Monthly Archive for May, 2010

Using Yahoo Pipes to generate a Twitter ‘out of office’ messaging service

[This post is probably less about creating a Twitter out of office service and more about an illustration of the power of Yahoo Pipes (and embedding flickr images with notes), I’ll let you read and decide]

Whilst the majority of twitter users will probably never need to setup a email style ‘out of office’ messaging service to respond to ‘@replies’ because they are never that far away from their timeline, I sure there are emerging cases where certain twitter accounts might need this feature. In particular, I thinking of something like a class twitter account is being used to send notifications (you might like to read this post on free SMS broadcast via twitter), curate discussions or one of the many other ways you can teach with twitter (compiled by Steve Wheeler).

In this scenario we want to respond to ‘@replies’ (tweets directed at you from other users), with a message to indicate that your won’t be able to immediate respond.  I did a quick ‘Google’ to find if anyone had setup a ‘Twitter – Out of Office’ service and couldn’t see anything (which probably suggests no-one needs this service or they just haven’t thought of it yet).

Starting with the Twitter Advance Search you’ll see there are a number of options to search for tweets based on keywords, people referenced and dates (as well as some other options). So it is very easy to setup a search which will filter messages sent to a user between dates, tweaking to remove tweets which might include RTs or via. Here is an example which ignores RT and via to mhawksey since 29th May until 29th May (twitter search is limited to the last 7 days so if you are trying this after the 5th June you won’t see any results, but hopefully you get the idea).

Twitter search results

Twitter - Feed for this querySo it is easy to setup a search which can identify possible messages you might want to send an out of office response, but how can we use this information? The key is that Twitter provides a feed for the search query. That is it provides the data for the search results in a machine readable format, RSS.

The next step in to use the data from twitter to generate a response message. The best service I know to do this is Yahoo Pipes. Pipes is a free service which provides an nice graphical interface for manipulating data like RSS.

Below is a screenshot of a pipe output I’ve created which takes a twitter username, date range and custom response message and manipulates it to produce a unique response message.

Yahoo Pipe results

If you are interested in how this pipe works you can click here for the Twitter – Out of Office (Date Range) pipe [Update: this new pipe includes the option for office hours] and view the source or the image below contains hotspots which explains what the blocks are doing:

The final step is to get your twitter account to send the ‘out of office’ message. This is where RSS comes to our rescue. As well as Yahoo Pipes being able to manipulate RSS it can also output in this format as well. By copying the ‘Get as RSS’ from after you run your pipe you can use this with one of the RSS to Twitter services (currently I use either or the ‘Publicize –> Socialize’ option in Feedburner). It will look something like:


When setting this up choose to tweet ‘Title only’ and untick ‘include link’ or ‘post link’. Once you’ve created your RSS to twitter service you can also reuse it for future holidays. To save you going back through running the pipe you can just edit the feed url with new start and finish dates.

There are a lot more things you can do with Yahoo Pipes. For example, here is another pipe which uses as named day to create a recurring out of office message (notes on this pipe are here).

Hopefully you get the idea of what is possible. If you are interested in more ‘Pipe’ manipulations I would recommend having a browse through Tony Hirst’s offerings.

What I’ve starred this week: May 25, 2010

Here's some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Shared Items.

Google I/O 2010 – Keynote Day 2 Android Demo with Twitter Subtitles

Update 1: This post is a bit techie. If you want to jump straight to the action click here to see the full 45 Google I/O 2010 – Keynote Day 2 Android Demo with  Twitter subtitles

Update 2: When I was pushed the twitter timeline through the generator I noticed there were a number of tweets which weren’t in English so I’ve now passed the results through the Google Translate API. Click the same link above to see the result.

Update 3: Some inline updates: extra tweet filtering and inclusion of .csv upload to twitter subtitle generator.

Originally I was more interested in mashing the Google I/O Android Keynote with Twitter subtitles because I could, but the process was useful in highlighting some areas for further development. The first is something Tony and I have discussed before is a way to curate the twitter timeline to sort the wheat from the chaff. For the Google I/O presentation I downloaded the archive in .csv format from Twapper Keeper and ‘tweaked it’ in Excel filtering for tweets meta tagged as EN (English) which took it down from 5420 –> 4638 tweets in 45 minutes (not surprisingly the majority of Twitter users ignore the language setting leaving it as the default despite the language they tweet in). Then filtering ‘retweets’ by removing ‘RT’s which took it from 4638 to a more manageable 3124 tweets. Update: I also noticed that a number of tweets had exactly the same timestamp so I filtered these out leaving 1790 tweets.

Having got this far it then highlighted the next issue, converting the truncated csv file into a timed text XML format. Previously I’ve shown how you can Convert time stamped data to timed-text (XML) subtitle format using Google Spreadsheet Script and could have easily gone down that route again but wanted to try something new. As the Twitter Subtitle Generator already integrates with the Twapper Keeper service it seemed a small step to get the tool to read a csv file rather than the Twapper Keeper feed. This was made so much easier by a PHP function which returns a multi-dimensional array from a CSV file optionally using the first row as a header to create the underlying data as associative arrays – sweet!

For once my code was clean enough that I could drop this function in and point it the the csv file I created. I haven’t worked this functionality into the ‘generator’ yet but at least it is another piece for the jigsaw. Update: couldn’t resist – added functionality to upload csv for subtitling.

So below is a short demo of the output. Click here to see the full 45 minute presentation with Twitter subtitles

3 reasons why not to buy the Apple iPad (and at least get an Android device (or nothing at all))

Reposting from the latest edition of RSC NewFeed

It is not surprising that an Apple device has got a number of educationalists all misty-eyed on it’s use within education, but before you put in that proposal to buy a brace of iPads to try out in the classroom please read this post and consider the alternative.

Apple have a long history if releasing products that define the market, establishing a new baseline for user expectation. Two recent examples of this are the the iPod which has become the colloquialism for mp3 players and the iPhone which has sent ripples through the mobile marketplace in terms of shinny, touchy, app driven devices.

One of the latest devices to emerge from the Apple lab is the iPad, a lightweight, 10” display, tablet device which borrows heavily from the iPhone in looks and uses the same operating system app store combination. Whilst this device has divided commentators as whether it is a ‘device to far’, early signs show there is a demand for it (for the early adopters anyway). But before you scrape together some money for that purchase order there are four things you should know about the iPad, which might mean you will want to consider the alternatives. The alternative I have in mind isn’t one particular device, but an emerging range of devices which use the rival mobile operating system, Android. This brings us to reason one choice.


There are two important choices you should be aware. Choice over hardware and choice over the applications you can run. Apple have a very good reputation for producing devices that are very reliable. This is in part related to the fact that they control both the hardware and the software (mainly the operating system, but also quality control over 3rd party applications) used in their devices. Whereas there are a number of manufacturers using or planning to use the Android operating system only Apple produces devices with the iPhone OS. So if you want something other than a 10” display or a built-in camera you’ll have to wait for Apple to release it (and if they iPhone is anything to go by Apple will start with a low baseline and gradually improve the specification to maximise sales). So while there is limited choice over which Android powered tablet you can buy right now, this looks set to change very rapidly, the number of variations meaning you are more likely to find a device which has a specification to need your needs.

The second choice to be aware of is the applications you can download. Apple have complete control over which ‘Apps’ it deems appropriate for download via iTunes. Whilst the majority of us are probably grateful that applications like Slasher and iBoobs were rejected, questions were raised over the rejection of ‘Freedom Time’, which counted down the minutes until the end of the Bush administration, and ‘Podcaster’, which allowed you to download podcasts to the iPhone. This is not to say that the official Android Marketplace of applications has come under similar fire, particularly when applications which allowed you to use the data connection from your mobile to download content/surf the web with your PC. The big difference is that with Android you are free to download and install 3rd party applications without having to ‘jailbreak’ your device.


Related to choice is openness. Openness is not just about whether or not the operating system is open or closed source, it is a deeper aspiration towards a wider philosophy of community. Whilst it is impossible to full escape the corporate nature of the world we live the Android operating system has been built and contributed to by a world wide community of programmers and users. I fully recognise that there are economic motivations behind both Apple and Android devices, but I feel the balance behind the iPad is more about making money than contributing to society. This brings us to the final reason cost.


An entry level iPad (16GB + Wi-Fi) currently retails for £429. This is not including the extras you might need because of the proprietary data connection. So if you would like the option to connect to an external display you’ll need the VGA adapter and even if you just want to view you photos straight from your camera on a bigger screen you’ll need the iPad Camera Connection Kit.

A selection of Android alternatives include (a longer list of Android devices is here):

Dell Mini 54.8″ 800×480
152/78/10 mm
Click for full-size viewEken M0017” 800×480
207/119/12 mm
Archos 77″ 800×480
203/107/12 mm
WeTab11.6” 1366×768
288/190/13 mm

If I haven’t swayed you with my ramblings on ‘choice’ and ‘openness’ hopefully when you realise that you can buy 3 Archos 7’s or over 5 Eken M001’s for the same price as an Apple iPad maybe you’ll think again.

What I’ve starred this week: May 18, 2010

Here's some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Shared Items.

What I’ve starred this week: May 11, 2010

Here's some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Shared Items.

RSC-MP3: HE Update: Interview with Andrew Comrie [Articulation/Progression]

JISC RSC-MP3 LogoThis month for RSC-MP3 I interview Andrew Comrie, the Director of the Edinburgh, Lothians, Fife and Borders Regional Articulation Hub (ELRAH). ELRAH is one of the five regional hubs being funded by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) to support and enhance opportunities for students to use there qualifications to gain direct entry into years 2 or 3 of university degree programmes.

As part of this interview Andrew explains how ELRAH is supporting students using a combination of face-to-face support and virtual resources such as student-generated podcasts, as well as the creation of a national database of articulation routes. Andrew also describes how ELRAH is exploring non-traditional articulation routes from the workplace to university

Interview with Andrew Comrie
Download Link

Duration: 20 minutes
Size: 14 MB

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0:45 - Description of network of articulation support advisors working with students and staff – helping organise visits, generate resources and support articulation projects

2:29 - ‘Message of support’ podcasts – student reflections on articulation visits. Expanded recently to include student requiring special support needs.

5:21 – Challenges of exposing students to the virtual as well as physical learning space. In particular, the problems with having student logins when they are not matriculated students. Andrew explained the relationship between Adam Smith College and Abertay University where an ‘associate’ student status has been created. Staff from Queen Margaret University library have been going on a roadshow to colleges.

7:15 - Online communities of practice project looking at using technology can be used to foster social cohesion prior to enrolling at university. As well as drawing on existing resources exploring exploring eportfolios and if data can be easily moved between systems.

8:55 – I asked how are the social connections being built? Andrew explained it was early days but as well as looking at blogging solutions as well as the possibility of using social networks like Bebo and Facebook.

10:12 – Challenges of collecting information about existing articulation routes and finding out if there is any formal agreement. Building a database of articulation routes, in the first instance for the ELRAH region, but there has been agreement with the other articulation hubs to use the same system to allow data to be collected nationally.

13:30 - Data collection templates have been created to allow evidencing of impact. The templates link to data from the SQA and SFC

15:00 - Andrew talks about ELRAH’s exploration of non traditional articulation routes from the workplace to university via modern apprenticeships and vocational qualification. Research has shown that employers are interested in workbased degrees. Report on this will be available on the ELRAH website soon.

What I’ve starred this week: May 4, 2010

Here's some posts which have caught my attention this week:

Automatically generated from my Google Reader Shared Items.

What they were saying: Leaders debate on BBC iPlayer with twitter subtitles from parliamentary candidates

Screenshot of BBC iPlayer with twitter subtitles Since February my post on Twitter powered subtitles for BBC iPlayer has remained in my top 5 posts and I’ve been meaning to revisit the iPlayer platform with another twitter subtitle example. The general election ‘Leaders Debates’ seemed like an ideal event to experiment with the format. It became very apparent after the first debate that simply pulling the public timeline into the twitter subtitle generator wouldn’t work as with an average of ~30 tweets per second the public discussion would just be a blur.

With the increasing popularity of twitter (and other social platforms) to comment on live events there is probably a separate research strand looking at intelligent filters, instead I’ve gone for a more basic approach. Fortunately the good people at, who have been closely monitoring the election using twitter sentiment, were able to provide me with a data file of twitter comments made by MPs and party prospective parliamentary candidates being tracked on twitter during the debate. Using the Convert time stamped data to timed-text (XML) subtitle format using Google Spreadsheet Script I was able to generate a subtitle file compatible with BBC iPlayer. Below is a short demonstration of the twitter subtitles in action followed by instructions to see the entire debate.

So if you would like to see what some of the parliamentary candidates were tweeting during the last leaders’ debate follow these steps:

  1. Download the The Prime Ministerial Debates from BBC iPlayer
  2. The broadcast you download from iPlayer will be stored in a folder (something like My Documents] > [My Videos] > [BBC iPlayer] > [repository] > [b00s6lf7]), locate this folder and replace the file ‘b00s6lf7_live.xml’ with this one (keeping the obscure file name ie b00s6lf7_live.xml.
  3. When you replay the broadcast turn subtitles by clicking the ‘S’ button to see the tweets.


This blog is authored by Martin Hawksey e-Learning Advisor (Higher Education) at the JISC RSC Scotland N&E.

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