Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Reading Lists: OPML-Based Dynamic Shareable Feeds Lists

Sponsored Links

As the ocean of information increases, more and more people and organizations will devote their time to filter, aggregate, select, and compile information packages that can best satisfy the needs of their clients niche interests.

Photo credit: wynand van niekerk

The size and reach of this process is as mind-boggling for those who have seriously explored mentally its possibilities as well as the many who have not yet even realized this is already happening.

In the process of filtering the ocean of information that the network generates in greater quantity each day, an army of newsmasters, lensmasters, hub editors, digital information librarians, newsradar editors, bloggers and news reporters delve each day in the search for the news holy grail.

That holy grail is the finding of the best sources and content that can help them do their researching and reporting job better.

OPML, is an XML format that has been extensively used in conjunction with RSS applications and tools to allow individuals to easily share lists of RSS feeds/sources. With an OPML file I can subscribe in one-click to all of Dave Winer's reading sources, and have at my end the same news stream of feeds Dave uses to scan the news each morning.

But creating, sharing and maintaining OPML feeds list has not exactly been a task any non-technical users could afford to do that easily.

Until now.

Blogbridge, the open-source cross-platform RSS reader and aggregator for which I sit on its Advisory Board, has just announced and made available a new facility that brings the power of OPML into the hands of everyone while extending its usefulness and ease of adoption.

With Blogbridge you can now seamlessly create an OPML list from any feed collection, publish it online, maintain dynamically (as you add and remove feeds from your OPML-based feed list) and easily share it with anyone else. On top of this, Blogbridge dynamically shareable OPML-based feed lists work with all other tools and services out there making it a breeze to integrate their usefulness in your specific workflow.

Redubbed for wide-adoption Reading Lists, Blogbridge OPML-based dynamically shareable feed lists seem to offer lots of value to future users. I have gone out to call Blogbridge Pito Salas to find out more about it.

Here the details in a streamable audio interview (just click play to listen) as well as in a full txt transcript of the same right after.

Full interview text transcript
Robin Good interviews Pito Salas on Blogbridge new Reading Lists feature.

Photo credit: Pito Salas of BlogBridge

Robin Good: Hey, Pito, good morning, how are you doing today?

Pito Salas: Very good, thank you. How are you? What time is it over there anyway? What's the time difference?

RG: Here it is a quarter past four and it is, well here it look like a grey day, but if I look up there is some blue skies, there is always a computer screen just in front of me so I kind of forget what kind of weather we have. How about over there? Oh, by the way, I'm in Roma, Italia, where are you?

Pito Salas : I'm in Boston, Massachusetts in the United States and it's 10:15 in the morning and we have a grey sky also.

RG: All right, but we're here today because you told me last week that you have some interesting things inside BlogBridge. And since I'm on the advisory board of this software company I need to be updated on what you guys are doing and while I have no power of censorship I certainly am very curious about new things that are coming up.

So, I thought of calling you up and letting you guide me through the new things, so I can ask you a few things and take advantage of the exchange so that a few hundred more people learn about it.

So, BlogBridge for anyone that is just tuning in right now, is a fantastic grassroots open-source, cross-platform (that is Mac/PC/Linux) RSS reader and aggregator that not only does that, but a lot more.

And today we're going to discover with Pito Salas, who is the chief engineer and technical officer behind it, one of the newest features that make BlogBridge such a uniquely interesting tool. Pito, you ready?

Pito Salas: I'm ready.

RG: All right. So tell me... I have read about that the newest thing on your BlogBridge site saying that the newest addition is a "Reading List". Now, from what I understand, the Reading List is an ability for me to publish lists of sources that I like to subscribe to and I can have more than one.

Now, the ability to publish and share this may have some interesting values, but I don't want to get too far ahead of myself because I haven't used any of these lists. I only publish a little blogroll on my site. So maybe you can help me understand whether I'm on the correct track on what that Reading List is and what would be the benefits of using it?

Pito Salas: Yeah, you're exactly on the right track. Essentially the idea of the Reading List is that there is one person who has a set of feeds that they want the world to know about because they're interesting, or they're about some topic, or whatever. And then, there's another bunch of people who are interested, in following those feeds. And so, essentially it's a sharing ability, exactly as what you say that lets (and it's analogous to a blogroll except it's directly integrated into your aggregator and is dynamically integrated into your aggregator).

So, simply as an example, let's say that there's the Robin Good recommended feeds on collaboration, and there's five or ten of them. You probably have them somewhere on your website. If you're sophisticated you may have them as an OPML file, or you may just have them as text. But it's just your view on the best feeds on that topic.

A "Reading List" permits me to let others know about this and as well allow the other people to subscribe to this list.

So, I used the word OPML a second ago, let me just explain what that is.

OPML is just another file format, it's nothing very magical. It's a text file that contains a list of feeds. It's called OPML because that stands for "Outline Process Markup Language," and it's just a standardized way to list feeds.

So anybody who has a reason to list a set of feeds that they want to share with others can use OPML.

The most common use and very universal use of OPML today is the import and export of somebody's subscriptions between aggregators. So, it's a typical thing if somebody is currently, for example, a Bloglines user, and they have a whole bunch of feeds that they subscribe to and they want to try a different aggregator, let's say FeedDemon, well how do they get them over? They tell Bloglines, "Export my collection, my feeds as an OPML," and they go to FeedDemon and say "Import."

So OPML it's just a standard exchange format for a list of feeds. Is that clear?

RG: Absolutely clear, very clear. So, what does BlogBridge add to this equation that makes Reading Lists again so very important and a trendy thing to do?

Pito Salas: There's two things at the top level.

You know, creating an OPML is something that is a bit of a technical task and it takes a text editor or some kind of an OPML editor. And then, publishing it is again, something, you have to have a website to put it out on.

What BlogBridge does for the author of the Reading List, or the creator of the Reading List, is that with a single gesture they can point at one of their guides in BlogBridge, which is like a folder, it's just to collect feeds to use when you're reading feeds. These guides are things you normally use, even before reading though just as a way to organize your information. You just click a button on that guide and magically your list of feeds that are in that guide now become available to the world as a hyperlink, as a URL that they can point to, to do anything they want with.

So, it's a standard OPML file that we provide, on a hyperlink that we provide on a server that we provide. It can be used for any purpose that an OPML might be used for. Including for instance importing into another product or displaying it with an outline editor or whatever,'s a standard OPML file.

So for the author it's a super-easy and convenient way to not only create the OPML, i.e. the Reading List.

End users will think of it as creating a Reading List, publishing it, but also maintaining it because every time they make a change in the normal use of BlogBridge to that particular guide, adding a feed or deleting a feed, automatically, the corresponding Reading List that's published out on the web is modified. So they never have to even look at it. They don't have to go into a text-editor; they don't have to FTP it, nothing.

It's just totally automatic, one-step.

In fact it's a step you'd take anyway, because typically Robin, probably you have a folder of feeds that are your favorite aggregation of feeds that you follow normally.

And so with that folder you could click a button and it would magically generate a Reading List available to the community-at-large.

That's part one... and I'll pause to let you ask questions.

RG: Great, I found that very useful, and the first thought that comes to mind is "wouldn't there be quite an interest in bringing together some kind of a directory of these Reading Lists, if created in such an effective easy way, and if they're always updated?" It seems to me that this is something quite useful, for example at least in the world of education.

Pito Salas: Absolutely, in fact it's funny that you say that because I'm actually in conversation with somebody who is an online education expert for whom we will be doing some work and creating some custom Reading Lists for a project that they are undertaking with an organization here in the U.S.

I guess I can't say more in detail because I don't know what's confidential or not, but essentially you are totally correct. The beauty here is three things:

First, we, BlogBridge, will be providing our own directory, like you say, so whenever anybody in BlogBridge says "create a new guide" or "create a new feed," and they get to pick from the recommended or suggested feeds. In there will be if you chose to, will be your Reading List offerings. So, we will put it in the catalogue.

But equally important, because it's a generic OPML file, any other directory can equally point to it. So, we're not being closed about this, we're offering you a catalogue if you want to use it, but if you have a different catalogue or if you want to put it on your website or whatever, all that's totally cool. And the third thing that's interesting about it is that with BlogBridge we have this thing called BlogBridge Topic Experts of which, Robin, you're providing two lists to us: one about presentations and one about collaboration.

They are, in a way, primitive manual Reading Lists.

We will take the next step to offer anybody who wants to be a topic expert instead of giving us a list through e-mail which they do now, if they choose to, they could give us their Reading List through a BlogBridge Reading List and thereby make it much more dynamic, because if they change their mind or add something or delete something it will take no effort at all and instantly all users will become aware of it.

So there's three, and we're still just talking about the creation side, we haven't even talked about what the readers do, which is also very interesting, but there's three different areas in which the catalogue idea really plays as you suggest.

RG: What can the readers do with it? Tell me.

Pito Salas: Okay, a reader now is somebody who anywhere is reading somewhere from some expert, you know it could be Robin Good, it could be you know, whoever, who's publishing a Reading List because it's their favorites, or it's their recommended or whatever. And they want to start reading those.

Now, what I'm about to describe works with Reading Lists created within BlogBridge, but it works every bit as well with no limitations with Reading Lists created in any other way.

There's two independent components, the author side and the reader side, which work together well, but also work equally well with other systems.

So, what do the Reading Lists do for the reader?

Well, once they have the hyperlink, the URL to the Reading List whether, you know, Robin e-mailed it to Pito, or whether it's up on a website or it's in a catalogue however you got it, you can tell BlogBridge, "I want to subscribe to this Reading List. I want to follow this Reading List."

The effectiveness is that in one step instantly you get a folder, or what we call a Guide, with all the feeds that are currently listed on that other person's Reading List. Currently!

And interestingly, whenever they change their Reading List, so, you know, today I put up my guide with all of Robin's collaboration recommended feeds and I look at it every day, I'm reading the posts, I'm having a good time, there's five or six, let's say there's six feeds on there everything is good. Next week Robin discovers an even better feed that you think is a better, more interesting collaboration related feed and you decide to add it to your list.

Instantly all users who are using BlogBridge to follow this list will get that feed, like magic, added and appear. Similarly if Robin decides to delete one because it's no longer active or he decide it's not so good anymore, instantly, the subscribers or the readers of the Reading List, instantly, that feed disappears.

So it's a direct live connection between one person's recommended set of feeds and another person's interest in those recommendations.

RG: And I bet that the reader can still keep all of her freedom by being able to add and modify that list as he or she does in fact completely own it. So while they are dynamically updated on whatever changes the original author of the original Reading List does, they still maintain total freedom, and I'm guessing, I'm hoping you confirm their ability to add and take away from that list themselves.

Pito Salas: You're exactly correct.

What happens is that when the user sets up the Reading List, they can choose whether or not the changes that are made by the author of the Reading List get automatically applied silently, or whether they are asked... "Robin just added this feed to this Reading List, would you like to accept it?"

So at one level they get to accept or decline changes made by Robin or i.e. the author of the Reading List.

Number two, even though the collection of feeds that are in this particular Guide were placed there by virtue of the fact they are in Robin's Reading List, this is not keeping me from adding additional feeds to that same guide. It does not keep me from moving feeds out of this guide into another guide. It does not keep me from deleting feeds from this guide.

So even if Robin recommended such-and-such a feed as his favorite collaboration feed, and I don't like it, I can delete it. Then it doesn't appear anymore because I'm suppressing it and I'm not interested in seeing that particular recommendation.

So, completely right, you have total control. Not only do you have total control but you also have two or three policies that you can set to affect the default behavior.

RG: Well that's fascinating. I'm very intrigued by the opportunities that really would there be not only for authors but anyone interested in furthering this knowledge bases and you're actually creating dynamic knowledge packages that people can adopt, can modify, can improve and refine.

I was even wondering with the fact that we are dealing now with the assembly and compilation of people's sources. Not specifically with their content, though that is included within it, but with the actual sources and the actual compilation of them. Are there any issues relating to copyright or legal changes to this? Is this even something relevant to ask?

Pito Salas: That's interesting.

I hadn't thought of it but now that you mention it I don't think there are, because all we're doing is telling people, recommending a set of feeds to people. So the fact that you know, you create a Reading List of your favorite collaboration feeds. I mean, you know, you might insult a friend, but it's not a legal problem. Your best friend might have a collaboration feed and ask you, "Why is my feed not on your Reading List?"

But no, legally I don't think there's any, I can't imagine any kind of exposure.

RG: My thought sparked from the fact that we have been having, and still have issues relating to the fact that we can syndicate or reuse certain feeds or others unless we use them for our personal needs and personal consumption for which there are no major issues.

But the moment, which I think will for BlogBridge will come soon, where you start to use some of this for creating more content that can be used by others, the problem comes back again.

And this Reading List really seem to be set, to be made available as knowledge objects that can be reused and improved upon, then I was thinking they need to be powered by a motivation to share and to let others work on them and improve them.

So that's when the natural question came: Are there any legal issues or is somebody going to stop or prevent me from doing that or putting up resistance to us doing this type of thing?

Pito Salas: Well one thing to realize is that the Reading List,- while you might be publishing the Reading List, you won't be publishing the content.

BlogBridge or whatever aggregator is going directly back to the source to grab the actual content. So it's more of a recommendation, it's more of a top ten list or, you know, New York Times Best-Seller List kind of an issue.

You're not actually publishing the content.

I suppose you could get into legal issues if I published, you know, the list of the ten worst aggregation products and you put somebody's product on it and they get mad at you because you insulted or you slighted their product. But you know, we'll see. I haven't been concerned about that. It's true that in this world the legal side of things can take interesting and strange turns sometimes.

RG: No, but you really clearly doubt this. I just needed you to make more explicit what was what was happening and you actually did that for me, so I think we're definitely or very much on the safe side, and it's actually one specific use and reuse of content that seems to be quite alien to being affected by such negative issues.

So again, I am fascinated by opportunities to create a "content marketplace" outside of its specific commercial meaning, a marketplace meaning an exchange of valuable assets that can be improved, exchanged, refined, edited by multiple people in different areas of knowledge. That seems to be a wonderful application for Reading Lists and I would see a bright future for it.

Pito Salas: I agree. And the important thing is that this stuff gets available, becomes available to totally non-technical people.

I have users who are PR people who are working on the behalf of clients, and they constantly ask me, "I want to set up a guide for my clients, I don't want them to have to go and figure out what's what."

So even in a closed kind of business setting like that, you know, you'll have somebody who's the expert, who's maybe the curator let's say of the list who's doing it on the behalf of a very closed set of people, but for them it's a very major capability.

And then you have large, societies, societies of common interests, whether they're hobbies or professional or scientific or whatever, where again there's somebody who is acting a little bit like a librarian who wants to make available to that society of people, you know, sets of important information.

And you're very right, I mean, often the people that are enjoying the reading of the content, number one, don't go to find more content, number two, don't have the time or the inclination to go and do so, and it is one of the core objectives of BlogBridge to allow non-technical people who need to follow a lot of information to not only follow it, but to discover important stuff in it. And even find new content that they may not of been aware of that is relevant to them.

It's, totally about keeping with the philosophy and the purpose of BlogBridge.

RG: The next thing that would come to mind to me is, that if I consider that this is really some form of knowledge bases, because once you give me Reading Lists on specific topics where experts systematically publish lists of valuable resources, the next thing I would want to do is "can you give me the possibility to search through that, but not only to search through the posts that they have made today, but through their extended archive of that conglomerate of news sources that have been publishing for the last three, six months, a year?" That would be wonderful.

Pito Salas: Actually there's an interesting thing that you bring up which we're kicking around, and that is, it touches on a different feed for BlogBridge which we call SmartFeeds. And a SmartFeed is a feed which doesn't exist out in the world, but it's created dynamically through some process, it's a synthetic feed.

As an example, if you get a feed from, I might say within BlogBridge, anytime any blog that I follow mentions, you know, Robin Good, I want to see it. And what a SmartFeed would create is something that looks like a feed, except the articles or the items in it are picked from all the other, different feeds in BlogBridge which happen to mention the name Robin Good. So that's the basic idea of SmartFeeds.

An enhancement to SmartFeeds would be you give it as a parameter, an OPML, okay? A Reading List, and what you see in the smart feed is basically all the posts that have occurred, that are occurring in any of the feeds existing in the Reading List dynamically. So you end up with a magic feed now which basically is I think exactly what you're saying but the only missing element that it doesn't have the archive of all history because, of course, that's not available from the feed. Only as you follow it do you build up the archive but it does have exactly the effect that you are describing.

What do you think of that?

RG: I think that is super-cool and it's great that you share that information.

I didn't know you could mix the two things, that's a perfect match.

But for a company like yours, would it be impossible, or financially not viable to start actually collecting forever what comes through the feeds so all this content becomes magically searchable through your end points?

Pito Salas: Well, there are two reasons why there are some challenges.

Number one, then you do get into the copyright issue, because now I am redistributing your content.

And number two, I mean, we've been careful because of resource constraints, even though we have a service that goes with the product, to make sure that all the actual delivery of content is being done by the blogs themselves and thereby make it so our own service has extremely little load, only plays certain bookkeeping and other kinds of features, it's not actually delivering the content.

Once we are serving up the actual feeds, suddenly you go from being able to run on one or two servers to needing a whole server farm which is a thing that for us at this point is not feasible.

RG: And sorry to keep diving into it, but what about allowing on the end user side, for readers to actually decide I want to keep collecting, in my local database, certain feed content? This collection of feeds or these others. I don't just want to see what is passing through, but I want to actually collect what is coming through so that I can search on the present as well as the past.

Pito Salas: Yeah, that's totally feasible today, I mean. That's just a, you know, a setting where you say how far back to save.

The other thing that occurred to me, and here's where the openness of this Reading List scheme is really interesting is that once you, as the Reading List creator, have created this list, and asked us to publish it for you, now you have a hyperlink to your Reading List and you can go to a system like Bloglines and create an account there based on that list. And they do serve up that content.

In fact, you can go to anybody that can consume OPML files and use it, use the Reading List you created with BlogBridge in that system that, maybe, is creating an archive.

So there are some very interesting capabilities which fall out of this idea of making it totally open so that the reader side and the author side are you know totally independent even though they work together tightly.

RG: Great, well, that's really useful and interesting information and I can't wait to dive and do some of this. Is this available in the latest release of BlogBridge? I have 2.8, is that the last one?

Pito Salas: 2.8 is the last development release, and that's the one you should have and that's the one that has the latest features. This feature will come out in 2.9 which will be out, I expect, this Friday, so in a few days. Not all of it, I mean the first edition of the feature will be out on Friday and then you know, we will continue in the following weeks to keep on augmenting it.

RG: Well, great, thank you Pito for sharing all this. This was a valuable conversation. I can only congratulate you for the good work, no negative comments, no critiques; it's only kudos for now.

So I'll let you keep on thumbing on your keyboard and look forward to receive more great updates and news.

Thanks again for your time and for making this great tool available for everyone.

Maybe not everyone knows that BlogBridge is free, and you don't have to pay anything to use all of this beauty. I leave it to you for the final bye-bye's and for any specific URL's or other info you want to leave with our friends. Ciao, Pito!

Pito Salas: Ciao, Robin. Thanks very much. As you know, I always love talking about this stuff, so thanks for the opportunity and we have lots of other things up our sleeve that we're designing, and so this is one of a bunch of really cool innovations that we have in mind, so I will send you an e-mail as soon as this thing is available, and of course it will be up on our website, which is and you'll see the announcements there also.

But anyway thanks very much, Robin, and talk to you soon.

Readers' Comments    
2006-01-21 15:37:15


why does everybody start his own aggregator these days ;) anyway - great marketing piece on a known subject "rebranded" - i like the rebranding from opml to reading lists

posted by Robin Good on Thursday, December 8 2005, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

Search this site for more with 








    Curated by

    New media explorer
    Communication designer


    POP Newsletter

    Robin Good's Newsletter for Professional Online Publishers  



    Real Time Web Analytics