Apple Takes on RSS NotificationsOne of the features of Apple’s soon-to-be-released Mavericks operating system is Safari “push notifications.” Similar to what you might be familiar with on an iOS device, these are updates that you can subscribe to from participating websites that will send an alert to Safari when content is updated. Apple’s site says that notifications will be updated even when you are not actively using your computer — meaning that the information you are being sent will always be available to you.

This sounds a wee bit like RSS, doesn’t it? Participating websites can send you updates as they happen, and Safari will track what you have seen. I am assuming that updates will be synchronized across your various devices so that if you read an article on one device, it will be marked as seen on your others (this will probably require an iCloud account).

This is a feature only available to people using Mavericks and Safari 7 (it is not clear if this will be available to earlier versions of the Mac OS or Safari). You also must have an account on Apple’s developer website to access the instructions for setting this up for your website.

It will be interesting to see if Apple manages to replace RSS in its ecosystem with this custom setup, at least for publishers or tech-savvy website managers who can adopt the technology.

A tip of the hat to MacRumors.

Feedly Offers an API

Screen shot from
Screen shot from

Feedly, the web service that inherited a large number of Google Readers users when Google pulled the plug on it, is now offering an API for developers who want to use the Feedly Cloud. You can use the API to access the more than 30 million feeds harvested and indexed by Feedly. The API allows the application to authenticate as a particular Feedly user, or to access everything.

Developers can sign up for the Feedly Cloud Developer Program and gain access to the developer sandbox. Signing up gives you a client id and client secret you can use to authenticate to Feedly. Completed applications can be pointed at the full Feedly data store.


Google Reader Latest Victim of Google’s Spring Cleaning

Oh nos! Google announced on March 13, 2013, that Google Reader would be shut down on July 1, 2013. When Bloglines shut down (and then was resurrected in a slightly different form in 2010), Google Reader was the last truly functional web-based feed reader left. I use it daily, as I’m sure others do. Not enough of us, it seems, for Google.

It seems I need to find another decent client for my RSS feeds. I may be in the minority, but I find a feed reader the best way to keep up.

Introducing Qrius, RSS for the other 90%

A new RSS service, Qrius (pronounced, I assume, “curious”), is aiming to bring RSS to the vast majority of Internet users who don’t read it. While the Qrius site is devoid of details, an article in AppleInsider today describes it like this:

The goal is to make subscribing to RSS feeds a painless process for a first-time user. With Qrius, users will simply click the icon featured on any of their favorite news sites, then sign in to the service using an existing Facebook, Twitter or Google+ login.

In its first iteration, Qrius will automatically send subscribed content to Taptu — a news reading platform also owned by Mediafed that offers content aggregation.

The idea is to add yet another “chicklet” icon to your web page (next to your Tweet this, Facebook this, etc., badges) that would send your RSS feed to the Taptu application. Qrius apparently plans future integration with Google Reader, but isn’t aiming for that user set yet — after all, people who use Google Reader are already the same folks who understand what RSS is for in the first place.

Google Getting out of the Advertising-in-Feeds Business

In another sign that RSS is continuing to lose its consumer focus, Google announced on Friday that it is eliminating the “AdSense for Feeds” business (see More Spring Cleaning on the Google blog). AdSense for Feeds allowed blog publishers to put ads directly into their RSS Feeds, item-by-item. As long as you channeled your RSS feed through FeedBurner, you could have Google apply advertisements to your feeds as they were displayed in the end-user’s browser.

While RSS feeds clearly have much utility, Google’s action is another clear signal that consumers are not reading RSS feeds directly in aggregators or their browsers the way they once did.  Google is moving fairly quickly to eliminate AdSense for Feeds. According to the announcement, they will “start to retire it” on October 2, and close it on December 3. This does not effect FeedBurner URLs directly, just the ability to have Google place advertisements in them. Presumably, Google will continue to place advertisements in Google Reader when it displays feeds, but you won’t get a cut of the action.

If you’re an AdSense for Feeds user, you can read more about what this means at


Pinterest ( the latest social media tool to emerge from the fringes to the spotlight. It’s something of a social media bulletin board for interesting images. Once you set up an account (invitation only, but you can request an invitation — mine came within hours), you are given a bookmarklet tied to your account so that can start pinning images you find on the web.

When you’re on a page that has an image you want to “pin,” you click the bookmarklet. Pinterest shows you thumbnails of all the images on that particular page. You select the thumbnail image you want and the board you want to add it to (you can create as many boards as you like).

Uses of Pinterest for Libraries

Pinterest has some interesting uses for libraries:

Copyright Questions

One of the interesting challenges faced by Pinterest is that of copyright. Pinterest works by copying a thumbnail image of whatever it is that you pin. When you pin an image, the original is linked from the thumbnail. While probably not, strictly speaking, allowed by copyright law, I suspect Pinterest is operating under the theory that if Google can cache a thumbnail of an image (or even of an entire web page) for its search tools, then they can do the same.

Complications arise, though, when one Pinterest use copies an image from another. You can "repin" another user’s image to one of your own boards. At that point, you’ve created another copy of the image on your board that links to the "original" — that is, the thumbnail on someone else’s board — and not to the original artist’s. There’s been quite a kerfuffle about this of late.

There’s a very nice summary of the issues around "pinning" things at the University of Minnesota’s Copyright Librarian blog (and a follow-up post) that I encourage you to read. It summarizes the issues far better than I can.

Pinterest via RSS

Pinterest doesn’t document its RSS feeds well, but I stumbled across some instructions for how they can be made.

  1. To get an RSS feed for all of a particular user’s boards, add “feed.rss” to the end of the user’s Pinterest page. So, for example, for RSS feed for the Darien Public Libraries Pinterest account is
  2. To get an RSS feed for a specific board, remove the end “/” from the board’s URL and then add “.rss”. So the Darien Library’s Best Books for Babies and Toddlers board has the feed

Happy syndicating! (And don’t ask about the potential for copyright issues when we you re-publish an RSS feed of a Pinterest board that itself has copyrighted but unlicensed images on it.)

The Paradox of RSS and Web Scale Discovery

Web Scale Discovery systems (products like Summon, EBSCO Discovery Service, Primo Central, and so on) make their customers love them through their comprehensiveness. These systems index hundreds of millions — some approach a billion items — from scholarly and popular sources, library catalogs, institutional repositories, and more. No matter how esoteric the topic you are looking for, you’re almost certain to find something that’s related. Or close to being related.

With their vast reach, these discovery systems open the door to being almost omniscient alert services. Their coverage is vast, so whenever something new is published on a topic, it is likely to find its way into the discovery index. The challenge, it turns out, is in letting people know when something new is available.

Discovery systems are primarily retrieval systems. They cast a wide net, and sort their results in relevance order. When something new is added to the index and the same search is run, the new items appears somewhere in the list. This is the challenge for any kind of current awareness system (whether it is RSS or email alerts).

If the system simply runs the search again and provides an RSS feed of the 100 most relevant results, for most searches, the new material will be nowhere near the top and the feed will contain exactly what you have already seen. For many topics, the new items won’t even make the relevancy cut and will be excluded.

If the system runs the search and provides an RSS feed in reverse chronological order (newest items on top), the newest items may well be so far down the relevancy ranking that they are, in fact, nearly irrelevant. Try a couple experiments. Do a search in your favorite tool and move down to the 5,000th result. Is it the item you’ve been looking for all your life? Almost certainly not. Do the same search, but resort by publication date (newest first). Is the top result relevant to your query? Again, probably not.

So what is needed is some sort of hybrid, database structure. The items from the original search result set that pass some relevancy threshold need to be saved. Whenever new items are added, these new items are compared to the existing list. If they are more relevant than items in the previously seen list, they are added to an alert, and the list of previously seen and previously alerted items grows. Figuring out which are new (to the user) items is not trivial.

Discovery and RSS are almost inherently at odds with one another. Any ideas on how to build a usable RSS feed to stay apprised of a topic?

Google Reader’s A-Changin’

Google recently announced that they are soon to relaunch Google Reader with a new design and are “going to bring Reader and Google+ closer together, so you can share the best of your feeds with just the right circles.” Although I am not a huge fan of Google+ (Aside from the coolness of Hangouts, I haven’t seen a reason to convert from Twitter and Facebook; my social circles don’t see to be active in Google+), one of the things that has griped me about Reader is that there has been no way to share RSS items with my Plus circles. If nothing else, that will soon change.
Something else that will change is that the Google Reader API (an unofficial, undocumented, and formally unsupported API) will at some point be phased out. This doesn’t make a difference to users of the Google Reader web site, but does matter for anyone who has been using Google Reader to track what has been read in applications like FeedDemon and others.
If you want to get your data from Google, they will continue to offer an OPML download of your feeds, but will be augmenting the list of subscribed feeds with your other personal data, including your shared items, friends, likes, and starred items. What you do with them then is your business.

Just How Dead is YOUR RSS Feed?

There has been another incarnation of the “RSS is dead” meme in the past weeks, with posts at TechCrunch and GigaOM debating the point. The conclusion of these posts seems to be that RSS is continuing its gradual evolution from being perceived as an end-user tool to being viewed as plumbing. And this is probably a good thing.
While I still consume most of my “blog-like” news and commentary via an aggregator, I rely more on recommendations through my social networks for learning what’s new. Perhaps that’s because I’ve become lazy about actively following lots of sources, and prefer the crowd to do the filtering for me. Perhaps its because the blogs and news sources I follow are less frequently updated (I know this blog falls in that category). Whatever the reason, I know my consumption patterns have changed. And I’ll wager that most people feel too busy to sift through everything published in every publication they like, and prefer instead to find like-minded individuals who share things of interest. Again, much like I do.
Still, if you’re curious to learn how your feed is consumed (and don’t use Feedburner or the equivalent), take a look at RSS4Lib’s YourStats log file analysis program. If you upload your publication’s log files and tell it what your RSS feed URL is, it will show you where your RSS feed is consumed — providing a good guess at your RSS readership. You may find the numbers surprising (high or low).

Farewell, Bloglines, It’s Been Swell

Bloglines, the venerable RSS reader that I — and tens of thousands of others — have used since 2005 is shutting down on October 1, 2010. Bloglines is making it easy to continue your feedreading habit elsewhere, replacing their front page with the 3 simple steps to export your folders and subscriptions in OPML format:

Exporting Bloglines subscriptions into OPML (click for larger version)

The inevitability of this, in retrospect, seems enormous, and I’m surprised my fondness for Bloglines’ simplicity has made me put up with its quirky behavior. (Quirky, of course, means almost constant brief outages on their perpetual beta version.) Bloglines’ move into selling advertisements on its front page (see Bloglines Succumbs to Advertising from September 2008) was obviously not enough to bring in the revenue needed to keep the service. When your only serious competitor is Google, I suspect almost nothing can save you.
In the blog post announcing the shut down, the trend behind the news is made clear:

The real-time information RSS was so astute at delivering (primarily, blog feeds) is now gained through conversations, and consuming this information has become a social experience. As Steve Gillmor pointed out in TechCrunch last year, being locked in an RSS reader makes less and less sense to people as Twitter and Facebook dominate real-time information flow. Today RSS is the enabling technology – the infrastructure, the delivery system. RSS is a means to an end, not a consumer experience in and of itself. As a result, RSS aggregator usage has slowed significantly, and Bloglines isn’t the only service to feel the impact. The writing is on the wall.

I made a similar point about the phase change in RSS from being a commodity in itself to being a transport mechanism in September 2009. Just as soundbite reporting in television and radio news changed that medium, so has ‘textbite’ exchange of information on the Internet. The overwhelming force of the conversation in Twitter and Facebook — where the granularity of information exchange is much smaller and seems to permeate the Internet with greater fluidity — has changed the game.
I’m not giving up on my RSS feeds (from blogs, news services, and other sources), but I’m switching to the only other game in town: Google Reader.