RSS Feeds: A Follow up on My IndieWeb Commitment 2017

Over the past two years I’ve been owning more and more of the data that I used to sharecrop into various social media silos. Instead of posting it to those sites which I don’t own, don’t control, and can’t rely on them staying up forever, I’m posting on my own site first and when it seems worthwhile, I’m syndicating my content back out to them to take advantage of their network effects.

A Crowded Stream

As a result of owning all this data, my blog/site has become MUCH more active than it had been before. (It’s also been interesting to see just how much data I’d been giving to social media sites.) This extra activity has caused a few to tip me off that they’re seeing a lot of email notifications and additional material in their RSS feeds that they’re not used to seeing (and may not necessarily care about). So rather than risk them unsubscribing from everything and allow them to receive what they’re used to seeing, I’ve spent some time in the last couple of days to work on my IndieWeb Commitment 2017 which was to:

Fix my site’s subscription/mail functionality so that I can better control what current subscribers get and allow for more options for future subscribers.

Because a lot of the recent additions to my site have been things like owning all my Instagram posts, my bookmarks, what I’m watching, updates about books I’m reading, and links to everything I’ve been reading online, I’ve been using a category on the site called “Social Stream” with each of these posts as sub-categories. In most cases, social stream could be synonymous with microblog to some extent though it covers a broader range of content than just simply Twitter-like status updates.

Filtering Social Stream Posts out of My Email Subscriptions

I added a filter in my functions.php file for the JetPack-based plugin that prevents my site from emailing those who have used the JetPack subscription service from receiving emails for each and every post in those categories.

I had previously been preventing some of these emails from firing on a manual basis, but with their increased frequency, it was becoming unsustainable.

For those interested, the code and some useful tips can be found at the JetPack site. A copy of the specific code I’m currently using in my functions.php file appears below:

add_filter( 'jetpack_subscriptions_exclude_these_categories', 'exclude_these' );
function exclude_these( $categories ) {
$categories = array( 'social-stream');
return $categories;
}

More Flexible RSS Feeds and Discovery

For future subscribers, I wanted to allow some easier subscription options, particularly when it comes to RSS. Fortunately WordPress does a pretty good job of not only providing RSS feeds but makes them relatively configurable and customizeable with good documentation. [1] [2]

Custom URLs for RSS Syndication and .htcacess Modifications

I wanted to create a few human-readable RSS feed names and feeds including:

With somewhat canonical feed URLs, I can always change where they point to in the future. To do this and have them map over into the actual feeds for these things, I did a bit of remapping in my .htaccess file based on some thoughts I’d run across recently.  The code I used appears below:

# BEGIN rss
<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule ^rss\.xml$ "/feed?cat=-484"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^microblog\.xml$ "/feed?cat=484"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^articles\.xml$ "/feed?kind=article"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^instagram\.xml$ "/feed?cat=936"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^linkblog\.xml$ "/feed?cat=964,945"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^read\.xml$ "/feed?cat=945"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^math\.xml$ "/feed?cat=10"[L,R]
RewriteRule ^informationtheory\.xml$ "/feed?cat=687"[L,R]
RewriteCond %{Query_STRING} ^$
RewriteRule ^feed$ "/rss.xml" [L,R]
</IfModule>
# END rss

Each of the cat=### are the numbers for the particular category numbers I’m mapping within WordPress for the associated category names.

RSS Feed Pattern for IndieWeb Post Kinds Plugin

I also spent a few minutes to figure out the RSS feed patterns to allow for the additional feeds provided by the Post Kinds plugin to work. While Post Kinds is similar to the native WordPress post formats, it’s designed particularly with IndieWeb posts in mind and uses a custom taxonomy which also wraps particular post kinds in the appropriate microformats automatically. The general form for these RSS feeds would be:

Other feeds could be constructed similarly by replacing “article” with the other kinds including:  bookmark, favorite, jam, like, listen, note, photo, read, recipe, reply, repost, watch, and wish. I suspect that most will only want the articles while those who are really interested in the others can either “build” them themselves for subscribing, or given the sporadic nature of some, they would more likely be interested in the “social stream” feed noted above.

Discoverability

Finally there’s the most important question of what feed readers like Feedly or Woodwind can actually discover when someone searches for an RSS feed on my domain. It’s one thing to have customized feeds, but if feed readers can’t easily find them, the subscriber is never likely to see them or know they exist to want to consume them. Most advanced feed readers will parse the headers of my site for discover-able feeds and present them to the user for possible subscription.

Out of the box WordPress provides two RSS feeds as standard: one for posts (essentially everything) and one for comments.  I added several additional ones (like those mentioned above), which I thought might be most requested/useful, into my page header to provide a slightly broader range of subscription options. I even included a few feeds for alternate sites I run, like my WithKnown-based site. I suppose if I wanted I could advertise feeds for my favorite sites anywhere.

To add these additional feeds, I added several additional lines into my page header similar to the following example which makes my posts categorized or tagged as mathematics discoverable:

<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml" title="Chris Aldrich » Mathematics Feed" href="http://boffosocko.com/math.xml" />

Wrap up

Hopefully with these few simple changes, those who wish to subscribe to my blog by email won’t be inundated with a lot of the social details. Those who want all or even smaller portions of my feed can consume them more easily, and there’s a way to be able to consume almost anything you’d like by category, tag, or post format/post kind.

Now on to my stretch goal:

Finish my monthly email newsletter

Comments/Questions?

Is there a particular type of content I’m creating here that you’d like to subscribe to? Let me know in the comments below if there’s a feed of a post format/kind, category, or tag you’d like to have that isn’t mentioned above.

References

[1]
“WordPress Feeds « WordPress Codex,” WordPress.org. [Online]. Available: https://codex.wordpress.org/WordPress_Feeds. [Accessed: 18-Dec-2016]
[2]
“Customizing Feeds « WordPress Codex,” WordPress.org. [Online]. Available: https://codex.wordpress.org/Customizing_Feeds. [Accessed: 18-Dec-2016]
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Boffo Socko Now Supports Hypothes.is Annotations

You can now highlight and annotate most of the pages here on Boffo Socko as well as other web pages.

I’d played around with many of them in the past, but a recent conversation with Matt Gross about News Genius and their issues in the last week reminded me about internet annotation platforms. Since some of what I write here is academic in nature, I thought I would add native Hypothes.is Annotation support to the site.

hypothesisIf you haven’t heard about it before, you might find the ability to highlight and annotate web pages very useful. Hypothesis allows for public or private highlights and notes and it can be a very useful extension of one’s commonplace book.

At the moment, I’m not sure where it all fits into the IndieWeb infrastructure I’m building here, but, at least for the moment, I’d hope that those making public annotations and notes will also enter their commentary into the comments either here on the blog or by way of syndicated versions on Facebook or Twitter so that they’re archived here for posterity. (Keep in mind site-deaths are prevalent and even Hypothes.is acknowledges in a video on their homepage that there have been many incarnations of web annotations that have come and gone in the life of the internet.) Perhaps one day there will be a federated and cross-linked version of highlights and annotations in the IndieWeb universe with webmentions included?!

Educators and researchers interested in using web annotation are encouraged to visit the wealth of information provided by providers like Hypothes.is and Genius.com.  In particular, the Hypothes.is blog has some great material and examples over the past year, and they have a special section for educators as well.

As it’s similar in functionality to highlighting on the web, I’ll remind users that we also still support Kevin Marks’s fragmentions as well.

If anyone is aware of people or groups working on the potential integration of the IndieWeb movement (webmentions) and web annotation/highlighting, please include them in the comments below–I’d really appreciate it.

 

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New Look for Boffo Socko

Boffo Socko has a whole new look...

For a while I’ve been contemplating a change in the look of the site, particularly given the changes in the internet for the past several years.

I generally wanted something that has the following attributes:

I’m sure there will be some hiccups and problems in the transition, but I hope to get these ironed out shortly. If you notice something bothersome, please don’t hesitate to drop me a note.

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The Category Theory Site Is Now Live

Administrative notes and a new website for the Category Theory Summer Study Group 2015

Platform Choice

I’ve made a few posts here [1] [2] about a summer study group for category theory. In an effort to facilitate the growing number of people from various timezones and differing platforms (many have come to us from Google+, Tumblr, Twitter, GoodReads, and friends from Dr. Miller’s class in a private Google Group), I’ve decided it may be easiest to set up something completely separate from all of these so our notes, resources, and any other group contributions can live on to benefit others in the future. Thus I’ve built Category Theory: Summer Study Group 2015 on WordPress.  It will live as a sub-domain of my personal site until I get around to buying a permanent home for it (any suggestions for permanent domain names are welcome).

Registration

We’ve actually had a few people already find the new site and register before I’ve announced it, but for those who haven’t done so yet, please go to our participant registration page and enter your preferred username and email address.  We’ll email you a temporary password which you can change when you login for the first time. Those who want to use their pre-existing WordPress credentials are welcome to do so.

Once you’ve registered, be sure to update your profile (at least include your name) so that others will know a little bit more about you. If you’d like you can also link your WordPress.com account [or sign up for one and then link it] so that you can add a photo and additional details.  To login later, there’s a link hidden in the main menu under “Participants.”

You can also add your details to the form at the bottom of the Participants page to let others know a bit more about you and where you can be reached. Naturally this is optional as I know some have privacy issues. In the notes, please leave your location/timezone so that we can better coordinate schedules/meetings.

Category Theory Blog

Your username/password will allow you to post content directly to the study group’s blog. This can be contributed notes, questions, resources, code, photos, thoughts, etc. related to category theory and related areas of mathematics we’ll be looking at. Initially your posts will be moderated (primarily only to prevent spam), and over time your status will be elevated to allow immediate posting and editing. If you have any questions or need administrative help, I’m easy to find and happy to help if you get into trouble. Most of the interface will hopefully be easy to understand.

For those with questions, please try to read posts as you’re able and feel free to comment with hints and/or solutions.  I’ve created “categories” with the chapter titles from the text we’re using to facilitate sorting/searching. Depending on the need, we can granularize this further as we proceed. There is also the ability to tag posts with additional metadata or upload photos as well.

As appropriate, I’ll take material out of the blog/posts stream and place it into freestanding pages for easier reference in the future. As an example, I’ve already found some material on YouTube and MIT’s Open Course Ware site (Spivak posted his 2013 class using our same text, though it unfortunately doesn’t include video or audio) that may be relevant to many.

For those interested, WordPress supports most basic LaTeX, though I doubt it supports any of the bigger category theory diagramming packages, so feel free to draw out pictures/diagrams, photograph them, and upload them for others to see if necessary.

As an advocate of the open web and owning one’s own data, I highly recommend everyone publish/post their content here as well as to their favorite site/platform of choice as they see fit.

Textbook

In emails and chatter around the web, I haven’t heard any major objections to the proposed textbook so far, so unless there are, I’m assuming that it should serve most of us well. Hopefully everyone has a copy by now (remember there are free versions available) and has begun reading the introductory material.  Those requiring a bit more mathematical rigor and challenge can supplement with additional texts as I’m sure I and many others will. If you’re posting questions to the site about problems/questions from other texts, please either state them explicitly or tag them with the author’s last name as well as the problem/exercise number. (I’ll try to make them all canonical on the back end as we progress, so don’t worry too much if you’re not sure how or what to tag them with.)

Conference Call Tool

At the moment, most people have been fairly open to the three big platforms, though a few on either Linux or Chromebooks don’t have access to be able to install/operate anything but Google Hangouts, so I’m presently proposing that we adopt it for our group. Nearly everyone in the group already has a gmail account, so I don’t expect it to be an undue burden. If you haven’t used it before, please download/install any plugins you may require for your platform in advance of our first “call.”

Meeting Times

I’ve only heard back from a small handful of people on availability so far, but it doesn’t look like it will be difficult to find an appropriate time.  If you haven’t already done so, please fill out the “survey,” so we can determine a good call time for next week. If necessary, we can do additional times to help serve everyone’s needs. We don’t want to leave out any who sincerely want to participate.

Office Hours

As most of the participants are spread over the United States, Europe, and Asia, I’m suggesting that everyone carve out a standing block of time (we can call them “office hours”) that they can use to be available (via Google Hangouts or otherwise) to help out others having difficulty or who have questions. Since there isn’t a “professor” I’m hoping that we can all serve each other as unofficial teaching assistants to get through the process, and having standing office hours may be the easiest way to catch others for help in addition to the web site itself.

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks?

If you have any questions, or I’ve managed to miss something, please don’t hesitate to make a comment below.  I’m hoping to get enough responses by Friday/Saturday this week to post our first meeting time for next week.

 

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Administrative Note: New Blog URL

For several years, I’ve hosted my personal blog at http://chrisaldrich.wordpress.com. This week I’ve moved everything over to a new address at http://boffosocko.com.

Those who have previously been subscribed by email will continue to receive email notifications of new posts as before.  WordPress.com followers will only see new posts in the Reader. You will not receive email updates unless you subscribe to receive those on the new site.  Some older subscribers may have missed one or two recent posts in the transition this week, so feel free to take a moment to catch up.

Others subscribed via RSS may potentially need to update their RSS feeds to reflect the change.

I’ve set up 301 page redirects so that those visiting old URL pages should automatically be redirected to the appropriate pages, but some may need to use the search box functionality to find the article or notes they were looking for.

If you have any issues/problems in this transition that you can’t seem to remedy directly, please email me directly; I’m happy to help.

Thanks for reading!