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RSS Feeds have become an essential way to keep up-to-date with many different online sources of information – in fact without it, tracking blog updates would be next to impossible.

To those of you with a feed addiction, it may come as some surprise to learn that RSS adoption is still surprisingly low across web users”“ even those who spend a lot of time on the internet. Most people are unaware of the technology or if they are – even less interested. A lot of people simply prefer email subscriptions and depending on the target audience of a blog this can be nearly equal with RSS subscribers. Even here on MakeUseOf, a substantial number of our subscribers are using email for updates.

There are hundreds of interesting ways in which RSS feeds can be put to use. Yahoo Pipes is one great example and this is something I’d like to write about in more detail at a later time. For now however I’d like to introduce you to PostRank.

general postrank

What is it exactly?

PostRank is a scoring system developed by AideRSS to rank any kind of online content, such as RSS feed items, blog posts, articles, or news stories. PostRank is based on social engagement, which refers to how interesting or relevant people have found an item or category to be. Examples of engagement include writing a blog post in response to someone else, bookmarking an article, leaving a comment on a blog, or clicking a link to read a news item.”

The 5 “˜C’s are used to determine the popularity of any particular post, I’ll leave you to check it out for yourself if you wish to find out more detail, but in essence this criteria includes the following:

  • The creation of a blog post responding directly to another blog post. This is the biggest determinate of a post’s popularity.
  • Commenting on a blog post – the second most important measure of audience engagement and the quality of the article.
  • Discussion – this involves mentioning a post on other social networking services like Twitter.
  • Sharing – submitting a site to Digg, or bookmarking it using a service like Del.icio.us
  • User activity on the page – clicks and page views, not given too much weight in PostRank.

Using this system, blog posts can be run through PostRank to determine just how popular (and therefore how good) the posts are. In the example mentioned above, this is how NewsGator implemented PostRank.  When viewing one of your feeds online, you can choose to change the view to show only the most popular items – a useful feature for when in a rush.

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Why Would You Want it?

For me the biggest issue I have is finding time to read all the feeds I subscribe to. While personal blogs may only get updated once a day, large multi-author blogs (like one particular blog you may be aware of) are updated much more frequently while other sites focusing on news will be updated constantly 24/7.

With this constant flow of information it’s become increasingly necessary to have the ability to filter out articles which are not of interest to you, and instead simply read the articles which are.

This is where PostRank comes in.

What’s great about this is that no matter what RSS reader you use, be it web based like Google Reader or a desktop application like FeedDemon you can still use PostRank to filter your feeds.

PostRank is both an online RSS reader, service and also an API which developers can choose to include in their applications if they wish. One notable online service which have done is this is Newsgator Online a few months ago.

How Else Can I Use It?

To use PostRank on any feed simply submit it to the PostRank website.  I’ve shown an example in the screenshot below.

If this is a fairly popular feed you’ve submitted then it’ll already be in the system.  If it’s a bit more obscure than you may have to wait a day or so for it to be fully submitted (I’m actually only guessing, I have no real idea how long it takes. Perhaps someone else knows?). In my own experience any feed I wanted to use was already submitted so I’ve had no issues.

image

After this you can choose what to do with the feed.  You can select from 4 different rankings:

  • All Posts
  • Good Posts
  • Great Posts
  • Best Posts

You can also filter the feed by any keywords you want.

After doing this, if you decide you would like to use this feed in your own RSS application then simply click the “˜create new feed’ button. Using this feed you can simply import it into whatever application you already use and replace the feed which may be overwhelming you slightly.

If you decide to create a PostRank account then you can use the site as your web based feed reader.  You can save submitted feeds and change them as you like. If you don’t want to sign up then if you want to make any changes to the feed you’ve created you’ll have to start over again – although it’s not really that inconvenient.

Hopefully some of you can find this useful, I know I did.  Has anyone else already been using it in this way?

  1. Melanie Baker
    December 3, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    My pleasure, sir. These exercises in education are good for me. They make sure I remember how the stuff works and help me hone my explanations so they make sense for folks other than myself. :)

    Plus, it's awesome when people are interested enough to stick with asking until they get it. Greatly appreciated! (Totally ping me with your shirt size and address if you're interested in some schwag -- melanie at aiderss dot com.)

  2. Dave
    December 3, 2008 at 2:43 pm

    Yea, obviously I wasn't sure what I meant either! :-o

    No matter, it makes sense to me now and thank you again for hanging in there with me. I'm glad to hear there will be a widget coming, I could see a lot of use for that.

    Thanks again.

  3. Melanie Baker
    December 3, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    Yep, for any filtered feed, whether it's a single feed or one you've created by mashing up a bunch of feeds, as you note, the filtering level you select will definitely affect when (or if) you see posts within that feed.

    If the filter level is "All", you will see the posts as soon as we have them, no matter what the PostRank. If the filter level is "Best", you won't see posts until they achieve high enough PostRank scores. So for high volume feeds or low traffic feeds, it's quite likely you won't see a fair bit of their content unless EVERYTHING gets crazy high engagement (which is the whole point, really).

    Hence why determining filtering level is a matter of asking yourself how much you care about what someone has to say. If you're a huge fan, it'll probably be "All", regardless of topic or engagement or PostRank score. If you just want to have a general idea of what's hot, then "Best" will do it for you. And of course there are the other levels of moderation in between.

    I'm not exactly sure what you mean about carrying the rank along or not. It is correct that we use each post's PostRank score to determine whether or not a post shows up when people use filtering levels. We also use the PostRank score to determine what shows up in the Top Posts widget (to be re-released soon!)

    Where filtering isn't being actively performed, though (like viewing "All"), the PostRank score is just a visual representation of engagement (or how interesting the blogger's audience thought the post was), but isn't being used to affect where or how the post appears.

  4. Dave
    December 3, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Okay - THERE's what I was looking for to help me understand what I wasn't getting.

    So the posts and their attached metrics "live" on your site in some sort of database. That I understand.

    So what happens if I mix together a set of feeds to create a new feed, and say I want just the "best" posts. So a blog author in one of the feeds posts an article on Monday afternoon. I'm assuming then based on your comments, that the article would only get pushed out into my new, mixed feed, if and when the article got sufficient engagement to become ranked as "best". If I had selected "all", then it would be pushed out as soon as you got it. Do I have it now?

    I guess what was throwing me as in my mind I was carrying the rank along with the post through my mashup on to it's ultimate destination, and I was wondering what would then happen as a post went through the stages of "good", "better", and "best". But the rankings don't follow through. You just use them to decide when to send the post to me based on the level I want to see. Correct?

    Sorry to be so dense on this one. Not sure what got in my way. Thank you for your patience in guiding me through.

  5. Melanie Baker
    December 3, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    Detecting new posts always comes first before detecting metrics. It's impossible to start looking for metrics if we haven't added a post to our system yet. It'd be like... a meter reader trying to check your gas or hydro without having the address to your house.

    How often the spiders check for metrics depends on how many subscribers a blog/site has. Within the space of a week, say, a post could be checked a couple dozen times or a couple hundred times. (Can't get into the technical specifics.)

    We add new posts to our system because they have been published. We don't add them based on whether or not they have any engagement metrics yet. Brand new posts will temporarily have PostRank scores of 1.0 and if you mouse over the score, the metrics pop-up will say "No Data". When you return later, though, engagement metrics will have started to be gathered, so the PostRank score will go up as engagement is added, and those engagement items will appear in the pop-up.

    ALL posts will enter our system with PostRank scores of 1.0, but a post that gets a lot of engagement will end up as a 10 whether the metrics pour in in a single afternoon or trickle in over a week because rankings are based on the whole blog's past performance.

    Of course, it is possible that a post doesn't get any engagement, so no matter how many times the spiders check, the PostRank score for that post would remain 1.0.)

  6. Dave
    December 3, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    No, that helps and we're getting closer to my question.

    So how many times does any one post have it's engagement metrics spidered? If it's just once, then how do you guard against finding the post too soon before engagement kicks in, and if it's multiple times, then how do you handle getting the updated ranking pushed through to end consumers?

    Does that make sense?

    In other words, if the spiders get to new posts "within a few hours at most", and engagement metrics START within four hours (requoting your comments), it just feels like the metrics are computed maybe earlier than they should be, and perhaps at a lower level? And once the metric is computed it never changes? I hear what you are saying about most posts interest level dying off within a day, but then again, it's the most interesting high value posts that generate engagement the longest. It doesn't sound like there is any mechanism for those posts to rise to the top without re-spidering and re-posting old content.

    I don't mean to take us down a rabbit hole here, but I like the concept of your service and I'm trying to understand it better to know how to potentially use it.

  7. Dave
    December 3, 2008 at 8:41 am

    @Melanie,

    Thanks for the reply. I'm still a little bit confused on your technology and I probably didn't word my original question very well.

    So from your vantage point, engagement (and therefore post-ranking) starts very soon after the post goes live and settles lets say in a day. So if I'm using your postrank technology to filter a number of feeds, when does a particular post show up in my postranked feed?

    It's a more confusing question than it probably needs to be, but what I'm trying to ask is what the timing looks like. If I have a feed filtered through postrank and a post goes live - do you all delay the post going through your filter to let engagement "settle in" as you say?

    I hope you get what I'm trying to ask as I'm very interested in this aspect. Thanks in advance.

    • Melanie Baker
      December 3, 2008 at 11:37 am

      @Dave,

      Ahh, gotcha. Nope, we don't delay displaying a post to give the engagement metrics time to ramp up.

      We display posts as soon as we can after they're published. How soon our spiders get to them depends on a few factors, but typically it's within a few hours at most. (If the delay starts to creep up, the devs start investigating.)

      The spiders have two jobs: check feeds in our system for new posts, and check posts in feeds in our system for new engagement metrics. The former takes precedence over the latter. But, as I mentioned before, engagement metrics typically start showing up within a few hours, too, so the spiders are always pretty busy. :)

      Does that make more sense? If not, give me a holler and I'm sure we'll hash it out eventually. :)

  8. Dave
    December 2, 2008 at 9:23 am

    Laurence,

    Thanks for the great overview. I had used AideRSS in the past, but wasn't aware of Post Rank. From the overview, it looks virtually identical to AideRSS except for the tagging feature. Am I missing something or are the very similar?

    I'm also curious on another feature. When I previously used AideRSS, it was never clear as to the timing of the ranking. If I ran a feed through AideRSS, how long would it wait to decide if a particular post was good, better or best? Same question for Post Rank. Many posts gather the majority of their links and comments soon after publishing, but many others gain popularity over time. Therefore, does Post Rank continually monitor all posts in the feed and move them up in popularity as they get more love?

    • Melanie Baker
      December 2, 2008 at 5:03 pm

      @Dave - AideRSS and PostRank are the same. :) We just separated the company and product out a bit more. PostRank is the core technology that AideRSS produces.

      Tagging is one of the new features we introduced with the launch of the new postrank.com site, as well as (key)word filtering, channels, and other features.

      With regards to how long it takes for PostRank scores to "settle", there's a pretty standard engagement curve. Within about four hours after a post is published we start to see the significant engagement -- new comments, bookmarks, diggs, etc. After that, things tend to trickle in for a few days, and taper off for the most part within about five days. As new metrics trickle in, the PostRank scores go up.

      Certainly from time to time a post will get some new fame months after it was posted, and will generate new engagement metrics, and we're discussing some ways we can improve recording of those new metrics as they appear after the initial round of "love".

  9. Melanie Baker
    December 2, 2008 at 10:28 am

    Hi Laurence -- Thanks for the write-up! :)

    Re. your comment about low RSS adoption: Most people are unaware of the technology or if they are – even less interested. That's not totally a bad thing, I don't think. Certainly RSS can help out a lot of people, but we AideRSS folks tend to think that that very lack of awareness is the core of the future of RSS. Plenty of people will use it, but few will actually overtly know that they are. The Facebook "news" stream is a great example. How many people know that they keep up with their friends' goings-on via RSS?

    And, of course, ideally, in the future everyone will use RSS with PostRank baked in, and won't even know that RSS didn't always come like that. :)

    Re. how long feeds take to be added to the system, if the URL is/has a valid feed, it should appear in our system within a few minutes of being added, regardless of the feed's size (content or popularity). That said, some feeds can take a little longer to gather all of their analysis data if the feed included gazillions of posts and has huge amounts of engagement data. However, if a feed takes a day to appear in the system, or it takes a long time for the engagement metrics to appear (mouse over a PostRank score to see that), then definitely give us a holler and we'll investigate.

    One other thing that might be useful is that we recently beefed up our tutorials, which can be found at Getting Started. And we'll be re-launching our new and improved Top Posts widget soon, which will be very cool. :)

    • Laurence John
      December 2, 2008 at 7:50 pm

      Actually yes good point, RSS technology is slowly making it's way into mainstream adoption through methods like Facebook, MySpace and the upcoming "what's new" feed for Windows Live.

  10. Randy
    December 1, 2008 at 11:53 pm

    I too am a reader junkie but I could save a lot of time if there was some kind of filter that could eliminate duplicate items from multiple feeds. It seems when something new comes up, I get 5 copies of it from my different feed sources. Any ideas.

    • Laurence John
      December 2, 2008 at 1:07 am

      I have this problem too... but sorry no ideas... although you could give Yahoo Pipes a try - it's just not as simple as PostRank.

  11. Dan Orth
    December 1, 2008 at 8:25 pm

    You can take an extreme amount of RSS feeds and distil all of that information into a readable format. I'm currently taking aprox. 50 feeds and have them broken out into seperate new feeds using the tagging feature. For example I have several feeds with the Tag of security that allow me to read through most of the "good" posts that appear in about 10-15 security sites.

    http://feeds.postrank.com/channel/603b3df2d88324b32d8e4ed40724a390af84c33f/security

  12. Tim Watson
    December 1, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    This looks great! It reminds me of FeedBlitz, but with less work involved.

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