Archive for the 'Yahoo Pipes' Category

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 twitterfeed.com or the ‘Publicize –> Socialize’ option in Feedburner). It will look something like:

image

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.

Creating a PDF or eBook from an RSS feed (feedbooks.com)

A couple of weeks ago I was interested to read Joss Winn’s blog post on  Creating a PDF or eBook from an RSS feed in which he highlights using the FeedBooks service. This was ideal timing as we are always looking for new ways to make RSC NewsFeed readable in as many formats as possible.

The post has generated a number of comments, in particular, James Kwak at baselinescenario mentioned that a limitation of FeedBooks was that it didn’t include the post author or date in the automatically generated eBook.

This is very easy to do using Yahoo Pipes. Here is my ‘feedbooks pipe’. You can either run this pipe entering the url of the RSS feed of your blog. This will let you get the RSS feed required for FeedBooks (step 4 in Joss’s instructions). Alternatively you can just enter http://pipes.yahoo.com/mashe/feedbooks?_render=rss&url={enter your blog rss feed url here}. Feel free to clone this pipe if you would like to experiment with other manipulations. I’ve already created this extended version for WordPress users to only include last months posts

feedbooks pipe[All this pipe is doing is taking the feed url, copying the pubDate (item publish date), then using Regex to edit some of the post items. The first regex replaces the long date format (e.g. Fri, 15 Jan 2010 10:03:54 +0000) by extracting the pattern ‘digits character digits’. The next 2 entries modify the post description by putting ‘the author {dc:creator} | the date {date} plus break return’ before the existing content]

Festive fun: Auto tweeting your Google Reader shared items using Yahoo Pipes and twitterfeed

Using the festive period to stray slightly away from my core remit I thought I would document a little mashup which allows you to automatically tweet items you share in Google Reader.

Background

I’m a big fan of Google Reader and its the main way I consume RSS feeds (unsure about RSS? Here it is explained in plain English). Already I use the  Shared Items Post Plugin to automatically post a digest of my shared Reader items. The idea is I’m acting as an intelligent filter, sifting through almost 150 subscriptions to pull out items which might be of most relevance to staff at our supported institutions. The nice thing about Google Reader is I can share items making a personal note or comment. This has parallels to micro-blogging sites like twitter. 

The emergence of twitter, and similar status update sites, is changing the way many people tap into information streams and for me it makes sense to make sure information I produce or find useful is disseminated through as many channels as possible.

How to do it

Go to your Google Reader Shared page (if you haven’t set-up a public page or can’t remember where it is login to Reader, click on ‘Your stuff’, then ‘share settings’, shown below).

Google Reader Screenshot

On the page that opens there should be a link to ‘Preview your shared items page in a new window’, on this page you need to copy your ‘Atom feed’ link.

At this point you can go to straight to an automatic tweeting service called twitterfeed and paste this link in as a new feed (Twitterfeed is a free service which allows you to submit a RSS feed. New feed items are then ‘tweeted’ on your behalf). Unfortunately doing it this way means that any notes you’ve written about a post are lost.

Not satisfied with this I decided to create a Yahoo Pipe which extracts my notes, if any, and tweets this instead. If you’ve never tried Yahoo Pipes its a great free service to take existing RSS feeds, do some tweaking and output a new custom RSS feed. I’ll explain how the pipe works at the end of this post. For now:

  1. open this ‘Tweet Google Reader Shared’ yahoo pipe
  2. paste your ‘Atom feed’ link from Google Reader and click ‘Run Pipe’.
  3. copy the ‘Get as RSS’ link into twitterfeed.com.

Now when you share an item in Google Reader with a note, the note will be tweeted via twitterfeed.com (if you share an item without a note the existing item title will be used).

To see an example here is a tweet posted via twitterfeed which was pulled from the Google Reader Shared page shown below:

Google Reader Shared Page Screenshot

How the pipe works

Below is a screenshot of the pipe I created (click here to see it in Yahoo Pipes). The pseudo code is:

  1. Fetch Feed from Google Reader Shared page
  2. If feed contains annotation copy as title else do nothing
  3. Sort by date (new first)
  4. Remove <a href> tags from title 

Yahoo Pipe Screenshot  

Enjoy (and Seasons Greetings)!

Electronic voting and interactive lectures using twitter (TwEVS)

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Last week I posted a method for combining twitter and Yahoo Pipes to allow electronic voting (EVS) style interaction within lectures, TwEVS [see Twitter + voting/polling + Yahoo Pipes = TwEVS (The Making Of)]. At the time I was only interested in documenting the development of this ‘mashup’ but felt a follow up post would be useful to highlight: how to use TwEVS; advantages of using twitter for student response; and areas for future development / discussion.

How to use TwEVS

Before using TwEVS there is some preparatory work in terms of getting students to register an account with twitter and possibly establishing some house rules (usage policy, appropriate use). You should also have an idea of the questions you would like to ask, which may sound simple but to fully engage and enhance learning isn’t (the most common mistake I see is setting trivial questions, which are suitable while you find your feet, but if continued will the students cue to disengage).

Another thing to consider is the format of the hashtags you want to use. Hashtags are a simple way to add metadata to a variety of information making it easier to search and filter. TwEVS requires a unique hashtag for each question you ask so if you are planning to uses this over a semester your might use a combination of an abbreviated course code and date (e.g. #code-year-weekNumber = #CS101-09-wk1)

Pedagogically and technically there are a number of ways you can integrate TwEVS. For more on the pedagogy visit Steve Draper’s ILIG site.  My suggestion for technical integration would be to have a slide with the question/options and instructions on how to respond e.g. tweet ‘#CS101-09-wk1 A’ etc. After students had time to respond you could then either open the TwEVS Pipe in a browser, enter the hashtag where prompted then click ‘Run Pipe’ (you can also limit the number of response options, which might help filter out malicious tweets or mistypes). Clicking the ‘TwEVS Result for …’ link opens the graph. If you wanted to streamline this a little you can use the free LiveWeb PowerPoint plugin which allows you to embed live webpages.

Alternativly you could prepare a custom link for each question  within your PowerPoint (like this example). As Yahoo Pipes uses information in the url these could be created beforehand.

Below is an example url for the poll #twevspoll limited to 2 responses:

http://pipes.yahoo.com/pipes/pipe.run?_id=40e4326b88a69c2d6287ae124314fd7c&_render=rss&limit=2&q=%23twevspoll&vm=r

[Edit: Tony Hirst has pointed out that this url can also be written as http://pipes.yahoo.com/mashe/twevs?&_render=rss&limit=2&q=%23twevspoll&vm=r]

[Another Edit: if yo are wondering why the links above don't return graphs it is because the twitter search by default only pulls tweets from the last 10 days]

The first part of this url will always remain the same allowing you to change the range of response by adjusting the limit (e.g. to limit to 5 would be limit=5) and the hashtag for each question, by changing the text after ‘q=’ (the ‘#’ is replaced by the more url friendly ‘%23’).

Example chart produced by TwEVSExample chart produced by TwEVS

Its worth noting that Yahoo stores a copy of each pipe run so when a pipe is run again before an allotted amount of time has passed it just pulls results from memory and doesn’t necessarily check twitter for the latest tweets. So if you are creating urls to use in class I would advise not accessing them until you need them. Alternatively you can also trick Yahoo into getting the latest data by modifying the url slightly, the easiest way is changing the limit number.

Advantages of using twitter (or other status update sites) for EVS style interaction

Zero cost - the biggest advantage perhaps for the majority of people is cost. There are no handsets or specialist software to buy. You don’t need to worry about replacement batteries. You don’t need to worry about lost of stolen handsets.

Multi-device – you can update your twitter status from a wide range of devices phones to laptops and everything in between (and using SMS updates means even the most basic phone could be used). Its also very apparent that manufactures are currently falling over themselves to get twitter (and other social networking software) built into their devices (my TV even has a twitter client).

EVSPLUS – using twitter as a EVS allows a natural extension to existing pedagogies. For example, the TwEVS mashup is programmed only to aggregate responses after the hashtag. This means that as well as asking students to indicate a response (A, B, C, D etc.), the tutor could ask students to prefix their response with why they believe the answer is correct. Using twitter to collect responses also opens up a huge degree of flexibility in terms of asking questions on-the-fly, removing some of the restrictions imposed by bespoke EVS software (and you are obviously not limited to A, B, C results).

Example of TwEVS responseExample of an individual TwEVS tweet

Future development/discussion

So far I’ve painted a rosy picture of twitter/EVS integration but there are some obvious issues. One of the biggest is there aren’t that many twitter users and even less under the age of 24. So to use this model would require proactive encouragement from tutors for students to create accounts. There is also issue around the personal/work divide. Will students be happy to include responses in their public timeline?

Another drawback is voting isn’t entirely anonymous and students would even have the ability to check other student responses before replying (which is event easier if students follow their friends). The proposed system is also open to malicious attack. As everything after the hashtag is collected as a response students could get up to all sorts of hijinx to ruin your lovely chart.

Finally something not to be overlooked is the possible distraction element of actively opening back channel communication, although I’m sure there will be situations where this could enhance learning, and giving students an excuse to get lost in their mobile phone.

Putting all these issues aside for one moment, the model of using twitter as a EVS offers a lot of flexibility. As twitter’s search results can be pulled as RSS XML their is endless scope to harvest results and reuse them in a number of ways using either via in-house systems or existing web services. For example it would be very easy to develop a system which removed the dependency on Yahoo Pipes altogether, storing results in a separate local database which could be linked to a student management system or even a custom portal which allowed the continuation of discussion and learning outside the classroom. You also don’t need to only support just one platform, combining results from various status update sites like FriendFeed would be very easy to integrate.

In summary, I hope I’ve stimulated the grey cells and demonstrated one way in which twitter could be used to enhance teaching and learning as a EVS alternative. TwEVS should should be seen as a working prototype and there is no doubt a lot more research to be done in this area. I’m sure with the hype associated with twitter it would be relatively easy to get some project funding to develop some of the ideas outlined above further.

Twitter + voting/polling + Yahoo Pipes = TwEVS (The Making Of)

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Recently David Muir of EdCompBlog was looking for a way to use Twitter as a personal response systems (also known as audience response systems, electronic voting systems, clickers …). I’ve previously covered this technology in DIY: A wi-fi student response system, where I propose a solution for creating a voting system which uses wireless enabled devices, so my ears immediately pricked up when I read David’s problem.

At the time David explored a number of solutions, including both free and fee paying, but was left scratching his head. Reading his post I immediately thought of Tony Hirst’s ‘Who’s Tweeting Our Hashtag?’ mashup where he uses Yahoo Pipes to find who’s been tweeting with a particular hashtag. This pipe calculates how many times an author tweets using a particular tag. Tony does an excellent job of explaining how the pipe is designed and modifying it for David required the smallest modification (changing the unique filter from item.author.uri to item.title).

imageMy modified pipe is here. To use it the presenter would pose their question then ask students to tweet a specific hashtag followed by their response (e.g. #comp101 A). Once the responses are in running the pipe entering the hashtag gives a summary of responses (shown).

This pipe has the basic functionality of aggregating responses but having worked with voting systems for a number of years I know the best way to summaries the data so that the information can be conveyed and interpreted quickly is by graphing it.

Having previously used the Google Chart API I wanted to use this to create a graph of the data within the pipe. I found a couple of examples of existing pipes which already did this (including one by Tony Hirst), but couldn’t find a way to build the url required for Google Chart within the pipe. Knowing Tony had a lot more experience of pipes I chanced my luck and dropped him an email. Tony got back to me with some key suggestions. Firstly, I should consider processing  the data outside the pipe, and secondly it would be easier to rename some of the items to make them easier to grab.

To process the data outside the pipe I had to use the ‘Web Service’ module. This is designed to push out the data in a JSON format so that it can be processed by an external website and passed back into the pipe, basically a black box.

Collecting the data and processing it was straight forward enough. I had lots of problems passing the data back to the pipe and my first attempts to re-encode the result as JSON failed (I think because of illegal characters in the Google Chart url). On the advice of Tony I tried passing it back as a RSS XML item which worked better. Pipes still had problems parsing the data, which I was able to definitely  trace to the Google Chart url. This was easily solved by automatically converting the chart url into a tinyurl.

The code for my little black box is here (I’m not a professional programmer so I’m sure there is a lot of tiding up which can be done). Basically all it does is collect the data from pipes, creates a Google Chart url and then uses this to create a RSS item which is passed back to the pipe.

The final TwEVS Yahoo Pipe is here and I’ve also embedded a poll result below. So if you like TwEVS tweet ‘#twevspoll yes’ or if not ‘#twevspoll no’.

There are numerous ways you could pedagogically and technically use this pipe which are worth a separate post in their own right (something for next week). In the meantime I welcome any suggestions for improvements or any other general feedback (just use the comments link/box below).

BTW David ended up having a number of suggestions which he has followed up in Vote with Twitter. My thanks also go to Tony Hirst for his advice.

About

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

mhawksey [at] rsc-ne-scotland.ac.uk | 0131 559 4112 | @mhawksey

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