Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Web Page Change Alert without RSS

Once upon a time I wrote a desktop application named ContentSpy. It let you monitor web pages for changes, and notified you as updates became available. When I recently heard of the new Google App Engine being launched, I figured I would take a stab at porting ContentSpy to that platform. I am happy to report that I stopped my endeavors, after stumbling upon ChangeDetection, which offers exactly what I envisioned, for free!

Another good thing coming out of this discovery is that it won't distract my focus from working on FeedJournal...

According to Alexa, ChangeDetection has been online since 02-Nov-1999. On the other hand, their Alexa history is only available since last summer. Wayback Machine doesn't have any historical records either. Technorati's oldest indexed post referencing ChangeDetection is from December 2007, so I assume it's a new service. Besides, I can't imagine it having escaped me for that long!

Anyway, ChangeDetection is wonderful in many ways! It sports a simple Google-like interface and sign-up procedure, and offers all the relevant features. I currently need this service because I want to buy a mobile phone from the local operator and expect prices to drop soon. So I simply tell ChangeDetection to monitor the price list page for me. When a change becomes available I am notified by e-mail with the actual change highlighted.

Another site I added for monitoring is IBM's "Ponder This" challenge. Each month IBM publishes a new brain teaser for the community to solve. Amazingly enough they don't offer any way of subscribing to new challenges, but ChangeDetection comes to the rescue once more.

I don't see RSS feeds and ChangeDetection overlapping in any way. For my private use, they are perfectly complementary. All sites have pages not covered by RSS feeds, and there will always remain sites that lack feeds completely. ChangeDetection is optimally suited for monitoring modifications on these pages.

I welcome you to add comments to this post about pages of public interest that you have chosen to monitor with this service. Please, go check it out!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Using FeedJournal #3: How to Publish Anything

This is the third post in a series on how to best take advantage of FeedJournal Reader. Today, I describe how you can select any text to be published in the next issue of your personalized newspaper.

If you are like me, you are probably receiving links to interesting online articles from a multitude of sources: e-mail, newsletters, ads, feeds, etc. I find that more and more relevant and interesting information is becoming available online, but I usually don't have opportunity to read it at the time of discovery. I would like to file it away and read it later.

The simplest strategy would be to bookmark the web page and browse my bookmarks once I have some time available. I could use my web browser's bookmark feature, an online boomarking service like Furl or del.icio.us, or use Instapaper. Provided I am online, these solutions allow me to access the relevant articles, but they don't allow me to read the article uninterrupted.

As I often touch upon in my blog, there is a fundamental problem with reading long texts on a computer. I suggest printing the articles on paper so you can concentrate fully on the reading task at hand and thereby use your reading time more effectively. A more bulky, but interesting, alternative to paper is of course the e-reader devices, which are doing an excellent job of emulating the experience of reading printed material.

If you decide to go the route of printing your reading list, you might find FeedJournal Reader a very attractive solution. It's a service, which allows you to subscribe to news feeds and periodically publish them in a personalized paper.

To make your paper even more valuable, you can mark any text not in your subscription list to be published in the upcoming issue. Below is my preferred recipe:

Ingredients (all free): One Google Notebook account with the browser extension (optional) and one FeedJournal Reader account.

Scenario: You have browsed to an interesting article but have no time to read it right now.

Instructions: Select the text with the mouse, right-click on the selection and choose "Note this (Google Notebook)". The text have now been saved to your Google Notebook account. Make sure it is added to a section marked as shared, as it enables RSS feeds from the notebook. Grab the feed URL from the public page of your Google Notebook and subscribe to it in FeedJournal Reader. Once you subscribed to that section's RSS feed, any additional entries you add to Google Notebook will be automatically published in FeedJournal Reader.

Another solution I have been successful with is Evernote 2.0 which replaces Google Notebook's functionality in the scenario above. Evernote is still in invitation-only beta mode, but looks very promising since it offers client applications for both web, Windows, Mac and mobile platforms. I have invites to share for accessing Evernote beta, so just let me know if you would like one.

UPDATE (Apr 24, 2008): As Ken Lawrence correctly pointed out to me, the Evernote solution does not work for FeedJournal, because it cuts off the notes if they are too long. This correction only invalidates the last paragraph of my blog post. Using the suggested Google Notebook service works as advertised. Thanks, Ken!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

FeedJournal Adds Multilingual Support

Experimental support for additional languages is now available in FeedJournal Reader!

You set your language in "Edit Profile". This update adds support for the following encodings: Eastern Europe (Latin 2), Cyrillic, Greek, Turkish, Hebrew, Arabic, Windows Baltic and Vietnamese. The right-to-left languages have not been tested yet so there are probably still some issues with them. Please let me know how it works in your language!