Thursday, October 13, 2011

Web services and the kindness of strangers

Your blog can be a journey rather than a most-recent-first news site.

You can show your blog content in chronological order, instead of reverse-order default, using a method that relies on external web services to flip the posts around.

These services are web sites that let you manipulate data, in this case having to do with your blog's feed. The services are free and rely on the kindness of strangers.

Web services make my blog-journey hack a little daunting (though people have told me it's easier than it sounds). This approach requires bloggers to think of their content in new ways, and to learn how to use these third-party web services a little bit.

Besides that difficulty, however, there is another pitfall.

These free web services are subject to changes, sometimes without notice., which turns feeds into scripts that you can just paste into your blog, is so useful and popular that it may have to shut down (or find a revenue stream to pay for all the server time it consumes).

Similarly, the folks at Yahoo Pipes last summer completely rewrote their "pipes engine"--the software that, among other things, flips the posts around. Unfortunately their method was to switch abruptly to a buggy version and turn its user base into involuntary beta testers. It caused some problems for some bloggers.

In other words, we use these free external services, but consequently are subject to free external outages, changes, and other developments beyond our control, often without notice.

Is this acceptable to you? If you use Blogger, perhaps it ought to be. Blogger is itself a free web service, and from time to time Blogger experiences glitches and outages, or introduces unpopular or buggy changes without notice. But it is no fun when it happens.

There are also advantages to using web services, which are less likely to break when Blogger tweaks itself or when Microsoft rolls out some new browser that breaks the Document Object Model. Nonetheless the services can be subject to disruption.

P.S. I continue to post news about the fate of feed2js as events unfold.


  1. Hi Adam,

    my mind has still been boggling around this chronological order thing, one hack was supposedly not enough... And yesterday I came up with something that you might like, a Blogger script that reads, reverses, paginates and displays the posts without 3rd party services, see hack here.

  2. MSP, another technical tour-de-force!

    I have been thinking out a blog post about MSS_Potlas’s script for reversing blog posts, which is simpler to implement than my workaround. Now he has come up with a second method!

    MSP, I do not plan to ignore what you have done, I just haven’t had time to play around with things yet. My thought was that your first script might need some more testing from some more users to get all the bugs out.

    I also wondered if, like the original script by David Merriman on which it was based, it might not prove vulnerable to breaking across platforms. In which case, it has vulnerabilities similar to those faced by using web services.

    But if you have the time, can you explain why your new approach is better (if it is) than your first one? Is it less vulnerable to breaking because of changes when browsers are updated, for instance?

    I am watching with great interest!