British Summer rain / Seems to last for ages

posted 21 May 2006

I'm looking at the letter from the water company saying how we should be careful, as a drought order may be imminent, and laughing.

Drinking: Hot chocolate
Listening to: The rain, but probably Supermassive black hole again in a second
Reading: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (It's a novel! Not even science fiction!)

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Afterlife: an update

posted 21 May 2006

It's been quite a while since anything major has happened to Afterlife, our faithful RSS aggregator for our little circle. Will's original creation fell over while we were on vacation, and I hastily slapped together a copy over a dialup connection from Trinidad, and since then that's pretty much been it.

Simultaneously, my own aggregator, Planet Seldo (so named because it is running the same Planet RSS aggregation software that powers Afterlife) has been growing a bit too big for its boots.

So recently, when I discovered the really rather nifty CakePHP development framework, and I was casting around for a neat little starter project -- nothing too difficult -- an obvious possibility presented itself. Without further ado, allow me to humbly present seldo.net, an RSS aggregation service, now open for beta testing. It comes preloaded with four sets of feeds:

  • Afterlife, which is pretty much exactly the one you know and love.
  • Chatter, a fast-changing list of gossip and web meme sites -- perfect to kill 5 minutes the next time you're bored
  • News, a currently quite small list of medium-frequency non-mainstream news sites, currently mainly political.
  • People, a bunch of blogs written by interesting people, only about half of whom I've actually met.

So what's different?

  • Well, if all you're reading is Afterlife, through a web browser, almost nothing -- it looks a little nicer (in my opinion, though I am still a bit iffy on my various font choices).
  • "Other news" feature: every channel has a little preview box in the right column, showing you what's going on in the other channels. The idea is to give everybody some non-intrusive motivation to go clicking across to the other channels and use the feeds more thoroughly.
  • From a technical standpoint, it updates in a much friendlier way -- at maximum once every 15 minutes, but on demand, so during low-traffic periods (like when we're sleeping) it doesn't waste everyone's bandwidth.
  • Every channel comes with its own feed in Atom and RSS 2.0 formats, so you can easily plug these meta-feeds into your favourite reader.
  • The back-end is also a lot more robust at reading feeds, so really long links (Bob's perennial problem) will no longer cause Afterlife to ignore your feed.
  • It's doing a lot of other clever stuff under the hood, like feed normalization and stuff, which could be useful to a lot of people, but I've not properly exposed that functionality yet :-)
  • ...uh... the SEO is ass-kickingly good, but that's not really relevant.
  • Basically, it's not revolutionary or groundbreaking in any one. It's just sort of neat, and marginally better than the old version.

Is that it?

Nah, I have a lot of other stuff planned -- this is just the first, get-it-out-the-door release. I've got a lot more planned:

  • Per-user feeds. Don't like the channels I've created? Well, you'll be able to create your own, with urls like www.seldo.net/yourusername/yourfeedname (and www.seldo.net/yourusername will be an overall aggregation of all of your channels). Surprisingly (for me), most of the work to allow you to do this is already done -- I just have to switch it on once I've had a chance to test it properly.
  • Social interaction. Once we've got per-user feeds going, the right-hand column where "Other news" currently lives will get a little more interesting. You'll be able to see feeds that lots of people are subscribing to, and some nifty link-tracking Ajax will let me create a box of "today's most popular links"
  • Lots of customization. This is really the most basic site you can make with CakePHP; it's really suited to doing clever stuff with AJAX, so I intend to get that going as soon as possible -- feel free to suggest almost-impossible things you wish the site could do.

Caveat

Of course, this is just a beta, and I mean that. The links are a bit dodgy, it may occasionally throw up an error message, it may break completely, and it is definitely laughably insecure. If you know anything about CakePHP, two or three good guesses will give you the ability to wipe out the whole application. Don't do that, please.

Oh, and I've left the old Afterlife where it is in case this new one breaks, or doesn't meet your approval. It's not going away anytime soon, but if you prefer the old one, please let me know why this one sucks :-)

Enjoy!

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