RSS feed syndication is the heart of Web 2.0. It makes it easy to
share content from a dynamic website, like a blog or social media site,
as quickly as it can be published. We’ve talked about RSS feeds several times, from the perspective of publishing and subscribing to feeds — but that’s only a part of what RSS can do for you. On a recent post about Twitter hashtags
(for which RSS feeds are published), Wild Apricot reader Jon
Lyles asked how to republish feeds on a blog or website. We'd touched only briefly on that topic, so let's take a closer look now at one of the tools you might use.
There are many ways to publish any RSS feed on your own website — Feedburner’s BuzzBoost feature, and Widgetbox, for example, among a host of other methods including a Google Docs trick— but lately I’ve chosen a service called Feed Informer (a.k.a. Feed Digest), for several reasons:
- Feed Informer is quite easy to use, even for non-techy people;
- It lets you funnel the RSS feeds from multiple sources into one widget;
- You can customize your widget's appearance and also the type of code used to deliver it;
- You can create up to 100 different custom feeds; and
- You can easily update all of your feed widgets through one (free) account. (If you want tech support, however, that only comes with a paid Premium account.)
How to Build a Custom RSS Widget with Feed Informer
Let's walk through the process.
First, you'll need to sign up for a basic free account at Feed.Informer.com. All you're required to provide is a username and a password, although I’d strongly recommend filling in an email address, too, in case you misplace your login
information and need to retrieve it in future.
Now, click on “Create New Digest” and let’s get Feed Informer to combine a few related feeds into a custom mix.
Remember, you can get the RSS address for any page that publishing a
feed by looking for the little orange RSS icon and clicking on it, then
copying the URL of the feed page from your browser’s location bar — or
just right-click on the RSS icon and choose the “Copy Link” option from
the submenu that pops up.
Let’s put together a Nonprofit Technology feed mix, by way of
illustration, using 3 source feeds (you can use many more, if you want,
but this’ll do for now):
- Twitter search results for “tweets” containing both the terms “nonprofit” and “technology,”
- Bookmarks saved at Delicious.com that are tagged with “nptech,” and
- Wild Apricot blog RSS feed, http://feeds.feedburner.com/WildApricot.
Next, in the Settings tab, we can name the feed digest and set a
custom time zone, and so on. Most of these settings are optional but
there are a couple of interesting features here that you’ll probably
want to play with:
If you want to further refine the items that are presented in your
feed widget, you can enter search terms here and only those items that
match that search criteria will appear in your digest. (For example, if
we wanted the widget to show just those items that contained the words
“widget” or “website”, we would enter “widget website” in the box
Depending on what feeds you’ve chosen, there may well be duplicate
items in the stream. A Wild Apricot blog post tagged “nptech” in
Delicious, for example, will show up twice in a blended feed — which
can be a bit annoying for readers, and a waste of real estate on your
blog. This filter will take care of that problem for you, filtering out
duplicated by Title or by URL.
Feed Informer offers a variety of widget templates in various
formats — pictures, Flash, or HTML — and the HTML templates can be
further customized in Advanced mode if you’re handy with CSS. If not,
that's no problem — odds are that there's probably a template to suit your website right out
of the box.
it’s a simple copy-and-paste of the code to place your widget on your site. If one format won’t work on one particular platform, just grab another code option to try. (MySpace, for example, is among those sites that limit what type of
content you can place on their pages for security reasons.)
And if you want to make changes to your custom feed after publishing — say, if you want to add a new source feed, or to fine-tune the
search terms you’ve specified — there’s no need to
touch the widget code on your website.
Log in to your Feed
Informer account, click on “My Digests” link, edit your feed
digest in the same way you set it up in the first place, and save the changes. Within minutes,
the widget on your website should be updated automatically to reflect your
new-and-improved custom feed digest.
As I mentioned, Feed Informer is just one method of making a widget to serve up RSS feeds on your website or blog. No matter what particular tool you might end up using to re-publish RSS feed, the exciting point is the ability to share with your readers a wide range of information from many sources, in a subject area as broad or as focussed as you might want to make it.
How might you use an RSS feed widget to help your readers find more information or other websites related to your cause or mission?