A Smarter WordPress Blogroll

The Problem

A lot of us WordPress.com users have long envied Blogger’s very nice sidebar widget which does not just show a list of links, but useful info about the the latest post from each of the blogs, sorted by date. Here’s an example from Inventory Full:

Blogger Widget

This is useful for the blogger themselves as they can quickly see what’s new on blogs they like. It’s also useful for readers as it shows them posts on other blogs they could well be interested in. Most of all it is helpful to the included blogs, and sends a good number of visitors in their direction, unlike the static blogrolls available to WordPress.com users, which are seldom clicked on.

A Partial Solution

I’ve cobbled together a partial solution for my Thinking Play blog…

Wordpress RSS Widget

I used Chimpfeedr to bundle a set of RSS feeds into one, and then the normal WordPress RSS widget to show the combined feed in my sidebar.

I had to make two different feeds and use two separate RSS widgets in my sidebar, one for blogs that are frequently updated, and one for the less frequent writers. This was so that new posts from the less frequent posters don’t quickly disappear as those that publish daily fill up the top of the feed.

This is an improvement on a plain blogroll I think, but still has major limitations compared to the fantastic widget available on Blogger. Some that come to mind…

  • It’s not possible to edit a Chimpfeedr feed once you’ve made it, so adding any new blogs to your list is going to be a pain.

  • The Blogger widget includes just the latest post from every blog on the list, so everyone has one and one post only in the sidebar. This lets you show more blogs in a reasonable way, and gives good exposure to people who don’t write so regularly, who are probably the ones who can most benefit from wider exposure.

  • It just doesn’t look as nice or as readable. It would be nice to show the blog titles along with post titles, and do it in a different color and font as in the Blogger version.

I wrote this method up as I think it might be useful to other bloggers, and maybe for constructing a simple version of the Gaming Blog Nexus.

Do let me know if you try this out, and if you have any ideas for improving on this approach.

UPDATE:

It seems Chimpfeedr might not update the feed after it has been created. That’s according to Wilhelm who has worked on trying to make something like this for a long time. He does have a working solution on similar lines, but it seems to involve two paid services (Feedly Pro and Pinboard) which would be overkill for me.

But there are other RSS aggregators beside Chimpfeedr, so if we can find a decent one, not much has to change other than the feed URL we put in the RSS widget.

UPDATE #2:

Chimpfeedr does seem to update. Maybe it’s been fixed since Wilhelm tried it. Here’s the same widget as in the pic above, and it’s got some new items in it now…

WP RSS widget 2

I’ve also experimented with a version of Wilhelm’s more complex solution, and it seems to work in principle. This uses a free Newsblur account to organize the blog feeds, a free IFTTT account to trigger an action when a new item is added to Newsblur, which action can be set to add the item to a free Delicious account that bookmarks it. Each Delicious account and every tag in the account has its own RSS feed, for example like this one, so they can be used in the widgets like before.

Because of the way this works, it will take a while to compile a feed of items, because it will only notice when something new arrives, not do anything with the old posts that were already there. But in time it should be a better solution that will allow for easier organizing and updating of the blogs to be included.

Newsblur has a limit of 64 feeds on a free account, though as far as I know there is nothing to stop you making multiple accounts. 64 should be plenty for this use though, and even the premium sub with unlimited feeds is not too expensive, $24/yr.

It’s a shame that we have to resort to such a convoluted set up compared to the elegance of the Blogger widget!