Goodbye Google Reader and Hello Tiny Tiny RSS

Right before I started typing this post I removed the Google Reader bookmark in my bookmark bar. And my life.

When you use something for 7 years and filter through 210,000 pieces of content using it, it really becomes part of your life. I used Google Reader more than any other single piece of web technology. I’ve been using Gmail since July 2005 because it is the best. I was using Reader because it was the best at aggregating content and dumping it in one easy to consume place. None of that mattered once Google announced they were shutting it down. This felt like a long term girlfriend breaking up with me and saying “it’s not you, it’s me”.

Feedly and The Old Reader came out as initial front runners, but:

  • Feedly – Nope, interface sucked, couldn’t consume fast enough, mobile app restarted and lost your state if you clicked out to an article in browser
  • The Old Reader – Great concept and have their heart in the right place, but not ready for primetime, interface and speed issues, longevity questionable without revenue and high server costs

After The Old Reader finally imported my feeds so I could at least pilot the service, I saw this post on Lifehacker: How to Build Your Own Syncing RSS Reader with Tiny Tiny RSS and Kick Google Reader to the Curb. It looked promising from the get-go and I was no stranger to hosting my own web apps like I do with WordPress. It was very promising indeed.

I fired Tiny Tiny RSS up on my shared host and got my feeds imported. It was just as fast and easy to use as Google Reader. It is more customizable than Reader and there’s a ton of potential for it to grow. Want to add some functionality, plugins. Want to change the look and feel, custom CSS. I’ve already taken CSS tweaks from other users and adapted them to my own taste. This is my feed reader how I want it. It’s awesome.

So my search for a Google Reader replacement is over. Tiny Tiny RSS will be serving up my RSS feeds until the Internet figures out a way to make RSS obsolete. Plus the $2 Android app is really good.

If you want to try it out let me know and I can give you access to my install.

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Good Screen Protector for Samsung Galaxy Nexus

The Galaxy Nexus has an awesome screen despite what all the “pentile displays suck” people say and it deserves to be protected from scratches or overzealous cleaning. In the past I always bought the cheapest screen protectors I could and end up frustrated after a little while. I spent the extra money on a really nice protector for my new baby: Seidio Ultimate Screen Guard Protector.

They cost about $15 for a pack of two, but the are really nice protectors. They are really clear pieces of plastic and I couldn’t see any negative impact after applying it. They are hard and have about the same amount of slickness as the screen’s glass. Fingerprints clean off real easy.

There are a bunch of different listings on Amazon so check out this search page for the cheapest in stock offerings: Search for Seidio Ultimate Screen Guard Protector. I ordered mine off this listing for less than the going rate.

My Review of Galaxy Nexus Diztronic Translucent Smoke TPU Case

I picked up a Samsung Galaxy Nexus directly from Google the day they started selling it. I never used a case with my G1 since it had a keyboard and the case had a nice matte coating that made the phone easy to hold on to. The GN is thinner and lighter which makes it a bit harder to hold on to so I looked for a case that would give me a better grip on the phone without much bulk and protect against bumps and drops.

The Diztronic Matte Back Translucent Smoke Flexible *Revision 3* TPU Case was exactly what I was looking for and only $9 to boot.

Diztronic case for Galaxy Nexus at Amazon
Available at Amazon for $9

Looks: I went with the translucent Smoke colored case so you could still see the Google logo on the back and it is fairly close to the color of the back and side panels. I think it looks great and the solid black case would probably look just as good.

Grip: I can actually use the Galaxy Nexus one handed now without risking a drop. The sides of the phone are fairly slick and had it almost slip from my hands a few times in the first week. The rubber on the case definitely adds grip and just gives you a more solid hold on the phone.

Pocketability: The case does not add very much bulk and it still fits nicely in a front pocket. The GN is pretty thin to begin with so I didn’t mind a bit of thickness added to it.

Protection: The case creates a little lip around the edge of the screen which helps keep it safe when placed face down on a surface. In a fall it should help protect from damage, but I wouldn’t trust any case to fully protect a phone from a hard fall.

Verdict: Buy it. If you are looking for a case for your Galaxy Nexus I highly this Diztronic which is a steal for $9.

My VigLink Review – Giving Affiliates a Second Chance

I blogged back in July about California passing its law that caused Amazon to pull the plug on all their affiliates in the state (joining Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, North Carolina, and Rhode Island). Since then I’ve had a chance to implement VigLink on this blog and evaluate the service as a replacement for Amazon Associates. So far I’ve been very happy and encouraged by the clicks and revenue I’m seeing already. If you were dropped by Amazon or just want to expand the sites you can link to then I highly suggest signing up and giving VigLink a try.

Why VigLink?

The main reason you might be looking at VigLink is because Amazon has dropped you from their affiliate program. If you have a large pool of established links to Amazon then it probably isn’t practical to try and reroute those to different affiliate programs who may or may not be dropping affiliates for the same reason as Amazon. VigLink gives us a second chance to get back in the game and not worry about the future.

The other big plus is the broad coverage of affiliate programs makes it easier to link to other sites besides Amazon. VigLink covers about 12,000 sites and you can check coverage through their backend site. I know when I was in Associates I pretty much only linked to Amazon. Now I’m starting to link to other sites and present some price comparisons to give readers some additional links to explore.

How big of a cut does VigLink take?

VigLink takes 25% off the top. Might seem like a lot, but they also have the ability to reach higher affiliate tiers because they funnel referrals through a single account. On Amazon I would barely get into the 2nd or 3rd rate tier, but now I’m pretty much guaranteed to get the top rate. So the 25% commission definitely eats into our share, but it is potentially offset by higher payouts. For those of us dropped by Amazon, 75% is much better than 0%.

Implementing VigLink and How It Works

You install VigLink by dropping a bit of JavaScript into the template of your site. This code writes out a <script> tag that links to the JavaScript file on VigLink’s server. Their code is obfuscated so I can only guess that it goes through all external links on a page and adds an OnClick event to each one. When a link is clicked it transparently redirects it to their system to record the click, add on the needed affiliate info and then redirect the user to the modified link.

The plus side to this implementation is that links appear to be unaffiliated to the reader. This also makes it much easier to add links to posts without having to worry that it is properly formatted for a given affiliate program.

AdBlock Strikes Back

If users have JavaScript disabled then obviously none of this works, but that’s fairly rare as far as I’m concerned. What’s not so rare are readers who use the AdBlock browser extension. I use it to help keep popovers and banner ads under control; things that are just out right annoying. The AdBlock Plus filter subscription blocks the retrieval of VigLink’s JavaScript file which prevents links from being affiliated. I have no idea what percentage of people use filtering extensions like AdBlock, but it hurts knowing you might be leaving money on the table from those uncounted clicks.

I implemented a workaround that lets me serve the VigLink JavaScript from my own domain which avoids it being matched to a blacklist. You can read more about that on this post: Make VigLink Work with AdBlock Plus and Other Ad Blocking Software.

Take VigLink for a spin and see how it works for you

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Make VigLink Work with AdBlock Plus and Other Ad Blocking Software

Most ad blocking software like AdBlock Plus rely on blacklists to decide what to filter out. Big ad providers get blocked explicitly and others by common URL patterns. This all relies on the URL of the resources being retrieved by the browser. To get around the blocking you just have to switch the URL to something that would not normally be blocked. A lot of sites serve ads off their own domains to help avoid getting blocked and with VigLink it is just a matter of linking to a local copy of the JavaScript include.

The process goes something like this:

  1. Create PHP or any server-side script that pulls the JavaScript file from VigLink and writes the contents to a .js file
  2. Create cronjob to run that script every night in case VigLink pushes out an update
  3. Remove the part of the original VigLink snippet that writes out the <script> include, leaving the API URL and key values
  4. Add a <script> tag with the src pointing at the .js file created in step 1

Browsers with AdBlock Plus will now happily pull the JavaScript file from your server because you aren’t on the blacklist (if you are then good luck with that). I’ve left out details because there are so many variables. If you want some help implementing this on your site then send a donation my way or buy something at Amazon (you should see VigLink’s tag as a test of this workaround) and then contact me.