I’ve been looking for some time for a way to simplify how I repost headlines from news sources and blogs, so that I can aggregate them into my own “digest” page of items of interest to share with my readers, network, and followers. 

Several things were important to me about how to do this:

  1. I wanted to use this feature to notify about interesting content without a lot of authoring on my part.  Ideally posting an item to the digest would be automated with a semantic search bot pulling in the content.  Worst case I would have to drag and drop headlines and links in a Twitter-like fashion.
  2. I didn’t want to add commentary – I wanted a simple re-blog capability.
  3. I wanted attribution of the author to be very clear – this was not my content, just items of interest to share.

Inline RSS for a WordPress page

I concluded that what I really needed was a way to display RSS feeds in-line on a WordPress page to create my headlines or digest.  WordPress has loads of plug-ins that are great for integrating RSS feeds into sidebar widgets, but I found one plug-in – DGE inlineRSS – that provided all of the features I needed to put the RSS into the body of a WordPress posting or page. 

inlineRSS is pretty simple to use.  After install, there are three easy steps to getting a feed embedded into a page.  First, you need to configure inlineRSS to point to your feeds.  This is a simple matter of entering the RSS feed URL, and associating an XSLT file that will transform the feed into the HTML that displays on your site (inlineRSS provides a simple XSLT file that you can alter to meet your needs).  Next, you need to be sure that the configuration sets the path to the XSLT file on your site, and make any changes to the XSLT for your unique formatting.  Lastly, you need to enter the embed code for the inline RSS itself – this is simply:

!inlineRSS:myrssfeed

where myrssfeed is any of the feeds you configured in the inlineRSS options screen.  inlineRSS implements a WordPress filter to replace this code with the XSLT-formatted RSS feed.

Creating the Digest RSS Feed

The next step to getting a digest page up and running was to create the source of the RSS feed itself.  I considered three options:

  • reFeed – a server for creating custom RSS feeds from items of interest
  • Twitter or Ping.fm – generate a “tweetstream” of headlines and links (re-blogging vs. micro-blogging)
  • TextWise – using a semantic search bot (specifically TextWise’s Gyzork demonstration app) to auto-generate a custom RSS feed that contains blog posts and news items that match specific semantic signatures

reFeed.  Last month, Mike Axelrod set up a reFeed server that he and I experimented with briefly.  This may hold some promise for the future for hand-selecting items of interest to reblog via an RSS feed.  However, Mike noted some technical issues, particularly with the quality of the RSS, so we tabled that project for the time being (he and I promise to blog more about reFeed in the near future).

Twitter and Ping.fm.  As Mike discusses in a related post, we’ve both been exploring Twitter and Ping.fm to stream reblog-type items to our websites.  Mike has the Ping.fm custom URL plug-in for WordPress working and has his “pingstream” going to headline items in his sidebar.  I’m doing the same, using Ping to drive Twitter, then putting the Twitter feed into my sidebar with the  Twitter Tools plug-in (look under Headlines in the sidebar to your right).  I’m still working on getting my Ping feed to display in-line with RSS or other techiques.

TextWise Gyzork.  You may be familiar with TextWise if only from my use of their technology here for finding related products, Wikipedia articles, and blogs for my blog posts.  TextWise uses semantic analysis to search the web for similar documents.  Each document (web page, blog post, etc.) gets a semantic signature that identifies the concepts in the document and their weight (i.e. relevance).  Gyzork lets me apply a semantic signature to any document, then create a saved semantic search that returns either blog posts or news items that match.  Gyzork also lets me create an RSS feed for that search.  If you check out my Headlines tab above, you’ll see a set of headlines (embedded using inlineRSS) that were generated by a Gyzork search seeded by one of my posts.  This search has been pretty good over the last six months at surfacing items I’m interested in.

Next Steps

I plan to continue to experiment with the automatic news digest.  Things I plan to try out:

  • Propagating the news feed items to my status updates in LinkedIn and Twitter
  • Getting my Ping.fm stream to display inline as a set of headlines
  • Micro-blogging using Ping as the front end
  • Working with TextWise technology to create more Gyzork feeds for the news page
  • Cleaning up the XSLT to better format the news feed
  • Experiment with other semantic technologies to create automatic feeds of interest

If you have any further ideas on this, please comment.