Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I'm it; merging and embedding multiple RSS feeds

I'm it. So says my niece, who tagged me sometime last week or so to write my six-word memoir, unknowingly setting off a writer's block of about a week or so. Not her fault of course, it's a perfectly reasonable request; just one that managed to key into my wembling nature and all my insecurities about writing.

I haven't been wholly unproductive, of course. In fact, if you cruise on over to our flickr you'll see that Annie and my dance cards have been quite full, from her triumphant return to New Haven for graduation to our big Albright-family bon voyage yesterday. Of course, Annie's been even busier than I, taking most of the photos you've just enjoyed, then culling and processing them all, and actually, you know, graduating. I've done a little back-end work on the website, basically some RSS fun on the homepage.

Annie and I will be blogging our adventures in Slovakia over the next year, and Annie made the very good point that the homepage ought to display those posts as we make them. The standard solution seems to be using blogger's publishing options to point a custom domain at the blog. I'm not really willing to retire the existing layout yet or to make the kind of design concessions that requires. I also wanted a pretty quick solution, since we're under some time constraints this month.

So, I turned to Google's gadget library, a bunch of independently designed doodads and whatsamathings that they host to add functionality to your customized Google page or any other webpage. I found a number of RSS gadgets, of variable quality, and settled on David Gurak's CustomRSS for its layout flexibility. It has a real nice default design, but let me customize it right down to the bare bones view on the site now. You fill out the form with your preferences, click "Get the Code" and it kicks out a customized script tag to drop into your html.

My only disappointment with it, and all the RSS readers Google gadgets has to offer, is that it'll only display a single feed. (There's one multi-feed reader, but it's tabbed, and needs a much larger footprint than I was interested in.) Annie's got her own blog, grand opening soon, so we needed to merge the headlines together somehow. For that, in a spirit of fair play, I turned to Yahoo Tubes Pipes. Pipes is a tinkertoys-like GUI to a series of tools to manipulate RSS feeds in some pretty powerful ways. It was pretty quick work to grab the two feeds, flow them together and out the other end of the pipe. Plugged that feed into the Google gadget and was done with it.

So, quick and dirty, but satisfying and effective. I'll probably go back and refine it later, and my interest is sufficiently peaked that I might write my own script to do the whole thing.

As for the memoir. In the midst of writer's block, I was feeling:
Talented amateur writes himself into corner.

But today is a good day, and on a good day:
Husband/puppet-enthusiast charms Slovakia, world.

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