't know there was so much more you could do. Thanks!