Have you ever seen an otherwise good homepage ruined by the presence of too many social media feeds? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, flickr, tumblr – it looks like social media vomited on your homepage!
You want to include relevant social media information on your organization’s website. But giving each of these feeds its own space on the homepage takes up too much real estate – and takes the user’s focus away from what’s important: the actual site content. The external aggregated feeds are stealing all the attention from what the site is there for in the first place. Instead of having multiple feeds, it would be great if you could merge them all together into one feed. But that raises the question: “How do I do that?” Well, there are a couple different ways to look at it.
A Possible Solution
Most of the time, people think the easiest way to do this is to create your own script to pull content from the many different locations. Since most feed aggregators follow some sort of RSS standard, it is possible to pull the title, link and other similar information from every feed you’re using. Most sites will also offer additional usable information such as a link to the icon of the feed provider, or a link to a profile image if it’s on Facebook or Twitter. The aggregated content would then need to be stored into a local database for the ease of feeding the data to the user, instead of having to re-request the data again.
On the other hand, there is a very large list of potential problems when building your own feed aggregator, such as: what if the feed you’re using doesn’t support the RSS Standard listed above? Now you are stuck writing a custom piece for this specific feed in addition to all the different formats you’ll be receiving from different sources. How frequently should you pull the data so you don’t get blocked by the source? Also, your script is all code driven, so you may want to develop an administration tool for others to add to or modify the data — if you don’t, you may be the only one administering the feeds since you wrote the script. You’ll also have to keep in mind the amount of traffic and the availability and/or the reliability of your tool.
A Better Solution
Another way to aggregate this data is to use a 3rd party service, for example Yahoo! Pipes, or Dapper (which is from Yahoo!). This doesn’t prove that the internet is made of tubes, but rather allows you, the developer, to merge data according to how you need it, and still allows others to come and modify your aggregator as needed through its easy-to-learn administration interface. Yahoo! Pipes is a powerful composition tool to aggregate, manipulate, and mash up content from multiple sources around the web, as easily as connecting points on a graph. It’s simple to learn, and with hundreds of pipes already created, the pipe that you want may simply require manipulation of another pipe that already exists. The Pipes service is highly available, and has multiple servers that aggregate your data which allows you to parse just about anything. Below is a screenshot of the Pipes interface, and shows the different ways a user is able to manipulate data from feeds.
Looking at both methods and the amount of effort that is required with manual development vs. Pipe aggregation, it’s clear that you would save a lot of time and effort by using Yahoo! Pipes to aggregate your data. You won’t have to conform to a standard across 3 or 4 feed sources and you would have a very nice interface to modify or add sources as you felt necessary. In addition, you would get all of that real estate back on your home page and feature what’s really important, your content! Or, in place of those feeds, you could put a little snippet about how Beaconfire helped you reclaim your page real estate – just a suggestion.