From Following Posts and Blogrolls (Following Pages) with OPML to Microsub Servers and Readers

I’m still tinkering away at pathways for following people (and websites) on the open web (in my case within WordPress). I’m doing it with an eye toward making some of the UI and infrastructure easier in light of the current fleet of Microsub servers and readers that will enable easier social reading without the centralized reliance on services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Medium, LinkedIn, et al.

If you haven’t been following along, here are some relevant pieces for background:

Generally I’ve been adding data into my Following Page (aka blogroll on steroids) using the old WordPress Links Manager pseudo-manually. (There’s also a way to bulk import to it via OPML, using the WordPress Tools Menu or via /wp-admin/import.php?import=opml). The old Links Manager functionality in WordPress had a bookmarklet to add links to it quickly, though it currently only seems to add a minimal set–typically just the URL and the page title. Perhaps someone with stronger JavaScript skills than I possess could improve on it or integrate/leverage some of David Shanske’s Parse This work into such a bookmark to pull more data out of pages (via Microformats, Schema.org, Open Graph Protocol, or Dublin Core meta) to pre-fill the Links Manager with more metadata including page feeds, which I now understand Parse This does in the past month or so. (If more than one feed is found, they could be added in comma separated form to the “Notes” section and the user could cut/paste the appropriate one into the feed section.) Since I spent some significant time trying to find/dig up that old bookmarklet, I’ll mention that it can be found in the Restore Lost Functionality plugin (along with many other goodies) and a related version also exists in the Link Library plugin, though on a small test I found it only pulled in the URL.

Since it wasn’t completely intuitive to find, I’ll include the JavaScript snippet for the Links Manager bookmarklet below, though note that the URL hard coded into it is for example.com, so change that part if you’re modifying for your own use. (I haven’t tested it, but it may require the Press This plugin which replaces some of the functionality that was taken out of WordPress core in version 4.9. It will certainly require one to enable using the Links Manager either via code or via plugin.)

javascript:void(linkmanpopup=window.open('https://exanple.com/wp-admin/link-add.php?action=popup&linkurl='+escape(location.href)+'&name='+escape(document.title),'LinkManager','scrollbars=yes,width=750,height=550,left=15,top=15,status=yes,resizable=yes'));linkmanpopup.focus();window.focus();linkmanpopup.focus();

Since I’ve been digging around a bit, I’ll note that Yannick Lefebvre’s Link Library plugin seems to have a similar sort of functionality to Links Manager and adds in the ability to add a variety of additional data fields including tags, which Ton Zijlstra mentions he would like (and I wouldn’t mind either). Unfortunately I’m not seeing any OPML functionality in the plugin, so it wins at doing display (with a huge variety of settings) for a stand-alone blogroll, but it may fail at the data portability for doing the additional OPML portion we’ve been looking at. Of course I’m happy to be corrected, but I don’t see anything in the documentation or a cursory glance at the code.

In the most ideal world, I’d love to be able to use the Post Kinds Plugin to create follow posts (see my examples). This plugin is already able to generally use bookmarklet functionality to pull in a variety of meta data using the Parse This code which is also built into Post Kinds.

It would be nice if these follow posts would also copy their data into the Links Manager (to keep things DRY), so that the blogroll and the OPML files are automatically updated all at once. (Barring Post Kinds transferring the data, it would be nice to have an improved bookmarklet for pulling data into the Links Manager piece directly.)

Naturally having the ability for these OPML files be readable/usable by Jack Jamieson’s forthcoming Yarns Microsub Server for WordPress (for use with social readers) would be phenomenal. (I believe there are already one or two OPML to h-feed converters for Microsub in the wild.) All of this would be a nice end -to-end solution for quickly and easily following people (or sites) with a variety of feeds and feed types (RSS, Atom, JSONfeed, h-feed).

An additional refinement of the blogroll display portion would be to have that page display as an h-feed of h-entries each including properly marked up h-cards with appropriate microformats and discoverable RSS feeds to make it easier for other sites to find and use that data. (This may be a more IndieWeb-based method of displaying such a page compared with the OPML spec.) I’ll also note that the Links Manager uses v1 of the OPML spec and it would potentially be nice to have an update on that as well for newer discovery tools/methods like Dave Winer’s Share Your OPML Subscription list, which I’m noting seems to be down/not functioning at the moment.

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.)

If it helps Domains 2019 attendees, I’ve got a Twitter list of educators, researchers, technologists, and others who are using DoOO, IndieWeb, or other related ethical edTech technologies. The list includes people who attended in 2017, many of those tweeting during 2019, as well as those regularly tweeting about DoOO and closely related topics throughout the year or on the list of Educators in the IndieWeb.

I’ve also got a regularly updated OPML file for many of the same people if you prefer to subscribe to/follow their websites directly (this method is more Domains-friendly right!?!). If you use Inoreader or other services that support OPML subscription technology, this feed will auto-update for you as new people are added to the list, preventing you from needing to regularly refresh the OPML file manually. I’ll try to update this OPML file this evening for today’s/tomorrow’s attendees based on their websites in their Twitter profiles.

Don’t hesitate to ping me if you’d like to be added to the lists, or if I’m missing anyone. Be sure to include your most relevant RSS feed(s) for the OPML portion of that list. Feel free to copy/modify either of the lists to your heart’s content.

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.

@manton, I’m not sure if anyone would have thought to ask or do such a thing, but does micro.blog provide users any feeds (RSS, JSON, etc.) of the sites the’re subscribed to for reading in a reader that isn’t necessarily micro.blog’s primary interface?

I ask because I’m curious about the ease of maintaining contacts if one wanted a different reader experience, were to leave micro.blog, or simply wanted to transfer from following 100s within micro.blog to follow them using other interfaces?

Any thoughts perhaps of providing an exportable OPML file for making functionality like this easier? Or for taking an OPML file and putting it into a feed reader that supports subscribing to OPML files?

Reply to Aaron Davis

Replied to a post by Aaron DavisAaron Davis (Read Write Collect)

Great post Aaron. I’ll also say thanks for including me in such an illustrious list. But to the others, I’ll suggest that you’re holding out on us. The meatier list he’s hiding is at: https://readwriterespond.com/wp-links-opml.php

Throw it into a feed reader like Inoreader that will let you import or subscribe to OPML lists and then come back to thank him all over again.

Reply to Ryan Boren et al on the WordPress Link Manager, Calypso, and Indie Blogging

Replied to a tweet by Ryan BorenRyan Boren (Twitter)

Oh there’s just so much to say about the start of this thread, and it gives me so much hope for the open web as well as potential growth for WordPress.

Link Manager Update

The Link Manager still seems relatively solid and much of the infrastructure still works well, despite the warnings and lack of updates over the past several years. It would be nice to see it make a comeback and I can personally see many ways it could come back as a means of allowing people to better own their personal social graph as well as dovetail with readers. (This could also be the cornerstone of helping to make WordPress it’s own decentralized social network so that those who want to leave Facebook, Twitter, et al. could more easily do so and maintain their own data and infrastructure.)

If it were being updated, here are a few things that I might suggest as being imminently useful:

  • Update to the latest version of OPML; While the old version still works, there are some new toys that folks like Dave Winer have been iterating on including OPML subscription1,2 as well as some discovery tools.
  • Add in additional microformats support, particularly for display. Things like h-card, u-url, u-photo, etc. could make displaying these more useful for the growing number of microformats parsers. I also suspect that having OPML subscription support could be a major boon to the feed reader resurgence that is happening with the split of the server side/display side split occurring with the improving Microsub spec which now has one server implementation with several more coming and at least three front end implementations. I know of one person building a Microsub server for WordPress already.
  • It’s non-obvious where one’s OPML file lives within the plugin or that one can have or target OPML files by category. Making this more apparent from a UI perspective would be both useful and help adoption.
  • Provide a bookmarklet or browser extension to make it easier to scrape data off of someone’s homepage (or any page for that matter) and put it into the Links Manager data fields. This would allow people to do a one (or two click) solution for quickly and immediately following someone, saving their data into their site, and then via OPML subscription, they’ll automatically be following that feed in their reader of choice.
    • For doing the parsing portion of this, I might recommend the parsing algorithm being used by the Post Kinds Plugin, which parses a web page and searches for microformats, open graph protocol, and one or two other standards to return all or most all of the data that would be needed to fill out the data Links Manager can take. As I recall, this parser was being discussed by Kraft for potential inclusion into the Press This bookmarklet functionality to expand on what it had already provided.
    • From a UI perspective this would allow people to follow friends or others via a WordPress workflow almost as easily as any of the social media silos.
    • Another UI approach for comparison can be found by looking at the SubToMe universal follow button which was developed by Julien Genestoux (also of PubSub/WebSub fame). This version also uses some of the standard feed discovery mechanisms which a bookmarklet would want to be able to do as well.
  • As I’d written, following/subscribing has become more central to the social space, so upgrading the humble blogroll from a widget to a full page would certainly be in order. Having the infrastructure (short link perhaps?) to easily create a WordPress page out of the data would be quite helpful.

As Ryan indicates, the planet-like features that OPML subscriptions provide are immensely valuable in general, but also solves a tough problem that some of the best minds in the educational tech space have found perennially problematic.3

As for the title-less post types that are proliferating by the independent microblogging community (including the recent micro.blog as well as post types in the vein of likes, favorites, reads, replies, etc. which mimic functionality within the broader social space), the so-called (no title) problem can be  somewhat difficult since so many things are built to expect a title. Many feed readers don’t know how to react to them as a result. The Post Kinds Plugin faced a similar issue and recently pushed an update so that within the admin UI at /wp-admin/edit.php the title field would still indicate (no title) but it would also include a 28 character synopsis from the_body or the_excerpt to provide at least some indication of what the post was about. This also seems to be a potential issue in other areas of WordPress including widgets like “Recent Posts” which want to display a title where none exists. As the aside post format can attest, not all themes deal with this well, though there are other alternate methods for displaying some useful data.

 

References

1.
OPML subscriptions. Inoreader blog. https://blog.inoreader.com/2014/05/opml-subscriptions.html. Published May 26, 2014. Accessed July 18, 2018.
2.
RSS Reader InoReader to Support Dynamic OPML Subscriptions. CleverClogs. http://cleverclogs.org/category/opml-subscriptions. Published May 26, 2014. Accessed July 18, 2018.
3.
Groom J. Will Work for Feed Syndication Framework. bavatuesdays. https://bavatuesdays.com/ds106-will-work-for-feed-syndication-framework/. Published August 5, 2013. Accessed July 18, 2018.

Reply to This Indispensable Digital Research Tool, We can Say, Without Lying, Saves Time

Replied to This Indispensable Digital Research Tool, We can Say, Without Lying, Saves Time by Alan Levine (@cogdog) (Extend Activity Bank)

People will claim they can replace RSS Readers with social media streams like twitter. While we do get many key resources and news stories via social media, let’s dispute that claim:

  • Clutter, noise, distraction. What you get is interspersed with many things that are outside your interests, rants, yelling, silly gifs. That’s a lot of filtering.
  • You Miss It, You Lose it. Social media is focused at the head of the stream. While you sleep or actually do something productive away from social media, it all flows away. Yes, maybe your network can signal with repeating important things, but its spotty.
  • Duplication You have no means to quickly know what you have already looked at, and you see may the same story multiple times.
  • You Are Subject to Algorithms Especially on facebook, what you see is determined by the mysteries of an algorithm. Sure you choose sources by followers, but the means by which information is presented is determined by some outside automated entity.

This activity brings you an exception to the technology as time-saving lie; it’s old tool that many people have abandoned. I will wade carefully through the acronym jargon jungle, but we are talking about using an RSS Feed Reader to monitor the most recent news, blog posts, data from sources you choose to follow, not ones dished out by some company’s algorithm.

RSS is incredibly valuable as is OPML.

I had used Feedly for several years, but made the switch to Inoreader last year, in part because it has one additional useful feature that Feedly doesn’t: OPML subscription. While it’s nice to be able to import and export OPML files, needing to remember to update them can be an unnecessary step, particularly if 20+ people need to do the update to capture all the new RSS feeds added. (As an example, say one or two students join a class late and everyone has already got the original OPML export and now needs to update to add a few more feeds to keep track of classroom activity.)  OPML subscription improves this by allowing the subscription to an OPML link with multiple feeds in it. If the original OPML file updates with new feeds, then the reader automatically updates them and pushes them out to everyone subscribed to that OPML file!

Think of an OPML subscription as an updating subscription to a bundle of RSS feeds which all also provide their own individual updates. Instead of subscribing to a bunch of individual feeds, you can subscribe to whole bundles of feeds.

For those looking for some sample OPML links to subscribe to, try some of mine which are listed at the bottom of the linked page. For some ideas about building your own data stores with OPML links for WordPress, try my Following Page solution. WordPress’s old Link Manager described on that page will provide the ability to store the data and provide the OPML links, the rest of the page discusses publishing it on one’s site so that it’s publicly available if you wish. URL schemes for sub-categories are discussed separately.

Reply to Allow reading friends feeds in a feed reader

Replied to Allow reading friends feeds in a feed reader · Issue #16 · akirk/friends by Alex KirkAlex Kirk (GitHub)
We can do this by providing a download for a OPML file.

Perhaps better than allowing simply the download of an OPML file, it would be nice to have the ability to provide a link to an OPML file as well? This way feed readers like Inoreader that support OPML subscription would be able to auto update themselves when new feeds/friends are added to the list?

Depending on your infrastructure, you could potentially leverage the old Link Manager within WordPress which provided OPML outputs as well as outputs arranged by category. This would prevent you from needing to rebuild the side-files unless you’re doing that already.