Thursday, December 25, 2008

Fun with RSS

Thanks to fellow SA science blogger Orion Spur, I found myself perusing RealWriteWeb's 100 Best Products of 2008 (a fantastic resource), and there came upon their list of the Top 10 RSS Syndication Products of the year. It's via the latter that I discovered PostRank, perhaps the most useful RSS tool since the invention of Google Reader... So why do I like it so much? Well, say you subscribe to a high-volume but intermittently interesting feed. That is, you're subscribed to a blog that's very good but gets updated very regularly -- a bit too regularly. Traditionally, in such a case, you basically had two options: unsubscribe and miss out on the good stuff or wade through tons of not necessarily interesting posts in order to get to the good stuff.

PostRank, bless it, adds a third option... Using a PageRank-esque algorithm (that takes account of the number of comments, Diggs, inbound links, saves and so on) PostRank gives a feed's individual posts a score of between 1 and 10, and these rankings in turn allows filtering for quality. So, for example, I love Phyrangula but I can handle only so many three-line posts about some random US politician defending creationism (or whatever). So all I have to do is add Phyrangula's feed to PostRank, specify that I only want to see "Great" posts (i.e. those with a PostRank score higher than 6), and then subscribe to the custom feed that gets generated, using my customary feed reader. The result? No to Jolly Squidmas wishes, but yes to the conversion of a prominent atheist blogger to Christianity. Best of all, there are two helpful Firefox addons that works with the service: a feed manager that makes handling all those RSS's simple, and AideRSS Google Reader integration that improves Google Reader with various PostRank tools.

Of course, the filtering is only as good as the algorithm, but so far I'm very impressed with the results. Obviously, also, there are a bunch of other ways PostRank is useful; I've only focused on the filtering because I'm so keen to reduce my RSS reading duties...


  1. Hi Michael -- thanks for the blessing! ;)

    Always very cool to see new folks discovering our tools and getting real value out of them.

    Interestingly, while our widget is intended to help publishers showcase their best content for their readers, we've heard from a number of people that it also helps do good things to get exposure to all the stuff once buried in their archive. (Of course topic search, which allows readers to find exactly what they're interested in, doesn't hurt, either.)

    Do keep us in the loop as to how things work out for you. And, as always, we love feedback, suggestions, etc.

  2. Thanks Melanie.

    The feature I'd most like the PostRank team to create is better word filtering, specifically, the ability to filter with Boolean strings. (And thus the ability to filter posts with certain words OUT). If, for example, a blog has a regular feature I don't like -- Friday cat blogging or whatever -- the ability to filter that out would be very useful indeed.

  3. Oh... two more feature suggestions: the ability to set the rank thresholds for filtering. Currently, I take it, there are only four options: display all the posts, only "good" posts (>2.9?), only "great" posts (>5.5?) or only "best" posts (>7.5?). I'd quite like to be able to tweak this - say, setting a filter threshold for some feeds to 9, or to 4 or whatever.

    Secondly, I'd like the ability to change the weightings in the algorithm. Like Pagerank uses incoming links (and whatever the hell else) as an imperfect proxy for the quality of a certain site, PostRank's algorithm uses comments, Diggs and so on as a proxy for the quality or interest of particular posts. But some low quality posts on highly trafficked sites -- e.g. this -- get lots of comments which then gets it a high PostRank. Comments, it seems to me, is a very imperfect measure of quality, and the ability to change its weight would be nice.