replacing myself with a rather complicated PHP web application, it seems

Here’s a question. Having seen the Google’s new “Priority Inbox” feature and also John Graham-Cumming’s POPFile application, both ways of using a Bayesian classifier to guess which e-mail you will want to read first and to file it automatically, I was wondering if anyone had applied the same idea to RSS. I’ve recently started to add new blogs to my reader again, and it struck me that reading them took up enough time that it might be useful to prioritise and classify them automatically. It might even be yet another project I probably won’t find the time to finish.

Searching the web, though, I was surprised to find quite a lot of similar projects that didn’t seem to have many users or for that matter to be in active development. It actually looks like this is one of the problems that almost all developers at one point or another feel the need to tackle. But nobody’s made it stick. Somebody even had their RSS feeds delivered by e-mail and used POPFile itself, but that’s silly. I can think of a couple of reasons – one is that the use case might be fundamentally flawed. If it wasn’t for surprises, the blogosphere would be pretty dull – otherwise you might just read Martin Kettle’s column or watch TV. If you could have a feed of blog posts that you were guaranteed to read, would you want to read them? Of course, you could introduce some sort of random element, perhaps promoting some proportion of the posts least likely to be read, but that would defeat the point.

One feature which I didn’t see anywhere was a social element. I could certainly see a use for an application that classified RSS items into groups, and let multiple users contribute to the same group. I mark some of the items as “Telco 2.0”, and therefore train the classifier to filter things relevant to the company into that bucket. But other T2 people have opinions about what is relevant to the company, and they might benefit from mine as well. Obviously, if we use the same classification profile we’ll get the same results – interestingly, we’ll get the same results in some sense even if we’re not all reading the same blogs. So I’d like to be able to have shared group filters.

Does anyone know of an application that does this, preferably without letting some random website see everything I read? Points for integration with other RSS readers, notably either Akregator or Firefox/Sage. I’d be OK with a web page served on localhost (or on a server I control). At the moment, this is in the lead, but it strikes me as being rather more heavyweight than is ideal.


  1. Chris E

    gnus + collaborative autoscoring?

  2. Cian

    My experience of such things is that you spend more time configuring them than they ever save. I think Mutt had the right idea. Just create a really efficient interface that means you can quickly process your emails yourself.

    If you use Linux, and Command line apps don’t phase you, newsbeuter is really really good. I’ll let the inimitable Zed Shaw sell you on the features:

    http://www.zedshaw.com/essays/i_want_the_mutt_of_feed_readers.html

    It will even synch with google reader if that’s the kind of thing you like.

    • yorksranter

      Meh, what is it with the tradition of hackers being pointlessly obnoxious? That essay just makes me want to go and talk to a woman rather than hanging out any longer in this sock-foul pit of an Internet.

      The problem with console machismo is that there is a well-known and noble trade devoted to presenting text in a way that is efficient, readable, and beautiful. It is called typography. I have yet to see a command-line environment that pays any attention to this at all. Because that’s a GUI and y’know, girl cooties. Scrolling through raw markup? no fun.

      However, I am interested by this which he mentions and then throws aside because you read it in a…web browser (REFINED SHUDDER). No, I can’t possibly see why you’d read web content in a web browser. It’s written in Py as well.

  3. Cian

    I quote the final paragraph:
    If ya don’t like the feeling, then cool. Stay with the graphics. I use GUI tools as well, I’ve just been trimming down my information needs by using simpler interfaces based on console based programs. I’ve found it reduces my tendency to get distracted by information if it’s in a little box with a little friction.

    And having tried several of those newsreaders I think he’s way to nice about them.

    Anyway the point I was trying to make was that a well designed and efficient interface can be more effective than AI. Obviously I would say that because I’m a professional HCI person…

    What’s good about newsbeuter is that its really really fast (as in it opens new articles instantaneously), it works and it has a very efficient interface. I only mostly use five keys – ‘n’ (next unread article), (for scrolldown), ‘o’ (if I want to open the article in firefox), ‘s’ (to save the article to disk, so I can quote it/write about it) and ‘b’ (adds it to the feed for my e-reader). I have a couple of hundred feeds, and I can process them very very quickly (10-15 minutes, then however long it takes to read them in firefox). Whereas google-reader…not so much.

    The problem with console machismo is that there is a well-known and noble trade devoted to presenting text in a way that is efficient, readable, and beautiful. It is called typography. I have yet to see a command-line environment that pays any attention to this at all.

    I have yet to see many GUI apps that pay much attention to this either… And on computers its not so much noble, as less debased than it used to be. Whether its Apple bizarre insistence on pretending that computer screens have DPIs 10-100 times greater than they actually are, to the horrors of Windows apps.

    At least console apps have the excuse that its kind of impossible given the constraints they work under (though decent fixed size fonts can be quite nice for reading on a screen). And if god-forbid you actually want to read an article on the inernet…well lets just say that I gave the creator of the Readability bookmarklet a nice donation.

    But seriously, if an article is 2-3 paragraphs, do you care? I can have read the thing before an html renderer has even loaded it.

    Because that’s a GUI and y’know, girl cooties. Scrolling through raw markup? no fun.

    Well no, but it is possible for a console newsreader to process the markup and present it as paragraphcs, tables, italics, etc…

    However, I am interested by this which he mentions and then throws aside because you read it in a…web browser (REFINED SHUDDER). No, I can’t possibly see why you’d read web content in a web browser.

    I think its having the application in a web browser that he has a problem with. I mean google mail is very impressive technically, but if you are dealing with high volume mail it really doesn’t cut it.

    His rant is against poorly designed interfaces (which most GUIs are if you care about efficiency), or applications that are slow. For some reason good console apps tend to beat GUIs in this score.

    It’s written in Py as well.

    You know who Zed Shaw is, right?

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