Niche Monitoring: A Simple River of News Using Embedded Timelines

Shortly after posting about timeline tools for info presentation on the web, I came across another tool, My Timelines. This timeline tool is based on SIMILE Timeline, so it can be embedded into any website or blog platform. It’s similar to the Freshlabs SIMILE Timeline WordPress plugin in that it creates a river of news. But the difference with My Timelines is that you supply an RSS feed (or Atom or RDF) and it produces the timeline from the items. This is a much nicer way to scan a niche’s headlines.


Here’s the general process for building a niche monitor using timelines:

  1. Pick the blogs/ sites that you want to monitor.
  2. Mash up the feed set into a superfeed.
  3. Burn the superfeed’s URL at Feedburner. (See reason below, under Superfeed.)
  4. Use My Timelines to build a river of news with the Feedburner superfeed.


I’ve used Yahoo Pipes to build a superfeed of some of the SplashPress Media sites related to blogging, design, podcasting, webworking, freelancing and loosely-related topics. (Because Yahoo Pipes generates a dynamic RSS feed for each Pipe, the URL has some parameters in it. This seems to clash with MyTimelines code, so I had to burn my Pipe’s URL in Feedburner before I could get it all to work. So to use MyTimelines, you must have a “straight” feed URL that uses no parameters.)

Here are the sites I mashed together:

  1. Performancing (feed).
  2. Blog Herald (feed).
  3. Blogging Pro (feed).
  4. Wisdump (feed).
  5. Business Logs (feed).
  6. Devlounge (feed).
  7. Audival (feed).
  8. Have Laptop Will Travel (feed).
  9. Social Platform Journal (feed).
  10. Tubetorial (feed).

The superfeed is sorted reverse chronologically, with no limits on the number of items from each source feed. I’ve used my Yahoo Pipes pipe to truncate the superfeed size to 50 items (the most recently published across all the sites). So the sites that are most active will be the ones with the most prominent news items.

Sample Timeline

The irony is that I don’t have admin access to the Drupal theme of this site. so I cannot do a live embed in this post of the resulting timeline. What I’ve done is included a snapshot, below, which links to a live embed on one of my test sites. Also, somewhere in this post, near the bottom, you’ll see a link for an attached HTML file. I’ve created a sample page with the timeline embedded. You can use this page as a guide for how to do your own timeline embedding. (If you want to add a timeline to a blog page, you’ll need to insert some code into your HTML header. Just follow the instructions at MyTimeline.)

Here is a snapshot of the resulting SplashPress superfeed timeline:

Depending on your browser, you might notice that, unlike most timelines, the display is synced up to the first news item of the current day in your timezone. This isn’t necessarily the most ideal setup. It might actually be better if MyTimelines had synced on the most recent news item at far right. Though I guess it depends on your browsing style. Note the little vertical ticks in the bottom bar, which show instances of other news items, extending to the left and right. Use that as a guide to know when to stop scrolling. (Tip: Double click your mouse cursor to either side of the clear “window” in the bottom band to get partial scrolling in different directions.)


A timeline built using MyTimelines is a far simpler solution than any of the niche monitors that I’ve discussed previously. It’s arguably also easier to consume news items because of the visual approach.

FOOTNOTE: I’d said in the previous timelines post that I’d talk about how to use WordPress to build custom timelines. I’m just putting the finishing touches on that article, and it’ll appear some time early next week.

10 thoughts on “Niche Monitoring: A Simple River of News Using Embedded Timelines

  1. > Do you mean the XML file?

    I am lost. With what might I “mean the XML file”?

    Maybe I will send a note to a) the SimplePie guys because a timeline presentation is a nice feature and b) to the guy who is doing the TXP plug-in which is able to combine multiple feeds and send them to the database as articles.

    > SIMILE’s loadXML JavaScript function

    There is one performance problem I see because Javascript feed fetching on the client side always means that the client must fetch the feed. I would prefer a server side SimplePie cashing solution.

    Noe: I probably won’t be here the next days because of a lot of dates throughout the weekend.

  2. Do you mean the XML file? MyTimelines generates their own, based on the format discussed in the SIMILE Timeline documentation. I am generating this dynamically in my own plugin (discussed in the next article) but haven’t figured out yet how to dynamically load the XML dynamically using SIMILE’s loadXML JavaScript function.

    Or do you mean something else.

  3. Raj, the question is more academic regarding the timeline feature. I just wanted to check out the timeline a little and see what you are offering me

    I have a RoN plug-in for Textpattern which combines multiple feeds and produces articles in the Textpattern database 😉

  4. Well if you’re looking for a river of news for your own site, check out the WP plugin (linked above). I know you don’t use WP, but you might get some ideas. Also, the SIMILE Timeline code, which both Freshlabs and MyTimelines use, is reasonably documented, and you can customize it to write your own plugins and mods.

    I am working on a WP plugin similar to MyTimelines, but haven’t yet culled the feature list down to something workable.

  5. The result so far looks great BUT I would really love to have a timeline as a kind of archive page add-on. Then a timeline would be much more fun to scroll through the complete history of a site (and definitely make more sense).

    • Some local text file in dbase format should be sufficient.
    • A database query returning titles, permalinks and publishing date would be great.

    Again: The social power of bookmarks (btw: #2 on Google can be used to create a timeline for a certain tag.

    • Think Technorati, Google News, Google Blog Search,, etc. and you get another powerful article footer for i.e. related articles.
    • Think calendar i.e. and you can add a floating calendar to your site.
    • Think weather and you can add i.e. floating and updating weather forecasts from iCal files or RSS feeds files.

    What I did so far in my test (one blog, one feed) was to send the original full feed through FeedBurner again. I used ‘Summary Burner’ to cut the feed to 100 letters. Additionally I added the teaser “Click on the link above the entry to get to the full article”. Using the short feed the timeline items deliver a better overview and provide a good call for action.

    • I like the possibility to condense contents.
    • What I do not like: Scrolling left & right is fine BUT up & down is not available.
    • What I do not like: Timeline should be available as a local PHP server solution (A kind of ‘Timeline SimplePie’ is needed).
  6. Now, while browsing the above sample timeline, I’m finding it annoying not to know which blog a particular item is on. So what I’m working on is a means to convert Feedburner feed items back to the original URLs. Since my final Feedburner feed contains both raw and other Feedburner feeds, this isn’t an easy task. (Just check the “feed” URLs in my Superfeed list above.)

    With some blogs, I have to double-convert Feedburner URLs. What’s more, I cannot use Yahoo Pipes to produce the final feed, or I have the same technical problem with MyTimelines again.

  7. Markus: What a great idea.

    Here’s what I understand. MyTimelines can’t handle a feed over 512K items. So when I produced the superfeed in Yahoo Pipes, I had to truncate to 50-60 items. I then burned the Pipes output feed in Feedburner and used that in MyTimelines. I see new items showing up in the timelines, and the oldest ones are gone. That’s simply because MyTimelines does not store historical feed items, only reinterprets what a feed contains, whenever a timeline render request comes in.

  8. I have to sleep over it but I see some nice possibilities coming up…
    Might be a nice header, footer or below article feature.

    OK: Running a test now in a footer with a Day/Week timeline for one blogs feed.

    Q: Will the past items stay in the timeline or does the timeline only show a time window which refreshes with the feed(s).

    The site only states “Timelines let’s you easily add an AJAX based timeline that displays your most recent blog entries” which sounds like a time window only feature description.

  9. I’ve put together a video screencast tour, below, of the timeline display for the above example. Apologies for the picture quality. What I had and what YouTube shows are two different things, it seems. If necesary, I’ll move the video to SplashCast.

  10. Note: Clicking on the download link will also result in the rendering of the timeline. So if you want to save the link, you’ll have to “right click” and save.

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