Some recent work in the feed reader and discovery space

I’ve noticed a lot of quiet, but very interesting and heartening feed reader and discovery work going on in the IndieWeb and related communities lately, so I thought I’d highlight it briefly for those who are interested in the topic, but may not have been following as closely:

  • Inoreader has been working on a beta product that will make following social feeds in Twitter, Micro.blog, the Fediverse, and even IndieWeb sites with h-entry easier and prettier.
  • Kicks Condor has been iterating and doing some interesting work on the FraidyCat reader over the past few weeks.
  • Malcolm Blaney has a fantastic little feed reader in his Unicyclic site (not to mention that he’s also got a cool looking IndieWeb as a Service site with i.haza.website that I desperately want to have time to try out).
  • The volume of different and interesting content going into IndieWeb.xyz as a discovery hub has been increasing lately.
  • I’ve been admiring the discovery/aggregation work of Terry Greene on his OpenLearnerPatchbook and OpenFacultyPatchbook sites within the education space.
  • CJ Eller and others have been contributing to Blogging Futures as an extended online conversation in the form of an aggregated blogchain.

And none of this even touches on the excellent continuing work on Microsub readers which continues to astound me. Even with all of this activity, I’m sure I’m missing some fun little gems, so please don’t hesitate to mention them.

Comparing Inoreader’s user interface for their internal tweets versus RSS tweets

For a long time I’ve been consuming the majority of my Twitter feed within various feed readers. My most frequent feed reader is Inoreader, though I’ve been experimenting with and using some IndieWeb influenced microsub-based feed readers for quite a while.

Earlier today I thought I’d try out Inoreader’s Twitter integration and subscribe to some of my twitter lists using that instead of importing feeds directly from outside services. (I’ve been a big fan of using Ryan Barrett’s Twitter-Atom and related tools.) One of the things that had always bothered me about third party RSS feeds into most feed readers is that the author of the post is in such tiny text and there is no avatar indicator of who wrote the post. As a result I’m stuck spending a lot more cognitive load trying to discern the author of a tweet before or after reading it. It just boils down to less than optimal user interface.

Fortunately Inoreader seems to have a slightly better method for doing this (since they control the user interface and are presumably using the Twitter API). Within their reader, Tweets look a tad bit more standard with respect to the usual Twitter client and include an avatar and the name of the author in larger font. Sadly, though they have control over the UI, they’re still including a bolded version of the the text of the tweet as a title and thereby needlessly duplicating some of the content. It would be far better for notes, status updates and other content that typically doesn’t have (or need) a title if they would simply just leave it out. They could then use the extra space to have a larger font for reading the short status update. In fact, most of the IndieWeb-based feeds I read in Inoreader have these unnecessary titles included which typically not only look bad from a UI perspective, but they again needlessly duplicate content I don’t need.

Below I’m including screenshots of the two different methods of reading Tweets via Inoreader. I’m also including a screenshot of how Tweets look like in Monocle when fed in via the same Atom feed that was used in the Inoreader case. In Monocle’s version, it’s got a nice larger and easier to discern author name, but it too is missing the author photo (or avatar), in part because the feed doesn’t include it as a default. I suspect that if the feed included it, Monocle would display it properly though the Inoreader version probably wouldn’t. The Monocle version also includes a copy of the photo in the Tweet twice because the feed adds it in a second time as an enclosure.

UI example of a tweet within Inoreader using their native Twitter support.
UI example of a tweet within Inoreader imported using a third party RSS-based client.
UI example of a tweet within Monocle imported using a third party RSS-based client.

For completeness, I’m including the text of the Atom feed for this particular tweet so that we can see what is or isn’t being included in the Inoreader and Monocle versions.

<entry>
<author>
 <activity:object-type>http://activitystrea.ms/schema/1.0/person</activity:object-type>
 <uri>https://twitter.com/BigHistoryPro</uri>
 <name>Big History Project</name>
</author>
    <activity:object-type>http://activitystrea.ms/schema/1.0/note</activity:object-type>
  <id>https://twitter.com/BigHistoryPro/status/1195385992728985600</id>
  <title>In an ideal world, you’d have 1-on-1 time with every student to discuss every...</title>
  <content type="xhtml">
  <div xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
In an ideal world, you’d have 1-on-1 time with every student to discuss every aspect of every writing assignment. With BHP score, you come close. <br />
<a href="https://bh-p.co/2N1xopV">bh-p.co/2N1xopV</a>
<p>
<a class="link" href="https://twitter.com/BigHistoryPro/status/1195385992728985600">
<img class="u-photo" src="https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EJbdObjXkAQ6QNw.jpg" alt="" />
</a>
</p>
  </div>
  </content>
  <link rel="alternate" type="text/html" href="https://twitter.com/BigHistoryPro/status/1195385992728985600" />
  <link rel="ostatus:conversation" href="https://twitter.com/BigHistoryPro/status/1195385992728985600" />
      <link rel="ostatus:attention" href="https://bh-p.co/2N1xopV" />
      <link rel="mentioned" href="https://bh-p.co/2N1xopV" />   <activity:verb>http://activitystrea.ms/schema/1.0/post</activity:verb>
  <published>2019-11-15T17:00:04+00:00</published>
  <updated>2019-11-15T17:00:04+00:00</updated>
  <link rel="self" type="application/atom+xml" href="https://twitter.com/BigHistoryPro/status/1195385992728985600" />
      <link rel="enclosure" href="https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EJbdObjXkAQ6QNw.jpg" type="image/jpeg" />
</entry>

In sum, I generally like the UI of the Inoreader version, though they could still do with removing the redundant and unnecessary title. The Monocle version is likely the best, but I’d need to find a feed method that also includes the avatar to have a better representation of the original Tweet. Even with these differences, I think I tend to prefer Monocle at the end of the day because it also automatically includes Micropub functionality which means that I can post my reactions (likes, reposts, or comments) directly to my website and syndicate copies directly to Twitter. (This is also in consideration of my previously having set up some separate functionality for forcing Inoreader to allow me to post some of this same sort of data to my website by other means.)

Has anyone found better/prettier or more useful ways of consuming Twitter in third party means while allowing one to own their data?

👓 New Feature: Sort by Magic and Article Popularity Indicators | Inoreader blog

Read New Feature: Sort by Magic and Article Popularity Indicators by Inoreader (Inoreader blog)
The best part of using RSS is that you see all the news, unfiltered and sorted exactly chronologically without a smart “AI” messing with your data and deciding what to feed you. It is, however, useful sometimes to have the power to sort through thousands of articles and see the most interesting ...
Replied to My Human Readable OPML Blogroll by Ton ZijlstraTon Zijlstra (zylstra.org)
After my recent posting where I asked people which RSS feeds they read, I received several responses. One of them is Peter’s. Like me he was publishing an OPML file of his feeds already. OPML is a machine readable format that most RSS readers will be able to import, so you can subscribe to blogs I...

Ton, this is great! Though perhaps you’re reinventing the wheel a bit more than you may have needed to?

I’ll see you your blogroll and add in images and descriptions as well! https://boffosocko.com/about/following/

A while back I did something similar to what you and Peter have done, I just did it with the old built in Link Manager feature of WordPress. The primary difference is that I’ve got some meta data about what the site/feed is about in addition to an image. I left out the feed in the human readable version as it’s less likely to be used, while it’s more valuable to the computer readable version. I’ve also figured out the a URL query parameter for breaking my blogroll up by category, so that folks can copy smaller subsections of it.

Another added bonus is that I’m using Inoreader which supports OPML subscriptions so that any time I update my OPML file, my feed reader auto-updates for me without needing to manually upload the new OPML file! This means I just add the follow in one place and everything else follows without any additional work.

Here are the details for how I did most of it:

Perhaps what we really need is to give some love to that Link Manager in core to update it to OPML v2 and add in the rel attributes from XFN microformats to the links? 

When you have a moment, be sure to add your example to the OPML and blogroll pages on the IndieWeb wiki, where you may find some additional inspiration.

Thanks for experimenting to bring back the blogroll! (And thanks for sharing, there are a few of your feeds I see that I ought to be following and I also recognize those we have in common of many educators I already do follow.)

Replied to a tweet by Laura GibbsLaura Gibbs (Twitter)

I’m curious if you use Inoreader’s OPML subscription functionality at all? It’s kind of like Twitter lists in a sense, but a lot more open and distributed.

Much like your version piped into an LMS, it could be used used to create a planet of all of the participants in a course, but set up in such a way that only one person needs to create and maintain an OPML file that everyone else can use instead of needing to manually find and subscribe to a bunch of feeds or worry about missing out on that one feed of the student who joined the course two weeks late.

As an example, here’s an OPML file on my own website (through my following page) of all the educators I’m following who are tangentially involved in the IndieWeb movement. If you subscribe to the OPML file in Inoreader, when I update it with additional feeds, you get all the changes synced automatically.

I’d be interested to see exactly how you’re using Inoreader–particularly the off-label methods. Have you written up any of the details anywhere? It looks like you’re using tags in Inoreader and piping those details back to the LMS so that you can filter portions of the class content?

I recently documented some of my personal use here: Using Inoreader as an IndieWeb feed reader. A big portion of it is about being able to use Inoreader to interact within its interface, but also have those interactions reflected on my own website (aka digital commonplace book) which sends notifications to the original content on the web instead of just leaving it siloed within Inoreader.

👓 Inoreader is meer dan een RSS lezer | Digging the Digital | Frank Meeuwsen

Read Inoreader is meer dan een RSS lezer by Frank Meeuwsen (Digging the Digital)
Ik gebruik Inoreader al een paar jaar maar ik wist niet dat het mogelijk was om er nieuwsbrieven in te ontvangen. Je kunt een specifieke tag aanmaken waarna je een uniek mailadres krijgt. Met dat mailadres kun je je op allerlei nieuwsbrieven abonneren en deze dus in je feedreader krijgen. https://di...

I use Inoreader a lot and never noticed it did emails to pull in newsletters! This is awesome!

👓 Save web pages straight to Inoreader | Inoreader blog

Read Save web pages straight to Inoreader (Inoreader blog)
Hopefully, by now you’ve recognized Inoreader as your go-to place for regular content consumption. But we know there are many more ways to come across great new content – and we want to help you with that, too. Now you can save pages from all over the web with our new feature, Saved web pages …

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When you’re casually browsing the internet, there is nothing better than stumbling across a new source of excellent content – but nowadays you’re rushing so much that you might not put in the extra effort and fire up your Inoreader to add a feed to your subscriptions. Inoreader Companion, our dedicated browser extension, will save …

Reply to Damian Yerrick about leaving Tumblr and recommendation engines

Replied to a tweet by Damian YerrickDamian Yerrick (Twitter)

Because of the decentralized nature of the IndieWeb, it’s most likely that more centralized services in the vein of Indie Map or perhaps a Microsub client might build in this sort of recommendation engine functionality. But this doesn’t mean that all is lost! Until more sophisticated tools exist, bootstrapping on smaller individually published sorts of recommendations like follow posts or things like my Following Page (fka blogroll) with OPML support are more likely to be of interest and immediately fill the gap. Several feed readers like Feedly and Inoreader also have recommendation engines built in as well.

Of course going the direction of old school blogs and following those who comment on your own site has historically been a quick way to build a network. I’m also reminded of Colin Walker’s directory which creates a blogroll of sorts by making a list of websites that have webmentioned his own. Webrings are also an interesting possibility for topic-related community building.

Since Tumblr is unlikely to shut down immediately, those effected could easily add their personal websites to their bios to help transition their followerships to feed readers or other methods for following and reading.

Of course the important thing in the near term is to spend a moment downloading and backing up one’s content just in case.

 

Using Inoreader as an IndieWeb feed reader

It may still be a while before I can make the leap I’d love to make to using Microsub related technology to replace my daily feed reader habits. I know that several people are working diligently on a Microsub server for WordPress and there are already a handful of reader interfaces available. I’m particularly interested in the fact that I can use a reader interface integrated with Micropub so that my reactions in the reader (likes, bookmarks, replies, etc.) are posted back to my own personal website which will then send notifications (via Webmention) to the mentioned websites. Of course it’s going to take some time before I’m using it and even more time after that for the set up to become common and easy to use for others. So until then, I and others will need some tools to use right now.

Toward this end I thought I’d double down on my use of Inoreader in my daily web consumption workflows. I wanted to make it easier to use my feed reader to post all these types of posts to my website which will still handle the notifications. In some sense, instead of relying on a feed reader supporting Micropub, I’ll use other (older) methods for making the relevant posts. As I see it, there are two potential possibilities using Inoreader:
(1) using a service like IFTTT (free) or Zapier (paid) to take the post intents and send them to my WordPress site, or
(2) using the custom posting interface in Inoreader in conjunction with post editor URL schemes with the Post Kinds plugin to create the posts. Using WordPress’ built-in Post This bookmarklet schemes could also be used to make these posts, but Post Kinds plugin offers a lot more metadata and flexibility.

If This Then That (IFTTT)

Below is a brief outline of some of the IFTTT recipes I’ve used to take data from posts I interact with in Inoreader and post them to my own website.

The trigger interface in IFTTT for creating new applets using Inoreader functionality.

Likes

IFTTT has an explicit like functionality with a one click like button. There is an IFTTT recipe which allows taking this datum and adding it directly as a WordPress post with lots of rich data. The  “then that” portion of IFTTT using WordPress allows some reasonable functionality for porting over data.

Favorites

IFTTT also has explicit favorite functionality using a one click starred article button. There is an IFTTT recipe which allows adding this directly as a WordPress post.

Since the “starred” article isn’t defined specifically in Inoreader as a “favorite”, one could alternately use it to create “read” or “bookmark” posts on their WordPress websites. I’m tempted to try this for read posts as I probably wouldn’t often use it to create favorite posts on my own website. Ultimately one at least wants an easy-to-remember 1 to 1 mapping of pieces of functionality in Inoreader to their own website, so whatever I decide I’ll likely stick to it.

Bookmarks

While there is no specific functionality for creating bookmarks in Inoreader (though starred articles could be used this way as previously mentioned), there is a “saved webpage” functionality that could be used here in addition to an IFTTT recipe to port over the data to WordPress.

Reads

While Inoreader has a common feed reader read/unread functionality, it is often not used tacitly and this is a means of reducing friction within the application. Not really wanting to muddle the meaning of the “starred” article to do it, I’ve opted to adding an explicit “read” tag on posts I’ve read.

IFTTT does have a “New tagged article” recipe that will allow me to take articles in Inoreader with my “read” tag and post them to my website. It’s pretty simple and easy.

Replies

For dealing with replies, there is an odd quirk within Inoreader. Confoundingly the feed reader has two similar, yet still very different commenting functionalities. One is explicitly named “comment”, but sadly there isn’t a related IFTTT trigger nor an RSS feed to take advantage of the data one puts into the comment functionality. Fortunately there is a separate “broadcast” functionality. There is an IFTTT recipe for “new broadcasted article” that will allow one to take the reply/comment and post it to one’s WordPress website.

Follows

Like many of the above there is a specific IFTTT recipe that will allow one to add subscriptions directly to WordPress as posts, so that any new subscriptions (or follows) within the Inoreader interface can create follow posts! I doubt many people may use this recipe, but it’s awesome that it exists.  Currently anything added to my blogrolls (aka Following Page) gets ported over to Inoreader via OPML subscription, so I’m curious if them being added that way will create these follow posts? And if so, is there a good date/time stamp for these? I still have to do some experimenting to see exactly how this is going to work.

RSS feed-based functionality

In addition to the IFTTT recipe functionality described above, one could also use IFTTT RSS functionality to pipe RSS feeds which Inoreader provides (especially via tags) into a WordPress website. I don’t personally use this sort of set up, but thought I’d at least mention it in passing so that anyone who might like to create other post types to their website could.

Custom posting in Inoreader with Post Kinds Plugin

If using a third-party service like IFTTT isn’t your cup of tea, Inoreader also allows custom sharing options.  (There are also many pre-built ones for Facebook, Twitter, etc. and they’re also re-orderable as well.) I thus used WordPress’ post editor URL schemes to send the data I’d like to have from the original post to my own website. Inoreader actually has suggestions in their UI for how to effectuate this generically on WordPress. While this is nice, I’m a major user of the Post Kinds Plugin which allows me a lot more flexibility to post likes, bookmarks, favorites, reads, replies, etc. with the appropriate microformats and much richer metadata. Post Kinds has some additional URL structures which I’ve used in addition to the standard WordPress ones to take advantage of this. This has allowed me to create custom buttons for reads, bookmarks, replies, likes, and listens. With social sharing functionality in Inoreader enabled, each article in Inoreader has a sharing functionality in the bottom right corner that has a configuration option which brings up the following interface:

Custom sharing functionality in Inoreader. I’ve added set up to post reads, bookmarks, likes, replies and listens to my personal website.

Once made, these custom button icons appear at the bottom of every post in Inoreader, so, for example, if I want to reply to a post I’ve just read, I can click on the reply button which will open a new browser window for a new post on my website. The Post Kinds plugin on my site automatically pulls in the URL of the original post, parses that page and–where available–pulls in the title, synopsis, post date/time, the author, author URL, author photo, and a featured photo as well as automatically setting the specific post kind and post format. A lot of this data helps to create a useful reply context on my website. I can then type in my reply to the post and add any other categories, tags, or data I’d like in my admin interface. Finally I publish the post which sends notifications to the original post I read (via Webmention).

Screencapture of Inoreader’s interface highlighting some of their social features as well as the custom sharing interface I’ve added. The article shown here is one lamenting the lost infrastructure of feed readers and hopes for future infrastructure from Jon Udell entitled Where’s my Net dashboard?

Conclusion and future

With either of the above set ups, there are a few quick and easy clicks to create my posts and I’m done. Could it be simpler? Yes, but it likely won’t be much more until I’ve got a fully functional Microsub server and reader up and working.

Of course, I also love Inoreader and its huge variety of features and great usability. While I’m patiently awaiting having my own WordPress Microsub server, I certainly wouldn’t mind it if Inoreader decided to add some IndieWeb functionality itself. Then perhaps I wouldn’t need to make the switch in the near future.

What would this look like? It could include the ability to allow me to log into Inoreader using my own website using IndieAuth protocol. It could also add Micropub functionality to allow me to post all these things directly and explicitly to my website in an easier manner. And finally, if they really wanted to go even further, they could make themselves a Microsub server that enables me to use any one of several Microsub clients to read content and post to my own website. And of course the benefit to Inoreader is that if they support these open internet specifications, then their application not only works with WordPress sites with the few appropriate plugins, but Inoreader will also work with a huge variety of other content management systems that support these specs as well.

Whether or not Inoreader supports these protocols, there is a coming wave of new social feed readers that will begin to close many of these functional gaps that made RSS difficult. I know things will slowly, but eventually get better, simpler, and easier to use. Soon posting to one’s website and doing two way communication on the internet via truly social readers will be a reality, and one that’s likely to make it far easier to eschew the toxicity and problems of social sites like Facebook and Twitter.

 

 

👓 More control over comments | Inoreader blog

Read More control over comments (Inoreader blog)
You can see that we are focused lately on the social stuff. Why? Because it was always there in front of you, but there were many obstacles that made it not very usable or friendly. Comment has improved, but one thing with them remained. Many people don’t know that comments in InoReader are actually public …

👓 Inoreader How-to: Share with friends | Inoreader blog

Read Inoreader How-to: Share with friends (Inoreader blog)
Reading is fun, but it can be even more rewarding with friends. We have built Inoreader with productivity in mind, but we never wanted to leave out the social element – so there are plenty of ways to share that interesting piece of content you just read with friends on social media or in Inoreader …

👓 Boost your feeds! | Inoreader blog

Read Boost your feeds! (Inoreader blog)
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Read Inoreader How-to: Share your personal feeds and HTML clips (Inoreader blog)
You probably spend some time to carefully group subscriptions in folders, star and save interesting articles, tag pieces of interest. If you take pride in your content curation work in Inoreader, you’d probably like to share the results with others – and this is really easy in Inoreader, thanks to custom RSS feeds and HTML …