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Monday, December 26, 2005

OPML vs RSSmix

A few days ago, I blogged about using an RSS merging tool (like RSSmix) to automatically track a chemist's research sphere, such as the reporting of the use or commercial availability of certain chemicals. I suggested using an RSS merging tool to convert several separate RSS search feeds into one for the convenience of subscribing. However, one drawback of this approach is that when there are new hits, it can be hard to tell which searches triggered them. For example the compound may show up burried in a long catalogue page and it might not be obvious where to look.

Another way to track several RSS feeds is to subscribe to a blogroll using OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language). I was trying to avoid doing this because I can't distribute my feeds via a one-click subscription process this way (which was possible with RSSmix).

However, although not one-click, the procedure is not that difficult. I created a blogroll using Bloglines simply by making certain feeds public and the rest private. Right click this link and select "save link as" (Firefox) or "save target as" (IE) to save the OPML file as "export.htm". You can then import this file into your favorite RSS reader. For Bloglines you do this by logging in to your account, click on the Edit tab on the top left then click on "Import Subscriptions" on the bottom left. Browse to the export.htm file you just saved and you are done. (Note: if you wish to export your own OPML file from Bloglines, make sure that you select feeds in the Top Folder - otherwise it won't import properly)

The OPML file that I just used in my example above consists of the CAS numbers of the compounds in our UsefulChem project. If one of these compounds shows up in a catalogue somewhere, the corresponding feed with become bold in Bloglines. However you can use this type of alerting system with any keyword search. I suggest that you use MSN because it has a "Subscribe with Bloglines" button for any regular search upon clicking the RSS button at the bottom of every search. MSN will cover blogs as well as regular internet pages so it beats Google's Blogsearch on coverage and convenience.

I'll show a demo for this at our next RSS club meeting in early January and it will posted on the Drexel CoAS podcast/screencast.

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