Categories
Semantic Web Social Web

My Feedly wishlist

Richard MacManus wrote about the state of feed readers as he saw it in his AltPlatform.org post titled “The state of feed readers”. He mentioned a couple things in his Feedly wishlist that prompted me to think more about what I’d like to see added to Feedly.

Feedly – ye olde feed reader for the Information Age

If you haven’t heard of Feedly, it is a feed reader. Yup, those old fashioned services that use RSS to subscribe to new blog posts and other content available through RSS and then present it to you to read through at your leisure.

Many people have announced that RSS died with the advent of Twitter, Facebook, Flipboard or any number of other “Web 2.0” services. They are wrong.

While feed readers may not be as popular as they once were[1], they remain one of the best ways to receive the updates you care most about.

I loved using Google Reader back in the day and I switched to Feedly when Google killed Reader off. I still don’t understand why Google did that. Thankfully Feedly stepped into the void that Reader left behind.

It’s where my stuff is

I really like using Feedly. I think I’ve been using it since about 2008. Twitter is useful for breaking news but when I want to go through the content that matters most to me, I generally go to Feedly.

Like MacManus, I am a Feedly Pro user and it’s been worth it. I probably couldn’t tell you what all the Pro features are but I’m happy with the end result so I keep renewing my subscription.

I was meandering through some dusty directories on my Mac recently and I came across a Feedly benefit that I completely forgot about. It turns out that Feedly has been backing up my OPML files[2] to Dropbox since 2014 (possibly when I started paying for Pro).

Feedly has a “read later” feature but I haven’t really used it all that much. I have preferred using Instapaper or Pocket for that.

I also realised that I forgot that Feedly has also been saving articles I marked to “read later” using its native tool as PDFs in my Dropbox folder. This is a pretty useful feature and it probably would have been even more useful if I remembered that I had enabled it!

A more recent Feedly feature is the ability to highlight text in feed items rendered in Feedly itself. This only really works when you subscribe to full feeds and doesn’t extend to pages that open from Feedly.

I love this feature in Instapaper which I started using as a research tool because I could highlight text as well as annotate it with comments. Feedly doesn’t go quite that far but it has real potential.

My Feedly wishlist

As much as I enjoy using Feedly, I’d love to see a few more features added. For one thing, I’d really like text highlights to be made portable somehow.

I can definitely see myself using Feedly as the research tool I thought Instapaper may become (for me at least) but I’d need to be able to do more with those notations. Here are a few ideas that, if implemented, would make Feedly so much more useful to me.

More useful highlights

I’d like to have the ability to capture text highlights into some sort of text file that preserves the context/source of the highlights (in other words, the article title, source and perhaps even highlight timestamps). IFTTT doesn’t have access to highlights so that isn’t an option at the moment.

It would also be great to be able to share highlighted text coherently and contextually through 3rd party services including to blogs, perhaps using IndieWeb tools.

Better sharing options

On a related note, imagine if Feedly baked IndieWeb functionality such as Micropub that enables users to share highlights or some other form of marked up content outside Feedly?

In particular, I’d really like to be able to share a highlight or even just a post I like directly to my blog on my phone.

I can already do something like this in my desktop browser. Sharing to WordPress from my browser invokes the WordPress “Press This” functionality, which is great.

At the same time, I find that I use my phone more than my laptop and given how many people use their smartphones as their primary computers, it makes sense for Feedly to make mobile a first class citizen.

Perhaps this could take the form of a pre-formatted share directly through the WordPress app or an intermediary step with a text file.

Feedly doesn’t even seem to offer an option to see my highlights in one place like Instapaper does.

Instapaper notes
Instapaper highlights and notes view.

I’m not sure what is possible, technically. At the same time, I’d like to be able to select something I have highlighted and share it on my blog with the contextual data about that highlighted text preserved, much like you can see in this screenshot of some of my Instapaper notes.

You could even take that further and enable other Feedly users to highlight that text and capture it into their own profiles almost like Amazon enables people to see what other readers have highlighted in Kindle books and add those highlights to their own collections.

Doing more with Feedly Boards

Feedly has something called “Boards” which are basically lists of articles you save to pre-defined lists. I’d really like to be able to share an RSS feed of my boards on my blog, for example.

Feedly board example
An example of a Feedly board.

Fortunately, I can use IFTTT to capture the articles I save. Still, I’d like to be able to create a sort of link roll based on my Feedly boards as an option from within Feedly.

I imagine I can do something similar to this through IFTTT but this is something that would probably work better as a native Feedly feature.

Just putting the thought out there

As I watch this IndieWeb thing gather steam, I’m hopeful that the ethos spreads not just throughout the online publishing world (aka the Blogosphere vx.0) but also to services like Feedly.

There is a lot to say for social media services. In many ways they have connected the online world in a way that Humanity hasn’t experienced. At the same time, we desperately need independent services like Feedly that empower us to consume the information we choose the way we prefer to do it.

My suggestions may not be even remotely on Feedly’s roadmap so I’m not expecting them to be implemented. At the same time, if they are, the result could be an even better service that we have at the moment.

Featured image credit: rawpixel.com


  1. Thinking back, I don’t think feed readers ever actually had mass appeal, just a dedicated core group of users who saw the value in customisable content streams.  ↩
  2. OPML stands for “Outline Processor Markup Language”. My OPML files are basically lists or indices of my RSS subscriptions. They are a great example of data portability in action because you can usually import OPML files into new feed readers and retain all your content sources.  ↩
Categories
Events and Life Mindsets

How little I understand autism

I watched a pair of Apple ads that highlight an autistic teenager named Dillan. The ads highlight for me how little I understand autism and what an autistic person experiences. It will take more than these ads to gain that understanding but it’s a helpful reminder that there is much more to autism than many of us may think:

I love the idea that devices like the iPad (and, I’m sure, many others) can help autistic people express themselves to the rest of us more effectively and help them connect better.

Image credit: Pexels

Categories
Applications Business and work Tutorials Writing

How Instapaper could be an even better research tool

Instapaper has become so much more than a reading app to me. It has become a fantastic research tool too. As good as it is, it could be better (or, at least, it could do one thing better). Bear with me, I’ll explain.

As you may know, Instapaper introduced highlighting and commenting (or Notes) some time back. If you are using the “free” service you are limited to just 5 notes a month but if you become a Premium user for a mere $29.99 for a year (or $2.99 for a month), you have all the awesomeness that is Instapaper available to you.

My work involves a fair amount of writing. I typically write around 3,000 to 4,000 words a week in the form of blog posts for my employer’s blog. I also write guest posts for industry websites now and then and edit blog posts that my colleagues have written. My writing tool is Byword and I am a big fan. Reaching the point where I write those articles usually means doing a fair amount of research. That involves finding useful materials, saving them to Instapaper where possible and later going through my saved items in Instapaper to review them more closely.

Comments and highlights in Instapaper
Comments and highlights in Instapaper

At that point I use the highlighting and commenting tools a lot to pick out phrases and ideas that I want to incorporate into my articles. I created IFTTT recipes (here and here) that take highlights and comments and add them to running Evernote notes for each article.

The results are nicely laid out Evernote notes with all my highlighted texts and comments. It’s a useful way to aggregate all those highlights and comments in a central reference that I can go back to when it is time to write my article.

Comments from Instapaper collated in an Evernote note
Comments from Instapaper collated in an Evernote note

Instapaper has a Notes tab which has a list of all your highlights and comments but I haven’t used that. I’ve been using Evernote for years so it seemed like a good idea to just send my highlights and comments there rather than use the Instapaper option.

Instapaper's Notes view
Instapaper’s Notes view

I was home sick for a few days last week and my idea of rest was to research and start writing a mini-thesis about ad blocking and different perspectives on it and solutions for the challenges it creates. At one point I was highlighting and commenting so much I received a rate limiting warning from IFTTT telling me that I was about to hit an hourly limit on items sent to Evernote (I didn’t know such a limit even existed).

At the end of my research phase I had a dozen or two Evernote notes with dozens of items in each which I thought would be useful in my article. What hit me is how relatively unproductive this workflow is where I have a lot of material to review after the initial research. Making all those notes and highlights practically useful requires me to go through my Evernote notes and manually extract all of those items into some sort of outline of my article. My favourite outliner is OmniOutliner but any OPML-based outliner would work just about as well.

Usually I don’t use an outliner too because my articles aren’t generally as complex as this ad blocking piece. In this case, an outliner became essential. I was working on my outline and I realised that as terrific Instapaper is as a research tool, being able to automatically export all those highlights and notes into an outline that I could manipulate afterwards would be far more effective than flat Evernote notes.

The benefit of an outliner is that I can drag lines around and re-order the outline pretty easily. I could possibly even create an initial draft of the article in the outliner and finish it off in Byword or another word processor. It would really depend on how I structured my outline and how much of the article I’d want to write in it. In this case, I still did my writing in Byword but I split my screen and placed my outline on one side of my screen as a reference and wrote in the Byword window.

My split screen OmniOutliner-Byword perspective
My split screen OmniOutliner-Byword perspective

An alternative to this option is to just use Scrivener which is an excellent writing app. I started my article in Scrivener because it has an outlier function and the capacity to collect research materials in the app itself but I switched back to my Byword/OmniOutliner combo option – I just felt this strong need to stick with plain text in a simpler writing window.

Because my outline was more of a secondary outline after I finished my initial research, I still had to go back to Evernote to find individual quotes and arguments and combine material from both sources into my article. If I had been able to automatically send highlights and comments straight into an outliner, it would have placed all my reference materials into one outline from the start and made it a lot easier to structure that data for reference when I started writing.

So, my wish list for 2016 (I’m putting this out into the ether in case it is possible to make this a reality) is for some option to automatically export highlights and comments into coherent outlines just as I can create a similar workflow for Evernote. One possible solution is to create an integration with Dave Winer’s Fargo.io outliner. It should be something simple and create an OPML file that you can manipulate later to create the basis of an article or similar document.

Image credit: Writing by Unsplash, released under a CC0 dedication