There's no shortage of weird stuff on the internet, but how can you find the weirdest? The following is a demonstration of how you can use a handful of different applications together to automate the discovery of the content that's most worth your time in any niche - whether you're looking for weird stuff or anything else.
What I've done is build a "Best of the Weird Hunting Blogs" RSS feed. You can subscribe to that feed using this URL or by email at the end of this post if you're more into email than RSS. You can use this same methodology to create a "Best of" feed concerning any topic you're interested in - maybe it's web 2.0 blogs, maybe it's environmental news, maybe it's the contemporary civil rights movement (please, that would be awesome).
This work flow uses the following services, linked to here, demonstrated visually and described in text below: Del.icio.us, AideRSS, Yahoo! Pipes and Feedburner. There are probably many different ways to do the same thing, but this one comes with a slide show.
In order to discover more top sources similar to those two, I went to Del.icio.us Popular and clicked on the pink "how many people have tagged this URL" for any random URL. There you'll find a little box you can enter another URL into, like BoingBoing.
Once you do that, the tag cloud in the top right of the page will show you some of the most common tags used by other people to describe that URL. The larger the tag, the more common it is. You might want to refresh this page once or twice to see if things change, the limitations of our access to the Del.icio.us database is just one of many things that make this more an art than a science.
I did this for both BoingBoing and Neatorama and found that both are often tagged Blog and Culture. I then went to http://del.icio.us/tag/blog+culture to see what other URLs have recently been tagged both blog and culture. It would be great if Del.icio.us offered a most popular page for multiple tags like it does for single tags, but it does not.
I scanned down several pages of these results, in this case looking for URLs that had been tagged more than 500 times. Other niches may require a different threshold. I clicked through those popular URLs and looked to see if they were what I wanted. It took a little time to find just the right ones in this case, but this proccess did expose me to a whole lot of popular sites that I had never seen before.
In the end, I decided on including the following sites, for now: LaughingSquid, We Make Money Not Art, Wooster Collective, EveryoneForever and WebUrbanist. Those were the blogs I found that posted weird, interesting stuff and had at least some comments left on recent items. Comments are in important indicator of how popular a particular item is, though that criteria has its limitations as well.
Please feel free to recommend more top weird hunting blogs below in comments!
Cutting way down on the already fast-flowing river of weirdness
Once I had my list of seven top weird hunting blogs, I ran the feed for each one through the parsing service AideRSS. That service looks at every item in a feed and scores it (relative only to other items in the same feed) in terms of the number of comments an item got, the number of times it's been saved in Del.icio.us, Dugg in Digg and blogged about on another blog via blogsearch.
Those are explicit attention gestures that help show us quickly which items were "best" or at least most popular in a given feed. If you've got the time to read every item in a feed in order to determine what's best through methods better than looking at popularity, then you are a wonderful person. Please tag the best items in Del.icio.us so the rest of us can tell quickly which ones they are.
AideRSS will offer you an RSS feed of just the most popular items in any given feed, a "best of" for a particular blog if you will.
One feed, please!
Next, let's take all of the "best of" feeds for our seven selected weird hunting blogs and splice them together using Yahoo! Pipes. I was scared of Yahoo! Pipes, I must admit, until I read this excellent series of posts on how to use it by my old friend Justin Kistner.
For the purpose of splicing RSS feeds together in Pipes, all you need to know to get started is this:
1. Select "Sources", then "Fetch Feed" to add your RSS feeds one at a time.
2. Select "Operator", then "Union" to insert the command to splice them all together.
3. Drag and drop connections between all the little dots, down to "Union" and then Run That Pipe! Select output via "other" and RSS and you've got your spliced feed.
(I did go back in and add the command "sort by pub date" just to be safe.)
Finally, before you share that funky looking feed URL with anyone - I suggest you run it through Google's Feedburner. That way you can get a pretty URL, you can keep track of how many people you share it with actually subscribe, you can offer email subscription (see below) and if you need to ditch Pipes or make any other drastic changes later, you can just switch out the source RSS URL to Feedburner and subscribers will never know the difference.
Time to relax and weird out
That's it, now you've got an awesome feed of nothing but the most popular items from seven of the top blogs in the weird hunting niche. Those authors do a whole lot of parsing for us, but they also produce a whole lot of content. This methodology helps you systematically discover the top blogs in any niche and get a feed of just the most popular items published by those top blogs. I don't know about you, but I feel weirder already.
If you prefer getting your feeds by email (pretty weird, but whatever!) feel free to subscribe to the ReadWriteWeb Best of Weird Hunting Blogs feed using the form below.
photo CC via Flickr user Marxchivist. thanks for using Creative Commons!