Roll Your Own RSS Feed Digest Widget

Lori Halley 12 March 2009 12 comments

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.

SOURCES

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):

  1. Twitter search results for “tweets” containing both the terms “nonprofit” and “technology,”
  2. Bookmarks saved at Delicious.com that are tagged with “nptech,” and
  3. Wild Apricot blog RSS feed, http://feeds.feedburner.com/WildApricot.

screenshot

SETTINGS

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:

Search Query

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 provided.)

Dupe Filter

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.

screenshot

DESIGN

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.

PUBLISH

The final step is to publish. Choose the type of widget code to match your widget the website where you’d like to place it: Javascript, Flash, graphic, embedded PDF formats, and more. Then 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.)

feed widget screenshotAnd 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?

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Thursday, 12 March 2009 at 10:05 AM

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Comments

  • Barbara Ling said:

    Thursday, 12 March 2009 at 11:08 AM

    Neat stuff!  I use SimplePie myself but will check this out as well - I like the UI.

  • Denys said:

    Thursday, 19 March 2009 at 5:46 AM

    Another similar service is by http://feed2js.org

    Simple, no account required.

  • Sharon said:

    Monday, 23 March 2009 at 5:14 AM

    This looks good. I did an article on feed mixers at PBP recently, but this was one I missed.

  • Jessica Hartman said:

    Saturday, 11 April 2009 at 7:25 AM

    I will be trying this one out. It looks very nice!

  • Dane said:

    Tuesday, 21 April 2009 at 5:24 AM

    Thanks for the info much appreciated and helpful.

  • Tom said:

    Thursday, 28 May 2009 at 3:49 AM

    I've recently used Feed Informer to merge RSS feeds into one area on my website, but it doesn't appear to update when the RSS sources do.

    Has anyone else had this problem?

    Any ideas for solving?

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 28 May 2009 at 5:50 AM

    Tom, the Feed Informer FAQ says update times vary according to a number of factors - see http://feed.informer.com/blog/faq/ for details.

  • Tom said:

    Monday, 01 June 2009 at 3:57 AM

    Thanks, Rebecca.

    Very helpful.

    t

  • Susie said:

    Tuesday, 27 October 2009 at 1:24 PM

    This is great, thanks.

    Although does anyone know of site you can build widgets on that will display the first picture in the blog?  Feed Informer has one option, but if you don't have a picture in every blog post it shows this big red X, which is not attractive at all.

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Tuesday, 27 October 2009 at 2:11 PM

    Susie, that's an interesting issue! No specific widget/service comes to mind right this minute, but a quick workaround you might try in the meantime is to include a tiny 1-pixel square GIF (effectively invisible to the human eye, and even more so if you make it transparent or the same colour as your background) in the post where you haven't got a picture. Mind you, I haven't tested this - it just came to mind right now when I read your question - but think it's worth a try, at least until you track down another widget that will display as you want. Let us know if that gets rid of your big red X?

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Tuesday, 27 October 2009 at 2:15 PM

    Also, Susie, do have a look at http://feed2js.org that Denys mentioned in his comment, above. I think you'll like it - plus, it's free and you don't even have to sign up for an account!

  • Dale said:

    Thursday, 26 November 2009 at 4:22 AM

    You should check out FeedSweep at http://www.FeedSweep.com - this is my fav

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