or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


So Long Bloglines, And Thanks For All The Feeds

   September 21st, 2010 Brian Herzog

Bloglines tombstoneBy now you've probably read other peoples' laments about Bloglines closing down. It makes me sad because I've depended on it for years, personally and for work.

I'm hoping someone will take over Bloglines and continue it, but just in case, I've been testing replacements and thought I would share my findings. (I've heard that RSS readers are a thing of the past, but I have also heard the same thing about email, radio, and libraries, which are also things I use almost every day.)

Anyway, the two I looked at were Tiny Tiny RSS (tt-rss) and NetVibes. There are also others like Google Reader, Pageflakes, FriendFeed, but I already knew I wasn't interested in those.

My criteria was basically everything I liked about Bloglines - a tool that let me get at the information I wanted to read, rather than getting in the way. Specifically, these were:

  • organize feeds into categories
  • sort feeds any way you want, not just alphabetically
  • bookmark posts to read later
  • load quickly
  • email posts to people
  • posts go away automatically after you view them
  • three view options for posts - titles only (click to expand to read fully article), post summary, and full post. And the view option can be set differently for individual feeds

Tiny Tiny RSSTiny Tiny RSS
One catch with tt-rss is that it's not just an online reader like Bloglines, but software you install and host yourself - or, if you're like me, ask someone else to host for you (word up, Chris). But listen to this: Blake Carver of LIShost.org has created LISfeeds.com to host tt-rss for librarians to use! So if you can't host it yourself but would like to use tt-rss, contact Blake to create an account. Thank you Blake!

  • simple and clean interface
  • didn't see a setting for view options - it displays the titles and you have to click to expand
  • can organize feeds into categories, but sorting within categories is just alphabetical
  • doesn't always display videos inline (Netvibes seems better on that score)
  • no ads, which Bloglines did have (although there was a greasemonkey anti-ad script called Stylish to remove them)
  • a little slow - switching between feeds, marking as read, etc. - just everything seemed sluggish
  • unsure about updating - button doesn't always seem to work, so Chris created a special url that forces updates (which take a few minutes)
  • harder to read/skim, because titles are same font and weight as everything else on page
  • lots of options listed under articles, which I don't use and kind of distract me
  • couldn't find a way to email posts
  • no way to see how many other people are subscribed to the feed (which might not be important if it's not a widely-used tool)

NetvibesNetvibes
It looks like Netvibes' online RSS reader is just one portion of what they do. It's all I want though, so I just ignored all the widgety dashboard parts.

  • the overall interface is nice, but reading posts was still a little easier in Bloglines
  • top portion of the screen seems wasted - Bloglines devoted entire screen to feed reading
  • no ads, which Bloglines did have (although there was a greasemonkey anti-ad script called Stylish
  • setting in top right lets you chose display options per feed - title list, full post, or mosaic
  • a little bit slow - not horrible, but just enough to make me notice it
  • allows categories, and has drag-and-drop feed sorting which is nice (and easier than Bloglines)
  • plays videos inline, which Bloglines had problems with
  • updating can be wonky (which happened to Bloglines too) - sometimes you have to click into each category before new posts are displayed
  • a couple times every feed showed tons of new posts, but most didn't have anything new - but Bloglines did this too
  • it looks like one bad feed can prevent a whole category from loading - I had to delete and then re-add PLA blog feed because it wasn't working for me (but had to go through the category feed by feed to find it)
  • there's a link on each post to click right through to the comments, which is nice
  • one minor annoyance is that the posts' "mark as read" button is all the way on the right side of the screen, which is a pain with wide screen and a trackpad, because everything else I need to click is on the left side. But there is a "mark as read" button for the whole feed right where it should be
  • seems to randomly import posts from long ago, but might be because I'm just starting with it
  • have to either scroll past a post or manually click to mark things as read?
  • opening one article automatically closes another, which means you can't have more than one open at a time
  • handles oddballish feeds better than Bloglines, like Twitter streams and Flickr recent activity
  • does allow emailing posts, but I think it might send a link that requires a Netvibes account to clickthrough to - unless I'm doing it wrong
  • no way to see how many other people are subscribed to the feed (which might not be important if it's not a widely-used tool)

At the moment, I'm leaning towards using Netvibes. Mainly because it's a little bit faster, it lets me email posts (I'll have to work on the link issue though), I can set individual feeds to show either just titles or entire posts, and it seems closest to what I was used to Bloglines. I'm still sad about Bloglines, but I think I could get used to either of these.

Oh, but something else: since I've been using Bloglines for 5-6 years, I have hundreds of posts bookmarked in there, which I now what to retrieve somehow. Sigh, change.



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Doing Selection Via RSS

   March 12th, 2009 Brian Herzog

review journalsI have always struggled with doing selection, but it only recently occurred to me that technology could make the process easier.

My normal procedure for selection was to pick one Friday a month and go through whatever review journals I could find in the library that I hadn't already looked at and read reviews. This rarely happened each month as planned, and I'd slip further and further behind - making catching up that much more daunting.

I decided my relying on journals was the problem - it wasn't something I routinely did, so it was easy to forget or ignore. But, I do check rss feeds in my Bloglines account almost every day, so I thought if I could get reviews delivered to me (into a "Selection" folder), selection could become something I did for a few minutes each day, instead of an entire afternoon once a month.

So far, I've found a few good sources for rss feeds, and am always on the lookout for more:

  • Feeds from BookLetters
    My library subscribes to BookLetters to offer our patrons readers advisory resources through our website. Most of their various reading lists are available as rss, so that's perfect. I added the Books on the Air, Book Sizzle (ie, "hot" books), Nonfiction Preview and Nonfiction Best Sellers feeds, although they have plenty more to choose from
  • Feeds from Amazon.com
    Amazon also offers both best seller and new release lists as rss feeds. Each grouping is also broken down by subject, so I can grab the feeds for just the nonfiction subjects I do selection for - for instance, Travel best sellers and Travel new releases
  • Feeds from Library Journal
    Library Journal offers a ton of different feeds, but I'm still experimenting to see which is the most useful. Most include subjects I'm not interested in, or news and articles beyond just book reviews, so I'm going to keep refining how I use their feeds. However, as opposed to being a "new" source like BookLetters and Amazon, this is just getting in a new format the same information I've been using for years

Of course, I'm not abdicating my responsibilities as a professional librarian just because I'm getting information from sources other than print journals and vendor catalogs. I still read the reviews, check local holdings, and make educated decisions about the books on these various lists, just like I would if I learned about a book from a print journal.

As I see it, here are the pros of this method:

  • It fits better into the way I work, which means it gets done better and faster than something that doesn't (which means my patrons get better service because I'll mark books to order on a daily basis instead of a monthly [or worse] basis)
  • My library is very much a popular materials library, and these are reliable sources for what's popular right now
  • When reviewing books on Amazon, a greasemonkey script linking right from the Amazon page to our catalog makes seeing if we already own it very easy (another greasemonkey script lets me add it to our ordering queue with just a single click, too)
  • If a title is showing up on multiple lists, it's a pretty good indicator of how many copies my patrons will demand

However, there are also things to watch for:

  • Amazon often pushes things, like Kindle editions, that I'm not interested in
  • Re-releases and paperback editions will also show up on these feeds, and since the greasemonkey script does an ISBN search, double-checking with a title search to make sure we don't already own a copy is important
  • Many new books don't have online reviews (even using my online book reviews search)

I've only been using this method for a couple months, but already I feel like I'm ordering more books, and more quickly. Anything that makes selection easier is a step in the right direction - and it's certainly easier than trekking all over the building to find out who had Library Journal last.



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