Many people use various social services to stay in touch and to keep up with current events. One of my current favorites is Twitter. Over a year ago, Twitter turned off a service, called Track, that let you track topics. Track let you ‘follow’ a topic whether it was in your twitter stream of followers or not.
In the wake of Track, a developer created a service called TwitterSpy which let you use Google Talk to perform similar functions to that of Twitter’s Track. I’ve written about this before in my how to on setting up TwitterSpy and Google Talk.
While all this was going on, another social network called FriendFeed has joined the scene. I created an account not long after FriendFeed was brought on line and hooked it up so my tweets went from Twitter to FriendFeed but that was pretty much the end of it.
In recent weeks, limits put on the Twitter API and other discussions online have caused me to take another look a FriendFeed. I have to say, the people behind FriendFeed have done an amazing job and have created something truly unique. You just have to spend a bit of time exploring it and figure out how the pieces fit together.
In this article I am going to show you how I have used FriendFeed as the ‘glue’ to build a system to track a couple topics I am interested in, stay current with breaking news and events and also keep up with friends. While no programming is required, there are some necessary details to work through. Once this up front work is done, then adding, deleting or changing things is easy.
The main thing you will need is a FriendFeed account. It is good if you have Twitter too but it is unnecessary if all you want to do is track topics at Twitter. Actually, you don’t have to track Twitter, it is just my example. More on that later.
Once you set up your FriendFeed account you will see lists on the left-hand column. Click ‘new list’ and call it Track (you can call it what ever you like but we’ll use Track for this tutorial).
You don’t need to add any Friends yet unless you are already following some friends on FriendFeed that you know you will want to track. Either way, you can add or remove friends later.
Now, here is were the powerful magic starts to happen. Lets say you want to track a topic people are talking about on Twitter. You could just go to Twitter Search but I have created a custom Yahoo Pipe for this purpose instead. I’ll explain why in a minute.
Go to http://pipes.yahoo.com/techlifeweb/twittersearchfeedbuilder
In this example we’ll track tweets containing the words Microsoft and Silverlight:
Instructions are at the top to help you build searches with AND OR operators. You can exclude tweets from yourself by adding your Twitter name in the second field. Click Run pipe, then click Get as RSS.
Copy the RSS URL from your browser window. You will need this in a minute.
Ok so why the Pipe? After all, Twitter Search provides its own RSS feeds. The rub is that when you look closely at the feed generated by Twitter Search, you will see it doesn’t show you who tweeted. Here is an example of the same results as above:
My Pipe figures out who tweeted and puts their twitter name at the start of the tweet. This way you can know who to respond to if you want.
Now for the next piece of magic, creating an Imaginary Friend. A cute quirky name but part of the brilliance of FriendFeed.
Go back to FriendFeed and, at the top right of the screen, click Friends. Then click the Imaginary tab. Now click the Create Imaginary Friend button. Call it anything you like but I recommend having the name relate to what you are tracking. For this instance I would call it Silverlight_Tracker.
Now you will see your new ‘friend’. If you are creative you could create an icon for it instead of the smiley but that really isn’t necessary. Under Miscellaneous, click Custom RSS/Atom.
In the new box, paste in the RSS URL from the Yahoo pipe above.
Next check Display entries as messages (no link).
Click Import Custom RSS/Atom.
This will then pull in the latest results from the Pipe search.
Before you leave this screen, where it says Friend Lists under your imaginary friend’s name, click add/edit. This will bring up a list of all your lists. By default, your friend is in your Home feed list. You can uncheck that if you want, that is up to you. But do be sure to check the box next to Track. This lets all your friend’s posts show up in your new tracking system.
When we check the Track list we will see everything we are tracking so far. In our case now, just the Silverlight_Tracker shows up as in this screen shot:
You can see that because we named it well, it gives us an idea of the subject matter of the tweet (more relevant when you add more things to track). And, because we used my Pipe, you can see who posted the tweet. Also, don’t forget, this is a search and returns all results whether you follow these people on Twitter or not.
You can use the above method for any RSS/Atom feed you may want to track. Create an imaginary friend for each one. If you are on Twitter, I recommend using the Pipe to create a track feed of your own user name. This way you don’t miss any tweets with your twitter name in the tweet. Another handy feed to track is my Ego Feed.
The Friends you track don’t have to be Imaginary. You can track other people or services on FriendFeed itself. One of my favorites is BreakingNewsOn. Go to Friends in the upper right of FriendFeed, click the Find + Invite tab and search for BreakingNewsOn. When the results come back, subscribe to this friend then be sure to add it to the Track list.
Further, you can track someone on another service who isn’t on FriendFeed but that FriendFeed can connect directly to. This makes the service more than just an RSS reader. For example, lets say a photography buddy of yours isn’t on FriendFeed but does post her pictures on Flickr and you want to track when she puts up new photos. Follow the steps to create an imaginary friend then choose the Flickr service and enter their Flickr user name. Add this imaginary friend to the Track list and you are now tracking them.
If you want to stop tracking someone (or some topic) you can simply remove your friend from the Track list. You can also unsubscribe friends or delete imaginary ones. Its up to you and really depends on if you just want to stop tracking temporarily or more permanently.
Once you start experimenting with this method of track you will see how powerful it is. Give it a try. If you are using this in a unique way I’d love to hear about it.
But wait, there’s more! Next time, I will show you how to take this system to the next level.