Syndication Educational Series

You subscribe to magazines and newspapers you enjoy.
Why? Because it’s more convenient than hurtling off to the CNA or local supermarket to pick up those favourite selections every month.

Did you know that you can subscribe to your favourite news sites and blogs?

As the Internet has evolved into the preferred channel of communication in the Connection Economy, millions of informative, dynamic-content (frequently updated) websites have emerged, often originating from traditional print publications. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and closer to home, Mail & Guardian are classic examples of printed media that have enjoyed unprecedented digital success. New technology called Web syndication allows sites like these that publish dynamic content (or blogs for that matter) to send new content out to regular subscribers via a feed, which is in turn interpreted by a piece of software (a feed reader or aggregator), and delivered directly to your desktop. Nifty!

So let’s say that you visit 5 blogs and 3 news sites on a daily basis. You spend time loading pages, waiting for ads and looking for interesting or relevant content.

Syndication will:

* Save you time
* Help you find and “collect” the most useful, interesting and relevant info on the web
* Offer your business a new way to market itself

In learning more about syndication, you will stumble across technical acronyms like RSS, RDF, ATOM and XML – don’t be intimidated, for all intense and purposes we’ll refer to them collectively as types of syndication, because that’s what they fundamentally are. As with all HyperTechnology, the key is knowing how to harness the power of the tool without having to know all its inner workings!

Over the next two days we’ll examine:

* Web Feeds, Feed Readers and Aggregators – where to find them, which ones to use and how they work
* Applications – how your company could be using syndication to market itself!

New Google Acquisition- SketchUp 3d modelling software

I woke up this morning to find a message from @last, the company who produce SketchUp, the software that takes up 75% of my PC time as an architectural student. They have been acquired by Google.As far as 3d modelling software goes, SketchUp is an unusual beast. 8 year old children use it, famous architects use it, the movie Good Night and Good Luck used it for storyboards, I even use it to build models of scout construction projects. But the use that has prompted this acquisition is the ability to export to Google Earth.

The question is: what does this tell us about Google’s direction? 3d modelling software is not currently a mainstream application. Which leaves us with 3 options to consider:

1. Google acquired @last to use SketchUp as the content creation tool of choice for Google Earth/to strip out the features that they can use in Google Earth.

2. Google acquired a profitable company as an investment- growth at @last has been phenomenal over the last few years.

3. Google have something up their sleeve- their two most recent acquisitions, Writely and @last, are content-creation companies. Could they be building an online publishing/content creation machine? And what are the implications for their core businesses- search engine and advertising?
(If you are curious about SketchUp you can download a timed demo- 8 hours use – here)

Confused about RSS?

What the heck is RSS? I get asked this question at least once a day. Maybe you’re in the same boat as my clients – maybe you’ve heard of RSS (or syndication, or XML, or Atom), you reckon it must be something worthwhile looking at, but the geeky language and odd acronyms are downright scary.

I recently put together a series on syndication that might help you, but would also like to point you to a brilliant article by Paul Stamatiou that takes the weird out of RSS…

RSS 101

The Chicago Tribune’s Eric Zorn has published a simple HOWTO for those of you who want to find out more about RSS but don’t get all the technical language usually associated with it.

Skype: 5 steps to squashing Telkom

Skype is a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) software package that is revolutionizing the telephony landscape. In the past VoIP has been both expensive and cumbersome to use. Skype solves those problems with an intuitive user interface and simple installation. Bottom line – if you have a computer, broadband Internet access and a bit of initiative, Skype is a cheaper (even free) alternative to our friendly national telecoms provider. I’m going to give you five easy steps that will explain how Skype will change the way you communicate forever.

Step 1: Download Skype
Go to Skype’s download centre. Download Skype for Windows or Skype for Mac, whichever is appropriate (you do not pay for the download – the complete Skype package is FREE). The file is 9.5 MB – bearable even over a dial-up connection. Double click on the installation file once you have finished downloading, and follow the installation instructions. To use Skype’s VoIP functionality, you will need a microphone and speakers connected to your laptop or PC. Most modern computers have a built in mic and speakers. If you do not own either a mic or speakers – look to buying a USB Skype phone from these guys (just one option – there are many) for a measly R 300. I use the microphone and speakers in my IBM laptop – it works like a charm.

Step 2: Connect with the World – for free
You’ve successfully downloaded and installed the Skype software. You’ve also successfully configured the software, run the standard Skype configuration test, and all is well. All that you need to connect with ANYONE in the world via Skype as you would over a normal telephone call, is for them to have downloaded, installed and successfully configured Skype on their computer. The beauty is – once you’re both up and running, you can Instant Message, voice talk, video conference (with a webcam or digicam), or transfer small files – ABSOLUTELY FREE. All you pay for is your Internet connection, and if you’re on ISDN or ADSL, you have an always-on connection already. Therefore you pay zero for the cost of the call.

Our entire company ( – a network of 34 people spread across the globe, communicates free of charge thanks to Skype. We can instant message each other or call as we would over the telephone, and all we pay for is our (in many cases permanent) Internet connections. Just how much money could your small to medium sized enterprise save on internal phone calls if you had Skype on every terminal in the office?

I communicate with family and friends in London, Australia and Canada this way, and provided they have Skype setup, we don’t pay a cent. Beautiful. Use Skype’s easy search function to locate your local and international contacts.

Step 3: Get SkypeIN

Ok, so it’s all fair and well that you can communicate via Skype to Skype over an Internet connection for no charge. But are you able to offer someone the opportunity to contact you on a unique Skype number from an ordinary landline or mobile number and have it ring through on your Skype interface? Well, easily – and this is how Skype makes money. Skype to Skype is free – but landline or mobile to Skype is a paid service. It’s called SkypeIN and costs you 30 EUROs for a 12 month subscription. It also comes with free Skype voicemail service. You can apply for SkypeIN here.

Step 4: Get SkypeOUT

Now we connect for free Skype to Skype, and folks can call us at a unique Skype number thanks to SkypeIN, but what if we want to be able to phone landlines and mobiles, both local and international, from our Skype interface. Easy, once again, and thanks to the paid SkypeOUT service – check it out here – you can dial any ordinary telephone exchange anywhere in the world from Skype.

Is it worth it? Well, I did the exercise of comparing SkypeOUT rates to our friendly national telecoms provider’s international and local rates: Here are the somewhat startling results:

The figures supplied are call charges per minute as per the Skype international rates and Telkom’s local and international rates at 24 Feb 2006:

SkypeOUT is at least 12 times cheaper to international destinations than Telkom. SkypeOUT is 8c cheaper by the minute than even our local Telkom call charges. In other words, you could switch ALL YOUR CALLS, local or international, to Skype, and save on everything.

Sourced from Telkom price lists and

Step 5: Revolutionise Internal Communications

Instant Message, call, video conference (you can video conference or conference call up to 5 people free with Skype) and transfer files your office. Cut down on email overload and the cost of physical meetings. Save money on calls with overseas suppliers and customers, and show that you are tech-savvy, cutting-edge and progressive. Heck, if your overseas stakeholders have Skype, you talk for free.

The catch? Without a broadband connection, Skype’s functionality is pretty much limited to instant messaging, but even then it is a useful tool for connecting with people across the globe.

The proof is in the pudding. Download it, try it, play with it, save a whole lot of money.



“Folksonomy is a neologism for a practice of collaborative categorization using freely chosen keywords. More colloquially, this refers to a group of people cooperating spontaneously to organize information into categories. In contrast to formal classification methods, this phenomenon typically only arises in non-hierarchical communities, such as public websites, as opposed to multi-level teams and hierarchical organization. Since the organizers of the information are usually its primary users, advocates of folksonomy believe it produces results that reflect more accurately the population’s conceptual model of the information.”

This is the Connection Economy in practice. To attempt to do this subject justice with just one post would be criminal. So I’m dividing up next week’s educational series into 3 days of Syndication 101, and 2 days of Folksonomy 101. We’ll do what we did last week with Blogging 101 – introduce you to the terms and give you some workable examples.

Web 2.0 for dummies

Tim O’Reilly is best known to the non-techie world for founding the “… for Dummies” series of software (and these days everything from tap-dancing to astronomy) manuals. On the Internet, he is somewhat of a geek god, revered for his vision, all-round uber-geekiness and pioneering views regarding the ongoing evolution of the Internet. He is also the author of the term Web 2.0, which just happens to be the subject of this week’s educational series. Wikipedia has the following to say about O’Reilly:

Tim’s current passion is understanding just how open source is changing the computing landscape, oreillyleading to the commoditization of the software infrastructure (just as the PC commoditized the hardware infrastructure), and the creation of a new kind of value in what Tim has been calling Web 2.0, the Internet as platform. He has coined the term Architecture of participation to refer to the techniques and incentives that are common to succesful initiatives that harness user contributions.

Web 2.0 – the Architecture of Participation
Web 2.0 is a term used to describe how the Web has evolved, and is evolving, from a collection of static websites to a to a full-fledged computing platform serving interactive Web applications to end users (like you and I). Ultimately Web 2.0 services are expected to replace desktop computing applications for many purposes. says “Yesterday’s challenge of producing elegant and database-driven Web sites is being replaced by the need to create Web 2.0 ‘points of presence’”. It’s all about the “Web as Platform“; for corporate people, the Web is a platform for business. For marketers, the Web is a platform for communications. For journalists, the Web is a platform for new media. For geeks, the Web is a platform for software development. And so the list goes on.

This week we’ll explore the concept a little further by examining some of the key contributing factors (e.g. pioneering applications) that are driving the evolution of the Web:

Listed below is a table with Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 comparitive successes (from Tim O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 write-up, linked at the end of this post).
Web 1.0 –> Web 2.0
DoubleClick –> Google AdSense
Ofoto –> Flickr
Akamai –> BitTorrent –> Napster
Britannica Online –> Wikipedia
Personal Websites –> Blogging
evite –> and EVDB
page views –> cost per click
screen scraping –> web services
publishing –> participation
content management systems –> wikis
directories (taxonomy) –> tagging (”folksonomy”)
stickiness –> syndication

Finally, this is the resultant map of a brainstorming session led by O’Reilly that encompasses and names some of the key thoughts and concepts behind Web 2.0, hopefully the visualisation will help you:

Over the next week we’ll cover the following topics:

Web 2.0 for dummies: Mashups
Web 2.0 for dummies: The Long Tail
Web 2.0 for dummies: Web 2.0 and You

Blogging according to Steve

Steve Rubel has outlined four P’s (to compliment, or contrast, the four traditional P’s of effective marketing) for blog marketing.

They are:

Passionate – Write about issues that are near and dear to your heart
Purposeful – Make sure you keep the end in mind; why are you blogging?
Present – Keep an eye on what’s topical today
Positional – Take a stand on an issue and follow it

I’d add one:

Personality – make sure you are yourself. People buy authentic personalities.

Web 2.0 for dummies: Mashups

A quick update on yesterday’s Web 2.0 introduction:

Tim O’Reilly’s (latest) answer to the “What is Web 2.0?” question.

And his most comprehensive definition to date:

Web 2.0 is the network as platform, spanning all connected devices; Web 2.0 applications are those that make the most of the intrinsic advantages of that platform: delivering software as a continually-updated service that gets better the more people use it, consuming and remixing data from multiple sources, including individual users, while providing their own data and services in a form that allows remixing by others, creating network effects through an “architecture of participation,” and going beyond the page metaphor of Web 1.0 to deliver rich user experiences.

Today we’re going to try to understand a little more about mashups – a “mashup” is any web-based application built through a creative combination of data from multiple sources…

So basically, mashups are the result of two or more existing good ideas, or working ideas, combined to form a better application, or to fulfil a previously unmet need.

The best (recent) example of this is this site that I blogged about today: It is a search engine that combines the data of 140 existing search services, and differentiates itself by changing the way a user queries: not necessarily a ground-breaking discovery. Not earth-shattering. Not even revolutionary. But it certainly is EVOLUTIONARY. And that is the key to Web 2.0: it is about systems that harness collective intelligence.

For a better visual representation, see the following Web 2.0 Mashup Matrix from ProgrammableWeb. It is an awesome tool for checking existing and potential mashup opportunities from established Web 2.0 apps. Mighty fine.

Want an idea for an online startup? Start here!

Syndication: Web Feeds, Feed Readers and Aggregators

ss9710f1Certain dynamic-content web sites publish regular feeds designed to carry recently updated content. Feed readers (also known as aggregators) are software tools designed to capture, interpret and deliver these feeds. Wikipedia offers the following definition:

An aggregator generally assembles a number of user-specified XML content feeds into one easily readable webpage, client application or device (or alternatively), a software application, webpage or service that collects syndicated content, such as RSS and other XML feeds from weblogs and mainstream media sites.

The best way to master syndication is to attempt it and learn as you go along, but let me attempt to share some thoughts, hints and tips that can speed up the process for you:

You cannot syndicate content from just ANY website. The site or blog you want to subscribe to must have published a feed (e.g. RSS, ATOM, etc.) before you can obtain content from it. Mozilla’s Firefox Internet browser, a stable, reliable alternative to Internet Explorer (I use it and love it) actually has a built-in site feed detector which is very useful when you start building up subscriptions. It allows you to add the feed as a bookmark, supplying only headlines for you to skim through quickly, or you can go a step further and add the feed URL to your chosen reader/s, which brings me to my next point.

There are two kinds of readers / aggregators. The web-based kind, where you set up and access your subscribed feeds online, and desktop readers which need to be downloaded and installed. There are pro’s and con’s to both. Try them out and see what suits you.

Examples of Web-based Readers
Bloglines – my personal choice. See my Bloglines subscriptions here
NewsGator – an excellent, an extremely popular reader that offers both web-based and desktop versions (the desktop version plugs into Outlook – very nice)
There are hundreds of free, online services available. Just Google it!
Examples of Desktop Readers
Thunderbird – the mail client designed to work with Firefox. It’s also an excellent service, comparable even to Outlook (except for calendar functionality, which they’re working on) and superior in the sense that it offers reader functionality – check it out!

As an aside – the new release of Microsoft Windows, called Windows Vista, and the new release of Explorer will all have built-in syndication functionality.

Sites can have more than one feed. This can get a little complex as the different feeds refer to different file formats. The nice thing about Bloglines is that it detects all the available feeds and lets you select from each option. I’m sure most readers offer this functionality, but I’ll punt Bloglines while I can!

Your reader only shows you updated content which means you save a stack of time you would normally spend surfing your favourite sites to check if they have added something new. If nothing is happening on the site, nothing will get sent to you. Marvelous.

Thats all I can think of for now. I hope it is helping you unpack RSS technology, and saving you time and energy. If not, let me know so I can help you!