Problems with RSS feed

David Kernohan complained recently that I don’t blog any more. Well, it’s true that I don’t blog *here* as much as I used to because over the last year or so I’ve been running several projects and, when I have time, often blog on the respective project sites.

However, I am still blogging here, but there’s been a problem with the Feedburner RSS feed. It seems that it’s been timing out and hasn’t picked up any posts since April 2012. I’ve been trying to fix it this morning but feedburner is pretty strict in how long it will wait to fetch a feed before it times out. I’m going to have to overhaul the blogs server to really fix it. In the meantime, why not subscribe to the actual blog feed, where you’ll see that I’ve written a number of posts since last April and am currently exploring the role of the university in the history of hacking.

Thanks for reading!

RSS in, RSS out. Experimenting with WordPress for scholarly publishing

My presentation for the RSP event: Doing it differently. No slides, just a live demo using the outline below.

1. WordPress is an excellent feed generator:

http://joss.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2009/04/15/addicted-to-feeds/

2. It's also an excellent, personal, scholarly CMS

http://joss.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2009/08/25/scholarly-publishing-with-wordpress/

3. If you have an RSS feed, you can create other document types, too

http://joss.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/2010/01/04/creating-a-pdf-or-ebook-from-an-rss-feed/

4. We conceived a WordPress site as a document (and a WordPress
Multisite install as a personal/team/dept/institutional multi-document
authoring environment)

http://jiscpress.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk
http://jiscpress.org

5. Here's my MA Dissertation as a WordPress site using digress.it

http://tait.josswinn.org/

6. WordPress allows you to perform certain actions on feeds, such as
reversing the post/section order

http://tait.josswinn.org/feed/?orderby=post_date&order=ASC

7. EPrints allows you to 'capture' data from a URI

http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/2004/

8. Suck it into your feed reader, for storage/reading - it's searchable
there, too.

https://www.google.com/reader/view/feed/http://eprints.lincoln.ac.uk/2004/2/index.html%253Forderby%253Dpost_date%2526order%253DASC

9. And use another service to create an ebook or PDF version

http://www.feedbooks.com/news

10. RSS. Loosely joined services:

Author: WordPress -->
                   Preserve: EPrints -->
                                        Read: GReader
                                              Feedbooks
                                              etc...

11. p.s. How about using EPrints to drive a WordPress site, too? Why extend a perfectly good preservation and storage application to include web 2.0 features, when it can be used to populate a cutting edge CMS with repo data?

Displaying a dynamic publications list from a repository on a staff profile page

I repeat this to people all the time. If I write it down here, then I only have to share a link ;-)

RSS feeds are a very popular way of syndicating content from one source website to another subscribing website.

Some university websites, such as the Institutional Repository or University blogs, produce RSS feeds but not all university websites can easily subscribe to them. However, by using ‘feed2js’, any website can display a syndicated news feed in just a few steps. This way, you can embed your blog or publication list in Blackboard or on your personal web profile, for example.

Creating a publications list from the repository

We use EPrints as our Institutional Repository. EPrints provides news feeds (RSS, RSS2, Atom) for every search query. Therefore you can create a news feed of publications by Faculty, School, Department, Research Team or Staff member. Having created the news feed, you can then display that list of publications on any web page of your choice.

An example staff profile using Feed2JS

Click on the image to see a real example

The advantage of this is that every time you deposit something new in the repository, the list will automatically update on your chosen web page. You never need to edit your publications list again.

Steps to embedding your feed

Create your publications list. Use the Advanced Search page to construct your publications list. If you want a personal publications list, simply search for your name. If you have a common name, your search may return publications that belong to someone else. In that case, you should keyword all your repository items with a unique ‘key’, such as ‘q73g’. You can then search for that keyword and your name and only your items will be returned by the search.

Search results

Copy your feed URL. Typically, you need to right-click on the orange RSS 2.0 icon on the search results page and copy the link.

Go to http://feed2js.org/index.php?s=build and paste your link into the URL box. If you are a member of the University of Lincoln, contact me for a better link, hosted at the university.


From this point on, you can click the ‘Preview Feed’ button at any time to see what your feed will look like. Read the listed options carefully. They allow you to choose whether you wish to display the title of the feed; whether you wish to show the full content of the feed or just the titles; whether you wish to show images or video content in the feed (if there is any in the original source), etc. Experiment by previewing the feed to see what looks best for you.

Previewing a feed

Previewing a feed

When you are happy with your feed, click the ‘Generate Javascript’ button. Copy everything inside the Get Your Code Here box. Note how the box scrolls. Copy it all!

Example generated javascript

Example generated javascript

Paste the javascript into the appropriate place in your website’s HTML code. Save your web page and examine your work. The embedded feed should fit in well with your existing web site design and use the colour scheme you have chosen for your site. If you wish to make the publications list stand out from your web page, you should read the page about dressing up your output.

There is no more you need to do. The feed will automatically update every hour or so with any new content from the source website.

Creating a PDF or eBook from an RSS feed

This morning, I found myself on Baseline Scenario, a well-known site which discusses the economic crisis. I noticed that the authors of the site had laboured over producing a PDF version for each month of their archive, by copying and pasting to Word and producing a PDF. There’s a nicer way of doing this, I think. When you’ve done it once, it should take you no more than ten minutes to go through the whole process any other time.

  1. WordPress provides a way to filter content by date. In our example, we’ll grab the RSS feed from the first month of publications: http://baselinescenario.com/2008/09/feed The permalink structure is clear enough on WordPress. For Blogger, it’s nowhere near as intuitive.
  2. The feed will display the articles in descending date order. When you are reading the PDF or eBook version, you don’t want to read the last article first, as you would on the website. To reverse the order of the feed, use Yahoo Pipes (or for WordPress, see @mhawksey’s comment below). You can clone my example. If you’ve not used Yahoo Pipes before, don’t worry. You just need a Yahoo account. The example I give is as simple a pipe as you will see and should make sense as soon as you look at it.
  3. Once you’ve created the pipe of the feed in ascending order, save and run the pipe. Look for the RSS icon and copy the pipe’s RSS link, which should look like this: http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/pipe.run?_id=cb438b51b2819eb1f4f5ec6f10daf09e&_render=rss
  4. Next, go to FeedBooks. Sign up for an account if you don’t already have one. Now, we create a Newspaper.
  5. Click on News in the menu and then on Create a newspaper. Give it a name and tag it. In our example, we’ll call it Baseline Scenario Archive.
  6. Click on ‘Add a RSS feed’. Give it a name (in our case ‘September 2008′)  and paste your RSS feed into the box. Once it’s found and accepted your feed, click ‘Publish’.
  7. You can now click on the name of the specific feed and you’ll be presented with a page that offers an ePub, Kindle and PDF versions of your feed. Here’s the Baseline Scenario September 2008 example.
  8. That’s it. You can do it with whole sites, too, if you like. Here’s one I did earlier (Blogger). The only thing you need to remember is to ensure that the RSS feed contains all the items you’re looking for. For the Blogger site, the source feed looks like this: http://www.blogger.com/feeds/27481991/posts/default?max-results=1000 A thousand items is more than enough to capture this site for quite some time. For WordPress, the site owner has to change their Reading Settings to include sufficient items. For the Baseline Scenario, they need to set this at a number high enough to ensure that a month’s worth of posts are included. I would just set it at 3000 and then forget about it. It would mean the entire site could be captured this way for the next year or so.

Having problems? Got a question? Leave a comment.

PubSubHubbub: Realtime RSS and Atom Feeds

It’s made Dave Winer happy, which is no easy task, so I think PubSubHubbub is worth mentioning here. If it’s working as it should, this post should appear in my Google Reader, almost immediately after I’ve published it. That’s because PubSubHubbub is “a simple, open, server-to-server web-hook-based pubsub (publish/subscribe) protocol as an extension to Atom [and RSS].” My blog feed is managed by FeedBurner which has already implemented the new protocol, as has Google Reader FriendFeed. They should therefore ‘talk’ to each other in realtime. Watch the video and you’ll see how it works. It’s pretty straightforward. It just takes a company the size of Google to push it through to adoption. The engineers say they were using it like Instant Messaging the night before the demo, which says something about how responsive this is. Technically, it should be another challenge to Twitter in that it allows for a distributed method of near realtime communication.  I’d like to see that. I feel like an idiot communicating within the confines of  Twitter, sometimes.

Open Education Project Blueprint

Each participant on the Mozilla Open Education Course, has been asked to develop a project blueprint. Here is the start of mine. It’s basically a ‘Personal Learning Environment’ (PLE)1and I’m going to try to show how WordPress MU is a good technology platform for an institution to easily and effectively support a PLE. I’m going to place an emphasis on ‘identity’ because it’s something I want to learn more about.

Short description

University students are at least 18 years old and have spent many years unconsciously accumulating or deliberately developing a digital identity. When people enter university they are expected to accept a new digital identity, one which may rarely acknowledge and easily exploit their preceding experience and productivity. Students are given a new email address, a university ID, expected to submit course work using new, institutionally unique tools and develop a portfolio of work over three to four years which is set apart from their existing portfolio of work and often difficult to fully exploit after graduation.

I think this will be increasingly questioned and resisted by individuals paying to study at university. Both students and staff will suffer this disconnect caused by institutions not employing available online technologies and standards rapidly enough. There is a legacy of universities expecting and being expected to provide online tools to staff and students. This was useful and necessary several years ago, but it’s now quite possible for individuals in the UK to study, learn and work apart from any institutional technology provision. For example, Google provides many of these tools and will have a longer relationship with the individual than the university is likely to.

Many students and staff are relinquishing institutional technology ties and an indicator of this is the massive % of students who do not use their university email address (96% in one case study). In the UK, universities are keen to accept mature, work-based and part-time students. For these students, university is just a single part of their lives and should not require the development of a digital identity that mainly serves the institution, rather than the individual.

How would it work?

Students identify themselves with their OpenID, which authenticates against a Shibboleth Service Provider.2 They create, publish and syndicate their course work, privately or publicly using the web services of their choice. Students don’t turn in work for assessment, but rather publish their work for assessment under a CC license of their choice.

It’s basically a PLE project blueprint with an emphasis on identity and data-portability. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get a fully working model to demonstrate by the end of the course, but I will try to show how existing technologies could be stitched together to achieve what I’m aiming for. Of course, the technologies are not really the issue here, the challenge is showing how this might work in an institutional context.

I think it will be possible to show how it’s technically possible using a single platform such as WordPress which has Facebook Connnect, OAuth, OpenID, Shibboleth and RPX plugins. WordPress is also microformat friendly and profile information can be easily exported in the hCard format. hResume would be ideal for developing an academic profile. The Diso project are leading the way in this area.

Similar projects:

UMW Blogs?

Open Technology:

OpenID, OAuth, RPX, Shibboleth, RSS, Atom, Microformats, XMPP, OPML, AtomPub, XML-RPC + WordPress

Open Content / Licensing:

I’ll look at how Creative Commons licensing may be compatible with our staff and student IP policies.

Open Pedagogy

No idea. This is a new area for me. I’m hoping that the Mozilla/CC Open Education course can point me in the right direction for this. Maybe you have some suggestions, too?

  1. See Personal Learning Environments: Challenging the dominant design of educational systems []
  2. See the JISC Review of OpenID. []