I continue to believe (actually I know, but I’m trying to be diplomatic) that good old html and some cheap server space is a far better choice for creating customized news pages than My Yahoo, iGoogle and the like. Over the past few days, I decided to make some upgrades and improvements to the Headline News pages I have used for years in lieu of newspapers (we haven’t subscribed to the paper in well over a decade).
To create these pages, I used Notepad (any text editor will do) and Feed.Informer. I continue to be irritated by the stupid graphic Feed.Informer adds to the end of every RSS bundle, but the fact is that Feed.Informer is the best tool I have found for rolling up and serving bundles of RSS feeds. It’s an awesome service. I just wish they had a real business plan so they’d dispense with the page litter.
I started with the National News Page, since it is the one I use the most. First, I updated the layout to use the look, feel and CSS of the main Newsome.Org pages. This creates site harmony, helps with branding and, most importantly, will allow me to implement future design changes across the entire site via Notepad and my CSS document.
I used the same basic header as the main Newsome.Org page, for the above reasons. I used a similar left sidebar, but with a few tweaks. I added a news-specific menu to the top, followed by the regular site-wide menu. I added a box to display my latest blog post (via Feed.Informer). I kept the Quote of the Day, Today in History and Today’s Birthday content, which is provided via scripts from BrainyQuote (script page) and BrainyHistory (script page).
I added the typical links for RSS or Email subscriptions, and a simple site search via Google. I wanted to keep the page open, so I caused links to open in a new window via a <base target=’_blank’ /> <base target=’_output’ /> command. This may be annoying to some users, but I greatly prefer it that way when reading news.
And, last but not least, I made my buddy Dave an involuntary regular contributor by adding a box that displays his latest Twitter post. For some reason, the native Twitter RSS feed crashes Feed.Informer (it knocks Ruby right off the Rails), so I had to run Dave’s Twitter feed through Yahoo Pipes (what a great, under-appreciated application) first, and then to Feed.Informer. It’s a roundabout path, but now I can feel like a real Web 2.0 developer by letting Dave unknowingly create content for my benefit.
The main content consists of a sub-table with two RSS bundles (again, via Feed.Informer). I populated each bundle with my preferred national news sources. You can add any RSS feed you like.
I used two bundles because the page looks better and is more functional with two columns of news. Feed.Informer is very flexible, and allows you to manually configure the way the content displays.
At the end of the process, you have a highly customized news page, with the content you select, displayed the way you want it. Plus you can incorporate the page(s) into your blog or website in a way that’s not possible with third party apps like My Yahoo.
After I finished the National News Page and admired my hard work for about ten seconds, I decided to make a similar page for local news.
The Local News Page (Update: now depreciated) is identical to the national one, except for the content of the two RSS bundles. And I removed Dave, so he can focus full time on the national/international scene. In his place, I added weather content from local channel 13.
All, Me, All the Time
Finally, I decided to create a mashup of all of my online content (other than my Facebook content, of course, which is walled-in and inaccessible). I added my content from Newsome.Org, GoodSongs.Com, Twitter (because of the above mentioned Twitter RSS problem, I used my FriendFeed RSS feed), my shared Google Reader items, my YouTube content and my Flickr feed. Update: now depreciated.
In lieu of Dave and the weather, I added a box showing my most recent Twitter reply.
The large majority of people I know in the real world don’t have the first clue what RSS is, and don’t use feed readers- despite my efforts to show them the light. Plus, most people who read blogs via the web don’t visit everyday, so I thought it worthwhile to pile a lot of my content on a single page. Unlike the traditional news pages, where items are in chronological order, I put this content in random order. This gives slightly older content another chance at life, and it increases the usefulness of the page to periodic visitors, who may have missed something that I posted since their last visit.
Think of it as my own private FriendFeed.
I like the way these pages turned out. The great thing is that you can create your own, at little or no cost and- hopefully thanks to this article- in just a few minutes.
If you don’t have server space, fear not. Web pages can be kept locally and bookmarked, just like online pages. You won’t be able to access your page(s) from another computer, but you’ll get the same benefits when you’re at