2009 is the year the web starts to go realtime. With Google Wave about to make discussion and collaboration faster and FriendFeed serving up content as soon as it gets it, isn’t it time blogs caught up?
There are a number of standards being developed that allow RSS Readers to update as soon as a blogger has hit ‘Publish’ on a post. Here is a round up of some of the ways you can take your blogging (and blog reading) realtime.
Launched yesterday, RSSCloud is based on the long-in-the-tooth but little used <cloud> element in the RSS specification. It allows blogs to tell RSS readers when they’ve been updated. This beats the usual slow way an RSS Reader has to check back with a blog’s feed to see if it’s updated.
The big news is WordPress.com, host for a claimed 7.5 million blogs, has switched on support for RSS Cloud. Now all those blogs can now update in realtime. The problem is RSS readers need to support it too. Currently only River2, the new reader from ‘father of RSS’, Dave Winer, supports RSSCloud. The real benefit for most users will be if Google Reader and Microsoft Outlook switch on support for the service.
Blog Owners: You can take advantage of RSSCloud if your blog is hosted by WordPress.com or if you have a self-hosted WordPress blog. WordPress.com blogs are automatically using RSSCloud right now. If you’re hosting your own WordPress blog you’ll need to add the RSS Cloud plugin. Hopefully other blog platforms will add support soon.
Blog Readers: To ensure you’re receiving realtime blog updates from RSSCloud-enabled blogs you’ll need to be using River 2. It’s probably not worth switching RSS readers though. Given the publicity around this news, we’ll very likely see other RSS Readers adopt the RSSCloud soon. Shortly after its announcement, realtime content discovery service Lazyfeed has already announced plans to support the standard.
Designed by Google engineers, this open source standard uses ‘hubs’ as an intermediary between RSS feeds and RSS Readers. When a blogger hits ‘Publish’, the hub gets told about the new post and in turn tells the RSS Reader to grab it. The effect is realtime publishing.
Although it’s still in its early days, current implementations of PubSubHubbub are impressive. If you use Google Reader and FriendFeed, try this: With both sites visible on screen, click the ‘Share’ icon at the bottom of a post in Reader. As long as you’ve linked your Google Reader account to FriendFeed the post will come through to FriendFeed within a second or so. It really is that fast.
Blog Owners: If you use Feedburner to manage your RSS feed, you can start using PubSubHubbub right away. Simply open up your Feedburner account, head to the ‘Publicize’ tab and enable the Pingshot feature. You’re done! If you use Blogger to host your blog (but don’t use Feedburner) your feed is already set up with PubSubHubbub support. Other platforms are likely to follow with support in the future.
Blog Readers: As with RSS Cloud, it’s still early days for RSS readers supporting PubSubHubbub. One of the only implementations that works well right now is FriendFeed. Subscribe to an RSS feed in FriendFeed and as long as it’s been PubSubHubbub enabled (using the process above) it will appear in FriendFeed as soon as it’s published.
Google Reader has partially implemented the service. As described above, RSS feeds generated by Google Reader itself are PubSubHubbub enabled (hence shares to FriendFeed are instant). No feed reader (aside from FriendFeed) supports receiving incoming feeds in realtime via PubSubHubbub yet.
Another way to read blogs in realtime is to forget an RSS Reader and use an IM client instead. im.wordpress.com is a project that allows users to subscribe to blogs in a Jabber IM client and receive posts and comments as they’re published.
Blog Owners: This service is only available for blogs hosted by WordPress.com. If that includes you, your blog automatically supports IM subscription.
Blog Readers: To receive your blogs this way you need a Jabber-enabled IM client that can receive HTML messages. This excludes Google Talk and Apple iChat but includes clients such as Adium on the Mac and Pidgin for Windows and Linux. Using a supported client, befriend firstname.lastname@example.org. Through sending commands to this bot you can subscribe and unsubscribe to an unlimited number of WordPress.com feeds. The Bot then sends them through in realtime. See WordPress Support for more information.
Based on text commands, this certainly isn’t the most user friendly way to subscribe to blogs and its restriction to WordPress.com hosted blogs limits its appeal. Still, there are a lot of WordPress-hosted blogs out there so if you’re a fan of Scobleizer or I Can Haz Cheezburger, this could well be worth a try.
Other realtime trends to look out for
Other protocols that are helping the web become realtime include SUP. Standing for ‘Simple Update Protocol’, this was developed by FriendFeed to speed up the sharing of information around the web. It is used by services including Youtube, Disqus, Brightkite, Laconica-powered micro-blogs, BackType, and 12seconds.tv. FriendFeed should receive updates from enabled services instantly. If you’re using a self-hosted WordPress blog you can add SUP functionality by using the WP-SUP plugin.
Although this post has concentrated on blogs, standards like PubSubHubbub and RSSCloud can be used by all sorts of services to provide realtime functions. As long as they use RSS, developers can harness these standards. Who said RSS was dead?