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Web Design and Development
Getting Started

Meerkat: An Open Wire Service

Editor's note: Meerkat predated the popularity of syndication, feed services, and feed readers. Now that other groups are providing this service, we have removed Meerkat in favor of their better solutions. We maintain these articles for the sense of historical interest.

Meerkat is available here.

Meerkat is a Web-based syndicated content reader. It is based on Rich Site Summary (RSS), an XML specification used for distributing news, product announcements, discussion threads, and other assorted content as channels. Meerkat provides a simple interface to these stories. While maintaining the original association of a story with a channel, Meerkat's focus is on chronological order -- the latest stories float to the top, regardless of their source.

I have been using Meerkat for many months now. It has replaced nearly a dozen listserv and majordomo subscriptions and given back nearly an hour of my time daily. I'd be willing to vote Meerkat a Killer App. Thank you for bringing this to the 'net!

Miles Baska
Software Answer
Taylor, Texas

Tell Me More About RSS ...

RSS was developed by Netscape in 1999 as a way of drawing in content from the Web for use in its My Netscape portal. It was later extended by Netscape and Dave Winer of My Userland fame.

For an introduction to RSS, see these excellent articles:

Here are a few more RSS resources:

Go to Meerkat

Why Meerkat?

Meerkat borrows its name from members of the mongoose family. Meerkats, being rather low on the food chain, have to be mighty careful when going about their daily business -- someone always stands guard, scanning the horizon for anything that moves. With the wealth of information flowing through the Internet, we're like Meerkats ourselves trying desperately to take in everything that floats past our field of view. But invariably the particular nugget of information we most need won't come anywhere near where we're looking.

Meerkat brings the stories you care about to a central location, saving you from all that annoying site-hopping. Now you can go on with your daily business knowing that someone is scanning the horizon for you.

How Does Meerkat Work?

Meerkat maintains a list of channels in a database. Every hour, Meerkat visits the RSS file associated with each channel, adding new stories -- those as yet unseen by Meerkat -- to the database.

The Meerkat front-end builds a query using your specified preferences, searches the story database for matches, and displays them for your reading pleasure.

Meerkat's back-end is written in Perl, and uses the following modules: LWP::UserAgent DBI, DBD::mysql, and XML::Simple The front-end is written in PHP. Meerkat is served up by an Apache Web server, and keeps its data in a MySQL database.

Are There Any Other Such Readers?

Yes indeed; Meerkat's focus is on a chronological flow of stories of interest to developers, programmers, Web designers, intranet/extranet administrators -- those who turn to O'Reilly for their books and The O'Reilly Network for news and content.

Netscape's My Netscape, the originator of RSS, provides a great "start" page organized along channel lines. Customize your page by adding and removing channels at will.

Dave Winer's wonderful My.Userland.Com is more broadly focused, bringing in content from WebLogs hosted at Userland and EditThisPage.com, a growing community of Manila web sites.

How do I Register my Channel?

We are currently working on a registration system, but in the meantime, please do register your channel(s) with one or both of the following aggregators:

Both of these aggregators allow you to register either RSS or ScriptingNews formatted channels.

Meerkat actually visits each of these aggregators every morning, noting any new channels it comes across. Of these, those appropriate -- usually technology/computer/geek/science related -- for aggregation by the O'Reilly Network are picked up.

Other Meerkats

For more information on Meerkats (the creature, that is), point your browser at:

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