Let’s fix it, by breaking it!

Last week was a very trying week for me, website wise. One of those weeks when you just want to scream, because you can’t believe people would do such frustrating things.

I monitor a lot of web sources for news that’s relevant to my employers business, and to do that, I rely heavily on RSS feeds. They allow me to see the output of sites quickly, and mean that I don’t have to visit those sites repeatedly each day to be able to track their content. So, RSS feeds are VERY important to me. And in the context of Government sites, they’re important for the general public too, helping to enable them to see what’s happening in various departments, e.g. if consultations have been published that they might want to respond to, or if new regulations have been issued that may affect their business.

Meanwhile…the Government has stated that it’s consolidating websites into the http://www.gov.uk address, and 24 departments will be moving to that address over the next 18 months. The first two moved last week, and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) was one of them. Of course, this move to a new web address broke all the RSS feeds. Since I’m monitoring hundreds of sites at once, it was only a few days later, when I saw a Cabinet Office press release about the move, that I realised that the RSS feeds were dead.

Not a great start for a new site – the feeds had been killed, with no warning, and no message to say “As of X date, these RSS feeds will no longer be active. Please go to X address to find the new feeds.” Not even a temporary redirect to the new site – just dead, and gone, without notice. Thanks for that – I missed 2/3 days of press releases due to that.

So, off I go to the new .gov.uk version of the site, to try and find where the RSS feeds are now. The DCLG page looks nice: it has a “Latest” section, “Our Publications”, and “Our Announcements” sections, all relevant to me.

However…the Latest section is just that  -3 stories, no archive of them is accessible that way. The Policies and Announcements sections do allow you to “see all of our publications” or “see all of our announcements”, but clicking through to these, it’s obvious that this is merely the results of a search being run on the site when you click through, not an actual archive. And there’s no RSS feed from it. There’s no RSS feed anywhere to be found.

Now, I have raised this issue via the feedback form, and have (quickly – top marks for a fast response at least) been told:

There is a feed for publications at http://www.gov.uk/government/publications
There are also feeds for each topic at http://www.gov.uk/government/topics
Feeds for orgs and announcements are coming soon. 

This is ok (ish) as a temporary fix, but it still has issues: the feeds are for ALL Government publications, and ALL Topics. You can go into topics, and take the RSS feeds for each of the various Topics, but it’s not topics I want, it’s specific departments. I may want to know about how a roads development may impact on certain areas, but I want the planning elements of it, so taking the feed for Transport means I’d be getting (and have been getting) large amounts of irrelevant information (Channel Tunnel safety, bus statistics, Concessionary Travel notes…).

So, until there’s a specific Departmental feed, I just have to wade through everything coming in on those feeds. Joy!

To add to the fun, The Scottish Court Service also redesigned its website last week.To continue the popular theme of “not telling users in advance”, it too broke its RSS feeds, without any notification. So the feeds that I subscribed to, to keep an eye on cases being issued from the Court of Session and Sheriff Court are no longer work. And there isn’t even the slightest hint of an RSS feed on the new Judgments pages. So that’s another site redesign successfully removing a way of monitoring the output of the site, and multiple cases that were issued that I’ve missed, because I didn’t know the feed was dead.

Also, to see the cases involves going to the Search Judgments page, and clicking a radio button. This then causes the page to reload. Once it’s reloaded (in the case of the “50 most recent cases”), there is now another button to click…which causes the page to reload again. Surely there must be a simpler way of displaying content that to have to go through all these clicks and reloads?

And the Infuriating Dropdown Menus (as demonstrated painfully for quite some time now by The Scotsman website) have made an unwelcome appearance. These dropdowns frantically appear if you accidentally stray too close with the cursor, and overlay the actual text you want to read: “The Courts” page in particular sits and overlays the page text for quite some time, and does not pop back up out of the way if the mouse is moved off it.

I don’t understand how these things happen – yes, there has obviously been massive amounts of work done to redesign these sites, and move them. For example, all the old DCLG links to documents I have in our Current Awareness service still work, as there’s a redirect in place for them (unlike when DTI/DBERR/BIS changed themselves every few years – that in itself almost gave me a nervous breakdown, hundred of dead links!). But at no point does anybody think “I know, lets ask the users of the site about how they use it, and what the most important elements of it are for them, so we can make sure we retain them.” They could have asked for input via, oh, I dunno, a release sent out on the RSS feed? I’m no web designer, but this move towards removing methods that allow users to monitor Government output is frustrating, to say the least!

And do you know the best bit? Only 2 of the 24 migrating sites have moved so far, DCLG being one of the first. Even contemplating the chaos that could result from this move is making me whimper….

Librarian of all trades…

Master of none! 
I’m haunted, you know. Haunted, by RSS feeds, from sites that I monitor, taunting me with their unread status. And for the bulk of them, the magical “mark all as read” button doesn’t work, as I need to go through them all and check if there’s anything relevant for work….and work covers a LOT of topics!
Some of the legal topics I need to be aware of for work reasons (for Scottish, English, Welsh, Irish and European jurisdictions, where appropriate):
banking, finance, environment and pollution, construction, tax, corporate rescue and insolvency, planning, commercial litigation, employment, planning, and intellectual property.
And all their many, many sub-areas!
Library topics I need to be aware of for professional reasons:
UK law libraries, Scottish law libraries, international law libraries, UK public libraries, UKacademic libraries, Scottish public libraries, Scottish academic libraries.
Add all these areas together, and throw in varying sources that constantly churn info out, from Government sites, to newspapers and blog, and I’m always running just to stay still. You know it’s bad, when you look at your feed reader and catch yourself thinking “oh, there’s ONLY 200 unread items, that’s good!”
But then I get an enquiry, and come back to the feeds an hour later, to find it’s now 300 unread items. And another enquiry means it creeps up further…and by Monday, with the 2 days of the weekend meaning I’m leaving it untended, it’s often 800-900 unread items.
And I’m going on holiday now…when I come back, after a total of 10 days away from my feed reader, will it have snowballed out of control? I know I’ll be faced by Greader with that horrible taunt: “1,000+ items” in the bold that means unread. Mean, mean Greader!
Although, on the good side, I am pretty well informed and quite aware of the basics of almost anything to do with libraries, and commercial law in the UK…to the extent where I sometimes think that information is pushing other, more important stuff out of my head. Like the lyrics of 1980s pop songs.
Altogether now: Ah-gah-DOO-DOO-DOO, push pineapple, shake a tree….

Knowing when to give in


Bloglines, I’m not going to mince my words here, or break it to you gently: it’s all over between us. I don’t know if you noticed, but I actually dumped you about a month ago.

I’d got fed up with your lack of attention, your seeming lack of knowledge that I existed…but the final straw was when you went away. For a day. Without telling me about it.
Eventually, you got your idiot friend the plumber (or whatever he claims to be) to make an excuse on your behalf, but it was too late. I didn’t trust you any more. How could I, when you left me in the lurch like that?
At least Google was there for me in my time of need. I’d given it a backup version of my feeds long ago…I never thought I’d have to turn to it in desperation.
Look what you drove me to, Bloglines.
Goodbye.

Dear Bloglines…

….I love you, really, I do.

I know, I know: I may have become slightly disillusioned late last year, and threatened to leave you for Greader, or Netvibes, or NewsGator, or any of the other feed readers I tried out when you were having “personal issues” and trying to “find yourself”.

But I stayed with your original version, I didn’t desert you for that fickle Beta, I liked you just the way you were. And I didn’t get on with those others like I do with you.

And I thought you appreciated that. You bucked up your ideas, sorted yourself out, and I thought we were happy together.
Until this week.

My dear, why do you now think I want you to import every post, from every feed I take, dating back to 2007, all marked as new and unread?

I mean, it’s nice that you want me to have comprehensive information, but really, it would have been better just to stick with what I asked you to do, which was supply me with the feeds, and make them go away once I’d read them. It’s nice that you think I might want to keep them around, but really…no.

And that new thing you’re doing of making feeds appear unread, even though I’d read them a few seconds before? And regardless of how many times I “mark as read”? Stop it. It’s not as endearing as you may think it is. And it wasn’t even funny the first time.

Now, I think we’re strong enough to be able to work through these issues together, but it’s got to be a team effort. So, if I promise to not shriek in a high pitched manner, and mash the keys, will you promise to stop doing these really, really annoying things to me?

Mmkay?

Don’t go on holiday!

I tell ya, it takes at least a week to catch up on the week you were away…and now I’m off to Dublin this afternoon until Sunday, so I can only imagine how long it’ll take me to catch up again when I get back!

One useful thing I have done while on holibobs though is play with Yahoo Pipes, to create a feed of feeds. After being a total doofus and needing the help of the lovely law.librarians group to fix things (how come they could easily explain what a video didn’t?) I’ve had a stab at making some usefulness from the UK Librarian Bloggers wiki, starting with (hopefully) a feed of all the academic library blog feeds on there.

If I’m lucky, you should be able to do something with it, like subscribe to it. Although I haven’t got as far as actually testing that theory myself.
Hopefully, you’ll find it here :

And even more hopefully, it’ll be useful to someone! Let me know if it works, and if it’s useful. If it is, I’ll start creating more…public libraries, special libraries, Scottish, English, Welsh etc…