Connectivity plays a big role in today’s tech. Most of us are growing intimately familiar with the way tech simplifies and automates our daily routine. The logical next step is connectivity—staying on top of the information. Even more importantly, we want selective notifications. When you receive correspondence from your boss, you want it to be treated differently than the invitation to your neighbors winter barbecue.
We’ve previously covered different ways to create automatic workflows that separate important tidbits of information from the mundane. For more information on the topic, check out Justin Pot’s article on If This Then That and Nancy Messieh’s article on BoxCar. This article is about how you receive the information. The most obvious (and often also the easiest) choice is to keep notified via email. You can receive an email when someone likes your photo on Facebook, when new content is added to that game you love, and when a product you’ve been waiting for hits the market.
The problem with this approach is that everything is treated indiscriminately. To recapture our previous example, Facebook notifications are intermixed with important work related emails. A relatively simple way to separate one from the other is to reroute selective notifications to a personal ‘notifications’ RSS feed.
Why An Email/RSS Feed?
What we’re trying to do is reroute at least part of your email to an RSS feed. Put very simple, we’re looking for an email to RSS converter.
One reason that this approach gets my preference is that many systems already provide email notifications. For example, my Usenet downloading set-up notifies me whenever a new episode of a TV series is aired. (You can learn more about Usenet in the MakeUseOf guide on Usenet downloading.) This way, we attain widespread compatibility with very little work.
Another advantage is the widespread RSS compatibility. We’re doing this to display certain notifications in a different light. The nature of that display is determined entirely by the way you monitor your RSS feed. Personally, I’ve added an RSS ticker to my Mac OS X menu bar, but you can also add the feed to Google Reader, or another RSS reader of your choice.
Alas, this solution does not fit every situation. Due to the very nature of RSS feeds, anyone with the proper URL can view the items. In other words, there’s no form of access control. This means you shouldn’t use the feed for sensitive, personal information. You should imagine a complete stranger reading those notifications. If you feel queasy about that, you may not be using it correctly. Just to give an example, local football scores are a better pick than Facebook comment threads or personal correspondence.
Now that you have an idea of what we’re about to do, let’s get to it. Any service that reroutes email to an RSS feed is fine. Normally, you’ll get an RSS-specific email address, separate from the email address you use for correspondence. Every mail sent to the email address is pushed to the RSS feed.
We’ll be using Zapier. You create automated workflows (or zaps) that are defined by their trigger and subsequent action. For more information, and to get an idea of other workflows you can set up, read the MakeUseOf review of IFTTT, which works similar to Zapier.
Setting Things Up
First, go to Zapier and create an account. Zapier offers premium accounts that integrate with other services, have a higher response time and allow you to create and execute more zaps. For most regular users, the free account will suffice. For more information, look to the limitations outlined below.
With your Zapier account set up, it’s time to create our zap. You’ll be asked to select a trigger and an action. Select Mailbox (New Email) as the trigger, and RSS (Create Item in Feed) as the corresponding action.
On the next screen you’ll be able to instantiate a Zapier email address and the RSS details, including the RSS feed URL and the structure of individual feed items. You can fill these in as you see fit.
Filters & Email Rerouting
Once your “zap” is created, you’re technically finished. Every email you send to the email address that was specified in the previous step will show up (within 15 minutes) on the corresponding RSS feed.
If you’d like to receive notifications from a service via RSS, it suffices to have notifications sent to that email address. If you use Gmail, services that do not offer separate notification functionality, but do keep you appraised via your regular email can be catered to by setting up specific filters. For more information on how to set up these filters, check out Jack Cola’s article on creating filters in Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail.
The free Zapier account will suffice for most people. The restrictions you’ll face are related to update frequency and the total amount of allowed tasks (that is, the amount of time a “zap” is executed). With a free account, you can have 5 zaps total, Zapier will try to update those zaps every fifteen minutes, and you are limited to 100 tasks (successful updates) per month. In our scenario, this means we can push up to 100 items to our RSS feed every month.
How will you use this workflow? Are their any specific type of updates you’re pushing via email to RSS? Let us know in the comments section below the article.
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