29-Sep-2009 10:26PM CDT
I have long been aware of RSS. i tried subscribing to some feeds from time-to-time; however, I never found an RSS reader that I really liked. I tried Google Reader when it first came out, and i don't remember being particular impressed by it. I don't actually remember what I didn't like by it, but I didn't use it for several years.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I happened to login to it again and subscribe to a few more feeds and this time i really fell for it. I like how I can put the feeds into folders and can use keyboard shortcuts to move from one item to the next. I now subscribe to 21 different feeds, and I actually do a pretty good job of reading them all.
Now that I've accepted how handy RSS is for keeping up-to-date with news websites, I'm now finding myself wishing I could keep track of websites that don't have RSS feeds. In my past experiences with RSS, I had written Perl scripts to convert websites into RSS feeds, but recently i discovered an online tool that is useful for parsing websites: Yahoo Pipes. Pipes has a GUI that lets users pass web pages and other data sources through filters to extract useful information. This is useful for creating "mash ups" between multiple data sources, but it is also useful for extracting information from single web pages. As an experiment, I used Pipes to create an RSS feed for railpictures.net. I definitely could've written a Perl script to accomplish the same in less time than it took me to use the Pipes GUI: the Pipes GUI seems pretty clunky, but maybe it will become easier to use with experience.
One thing I'd really like to seem with Pipes is a better why of extracting items from an HTML page. Currently you can define where to start looking for items in a page, where to stop, and what to use as a delimiter. It would be really nice if the GUI could show you a rendered page and let you "teach" Pipes how to parse items out of the page by highlighting elements in which you are interested.
Back to Google Reader for a moment. Another interesting feature in Google Reader is the ability to share items or even entire folders. If you are interested check out: