Compiling Weekend Reading

      2 Comments on Compiling Weekend Reading

For those that are interested (OK, because one person asked), this is my current workflow for how I capture the links/articles and how they make their way into the Weekend Reading posts.

Background

I used to do posts like this when I had a separate, professional, blog that focused on technical communications. I would collate interesting and useful articles by hand. It was time consuming and given that a lot of what I was doing was repetitive HTML formatting, I tried a few ways to automate it. That was about 8 years ago and I ended up with a funky Word macro that sort of did the job.

Fast forward several years and I've made a concerted effort to read longer articles in an effort to widen my world view (and indulge in some fine geekery) and - inspired by Ian Dick - I realise I'm itching to do the same with the articles I had in the past, namely share them with a wider audience. The reasoning is the same, I've gotten a LOT of benefit from the internet so this is my way of giving a little back.

But, I really REALLY don't want to have to dive into funky Word macros and end up with a system that still takes me a couple of hours to get what I want.

BUT, things have moved on, I'm fully on iOS and have some better tools at my disposal. Enter:

You can probably figure out how it works already but I'll step through the details because GEEK.

How the system works

I use Pocket to track the articles I find interesting. The joy of extensions and integrations means that I can capture articles that I've read via an RSS feed in Feedly (one click to save to Pocket), or those I've found from various newsletters which I open in Safari then use the share sheet to save to Pocket.

Next up is IFTTT. Every time I add a new article to Pocket, IFTTT is triggered to append a new item in a text file on Dropbox. In a nice little added extra, if the file doesn't exist, IFTTT will create one for you (this is important later).

IFTTT allows a level of formatting for the text file, here is the code I'd like to use (I'll explain why I can't in a minute):
<li>
<a href="{{Url}}"><strong>{{Title}}</strong></a><br>
{{Excerpt}}<br>
<em>comment</em><br><br>
</li>

Simple enough (if a bit hacky, look at those line break tags, ugh!). Alas it's not quite that straightforward. This is the snafu (where snafu = annoying behaviour that has a workable workaround but it'd really nice if it just did what I wanted).

The snafu is that IFTTT recognises that I'm trying to generate HTML and 'helps me' by adding (technically valid but very unwanted) list tags (<ul>) to every single item, essentially making each item it's own unique list of one. Which isn't very helpful at all and leaves me with lots of individual lists, e.g.
<ul>
<li>
<a href="{{Url}}"><strong>{{Title}}</strong></a><br>
{{Excerpt}}<br>
<em>comment</em><br><br>
</li>
</ul>

And yes, I've contacted IFTTT to ask if they could change this behaviour but had no reply.

Of course, this isn't really that big a deal, a simple search and replace quickly removes the unwanted tags. But it kinda kills my dream of having as much of the Weekend Reading posts automated as possible.

Sidenote: I also use IFTTT to create new tasks in a specific project in Todoist. I don't really use the tasks themselves, but the list helps me see both how many articles I've saved, and to see if there are any links between them, or a better order I could post them in.

Enter Workflow

I've had this app installed on my phone for a while, but it was only recently I looked to it as a solution for this particular little issue.

Previously, and before I went iOS only, I would just open the resulting text file from Dropbox using TextWrangler on my MacBook and use search and replace to get rid of those pesky <ul> tags. It only took a couple of steps but, and this is a common gripe I have with computers, as it was THE SAME STEPS EVERYTIME, why didn't I just automate them.

At this point I'll hold up my hands and say that I'm not a programmer, and that I'm sure there is an easy way on OSX to do this (I did look at Automator but for what I wanted you quickly have to turn to scripting and then I'm back in the world of funky Word macros... shudder).

Given this was a minor annoyance, that only happened once a week, it never really gained enough weight for me to be bothered trying to address it.

But then I ditched my MacBook and got an iPad Pro and, whilst looking for a text editor that had smart search and replace functionality, I thought 'hang on, there must be a better way'. Actually, what I think happened was the following...

Having moved to using iOS as my main operating system, I had started listening to a new podcast  - Canvas - which is presented by two people who use iOS exclusively. That prompted me to check out a post by one of them (@viticci) about how he used Workflow to help with his blog posts (they've sinced dedicated three episodes to Workflow, all well worth a listen), and his post got me thinking.

I installed Workflow and in about 15 mins I had most of the guts of what I wanted created, it was finished and tested in under 30 mins I think, and most of that was googling the right way to 'go to end of file' (step 5 below).

What Workflow does for me

Workflow connects to a variety of apps and services, two of which include Dropbox (which is where the text file that holds all the links for articles I've read) and WordPress (which the publishing system I use for my blog).

It also has a variety of pre-baked tasks you can apply to a text file, amongst them are search and replace. Brilliant!

So my workflow:

  1. Gets the file from Dropbox,
  2. Searches and replaces <ul> with nothing,
  3. Searches and replaces </ul> with nothing,
    (these two steps clear up all the individual list items)
  4. Go to the first character of the text file and insert <ul> before it,
  5. Go to the last character of the text file and insert </ul> after it,
    (this correctly formats the bulleted list)
  6. Copy the entire text file,
  7. Paste it into a new WordPress post, with a Draft status in the Reading category,
  8. Delete the original text file from Dropbox.

All of this means that, with one-click, I can run the workflow and in a few seconds a draft post is created in WordPress, ready for me to go through and add my own comments. Typically I'll run it at some point on Friday, add the comments on Friday evening, scheduling it to appear the next morning.

There you have it

All in all, outside of reading the articles which happens through the week, compiling and creating the post takes a few minutes. I'd say ten minutes on average and that's really just me faffing about trying to think of comments to add and, as it's all done on iOS, I can do it anywhere.

Job's a good 'un!

2 thoughts on “Compiling Weekend Reading

  1. Ian Dick

    Thanks for the post. Really useful. My issue was always I have a mixture of content in Pocket, not just articles for a weekly post. I’ve always wanted to filter by tag but that would require a way of auto tagging from Mac, Web, iOS so I always shied away from automating. Reality is it’s quicker to automate and remove the two or three posts when I’m tarting up the WordPress entry. Will fire up Workflow later.

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