Value-added Feeds

I’ve put together a small Perl script that utilizes CPAN modules WWW::Mechanize, HTML::TreeBuilder and XML::Atom to generate an Atom feed of my bank account’s transaction history.

I subscribe to this script using NetNewsWire (it lets you set up a local shell script as a source for a feed this way). And it works well. Well, I have one annoyance with it: I had to put the transaction amount in the author element to get it to show up in a column.

Not ideal. I’m using the subject element to assign a category that my script places the transaction into based on the description of the transaction. I’d like to take it one step further and have it intelligently identify whether that transaction was made by myself or my wife. If I were to do that, I would want to use that for the author information rather than the transaction amount.

And it got me thinking— what an opportunity today’s feeds are missing! Imagine if a dollar value could be communicated in feeds properly. I can think of several uses right away:

  1. Transaction histories perhaps from a bank account. Already mentioned.
  2. A feed from any sort of online store— like Amazon for instance. Having price information right in list there to help you make that snap decision.
  3. Stock quote feeds with the last trade price.
  4. Ebay feeds for auctions you’re watching with the current bid.
  5. Airline ticket prices feed for your next vacation.

And obviously, most items are linked so that you just click through to buy them.

For a given feed, you may wish to choose to sort the incoming items on the ‘amount’ value— sometimes in ascending order (put the cheapest items at the top), sometimes in descending order.

Now perhaps an element for a monetary value is too application specific. Fine, let’s make it a general number— it could be integer or floating point. So here are some uses for feeds with an integer value you can use:

  1. A web site activity feed with the number of hits per page.
  2. A presidential election feed showing election returns per state.
  3. A feed of top popular downloads showing the number of downloads.
  4. Any sort of feed that returns ranked results: Miss America pageant, American Idol voting results, Nielsen feed of television ratings, a feed of the top movies in theaters, etc.
  5. A system administrator’s feed of monitored servers that includes their current load.
  6. Number of “diggs” for a link from a digg.com feed.

An example entry element from a fictitious feed to illustrate what I’m suggesting.

<entry>
    <title>Brad Choate statuette, dipped in bronze</title>
    <author><name>Wal-Mart</name></author>
    <subject>Collectibles</subject>
    <content>Your own figurine of Brad Choate.</content>
    <value xmlns="http://purl.org/atom/ns#value" currency="us-dollar">1.00</value>
</entry>

Imagine if your newsreader could highlight items in the feed based on their value. If you could set up filter rules to say “items in this price range should be in red”. Or “items with this value or lower should be ignored”. Imagine if you could automate the execution of an auction bid based on the value of the item being watched. Or automate the purchase of an item if the price falls to an acceptable range?

There’s still room for a lot of innovation in this space.

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This article was published on February 27, 2006 6:20 PM.

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