Links: 1-29-2007

IM and RSS: Rome is on Fire

Last August, Marshall Kirkpatrick (another Portland resident) posted an entry to TechCrunch about a company called FeedCrier which:

… makes it easy to receive rapid notification of new items in an RSS feed by IM

I bookmarked the link on, noting offhandedly that it would probably be easy to do something like this using Wildfire and Rome Fetcher… Almost 5 months to the day later, I’m really proud to say that it wasn’t easy, but it’s definitely doable, albeit with a slightly different aim.

If you swing by my website (instead of viewing this post in your favorite feed reader), you’ll see a list of ‘subscription options’ in the right hand navigation bar: RSS, AIM, Yahoo, MSN, Google Talk and Jabber / XMPP (the full set of IM services thanks IM Gateway Plugin). Clicking on RSS takes you to the feed so you can subscribe with a feed reader, clicking on any of the others results in a fancy schmancy dialog box (courtesy of YUI), into which you can plug in your preferred instant messaging username … click ‘subscribe’ and AJAX will send a request to the Wildfire plugin I created (proxied by mod_proxy), which will then send you an IM to confirm that you really want to receive alerts for this feed. Click the link in the IM and you’re off and running. The service then polls the feed you subscribed to at regular intervals, sending you a message if it finds something new. It supports all the feed formats that Rome supports and also supports XML-RPC pings (my blog is configured to ping the service when I post something to my blog).

I’ll be the first to admit that the UI sucks and that the dialog box should show a confirmation, that the YUI stuff is really heavy (380K of JavaScript and CSS to make a dialog box? sheesh!), that it’s not a ‘professional’ service like FeedCrier, and that I haven’t passed the code by the Wildfire team yet (I’m hoping they’ll accept it as a plugin that’ll be included as part of the base Wildfire distribution) but I’m really excited about the idea of RSS to IM in general and this implementation in particular for the following reasons:

  • As far as I know, all of the existing RSS to IM services (, Zaptxt, Rasasa and the aforementioned FeedCrier) are hosted services. If I subscribe to your feed via any of the above services, I’ve got a relationship with them, not with you. If you’re a hip publisher, you’re probably sending pings their way, but you don’t know who is subscribed to your feed. You probably don’t have access to the list of subscribers (and as a subscriber maybe you wouldn’t want them too, but I’ll get to that in a second). With this plugin and an instance of Wildfire, you can go one to one with your customers, rather than working through some third party. Said another way, given the ability to run a Wildfire server, what company wouldn’t want to offer a ‘subscribe to this blog via IM’ as part of the ‘subscribe via email’ and ‘subscribe via RSS’ feature set?
  • Because you host it, you might configure the server in such a way as to give it access to feeds on your intranet, feeds that are completely inaccessible to *all* of the above services. What’s that you say? Your internal feeds are protected by Basic Authentication? That’s ok, the plugin can retrieve protected feeds as well. Specify the username and password in the URL (http://username:password@yourserver/feeds/my.xml) and you’re golden. So if you work at a big corporation that’s producing RSS feeds like rabbits produce baby bunnies, don’t fire up your desktop feed reader. Get someone to set up a Wildfire server and then pester them to install the plugin for you.
  • It’s truly instant: one of the things about RSS to instant messages is that you’d hope that you do get notified or alerted *instantly*. The reality is that it takes two to tango: for FeedCrier to alert you instantly when a feed is updated, they have to have the cooperation of the publisher, the publisher has to send them a ping when the feed is updated. Since the plugin supports XML-RPC pings, you as a publisher can configure your blogging software (or whatever else produces your RSS feeds) to send standard XML-RPC pings to the plugin, so while polling is supported, it should be the exception to the rule.
  • Finally, as a subscriber, the thing that’s valuable is that you a) get your content and b) that you get it instantly. You could care less about FeedCrier or any of these other services, you want your content now. So (and this is what I’d I’d get to earlier) you might be willing to give up the anonymity that RSS normally provides in exchange for immediate access to the information you want (or maybe anonymity isn’t a big deal to you at all). In other words, for truly valuable information, this service puts publishers in a position of power: subscribers get their fix instantly as long as they cough up their instant message information.

If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading. I’d love to hear your feedback. And don’t forget to subscribe. You know, to get your fix.

Links: 1-26-2007

Links: 1-20-2007

Links: 1-15-2007

Blogs: Not just for breakfast anymore, part II

A couple weeks ago I added a short post to the Jive Software corporate blog entitled ‘Blogs: Not just for breakfast anymore‘, In the post, I hoped to squash the notion that blogs are all about opinions and are useless within a corporation, which was the ‘opinion’ of quite a number of people that took part in our user acceptance tests. I’m not sure that my four bullet points did the topic justice, but I found a post a couple days later written by Steve Yegge called “You Should Write Blogs“, which was a whole lot longer and not surprisingly a whole lot better than my post. And then today I read an article in the NY Times by Clive Thompson (whose blog I’m subscribed too) called Open-Source Spying, which I think is one of the most exciting articles I’ve read about blogging (and also wikis) ever. See it turns out that no less than the CIA, FBI and NSA are all embracing blogs and wikis as fantastic tools for collaboration and information dissemination, which (while admittedly knowing nothing about the spy business) sounds like a no brainer to me. Give everyone a blog, every team a wiki, throw a couple Google Enterprise Search boxes at’em and see what happens. Even if it does eventually ‘fail’, it’ll sure cost a lot less than the $170 million dollar FBI project that never even launched. But of course, it won’t fail:

… While the C.I.A. and Fingar’s office set up their wiki, Meyerrose’s office was dabbling in the other half of Andrus’s equation. In July, his staff decided to create a test blog to collect intelligence. It would focus on spotting and predicting possible avian-flu outbreaks and function as part of a larger portal on the subject to collect information from hundreds of sources around the world, inside and outside of the intelligence agencies. Avian flu, Meyerrose reasoned, is a national-security problem uniquely suited to an online-community effort, because information about the danger is found all over the world. An agent in Southeast Asia might be the first to hear news of dangerous farming practices; a medical expert in Chicago could write a crucial paper on transmission that was never noticed by analysts.

In August, one of Meyerrose’s assistants sat me down to show me a very brief glimpse of the results. In the months that it has been operational, the portal has amassed 38,000 “active” participants, though not everyone posts information. In one corner was the active-discussion area — the group blog where the participants could post their latest thoughts about avian flu and others could reply and debate. I noticed a posting, written by a university academic, on whether the H5N1 virus could actually be transmitted to humans, which had provoked a dozen comments. “See, these people would never have been talking before, and we certainly wouldn’t have heard about it if they did,” the assistant said. By September, the site had become so loaded with information and discussion that Rear Adm. Arthur Lawrence, a top official in the health department, told Meyerrose it had become the government’s most crucial resource on avian flu (emphasis mine).

Also, I haven’t read the entire paper yet, but the NY Times article mentions an essay entitled ‘The Wiki and the Blog: Toward a Complex Adaptive Intelligence Community’ written by a guy from the CIA, a quick google search turns it up over on the Social Science Research Network, you can download it or get it emailed to you for free here.

ROME and wfw namespace elements

I created a ROME parser and generator for wfw:comment and wfw:commentRss elements today. You can read all about it here and download the source code here.

Not sure what the wfw:comment or wfw:commentRss elements are for? Imagine you’re reading my blog in desktop aggregator and you want to post a comment to my blog. The aggregator has no way of knowing where your comments should be HTTP posted too, so you have to open up another tab in Firefox and go to my blog to enter a comment. wfw:comment is an element that provides the HTTP post endpoint in the feed so that aggregators and widget developers can comment inline, just like this. wfw:commentRss is an element that provides you (or your favorite aggregator) with a link to the comments for the post you’re currently viewing.