The blogroll is dead, long live the blogroll

Lists of dynamic content are different. That's why Webware recently launched a news ticker that pulls related--even competitive--content from blogs we respect. We think it's useful--and we think other blogs should do the same.

Many bloggers put a "blogroll," a list of other blogs they like, on the sidebars of their pages. Blogrolls help the bloggers who create them feel like they're in a club with writers they like. Reciprocal blogrolling makes everyone feel all warm and fuzzy. But blogrolls aren't very functional, since static lists of links quickly become invisible to readers.

Lists of dynamic content are different. That's why Webware recently launched a news ticker (see the right-hand sidebar). It pulls related--even competitive--content from blogs we respect. We think it's useful, and we also think all site publishers, from retailers to highly focused bloggers, would do readers a service by offering something similar.

We use a Newsgator product, customized for CNET, to do this, but it's not the only solution. I also tried out two other services that anyone can plug into their sites: MineKey and RollSense. These services select content that's automatically custom-tailored to each site visitor. Google Reader and RSSMixer (review) are other options, without the fancy automatic story selection.

Minekey's auto-populated item list. Scroll down for the live version.

Both MineKey and RollSense let you feed in a list of blogs you like or respect, and then they create embeddable widgets that display items from those blogs that they think your readers will like. Based on what individuals click on, the list is further refined over time.

Of the two products, MineKey is simpler and easier to set up, and by default it makes more attractive widgets. If a user logs in, it will also give the person a history of what they've clicked on, which is useful. MineKey gives publishers detailed reports on what users are clicking on.

RollSense offers publishers more capabilities, including the option to turn off the personalization feature, which you may want to do if you your goal is just to keep readers up to date on the latest stories from your blogroll. You can then filter stories by keywords. RollSense also offers "packs," or pre-built blog collections, on specific topics. Like MineKey, it also creates reports, but they're not as useful.

How do they perform? Both need time to zero in on user preferences before they begin to deliver their best recommendations, but my quick testing shows that MineKey is better at automatically selecting content, although it doesn't seem to give enough weight to new items. But RollSense offers the control freak more influence over what is displayed. See for yourself. I've embedded both widgets in this blog (you may have to skip to the next page, depending on where you're seeing this), and fed them both three feeds: Webware, Crave, and News.com.

As I said, Google Reader and RSS Mixer are also options, although they don't have the automatic content selection of MineKey and RollSense. On Google, if you "share" posts from your feeds, you can display that list as a widget on any other site. Go to the "Your shared items" page to get the code. Google Reader doesn't automatically populate the widget; you have to manually select items to share them. But doing so is wicked fast, so if you want to maintain ultimate control over your news ticker, Google's the way to go. For just a river of items from feeds you select, see our writeup on RSSMixer.

This is the live MineKey widget:


Here's RollSense:


Read more about MineKey on TechCrunch and RollSense on ReadWriteWeb.

 

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