Shadow Unit & Cool Web Tools

You may recall that I’ve strongly encouraged people reading this to check out the Shadow Unit project on several previous occasions.

Well, the first “season” of Shadow Unit has been over for a while now, I want to take a few minutes to re-encourage you to check it out. The work got stronger throughout the season–in an amusing parallel with the first season of a TV show, the development of the characters over the season has made them seem more real, in much the same way that over a first season the writers and actors both find the voices of the characters.

There’s quite a lot of material. I don’t generally read long form on the screen, so I’ve been printing out nicely formatted versions of the episodes and bonus materials/easter eggs to read. Over the course of the “season” my Shadow Unit binder has filled up to the tune of 485 pages1–and that’s at 10 point, and not including any of the bonus features that were excerpts of later material.

And it’s not just a lot of stuff, it’s a lot of good stuff. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone familiar with the history of the creators. I left the binder sitting out, and Trish picked it up and got hooked.

The final knockout “episode”–which runs well over 100 pages in my printed form– was presented as a serial, with the story broken up into consecutive segments over a week. That was a rare experience these days: following a serial work each day as it was serialized, with the “no, don’t stop THERE!” feeling hitting each day, and the anticipation through the following day. You can read it now, but if you weren’t there for it, you missed that experience. (Read it though, it’s great!)

While their “season” is done, they are still providing some bonus content over the “hiatus” to keep things ticking until the next season starts. The first such piece is already up, and the second one is due any minute. You could just follow their RSS feed to see when new things are released (or drop that Google gadget I whipped up onto your Google homepage).

One thing I haven’t really dug into yet is the in-character LiveJournal stuff–several of the characters keep LiveJournals, and interact with each other and members of the audience. (I’ve read that any fourth-wall breaking comments are immediately deleted–if you’re going to play you have play along.)

I was about to start looking through those journals tonight, when it occurred to me that I should just be subscribing to them, and following them via RSS. While I could easily have subscribed to each character’s feed separately, I really wanted a single feed that would include posts from all characters. My awesome reader could easily create a view to aggregate several subscriptions, but I decided this was another opportunity to use Shadow Unit as an excuse to dig into a web tool.

In this case, I decided to see what Yahoo Pipes could do for me–I’ve read descriptions, but I hadn’t ever played with the tool.

Well, it turns out that in a total of 15 minutes from “the first time I actually looked at Pipes” to “it’s done” it was possible for me to create a “pipe” that aggregates the feeds from all the journals, processes the titles of each feed entry to prepend the character name (so when I look at the aggregated list it’s immediately obvious “who” each post is from), sorts the entries by dates, and kicks out this sorted, labelled, aggregated feed.

In the Pipes GUI, it looks like this:

Shadow Unit LJ Pipe

The GUI is pretty great, by the way–my web UI guy at work is probably going to hate my having played with this.

If you look at the Shadow Unit LJ pipe page, you can see the results of the processing. In a pinch I could certainly read the results right off this page.

Of course, the pipe also exists as an RSS feed, so I can subscribe to the output of the pipe, and read it in my preferred reader. (You can do this too, if you want–just grab the RSS URL).

In the reader it looks like this:

Shadow Unit Pipe in Omea

Oh, and Pipes supports a one-button export of the pipe output to your Google homepage–so right beside my Shadow Feed gadget, I can see the feed of character LJs. (It also supports a “badge” export that kicks out something you can embed on any web page.)

Pretty cool for 15 minutes. It took me significantly longer to write this post than it did to get the pipe working.

I’m tempted to aggregate the feeds from the blogs/journals of the writers, and filter them for entries that reference Shadow Unit as well. Seems like a logical addition to the other two things, it would probably take another 10 minutes. Maybe tomorrow. (UPDATE: did it. See below.)

Oh, and speaking of Shadow Unit and web tools, I took a minute to pipe that almost 500 pages of Shadow Unit content I have formatted for print (all the episodes and bonus stuff, but not including the LJ content) into Wordle. The result tells you something about which characters the writers like 🙂

Shadow Unit wordle

UPDATE: And here is the Shadow Unit TPTB pipe (with RSS Feed). This takes the personal blogs/journals of the four authors behind Shadow Unit and aggregates any posts from them that contain the phrase “Shadow Unit” or any URLs from the shadowunit domain, doing the usual label & sort thing. So it only aggregates explicitly SU posts, not anything else from the blogs–if you want to follow everything the authors have to say, there are other ways.

Using the +Google button from pipes, I put the two pipes onto my custom Google page, and it looks like this:

Shadow Unit Tab

I’ll actually be using my RSS reader more than this page, but it’s nice to have the page setup for when I’m away from my own setup. Like if I want to keep up with SU stuff on those trips to the office in Boston.

  1. Being an environmentally sensitive guy, I did print this on double-sided pages in a smallish font size.(back)

  6 comments for “Shadow Unit & Cool Web Tools

  1. June 28, 2008 at 12:21 am

    Man, that’s so amazingly cool! Teensy correction: it’s “Hafidha.” (In the pipes-thingie, which I’ll study over when we get home in a few days.)

  2. June 28, 2008 at 12:30 am

    Fixed–not in the screen captures, because I’m lazy, but in the actual pipe.

    I am now thinking of about a million things I could do with this to simplify my information gathering needs.

  3. Chuck
    June 28, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    That’s very cool!
    2 clicks, 1 drag and I’m all set up. Didn’t even have to deal with yahoo.
    Thanks!

  4. December 11, 2008 at 9:29 am

    Great article and informativ. I have this bookmarked. Thanks

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada
This work by Chris McLaren is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 Canada.