Posts from October 2019

  • Experiments in Automation

    With the knock out success of my ttrss service rollout, I thought it might be fun to look into other self-hosted services that I might find useful. Now, let’s be very clear, this was, on its face, entirely a make-work project to give me something fun to do with my spare time. But the outcome has proven surprisingly useful!

    It all began when I came across Huginn. Huginn is an open source implementation of the kind of service offered by IFTTT, Zapier, and I’m sure others (Microsoft Flow popped up while I was finding the links to those services). The general idea is that these services allow you to plumb or connect various other services together to effect an automated workflow. For example, you might receive tweets on one end and shoot them off to, say, a Slack channel on the other.

    Okay, so what would I do with this?

    Well, as a bit of background, I’m an avid reader of Matt Levine. Mr. Levine offers a newsletter that one can subscribe to that is delivered daily to ones email inbox. Notably, if you want to read this content on the Bloomberg website, it’s hidden behind a decided effective paywall that happens to defeat web scrapers. That means getting this content into my RSS feed isn’t directly possible.

    But wouldn’t it be nice if I could take those emails, scrape out the content, and republish them to a private RSS feed that I could incorporate into ttrss?

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  • Goodbye Feedly, Hello Tiny Tiny RSS!

    I’ve been a huge fan of RSS for a very long time now. For those not aware, RSS is a protocol that allows websites (news organizations, blogs, aggregators, etc) to push out a feed of content as they publish it. As an example, the CBC publishes a list of RSS feeds that any reader can subscribe to.

    The reader then uses an RSS feed reader to subscribe to the feed and consume it.

    Now, that by itself sounds just okay, but the real magic happens when you subscribe to a large number of feeds. What most folks don’t realize–even those familiar with RSS–is that RSS feeds are extremely common and widely available across many web properties. In my case, I subscribe to a number of news sources (CBC, BBC, NYT, etc), some technology aggregators (Hacker News, Reddit Programming), plus a number of random blogs and other outlets.

    The RSS feed reader can then combine these streams of content in various ways. Personally, my preference is to just see a single list of all the most recently published articles that I can then scroll through. The best services allow me to consume that stream of content on multiple devices–in particular, on a desktop or on a phone–so that no matter where I am, my RSS feeds are at my fingertips, showing me a stream of all the content I’ve chosen to subscribe to.

    Ultimately, what this amounts to is something like the Facebook news feed, except I’m personally selecting my sources rather than having content selected for me by some proprietary algorithm on a social network.

    Now up until 2013 folks widely agreed that Google Reader was one of the best feed readers out there.

    Unfortunately, Google, in their infinite wisdom, decided to shut Google Reader down.

    Fortunately, there are plenty of fine alternatives out there, and for a very long time Feedly was my tool of choice. The web interface is clean and functional, the Android app is excellent, and it has a lot of interesting features if you’re willing to pay for their subscription. If you’re interested in dipping a toe into the RSS waters, I highly recommend it!

    However, there are a couple of things about RSS that can be a bit of a nuisance.

    First, news sources frequently only publish their article titles, perhaps a brief excerpt, and a link, so that you have to leave the feed reader and visit their website to consume the content. I can understand why that is (i.e. ad revenue), but it’s a real pain. First, the context switch to the website is always a bit jarring (and on a phone, a bit slow); each site has a different layout which means the reading experience isn’t consistent; and if I want to read the content offline, I’m out of luck.

    Second, some types of feeds, notably Reddit and Hacker News, publish links to their aggregation service rather than to the article content itself, often without any excerpt at all. The result is a rather bland, difficult-to-use feed.

    Third, call me paranoid, but I’m not thrilled about having a third party tracking what I’m reading.

    And then I discovered tt-rss.

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