For most of us, the amount of digital content we produce is staggering – Twitter, personal blogs, professional blogs – but bringing all of that in to one central place is a real challenge. Having recently purchased my own vanity domain of jamesbruce.me to act as a central hub for my articles and web content, the task fell upon me to find a suitable way to aggregate it all – commonly called a life stream.
Flavors.me is a great ready-made way to do that, but it isn’t perfect for my needs and certainly doesn’t demonstrate any skills beyond signing up for a free service. I’d also much rather host something on my own server, as the perils of placing your trust in web services has often been tested. Today I’m going to walk you through how to create your own WordPress lifestream, and if you follow along with the tutorial, you should end up with something not dissimilar to this:
It’s a freely available theme, and clicking on any post will take you to the original source.
So what are my requirements?
- Runs on WordPress. Given that I try to market myself as a WordPress guru and consultant, doing it it on any other platform would just be embarrassing. I should be able to demonstrate that WordPress is quite capable of doing what I want.
- Aggregates various feeds, automatically and without my input.
- Doesn’t duplicate content, but instead links back to the original article. This is very important, and I’ll explain it later.
- Uses images where available – nothing is more boring than a wall of text.
Duplicate Content Issue
The problem with a lot of WordPress RSS-aggregator plugins is that they copy the entire content of the original and create a page that is considered a duplicate by Google, thereby labelling you a dirty rotten content-thief. Serious efforts have been made by Google this year to remove and de-rank those websites that copy other peoples work and try to pass it off as their own – often called spam blogs – but any legitimate attempts by you to republish your own work in its entirety are going to fall foul of the same fate.
To mitigate this, I’ve found a fantastic plugin that still pulls content into your blog to give the freedom that WordPress allows, but also changes the permalink structure of the articles to point directly to their original source.
You Will Need
- The Shaken Grid Lite free theme – you must supply a valid email to which the download link will be sent, but it’ll send a separate email asking you to subscribe to the email list, which you can ignore if you wish.
- The Feed WordPress Plugin, which will handle pulling in all the content automatically and adjusting permalinks.
- YD FeedWordpress Content Filter, which will import images so we can use them locally.
- This file which I wrote to fix the issue of featured images not being set by Feed WordPress – rename it to loop.php and replace the same file in your Shaken Grid Lite theme directory. If the featured thumbnail isn’t available, it will use the first attached image file. Feed WordPress will automatically download and attach the media item in the RSS feed, but it doesn’t create the featured image. This solves that problem.
- FTP access to your site, or the ability to edit theme files.
- A variety of RSS feeds you wish to aggregate.
- A decent webhost that isn’t going to disable your account if you use a little power. Feed aggregator plugins are notorious for annoying shared web hosts, but we’ll try to minimize the impact. If you’re at the point where you’re hosting a number of your own successful blogs though, perhaps it’s about time you looked at upgrading to your own virtual server.
Install and activate FeedWordPress, then the YD Content Filter plugin through the standard Plugins -> Add New interface, and upload and activate the Shaken Grid Lite theme.
There should now be a Syndication section on the admin sidebar. Expand it, and I’ll walk you through the options to set up on each screen.
- This is where you add feed sources. Enter the URL in the box – either a direct feed URL or just a general website address.
- It’ll then validate your feed, or give a choice of feeds that it auto-discovered.
Feed & Update Settings
- By default, your feeds won’t update automatically, so change that setting here under the Update Scheduling option. Set it to update after a page load, and leave it at the default 60 minutes.
Post & Links
- Double check so that under the Links option, the Permalink points to the copy on the original website.
- Disable comments and pings too.
You can safely leave the rest of the options alone.
- The YD FeedWordpress options should be under your regular Settings tab on the sidebar. Click on that, and make sure that the option to Import Images as Local Attachments is enabled.
If you check out your page now, you’ll notice that images aren’t displaying correctly and the full article is being shown instead of just a short snippet. To solve this, download the file I mentioned earlier and navigate to the Shaken Grid Lite theme directory through FTP. Replace the loop.php with the one supplied (rename it to loop.php obviously). Alternatively, if you’re unable to access FTP but can edit the files through WordPress, copy and paste the contents instead.
Assuming the feeds you’ve imported are actually providing featured images, they should now be showing on your homepage. If they aren’t, it’s out of the scope of this article to fix your website, but let us know if you’re having problems in the comments and perhaps we could check your feed for you.
That’s it, you should be well on your way now to having all your published content aggregated. Don’t forget you can still post regular articles on the blog too – they’ll appear alongside and mixed in with the rest, but clicking on them will take you to the full version just like a regular blog would. Happy life-streaming!