Back from Behind Enemy Lines, Without Being Autodiscovered(?!)

Home again after a few very enjoyable days away at IWMW2008 in Aberdeen, and I feel like I need a way of saying thank you to the web managers’ community for allowing an academic in…heh heh ;-)

So I spent half an hour or so (no… really…;-) on the train back from the airport putting together a front end for an HEI feed autodiscovery pipe that I knocked up in one of the presentations yesterday (I was giving the talk that was on at the time my full partial attention, of course ;-) that picks up on some of the conversation that was in the air at the end of the innovation competition session (I didn’t win, of course…;-(

The context is/was a comment from Mike Ellis that HEIs et al. could start opening up their data by offering RSS feeds of news releases, job/recruitment ads and event listings, because there’s no reason not to…. So my, err, gift(?!) back to the IWMW community is a little something where UK HEI web managers can proudly show off how they’ve taken up the challenge and published a whole suite of autodiscoverable RSS feeds from their home pages ;-): UK HEI autodiscoverable feeds.

(Cynics may say that the page actually names and shames sites that don’t offer any autodiscoverable feeds; I couldn’t possibly comment… ;-)

Anyway, the pipework goes like this…

First of all I grab a feed of UK HEI homepages… There isn’t an official one, of course, so as a stopgap I’ve scraped a dodgy secondary source (safe in the expectation that Mike Ellis will have an authoritative, hacked feed available from sometime soon…)

All that’s required then is to pull out the link in each item, that hopefully corresponds to the HEI homepage, and use that as the focus for feed autodiscovery:

Any feed URLs that are autodiscovered are then added as elaborations to the corresponding HEI feed item. Although these elaborations aren’t exposed in the RSS feed output from the pipe, they are available in the pipe’s JSON output, so the half-hour (offline) hack on the train earlier this afternoon consumes the JSON feed and gives a quick and dirty show’n’tell display of which institutions have autodiscoverable feeds on their homepage: UK HEI autodiscoverable feeds.

Looking at a couple of comments to the post Nudge: Improving Decisions About RSS Usage, (in which Brian Kelly tabulated the provision of RSS feeds from Scottish HEIs), it seems that publicly highlighting the lack of support for feed autodiscovery can encourage people to look at their pages and add the feature… So I wonder: when IWMW comes around next year, will the phrase No autodiscoverable feeds… be missing from the UK HEI autodiscoverable feeds page, possibly in part because that page exists?!

(Note that if you use this page to test a homepage you’ve added feed autodiscovery to, there is cacheing going on everywhere so you may not see any change in the display for an hour or so… I’ll try and post a cache-resistant feed autodiscovery page over the next few days; in the meantime, most browsers glow somewhere if they load an HTML page containing autodiscoverable feeds…)

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

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