Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Starting RSS Graffiti

A year ago, around January 2009, I was looking for a way to liven up the Fan Page I was maintaining in Facebook for Blues.Gr (the Blues social network I run on Ning). One easy thing to do, was obviously to post to the Facebook Fan Page wall, updates from Blues.Gr so that people can learn about what is going on over at Blues.Gr easily through their daily Facebook activity feeds. Best way to do that of course was to do it automatically by reading the RSS feeds available on Blues.Gr and posting any new entries to the Facebook Fan Page.

So I started looking for a Facebook application that would do just that.
To my amazement I discovered that I could not find any application that would do the job in decent way (my definition of “decent” anyway).

Existing applications that I did not like enough included Social RSS, Networked Blogs, Involver, Facebook Notes and some others that I wouldn’t even consider.

I didn’t like Social RSS mainly for two reasons:
  1. I don’t like ugly user interfaces (they don’t make me feel good about myself, my taste etc.)
  2. It didn’t (at the time) use the Facebook Stream API and thus didn’t provide any distribution of posted stories to the news feeds of the Page’s fans etc.
I didn’t like Networked Blogs enough also mainly for two other reasons:
  1. It was a pain for me to claim the RSS feeds from my social network due to a number of silly restrictions that were out of my control including restrictions imposed by Networked Blogs itself.
  2. I felt it was built for a different purpose than the one I needed it for and frankly I didn’t even like the whole concept enough.
I rejected Involver apps because although it was an obviously serious professional effort, I found it to be ridiculously expensive for my non-for-profit activity in Blues.Gr and I was also unhappy with the fact that its functionality was broken down to many different smaller applications that were sold separately.

Facebook Notes was using the Stream API but it was not doing what I wanted to do. I wanted to post news from my site and directly link back to my site from my Fan Page. Notes was copying (importing) the news from my site to Facebook and then was distributing links to those copies instead. That’s not what I wanted. Moreover it didn’t look nice either. The format of the content was being messed during import and display and the whole thing just was out of the question.

The view from my attic in Stockholm where RSS Graffiti was built at nights.So I thought why not write my own application for the job anyway? How hard could that be?

I started (on January 19th 2009), by writing a blog post on the internal blog I maintain for logging ideas with my business partner, and a few days later we decided to work on the project.

So RSS Graffiti was born. We initially called the project RSS Minifeeder (because at the time Facebook was calling the current “news feed” as “minifeed”). Later looking for a better name I came up with the word “graffiti” as representing the activity of writing on a wall (often in an aesthetically pleasing way). The .com domain was free; time was running out; hence the name “RSS Graffiti” was coined although it is not the most clear and straight forward name declaring what the application does.

Me and Dimitris started working on RSS Graffiti on January 21st, 2009, and devoted 16 man-hours per week to the project. RSS Graffiti version 1.0 Alpha was released 24 calendar weeks later (roughly 400 man-hours). RSS Graffiti version 1.2.1 Beta was the first version to be listed on Facebook’s Application Catalog (on August 22nd, 2009) and essentially it was the first version exposed to the open public (and thus we consider August 22nd 2009 to be the starting date of the application).

Four months later, RSS Graffiti is currently added to 17.000 walls, and actively publishes stories from 17.000 feeds to the walls of 2.500 Facebook Profiles, 5.500 Facebook Fan Pages and 500 Facebook Groups. These numbers are obviously a bit rounded up or down to be easier to read. They change by the minute anyway.

RSS Graffiti is still in Beta (current version is 1.8.0 Beta at the time of writing this) and is available as a free beta service while plans for premium services are also being considered for Q1 2010.