Ask not what Bloglines can do to you

Bloglines has been berry, berry good to me. You probably already know many of the good things it does, but unless you’re subscribed to several hundred feeds on the wrong end of a dialup line, you can’t imagine how nice it was to suddenly not have to pull down an entire feed just to get one new entry (or none, if someone still doesn’t get conditional GET).

Still, I knew all along that it was a business, even though it was free enough. Any time I needed a reminder, all I had to do was dip into the horror that’s Yahoo! Groups, purchased from eGroups, formed from eGroups and Bloglines founder Mark Fletcher’s ONElist. Every time I have to view an interstitial ad while trying to clean up spam on a Yahoo! Groups list I administer, I know that’s the end result of something Mark started as a wonderful free service.

While I’m glad to hear that

We will take our time determining the optimal business model for the service. We will continue to put the user experience first. As part of a bigger company there will be more options for Bloglines – from indirect monetization (through increased usage of our other brands) to direct if there is a model that makes sense for everyone.

this time I’m not going to wait and see. In fact, I didn’t wait and see, I read about it in Feed on Feeds.

FoF’s rough as a cob, it keeps triggering what I think is a Firefox frames bug and setting the feedlist frame’s source to about:blank, the autodiscovery is far too simpleminded, taking the first application/rss+xml it finds, ignoring Atom and not offering a preview when there are multiple feeds to be found, there’s some extra escaping going on in titles, so I read mnot’s Web log and some seriously twisted post titles from AKMA, the HTML (lack of) security is frightening, not being able to read or even subscribe to a feed when it’s in a temporary not-well-formed state is a pain, and you know what? None of that matters, for three simple reasons: freedoms 1 through 3. I can fix the things that bother me, where I could never fix Bloglines; I can tell you how to fix them, or fix them for you; I can give Steve my fixes to put in a future version, or if worst comes to worst and we disagree about what it should do too completely, I can come up with a new name and head off in another direction.

Bloglines did many nice things for me, and I sincerely wish Mark all the best with Ask Jeeves, but it’s time for me to see what I can do for Feed on Feeds, rather than wait for the monetization hammer to come down on Bloglines.


Comment by Phil Ringnalda #
2005-02-07 23:40:34

On the other hand, one thing I don’t want to ”fix” to be more like Bloglines is the pace of new items. For the first hour or two, I missed the way that Bloglines could feed me a few new posts every couple of minutes, like a rat pressing a lever and getting a food pellet. Then I realized how much more time I have: I get a shot of posts at ten of, I read them, bookmark them, open a tab to think about posting or commenting, whatever, then I’m done. Without the incessant drip, drip, drip of posts jacked straight into a vein, if I’m done reading by ten after, then I need to actually do something else for a while, conceivably even something productive.

Comment by Geodog #
2005-02-08 01:10:32

Welcome — I’m sure FOF will be much improved by your usage.

Comment by Matt Clements #
2005-02-08 07:05:48

Thanks for pointing out FoF Phil. I’ve installed it on my server and have been tinkering with it this morning. It seems to have a lot of potential!

Comment by Dorothea Salo #
2005-02-08 08:23:42

Sigh. I’m probably going to move too. But it’s not high on my priority list just at the moment — gotta graduate, get a job, move, and sell house first.

But, yeah. I remember egroups.

Comment by steve minutillo #
2005-02-08 09:05:43

No! FoF isn’t ready for its 15 minutes yet!

Comment by Geof F. Morris #
2005-02-08 09:23:22

Well, too late, Steve. :)

[Hopefully you’re ready for folks to give you more help in developing it …]

And Phil, my biggest thing is that, at the end of the day, you own your data in FoF. Yes, there’s a cost to that [and it comes in maintaining the code on your own], but that’s fine by me.

Comment by Pete Prodoehl #
2005-02-08 11:23:03

Ah, with the brilliant mind of Phil Ringnalda toiling away at FoF improvements, nothing can stop us! (Insert evil laugh here.)

Seriously, I moved to FoF long ago because I was tired of the limitations of Bloglines (which is definitely a great tool, but not friendly to the tinkerer/hacker who wants to experiment.)

The first thing I did was tweak FoF to be just a little bit more like Bloglines as far as UI, then I added in things like ratings, per-feed scanning schedules, and other crazy things. Phil, about the frames bug, nowadays I just pull the side frame with the list of feeds into my sidebar in Firefox, which works well for me.

But I’m sure you have some ideas of your own, which you will share with us shortly.

Right? ;)

Comment by Phil Ringnalda #
2005-02-08 11:28:41

Heh. We’ll see: I’m vastly better about intentions than actions.

Comment by Phil Ringnalda #
2005-02-08 20:04:41

But, really, no.

You and I and anyone who knows me know I’m not brilliant, by any stretch of the imagination. I’m a plodder, a tweaker of other people’s ideas. At my best, well, I’m dogged.

But I’ve had plenty of time to adjust to that, and it doesn’t much bother me. If the crowning achievement of my last few months hanging around the Mozilla Project (assuming the bloody patch gets reviewed) is someone else’s dozen line patch, that’s fine by me. There wasn’t anyone else who was willing to just keep plodding along, duping bugs and saying ”no, I’m pretty sure the extensions are doing the right thing, and we’re just measuring wrong” and putting up trivial testcases and trying to put the bug in front of the right set of eyes to get it fixed, no one but me. Brilliant people who can land eye-popping features are great, I wouldn’t claim to be a digital mapgie if I didn’t love to drag home shiny new pretties to play with, but I think there’s room for plodders who will notice that something’s not quite right with Page Info not resolving relative URLs in image inputs and form actions, and say ”umm… ?” to the right people.

There’s no way I’ll be able to write a distributed P2P Bayesian shared-attention rating system for FoF, just like there’s no way I could ever have written the Universal Feed Parser. But, I might be dogged enough, and sufficiently unafraid of shipping, to figure out a way of making both Magpie and the UFP drop in alternatives, so that people with Python 2.2+ available can have FoF parse evil RSS-like near-XML things, and those without can still use Magpie. And if not, there are sure to be other things, annoying rough edges that nobody else feels like taking the time to sand down. I’m pretty sure there’s something I can do for FoF.

Comment by Geof F. Morris #
2005-02-09 04:41:48

I might be dogged enough, and sufficiently unafraid of shipping, to figure out a way of making both Magpie and the UFP drop in alternatives, so that people with Python 2.2+ available can have FoF parse evil RSS-like near-XML things, and those without can still use Magpie.

I think I’d name my firstborn son Phil for that. [Or something.]

Comment by Anil #
2005-02-08 14:32:18

I’m kind of curious why you decided to jump now, instead of waiting to see if there were negative changes?

I don’t know Mark, but from what I understand, eGroups’ descent happened *after* he stopped being involved in it, and it’s Yahoo to blame for the suckiness of Y!Groups. If Bloglines still meets your needs better, why wouldn’t you keep using it?

(I say this as someone who’s tried to hack FoF into something usable and gave up, because it’s just a mess from a UI standpoint.)

Comment by Phil Ringnalda #
2005-02-08 20:44:58

No, that was poorly put: I don’t think at all that Mark ruined eGroups, other than by selling it to the Philistines. That ruin may have been certain, and inevitable, or may not have been, but I don’t have any reason to believe that it was something he wanted, that his goal was to turn his baby into an ad spewing monster.

But saying that Bloglines meets my needs is overstating it a bit: it meets those of my needs that Mark feels are also the needs of a broad enough segment of the market that he’s after, which is fine, but I don’t want to have items marked as read when I click the link to display them (ever clicked that link, to display a couple hundred items, and then lost your connection?), and I don’t want to see channel images, and I want to be able to send an item to my choice of blogging app, not to my aggregator’s own blogging app. The one perfect aggregator for everyone from people who read three blogs and two newspapers to people who read 350 blogs just isn’t going to happen, and with Bloglines, I don’t have even a ghost of a hint of freedom one. In the early days, I reported a few problems, and got actual personal replies, but if Bloglines is going to be the one and only aggregator for RSS, while RSS and blogging are going to explode, that’s not going to happen anymore, and the most I can hope for is the sort of canned replies I get from Blogger these days.

But why now? Well, there’s simply no possible way there won’t be negative changes: at a minimum, there must be links to tie into Jeeves’ other properties, none of which I want to trip over while using it, and more likely there will be ads to ignore or a fee to pay to not see the ads. At some point, to get the features I want rather than the features someone else wants, and to not have to have ads slathered on my second most basic online activity or to not have to pay someone to do something I can do myself (I also cut firewood, and sometimes work on cars, and kill things and eat them, because it pleases me to do for myself) I’m going to have to jump to something that I can control, and affect. Why wouldn’t I do it now, so that I can make it even better by the time there’s a bigger stream of people looking to jump on board? I started using Firefox at 0.2: I don’t insist that something be completely finished and the hot popular thing before I start using it and trying to help it along.

Comment by Jenny Levine #
2005-02-08 17:25:07

Isn’t Simple Aggregator the new version of FOF? That’s what I’m in the process of moving to now, so I’m hoping maybe it’s the newer code and you’ll start playing with it?… ;-)

Comment by Phil Ringnalda #
2005-02-08 20:22:13

Well, I could easily be wrong, but I don’t think so, not exactly. I love the name, because it abbreviates down so nicely to SlAgger, but: FoF has ten releases between May 2003 and December 2004. SlAgger has two releases, between mid-July and early-August 2004. SlAgger is an architecturally pure rewrite of FoF, which requires both Python (>2.2, which lets out a lot of people) and a working PEAR installation (which lets out a lot more people).

SlAgger may be open source in spirit, as well as in license, somewhere behind the scenes, but looking from the outside, it’s one person’s aggregator written the way he wants it, with architecturally pure code. FoF, on the other hand, is sitting there on SourceForge, waiting for people to decide that they want to work on it badly enough to persuade Steve to either accept their patches or give them CVS access. FoF is one more person set up as a SourceForge developer away from being immortal, for as long as people care to hack on it; SlAgger may well already be dead, for all I can tell from the three posts about it last summer.

For today? SlAgger’s a whole lot prettier, and uses a parser that’s much more able to deal with malformed XML. For the long run? I don’t see any reason to believe there will be a 1.2, so it better be exactly what you want, right now.

Comment by Fazal Majid #
2005-02-09 01:58:26

If you prefer Python to PHP, you may want to try my aggregator Temboz, which was inspired by FOF (I used FOF for about a year after I ditched Radio Userland), but adds a number of features, like an easier to read 2-column layout, filtering capabilities, and more.

Comment by Tim Hadley #
2005-02-09 12:06:51

If (when!) FoF matures to the point that one can set it up and run it smoothly and securely without knowledge of coding, it sounds like something I’d really like. I just have inadequate coding skills and time to hack on it.

I’ll add it to the list of projects I need to keep an eye on!

Comment by Tim (Bishop) #
2005-02-12 01:59:15

You don’t need any knowledge of coding to set FOF up, and you can do fun stuff with it with a very minimal knowlege of coding — I know very little, and I was able to build a home-grown RSS search for the 100 or so feeds I’ve been accumulating in FOF for the last year, taking advantage of MySQL 4+ built-in full-text indexing.

Really, come on in, the water is fine.

Comment by Tim Hadley #
2005-02-13 15:59:23

I’m going to give it a shot, but right now I’m allowed only one mysql db on my hosting service.

I might be able to get free access on a friend’s server, but I have to track him down and ask him to give me access to create databases first. So for the moment I’m out of luck. But I do want to give it a try.

Comment by Pete Prodoehl #
2005-02-14 05:49:30

Actually, you might be able to just use your existing single database, as I think FoF allows you to choose the table names. (Not 100% sure on that, but other apps do this as well to work around the ’one database’ problem.)

Comment by Phil Ringnalda #
2005-02-15 00:15:53

Allows you to change them (down in the ”you shouldn’t need to change this” section of config.php), and names them px_feeds and px_items by default, which aren’t too likely to collide with anything else. A more likely problem in impoverished hosting would be running out of db connections by having an update going, while you are reading and marking things read, while also getting a few hundred spam comments and trackbacks on a weblog using the same db, though I’m not sure how likely (or whether it would be a real problem, or just a bit of a delay) that is.

Comment by Matt #
2005-02-11 01:33:45

If you’re interested in hacking on the WordPress aggregator drop me an email.

Comment by Mike Mariano #
2005-02-18 22:22:48

And not two weeks after Phil’s entry, look who joins the party


I’m the Bloglines Plumber. Bloglines is down for a little fixer upper….

That poor overalled man is no doubt currently facing the wrath of his new employer, while thousands of blog junkies are fumbling around with their browser’s location bars, trying to remember if www.whatdoiknow ends in .com or .org and doing mental arithmetic to guess if, on the other side of the world, Cory Doctorow is awake and posting.

And Phil is laughing at us all. Feed on Feeds only goes down when your webhost does. Of course, for some of us, that means Bloglines still has a much better track record.

Comment by Phil Ringnalda #
2005-02-18 22:45:55

And just to be as twisty as possible, I wanted to look at Bloglines while writing about the Feed on Feeds problem of having to berate people about letting their feeds become not-well-formed, since with FoF you are using the least-liberal of XML parsers, but I couldn’t find out what Bloglines uses to indicate feeds that it’s having trouble with, because the plumber was busy.

Comment by bruno #
2005-03-03 13:12:00

About four months ago I started hacking on FoF, precisely because I was tired of not being able to get the features I wanted from Bloglines when I wanted them. The result is Feedmarker, a web based RSS/ATOM reader and bookmarks manager with tagging ( Sign up for an account ( and let me know what you think.

2005-11-21 16:08:18

[…] Apparently my parting post when I left Bloglines wasn’t quite accurately titled: you should ask what Bloglines can do to you, and whether you’re willing to put up with it. […]

Comment by Matthew #
2005-12-05 10:57:09

Not that you asked for suggestions in this post, but Gregarius(, might be a whole lot closer to what you want out of the box, than FOF and it has a somewhat decent plugin system.

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