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How to use RSS?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

How to use RSS – isn’t a question that I thought would be ever asked. I put together a guide some eight years ago and had been meaning to update it for a while. I was reminded to do this by Wadds recent post on RSS. I realised  there is likely a whole generation of netizens that hadn’t used RSS; or had used Google Reader and didn’t have a clue about what under-pinned it and how it could be useful.

RSS is dead‘ is a myth beloved of the social networks that want to spoon feed you algorithmically sifted world views. This myth has leaked into web development circles and I have had to fight with development teams to keep in support for the standard.

Put simply RSS is like a ticker tape for the web that allows you to get updates about new articles posted on websites.

I started off using RSS readers with NetNewsWire. NetNewsWire was an application  that developed a swift cult following on Mac OSX. This would have been late 2002. I immediately saw the benefit as a PR person, having the news come to me, rather than having to go do a round robin of a list of sites in my browser bookmarks.

An RSS reader allows you to:

  • Collect updates from 100s of sites that you wouldn’t otherwise have time to get around
  • Read a precis of these updates
  • Organise sites into folders

At the time, only calendar, address book, email and task information synced across my work and home computers. I had only just got mobile email on a Palm PDA that connected into a Nokia 6310i via a data cable using Palm’s Mobile Internet Kit. This only allowed me to access a limited amount of the web but no RSS. This only worked with my personal email.

The problem with NetNewsWire was that there was no sync. If I read RSS at work I would then have to clear it again at home. I got around this by dragging my laptop into work and using the guest wi-fi network access. But this was misinterpreted by management.

I started using Bloglines an online RSS reader. This was eventually squeezed out of business by Google Reader. In 2013 Google killed Reader to try and force people to use the algorithmic feeds on Google+. Aside from destroying a large audience of RSS users; the cunning plan failed.

Google Reader was an RSS reader with some proprietary features including bookmarks. I decided against using Google Reader and went with Fast Ladder – which was run by Livedoor, a Japanese company. Livedoor eventually saw its CEO go to jail for securities fraud.

Since then I have been using Newsblur. Newsblur has a couple of unique features that put it head-and-shoulders above rivals like Feedly, theoldreader or Inoreader :

  • You can train the reader to highlight or hide posts that aren’t of interest
  • It provides three views: text-only (great for speed), feed and the article as it appears on the web page ‘in-situ’
  • It offers seamless integration with the pinboard social bookmarking service
Navigating your way around Newsblur

This is what the home screen looks like

Newsblur in use

What is an OPML file? If you’ve already used an RSS reader, an OPML file is a standard export file format that allows you to move from one RSS reader to another. The Goodies and Apps option gives you a bookmarklet that you can add to your browser to add new sites that you want to follow and links to apps for Mac and mobile platforms. On the desktop, using the web interface is best. On mobiles the app is pretty much obligatory to use.

Click into a folder and start reading

Newsblur home page

Keyboard shortcuts cheat sheet
Newsblur shortcuts

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My Web Toolbox

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Hong Kong Go Bag - Timbuk2

Over time I’ve built up a web toolbox that help with my workflow. This is many of the ones which have bailed me out of trouble time and time again.


Slack – yes i know that it seems like hipster CB radio. But its popular and you are likely to need to get with the programme. I am a great believer in only accessing Slack only via the desktop interface, by booting the app up once an hour. Part of the reason for this is because it can be a time suck; in the way that email was when it came into offices back in the 1990s. A second reason is Slack keyboard short cuts make life so much easier.


Facebook Cheatsheet: Image Sizes and Dimensions 2018 – hypebot – the most up to date guide that I have for Facebook image formats. Really handy for briefing artworkers.

Hemingway – I have paid good money for the native app, but Hemingway’s web interface is a great gateway drug to improve your writing. I have friends who would recommend the fuller featured Grammarly. Try them both and see what works best for you. In the UK a key consideration is that you can’t always get online; which is is why went with the Hemingway native app.


Balsamiq – great rapid wire framing tool that I find easier than Adobe’s offerings. Also worthwhile looking at OmniGraffle – I’ve used the Mac version for years.

BuildWith – this has saved me hours of work over the years. A client wan’t extra functionality on their website. You need to know what they use to understand if you even want to pitch for it, or if you have to scramble to find a Sitecore developer to partner with.


Takumi – make the briefing process of Istagrammers a bit easier with Takumi; when you are dealing with them en masse with this specialised outsourcing service

Digging out influencers in a given area for influencer mapping and influencer marketing programmes is a time intensive process to validate and sieve candidates. Traackr is a good tool to start this process with. They also have workflow tools in there which may be of use depending on what else you use.


network Utility
Once upon a time there there used to be a great all in one tool called Sam Spade. It was a Windows app and a web app. The Windows app hasn’t been maintained and the web app has gone.  Central Ops does at least some of the things that Sam Spade used to do. If you’re a Mac user who has dug around at all in your machine you will know that there is also a handy little app called Network Utility.  Central Ops provides you with a way to validate and trouble shoot email addresses and see if a domain is available for registration.


Google – Yeah I know. Not exactly surprising; but I have a couple of articles on how to get the most out of the privacy-violating search engine: Grokking Google and II.

Pinboard – When you discover things, it is often hard to re-find them again with your search engine of choice.Algorithmic changes, personalisation of search results and an ever growing web can all work against you. Pinboard keeps the links that you find within easy reach. It allows you to notate the links and categorise them with tags. I use the Pinner app on my iPhone to access my Pinboard account on the go. It’s a lighter weight service than Evernote or Mendeley. If you are already an assiduous user of those services instead, keep going with them. The key thing is develop a habit that will facilitate smarter research. If you use Pinboard in association with a web page capture service like archive today and you can protect yourself if the page changes.

Standard Deviation Calculator  – This just makes life so much easier. Take a string of numbers, drop them in and get the appropriate values out. This makes data analysis so much easier.

Wolfram Alpha – handy search engine with a lot of verified data. You can get tips on how to get the most out of it here.

Search marketing

Ahrefs – paid for service that’s really good at understanding your competitors SEO mojo including a back link checker and pretty comprehensive competitor research tools.

Rich Results Test – Google Search Console – see if a site takes advantage of Google’s rich results functionality (particularly handy when you are trying to highlight key information on a website). More on the how and why of them on Econsultancy.

Sitebeam – an all-in-one tool that provides comprehensive technical SEO audits on websites. It even outputs the results as a PDF. This makes life so much easier.

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Preparing the ground for being a brand on social media

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Master TV Control Room 2

In order to get a brand on social media it isn’t about dropping brand assets on social channels but thinking about what it actually means. Distillation of this process is likely to appear on a document:

  • It contextualises why social, there must be a business and brand reason to be there beyond ‘well everyone is on Facebook’
  • An explanation of how to use the document. Those involved need to view the document as a ‘north star’ for social. It needs to be clear that the document is a set of guidelines, but not immutable
How the brand manifests itself on social:
  • What’s the brand’s tone of voice on social media channels. Does it want to want to sound like an everyman, does it want a bit of distance and gravitas,  does it want to be an authority on a given area?
  • What’s the personality? If it was a person, what kind of person would it be. This frames the content, what questions it will answer and the view point that it will take. It’s adding extra dimensions that won’t necessarily be applied in public relations, print or even TV advertising due to the nature of social channels
  • What are the content pillars? Think of this as the core messages. Every piece of content created and shared will demonstrate at least one pillar. These are typically things like organisation innovation, heritage, values, point of leadership (thought leadership, authority / expertise, style leadership etc)
Cross channel rules:
  • How will you handle hashtags
  • How ill you handle localised domain names? (Will their be local domains?)
  • Who has the right to publish what first? For instance if you look at sports brands like Nike or New Balance; you’ll see that soccer related content first appears on their specialist football channels
  • Should local channels link back to ‘global accounts’?
  • Are there any sponsorship or IP-related watch outs? When I worked on New Balance; any club kit related content had to feature a minimum of three players. Otherwise there would be problems with the players other sponsors (notably their boot sponsors and their agents who would be looking for another pay day). Who needs to approve use of sponsorships and how long will approvals take? Can you do a flow diagram to provide insight into the process? How do you handle successes or set backs of partners?
  • How do you handle rumours and speculation? (New iPhone launch or renewal of sponsorship deal with Tiger Woods)
  • How do you handle images that might have a competitor brand in shot?
  • Do you ignore controversial news?
  • Will you share partner content? What channels and handles are legitimate partner content to share?
  • What kind of tools will you put in place? Large brands often use an intermediary platform like Percolate that provides measurement, asset management and an approvals workflow as needed. It even allows the localisation of content by the local brand team
Social channel-specific rules
  • How often will you post on a  given channel? This might be dictated to you by the kind of account you have on some channels like WeChat. With most others it will be driven by audience content consumption. Twitter generally lends itself to more frequent posts than Instagram or Facebook
  • Specific channel aims over the coming year
  • How will the channel be used? Are there particular segments that it is good at reaching?
  • What kind of content can be published? Example content categories. Best practice executions from other (non-competing) brands to get best practice ideas
Social crisis response
  • Crisis like accidents have an incident funnel marked by small events, the more of these that happen, the harder it is to climb out of the funnel.  The trick is to limit these before they take you down the funnel.
  • Have a clear workflow in place to handle negative criticism. The US Air Force had a really good workflow to borrow from.
  • Real-time monitoring should highlight things before they escalate. How is this intelligence distributed and to whom?
  • Who is going to be part of the decision group, you’ll likely need people from: customer services, product expert, public relations, management. How will you ensure that employees and the supply chain speak with one voice?