Thursday, October 13, 2011

Web services and the kindness of strangers

Your blog can be a journey rather than a most-recent-first news site.

You can show your blog content in chronological order, instead of reverse-order default, using a method that relies on external web services to flip the posts around.

These services are web sites that let you manipulate data, in this case having to do with your blog's feed. The services are free and rely on the kindness of strangers.

Web services make my blog-journey hack a little daunting (though people have told me it's easier than it sounds). This approach requires bloggers to think of their content in new ways, and to learn how to use these third-party web services a little bit.

Besides that difficulty, however, there is another pitfall.

These free web services are subject to changes, sometimes without notice. Feed2js.org, which turns feeds into scripts that you can just paste into your blog, is so useful and popular that it may have to shut down (or find a revenue stream to pay for all the server time it consumes).

Similarly, the folks at Yahoo Pipes last summer completely rewrote their "pipes engine"--the software that, among other things, flips the posts around. Unfortunately their method was to switch abruptly to a buggy version and turn its user base into involuntary beta testers. It caused some problems for some bloggers.

In other words, we use these free external services, but consequently are subject to free external outages, changes, and other developments beyond our control, often without notice.

Is this acceptable to you? If you use Blogger, perhaps it ought to be. Blogger is itself a free web service, and from time to time Blogger experiences glitches and outages, or introduces unpopular or buggy changes without notice. But it is no fun when it happens.

There are also advantages to using web services, which are less likely to break when Blogger tweaks itself or when Microsoft rolls out some new browser that breaks the Document Object Model. Nonetheless the services can be subject to disruption.

P.S. I continue to post news about the fate of feed2js as events unfold.

Web services and the kindness of strangers

Your blog can be a journey rather than a most-recent-first news site.

You can show your blog content in chronological order, instead of reverse-order default, using a method that relies on external web services to flip the posts around.

These services are web sites that let you manipulate data, in this case having to do with your blog's feed. The services are free and rely on the kindness of strangers.

Web services make my blog-journey hack a little daunting (though people have told me it's easier than it sounds). This approach requires bloggers to think of their content in new ways, and to learn how to use these third-party web services a little bit.

Besides that difficulty, however, there is another pitfall.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Suddenly, "please support feed2js" at the end of every script

As I write this there is an unexpected emergency note at the bottom of every feed script that runs though feed2js.org:
Attn web site owners: Please support Feed2JS!
This note, with this link, appears unwanted on every blog and web site that uses this service. Here's what's happening and how to make the message go away.

Feed2js, one of two web services used in my blog-journey hack, is a labor of love for a programmer named Alan Levine.

This service is useful and popular and has become the victim of its own success. Alan can no longer afford to pay for servers to keep feed2js running. He's asking for donations and looking for a long-term solution.

To let people know about this, he has appended a short message to the end of the output of every script from his site. That means that every user of my hack is suddenly showing that message on their blogs.

This is unpleasant and unfortunate, but I realize that Alan has no other way to contact us. We do not register to use his service and he does not have our email addresses. His unwanted postscript is certainly preferable, from my point of view, to suddenly finding that the service has been pulled completely and that none of the scripts work any more.

The short message links to a full explanation, and if you read it you will discover a simple way to disable the nag message with a few lines of css that you can add to your template. I tip my hat to Alan's thoughtful conduct.

The code is
li.f2jnag {
display:none;
}
Adding it suppresses the short note.

I have made a small donation, and urge you to do so too if you use feed2js. But Alan does not seem to feel that continually chasing small donations is a good solution, and he'd like to find a long-term home for his free service. If he can't, we'll all be looking for an alternative.

Alan suggests a few of these in his message, and I'd be curious to hear from anyone who has tried them out.

Update: Alan now says donations have bought five months to find a solution. In the mean time the service works fine and you can remove the nag line with the css above.

Update: As of Thanksgiving 2011, Alan has enough support to continue "at least through June 2013."

Suddenly, "please support feed2js" at the end of every script

As I write this there is an unexpected emergency note at the bottom of every feed script that runs though feed2js.org:
Attn web site owners: Please support Feed2JS!
This note, with this link, appears unwanted on every blog and web site that uses this service. Here's what's happening and how to make the message go away.