Blog Side Bar Experimentation

Not a gaming post

In what was a bit of a conjunction of two things, I started tinkering with the side bar of the blog last night.

The first thing was my ongoing insane jealousy over the side bar blogroll feature that bloggers who use Google’s Blogger have access to.  The bit that shows the latest post, sorts by date, and so on.  This turns the blogroll into a living thing that people actually look at and use.  My referral stats bear out the idea that blogs that have this feature correctly implemented deliver more traffic than comparable blogs that do not.

I am dying for to implement something similar.  Instead, they seem content to break things and every so often rework the user interface if somebody mentions it is working well.  Seriously, I spend most of my time doing three things with the interface; writing posts, viewing comments, and glaring at stats.  WP has taken it upon themselves to make sure that moving between these three things is as awkward as possible, forcing me to just keep three tabs open.

So, to make up for the fact that I have a very static and boring blogroll… if you get more than 10 referrals a month off of my blogroll, you are doing well… or are at the top of the list… I have used the blogs RSS feed from VirginWorlds as an addition to me side bar.  VirginWorlds remains a great resource!  Pillar of the blogging community!  A few cobwebs are starting to appear around the place, but there is still nothing like else like it.

It is a site of extraordinary magnitude.  Brent has our gratitude.

Unfortunately, Scott Jennings… who I am going to cast in the role of the villain here, because every story must have a villain, so if he show up and twirls his mustache be sure to hiss at him… looks to have been tinkering with his RSS feed.  Once it delivered only posts from his very-quiet-of-late blog to the feed at VirginWorlds.  In the last week, however, his feed began dumping updates from his forum… the Broken Forum… like so much toxic waste flooding the blog feed at VirginWorlds.

Okay, maybe “toxic waste” is a bit strong.  But Scott Jennings does have an active forum… good on him… and every topic update appears to generate an entry in the RSS feed.  The end result was that I found of the 15 entries from the VirginWorlds feed I had displayed in the side bar at any given time, 12-13 of them would be updates from the forum.  Again, good for Scott and his active forum, but not exactly what I want in my side bar.

So after thinking about doing something about it for a couple of days… and ~20 seconds of actual Google work… I set about implementing something different.

The Google search returned a site called RSS Mix as the top unpaid result.

They don't really have a logo...

They don’t really have a logo…

The site is simple.  You paste in a list of RSS feeds.  The site validates them, adds them to its database, and spits out a URL for a feed that combines them together.  Easy times.

I then took this feed and put it in the side bar of the blog using’s rather limited RSS feed display widget.  It works… it was what I was using for the VirginWorlds feed… but it doesn’t have a lot of options. (And, frankly, though I love this theme for some unfathomable reason, it does have pretty narrow side bars which do not help.  My search for a viable replacement continues.)

I would, for example, like the blog name to appear with the entry.  But all it will give me is author’s name and post date.  I would also like it to display only one entry per sub-feed at a time, but then we’re getting into “what I really want is the Blogger blogroll widget” territory, and that just isn’t going to happen.

Anyway, most bloggers would have just made the change and moved on.  But me, I have to tell stories.  You might have noticed this.  Plus, I do wonder if the half dozen of you who actually show up at the site regularly think of it.

I am also interested to see how well the aggregated feed from RSS Mix performs.  It appears to do batch processing to get feed updates, and rightfully so. But that does mean that updates do not show up the moment right away.  We shall see how long the lag is on that.

After I set that up, I did go back and look at the next few results returned by my Google search.  They all seemed to be down or no longer in service, so I guess I didn’t have many choices.  So here we are.  (And I am sure, in my hurry, I missed some blogs that should be in the feed.  I’ll make a 2.0 feed at some point.)

14 thoughts on “Blog Side Bar Experimentation

  1. Pasduil

    FYI Right now your sidebar is showing a msg that goes roughly: “An error has occurred… the feed is probably down.”

    It was working when I first read this page.


  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Pasduil – It seems to be up now. That is something else to consider, how reliable it is.

    Way back in the day, before Google+ became the needy baby in the Google lineup, you used to be able to create an RSS feed based on stories you “favorited” while reading. I used to have a feed up that followed that, where I would flag posts I thought were good.

    I wouldn’t mind going back to that, except Feedly, my current RSS reader, doesn’t have that capability at the moment. We shall see.


  3. Pilgrim in Exile

    Thanks for posting about this. It still isn’t quite blogger, but it is way better than nothing and better than posting an individual RSS for each blog. I will give it a try and see if I can follow the directions.


  4. Genda

    Fixed width blogs are so 2000’s. ;) Honestly though, I do much prefer variable width blogs because then your reader can enjoy their screen real estate and it does allow for some more design flexibility.


  5. bhagpuss

    It seems to be working now. The top link is Stabs’ post that I appeared in my Feedly feed immediately above this very post, so that seems nicely synchronized. I was reading that less than five minutes ago, as it happens.


  6. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Genda – Hah! I have a friend who would go to the mat arguing with you about fixed width.

    He went through J-school in college and ended up doing professional typesetting and design work. He has been critical of a number of aspects about my blog. Well, to be honest, he has been critical about damn near everything, right down to the subject matter and the way I jam pictures in the middle of the text without bothering to have it flow around them.

    But the one nice thing he has said about my blog and its layout was that he approved of the column width and that it was fixed. He is very pro fixed width. There is a school of thought about how wide a column of text should be for optimum readability. Too narrow and flow gets interrupted, too wide and the reader loses their place too easily. He always points to the newspaper and how they cut their text up into columns… and I try to avoid asking who reads the paper these days.

    And I sort of agree with him on the width thing. But I also think the column of text looks awfully narrow on a 16:9 monitor as well. And historically, most of you read this in some sort of RSS feed, so the format doesn’t even enter into it.

    Anyway, finding a new theme is definitely a candidate for a New Years’ resolution.


  7. Liore

    I assume sites can’t just install any WordPress plugin? I use one called “WP Social Blogroll” that essentially mimics the Blogger-style sidebar.


  8. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Liore – No, hosted sites are strictly limited in what they can do. And while I could host it myself, that would literally become an all encompassing project for me. When I ran a BBS, I spent more time tinkering with it than logged into it. I suspect that the same would occur.

    Plus I would have to get a domain name, and is already taken. Damn you, The All Girls Network! They had it, dropped it, and now it is being squatted.


  9. Foo

    Rssmix is the best I came accross, but has the limitation of not being able to edit a blogroll in place. I have been able to create a new consolidated rss feed based on the old one though.

    Another option I played with was yahoo pipes


  10. splatus

    I dont understand why the dynamic sidebar that Blogger has is not something industry-standard now. I have the same issue and therefore pretty much neglect my blog roll – nobody else seems to use it either…


  11. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @splatus – From what I have read from the devs that work on, they view the whole blogroll thing as an anachronism and were about to kill it off at one point, but then relented. They want more social media integration, not better blogrolls.


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