In my opinion, one the best things that the Internet has to offer is the use of RSS feeds to bring us articles and news items that are matched to our personal interests. (Well, that after the Internet providing a repository of instantly accessible knowledge and information for almost anything under the sun to begin with.) A Google News search was once fairly easy to make an RSS feed for, but for some reason Google stopped making it easy. Fortunately, Bing lets the user easily create RSS feeds for news search terms. The news searches are integral to the feeds that I design for my interests.
Yahoo Pipes has provided an excellent way for the casual Internet user to combine multiple feeds into a single feed. It is a free service that uses a graphical user interface (GUI), and as such requires no coding skills. Yahoo Pipes provides an easy-to-use means to filter out duplicate items from different feeds, and to fetch items according to specified parameters. It can look more complicated and intimidating than it has to be for the most basic functions that most people need of it. Just by combining a few simple elements it was possible to combine feeds with it, and it is very stable. It works really well.
What I would typically do is use the Yahoo Pipes RSS output as the source for a FeedBurner feed that provides a sleeker appearance.
However, most unfortunately, with Yahoo’s recent layoffs Pipes is being shut down and will come to an end September 30th. There is currently nothing comparable to the service that is a) free, and b) as easy to use.
There are currently some paid alternatives, but until a worthy successor comes along I will elect to make do with free alternatives. (There are IFTTT recipes that, best I can see, require a paid subscription to Feedly. The subscription rules out that option for me…)
The free version of Feedly allows you to combine various feeds into one, and probably has the most engaging GUI that I have seen in search of replacements for Yahoo Pipes. However one feature I find annoying about Feedly is that it continues to feature many of the same articles at the top of the feed order (which as far as I can see is based on most recent publication). These same articles are being republished on a daily basis then? Anyway, with the free version I don’t see a way to tweak this.
The Old Reader (TOR) lets you track up to 100 feeds for free. TOR’s GUI isn’t nearly as nice looking as Feedly’s but it does at least seem to fetch and display items in the order that they are published and avoids item duplications.
In comparing Yahoo Pipes (which, as mentioned, is ending in a couple months), the free version of Feedly, and the free version of TOR, what I’m seeing for some of the busier feeds I have created (e.g., one has 16 feed sources) is the following:
- Yahoo Pipes (via Feedburner) brings me the most recently published items, basically instantly
- TOR has some significant lag in how quickly it fetches results, but seems to do a respectable job
- Feedly is the sleekest looking but least consistent of the three (as mentioned, it keeps putting the same apparently ‘republished daily’ (?) items towards the top of the order).
There are some other simple free services, including FeedCombine, FeedRinse, and RSSMix. In some cases I have had success with these for very simple needs. But it seems that for the larger feed combinations they fail, likely due to parsing errors. They all seem to not accept Bing News searches, which rules them out for most of my needs.
Kimomo Labs provides a free service that works similar to Yahoo Pipes–and it is actually even more impressive in terms of fine-tuning search parameters and results. It is however over the head of most causal users. Intuitive and instantly user-friendly it is not, in my humble opinion. And for the most complicated feeds that I currently combine it actually failed. Kimono Labs does provide tech support, but that is more trouble than I want to go to for something like this. Especially when I can use something like Feedly or TOR to basically get the job done without the bother.
The other current options require coding skills. Huggin allows you to set up your own local server to do what Yahoo Pipes does. That’s great if you have the coding skills, or have the time, patience, and energy to learn it. Otherwise I should imagine that it’s not something most casual users will feel is worth the trouble.
None of this addresses how to share the feeds with others. Using Feedly and TOR you can only view them via a personal log in. The combined feed is exportable via .opml file, but thus far I’ve been encountering problems in getting them to display properly via various readers. I’m going to continue to work on finding a good way to accomplish that.
Incidentally, this is the sort of post I would normally make in my Whizbang! blog, but I figured I’d change things up and originate the post here first. I haven’t really been able to attend to the Whizbang! project since returning to graduate school, but there I explore ways of finding, organizing, and curating web content of interest to the individual user. Hopefully after I finish school I’ll be able to returned to that hobby and give it more attention.