Open Source

Benefits of using Tiny Tiny RSS

Marco Fioretti recommends Tiny Tiny RSS for those who want a free and reliable replacement for Google Reader. Here's why he likes it as well as a few more tips for how to use it.

In my previous post I showed how to install Tiny Tiny RSS, a self-hosted alternative to Google Reader. As promised, here I am again to present some advanced, or less known features of this package. Before doing so, however, I'd like to spend a few words to comment on some reactions to that other post, and make the general context clearer.

Why bother?

After my first post, TechRepublic reader Nate commented: "it seems you are advocating setting up your own RSS reader host and running the software yourself". Well, of course I am (*See note at the end), for at least two (classes of) reasons. The first is to gain control, that is, moving to something that would not disappear, or start charging more than you could afford, without notice. I read that many Google Reader users will move to Feedly. I wish all the best to both them and Feedly, really, but... just to show my point: what if Feedly went belly up, or stopped being free next quarter? What would you do?

The other big reason, which may be the main one even if many people fail to see it these days, is to avoid control. Using your own installation of Tiny Tiny RSS through encrypted (HTTPS) connections means that no third party will have a list, constantly updated in real time, of everything you actually read online.

Is it really so difficult?

Nate also wrote: "running TT yourself is all well and good for us techies, but what about everyone else? I have many non-technical friends who... don't have the skills to setup and use TT".

First of all, please let me restate that one installation of TT will serve as many people as its administrator and underlying hardware allow. So it only takes one "techie" in every group to make all its members use TT. With respect to the intrinsic difficulty, I'll let this lawyer answer for me:"it's a bit more advanced than a desktop application you download and install but it by no means requires heavy duty programming chops. I was able to download and get Tiny Tiny running in about 30 minutes on Ubuntu".

Back to Tiny Tiny RSS

TT has many ways to organize and present news. You can browse its tag cloud (Figure A) assign labels at will (Figure B) or request email digests.

Figure A

Figure B

You can even use your TV if it's connected, as in Figure C, to an XBMC Free Software Media Center configured in this way. Users can assign scores to each article, and then set up filters to sort by score, or see only news over a certain threshold.

Figure C

The plugin configuration panel (Figure D) will let you simplify how certain feeds are displayed. Other plugins handle feed redirectors, or add buttons to share news via email or services like Flattr, Google+, Pinterest or Identi.ca. There even is a bookmarklet to add to your TT list the RSS feeds you find embedded in Web pages.

Figure D

Going multiuser

We saw in the first post how to set up TT for personal use. Here is the minimum set of other variables you need to change in the configuration file, to share your installation with others:

  • SINGLE_USER_MODE: this must obviously be false.
  • ENABLE_REGISTRATION: set this to true to let people create their own account, if you can't create them manually, which would be safer.
  • REG_MAX_USERS: a zero here means "unlimited users", otherwise the system won't accept more than REG_MAX_USERS accounts.
  • REG_NOTIFY_ADDRESS: the email address that will receive notifications of new registrations.
  • SMTP_FROM_NAME and SMTP_FROM_ADDRESS: these are the sender name and email address that people will see in email messages from TT, for example when they ask for a password reset.

Sharing

Perhaps the biggest, or most interesting feature of Tiny Tiny RSS is about sharing. Figure E shows that you (or others) can read news collected from a TT account... even withot using TT at all! When you click on the small RSS icon in the top right corner, TT pops up a small window with a URL. Any RSS reader can then use that URL (as I did in Figure E with Akregator) as a normal RSS feed! Please note that you only need an account with password to see what the URL is. By default, there is no need for a password to use that URL in other programs. You may control which of your feeds become accessible by others by sorting them, since TT provides a different URL for each category.

Figure E

Click to enlarge.
To share or migrate your personal feed list, and other settings, go to Preferences |Feeds | OPML and click on "Export OPML". The resulting file can be imported by another TT account (or any other OPML-compliant software) as I did from Firefox to Chrome in Figure F. In this way the receiving user will get all the feeds in the OPML file, without configuring them manually.

Figure F

I've saved the coolest sharing feature of Tiny Tiny RSS for last. Open the config.php file in an editor, and change this line:

define('PLUGINS', 'auth_remote, auth_internal, note');
to define('PLUGINS', 'auth_remote, auth_internal, note, instances');

This will add to the Preferences panel of the administrator a "Linked" tab. In that tab, you will be able to tell TT to automatically add to all the other feeds, the popular (not private!) feeds of other, independent, TT installations! To know how it works, read here.

*Note: As I already said, the local install shown here and in the first post is local only because I do not need it online, since on my own Web server, I use other solutions. But of course the way to use Tiny Tiny RSS is to put it online somewhere (doing the same things I explained in these posts, just on a remote server).

About

Marco Fioretti is a freelance writer and teacher whose work focuses on the impact of open digital technologies on education, ethics, civil rights, and environmental issues.

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