Tagged”: my five top social media/ blogging tools: actually, the top one is Applescript

So, Antony Mayfield wants to know about my five top social media/ blogging tools.

Nothing like his, I have to say. But let’s pitch in:

Reading: NetNewsWire. Started out (in 2003? 2004?) using NetNewsWireLite, but quickly realised that I would want the Applescript functionality of the whole thing. Applescript is a sort of glue for writing small programs that will communicate between different programs, or just make a single program do something.

It’s really Applescript that makes it feasible for me to do stuff, because it takes out the repetition and hand-crafting from so much. As the documentation says, “If you want your application to become an essential tool for many users, make it scriptable.”

So for example, because NNW doesn’t have a “sort all posts by time”, I’ve written a script that generates an RSS feed of whatever has come in in the past four hours; that shows up as a feed in NNW.

The big advantage to me of NNW is that it can be used to read offline – which I’ll do while on the train, trying to plan or pick stories or themes that need writing about. Presently I have 600-odd feeds. It’s not always easy on the CPU, but it is indispensable – as much as anything for its sciptability. And what would be the use of a reader that’s only available online?

So I browse with NNW and spot interesting things: A script helps me out. For instance, I’ve written a script that lets me highlight something I’m reading in NNW, then with a keystroke, copy that to the clipboard, make a comment on it, and format a part of a new post that will show up in..

Marsedit. The other side of reading is writing; Marsedit is for writing blog posts. I’ve been using this tool for ages. What I do like is the simplicity of the interface: you can have multiple blogs and generate new posts for it. I have actually paid too for Ecto, but never use it because the interface is split into multiple windows, and that’s not a useful presentation.

Marsedit, besides being Applescriptable, has keystrokes for common operations (such as adding a URL or an image; plus you can define your own text operations, and give the custom keystrokes) and a “web preview” (which lets you see how the raw content of the post will look on a web page, if that web page is Safari). I’ve had my issues with it – particularly with the web preview, which eats up CPU like there’s no tomorrow (even) if you leave it open doing nothing – a fact I find mystifying.

But overall it works on a better paradigm than Ecto, I think: it uses a main window and “drawers” for the extras (like which blog you’re posting to – I have six: an internal one on my machine, my own, the Guardian’s Tech blog, the Free Our Data blog (it’s a campaign I started at The Guardian, aiming to get Ordnance Survey and Royal Mail and other government organisations to provide their raw data without charge for us taxpayers), Ask Jack, and Gamesblog. That doesn’t mean that I’ll post to the Gamesblog, or Jack’s, but it does mean I can get the content of the full posts from them if I need to.

I’ll also use Technorati from time to time, because I use a script there to find out what people are saying about stuff that’s appeared in the paper the previous week. Here’s how it works:

Everything Thursday morning the script uses curl to download the Guardian’s Technology supplement front page. A bit of cleaning up (again, by the script), and you’ve got a chunk of HTML with the links to the stories. The script creates two new posts in Marsedit: one for my machine’s internal blog, the other for the Technology blog, so I can crosspost a list of the stories there. The internal blog is simply a list of the URLs to the week’s stories.

Then each Monday (say) I run another script, which grabs that week’s links from the internal blog, and creates a proper Technorati and Google blog search (you have to twiddle things like spaces into “%32” and so on). Then for each link it opens a new tab in my browser of choice (that would be Camino) and queries either Technorati or Google Blogs search. Typically that means about 30 or so tabs (two per item), but quite a few lead nowhere because nobody’s commenting on the story. (Sniff.)

And if while I’m in Camino I spot a blog from those links that I think I’d like to subscribe to, it’s another keystroke to send the main URL to NetNewsWire (yes, by Applescript, a four-line script I wrote myself); NNW will automatically subscribe to it. Neat, huh?

So: NetNewsWire, Marsedit, Applescript, Camino, Technorati. (If I’m honest I also have a Bloglines sub set up to find mentions of me, but that only rarely finds anything that I’ve not already subscribed to.) The one I couldn’t live without, though, is Applescript. And the thing that I never use (even though my NNW licence gives me a free Newsgator account) is an online reader.

Actually, I should also give an honourable mention to Dr Dave’s Spam Karma 2, since that means I don’t have to spend any time at all clearing spam comments. That used to be the bane of my life; evenings would be anxious times as I wondered how many there would be to clear, and devised strategies to beat them. Spam Karma is that strategy. Another example of letting the machines do the work.

And of course Spam Karma wouldn’t work without WordPress, which is how you’re seeing this, whether as an item on the page or in your feed reader.

So in all… I could use any newsreader, as long as it was scriptable and worked offline; any blog post writing tool, as long as it was scriptable; any operating system, as long as the apps on top of it can be scripted. Excuse me while I press a key combo to run the script to format this for the blog…

Oh, five more people to tag?


  1. This is all very interesting. You make your workflow sound efficient and relatively, when relative to my own, effortless. The scary bit is AppleScript. For a non-techie who nonetheless blogs, uses an RSS reader, social software etc., the scripting thing sounds very daunting. Much like Apple’s Automator – maybe we’re talking a similar process here – I know it’s supposed to make my life easier, but I still can’t quite get my head round it. Scripting, automating, it all sounds very technical. Thanks for the Marsedit tip. I’ve tried Ecto and wasn’t totally happy with it. Will give this a crank.

  2. Charles

    Thursday 20 July 2006 at 9:41 pm

    Applescript – any scripting, really, including PHP – is the sort of thing that it helps to have started some time ago. Like, in teenagehood or so. Or before. Though you can pick them up easily (especially PHP; it’s a doddle, by far the easiest language to get by in that I’ve ever come across). Applescript is a bit more challenging because it’s very object-oriented. But you can hack by with scripts that just automate stuff. It is like Automator, except you have “if” and you have “repeat” and you have all sorts of tests.

    But it’s the real business. As I said, give me Applescript in everything and it doesn’t matter how bad the UI is. Almost.

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