I think that some of the cleaning and re-arranging that Trish and I have been doing at the house has gotten me to be a bit reflective about my blog. It's been a while now since I have made any changes to the look and structure of scottweidig.com. So,with a bit of a lazy Sunday going here, I have spent the last few hours making small, but I feel nice changes to the site. One of the first changes I decided to make was to move my Instapaper feeds from the left side bar to individual pages. I am not sure how many folks looked at the side bars (or will look at the pages), but this is a bit of a better place for them.
This changed presented the first challenge. I use Typepad for my blog, and the sidebars have pre-defined "widgets" that "do stuff". Big technical term there I know. Aggregating RSS feeds into a nice presentable format is one of of the nice things that comes standard wth Typepad sidebars. That said, there is not an easy way to make this happen within a post or page itself. So, it was off for a bit of internet searching. While I already had an RSS feed from Instapaper, what I needed was a way to access that feed and embed it into a post. What I found was feed.informer.com
This is a free service that will allow you to take an RSS feed, and display the contents in html, PHP, Flash (I hate flash), as a Picture, and a few others. The "basic" account is free, but you can pay to remove the Feed Informer logo from the bottom of the feed. With the basic account you can also only display up to the last 50 feeds, where a paid account allows greater freedom.
I have found that the basic account is really pretty robust. You can have up to 100 "Digests" (an assortment of any number of feeds in each digest), display up to 50 feed stories, you can even have Feed informer run a search query against all of the feeds to narrow for specific topics. It even has the capabilities to eliminate duplicates.
Think of the possibilities to be able to create a digest of say 50 of the top educational blogs, but only having posts that have specifically information on Quadratic Equations displayed in a certain section of your website.
To use Feed Informer you simply have to sign up for a free account. Then create your first digest. The system walks you through the process nicely.
- Choose your Digest's sources. – This is where you enter the RSS feed(s) that you want to draw information from. You can have as few as 1 or it appears as many as you wish in a digest.
- Choose the Digest's settings – Here you provide a name, choose the order you wish the feeds to be displayed, select how may items to show, provide a search query (if you wish), and choose how to handle duplicates.
- Choose the Digest's Design – Here you pick from HTML, Flash, and Pictures for how your feeds will be displayed on your site. There are about 10 templates to choose from depending on your output choice.
Then you simply embed that snippet of code into your blog entry, or blog page, or website, and both services match up to automatically update the feed entries of your choice.
The Technology Tips, Instructional Ideas, and Random Coolness pages at the top of my blog now all use this service for dynamically updating their content depending on the articles I choose to add to my Instapaper account. Here are some screen shots of Feed Informer:
Overall, this is a pretty nice tool that has a plethora of uses for the blogger, educator, and web-enabled person.
Over the next few days, I plan on continuing to make small changes to my blog. You may see related links or icons pop into the picture as well as a oossible change in look and feel. Additionally, I will be increasing my iPhone App Recommendation page to actually have more that one app on it. I have many friends, co-workers, and readers ask me about different apps I use in my daily life. It is time to invest some effort to catalog and promote those developers who have made my life a bit easier through the use of their apps.
Finally, I have updated my "It's Me!" page to include a couple of disclaimers and disclosures. One of the main facets to any blogger's life is the interconnectedness of ideas, information, and personal passion and a companies possible revenue future. A few months back, Congress passed a law requiring bloggers to provide full disclosure regarding products or services they they write about if there is a financial benefit to the blogger. While in my case that is a really really REALLY rare occurrance, I often find myself touting or championing this site, or this tool, or that service. These disclosures will help anyone reading to understand if I am receiving any financial compensation for my advice, recommendation, or writing.