Saturday, 12 January 2008

RSS and tagging working together

A number of things prompted this post, the main catalyst was a question that came up at work and which I hope to provide and answer: Why would somebody want an RSS feed of their (article) tags?. I hope I can at least answer why they might

Partly it was also something I read on ReadWriteWeb, 5 Ways You Can Fall in Love With Tagging Again. Much of this wasn't new to me but one statement in particular One of the best things about tagging URLs is that all kinds of RSSfeeds become available. Made me think a little. The RSS feeds of tagged urls I have employed before and we have been using tags to identify interesting urls to work colleages for sometime. Why just restrict yourself to tagged urls though, anything that you can tag online could result in useful RSS feeds (although it is usually going to resolve to a useful url). In fact it is sometimes easy to forget that feeds from tags represent tagged urls (the comments are useful here to add further information), a feed directly from a set of tagged resources could in theory provide richer information.

Another element was the recent and very fruitful experiments I have been having with tagging and RSS feeds to help me with the process of learning Chinese vocabulary. I tag online dictionary entries on Chinese words as urls in, keeping the dictionary definition in the title and comment (along with other notes in the comment) and consuming the feeds in various places allows me to sort, search through, view and categorise the words I am learning in many different ways. Becasue these are not new items some ways of consuming RSS don't allow you easily remove items that have moved from one category to another, but using a combination of GoogleReader, RSSOwl, live bookmarks, Netvibes etc. I have all the ways to view, sort, search, archive my word lists that I could ever wish for.

Back to the orignal question, having access to RSS feeds of your tags in an online application allows you sort search and view your data in ways that suit you but that may not be supported in the original application. If you use two or more applications for similar purposes then RSS feeds can allow you to "silo bust" and combine similar information that you are interested in from many different sources.

Ouch unfortunately thinking about this has led to an uncomfortable conclusion, although is tagging links, these links represent resources.
If you are writing an application and providing tagging for your users then perhaps you should ask "how do these tags add value over them just tagging the resources in a service like"

Perhaps one option is to co-opt your tagging systems to add other functionality to your site. By using a series of reserved "system tags" you can added a fileing cabinet of items for later reading or items for sharing etc. etc. In the same way that much new functionality is built on top of, (the readeroo plugin for example). If you already have data that maps tags to users why not use this to define other behaviours?

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

When RSS feeds disappear (Chinesepod)

I am now completely reliant on RSS feeds to keep up with changing content from all over the Internet, they allow me to monitor changes and new posts on far more sites than would be possible if I just used my browser and web addresses. Also I can often read content without visiting the sites themselves. I prefer to monitor feeds online
using a combination of Netvibes and Google Reader.

Where the system really breaks down is when the RSS feeds vanish and a small part of your information update system fails to update. Unfortunately Chinesepod have done this to me twice now. RSS feeds either disappearing or being re-assigned to new urls, they even managed to destroy most of the feeds on their Netvibes universe so I just deleted the tab (a bit unfortunate after they went to the trouble to set it up).

For example, I like to read Ken Carroll's blog but the feed has shifted on me at least a couple of times now (if you include the move from Chinesepod to Praxis), at least now he has his own domain ( I should be safe :).

I guess I am saying that you should aim to keep your RSS as permanent as humanly possible, even if you change the url structure of your site then url-rewrites or re-directs should be employed to safegaurd your subscriber base.

It seems we all need to remember that your website is not your product data and content that you produce may be being used and consumed by people that never or hardly every visit your website. I was delighted to discover recently that one of the many online presences where I work is now almost exclusively accessed via RSS requests rather than the website itself.

Generally of course I feel that Chinesepod do a very good and innovative job, and the fact that I bother to re-find Ken's output is an indicator that along with people like Stephen Downes (who Ken also mentions) I am often interested in what he has to say, many other sources of information would just be lost.