Trolling RSS Feeds

RSS (Rich Site Summary) is a format for delivering regularly changing web content. Many news-related sites, blogs and other online publishers syndicate their content as an RSS Feed to whoever wants it.

I have written quite a lot about RSS in the past. The following are my choices for both installation on a PC and for a web-based reader.

RSSOwl

RSSOwl is cross-platform as it’s Java-based. It handles RSS, Atom and RDF in terms of feed formats. You must have Java installed, no matter where you run it. It cooperates with Firefox to add feeds to RSSOwl from the browser. Just go to the feed and copy the URL then go to RSSOwl and click on add feed and it knows where to find the feed. You can also drag and drop Feeds from Firefox into RSSOwl. RSS Owl has an embedded web browser, so you don’t have to open up a separate browser window to view links or to view the full version of feed items that are shortened. You do have to set this up under “Browser” in the Preferences menu option. Choose to Default to the Embedded Browser. To get the RSSOwl embedded browser to work properly with OneNote so that it includes the URL in pasted items, you must enable Java Script. I do not recommend doing this except on an isolated machine otherwise, malicious Java Script code could cause serious problems.

RssBandit

When I need to collect video and podcasts from RSS feeds, I turn to RssBandit. The embedded browser is MS Internet Explorer, therefore, it includes the pertinent URL when you copy to OneNote as the embedded browser is the same.

This is my favorite RSS reader overall, though, I have experienced occasional problems with exporting feeds for another implementation of the reader. This problem seems to stem from differences in the underlying OS on the importing computer. It can be an irritation when starting a project with tight deadlines.

RSSOwl has an edge for a group of researching working in a collaborative environment as it is easier to set-up and distribute to the group.

Web-based RSS Reader

The two most popular seem to be Feedly and Inoreader readers that offers similar features and options.

Inoreader offers secure HTTPS access and over 40 different customization options. If I must use a web-based reader this is the one.

I refuse to use Feedly because extensions like NoScript, Adblock, HTTPS Everywhere, etc. prevent the site from loading. I never use sites infested with stuff that my normal suite of extensions prevents from loading. You only have to encounter one ad with malicious code to cost you many hours of work to purge the problem code from your machine.

Search Link and Results Copying

The Google/Yandex Search Link Fix Firefox extension prevents Google Search and Yandex from modifying result links when they are clicked. If you try to copy the link you may get gibberish instead of the actual link. If you try to copy the text description in the results it won’t work unless you got to the Edit menu and select Copy — Ctl+C won’t work. This extension disables these behaviors on any Google domain without having to configure anything.

Training for Investigative Internet Research (IIR)

IIR is a very competitive sport. If you don’t find the needed data, then the opposition wins.

Now you might ask, “how does one train for the ongoing IIR competition?” My answer to this question comes in two parts.

First, read about IIR and read the manuals for the software that you use to produce your end product. You must learn about sources and the methods used to produce a report that is fit for decision-making.

Second, one must practice using these sources and methods.

You can get a sound grasp of the first requirement from my book, Sources and Methods for Investigative Internet Research and this and other blogs, and I will share some secrets about the second requirement right now.

Practice finding more details about obscure news items that you see on TV or Twitter. You must collect the full story, write the story in report format, and preserve all the supporting material. Time yourself for completing the overall task. Also time your wasted effort. It is important to do both if you want to improve your performance. You can also set a time limit for the task using a countdown timer like XNote Stopwatch. For a timer that allows you to log wasted time, you can use Time Stamp.

Consider the following training exercise; there is a news item about a Spitz dog found near death on a trash heap in California during the week of 9 Dec 13. I knew the dog was a Spitz from the TV news item and I also knew the approximate date from the date of the news item. My training task was to get the basic 5 W’s on paper in twenty minutes. Could you do the same thing? If not, then here’s how.

I had the basic when and where—only in a vague sense. I know that search engines are not very good at handling calendar dates. I know my basic search statement will be dog trash California and I am certain they won’t report the breed accurately. That leaves me with the date, search statement, and as it was a TV news items there will be images and video. Where do I start to get it done in twenty minutes?

I know that only Google handles calendar dates in a usable manner and that it has excellent news content. I should also search Bing, Yahoo!, DDG, and Devilfinder. Time is not on my side.

I set-up a OneNote notebook with two tabs. One for research material collected from the web and one for the 5 W’s. Under the 5 W’s tab, I create a sub page for each W. I will use the 5 W’s material to create my report in Word as I would any other report.

Fagan Finder to the rescue. It organises search engines into useable groups and gives you an easy to use interface, such as the Google Ultimate Interface and Google Search By Date Interface.

For the search term, dog trash California, Google had excellent results and Bing had poor results, as did DDG and Yahoo!. The problem was that there were two similar stories one involving a poodle and one that was the subject of this exercise. Google eliminated the poodle stories when searched by date. Devilfinder produced excellent results as well.

From Devilfinder, along with the Google Ultimate Interface and Google Search By Date Interface I was able to provide all the W’s and complete a short reporting memo in twenty minutes while maintaining the proper citations and source material in OneNote.

Train hard.

Connect the Dots and the Dox

You don’t need to hack into a computer to learn about someone. Today, most people that I investigate leave a revealing online profile — I just have to connect the dots or the publicly available dox (documents).

Online malefactors try to do their misdeeds anonymously through an alias. Usually, they tend to reuse their aliases. It only takes one obscure use connected to the miscreant’s real name. Now I have the real name to run through the usual searches which will reveal other aliases, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts, all of which yield titbits of useful information.

LeftistAgendaPedia

People who don’t believe everything they read often refer to Wikipedia as the LeftistAgendaPedia with good reason. Fifteen U.S. universities are offering college credit to students who will inject feminist thinking into the Wikipedia. They call this Wikistorming.

Theoretically, the large number of contributors and editors should make Wikipedia an accurate, objective, and self-correcting encyclopedia. But what happens when an influential group of contributors and editors with an Leftist ideological agenda start an orchestrated effort to WikiLawyer the site rules? The answer of course is that you end-up with the LeftistAgendaPedia.

Beware of the bias in anything in the LeftistAgendaPedia (Wikipedia)!

Tim Horton’s & Investigative Internet Research

An article titled, Tim Hortons apologizes for blocking gay and lesbian news website by The Canadian Press on Friday, July 19, 2013 caught my attention. Tim Hortons is a popular Canadian coffee shop chain.

The online site of a popular paper that caters to the gay community was blocked by the coffee shop chain as “not appropriate for all ages viewing in a public environment.”. Once the outrage got going, Tim Hortons relented and changed its WiFi network policy.

What has all this got to do with Investigative Internet Research (IIR), you ask? Well, think about it. We often work while on the road and that means doing some aspects of IIR in places like coffee shops.

When you do IIR outside your normal work environment, different rules apply. How do you know what the WiFi network allows and what it doesn’t? How do you know if some things are censored and others are not? How do you know that your results are complete?

Now do you understand the dangers that doing this presents? I haven’t even mentioned the security issues.

Google Reader is Gone

Canada Day (1 Jul 13) has come and gone, and so has Google Reader. You have until 15 July to get your data out of Google Reader.

Now what? Do I need an RSS reader? Where do I get a web-based RSS reader? Have Twitter lists (which you may divide into different topics that focus on blog sources, news feeds and individuals) supplanted RSS? So many questions! So many decisions to make!

The RSS sky isn’t falling quite yet. There are alternatives and choosing one is a good reason to do some digital housecleaning. Alternative readers offer versions for Web browsers, mobile devices running iOS and Android, and cloud-based service. Hopefully, we will see innovation and competition in RSS apps and platforms.

Certainly, social media offers a human element that isn’t present in RSS feeds. However, RSS usually offers focused technical or industry information, the details of which social media usually omits. In the short-term, using  Reeder and Feedly as a front-end for RSS won’t work as these relied on Google Reader. I’m sure that will change very quickly, if it hasn’t already. (I don’t use either of these.) Twitter and Flipboard won’t replace an RSS reader for the information worker. The passing of Google Reader will only affect the ‘normal’ user who relied upon it.

The demise of Google Reader hasn’t changed how we deal with RSS feeds while doing Investigative Internet Research (IIR).  For a detailed explanation of how to handle RSS feeds while doing IIR get my new book, Sources & Methods for Investigative Internet Research, which is scheduled for publication in September.

Addition: Here’s How You Can Extract All Your Google Reader Data

What’s on Your Wishlist?

The Boston Marathon incident is somewhat instructive from an Investigative Internet Research (IIR) perspective.

News reporters are skilled at IIR — some to the exclusion of real journalistic skills if the preponderance of churnalism in the popular media is any measure. However, one instance of a reporter finding the terrorist’s Amazon Wish List is interesting. The reporter was drawing conclusions about the terrorist from the contents of the wish list.

The default Amazon Wish List setting is ‘Public’. The other settings are ‘Shared’ and ‘Private’ which seems to defeat the purpose. The default setting is the most common.