I haven’t had a chance to fully check out Atomflow yet, but I did get a chance to read some of what’s been mentioned around the net about it, so I thought I’d post a bit more about what I’m thinking it’s useful for in the context of OzPolFeeds (which are down at the moment due to a computer switch – should be up again soon).

The whole idea of OzPolFeeds was to provide the pollie-watchers out there (myself included) a way to keep track of what all the major political parties are saying. I had a lot of “big ideas”™ about what I could do with it, but time has been scarce, meaning that I’ve not even got the first stage (generating RSS feeds) fully completed as yet (the timestamps on new items are not as accurate as I would like and only one of the feeds succesfully validates – not that that’s been a huge issue with my chosen feed reader NetNewsWire, but still something I wanted to sort out).

The idea was, once the feeds were generated, to then splice the feeds together in an aggregator-style website, and also to create an aggregate RSS feed. This would provide those people not familiar with RSS aggregators the ability to keep track of the feeds, but also provide an easier way for RSS-savvy subscribers to see what’s being said, without having to subscribe to three or four separate feeds.

Once this second phase was done, I was hoping to add commenting functions, and the ability to “splice” in commentary, including links to the related news items from the major dailies here (such as the Sydney Morning Herald,, The Age etc.) in a multi-user blog style format.

I’ve also been interested in this kind of concept for NGOs and activist groups – giving them the ability to present issue-based portals very quickly and cheaply, drawing from news sources both within the organisations themselves, but also from external sources like local, national and international newspapers, online news sites and other topical weblogs. For example, an organisation like Friends of the Earth could maintain a general environmental awareness website, but also provide sub-sites on a more specific topic, like the social justice issues related to climate change and South Pacific countries. They are sure to come across lots of information in their daily work that would be easily postable in a weblog/RSS/Atom format.

So why not just use weblogs? Well, typically weblog authoring software takes a “top-down” approach – there is a main feed that can then be split into sub-categories. The main page comes first, the categories come second. Although this can be used to great effect, it requires the weblog tool to be multi-user aware (certainly at least if individual author attribution is required), and, I think most importantly, requires everyone to use the same tool, server, etc. in order to get the benefits of the aggregated main page.

By using RSS or Atom in the back end, a group or organisation could have their subject matter experts posting on the sub-topics on their own, dedicated site (own server etc.) that then floats up to the main page – a bottom-up approach – without having to use a monolythic content management system for everyone. The “small pieces, loosely joined” concept to a tee.

There are potential issues with copyright (consuming feeds for redisplay without permission – this is an issue generally, not specific to this concept) and moderating of posts, but for many applications these factors wouldn’t be a significant issue.

I recognise that there are, of course, commercial applications of the same concept – but I’m not so interested in those personally.

Where atomflow really helps out is in providing a means to take numerous feeds and splicing them together into an aggregate feed. The XSLT transform is an added bonus for some circumstances, but not necessary for all. That means, using existing weblogging tools, various authors can post (perhaps to a category page, perhaps not) and then have those posts flow into the consuming site(s). And of course, this process can be repeated for as many consuming “main pages” that are required/desired. The choice of weblogging tool is open. The choice of output format/destination site is open.

I see immediate benefit from using atomflow in the OzPolFeeds context – and that immediately provides benefit to me and anyone that’s interested in those feeds (and there are a few people I know who already subscribe – though my server stats package sucks so it’s hard to say how many). And that means I can spend more time on getting the input and output right. Excellent!