Tinkering with RSS and NNTP

RSS via NNTP is certainly not a new concept – I first read about the idea on Matt Webb‘s site almost three years ago. More recently there’s been mention over at Jon’s (Crossing the bridge of weak ties), and Ben’s (RSS to NNTP and HEP Messaging Server).

This week, Ben had mentioned the Panopticon in reference to the forthcoming ETCON. During last year’s, I had hacked around with the Panopticon, creating a sort of Jabber-based information diffusion service to lighten the load on the Panopticon mechanism’s single source socket.

With all the talk of lightening the load from RSS consumers, my thoughts turned from these Panopticon experiments to NNTP, as of course it’s a technology that is designed for information diffusion, and bearing and sharing load. I couldn’t resist a bit of tinkering with NNTP, partly to follow up a little bit myself on RSS to/via NNTP, but mostly in fact to re-acquaint myself with the wonderfully arcane configuration of the majestic beast that is inn. In addition, there’s been talk recently of aggregators moving out of the realms of satellite applications and into the browser itself. The Blagg and Blosxom powered Morning Reading page – my personal (but open) news aggregator – is already web-based, so I thought I’d have a look in the other direction.

Aided partly by Jon’s Practical Internet Groupware book and partly by the man pages, I put together a simple configuration for a server that I could locally post weblog posts to as articles.

As I saw it, there are two approaches to newsgroup article creation in this context, and each has its pros and cons.

Send items from all weblogs to the same newsgroup
This approach means that the’aggregation effect’ (stories from different weblogs) is explicit, as the posts in a single newsgroup are sourced from different RSS feeds, and you read them sequentially. [You can see this effect in the screenshot, in the highlighted public.test newsgroup (shortened to "p.test")]. It also means, however, that such a ‘collective’ newsgroup is going to be less useful for diffusion and load sharing as it’s specific to one (or a few) person’s feed tastes.
Send items from each weblog to a separate newsgroup
While the ‘aggregation effect’ is still available (by using the newsreader’s “read next unread” function, which will normally jump from one newsgroup to the next), it’s not as in-your-face. However, with a single newsgroup for each RSS feed, there are tremendous possibilities for NNTP peer exchange of (RSS weblog item) articles and consequently load sharing in the consumption of RSS – because picking and choosing feeds remains possible at the right (newsgroup) granular level. That said, this approach doesn’t exclude the possibility of composite newsgroups which consisted of, say, finance news feeds, or feeds in similar categories, which would be interesting to more than one person.
After deliberation of such matters, I then wrote a very simple plugin for Blagg, which would post each weblog item to one or more newsgroups. For my purposes, I solved the question of what to call each newsgroup by using the ‘nickname’, required for each feed, in Blagg’s rss.dat file which controls the aggregation activity.

Screenshot of Mozilla newsreader reading aggregated RSS items

The plugin is called nntp. I modified Blagg slightly so it would pass the nickname to the plugin. My version of Blagg 0+4i is here (it has a number of other modifications too). Feel free to take the plugin and modify it to suit your purpose. It was only a bit of twiddling, but it seems to work.

There are plenty of possibilities for experimentation: combining the various weblog trackbacking mechanisms with NNTP article IDs to link articles together in a thread; replying (to the newsgroup) to an article might send a comment to the post at the source weblog. Hmmmm…