Category Archives: Web

RSS to CSV Converter

Recently @tonyadam was asking about for a way to import Twitter search results into Excel via RSS or CSV. I couldn’t find a suitable method on my slightly out of date Excel 2003, but sent Tony a link explaining how Excel 2007 could get him closer to what he wants. Turns out he was on the Mac anyways, so we needed an alternative way.

Importing into Excel usual involves using the CSV format. So all we needed was an RSS to CSV format converter, but surprisingly couldn’t find anything relevant on the web. In general there isn’t much interest in XML to CSV conversion because it would only make sense for the simplest of XML files — basically, one table with rows & columns. Anything more complicated won’t fit within the confines of CSV.

To solve this problem, I created an RSS to CSV converter script, using a bit of YQL for the feed fetching and parsing.

We can test it using Tony’s original request — Twitter search results — as follows:

  1. Login to twitter
  2. Search for something (my sample: nascar)
  3. On the right-hand side, copy the “RSS feed for this query link”
  4. Go to RSS to CSV converter
  5. Paste in Twitter RSS link, changing “.atom” to “.rss” (my sample: http://search.twitter.com/search.rss?q=nascar)
  6. Click Submit
  7. Save CSV file when prompted, or import into Excel

Update 2011-09-11: Twitter’s UI changes have removed the old links for search result RSS feeds, so the above steps won’t quite work. See this article from Learning LibTech for an alternative way to find the feeds directly. Also, the source code for this script is now on Github.

One problem I discovered (again) is that Excel is not happy with Unicode characters in CSV format. There are some alternatives described, so I may enhance this script to properly handle UTF-8 if someone has a use-case for it.

Private Browsing as a Developer Tool

Having spent the better part of today debugging a problem with cookies on a couple different servers, I stumbled on the fact that the “Private Browsing” feature of Firefox was exceptionally handy for my situation. Private browsing is usually touted as a feature for “porn browsing”, or other activities in which you’re trying to not leave a trail. The same cleanroom features make it ideal for testing and developing web applications.

In a typical case where you’d need to clear browser history, clear cookies, and so on, I would usually keep one browser set up with developer tools (bugs, twiki, etc.), and launch another browser to be the guinea pig. With private browsing, I can now use my preferred browser (Firefox) for both cases.

Local Flash Files Reveal Browsing History

While doing some housekeeping cleanup on my Windows laptop, I noticed an interesting set of files under the Adobe/Macromedia Flash section in “Application Data”. Inside a directory called #SharedObjects was a set of sub-directories named after domains I had visited. Each directory contained one or more .sol files which I discovered are Local Shared Objects, basically local data storage for Flash components.

I’m not so worried about the privacy aspects of the sites using this local storage; it’s very similar to the issues with normal browser cookies. The surprising thing was the existence of this file set, essentially revealing all of the sites you had ever visited. In my case I had 217 unique domains from November 2007 through today.

For more info, see the recent article on Wired: You Deleted Your Cookies? Think Again, or the Adobe article What are local shared objects?. In the meantime, if you care about keeping your browsing history safe, remember to clear out these files regularly.

Screenshot of flash shared objects sub-directories

Yahoo! 360° Closing Today

The Yahoo! 360° blogging/profile/social networking product launched in April 2005. After about 2 years, talk of closing down the service began, but was delayed until there was a similar product to which existing users could switch. Now, 2 years after that announcement, the closure is finally here. Today is the last day 360° will be online and available for users to download or migrate their old blog content over to the new Yahoo! Profiles.

I did not work on Yahoo! 360­°, nor was I a serious user of it. I’m sure a lot of existing users are frustrated either because Profiles doesn’t do what they want, or the simple fact that it’s just different. I will say that if a product like this is no longer a high priority internally and does not have a clear future, it’s really best to close it down (in an orderly fashion) and redirect those internal resources elsewhere. Even without any new feature development, the ops impact alone for keeping a service like this online is pretty significant.

Yahoo! 360 Closure Notice Screenshot

For those that are looking for help with 360° migration or other issues, please see the online help.

Ask.com: Official Search Engine of NASCAR

Watching the Great American Race yesterday, I couldn’t help but notice that Ask.com has tuned into NASCAR in a big way. Sure enough, it turns out that Ask.com has signed a big deal with NASCAR:

Ask.com, a leading search engine and an operating business of IAC, announced Wednesday it has entered into partnerships with NASCAR, NASCAR.COM and Hall of Fame Racing. Under the terms of the partnership with NASCAR, Ask becomes the Official Search Engine of NASCAR, with category exclusivity and a broad set of promotional rights in order to reach the sport’s estimated 75 million loyal fans.

In addition to the on-screen advertising, Ask.com is sponsoring Bobby Labonte in the 96 car (for 18 of the first 21 races), has created a NASCAR toolbar, and has created a new NASCAR homepage. I think the idea of an “official search engine” is pretty solid, even if it sounds a bit hokey. This move won’t put Google out of business, but Ask should pick up some incremental search traffic from NASCAR fans during the year.

For an idea of how valuable this kind of exposure can be, see my previous article on NASCAR sponsorship exposure value.

I wish Yahoo! had taken this opportunity a couple years ago when we were involved in NASCAR (Yahoo! sponsored Tina Gordon in her Busch series car). Unfortunately, I don’t think the value was there for Yahoo!, especially considering that Gordon didn’t qualify for many races and didn’t spend much time running up front.

Here’s a screenshot of Ask.com taken in the middle of the Daytona 500 yesterday:

Ask.com screenshot during the 2009 Daytona 500 race