Archive for December, 2003

Come to Order

Since my recent writeup of the web-based aggregators Bloglines and myFeedster, I have been using Bloglines as my regular aggregator. I continue to be very happy with it. I’ve only had one complaint. You can put your feeds into groups and re-name them, but you can’t re-sort them within a group. Or so I thought.

When you add a feed to a group, it appears at the top of that group. Now, (assuming your group’s feeds were already in order, and you just want to move the new guy down a bit,) check the box next to each of the feeds you wish to move above the new feed, make sure the drop-down box at the top of the left pane says “move”, and click submit. When prompted to choose the destination folder, choose the same folder. The selected entries will be moved ahead of the new entry, remaining in their original order.

Of course, getting your feeds initially sorted can be more work, but if you import your inital feeds from an OPML file, bloglines keeps the ordering found there (although not the groups, at least for my NetNewsWire-Lite-created OPML file).

Semantics? I’m Always Up For Some Antics!

SimpleQuiz is an ongoing discussion on best practices for standards-compliant and sematic XHTML markup, in the form of a series of quizzes, and the ensuing discussion of the answers. There’s a ton of good information here, I’ll be going back to read further. (via BUZZ)

The host site, SimpleBits, is a firm reminder to me that I am no designer. As generally pleased as I am with the design I have evolved for this site, when I look at a site like SimpleBits I am awed. It is both stylish and subtle. There are many little things, minor attentions to detail, that come together into a very coherent whole. The “Slate” style (see icons at top right of page) is my favorite. Extremely sharp looking. The next time I’m ready to do a redesign, I intend to stare at SimpleBits for a while and just try to grok the whole feel of the thing.

Having no training in design (I’m a programmer, ’tis true), I presume at least some of what I see is part of the education of a designer. Some of the things that catch my eye include the subtle shadow effect at the edges of the content area, the sizing of the fonts, the extremely great use of color (the colors really pull everything together into a coherent whole), the extremely subtle line under the headings in the right-hand pane, and the use of a black line around the content area, but a colored line (darker version of sidebar color) between the sidebar and main panel. There’s alot to learn here.

Okay, I’ll stop gushing now.

Look Ma, No Aggregator

In the comments of a recent post about NetNewsWire, Ben suggested I try Bloglines, a web-based aggregator. The Bloglines server subscribes to the rss feeds I want to read, and allows me to read them via my browser. This offers two features I value – location independance and platform independance. No matter what computer I’m on, or what OS its running (I switched nearly a year ago, but the rest of the world hasn’t caught up), if there’s a browser available, I can read my feeds. Plus, the status of what posts I have or have not read is managed centrally, so I can always read only new items.

I didn’t get around to using Bloglines until this week. The next day, Feedster, the rss search engine, unveiled their new service myFeedster, a web-based aggregator. Feedster is a great service, so I thought I’d give myFeedster a try as well. Both web-based aggregators have some interesting features. Here are my observations/comparisons, in no particular order:

  • Both sites cache old entries, so you can view posts that have rolled off the RSS feed.
  • myFeedster lets you search a single feed or all of your feeds. You could do this previously using Feedster’s advanced search, but you had to supply the URL of the feed or your OPML file. Bloglines lets you search your feeds or all feeds. The all feeds search lets it compete with Feedster, but Feedster clearly has the edge in searching.
  • The feed for this site is RSS 2.0, and contains both a brief plaintext description (in the element), and the complete xhtml content of the post (in an xhtml element with appropriate namespace declaration). myFeedster only shows the description, but Bloglines shows the full content. Bloglines saves me alot of time by showing me the whole post.
  • Bloglines supports categorizing feeds, like NetNewsWire. myFeedster does not. Bloglines did not import my categories from my OPML file, however. I don’t know if this is a Bloglines problem or an issue with NetNewsWire Lite’s OMPL export. Bloglines’ OMPL export does include categories.
  • Both services offer blogroll features, but Bloglines lets you mark individual feeds as public or private. Private feeds are not included in your blogroll. Another very cool Bloglines feature is your public feeds view, an url that allows others to see all of your public feeds in the bloglines interfaces. Check out my public feeds.
  • Both services allow you to export OPML.

The number one issue, however, is the interface:

  • myFeedster provides a simple list of posts – all posts updated within a timeframe you specify, within a specific feed. You view one feed at a time. You can see a list of feeds updated within a given time. Reminds a little bit of screen shots I’ve seen of Radio UserLand.
  • Bloglines is a two-paned aggregator. I can’t decide if I like it better than a three-paned aggregator (like NNW), but this is enough to make it the hands-down winner for me. Click the link above for my public feeds to check it out. All the feeds and categories appear on the left in a tree view. If you select a category, you see all new posts, across all feeds in that category. You can also choose to view all posts within a given timeframe. Select a feed and see only the posts for that feed. It also shows you how many unread posts you have for a given feed.

It will be interesting to see how both products evolve. For now, I’ll be using Bloglines to read my feeds, but myFeedster to search them. Speaking of search, while looking up references for this post, I found a couple of interesting things via Feedster:

  • There’s a new web-based aggregator: Fastbuzz. I know little more than the name and url so far, but I’ll try to check it out later.

Monday Night Football Wrapup

The Philadelphia Eagles have now won nine games straight. They also won a game in Miami for the first time ever.

Just thought you should know. GO BIRDS!

UrlGetPart, and the Parts it Won’t Get

This is a narrow post. If you don’t understand or don’t care, do skip it (you won’t be missing much). For the rest, and for the search engines, here’s some trivia.

There are a bunch of handy functions in the Win32 Shell API for handling file paths and URLs, provided by SHLWAPI.DLL. One of these, UrlGetPart, is described thusly:

Accepts a [sic] URL string and returns a specified part of that URL.

Very handy function, until you realize that the one part of an URL you can’t specify to be returned is the path. For example, in the (fictitious) url:

http://bond:007@example.com/topsecret/martini.cgi?method=shaken+not+stirred

I can use UrlGetPart to retrieve the scheme (http:), the username (bond), the password (007), the host (example.com), and the query (?method=shaken+not+stirred), but I cannot retrieve the path (/topsecret/martini.cgi).

So, How do extract the path from an URL using UrlGetPart? You don’t. Instead, use InternetCrackUrl, in wininet.dll. If you need to do this from VB6 (and this may work with VB5, but I’ve not tried it), take a look at this helper class, which also supports a few other handy URL-handling functions.