Awasu » 2006 » July
Monday 31st July 2006 1:25 PM [General]

We try to include at least one really cool feature for each beta release. For 2.2.1, we added offline feed item/images and the new channel templates while for 2.2.3, it was the powerful metadata processing features and the significantly improved speed.

For 2.2.4, we're already in the process of laying the groundwork for an awesomely cool new feature: the ability to synchronize Awasu with online browser-based feed readers. Awasu's current synchronization capability is already very powerful and comprehensive but it's Awasu-to-Awasu only. Sometimes you just want access to your feeds from a browser, without having to install Awasu (e.g. at an Internet cafe).

Thing is, we're having a bit of trouble finding a decent online feed reader to synchronize with :roll:. We were hoping to be able to work with Google Reader but it's API is not well-suited for the bulk updates that would be required. It'll work but it will be insanely slow. Feed Lounge has a very nice interface but no suitable API. Attensa's online reader is also nice but ditto for the API πŸ™

In fact, the best option we've found so far is Gregarius. It's open source so we can add the necessary API to it ourselves but the problem is that it needs to be hosted (i.e. you need to set it up on your own server). We can provide a limited service during the testing phase but this is definitely not something we want to be doing on a large scale once the Awasu beta is released.

Does anyone know of a decent online feed reader that has an API that we can use to synchronize with?

Saturday 29th July 2006 3:11 PM [General]

This is just too funny.

My neighbours are stealing my wireless internet access. I could encrypt it or alternately I could have fun.

For the non-geeks amongst you, there are screenshots at the bottom of the page but the stuff at the top is a bunch of networking magic that identifies computers that are not authorized to access the network and flips all images upside-down

Saturday 29th July 2006 2:53 PM [General]

It's been a while since I got my brown belt in Yoshinkan Aikido but I finally upgraded it to black :clap:

The grading was actually a few weeks ago but the instructor likes to make students wait before giving out results πŸ™„ and I only picked up my new belt this afternoon. My feeling is pretty much the same as it was when I got my brown belt: it's nice to have but it's not really what it's about. Much more important is what I've learned, am able to do and how I've trained to get to this point. Having said that, I must confess to looking seriously cool in the mirror while training today

Shodan (first degree black belt) actually means "beginning step" and contrary to popular belief, doesn't mean you're an expert martial artist but in fact, the complete opposite. It's like a high school diploma; you've learnt the basics and are now prepared to start the real task of studying the art. I remember my instructor once saying that he didn't bother to really teach students until they had got their black belt πŸ™‚

If you're interested, check out this documentary on Yoshinkan Aikido, filmed at my dojo in Australia. And this is an insanely cool clip of my instructor, Joe Thambu Sensei, demonstrating at the 50th All Japan Yoshinkan Aikido Demonstration where he won the Tokubetsu Embu Sho (prize for best demonstration)

Anyone want to arrange a Feed Reader Developers' Smack-down? I'm ready! 😎

Wednesday 19th July 2006 10:50 AM [Awasu News]

Awasu 2.2.3 has been released.

This release rocks! First off, it contains a lot of optimizations and other tweaks that fix the performance issues that some people were reporting. Awasu just flies now! ::-):

The other major feature addresses some of the questions that people around the net are starting to ask: (1) can I get at the extra information that many publishers are embedding in their feeds and (2) can I actually do anything with all this information coming in (other than just sit in front of the screen and watch it fly by)?

Metadata modules are a new addition that let you tell Awasu how to extract any extra information that may have been embedded in a feed. Many modules have already been set up to handle most of the feed extensions in common use today (screenshots) and you can, of course, write your own.

Metadata modules close the loop and fully enable Awasu to be a truly powerful information management tool. You can publish feeds with your own proprietary information embedded in them (or use Awasu's plugin channels to retrieve the info from anywhere) and then use metadata modules to tell Awasu how to extract that custom info from the feed. Channel hooks provide the final magic, allowing you to analyze all this yummy data and take some action based upon it! :clap:

I hate to use the word innovative since it has gotten such a bad smell from overuse by the hypesters but Awasu is really starting to push the envelope for what feed readers can do. If you just want something to monitor a bunch of blogs, there are lots of choices but if you need something with a bit of grunt under the hood and can actually do something useful with the flood of information, you've come to the right place... 😎

Wednesday 19th July 2006 9:00 AM [General]

Continuing our occasional series of challenges to watch something and not collapse on the floor in hysterical laughter, I present The Knights of the Round Table - Star Trek TOS :hysterical:

I honestly don't know what to say 😯

Tuesday 11th July 2006 7:14 AM [Awasu News]

The third 2.2.3 alpha release (what's this?) is now available here.

This release fixes up the last of the issues from the previous alphas and a few other minor things. There will only be a few small additions before it is released as the 2.2.3 beta.

Wednesday 5th July 2006 10:26 AM [General]

I was going to write about this when 2.2.3 was released (in about two weeks) but there's a bit of a discussion going on right now about it so here's my $0.02 now.

It all started when DeWitt Clinton, a senior developer at Amazon's A9 project wrote about the advantages of Atom over RSS:

But what if you wanted to put something interesting inside a syndicated content feed? What if you wanted to put valid XHTML in a feed? You went through the trouble of writing XHTML, why should it be flattened to an opaque blob of "maybe plain text maybe escaped HTML but I’m not really sure"?

What if you added semantic microformat markup to your HTML? If you're using an opaque data format, then you may as well have spared yourself the effort, as no client will know it's there (my emphasis).

Or what if you wanted to put some other structured data in your syndicated content feed? Geospacial data, perhaps. Product data. Or perhaps Google’s GData format. If it's syndicated over RSS, no one will ever know.

This mirrors almost exactly what I said in the 2.2.3.alpha2 release announcement:

More and more feed publishers are now embedding specialized information in their feeds such as licensing details, geocodes, or publisher-specific metadata (e.g. Digg or Furl). Thing is, most feed readers simply ignore it all because they don't even realize it's there πŸ™„

Now, the last thing I want is to get involved in the RSS vs. Atom format wars so I'll limit my comments to a single statement of fact: there are some things you can do with Atom that you can't with RSS.

Microformats

Microformats are the new kid on the XML block, providing a way to embed small amounts of information in things like RSS or Atom feeds. A bunch of them have been published here and they have been very cleverly designed to allow them to be embedded in such a way that they can be read by both a human (i.e. they will appear in a browser page) and by a computer (i.e. they are accessible by parsing the XML).

If you think about it, the whole concept of RSS/Atom is a bit of a kludge. The same information is being published by a web site in two different formats, HTML and XML, for no reason other than computers can't really understand HTML and my Mom definitely can't understand XML. Being able to embed information in a format that is accessible to both parties will play a major part in (what I predict will be) the success of microformats. Already, major players such as Yahoo! and Technorati are using microformats to embed information in normal web pages, publishing information in a format suitable for humans but it's only a matter of time before the tools are written that go to these pages and extract this information out of them.

Why change

XHTML was never widely adopted because there was no real reason to change. Being able to reliably parse XHTML pages was always touted as one of the main benefits of converting but really, who cares about markup? Having useful information embedded in a page, accessible to both humans and computers, is a much more compelling reason.

The same applies for Atom over RSS. People often say that users shouldn't have to care about which format they're using and that's exactly right. It's also precisely why Atom hasn't made much headway in replacing RSS as the dominant format πŸ™„ Most publishing systems come with RSS set as the default and it's good enough. People don't have a reason to change and so they don't.

But they do now.

Yummy data

Syndication is about moving information around and if all you want to shift is a bit of HTML, then RSS is fine (assuming that it doesn't contain any angle brackets or ampersands, of course :roll:). But as soon as you want to do anything remotely serious like embed geocodes, details of upcoming events, your own proprietary information, then you'll find RSS just isn't up to the job. You either embed it as an opaque blob of "maybe plain text maybe escaped HTML but I’m not really sure" intended for human eyes but not accessible by a computer, or as XML where a program can get at it but you would never want to present to a user.

Embedding microformats in an Atom feed lets you have your cake and eat it too. It'll take a while for people to catch on to this but once they start seeing the benefits of microformats and realize that RSS can't handle it, they'll switch.

And when people start embedding all this yummy data in their feeds, you need a client that recognizes that it's there and is able to understand it.

That's where Awasu joins the party... 😎

Just in case this post wasn't long enough for ya, DeWitt also has a very good piece on how the web is decentralizing and the effect that is having on our data and how we use it. Because ultimately, that's what it's all about: doing what you want to do with your data.

Monday 3rd July 2006 12:04 PM [Awasu News]

The second 2.2.3 alpha release (what's this?) is now available here.

If the first alpha release was about optimizations, this one is all about "Metadata! Metadata! Metadata!" 😎 Not quite as impressive-sounding but this release packs some extremely powerful new features.

More and more feed publishers are now embedding specialized information in their feeds such as licensing details, geocodes, or publisher-specific metadata (e.g. Digg or Furl). Thing is, most feed readers simply ignore it all because they don't even realize it's there πŸ™„

Metadata modules are extensions that tell Awasu where to find this information in a feed and how to extract it. It then gets saved in the archive database, attached to the feed item it was received in. Modules are included in this release for RSS extensions in common use and you can see screenshots of them in action here.

The real power becomes apparent when you start publishing your own feeds, with your own specific metadata embedded in them. You can then create your own metadata module that tells Awasu how to extract it from a feed and present it to the user! 😎 There's not another feed reader on the planet that gives you the power to configure it to understand your information and this is another step towards the realization of our vision of RSS as a transport mechanism for information.

The other main feature is columns in item panes. This also hooks into the metadata framework, allowing you set up any number of columns and show arbitrary metadata in them. The screenshot shows a feed coming from Digg, with Digg-specific information in the columns that has been extracted by the Digg metadata module :clap:

As always, have fun and I'll get cracking on the next release... :whip:

Sunday 2nd July 2006 6:56 AM [Awasu News]

The competition for channel templates has closed and copies of the Professional Edition are on their way to all entrants :clap:

One of the entrants was almost apologetic about her submissions, saying that she had simply tweaked some of the existing ones and wasn't sure if they qualified for entry. To which I would say: absolutely!

The creative process is very much a case of building upon other peoples' work. A musician or dancer or painter spends an untold number of years studying work of the masters who have gone before them, simply copying their work at first but as their ability increases, adding their own ideas and interpretations until they have developed a style of their own. Even then, it is often easy to see the influence of other people in their work.

So yes, simply tweaking one of our existing templates is fine and LittleDino came up with a look that I never would have (a bit too girly for me :-)). The whole point of the competition was to show how easy it is to come up with your own themes and you've all shown exactly that.

Thanks! 😎