RSS for Teams with Tiny Tiny RSS

Google Reader’s imminent departure is a great opportunity.  It is like cutting down a large overgrowth of kudzu that may enable other interesting options to grow and flourish.  One that interests me is the open source Tiny Tiny RSS server.  If you have more than one person in your organization who follows RSS feeds or who might want to, this could be an excellent way to centrally offer this service.

Tiny Tiny RSS runs on the same LAMP / WAMP technology that runs WordPress.  It requires the same technology skills.  This means it’s a bit more advanced than a desktop application you download and install but it by no means requires heavy duty programming chops.  I was able to download and get Tiny Tiny running in about 30 minutes on Ubuntu.

[Update:  here’s a related post on customizing & using Tiny Tiny RSS]

Installation on Ubuntu

There are other guides, although a bit dated, for other systems.  To install on Ubuntu, assuming you already have Apache 2, MySQL, and PHP 5 installed:

1.  Download the basic files and extract them into the folder from which they’ll run.  I placed mine in a subfolder of my WordPress installation, so that I could re-use my current domain name and just treat it as part of my overall site;

2.  Use the MySQL steps outlined in the WordPress 5-minute installation to create the database.  These instructions granted fewer privileges, so you may want to try that but I granted ALL.

3.  Then, following that set of instructions, insert the necessary SQL information into the new database:  mysql -u ttrssuser -D ttrssdb -p < schema/ttrss_schema_mysql.sql  Obviously change the username and database to the ones you created. Look for the schema folder within the folder where you extracted Tiny Tiny.

4. Read the README.md file, copy the config.php-dist file to config.php, and complete the necessary information about your database username, password, database name, and server.  You can also turn on the “simple” updating method. There is an automatic update function using a daemon, but the simple will work for a small site.  Update:  here’s another installation checklist for Ubuntu but it also has the simplest explanation I’ve seen for activating the daemon.

5.  I didn’t see this mentioned in any of the tutorials but you also need to secure the files themselves.  In the folder where you extracted the files from step 1, make sure you set the ownership and rights.  I again copied WordPress, so my Tiny Tiny installation uses the www-data user.  The files and directories should be as secure as you can make them:  chmod files 644 and directories 755.

At this point you’re ready to go.  I went to http://mydomain/tiny-folder-name and saw the login screen.   I logged in (username:  admin, password:  password) and changed the password and created a new user.

Add Your Users

This is one of the nice things about Tiny Tiny.  You can have more than one person using the server, with their own account and their own news feeds.  You can import your old Google Reader subscriptions.xml file under the OPML setting and there are a lot of other customization you can apply.

Tiny Tiny RSS server, user list of unread feeds
Tiny Tiny RSS server, user list of unread feeds

There is a lot of functionality under the hood.  You can customize the CSS to make it look the way you like across your entire installation, set up e-mail digests of information, control how many posts are stored and more.  Features I like:

  • Easy to read all unread messages and mark all read;
  • Sharing tools built into each message, so I can activate plugins and send to Google+ or send as an e-mail to someone else;
  • Tiny Tiny will apply Google Reader tags when you import but you can also apply your own to categorize feeds;
  • Clicking on the title of a document will open the original post in your Web browser;
  • Like Omea, you can add annotations to a post, so that you can add additional context to it;
  • There is a public sharing function, so that a Tiny Tiny installation within an organization could be used by a research team to share posts with lawyers and others who otherwise wouldn’t be monitoring the RSS

It’s an incredibly light application.  Tiny Tiny RSS is entirely Web-based, so it will work in any Web browser on tablets or computers.  I have not tried it on a phone – it should work but I’m not sure the experience would be very enjoyable.

A single message displayed in a preview window below the unread messages in Tiny Tiny RSS

A single message displayed in a preview window below the unread messages in Tiny Tiny RSS

Google’s cancellation of Reader and the general state of confusion that the RSS reader world is in makes a tool like Tiny TIny more compelling.  It allows you to ensure availability of this powerful research tool and it can be easily made available to multiple lawyers or researchers in your law firm.  It’s open source as well, so your IT staff can customize it specifically for your firm as well as understand exactly what’s going on under the hood.  Tiny Tiny is not like the social, image-heavy RSS readers that are proliferating, particularly in the mobile app market.  Instead, it can be a heavy duty replacement for Google Reader.

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Real-Time Social Media Search

At one point in time, there were a number of sites trying to provide search to information as it came whistling by on social media streams.  Most of them have gotten out of the business or, if they have a social search, it’s not necessarily that current.  Kurrently caught my eye because it seems to provide a fast rolling response to any search you put into it.  It retrieves messages posted to Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

To be honest, I was a bit skeptical so I put in a hashtag that I was following on Twitter and watched the search results on Twitter and the stream on Kurrently.  At least in this case, Kurrently was displaying results before Twitter was, although it was a matter of a few minutes so it may have just been a matter of freshening my browser.

Kurrently.com showing latest results on #reinventlaw hashtag
Kurrently.com showing latest results on #reinventlaw hashtag

Kurrently can filter out messages from any one of the three buckets it is monitoring, so you can limit the stream to just Facebook or Google.  You can also speed up or slow down the stream, in case it’s roaring past or just dripping like water torture.  You can also bookmark your search term – just as you can by bookmarking a search on Twitter – so it would be relatively easy to create a folder of saved topics.  However, since the whole goal is to see what’s happening at the moment, I’m not sure bookmarking on Kurrently makes a whole lot of sense.

I’m adding Kurrently to my toolkit when I want to watch a broad topic that is likely to be discussed in more than one of the main social media locations, or as a quick dive into a discussion or for a sense of sentiment.

Free Search for Paid Journal Articles

The deep Web contains a significant amount of information that you cannot reach with typical Web search engines.  The emergence of Proquest‘s Udini search enables to you retrieve content from their databases: 150 million articles from 12,000 journals according to the promotional content on the Web site.  The site represents the best of online search, where everything but the search box has been stripped away.  It is nice to not have the typical glut of information (even the so-called bento box approach) to orient to before getting to the search box.

Unfortunately, there is not much to suggest this is a resource most lawyers need to add to their toolkit.  A quick perusal of their legal information shows that it is weaker even than the typical law journal content available in Westlaw or LexisNexis.  Google Scholar results that  surface links to Heinonline, or better, a search on HeinOnline itself, is likely to bring far more comprehensive coverage of legal information than Udini.

Some of the content retrieved by Udini shows that it can be purchased but it is already available for free on the Web.  Compare these two, for example.  You can purchase a full version from Proquest of Moving in the Cloud from the ABA Journal, June 2011, for $3.99.*  Or you could download it for free from the ABA Journal itself.  Where Proquest will add value is in the older content that is not available on the Web.

Yes, Udini provides a comprehensive search option and yes, it offers some additional research management tools within its site.  This might be an incentive if you are not already using a service like Evernote or Microsoft’s Onenote.  Like those programs, Udini allows for capturing content outside of the Proquest content online.  This will make it useful outside of the legal profession but is unlikely, without more compelling content, to make it a service that many lawyers or law librarians would use on a regular basis.

* Something’s funky about this one.  If you see the bottom of this preview, the metadata suggests the publisher is the Water Alternatives Association.  I’m pretty sure this isn’t right.

Searching Social Content Specifically

You can search social media sites like Twitter or Facebook using a variety of tools, both their internal search tools as well as external ones like Topsy.com or FBsearch.us.  Another external search tool I recently came across is Social Mention.  Social Mention distinguishes itself by allowing you to focus your search narrowly on types of social content: comments, social bookmarks, or blogs, for example.

Which Way the Wind Blows

It is also different because it attempts to provide sentiment analysis.  Your search results return like any typical search engine, date ranked, listed in the center of the page.  On the left-hand side, you see the difference.

First, you can immediately see how many contributors are talking about your search query and when the last mention was made.  You can also see whether the trend of discussion is positive, neutral, or negative.  This doesn’t seem to be entirely accurate, so consider it the same way you consider the warning flags in your favorite online legal research citator.   You can click on the word negative to focus your search on just those type of results.

Save Your Search

Social Mention has the relatively unusual ability to save your search results as a downloadable spreadsheet.  Once you have run a search – and applied a filter, like source filtering or sentiment filtering to show only positive results – you can select one of the comma-separated value (CSV) links on the right hand side.  The spreadsheet contains a dozen rows, including title, description, and source.  This may be an easier way of handling your search results – you can sort by the author, for example – than paging through results on the Web site.

Social search remains somewhat limited.  While social media generates a huge amount of content, if you are looking for specific authors or individuals, you may not find them using social tools.  Social Mention does not appear to index any Facebook content, which is one of the best locations for litigators to find information.  But it can be an invaluable source for lawyers and librarians who are involved in business development efforts and current awareness on firm clients.

Consuming Social Media with Search and Hootsuite

One high volume and high maintenance information area is social media.  Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ all generate huge streams of information that have the potential for containing useful nuggets.  What do you do if you want to dig out these valuable pieces without participating in social media?

You will need to create an account but can immediately lock it against followers or friends. Try a Twitter account first because it has fewest potential missteps in securing your account.  One you have your Twitter account in hand, create another account at Hootsuite.com.  Hootsuite provides a different way of looking at activity on Twitter and other social networks.  More importantly, it has some nice features for monitoring content by keyword or Twitter username.  You can use Hootsuite to monitor content on LinkedIn, WordPress.com blogs, and Facebook, among others, but you need your own account for each of those services.

Once in Hootsuite, you have a number of options for managing your information.  It assumes you want to be social, so your Twitter feeds will automatically be displayed, even though they are empty.  You can delete each of these to clear your window, ready for having searches there instead.  You want to add a stream and the following screen will appear:

Adding a search stream in Hootsuite for Twitter messages with "premises liability" in them
Adding a search stream in Hootsuite for Twitter messages with "premises liability" in them

Hootsuite recently purchased Twapperkeeper (named with a nod towards Mead’s Trapper Keeper), a service that archived Twitter messages.  You can archive a stream based on a single keyword in Hootsuite now, or you can use the original three keyword search.  As you create each new stream, it will appear in the window.

The goal here is to rely on the search mechanism rather than the networking connections to capture information as it flows by.  Since networking requires you to make or receive connections from others, search allows you to monitor without interacting with others.  For example, if you were monitoring a particular company or topic, you can set up a search to focus on it without becoming a Facebook friend or Twitter follower of that company and explicitly showing your interest.

Once you have created a number of streams, you may find that they extend off the screen.  Hootsuite supports tabbed pages, so you can aggregate streams on a given topic (practice area specific, for example, or a corporation or industry) so that you can quickly see what is going on in any given stream without scrolling too far left or right.

Lurking on Twitter or Facebook in this way may seem rather anti-social networking but social media remains a challenge for legal professionals.  Using search to mine the information allows you to consume information that is being shared openly without having to worry about confidentiality, privacy, or disclosure of representation breaches.

Free Westlaw News App Has Legal Content

The major legal publishers do not seem to have much vision when it comes to their legal research apps (here and here) but there are some gems in their news tools.  The free Thomson Reuters News Pro tool is mostly just press releases and I didn’t think it is particularly helpful, although it was nice to see an app that had been developed for Android as well as for the Apple products.

One iPhone only app that is legal specific (and not listed on the list of Westlaw-related apps and mobile sites on the Westlaw Web site, above) is the Westlaw News and Insight app for iPhone and iPad, powered by Reuters Legal.  It has national (US) legal news, bankruptcy news, and California and securities litigation updates.  It is full content, without needing a password, and is a great resource if you practice in the areas covered.  The national news section actually covers many practice areas, so there is likely to be some relevant content for just about any lawyer.

Westlaw US News and Insights:  National Legal Newsq
Westlaw US News and Insights: National Legal News

Some of the content has hyperlinks, outside the app and to public Web sites.  Funnily enough, Westlaw hasn’t bothered to include links to its own content, like a case mentioned in the text.  This would seem to be an obvious opportunity to get people to access content within their proprietary environment.

Case Citation in Westlaw News and Insights App Not Hyperlinked
Case Citation in Westlaw News and Insights App Not Hyperlinked

The app is not limited to news, however, and I was impressed by their inclusion of court documents.  These are provided as full text, scanned PDFs so that you can get directly to the source after reading about a case.

Westlaw News and Insight Case Document PDF with Magnifying Glass
Westlaw News and Insight Case Document PDF with Magnifying Glass

All in all, a good app to add to your Apple portable device and see if it becomes a part of your research toolkit.  It takes advantage of browsing, which is a nice change to the rather limited search on other legal research apps.

Mobile Lawyers Accessmylibrary for Free Business Research

Libraries appear to be fighting (losing) battles over funding, prestige, perceptions of usefulness around the globe.  One of the things that many North American public library systems and consortia have been doing is licensing electronic databases for your use.  They skew heavily towards primary and secondary school users and that type of research.  But there are business information databases and directories that can be helpful to any legal researcher.  Greg Lambert and Ann Lee Gibson mention these databases in a recent American Bar Association Law Practice magazine piece.

Information Today reports that Cengage Learning’s Gale Group has released an app for iPad and Android devices that makes using their Accessmylibrary resource easier than ever and takes you into fee-based resources normally only accessible from your library’s site.  You can access some information by going to Accessmylibrary.com and entering information about your local public library.

The apps use geolocation to determine which library’s resources are available to you, looking in a 10 mile radius.  Open up the app while you are on the move and you’ll see that the library – and subscribed databases – has changed.  It’s great marketing for the libraries, except that you never have to enter one to get access to this information.

Unlike my local public library, where I have to enter my library card number, the app does not require any additional authentication.  In at least one of the libraries that I can see during the day, I can get access to databases like Legaltrac, the National Newspaper Index, and the CPI.Q Canadian Periodicals database.

Grab the app and keep it in mind when you’re looking for a quick answer or secondary information relating to your legal issue.  Open it up on your commute and see if you have resources available that are different from your local library.  It’s a great resource for information that might not be found in your typical legal research subscription.

Litigators Can Focus Social Media Search

Google has announced some updates to their realtime search.  [Here’s the experimental link]  If you are doing a case assessment and gathering information about an event, you may be able to focus on both the keywords and the location of comments made on Twitter.

Type in your search and your results will appear, and update, in real time.  You can use the Google Replay function to go back in time to see Twitter posts.  As of August 22, 2010 or so, you can restrict the search results by a geographic location.  This assumes that the person making the post was identifiable by geographic location.

Continue reading “Litigators Can Focus Social Media Search”

Scrape a Site and Create Your Own RSS Feed

When you look for information online, you often have to revisit a site or topic repeatedly.  Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds have enabled lawyers to automate this type of research.  By using an RSS reader, you can subscribe to the news feed, and view updates from hundreds of RSS feeds from within a single reader.  This can eliminate return visits to information sites.  But what about those sites that do not yet offer RSS feeds?  You can make your own, and then subscribe to the feed you create.

Continue reading “Scrape a Site and Create Your Own RSS Feed”

Lawyers Can Discover More with Iterasi

Iterasi began as one of a number of stand-out, free research notebook tools.  The company has now developed a line of products directly aimed at lawyers, particularly litigators.  PageNotary is a Web clipper on steroids, grabbing not just individual pages but digging deep into sites, crawling and saving extensive amounts of content.  I mention a number of stand-alone products like this in the book, but PageNotary keeps everything in the cloud.  It also says it can dig into password-protected, firewalled content.

The IterasiArchives product appears to be an umbrella for Iterasi’s other products, the PageNotary and postivepress tools.  It enables you not only to manage the sites and content you have spidered and indexed, but also monitor social media and real-time streams, including RSS.

If you have the Finding and Managing Legal Information book, you’ll notice that I discuss the free Iterasi notebook.  This is ideal for solos or individual research needs, but is now hard to find on the Iterasi Web site.  You can still sign up for a free Iterasi account and the main login link will allow you to login later.

One of the reasons I like Iterasi is that it is one of the most powerful research extensions available for Internet Explorer.  If you are using either Microsoft Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox, you can download an extension to make clipping easier.  Google Chrome and researchers with other Web browsers can download the bookmarklet at the same link.

The shift of Iterasi into the legal vertical market specifically will be interesting to watch.  There are already dozens if not hundreds of cloud-based e-discovery and litigation products.  Iterasi has already proven itself as a research and clipping tool and it will be interesting to see these broader efforts mature.

Biznar Digs Deep for Legal Information

When it comes to online search, I stick pretty close to Google unless I am doing something unusual.  A deep Web search service called Biznar came onto my radar recently and I thought I would try it out.

Deep Web” typically means database driven content that is inaccessible to the average (Google, Bing) search index spiders.  It can mean things like law journals in HeinOnline or case law in LexisNexis or Westlaw.  Deep Web tools will have permission or some ability to access the contents of those systems, sometimes providing you with access to the content from the Web rather than through a subscription.

Biznar has a couple of things going for it that make it worth adding to your legal research toolkit.  First, it actually has law-related sources, so you are likely to get relevant legal information.  It is also great for business and other resources, but you can get that elsewhere.

The search results come back in clusters, so you can quickly do filtering based on author, publication, date, and so on.  This faceted search is familiar to anyone who shops online but I haven’t seen it really work well on Web search yet.

The clincher for me is that Biznar plays to my research laziness.  You can save a search as an alert and it will mail you updated matches to it.  You can also save your search as an RSS feed, so if you are watching a topic – or a client or an opponent – you can get constant updates.

A link near the top, below the search box, shows collection status, which tells you what Biznar successfully searched.  This helps you see if there were any errors, but also gives you a quick peek at your source list.  Government sites are US focused, but you will see HeinOnline content returned through Google Scholar, as well as practice area specific results like EDGAR information.  The advanced search allows you to pre-specify your sources, so you can limit a search to whole cluster, like Government, or drill down to specifics.  Even searching a single site with Biznar may be better than searching the site itself, if you can set up an alert to monitor future changes.