Blogging for naturists: more about Bloglines

[Note: Bloglines still exists but no longer works as described here.]

In the last installment we talked about Bloglines and how to “subscribe” to a syndicated feed there. To follow up on that, let’s look at some other things you can do at Bloglines.

One thing you can do is search for blogs and blog articles using terms like “nudism” and “naturism”. The search will turn up both blogs whose names contain the search term and also individual posts containing the search term. The good news is that it doesn’t come up with as much junk porno as some other search engines. However, it’s not really clear where they get their results. In my search for “naturism”, my Yahoo! Humanist-naturism group turned up, among just 5 blog results. I certainly didn’t submit it, since the group requires approval for membership, and therefore no public feed is available. It is one of the links from this blog, but other links here didn’t show up in the results. Evidently Bloglines is doing some sort of “spidering” to find blogs with certain keywords, much like Google’s blog search.

Another useful thing you can do at Bloglines is set up your own blog to keep track of interesting “clippings” you find through your searches. As blogs go, this has minimal features, but it can (optionally) be shared with others. (That is, others can read it, if you want, though they can’t write in it.) If you don’t already have a blog of your own, it’s not a bad way to get started, so you can share your thoughts and discoveries with others. Once you have designated your blog as shareable (in your profile), it can be accessed through its own URL, so it can be linked to from other places, including any you may control, such as another blog or a user profile on another service. The blog’s URL will be, if “xyz” is your username on Bloglines. Even if you don’t share your blog, it’s a simple way to keep track of useful posts you find while reading other blogs and to make your own related comments. You can also save clippings in a separate space outside the blog. In this case, you can create a set of folders to group related information together. But (as far as I can tell), this space can’t be shared with others.

You can also make public some or all of the feeds that you subscribe to, in addition to clipped articles. This is done via a setting in your user profile. It’s another way of declaring what kinds of things you’re interested in and sharing with others stuff which caught your eye or which you wanted to comment on. This shared information can be accessed with its own URL, If you have a blog at Bloglines, the list of feeds will be displayed there in a “blogroll”.

Bloglines also has a directory that indexes feeds which have been subscribed to and users who have chosen to make their blog or feeds public. The directory is sorted alphabetically, but even so it’s not easy to browse because it’s so large. If you select a feed from the directory, you can preview the current contents of the feed and add it to your own list of subscribed feeds if you want. Remember that when you are dealing with a feed, it is something you read with Bloglines or some other feed reader. If the feed comes from a blog, then in order to read the blog itself you use the link provided to gain access with a Web browser. The directory also lists other Bloglines users who have made their feeds or personal blog public. If you select a user, you get to see the list of public feeds or the user’s blog (if there is one). If the blog looks interesting, you can add its feed to any feed aggregator, including Bloglines itself.

The directory also offers a list of the most popular (i. e., most frequently subscribed to) feeds. This can be interesting to browse if you find you have a lot of time on your hands for just looking around.

Once you have a Bloglines account there are several ways to subscribe to new feeds. The most tedious way is to discover the URL of the feed yourself and then use the “Add” menu item at the Bloglines site. That’s assuming you have already found a feed you’re interested in. This method is the most general one, because it works with feeds that correspond to some sort of search, such as a search you might do in Technorati. A second way is by searching the Bloglines directory of known feeds. You will be able to preview the feed contents and add it to your list if it looks interesting.

If you already know of various blogs which offer feeds you want to subscribe to, you can do it from the blog’s home page. But first, you need to go to this page at Bloglines. It will tell you how to add a special type of bookmark, called a “bookmarklet” to your browser. Once you’ve done that then all you need to do is use your browser to select this bookmark while you’re on the home page of the site whose feed you want to subscribe to. It will bring up a dialog from Bloglines to complete the subscription. Some blogs (like this one) make subscribing even easier. They provide a button (in the right-hand column here) that initiates the subscription with one click.

If you already have a collection of feeds managed by another aggregator it’s not hard to “export” them from there and “import” them into Bloglines — or vice versa. Bloglines even lets you export feeds belonging to another user (if they have been shared). It’s done with what is known as an “OPML” file. This is useful if you use more than one online service or if you have feed readers resident on different computers. We’ll talk more about OPML files at another time.

We’re nearly done, but one more feature may be useful. Suppose you want to be notified when Bloglines discovers new items in one or more of the feeds you subscribe to? There’s a way to be notified even if you’re not logged in to Bloglines at the time. The work is done with a little program called the Notifier, which you can download here. After installation, it will alert you when new items are found. This provides some of the same convenience you would have from running a full-size feed reader application on your own computer.

How does Bloglines work? It’s pretty simple, really. It gets its list of feeds from those subscribed to by any of its users. These feeds are added to the Feed Directory, and each one is periodically checked for new content. When new content is found in a given feed, all subscribers to the feed can be duly notified. This implies that feeds which no Bloglines users have subscribed to won’t be in the directory. That’s good, because it should keep a lot of junk out. However, it also means that Bloglines won’t find out about brand new feeds until someone manually adds them. There are ways that Bloglines could “discover” such feeds on its own, but it’s not clear whether that’s actually done.

We are still not done with the topic of syndication, but this article is already more than long enough, so go have some fun playing with Bloglines, and we’ll be back later with more.

Originally published November 24, 2005