Feed aggregator choices

There are a bunch of feed aggregators out there. However, I haven’t used any of them, so I don’t know which ones work well and which ones work poorly. I encourage people to try them and comment here with their experiences. I can edit this post with useful information from the comments.

Web services

Below is a list of web services which will allow you to set up a feed aggregation.

  • Yahoo Pipes. Widely used. Pipes has a blog where you can learn more about it. Some people seem to find it hard to use. Others complain that it edits the RSS feeds that it passes along (for example, changing whether the links open a new window or not). The Scienceblogs Diaspora Feed runs on Pipes; you can clone and edit that feed (this may be a good way to get started if you find Pipes confusing). There is a review of Pipes which might be interesting.

  • FriendFeed. Another widely used one, and seems to be a better bet than Pipes (but comment here and say why or why not!). FieldOfScience uses this one. Commenter Edward says: “FWIW, I’ve done the grunt work with the Yahoo Pipes. You’ll need a Yahoo account, but once you have one you can simply Clone this pipe: http://pipes.yahoo.com/fieldofscience/full. With your Clone, go to Edit Source, then change the feeds in the Feed Fetch module to yours, and in the Simple Math module put the number of feeds you are combining.”

  • XFruits. Seems to be very feature-rich. I don’t know of anyone who is using it.

  • Dapper

  • FeedWeaver

  • FeedStitch

  • FeedKiller. Looks very easy to use; doesn't require a login; which means, I think, that the feed won't be editable later; puts a feedkiller ad on each post.

  • Feed Informer. Also looks really easy to use.

Software packages

If you have access to a web server and are able to set up a software package on it, you can run your own feed aggregator. Benefits: no ads inserted into the feed; you are in charge of the server and whether it is stable. Down side: you have to have some knowledge and a server.

Other tools

  • Feedburner. Once you have a feed, you can use Feedburner to make a new URL for it. This can be nice a) because Feedburner provides usage statistics, and b) in case your new aggregated feed has an ugly URL.

  • Feed Rinse. Filters feeds for you: “You can rinse your feeds by keyword, author, tag, etc, or filter profanity and more.”

Did I miss anything? I’m sure I did, but I’m happy to add more if you let me know what I left out.


How to create an aggregated feed

Hi. You don’t know me, but I’m here to try to help out with some of the technical aspects of science blog aggregation. I’m going to start by writing about how some bloggers might get together to set up a blog aggregation.

So: you are an independent blogger, and you want to aggregate your blog with some friends’ blogs, and then you want scienceblogging.org to aggregate that aggregation. What does that mean, and how do you go about it?

The people

The first step is to find a group of people who blog about similar topics at least some of the time.

You sometimes post about cognition, sometimes meta thoughts about science blogging, and sometimes personal ramblings, at ramblingscienceblogger.blogspot.com. Your friend Jane writes about neuroanatomy, addiction, and her young daughter at janesaddictionneuro.blogspot.com. Your friend Bob writes about behavior, neurotransmitters, and his dogs at bobsbehavior.wordpress.com. The three of you would like to create a “Brain and Behavior” aggregated feed. You agree that any posts in any of your three blogs tagged “neuroanatomy” or “behavior” should be included in the new aggregated feed. Posts that don’t have either of these tags won’t be included, although posts that have one or both of these tags and some other tags will be included.

For example, when Jane writes a post about the hippocampus, she tags it “hippocampus” and “neuroanatomy.” This post will be included in the aggregated feed. When she writes a post about her daughter, she tags it “kidblogging” only. It will not be included in the aggregated feed. Bob writes a post about a funny thing his dog did yesterday and tags it “ginger”; it is not included. Then Bob writes a post about how his dog's behavior during thunderstorms reminds him of a recent article he read about fear conditioning in rats, and he might tag that “ginger” and “behavior.” That post would be included.

My examples assume that all the bloggers in this group are independent bloggers, but of course they could just as easily be bloggers on a network of some sort.

The aggregation

You choose an aggregator service to manage your new aggregated feed. You tell this aggregator service to aggregate the following feeds:

In other words, you are telling the aggregator service to pull in RSS feeds for Jane’s, Bob’s, and your blogs, but only the posts with the tags that you care about. You must include a separate URL for each tag and each feed — so for two blogs and two tags, you include four URLs. For three blogs and two tags, you include six URLs, and so on. The patterns demonstrated above will work for all blogspot and wordpress blogs.

The aggregator service then provides you with a new RSS feed which contains all the posts from Jane’s, Bob’s, and your blogs tagged “neuroanatomy” or “behavior.” You publicize that RSS feed however you want -- you may just blog about it, or you may create a web page as a home site for it. You definitely let scienceblogging.org know to aggregate it (contact@scienceblogging.org).

If you later decide that you want to aggregate your meta science blogging thoughts with some other people who also like to write about science blogging in general, there's nothing to stop you from having a second aggregated feed on an entirely different topic, with entirely different people, using your same blog. Just use different tags. In fact, one post could show up in both aggregated feeds, if it used the right tags.

What is a tag?

Tagging is a way of noting the subject matter of a particular blog entry. Most blogging platforms will provide a way for you to tag each blog entry.

What tags should I use?

That’s for you and your co-bloggers to decide. It would be nice if bloggers started coming to a consensus on tag names for particular topics, so that aggregating different blogs by tag was easier. We’ll see if this happens.

What if my blog is not a Blogspot blog or a WordPress blog? How do I find out what the right format is for a feed for a particular tag?

Try doing a web search for “tag RSS” and the name of your blogging platform. Or comment here and I will try to help you figure it out.

What’s the point of this, anyway?

Subject aggregations are convenient for readers — a way to get an overview of blog posts by topic, rather than by author. They are also a way to build community, with several different authors working together to generate related content.

What aggregator services are out there and which are the best ones to use?

There seem to be several to choose from, but I don’t have experience with them to know which are better. If you have found particular ones that you like or don’t like, comment here and let people know. Yahoo Pipes seems to be widely used, but there are others.


Some thoughts about science blog aggregation

(Adapted from two posts on Word Munger)

After the summer's "PepsiGate" affair and the subsequent departure of 20 or so bloggers from ScienceBlogs, I suggested that if the departing bloggers want to continue to have the kind of influence they used to have at ScienceBlogs, they need to do something more than just start or restart their old, independent blogs. They need to form a new network -- perhaps built around different principles, but a network nonetheless. They might choose to have a central site based on RSS feeds or some other aggregation system, but there needs to be a systematic way to connect their conversations. Otherwise, most readers will tune out. It's simply too much work for most readers to follow a diverse set of disconnected blogs. Social networking sites like Twitter can bring important individual posts to light, but are less effective at sharing the extended conversations that go on between blogs.

Sure, there are some other burgeoning science blog networks, but none seem to be prepared to assume the ScienceBlogs mantle (which ScienceBlogs itself hasn't actually yet ceded). There are also some lists of all the bloggers who've left ScienceBlogs, but they don't capture all the other science bloggers who were never a part of ScienceBlogs, or the many excellent bloggers who chose to stay.

To me, the obvious next step would be to find some way of collecting all these disparate voices in one place. Sure, ResearchBlogging does some of that, but it only captures posts specifically about peer-reviewed research, which is probably less than ten percent of what scientists and science communicators actually blog about.

One idea that shows promise, at least as a stopgap, is to use an existing social network to do the task. There's already discussion over at Friendfeed about doing just that. The advantages of such a system is that Friendfeed already has tools in place to help people "like" and "dislike" posts, discuss them, and so on.

To see how this might work, I created a FriendFeed group for Anthropology, based on blogs registered with ResearchBlogging.org. You can check it out here. But this isn't all Anthropology blogs, or even all Anthro blogs registered with ResearchBlogging -- I cheated a bit because my default report of regisered blogs doesn't include RSS addresses. I only used blogs from Blogger and Wordpress since their RSS URLs are easily reproduced based on the blog URL. And there are other problems. Many blogs cover multiple topics. How would you decide how which list(s) to put them on? What if someone started posting pseudoscience, or moved their blog? Who would be in charge of monitoring the list to make sure it remains useful? And how many people would actually register with FriendFeed just to follow blogs? The beauty of a site like ScienceBlogs is it stands on its own -- you go there to read blogs about science. Someone who's only interested in science (and not social networking) is less likely to hang around a site like FriendFeed just to read science blogs. I'm unconvinced that a set of feeds could have the same influence as a dedicated science blog aggregator.

In the wake of these thoughts, Bora, Anton and I came up with something we think is at least a little better. This site is sort of an aggregator of aggregators. We're letting others do the work of collecting blogs into bundles; we're just sharing all those bundles. If other bundles are promising, we'll add them to the aggregator here, with a minimum of fuss. It's not ideal -- I think the ideal aggregator would have more active curators, and a way to sort through all the posts by topic -- but it's certainly a good start. Let us know what you think.