The Blog That Writes Itself: Mark II

If you want to organise a ‘blog that writes itself,’ perhaps to maintain a record of a special event like your summer holidays, and at the same time share it as it happens (almost) with friends and family, what I describe here is probably the simplest way to organise a real-time feed. I had a go last year during a month spent in Europe. I embedded a FriendFeed widget in the blog so that all of my images sent up to Flickr, tweets, my blogposts, my audio files, movies etc., would appear in the real-time feed. I wrote about it here. It didn’t prove to be the success I had hoped for – it kept updating as it was intended to, but went beyond the holiday posts. In other words, all my holiday-related posts dropped off the radar as others replaced them.  To fix what didn’t work for me last year, we’re going to be using FriendFeed again, and this time, a dedicated page or separate blogsite rather than the blog’s homepage.

If you’re already a FriendFeed user you will know that you can create a special group – private, standard, or public – but maintain it as a ‘room’ to house your event blog. From what I read lately there are some FriendFeed users who have abandoned their blogs for real-time feeds like FriendFeed or Posterous or Tumblr, but many (and I include myself) like to maintain my own blog in addition to various online aggregators.

To begin, if you haven’t already got one, sign up for a FriendFeed account. The ‘how to’ instructions on FriendFeed are really easy to follow, so intuitive in fact that you may not even need them – though it’s always a good idea to read the cookbook! Now set up a Group – let’s call it ‘Summer Holiday,’ and be sure to choose ‘standard’ or a ‘public’ feed rather than a ‘private’ one. Standard means that anyone can comment and ‘like’ posts; public means that anyone can post anything to the feed. I’d suggest you probably might not want this latter option. Just be aware that if you make your group private you will not be able to share your feed on your blog – makes sense of course.

Next step is to import all the services you will be using –  sites like Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and so on – that you will be using. There are about 58 of these at time of writing, so there are plenty to choose from. You do this by clicking on the Import a Service link on your group page.

Now, where do you want your feed to appear? As I said above, you could simply choose the group Summer Holiday as your ‘blog.’ If you take this option, that’s it … you are done. All posts to services you’ve imported will appear in Summer Holiday. You can also choose to send these out to your Home feed on FriendFeed – again FriendFeed has easy instructions as to how to do this so I won’t go into them here. My preference? To avoid the problem I had last year, I’d set up a separate page on my self-hosted WordPress blog and call it ‘Travel Journal’ or some such, but you could equally create a separate free blog at Blogger or, if you’re a Mac user, on iWeb which comes free as part of iLife.

Next step, go to FriendFeed’s Tools section, click on your Summer Holiday group feed and grab the code for an embedded Feed Widget. At this stage you will be asked what you want to include in the widget: a subscribe button, whether or not you want the FriendFeed logo to appear (I’d choose not to for a cleaner look on the site), and to set up the size in pixels that you want to fit your blog’s posting pane. You could have the feed in your sidebar, but that’s not the idea with this feed which is designed to replace usual blog content in the posting pane. Once the widget’s code is automatically generated in FriendFeed, you simply copy and paste it into your ‘Travel Journal’ page’s posting pane. Hey presto! From here on in, every site you have set up to to feed material into your Summer Holiday group will appear in your blog – hence, the blog that writes itself. Neat, eh? If you are using a dedicated page on your blog for the feed, you might also choose during the span of your holiday to make it the landing page. That’s easy enough in WordPress. You simply change it in Reading Settings. As a sample of an embedded real time FriendFeed, here’s my current Home feed below. It will keep updating as the months go by – but in this case, it doesn’t matter.

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