Goodbye cruel Dreamhost

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That’s it. Done. I’m done, finished, finito! I’ve completed the arduous task of moving my site(s) from self hosting with dreamhost to a variety of wordpress.com installs. It’s something I never would have considered when I kicked off my first website at http://dbspin.com, way back in September 2001. Running your own website, complete with javascript, wiki’s, galleries and the like seemed a necessity for a permanent, private, secure online presence back at the dawn of the twenty first century. As we all now know, permanence is illusory on the modern web; where DMCA requests, flakey hosts, scripting attacks, geo-restricted content and creeping censorship have bifurcated the once pristine new world into a thousand fenced off content farms. So be it. After years of struggling with slower and slower shared hosting on dreamhost – unlimited everything (except speed, reliability and support), I for one welcome our new overlords. The wordpress.coms and squarespaces of this world provide speed and peace of mind, and though they doubtless roll like Pussy Bonpensiero at the slightest state or federal whisper, it’s kind of naive to think your site secure anywhere anymore. You can chase the dream in a co-lo in Iceland, fighting the swarms of botnets and the jammy fingers of script kiddie server side injection attacks. I’m going to concentrate on writing and making stuff.

One Last Thing

In the process of shutting down the old site, I killed off the wiki that I’d run for more than a decade. While I wasn’t particularly bothered backing up the database etc, I did backup the most popular / worked on pages to wordpress.com. You kind find all that content below.

Notes from Barcamp Ireland 3
(circa 2007)

Notes from lecture to TCD BC Politics Course, on Podcasting
(delivered by Jason McCandless and myself)

Career Research 
(from a more optimistic age)

Digitcast Consultancy Business Plan
(apparently I thought you could make money in podcasting)

Random Trinity FM timetable, one of the 2005 broadcast weeks
(from my time as station manager)

DU Digicast Society
(we actually got approval to start this society back when I was in college, but the process took so long I was on my way out before we could actually kick it off)

USA Trip Planning
(for the trip Technolotics took across American in 2005)

Kick the Kat Playlist
(from my college radio show)

Essay writing tips
(from me to you)

Final Year Project ideas
(things I considered for my psychology thesis)

List of significant researchers in the Institute of Neuroscience in Trinity
(circa 2006?)

Notes on Podcasting in Education
(for video lecture to Edutech conference, 2005?)

3rd Year Group Project – Sexual Behaviour in Teenagers
Interviews with Sexual Health Professionals
Overview of key texts on sexual behaviour in teens
Group notes
Project Diary
Final Presentation Outline
Qualitative Research Methodologies

 

Two Businesses That Don’t Exist, But Should

podcastingI attended the Phoenix Convention last weekend. The con is a literary Science Fiction, Horror and Fantasy gathering, which this year included some fascinating panels on micropublishing and ebooks, both easily worth the price of admission alone. I will hopefully do a more detailed post on the con as a whole in the near future, but for now, here are a couple of business ideas that struck me during the panels.

A Federated Media For Podcasting

John Battelle’s Federated Media is a medium sized company which aggregates the eyeballs of several of the worlds most popular blogs (including the highly influential and chaotic Boing Boing), and sells them to advertisers.

Result – blog authors can finance their writing and the growth of their sites, while advertisers get a single point of content to help them target and run campaigns. There’s an instant firewall around editorial decisions – as advertisers have no direct input into blog content; and sites can choose to accept only advertising that accords with their perspective (and *puke* branding). Advertisers get an instant audience (Boing Boing alone gets 3 million uniques a month), cheap.

Why does this not yet exist for podcasting?

While individual podcasts garner listeners at most in the hundreds of thousands (although there are perhaps a few that crest a million uniques) together they represent an growing, economically solvent and highly educated audience. An audience, in the US alone, of over 18 million listeners!

There are organisations like Adam Curry’s ‘Mevio‘ (formerly Podshow Network). These guys throw automated adds into hundreds of small – medium casts, and provide a revenue stream; claiming exclusive rights to content for contract duration in return.

What I’m suggesting here by contrast, is a limited service that would work with top 20 or 100 (independent) podcasts only- dealing with advertisers directly in geographically specific markets (this is how itunes distinguishes its podcast rankings, which largely dictate downloads); and allowing podcast hosts to craft their own discursive in-show adverts, in their own voice – as Leo Laporte does in his enormously popular This Week in Tech podcast. This way, advertisers get known quantity shows with large, established audiences and (internally) consistent content and presentation. While at the same time growing indies can fund production costs and the development of their creative enterprise- via a personal relationship with a single company, who are ‘on their side’. The reality of ‘new media’ is that (especially in audio production, but increasingly in video) a small group working with a tiny budget can create compelling, high production quality content. What they cannot do, is replicate the services of a sales force. Nor should they try, as direct advertiser / editor contact, almost inevitably results in watered down, less appealing creative work (or ‘content’, for you marketdoids).

Marketing on Demand for Authors

Small publishers and independently published authors are increasingly switching to Print On Demand (POD) services for short run (in the low thousands), academic and older titles (slow but steady sellers). Companies like Lightening Source provide a dirt-cheap ‘just in time’ printing facility, with constant improvements in the quality of the finished book. Additionally such POD services facilitate ISBN numbers (which allow bookstores to order and stock a title) and work closely with Amazon to ensure books are available to purchase (and more importantly deliver quickly) online.

These companies also remove the distribution headache, delivering directly to the public and retail, without the necessity of publishers direct involvement. Such services are not perfect. The finished product may not always rival a traditionally printed book (and of course the design is still reliant on the talent of the publisher / author side artist). More importantly POD cannot replace the direct relationships between publisher and retail chain / indie bookshop, which dictate placement of the book at retail, how long a title is stocked, and whether it is for sale at brick and mortar stores at all. Accepting that, they can be an important tool for small publishers who wish to take a risk on a book they could not otherwise have published, or authors who have a pre-existing audience they can sell to directly. I’m thinking of the Wil Wheatons and Amanda Palmers of this world- actors, musicians, and fine artists who maintain a direct relationship with their fan communities, either through blogging, podcasting, convention appearances or what have you. Personalities who may obtain much greater targeted sales dealing with their audiences directly. Here’s an interesting quote from the Wheaton interview linked in the last sentence, on his experiences with his book ‘Dancing Barefoot’..

The publisher insisted on marketing it in a way that did nothing to expand the audience I was already able to reach on my own, and basically blew me off when I repeatedly begged them to change course. I hired a PR firm at great expense, and they did pretty much the same thing. I vowed that I would never again go the “traditional” route with my future books.

So POD is great, but what’s this business that’s missing?

What’s missing is a marketing firm specially tailored to the needs of micropublishers. A company that knows the net, understands how to build an audience, AND can work with traditional media outlets to arrange interviews, reading tours, store promotions and television, radio and new media advertising. This is the one facet of traditional publishing that has not been replicated as a paid service.

With the suicide of the music industry, musicians are abandoning record labels to deal directly with, and sell directly to, their audiences. Probably the two best known examples are Radiohead’s In Rainbows release, and the Nine Inch Nails record Ghosts, which were both released directly online using donation, and fremium models respectively. Both records sold extremely well (in Radiohead’s case, better than their previous three albums).

What’s less well known outside the industry, is that artists are turning to next generation promotion companies like Live Nation, to handle the other important aspects of getting music out there- promotion and touring. These are services that an artist (beyond a certain popularity) cannot themselves handle without a label or label replacement. More importantly, as the perceived value of music recordings drops to zero (as will inevitably happen with books, Kindle or no Kindle), such tours provide the revenue stream that musicians need to keep creating.

Where is the equivalent in publishing? Where are the television and radio adverts for books? Where is the radio talk channel devoted to the enormously popular audio book genre? Who is organising paid and highly publicised public readings? Who is organising and promoting book tours for a set fee or a percentage of profits? Answer- no one. This is a service that could work at a variety of levels, from festival main stage readings by Chuck Palahniuk, to book promotions of unknown but compelling new fiction and non-fiction authors.

Two businesses that should exist, but don’t. Yet.

WordPress Hack Attack

Evil Hacker

Synopsis:

I detail my experiences with a WordPress hack across multiple shared hosting sites, the steps taken to recover WordPress and secure against future attacks.

Introduction:

On the December 15th I discovered a number of my WordPress installations had been compromised. Rather than a concerted attack, this was likely the result of widely available scripting tools that allow ‘crackers’ to exploit known vulnerabilities in out of date WordPress installs. Due to the large number of WordPress installs on my server, and a reluctance to run bleeding edge software, I’d been a little remiss in updating WordPress. While none of my installs were more than a couple of months out of date, 5 of my 8 WordPress installs were infected.

Viewing the source code of my sites in Firefox confirmed that advertising links had been inserted directly into the wordpress PHP code – behind a DIV visibility tag – presumably to increase the Google ranking of trojan or spam sites. Additionally, the SQL databases in which WordPress stores it’s data had, in several cases, had additional users added. These fictitious users were most often called simply “WordPress”.

I’m going to outline in this post the steps I took to deal with this infection and to reduce the chance of future attacks. I’m not a security professional, or even a programmer, so my advice is provided ‘as is’. Implementing these measures won’t protect you from a dedicated hacker – if someone wants to crack your website in particular, especially on shared hosting, no amount of effort will stop them. However, these techniques should recover your site, and make WordPress a little less vulnerable to automated scripting attacks.

Continue reading “WordPress Hack Attack”

Webcamp – Social Networks

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Many thanks to John Breslin for organising Irelands first Webcamp, last Wednesday 7th March. The afternoon was an enlightening look into the development, search, analysis and productive uses of social networks.

I’ve wiki’d some notes on event (Ed – 2013, notes below).

Particularly interesting was the response of designated Bebo’s spokesperson, Mark Tarbatt of webvertising firm Generator, to my questions about potential Bebo censorship. The impression Mark (whose firm seem solely responsible for selling branding on Bebo, at least in Ireland) gave was that, in the event of a conflict between a user video or community (the example I provided was a hypothetical ‘killer coke’ video on Votetube’s bebo profile) and a Bebo advertiser, such a user or community could be removed. This seems credible given that Mark stated Bebo’s recent adoption of comment moderation occurred not in response to problems of user abuse or sexually explicit spam, but to satisfy the desire of Coca Cola (a bebo advertiser) to prevent ‘harassment’ on it’s branded bebo site.

A quick search of Bebo indicates the existence of just such a conflict.

Notes

Topics, tags and trends in the blogosphere

Conner Hayes Slides

Looked at (inter)relationship between blogs, and their topics

sought topic related interlink structure
7k blog data set
Muhammad cartoon controversy tracked

Blogosphere user centric vs topic centric Usenet

Clutters of topic sharing blogs are short lived

Strong clusters hold users
but users drift from topics over time

Extreme topic drift increases user falloff

Tags poor method of tracking blog post content

Concept clustering better

A list blogs more similar to one another

more topic focused, consistent – authorities
tags chosen for comprehensibility
tight networks of clusters

C list blogs have higher user entropy

little or no inward linking

Notes

How were A list bloggers defined?

What about Maven Bloggers / influential but narrow popularity – Malcolm Gladwell’s Idea articulated in ‘The Tipping Point

Does user topic drift account for primacy of link aggregator blogs / communities

Collecting community wisdom: integrating social search and social navigation

Jill Freyne Slides

2 Aspects – social browsing and social search, combined to augment search of Association for Computing Machinery Digital Library (popular computer science pub database – with browsing and search navigation)

KnowledgeSea – social browsing

Collates anonymized browsing history
Provides the capacity for digg like ratings and annotation

iSpy – social search

Reranks results based on previous keyword searches by user group
Icon based visual cues on rating etc

Combined and integrated both systems – increased search efficacy
Notes

where’s the hook for students to build this system – are legal restrictions keeping the content closed ?

would it not be better to use off the shelf digg / del.icio.us like solutions ? alternately light weight sem web client on top of existing networks of databases ?

Quirky mystery meat interface – why do academic database sits have to be so unusable

Annotations could be used to increase utility of abstract

No information provided on stat significance of results

Control group browsing history is artificially useful seed for social group
How to compare trained systems fairly?

The demand for search in a social network

Andrew Page Slides

Founders of Bigulu – Bebo search, 2 Phd students

May expand to other networks

Crawls Bebo to allow superior profile search based on keyword, age, gender, location

Estimate Bebo at 7m users not 25m as claimed !

Slow linear growth of Bigalu

Sem web API would aid search and data migration

New features – inc user popularity (like Facebook radar)

Inbound links as social distance cue to search

limitations on social scraping due to private profiles etc

Notes

What is user persistence like?

Could they be underestimating Bebo network due to islands (isolated nodes or clusters – social darknets) ?

Is ‘low attention span’ really a function of high efficacy expectation

Are assumptions about viral growth of Bebo correct? Implied signup active network discrepancy

Where is the knowledge: reflections on social networking in corporate environments

Gabriela Avram Slides

(Virtual) ethnographic study of collaborative work practices

IBM Dublin software lab

Technology as tool inseparable from culture

technofetishism (sysadmin) vs fluffy-bunnies (people persons)
tools should be tailored to users
human guides to knowledge repositories vital
social networks facilitate knowledge aquisition

Lotus Messenger tool

IM – integrates: blog, wiki, org chart, social bookmarks, presence, contact details
Used to request ad-hoc meeting attendance
Used to reduce steps to data acquisition
Documents can link to individuals
Real time back channel in meetings

Data Retention

Legal and practical requirements to archive data
creates and enforces etiquette
no interdiction on personal contact – social honor enforces

Successful campaigns on the Bebo social network

Mark Tarbatt Slides

Small list of clients – A list Irish sites

Daft, Eircom, RTE, Bebo etc

Sell to ad agencies and brands

Internet only 1% Irish advertising market
UK internet ad budget = 2X Irish ALL media budget
Ireland € 24 per user, UK € 80 per user

Main income to Bebo (other than VC) = ads

All major Irish net spending brands advertise
Brand budget (overall) – 140k – 600k (top ten)
Some brands shy away from user content areas – use frontpage etc

Bebo top site for under 17 in Ireland (comscore)

Average visit 75mins ! (of 3 hour session)
95% reach
drops off list of top sites in older categories
Use by corps like Mcdonalds under pressure not to kidvertise on TV

Relevance, customer interaction / relationship to brand

Options

Sidebar ads
Branded profiles (eg: Disney Cars)
Branded Bebo mail window
Clickable in video advertisement tickers

Texter widget – Moco – € 2 a week

Anti sponsor brand comments / groups (eg: killer coke) would probably be removed

Notes

Ethics of Bebo spread? Via address book spam?

Growth of Facebook a threat?

Lack of direct access in school has not limited popularity

Corruption of utility of social media in ‘brand interaction’

Interesting to note bebo added comment moderation not in response to cyber bullying but concerns of Coke – insistence on stifling branded profile criticism

Texter widget is misleading

initially video states that service is free
only mentions charges towards end of video

Keynote: Social network analysis: 1987-2007

Valdis Krebs Slides

Any kind of network can be mathematically mapped

from social networks to computer networks
social / organisational network analysis
Inflow software

‘Highly between person’ connects networks

analogous to Gladwells superconnector

David Krackhardt – organisational structure related to power

Hierarchy, network position, and network knowledge – knowing the map

Six Degrees of Separation = Golden myth

original study flawed (response bias)
Noah Friedkin – UC Santa Barba – Social networks have a horizon
2 step clarity – blind after 4 connections max
outer reaches of network are invisible

Mark Granovetter – one or at most 2 intermediaries useful

in context of information (job) seeking
direct ties most useful of all

IBM and Valdis Krebs – adaptive organisations have higher average reach

data acquired through survey and interview, document sharing etc

Pharmaceutical firms market to opinion leaders

use social network analysis to target doctors who influence drug prescription of contemporaries

Formalising of common interest networks

Bounded vs unbounded (not task / job delimited) networks

Network weaving = analyzing networks to build communities
9/11 hijacker network – built on media published data

conclusion – project teams are similar
task focused group structures do not vary based on task

False positives can emerge from social network analysis

limited inferences can be reasonably drawn

Infrastructures are built on effectiveness not resilience

useful for network attacks

Notes

Evolution of social networks over time? – differ based on organisation evolution? – loose voluntary network migration

Richness of less visible ties?

Does similarity of group structure apply cross culturally?

Group Discussion – Future of social networks

Existing Networks

tribe, livejournal -> myspace -> bebo -> facebook

Do super connectors lead network migration / adoption?

Do teens socialise on social networks, or just mirror existing real world acquaintance?

do users actively resist socialising
are there different socialisation patterns culturally, network determined
Book – republic.com – reinforcement of preexisting connections
social networks not scale free

Social networks as dating substitute – exhibitionism

display, personality branding
rating and identity definition
utility of maintenance of connections over time
forking elitist / domain specific networks

Social networks -> open id -> light sem web clients -> device based ad hoc attentional aggrigators

carrying groups between networks
open attentional data
open identity data
balance of privacy, security, reputation and freedom

Hardware versions of my blog log / twitter

mobile ubiquitous anonymised positional aggregation
variety of possible consequences
loss of privacy vs great utility
branded flash mobs – ala Dublin’s black parade
social network manipulation and politicisation
SNA used to infer guilt by association / track dissidents
pattern matching by employers

Comparative safety of blogging – distance from ‘online friends’

Exaggerated fears of predation

Reputation as currency

Gmail receives email from other accounts

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Google have just begun rolling out a terrific feature, which allows users to grab email from other accounts (work, yahoo etc) via POP3. This could be a godsend for users glued to horrible proprietary corporate email accounts with ineffective spam filters, or anyone tired of multiple simultaneous email logins, who for whatever reason (multiple desktops, mobile access etc) need to use web email rather than a stand alone client. Combining this feature with Gmail’s existing ‘Send mail as’, allows your Gmail to now be used as your central email.

To access the feature, log into your Gmail, click ‘Settings’, and open the ‘Accounts’ tab. This feature is not yet available on my account, so don’t be too surprised if you don’t currently have it enabled.

Via: Techcrunch.

Addendum: Normally I wouldn’t repost a story from such a widely read source, but I actually received news of this in an email and had the post written before I did a citation search, so what the hey!

TCD email users may still forward their email, ridding themselves of the horrible kludge of Trinity email altogether.

Better late than never

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Just came across this article, via the swearing lady [subscription required]. Apparently Technolotics was mentioned in ye olde paper blog, The Irish Times.

If many young students are not yet using modern technology to express themselves, three have done so successfully. Technolotics.com is billed as an irreverent look at technology, politics and the media by three Irish students and for a year it stood as one of the few Irish videoblogs.

Technolotics is cheap and cheerful and it proves an important point. Viewers don’t need RTE-grade production values to engage with new personalities. Technolotics found an audience.

Makes me happy and sad at the same time. At last a media mention from someone we hadn’t met personally, but unfortunately a little after the ship has sailed. Sadly it doesn’t look like a Trinity Digicast society is going to become a reality this year, but who knows, perhaps after this whole final year project ship has sailed, I’ll have the energy for another podcast or vidcast project. There are definitely more avenues to explore in this space than are currently getting attention, particularly in the sketch comedy area.

Yahoo mail down?

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Yahoo mail UK has been down for me all day..

C:>ping uk.mail.yahoo.com

Pinging rc1.vip.ukl.yahoo.com [217.12.6.29] with 32 bytes of data:

Reply from **.***.***.***: Destination host unreachable.
Reply from **.***.***.***: Destination host unreachable.
Request timed out.
Request timed out.

Ping statistics for 217.12.6.29:
Packets: Sent = 4, Received = 2, Lost = 2 (50% loss),
Approximate round trip times in milli-seconds:
Minimum = 0ms, Maximum = 0ms, Average = 0ms

Not getting anything from google news, technorati, or google blog search on this – but I’ve tried accessing through a few proxies, so it’s certainly not a local problem (although it could certainly be limited to a small subset of Yahoo’s tens of millions of users). This brings up two issues, our current overdependence for our communications infrastructure on large, centralised, commercial providers who aren’t necessarily capable or willing to ensure quality of service; and the difficulty of getting accurate timely information about recent events on the web.

Update: Mark Stephen’s latest Cringely column happens to focus on the latter issue.

Update 2 (01:09, 24/7/06): Problem’s now been going on for at least 12 hours! The only thing close to an explanation I’ve found is (a completely unreliable) post on yahoo answers.

I’d suggest four broad possibilities..

1) Difficulties with the MSN / yahoo messenger integration
2) A technical failure / power outage / viral infection in yahoos systems
3) A continuing denial of service attack
4) DNS misconfiguration

In any case, its monstrously unprofessional of yahoo not to have made an announcement by this point, and a sorry confirmation of the Cringley column’s criticism of news reportage in the blogosphere.

Update 3 (09:30, 24/7/06): Sites backup..Outage wasn’t quite 24 hours then..Pfft.

A Novel Paradigm for the Web

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I think I just got it. For the past few weeks I’ve been puzzling over what the OPML, RSS, AJAX alphabet soup will ultimately end up tasting like.

I’ve intuited for a long time that the whole gestalt is far more significant than most programmers or technology commentators realise; and of far more ultimate utility than as a succinct method of information categorisation. I now realise, OPML (or an OPML like outliner standard in XML) underlies the future of both the browser and the web.

Firefox 3, or its equivalent, won’t function primarily as a traditional link / url -> page display browser, rather, users will navigate through outline directory trees to reach their ultimate content destination – which may be any of a whole variety of open document types, inclusive of audio, video, and traditional text / graphic / interaction models.
Nodes will be linked dynamically, and updated at numerous trusted hubs (the del.icio.us’s of tomorrow). Such links will create sub webs, navigable and discoverable through reputation systems, tagging and recommendations.
Further, users will not merely navigate such OPML trees laterally, but through any of a whole variety of interface paradigms.

Where today each link on a site sits in relative isolation, the browser of tomorrow will aggregate all links on a given page in real time, construct and meaningfully ‘geographically’ categorise link feeds, which will provide both an additional outliner navigation layer, and a new means of scanning the content laid out within a document. This will be the hardest element to get right, as it departs most radically from out the web works today. My guess is that the ultimate solution will be something like newsvine, dynamically constructed, parsed through link, feed, and generator templates (e.g.: blogging engine, CMS) from any given page site or outliner – both in real time by the browser, and by next generation sitemaps (in reality linkmaps). Think google news, for every site on the web (and its linked sub pages and sites).
Todays feed grazers could be the templates for tomorrows browsers. Such browsing paradigms may finally provide an advantage for three dimentional interfaces – though my guess is two dimensions will remain more comprehensible and intuitive.

A few more interface ideas before I lay down the crystal ball. Pre-cached feed branches displayed as graphical document previews in a mouse over ‘mind map’. A home feed bucket which rises from the browser bottom to catch feeds, pages and documents dragged and dropped (think OS X’s dock, with icons representing not programmes, but outlines in your home OPML). Or how about a dynamically generated zooming interface like Jeff Raskins Archy project.

The best part is, such novel methods of navigation could be implemented today in AJAX as proof of concept, sitting on top of the web as a hotkeyed interface, which is arguable what the Flock guys are positioning themselves to do; but ultimately such technologies are unlikely to be fast enough to produce a robust solution.

RSS, OPML and Feed Grazing

Grazr 1

Inspired by Tom Raferty’s recent interview with EirePreneur’s James Corbett at the Irish Blog Awards, I’ve been messing around with OPML this evening. OPML is an ‘xml format for outlines‘, in laymans terms a sort of meta-feed, allowing the consolidation of URI’s and RSS Feeds.

As we all gradually transition from getting our news and information from a series of site visits, to subscribing to tailored feeds of postings, postcasts, vidcasts and media streams, methods of rapidly, accurately, and inclusively navigating the morass of information will become increasingly important.
Already I’m finding it difficult to track my feeds through a unified single window web service. There are lots of alternatives: Netvibes, and Page Flakes will allow you to keep a live front page of headlines – but pageflakes cant yet browse deeper into the feed, and netvibes takes up too much space displaying headlines to allow more than a dozen feeds to be easily tracked.
Bloglines allows you to create a publically accessible page listing all your feeds (check), and lets you easily keep track of numerous feeds (check) – but won’t display storys linked by enclosure clips within the ‘frame’ of its interface. No (online) service yet seems to be everything I’m looking for; essentially a less ugly version of Feed Show, which lets me offer a public front end, eats its feed live from my own ompl XML, and can display audio and video content (ideally with live conversion to flash) – why should I have to log in just to read my feeds, and shouldn’t I also be able to easily present a link to them on my website?

None the less, aggregating feeds has gotten easier. With a service like OPML Manager, you can (for the moment painstakingly) create an opml feed containing all your RSS and URL links, ready to be thrown into the feedgrazers which are almost ready for prime time.

Thanks to OPML Manager, and the insanely cool OPOD javascript OPML viewer widget, you can now view my opml feeds live on this site (see sidebar – below Digicasts) [Link via Eirepreneur!].