This is your Brain on New Media

There’s been a firestorm of late about the amount of repetitive stories on RSS, particularly in the technical blogs. Michael Arrington declared open war on embargoes, which touched off an insightful article from Louis Gray. (Thanks to this article from Smoothspan for sending me over.)

Louis writes:

While I look forward to banging through my Google Reader feeds every day, I can pretty much bank on seeing the same story, spun a different way, a good dozen or two dozen times by every single tech blog – even if it’s clear that they are just reporting that someone else reported the news. If you see a story has been covered already and you have nothing to add – leave it alone.

What is most interesting to me here is the personal and societal. We’re the guinea pigs in a new media reality. I would really love to hear a voice as incisive as Marshall McLuhan’s to help me understand what that is doing to my brain. We have here a media that can be treated either as hot or as cold. It is neither entirely overwhelming or intensively participatory. Neither is is somewhere in between – it’s something other than the media we’ve seen up until now. Its character is entirely dependent on the reader.

This media calls to the forefront each person’s ability to choose, and it’s likely for this reason that it’s becoming the arena for a brilliant hashing out of interpersonal ethics – When do I speak and when am I silent? What obligations do I have to the people who listen to me? What obligations do I have to myself when I participate in this? How much responsibility do I bear for the overall state of the media?

Still cooking these ideas…any insight welcome.

Showing Google Reader Feeds on a WordPress Sidebar

Google Reader has some great tagging and sharing features.  You can easily get an Atom feed of those stories that you have tagged with a particular tag – this is a great way to keep a public ‘current reading’ list.  It wasn’t as easy as I had thought it would be to get this feed up on my WordPress blog, but I found a way.  Hopefully the below will be helpful to anyone trying to do the same.

The feed, with concatinated titles

The feed, with concatenated titles

The Problem:

WordPress uses the Magpie RSS parser to parse feeds. This is true for the built in RSS widget and also the advanced KBRSS widget. Magpie has some limitations that are highlighted by Google’s feeds. In particular Magpie has a nasty habit of taking multiple <link> tags and squishing them into one, and doing the same with multiple <title> tags. Very bad behavior for a parser. Without any additional treatment, WordPress digests Google Reader links like the picture at right.

The Solution

I’ll cut out some of the wrong turns along the way.  This post, from EconTech, solves a parallel problem and gave me the key to fixing this one.  We need to scrub the feed before we send it over to WordPress.  He used Feedburner to clean it up and translate it to RSS, than let WordPress and Magpie digests the RSS that Feedburner spits out.

The Step-by-Step

  1. Get your Google Reader Feed URL (Settings -> Folders and Tags -> View Public Page -> Get the feed from your browser)
  2. Set up a Feedburner feed using the URL from step 1
  3. On the Feedburner feed, deactivate Browser Friendly and Smart Feed (under the Optimize tab)
  4. Still on the Feedburner feed, activate Convert Format using RSS 2.0.
  5. Note the URL of the feedburner feed
  6. Use that one to populate your RSS widget in WordPress


Bonus Points

  • I assume that the default WordPress RSS widget works, but I didn’t try it.  Part of what I like about Google Reader is the ability to add notes to the items you share, and I wanted to make sure those got fed in.  So I’m using the kbrss plugin.  You can follow the instructions to set that guy up – it’s pretty straightforward.  I use a template along these lines to get the fields I want:

<li><span class=’reading-date’>^pubdate[opts:date=F jS Y]$</span><br/>
<a class=’reading-link’ href=’^link$’ title=’^title$’>^title$</a><br/>
<span class=’reading-annot’>^gr=>annotation_content$</span></li>

  • If you get deeper into kbrss, you’ll probably want to use the ?kbrss=feed_url option to take a look at how WordPress reads your feed.  On my setup, I had to encode my feed url before this option would work.  Probably some sort of security issue.  Here’s a string encoder.


Missing Pieces

What’s left out of this solution is those second and third links and titles that were in the original feed.  In particularly, the title of the blog that the story originally came from doesn’t get carried through.  If you want to take up the charge, that’s something that should be picked up in a more robust solution.