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OPML camp: tool demos

May 22, 2006

These are just my impressions on the tools that were presented and demonstrated on the morning of the first day at opml camp.

Blogbridge: Pito Salas demo'd BlogBridge a Java based news aggregator. I think there are a few things that really differentiate blogbridge from most of the other news-readers / aggregators. In marketing it, they seem to focus on the 'info-junkie' problem of organizing and discovering interesting content but by treating opml files, which blogbridge calls "Guides", as dynamic elements that you can subscribe to (rather than as simple static subscription import and export) all sorts of interesting things become possible. Tracking what other people think is relevant to them is a clear first step (dynamic reading list) but then blogbridge also allows you to track (and organize) programtically created feeds.

Blogbridge has a concept of 'smart feeds', essentially using API calls and filters to produce feeds that can be added to reading lists that are relevant to your particular interests. Blogbridge uses a client application + server model and while that sort of arrangement isn't new, the idea of using blogbridge to seamlessly incorporate dynamic reading lists, filter on terms, append 'smart feeds' and then re-publish the resultant dynamic reading list (in OPML) is very powerful. This creates a transparent way of consuming, organizing and then republishing your particular interests. Obviously once you've added ratings, searches and filters to a dynamically created reading list, you're rapidly approaching the idea of attention data.

Grazr: I gave a quick demo of Grazr and described some of the short term plans for the widget. I got lots of positive feedback and reaction (and the single most repeated criticism/feature request "breadcrumbs". I know, I know!). I got three very concrete ideas for short term additions to grazr that will help open it up to even more unique uses. Interestingly, a few presenters used grazr as their means of displaying their presentation (including me, eat your own dogfood kind of thing) but I thought it was interesting. :)

RSS Labs: Jim Moore and Bela Labovitch demo'd two of the applications developed by RSSlabs, OPML search and OPML workstation. They're busy building lots of powerful infrastructure and foundation tools for OPML and the emerging applications we were all eager to discuss. There exists in the combination of those two sites all sorts of rich capabilities and tools. Authoring, hosting, publishing (with permissions public/private), searching, and then using combinations of these (e.g. containing opml searches beneath authored nodes, etc...) allows for some really interesting stuff. OPML workstation also has some other neat tools such as being able to import Microsoft powerpoint format into opml (and then republishing, searching etc...).

The one criticism (of which they were painfully aware) was the complexity of the user interface, particularly for OPML workstation. I've heard one person describe OPML workstation as "It's like using the controls of a 747" while it's not that bad it definitely does need some work.

OPML editor: Tom Morris showed off Dave Winer's OPML editor. It's clearly designed as the kind of application I really like - deceptively simple yet has rich functionality and is highly extensible. Tom showed off the architecture of the application and some of the capabilities including 'Instant Outlines' (with outliner buddies), and the blog publishing facilities of the tool.

There seem to be a common theme of editing and publishing being combined into the same application, an early concept of the web that was sadly lost along the way (only to be reincarnated later in blogs). In some sense similar to blogbridge, because the opml editor follows a client/server model it helps to blur the line between reading content, editing content and publishing or re-publishing content. I think most current OPML editor installs point to a centralized server but the design of the software is such (if I understood correctly) where any install can act as both the client and a server. Tom also showed that while running, the OPML editor acts as a web server for the dynamic display of OPML files.

iJot: Marc Barrot displayed an online outline editor named iJot. It seemed a little rough around the edges, but in all fairness that may have just been my perception since Marc ran into lots of network connectivity problems (nothing like the Demo Gremlins cursing you with the spinning 'loading' icon). I thought the application looked like it has lots of potential though. Marc demonstrated many of the same tasks that I've been describing with the the other tools, except as a purely web based application. Marc showed off the ability to read in opml files, edit and publish (including some nice rich media features).