Saturday, July 07, 2012

[Tutorial] Twitter Content Aggregator

So like a lot of people, I get most of my media fix from the Internet. I barely watch television and I only really listen to one radio show.

Unfortunately, there are times when I can't be bothered to open every website I regularly visit. I also find it tedious to maintain bookmarks because I use both Chrome and Firefox.

Recently, we've seen the rise of content aggregators. In a nutshell, these are websites that get their material from other sources and pile them in one place for the convenience of their target audience. Many people find the appeal of such websites, because it saves them a lot of time.

However, this practice has a lot of gray areas. I won't write about those in this post, but for a quick primer, the topic is (not quite) elegantly discussed by the great Maddox here. It might be NSFW, by the way.

This post is a tutorial on how to create personal content aggregators. I will try to explain things in layman's terms as much as possible, unless it can't be helped. The general idea is to have a Twitter account automatically post tweets about updates from your favorite websites at regular intervals. Why is this a good idea? Because we're all too lazy to type things in address bars, that's why.

Step One
Get yourself a separate Google ID. This will be used to register a new Twitter account. I don't recommend hooking up your main Twitter account for this project, unless you want to be a spammer.

Step Two
As said above, register a new Twitter account.

Step Three
Find the RSS feed for your favorite websites. Most websites have a link for their RSS feeds, or have the image below which contains the link:

Feed Computer icon.

When opening this link, you may see an organized list of articles, such as the one below for Cracked:

You may also something which is not human-readable, such as the one below for the NASA Astronomy Photo of the Day:

Both are perfectly normal. Whatever the case, make sure to copy the RSS links for later use.

Step Four
Visit Twitterfeed. This is a service that allows RSS feeds to be posted to authorized Twitter accounts. Click on Sign In, then click on Sign In with OpenID, then click on Google. Use the Google account you created in Step One.

Step Five
You will be brought to the feed dashboard. This is where you'll be able to see the RSS feeds you're subscribing to as well as their last update status. To add a feed, click on Create New Feed.

You will be taken to the New Feed page. For the first part, just label the feed as desired, and paste the RSS link from Step 3 in the field labeled Blog URL or RSS Feed URL (help). Click on test RSS feed to verify that it's working. For the example below, we'll be using CNN's RSS feed.

Click on Advanced Settings. Change the update frequency, depending on how often the site updates. For news feeds, I usually set it to every six hours. Sometimes the websites explicitely state how often you can pull from their feeds, so follow that where applicable.

Please DO NOT leave it at the default thirty minute updates. That's leeching and may get you banned.

Change the Post Content to Title Only and make sure the Post Link checkbox is ticked.

If you prefer, you may add a prefix to the post, just so you know where the source of the tweet is.

Once done, click Proceed to Step 2 (on the New Feed page).

Step Six

From here, click on Twitter as the service to be used. Make sure you're currently logged in to your Aggregator account in Twitter. Click on Authenticate Twitter, as seen below.

You will be prompted to authorize Twitterfeed to tweet on your behalf. Once you accept, the account should be added in the Authenticated Twitter Accounts list. Just select the account and click on Create Service below. You will then be taken to the confirmation screen. Click All Done to return to the dashboard.

That's about it. The Twitter account should start posting updates after around five to fifteen minutes and at the intervals you specified afterwards.

Remember that you can do this for a lot of websites such as the aforementioned news sites as well as blogs, webcomics or even sites providing daily content (quotes, trivia, etc.) as long as they have RSS feeds. It doesn't really take that long to set up once you get the hang of it.

Good luck!

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