Monday, 14 September 2009

planet vgml

Planet VGML

So, at yesterday's awesome potluck hosted by Miss T, there was a little discussion on how everyone reads blogs. Some people go to the blog address, and some people use something related to blogger, and some use google reader, and there were some other ways, too. The thing with most of these methods (aside from going to the blog address), is that they require a log in of some kind (log in to your google account, log in to your lj, whatever), and they require you to keep up, otherwise three weeks goes by and everyone's talking about the new blogger you don't know.

For a while now one of the ways I've been keeping up with people is through planets. I read Planet UCC, and I've been known to read Planet Linux Australia, and planets are great because when I want to catch up with all the UCC blogs I just hit it and there it is, no worries.

So D and I have sort of experimentally come up with VGML, the Vegan and Vegetarian Melbourne Planet. By using a planet, this will hopefully increase hits to Melbourne vego blogs, and be an awesome resource (new to Melbourne and looking for vegans? Try this planet...). A planet is particularly awesome for people who don't have blogs/ljs, or don't have the right kind. A planet can take in blogs from anything - so wordpress, livejournal, blogger, dreamwidth. It isn't limited by what you're logged in to. The planet should automatically update with new posts every five minutes.

D subscribed a few blogs to it already, to make sure it works (I'm not sure what's up with the syndication for Pip's blog). If your blog belongs on Planet VGML, or you know a blog that does, you can email us at the link in the sidebar of the Planet.

Planet VGML


Cindy said...

Nice work - I love the name!

Is it possible to post just partial entries at planet vgml, with a click-through to the original post? (e.g. like the Brunswick news blog.) I like to keep track of what people are reading at our end. :-)

steph said...

We are investigating the possibility of click through - it has to do with the information in your feed and/or the way the site asks for the information.

Do you know if the way you track people at your end accounts for rss feeds reading, such as through google reader?

Cindy said...

We don't/can't completely track who's reading our RSS feed... we just notice the people who choose to click through from their aggregator. In addition to that we occasionally check out how many people are subscribing to our feed via Google Reader.

steph said...

Cindy, do you want to make your blog a clickthrough for all RSS readers? If you change your RSS settings then RSS should automatically do the click through. That's the easiest way to do the preview, I think.

Danni said...

So Blogger is placing a little empty 1x1 px image in each entry that is syndicated I discovered, so they must be collecting the information.

kristy said...

2 words: frigging awesome!

Cindy said...

No, we made a choice a while ago to put full posts in our feeds rather than using blogger's abbreviated option (which is really ugly and doesn't inspire me to click through on other people's blogs). I'm sure there's a way to create more attractive partial feeds but I don't have the skillz to work it out.

Our stuff is appearing on that Brunswick blog I linked to above and Brian seems to have worked out something neat there (with the first picture and a few words turning up before a click-through) - I think he'd be thrilled to discuss it with you if you'd like to pursue it. But don't do that on my account, it's not a major issue for us!

Now that I've reviewed our blogger settings, we're inspired to start playing around with Feedburner again. :-D

Danni said...

It's not easy unless there is support in your engine for marking where the fold it. Otherwise you have to try and have a computer work it out automatically and it just all comes apart.

If you want to change your feed URL, drop me an email and I can do it, it's no problem.

People should talk-up the planet on their blogs, so that we can hopefully grow it to include more blogs.

lisa said...

Hm, I agree with Cindy and think that having a partial feed is preferable if possible. As she noted, Brian's hyperlocal sites are an awesome example of how well this kind of thing works. Thanks for setting this up! I want to play in it now. Can anyone add other veg blogs? And is there a permissions thing at play - i.e. does the author have to give permission for the VGML...?

PS - where was I when this conversation was happening?! Filling up my wine glass no doubt... I miss all the good stuff :p

Danni said...

At the moment, only I can add new blogs. The list of blogs is kept in a file on the computer running the software. I could make it possible for other people to edit via a webpage, but I don't think that will be required.

There are no permissions per se. The Planet simply uses your published RSS/Atom feed, the same as would be used in Google Reader, Bloglines, etc. So it's a respect-based system, you'd only add people who asked to be added. I admit I added some people to seed the page and check things were working.

Controls for content, length of content, etc. are all controlled by the RSS/Atom feed provided by the individual blogger. If you only want certain tags to be published, then you need an RSS feed that only publishes certain tags (how to work out this URL for blogspot, livejournal).

An example of what I mean here: we use a PlanetPlanet to syndicate our blogs onto the homepage of the company I work for. Since I don't want my random crap to appear on the company homepage (only stuff I've tagged as work) I have syndicated the url

Danni said...


Also for WordPress (since I just noticed you're not BlogSpotter, Lisa).

So for example, to grab the feed of all entries tagged as "food" from your blog, the URL would be:

Danni said...

Hmm, still tweaking it a bit. Blogger's Atom feeds seem to be a bit strange and keep causing posts to change order. Have switched to using RSS feeds, hopefully things are a little more stable now.

fitzroyalty said...

Hi, I love the planet concept! For Wordpress category or tag feeds you can also simply add 'feed' to the end of the category URL (if they have custom permalinks on, which Lisa should do as it is good SEO).

The local sites pull in whatever feed is available, full or summary, then cut if off at about 100 words to make all the sources look the same and make people click through to the original. I also don't allow commenting on the local sites so all commenting happens on the sources.

There could be a problem with copyright and republishing content if that breaches their copyright license, eg if they use a non-commmercial creative commons license and a planet site made money by putting ads around the syndicated content.

Thanks Cindy and Lisa for your positive comments! Am trying to drive more traffic to contributors as well as making it easier for people to find new content.

May a thousand aggregators for niche topics bloom!

Danni said...

Yeah, I'm not interested in using advertising on the site. This is certainly not a for-money exercise.

PlanetPlanet is purely for syndication, so similarly all commenting etc. happens on the blogs themselves.

fitzroyalty said...

Keeping it non commercial with no ads is the best way to keep everyone happy re copyright!

Is there a document somewhere that explains how to set up a planet site for general readers? Everything I have read so far is far too technical for me and does not explain the basic concept.

Danni said...

Yeah, it was written by nerds, so the instructions are a little bit technical (though technology-wise it's pretty low-tech which is what's appealing about it).

It's basically a configuration file, some templates and the software. You run the software as a task every 15 minutes or so and it checks the blogs and if required regenerates the HTML pages from the templates (because it's all static HTML served by the server, it doesn't cause much stress on the server, which is nice and doesn't require any fancy server configuration).

It's easiest to set up on a Linux based server, where all of the tools are already installed, but it can be set up on a Windows based server.

Because it generates static HTML, you could also run the PlanetPlanet engine on one computer, and have it copy the output to a separate webserver.

It's also possible to generate a number of planets (with different blogs, templates, etc.) from one PlanetPlanet install.

If you want, I can talk you through setting it up in more detail via email.

Johanna said...

this is a great idea for keeping up with melbourne blogs - I have added it to my blogroll - I am not a vegan blog - I try to include vegan food but also have lacto-ovo veg stuff - and also am confused about how this would affect my stats to sign up (ie I am not sure if this is right for me or if I am right for the planet) but I will enjoy reading it

steph said...

Johanna, I think that you would be a good fit with the planet, as the idea of it is to a) make it easier for people in Melbourne to find Melbourne vegos/vego places (eg, restaurant reviews), and b) increase traffic to people's blogs. I am in the 'more exposure is probably good exposure' camp, but it is up to you - it would be great if you would like to be part of it, but no worries if you would rather not! :o)

Cindy said...

Given Johanna's contribution I might pitch in again - currently the right hand info bar on the planet says "the authors on this planet are vegans and vegan-ish vegetarians". This may not be one of Johanna's specific concerns but it does send an ambiguous message to vegetarian readers and bloggers. What is "vegan-ish" and who does it include? I make no claims to veganism or vegan-ish-ism but I'm up for starting a new dietary sect if you have something in mind. :-D

I read a little more about planets the other day (which I haven't encountered before now) and it looks like they don't archive posts, right? So it's kinda just advertising our few most recent posts rather than making all of our content available.

Danni said...


I had meant to delete that paragraph from the sidebar after Steph and I decided we should include all Melbourne vegetarian content.

Reading about cheese makes me sad though, so I may create a vegan sub-syndication if other people also like that idea. That way, people who are vegetarian, but tag some things as vegan, can have their full blog on P.VGML and the vegan posts on P.VGML Vegan Edition (we have the technology!)

You're right, planets don't have any archives. This one is simply configured to show the most recent n posts from the entire group (where I think n is 50). Normally it will show posts in time order, although when a blog is newly subscribed, it might batch a few up.

Michael said...

Hi all - we've just set up our RSS feed through feedburner (if you're on blogger, it's very simple, since google owns them both - just register with feedburner, claim your blog and then redirect your RSS feed to the feedburner one in your blog settings), and have discovered that it includes views via the Planet in its stats (e.g. we had 50 views of our feed via P.VGML in the last day or so).

So for those of us who are obsessed with tallying up how many people are reading our massively insightful missives, Feedburner deals with any planet traffic nicely.

lisa said...

Danni, is it possible for VegMel to only grab posts that are tagged a certain way? I write a lot of publishing related posts which don't really fit in with the veg focus of Planet VegMel, it would be great if there were a way for only my veg posts to be grabbed (so I don't bore you vegans!). On Fitzroyalty's hyper-local sites only my posts that are tagged 'melbourne' or 'brunswick' get picked up. I don't know how this system works - let me know? Thanks! Planet VegMel is looking rocking!

Danni said...

Lisa, yes that is possible (see above comments).

What tag would you like syndicated? 'vegan' ?

lisa said...

Oh right. Maybe I should have read the above properly! Sorry.

Yeah, a 'vegan' tag would work for me and save you guys from my non-foodie posts. Although sometime I write about food without tagging it vegan - my food posts are always under the Food & Drink category so maybe grabbing that feed would work best?