There's a lot of activity on DIY Drones: blog posts & comments, forum posts and comments, new photos, etc.

The "Latest Activity" sidebar on the left side of the home page is one way to keep up with what's happening on the site, but it only shows you the most recent items, it doesn't keep track of what you have already seen, and it is wedged into a pretty small piece of screen real estate.

You can use a feed reader like Google Reader and point it at the DIY Drones "Latest Activity" Feed, which is linked from this little icon at the bottom of the sidebar:

 

A feed reader can be a more pleasant way to browse through the torrent of activity because most readers offer features like search & keeping track of seen items.  Unfortunately the activity feed provided by DIY Drones includes a lot of items that tell you that there has been activity without giving you the content.  For example, blog comments will look like this in the feed:

Nate Miller commented on Eric Tweet's blog post The T-Rex Flies Again!

 

Unfortunately you still have to click through to the DIY Drones site to see if the comment is a one word reply like "Yup!" or the perfect two paragraph description of flight modes you were hoping for.

Many of the items in the activity feed are similar, with no actual content in the feed.  This is frustrating and a poor user experience, and goes against the purpose of having a feed in the first place.

To try to improve the situation, I've written a small web app that takes the DIY Drones activity feed and improves it by adding back the content, so you can read a discussion thread entirely in your reader.  In the improved feed, the blog comment above looks like this:

 

Nate Miller commented on Eric Tweet's blog post The T-Rex Flies Again!

Comment by Nate Miller13 minutes ago

I'm glad to see this was successful! When my APM 2 gets in (maybe a week or so) this is the first vehicle I'd planned on putting it on. Any chance I could get your gains from you? It'll save me a fair amount of leg work.

 

The improved feed is at http://better-ning-feeds.appspot.com/feed/http%3A//diydrones.com/ac... and is updated every 10 minutes.

 

Let me know if you have any issues trying to use it, and I hope this makes it easier for you to follow activity on the site.  Some day maybe I'll automatically generate a mailing list or google group from the feed, and we'll be able to enjoy the same discussion technology convenience and features that we had in the 1970s!

 

John

jjwiseman@gmail.com

 

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A couple things I forgot to mention:

1. The source code for the feed improver is public; it's on github at https://github.com/wiseman/better-ning-feeds.

2. The feed improver currently only improves blog comments and forum replies.  I'll add more in time.

getting this:

This page contains the following errors:

error on line 12 at column 73: EntityRef: expecting ';'

Below is a rendering of the page up to the first error.

btw, this was with chrome... works in safari.

Thanks for the report, Mark.  I made a fix and I think it should work now.

Any chance of switching to a proper forum software?  The better look, design, and hundreds of other features of any of the top forum softwares (phpBB, IP Board/InVision, vBulitin, UBBthreads) aren't going to all magically come to ning in our lifetimes.

What is the deal with ning anyways?  How are you guys invested in this thing?  Obviously you're tied to it somehow.  No major forums use it and it's obviously holding this one back quite significantly.

Not really trying to overly diss Ning, but it has a really overreaching mission.  It's obviously not going to beat forum software that's been developed and refined for decades any time soon.

When the jack of all trades turns out to be a master of none... where does that leave us?

Nice one - seems to work. Much more useful than the original feed.

A few entries still appear 'empty' though.

Andrew, today I improved comments on statuses.

I'll keep watching for items without content and writing code to improve them.  If you see any more empty ones, let me know.

Another update yesterday that added content: The feed now shows the content of comments posted on users pages/"walls".

Link to the code change: https://github.com/wiseman/better-ning-feeds/commit/8f4f2f49d134835...

The next enhancement I'm thinking of is to cache more items from the default Ning feed, which currently only contains the last 10 comments/posts/etc., so if you check the feed every half hour and 12 items were posted since you last checked, you won't see the first two.

Updates from the past week:

  1. Added discussion post titles, so instead of "John Wiseman posted a discussion" you see "John Wiseman posted a discussion: how to increase tacocopter capacity."
  2. Added blog post titles, similar to above.
  3. Added content to comments on group pages.
  4. Cache the last 100 feed items.  This should decrease the chances of missing something in the feed.

I think that creating a mailing list that contains all posts/comments/etc. that is properly threaded will be the best way to read DIY Drones.  Imagine being able to mark specific threads as high priority in gmail, or mute threads you're not interested in.  I may work on this next.

I'm already reading tons more of the forum threads thanks to you... I would love to see this as a mailing list.

Many Thanks!!

Mark

I'd be interested in the mailing list version also.  Have you thought about how to post the list replies back to the forum yet?

That would be tricky, yes.  It might be possible though!

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