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Artima Creates Buzz

Posted by bv on June 26, 2003 at 2:17 PM PDT


The way people use the internet is changing. I first heard of RSS less than a year ago when an Artima.com reader emailed me asking if I had considered offering an RSS feed. I replied, "What's RSS?" The reader pointed me to some information about RSS on the web. I thought RSS was a great idea, and within two hours Artima had its first RSS feed, in which I announce new articles at Artima.com.

Since then I have watched my traffic statistics gradually morph month to month. I have added many RSS feeds since that first one. Each month the RSS feeds receive more and more hits. Since I added that first RSS feed to Artima.com last September, I have watched the RSS files bubble up to the top of Artima.com's traffic reports.

I decided a few months back that this trend was likely here to stay, and that in the future the key to website success will not be so much tied to how many people have bookmarked your homepage, but to how many people have subscribed to your RSS feeds. So I turned my focus to creating interesting RSS feeds at Artima.com.

In addition to my initial articles announcement feed, I added feeds for News & Ideas and Software Releases from Artima.com's homepage, a feed for Artima Weblogs, a feed for each individual Artima Blogger, and very recently, feeds for Artima News and Buzz.

What's the Buzz?

If you have a tech-oriented weblog, take a look at Artima Technology Buzz. You can register your weblog's RSS feed in any of 28 Buzz communities, each of which are focused on a different topic, such as Java, Python, Design, XML, etc. You can see all the topics here:

http://www.artima.com/buzz/index.jsp

You can register your RSS feeds here:

http://www.artima.com/buzz/seltopic.jsp

Once you register, it may take up to two hours for your first posts to start appearing. I only post at most one entry an hour for each feed, so if like most people your feed contains 15 items, it will take up to 17 hours for all of those items to appear. Patience is a virtue.

But I Blog About Several Buzz Topics

Each user can register as many RSS feeds as they wish, but I allow each feed URL to be registered in only one community. If you post on several Buzz community topics in a particular feed, please join the community on whose topic you post about most in your feed. Or simply join the community that you feel fits you and your feed the best.

I call them Buzz communities, because I want to emphasize that they are not just groups of weblog posts about a topic—they are groups of people. These people are working with and blogging about the Buzz topic (Java, Python, Linux, etc...), but they aren't necessarily working with or blogging about that topic exclusively. Think of the Buzz communities as water coolers in an office. People interested in Design may gather around the Design Buzz water cooler, where they will talk about design but also other technology topics that interest them.

Don't worry if you feel you'll be writing some posts off-topic from the community you join. I expect Buzz communities to have a low signal to noise ratio. They are generated automatically by reading RSS feeds. They are not edited. The reader, therefore, must spend time sorting through and separating the signal from the noise themselves, but in return they get signal that would otherwise be blocked by an editor. That's the quid pro quo for the reader. What I've tried to do is make it as easy as possible for the reader to zero in on the signal among the noise.

Inspired by JavaBlogs

I was initially inspired to create Technology Buzz by the success of JavaBlogs:

http://www.javablogs.com

I found myself going to JavaBlogs several times a day. Even though the signal to noise ratio was rather low on JavaBlogs, I kept finding interesting tidbits of information. This is where I realized the value of weblogs. Yes, they have spelling errors, awkward constructions, and poor grammar. Yes, many posts say very little of value. But buried in the posts flowing through JavaBlogs every day were little nuggets of information that I just never heard about from the edited sites. This is where I realized that by spending a bit of time doing the editing myself as the reader, i.e., sorting though many valueless posts, I got in return information that may not have made it past an editor at an edited site.

JavaBlogs had what I considered several usability deficiencies that frustrated me, so I set out to fix those. The main frustration I had with JavaBlogs was that they only showed the title of the weblog post, which usually didn't give me enough information to know whether I cared to read the post or not. So I had to click and wait for the entire page to load before finding out I didn't care. When you look at a community page for a Buzz community, you get a title plus a Google-like excerpt that will usually give you enough information to know whether you want to read further. Here's an example:

http://www.artima.com/buzz/community.jsp?forum=121

The other main difference is that each item posted to a Buzz community is actually a discussion forum topic. Just click on (Discuss). So each Buzz community is not only a place to find out what people are talking about in their weblogs, but a central place to discuss the weblog posts.

Also, JavaBlogs doesn't post more than two entries from a feed on the home page. I found that awkward. What I did in Buzz was only post one entry per hour from any one feed. I figured this would help mix up the posts in a natural way.

I list the bloggers names on the left hand column, because as I mentioned previously, I want to emphasize that these are communities of people who blog. You can click on a name to see posts in that Buzz community by that person, along with a list of the names of the blogs that person has registered. You can click on a blog name to see entries just from that blog. And you can subscribe to RSS feeds for all those views.

I created a very forgiving RSS parser. I do however, require a description element for every item I post in a Buzz community, because I extract the summary from the description. I require a summary because that's helpful to the reader.

Join the Buzz

Check it out. Click around. Join a Buzz community if you like, and post any feedback to the Buzz Users Forum:

http://www.artima.com/forums/forum.jsp?forum=169

And if you join, feel free to mention it your weblog, to help me spread the word. Thanks.

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