A small step for RSS…
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travelled path

When RSS was first developed, it was envisioned as a way for internet users to emalgamate all their news feeds into one and track news as it developed, without having to constantly look at individual sites. Through an RSS feed and a tool which could track the RSS Signal – like a reader, you could see the events of the world develop in real-time.

Many people who are curious about the world and interested in information get very excited when they hear about the concept of RSS – what could be better than a tool which can give you immediate insight?

However, in practice, the RSS reader and RSS feed concept is little discussed. Most internet users don’t know what an RSS feed is, yet alone understand the concept of being able to place one news website in the same channel as their favourite blog.

RSS and the Fire Hose

This is mainly because in practice RSS feeds create way too much noise without encouraging you to look beyond your own favourite sources. There is a reason why social media took off as a content sharing tool as opposed to individuals looking at their own bubble. People like recommendations, they like to work as a team, they like to stumble across ideas which are new and revelatory. Which a stream of the same sources doesn’t necessarily expose yourself to.

However, with social networks reaching a state of maturity – facebook is now used by half the world’s online population – the limits of this model are being reached again. When you put a social network completely in control of your newsfeed, you are bound to miss content which you know that you like, mainly because you don’t have control over the algorithm which is feeding your news.

So, it could be RSS’s time to shine again. Many have combined the RSS reader to create a nicer looking newsreader on the front end, and some have thought about how to combine social interaction with these things.

But what we suggest is to use RSS feeds, but filter them in a more complicated way to ensure that you get what you really want, and filters out as much of the noise as possible.

And to take it a step further, Cronycle allows you to create content using the information which is at your disposal. It is rare that a person wants information for information’s sake, they often get something else out of that knowledge. And often it’s the opportunity to craft their own ideas.

Welcome to the next step in the RSS story….

Sign up for Cronycle here

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Start a team on Cronycle
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PR Collaboration

This is a guide to creating a team on Cronycle. Some of our users will only be using Cronycle as an individual. Given Cronycle is ultimately a collaboration platform for sharing ideas and making decisions with your team, then it makes sense to show you how to start a team.

Why start a Cronycle team?

If you have a job that relies on processing and making decisions from information, the chances are you have colleagues and friends who you bounce ideas off. You want to make sure that other people are contributing to your decision, so that you make the best possible choices.

Cronycle is a platform where everyone can comment and share ideas on a board which is set around a specific project. It means you don’t have arrange another meeting, and you have an enriched platform online specifically for content.

How to create a Cronycle team

First click on your profile then click edit profile. In your profile page choose either a collaborator team or a follower team. Collaborator team can edit, comment, upload content to boards. Follower team are for read-only teams. When you have chosen, click start a new team.

starting a new team

A box similar to the below will pop up. Your team name is what you will often see and should be named after your desired team. The second box allows you to invite new members to this team. Simply type in their emails if they have not yet joined Cronycle or type in their username if they have a Cronycle account.

start a new team on Cronycle

Now you have created a team it is important to share boards or custom feeds with the team, so that everyone has a shared collaboration space.

To do this on boards click on the setting cog on the top right of the board. A pop-down menu will appear, in this menu under collaboration you can add your newly created team by clicking add. You could be part of multiple teams in the future, and you need to make sure you are sharing with the right one:

pop down menu to add new teams

Now everyone in your team will have access to the things you’ve assigned them. And what’s more, they will have the ability to create their own feeds and boards and share them with the team too.

To get started, go to app.cronycle.com and log on!

If you’ve got any questions about using this software then please reach out to us via the in-app software, or email Alice.

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How do I add my Google Alerts to Cronycle?
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Google Alerts

The way many people keep track of relevant content is via Google Alerts. Google alerts are a service provided by Google, which alerts the recipient when new articles (or blog posts / video etc) are scraped by their search engine.

These typically are sent to your inbox once a day, and are filled with all manner of press releases and articles from the web. They are a great resource for content marketers and public relations professionals who want to make sure they know everything about a specific topic.

In order to get started on Cronycle quickly, you may want to start by having your Google Alerts as feeds in Cronycle. So, here’s how you do it.

Set up your Google Alerts as RSS feeds rather than emails

Go to www.google.com/alerts

Most people will be logged into their Google account already, but in case you’re not then sign in.

You will see a list of the google alerts which you subscribe to. It may look a bit like this:

Google Alert Screenshot

You can see my ‘content curation’ and ‘relevant content’ alerts are already RSS feeds. This is signified by the RSS icon.

However, my Periscope Google Alert is currently an email update. To change this click on the edit icon (currently highlighted in blue).

Google Alert Menu

You will then see the above menu. On “Deliver to” select “RSS feed”. Click “Update Alert” to save your changes.

You will return to the original list. To access the RSS feed then click on the RSS icon. Then copy and paste this link into your Cronycle using the box below in the sources tab.

Create Alert - Past RSS Link zoomed

And you’re done!

 

 

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We want to make it easy to use and update your sources on Cronycle and as a result we’ve created the Content Clipper. This is an add-on for Chrome and makes it easy to add sources to your Cronycle whilst you’re browsing the web.

It looks like the below:

Content Clipper by Cronycle

 

When you are browsing the web, and you come across a interesting blog or news site, the Content Clipper is designed to easily clip the feed or the article to a collection or a board. It assesses which feeds are associated with that page and you can hit ‘Save to Cronycle’ or ‘Clip to board’.

To download the Content Clipper please contact Alice so you can have access to the private beta.

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Your source library is at the heart of your Cronycle. Your sources should be from the publishers and people that you want to listen to, or perhaps the people who hold contradictory points of view to you, so you can become a specialist on your topics.

Cronycle is built from the idea that you should be in control of your news. As a result, you need to consent to the sources which are presented in your collections.

At the moment, Cronycle has two types of sources: 1) RSS feeds and 2) accounts on Twitter

We will look to add other types of sources in the future like video and private files.

To add a source you can do one of the following things –

Use the Cronycle Database:

On the sources tab you have 3 field boxes.

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 15.10.04

The first is a search box where you can search our global library of 19,000 feeds

The second is a URL box where you can input the address of a specific RSS feed

The third is a twitter box where you can type in a twitter username or twitter URL you would like to use as a source.

Import an OPML file:

It may be that you currently use another RSS aggregator as a news reader. You can upload this file easily to the software.

Content Clipper by Cronycle:

We are developing a Content Clipper to sit in your Chrome or Safari browser. Whilst you’re browsing the web you can easily clip articles to your boards, or even search to see which RSS feeds that article belongs to and add feeds to your sources.

Go to our page on filtering to see how you can use your sources to get intelligence from the internet.

Tips and Tricks

Keep your sources under control – using the right sources in the right collections is key to filtering through the noise.

Use the search bar to find the right sources – if a source is associated with a topic, then quite frequently it will be labelled as such. You can also use folders to segment your twitter contacts and RSS feeds.

 

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Problems with Robotic Algorithms
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Code

How spoiled we humans are.  How expectant. We assume that content filtering programs – social media algorithms, for example – will deliver us not only the information we like, but the information we need.  Recently, however, even the most optimistic among us have begun to question whether we can truly rely on machine-based curation.  The notable lack of coverage of the traumatic events unfolding in Ferguson in users’ Facebook feeds was alarming.  Twitter, however, was chock-full of updates, illuminating the difference between the two platforms.  On the one hand, nothing.  On the other hand, everything—a hashtag (#Ferguson) with legs so long it was nearly impossible to keep up with its pace.

As Yael Grauel, a contributing writer to Contently’s Content Strategist put it in her recent article, the dearth of Ferguson coverage on Facebook was “the social media equivalent of somebody grabbing a copy of the morning paper, deciding the serious front page headlines wouldn’t be interesting, and ‘curating’ the content by providing clips of cartoons and celebrity gossip instead.”

If we were honest with ourselves, we probably already knew that Facebook’s algorithm was flawed, but recent events have shone a spotlight on these shortcomings.  Here’s what’s wrong.

The Symmetrical Follow Method

On Facebook, it takes two to tango.  Two individuals need to agree to become friends in order to share content, unlike on Twitter, where users can follow whomever they like, making it easier to track the development of a trending news story.  This set-up is great for forging connections but not ideal for surfacing important content.  (Gigaom further explores this here.)

Intention

Wired’s Mat Honan liked everything on Facebook for 48 hours and was struck by how quickly the people in his feed were replaced with brands and “content mills” (Mat’s words) like Huffington Post and Upworthy, and how his behavior affected the feeds of his Facebook friends– an experience worth reading about here.  Facebook’s algorithm is based on a complex formula that’s not well understood by we laypeople.  Facebook says it considers who and what you’re liking and commenting on, who you interact with frequently and what types of updates you hide.  As Facebook puts it, “The goal of News Feed is to deliver the right content to the right people at the right time so they don’t miss the stories that are important to them. Ideally, we want News Feed to show all the posts people want to see in the order they want to read them.”

Facebook smartly focuses on the reader in this mission statement, but understandably, the success of the algorithm is very much tied to the success of its advertising program.  Facebook wants you to click.  Clicking means engaging – a marketing holy grail.  Clicking keeps you on the platform, another plus.  Honan’s endless liking didn’t result in more photos from his cousins—it resulted in more marketing messages from brands.  Don’t get me wrong.  I use Facebook to connect with my friends and I use Facebook as an effective business tool.  It’s pretty cool that it can be both, but at the end of the day, the platform’s priority is ensuring it has delivered for its advertisers.

It ain’t human

Let’s pretend Facebook’s number one priority was serving you the most relevant content, and that it had no obligation to advertisers.  As our own Marina Cheal explains in her recent post about content filtration, and as I tackled in a Q&A with a data scientist, even the “smartest” of machines just can’t compete with the human touch.

That’s a pretty nice segue to Cronycle – a content aggregation tool that allows you to circumvent the “Facebook” problem.  There’s no machine deciding what you should and should not read.  That’s up to you.  Check out www.croyncle.com to see what we mean.

Published on 27.10.2014 by Jacqueline Lisk

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Consent, Bias and Algorithmic Filtering
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Algorithms and Filtering

The Pew Research Center published a survey this month about the rise of Facebook and Twitter as a valid news source for many Americans. 63% of users get their news from those platforms.

Which raises questions about the artificial intelligence system used by these platforms in order to give their users the information they want.

At the moment, the intelligence system is fairly similar across search, news readers and social networks. The user interacts with the system; the system logs certain behavioural tendencies; the system builds up a picture of your behavioural tendencies which mean you will find it easier to exhibit those behavioural tendencies in the future.

Brands then market their services stating it as a method of mapping your ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’, and this should be a good basis for filtering the information you see online. You can read as much in Facebook’s blog concerning their news feed.

But this is wrong. Behaving in a certain way does not mean that you condone that behaviour. It certainly does not mean you want an intelligence system to remember tendencies and to make it easier to exhibit those tendencies.

In fact, behavioural tendencies (or thoughts) are used privately to test drive how you may act in a certain situation. Many different scenarios are examined before you set on a course of action. We filter our thoughts to get to actions. It is why we should be judged on our actions and not on our thoughts.

As a result, in the current intelligence system, we are logging behavioural tendencies that we may disapprove of. It leaves us out of control.

Given that we are not in charge of this filtering process, it means these processes can be manipulated. In Google search, companies manipulate the results by adhering to SEO best practice. What’s more, Facebook has experimented with changing users moods according to minor tweaks to the algorithm.

What are algorithms and what should they aim to do in filtering?

One definition of AI is it is the process of understanding the way that humans operate, communicate and behave, so that we can replicate that behaviour on a large scale through computing power. This is a conclusion I reached whilst at The Computer History Museum in Mountain View.

This is because getting better at coding computers is like having a greater understanding of the way we logically construct our language. And our language is a good window for understanding the nature of our intelligence.

Eliezer Yudkoskey of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute says something similar: “I keep trying to explain to people that the archetype of intelligence is not Dustin Hoffman in The Rain Man, it is a human being, period.”

I’m arguing that in order to replicate human thought and action, our AI system needs to include some sort of ‘consent’ in the filters we use. The system cannot observe our likes and dislikes, we have to tell the system our likes and dislikes.

In some cases, we are looking for facts. ‘Where is the nearest bank’ or ‘How long does it take to get from Westminster to Kings Cross?’. These are simple statements and simple AI systems can be used to determine the answer.

However, when we are looking for information about contentious subjects like redundancy policy, privacy strategy, global warming, or international relations, it is vitally important that we consent to the filters that are put in place, or else we will be oblivious to systemic bias.

How often do you use a system of artificial intelligence without seriously thinking about the processes through which they have given you information?

The next question following this is; what system is available for intelligent professionals to filter the noise in a transparent way?

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What’s all the fuss about content filtering?
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RSS Reader

A colleague of mine asked me this question a while ago when we were discussing the problem of the facebook algorithm. Here’s how it works: facebook shows you the news that it thinks you’re most likely to interact with. After all, if your second cousin posts endless pictures of things you’re not interested in, it makes sense for facebook to dial back on his updates and dial in some more interesting content from your sister, who posts news articles that keep you informed.

The problem is that, although this sounds fine in principle, in practise it creates a very different environment to the one you would expect. Often news is dialed back to make way for easy ‘clickbait’ type content, or videos are prioritised because they’re more engaging.

So, a computer decides what you get to see and what it will hide. And computers – while they can be incredibly smart – are not always going to make the same decisions as humans.

Over on GigaOm this week, Matthew Ingrams discussed the merits of Twitter vs facebook as a source for news. In the wake of the shocking incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, some people were surprised to see facebook almost completely devoid of news. Twitter was filled with live updates, eye-witness reports, photos and videos of events as they unfolded. Facebook: almost nothing. Why so different? While Facebook has a filtering algorithm constantly trying to guess what you’ll respond to, Twitter shows you everything from the people you follow, so you’re going to receive all the updates from people you follow in your timeline, whether you’re likely to retweet them or not. While Facebook is trying to be your personal shopper, hand-picking items it knows you’ll like, Twitter shows you all of the products in the shop.

The Twitter model is great, for a while, and gets around this initial problem of algorithmic filtering. Unfortunately, because you see everything, it can be incredibly difficult to keep track. We humans are, and always have been, fans of filtering and sorting. Even before the internet age, when we were bombarded with data from all sides, we’d rarely seek out everything – choosing instead to curate our sources (by buying a specific newspaper, or watching a particular news channel, for instance). To continue the shopping analogy, Twitter gives you the option of seeing every product, but there are so many on such a fast-moving conveyor belt you barely have time to examine something before twenty other things have gone whizzing past.

Can there be a balance? Well, there are a couple of possible ways to solve this problem. Method one – the one which facebook is trying is to simply make automated filtering better. Facebook tries to improve the algorithms so that they don’t get too one-sided, or churn out too much similar content – their priority is to keep you on the site and get you using it a lot, so ultimately if their algorithm is stopping you from doing that they’ll improve it. Twitter is also tweaking what shows up automatically on the timeline – recent changes to how ‘favourites’ are displayed have met with opposition from users, but it’s one of many experiments to try and make Twitter feel like a more  ‘usable’ place. To engage new users, Twitter is trying to introduce a form of content curation that makes it easier for people to find what they love.

Will either of these techniques work? Possibly. But one of the reasons we started Cronycle is that we think there’s a better option. Not better algorithmic filtering – because it will ultimately always run into the ‘machine’ problem – but applying a layer of human curation to the deluge of content.

Human curation is the solution to algorithmic content filtering

Cronycle takes all of your sources (the RSS feeds you subscribe to, the Twitter accounts you follow) and indexes all of the important content (anything that includes a link or image is pulled through). You can then filter and curate those posts into a collection based on criteria you choose – you can add a filter for the latest breaking news story, for example, filtering in only content from the news teams you really trust. You could have a different collection for updates on a particular area of industry, which gathers articles from expert sources that you’ve chosen yourself.

There’s a certain amount of machine help here, for sure – you’re not creating your own newspaper. Cronycle is useful because it helps you cut through the noise, and prevents you having to scroll through reams of irrelevant content just to get updates on the latest news story or blog post. But the key difference between Cronycle and any algorithmic filtering system is that you won’t run into the ‘facebook problem’ – machines pushing you content based on simplistic models of your behaviour. You choose the sources, you set the filters, and Cronycle indexes that content. Unlike facebook, it won’t ever second guess you.

Published on 21.08.2014 by Marina Cheale

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What’s the future of RSS?
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Information Overload

In the wake of Google Reader and the midst of social media’s reign, the RSS feed chugs along

RSS allows publishers to syndicate information automatically, to deliver content right to users’ fingertips.  They no longer have to check their favorite sites to see if new content has been published—technology does it for them.  But these days, that convenience is commonplace.   Social media enables an even larger audience not only to receive content from the sites that interest them, but to become publishers themselves.  Although few are questioning that RSS has a space in the digital content consumption marketplace, many contend that the space may be shrinking—a theory bolstered by the demise of Google Reader.

Google retired its service, which was the most popular RSS reader, on July 1, 2013, explaining, “While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined.”  (However, many believe this decision had more to do with office politics and Google’s plans for its own social network, Google+.)  A host of worthwhile services, including This Old Reader, Feedly and Flipboard, were ready to take in the millions of Google transplants, but although RSS still has a fierce and loyal following, social media is proving a sufficient alternative for the average user.

“We definitely see more publishers using the option for social networks versus the option for RSS,” notes Bruce Ableson, vice president of client solutions at LiveFyre, a tech company that offers a suite of real-time products that allow users to curate content from various sources and host in one place.  “We still use RSS Feeds all the time, though, especially at the smaller publisher level,” he says.

Although there’s still a huge need for RSS, Ableson notes that publishers seem more incentivized to drive readers to follow them on social networks than to subscribe to their RSS feeds.

“It’s perfectly possible that for many, social media is the new RSS,” says Rob Hicks, founder and chief data scientist of Bright North.   “RSS was all about putting alerts in one place, which is exactly what Twitter does because most media sites have at least added, if not replaced, their RSS with Tweets.”

The problem is, there is a lot of noise to get through.  Twitter isn’t only about signifying a new piece of quality content.  It’s a hodgepodge of hashtags and interactions, making it difficult for users to quickly identify what’s worth reading.  “It makes sense that brands and publishers have embraced Twitter, but whether it does as an effective job as a good RSS consuming platform is another story.  I don’t think it does,” Hicks opines.

What Twitter does do well, of course, is the social aspect.  “Social networks give people the ability to recommend stuff and become pseudo-publishers even if they haven’t written the content they’re sharing.  I might follow someone because they are excellent curators,” says Hicks.  “It adds a new level of curation which you could argue is more valuable than the original RSS thing was in the first place.  I’m not sure I would agree, but I see the argument.”

First published 01.05.2014

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In the wake of Google Reader and the midst of social media’s reign, the RSS feed chugs along

RSS allows publishers to syndicate information automatically, to deliver content right to users’ fingertips.  They no longer have to check their favorite sites to see if new content has been published—technology does it for them.  But these days, that convenience is commonplace.   Social media enables an even larger audience not only to receive content from the sites that interest them, but to become publishers themselves.  Although few are questioning that RSS has a space in the digital content consumption marketplace, many contend that the space may be shrinking—a theory bolstered by the demise of Google Reader.

Google retired its service, which was the most popular RSS reader, on July 1, 2013, explaining, “While the product has a loyal following, over the years usage has declined.”  (However, many believe this decision had more to do with office politics and Google’s plans for its own social network, Google+.)  A host of worthwhile services, including This Old Reader, Feedly and Flipboard, were ready to take in the millions of Google transplants, but although RSS still has a fierce and loyal following, social media is proving a sufficient alternative for the average user.

“We definitely see more publishers using the option for social networks versus the option for RSS,” notes Bruce Ableson, vice president of client solutions at LiveFyre, a tech company that offers a suite of real-time products that allow users to curate content from various sources and host in one place.  “We still use RSS Feeds all the time, though, especially at the smaller publisher level,” he says.

Although there’s still a huge need for RSS, Ableson notes that publishers seem more incentivized to drive readers to follow them on social networks than to subscribe to their RSS feeds.

“It’s perfectly possible that for many, social media is the new RSS,” says Rob Hicks, founder and chief data scientist of Bright North.   “RSS was all about putting alerts in one place, which is exactly what Twitter does because most media sites have at least added, if not replaced, their RSS with Tweets.”

The problem is, there is a lot of noise to get through.  Twitter isn’t only about signifying a new piece of quality content.  It’s a hodgepodge of hashtags and interactions, making it difficult for users to quickly identify what’s worth reading.  “It makes sense that brands and publishers have embraced Twitter, but whether it does as an effective job as a good RSS consuming platform is another story.  I don’t think it does,” Hicks opines.

What Twitter does do well, of course, is the social aspect.  “Social networks give people the ability to recommend stuff and become pseudo-publishers even if they haven’t written the content they’re sharing.  I might follow someone because they are excellent curators,” says Hicks.  “It adds a new level of curation which you could argue is more valuable than the original RSS thing was in the first place.  I’m not sure I would agree, but I see the argument.”

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