Monthly Archives: July 2006

RSS Enabling the enterprise

UPDATE [Sept ’07]: I am the Infrastructure Architect for a 9000+ organisation. We finally deployed RSS Bandit and RSS Feeds are being created on the Intranet and in applications. The picture is far from complete as I attempt to build out capabilities in the Social Software space and pitch these into the existing technology ecosystem. For the last year all my blogging has been internal, but I’ve recently started putting some thoughts back out into the public arena. If your struggle reflects mine you might find my new blog of interest.

With some success on the introduction of RSS Readers into the organisation I am shifting my focus to enabling the generation of RSS feeds from internal sources. I have long contended that RSS should become the way forward for internal communications, replacing the oft ignored blunt instrument of email. The big win here is revitalising internal sites. We have many internal sites set up around pieces of work or communities of people. Both suffer from a low number of active, interested readers – a bit like this blog ;).

RSS is part of the cure. I’m sure there are cultural elements to the problem too. The question is how best to go about this. So now I find myself on the other side of the chicken and egg situation. When introducing an RSS Reader the question is why would you without any feeds? Now, still with no full resolution to that problem, why generate feeds before we have a reader?

The answer is simple:

  1. RSS is coming – IE7 and Vista will both have a common feed store.
  2. The desktop isn’t the only place to display feeds – you can put them on your intranet sites too.

So do you go to every type of application and find a way to generate an RSS feed from that content? Maybe, but there should be a smarter, quicker way to get there – at least some way there. What I invisage is an engine that will harvest data from a variety of sources (HTML pages, databases, text files etc). Another engine would present this data as RSS. Yet a third will aggregate a list of feeds into one single feed, perhaps with a filter applied.

Such an engine will be able to produce and supply a feed off almost any source without the need to recode that source application. The aggregation element enables several sources to be combed and one feed generated.

So I’ve done a bit of searching to find out what solution may be out there. I found these:

  • The Urchin RSS Aggregator – this appears to do exactly what I want, it’s free and written in pearl. If it was written in a language I already know I’d be overjoyed; there’s may be a learning curve here, although I may not need to dig into the code at all.
  • RSSdotnet and Atomnet are libraries written in .Net for handling feeds. Unfortunately they have different APIs.
  • RSSOwl looks to have a competent reader, which I’ll take a look at, but more importantly an API that handles both RSS and ATOM (0.3 only though). It’s written in Java.

Where to from here #2

Okay, I think I’ve found something that I might keep blogging here – a new mission, shall we say. How to RSS enable an enterprise.

I will still try to find the time to cross post from internal to external, because I think that will be useful. The trouble is I can say so much more on my internal blog that I wouldn’t say out here, and I just don’t have time to re-edit – besides I don’t know what value, because I don’t know who would read them.

My mission to generate enough interest in RSS, blogs and wikis has gathered a momentum of its own. The underlying technology platform that I chose has remained pretty static; viz. Community Server (standard edition with Windows Authentication module) for blog hosting and MediaWiki for wikis (although I did set up an experimental blog using the WordPress engine for one of the directors last week). The challenge of officially allowing people to blog remains just that, a challenge. I’m going to be writing a blog policy for our IT department; we’ll see where it goes from there.

I’m also going to change the look of the site. Whilst I love the two column layout I can’t stand the colour scheme and the heavy boxy post column.

Where to from here

It’s nearly a month since my last post. That’s not because there has been no progress in the take up of blogs, it’s more that it has taken on a bit of a life of it’s own. The seeds that I have sown over the past months have started sprouting activities all of their own.

  • A decision has been made to select a proper global standard RSS reader.
  • Two parts of the business are wanting to do their own experiments with social software.
  • The use of wiki’s as a collaboration tool has been very succesful within the two groups using it in IT that it is being more widely adopted.
  • My internal blog has a good readership and some of the posts have generated healthy discussion involving people from other countries.

It is this last piece that causes me to wonder where to from here. I want to maintain this blog, and to do so I will need to expand the subject matter to my general ramblings on IT. However, I can’t be bothered to copy/paste my posts between the my internal blog and here. In some cases I have to restrict what information I publish here, and I don’t want to have to edit my posts twice. I have to find a workable solution – and this is my next task.

If I fail, this has been fun and will most likely be my last post. Interestingly, the two posts that get the most hits are Playing with MediaWiki (34% of hits) and Using LDAPAuthentication.php with AD on (23%), so there are many others who are trying to do the same as me and I hope the information is useful.