Technology and Internet


Some time ago I wrote about using “Cloudflare Workers”, first as a way of adding Content-Security-Policy headers to your pages (when you don’t have other easy ways of doing it) and after I even built an easy to deploy DDNS solution on top of them.

This time I just used this tool to build a “planet” software. You might be wondering about what is a planet, so I will try to explain it in a simple and practical way: A planet is a web page (and RSS feed) that gathers content about a specific topic from multiple other sources and displays them in a chronological order, using the feeds provided by those sources.

If you prefer, you can check Wikipedia’s entry about it.

This is specially useful if you want to cover all the content and activity of a given community in an open way (without extra intermediaries or curators). A few examples are:

There are other software available for this purpose, such as moonmoon, but if you don’t want to manage a server just for this purpose, Cloudflare workers can be very useful.

So I built worker-planet in order to easily create these community pages without having to worry with managing servers. There are many improvements that can be added, but the base functionality is there, and many configurations and theming options are already supported.

The project is open-source and free (as in freedom) software, so please test it and use it as you wish.

Random Bits

Blogs, web feeds and the open web

As I already published before (twice), I’m a big supporter of an “ancient” and practically dead technology, at least as many like to call it, that still can be found in the Internet. It is the RSS, a very useful standard that is one of the foundations for publishing content to the Web in a open way (the way it initially was supposed to).

Today and following a recent blog post of Seth Godin, about reading more blogs and teaching a way to easily get their new content, I want to get back to the subject and address a few thoughts I have on the matter. Without publicizing a single solution, I want to explore and extend a few points made in that article.

First, I want to start with a basic explanation of how it works, at least for the user. The basic idea is that content creators, being professionals or hobbyists, along side with the content displayed on their website, also publish some structured file that is not supposed to be read by humans, with information about that content (and sometimes with parts of that content). The usefulness of these files, is that other entities can watch them and get a linear view of what was published over time. This way people that want to follow or consume that content can use cool little apps, that track their favorite authors and let them know when there is new stuff, along site with other features, such as keeping track of what you already read.

RSS Logo

If you check for the icon shown above, you will find it in many websites, this is hugely used in many areas from newspapers to blogs, from postcasts to itunes, etc.

Overall It is used broadly and it lets people do cool things with it, however (this is where I start to converge on the topic of Seth’s post) most big players don’t have an interest in an open web and slowly, over time, they started dropping support for it and undermining its usefulness, because they want people to publish and consume content only inside their platform, locking everyone’s content to their services. Two examples are given, Google and Facebook, but I’m sure there are others.

There are many benefits of following your favorite authors using these feeds, such as:

  • You control the content that you read. Lets face it, letting any middleman manipulate what kind of information you have access to is never a good thing, and it is not uncommon.
  • You are not stuck with a single interface where the content is lost overtime. You can choose your app and organize the content your own way.
  • Clear distinction of what you already read and what you didn’t.
  • Even if the content gets taken down, you might have your own copy. There is no risk of a service going out of business and everybody losing all they content.

One thing I’ve been seeing more often, is many people writing such nice content but their blog or platform does not expose RSS feeds (like this one). This saddens me because I do not remember every good source, if I can’t add it to my feed reader, I will often forget to check for new content. It is relatively easy to add it, most systems support it, and if it is a custom one there are plenty of libraries available to help you with that.

I comprehend the need to make the person visit the site in order to monetize the content, in these cases there is always the option to only add to the feed the title and a small excerpt, the reader will follow the link to reach the remaining of the content.

Old Posts

This time you’ll have to leave

It’s time to pack my feed list and move away from Google reader, something that I had already tried and failed before, because this time the service will be shutdown by Google on the first day of July 2013.

The Internet is (mostly the tech community) in tumult, with every major tech news site writting something about it and big discussions taking place in many communities. You can say that this is too much and basically it’s only the shutdown of a service that’s using a technology already half dead, in that case I must disagree.

In my humble opinion, RSS still has a big role in today’s Internet usage and is one of the few really open technologies, that improve the flow of information and that don’t rely only on major sites with walled gardens that belong to big companies.

In my daily habits while I surf the Internet, Google Reader tops the ranking of most used “app”, when you count the in time spent (and the usefulness), it’s where I keep myself up to date with whats happening in the world, just to give you an example, here’s what the app has to say about my stats:

From your 39 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 736 items, clicked 43 items, starred 0 items, and emailed 0 items.

Since July 18, 2009 you have read a total of 29,114 items.

The discussions about the alternatives don’t have been very enlightening, many suggest apps like feedly and flipboard, these ones are pretty and run on tablets and cellphones but don’t fit to my usage, that magazine style thing (and I don’t own a tablet) doesn’t feel right, I need a full featured powerhouse tool with lots of flexibility.

One other option suggested was netvibes, but I’ve already tried this one in the last time and it let me down. So currently, the only web based options with good feedback left in my list are newsblur and theoldreader, which I didn’t had the time to try yet.

So do you know any other alternative that I should add to my test list?

Note: There is the possibility of desktop or self hosted software, but for now I’m trying to avoid those, so they will be the last resort.

Old Posts

Goodbye Google Reader

After some years using Google Reader as the nº1 tool to aggregate my news feeds, yesterday I switched definitely to a new tool. In this one I have the control of all the data that I use and don’t give the usage statistics to some big company that maybe already knows enough about me.

It’s a goodbye to another one Google product, after i already quitted some of them because I’m trying to only use the essential ones.

So it’s also an hello to rssLounge, it doesn’t have as many features as Google Reader, but it’s enough for the usage that I give to a news aggregation tool.

Does anyone knows other Web RSS reader? because if it’s better than this one I’m willing to try it!