Apinews – two years of beekeeping news

A month ago (16th og July) Apinews turned two years! The exact date was a very busy time for me right before my vacation. It was unfortunately missed as I was just about to complete a months work for a customer.

But now it is time to do some summary of the time that has passed since Apinews’ birth. Before I started Apinews, I had tried for a while to stay updated on what happened in the beekeeping world. That showed up to be difficult. There were no good news sites, and those who were present either got abandoned, or almost never updated.

It was far easier to stay updated by reading in beekeeping forums, like John Clayton’s forum beemaster.com. They have a reprint archive of some beekeeping news, and have provided me with many interresting news, although the news are not the main goal of the site.

But still I felt that I was missing many important news, and then the thought about a news service dedicated to bees and beekeeping came to my mind. Could I pull this off? Could I actually contribute to the vast number of beekeepers around the world?

Creating the site and its tools
The setup of the site itself was not a problem. Apinews runs on WordPress, and could quickly be up and running. The problem was: To be able to keep others updated, I had to be able to find all the important news myself before I could post links to them. This would be possible, but would take a lot of time. Time which I sometimes would have, and sometimes not.

I soon realized that I had to make some tools to make the work easier. I’m a software developer by profession, and before I made the actual web page, I developed some Perl-scripts that do much of the work for me. And this is how things works behind the scene:

Finding the news
Every night, the script is automatically run on a server, and it fetches over 50 RSS files. Some are directly from interresting sources, and some from news search services. The result is a very large set of news each day, far more than I can go through. The script then goes through all the news, and looks for some predefined keywords, and gives each news a score based on the keywords positive or negative score. A typical postive keyword is beekeeper with a score of 5. A negative keyword can for example be f***ing which has a score of -20. You have no idea how many porn sites that use honey in their “news”, not to mention all the “Honey, I shrunk the kids” and its family of funny headlines the script fetches. Luckily I don’t see much of this as my script filters them away. And there are numerous news about sport teams with names like Yadayada bees which the scripts gracefully hides from my uninterrested eye.

Next, the script removes news that have been seen before, and bundles the new ones with the exact same title (newspapers often buy their news from big companies like AP, and thus numerous sites have news witht the exact same content).

Finally the script creates a report with all the news with a high score. Typically 30-60 news each day.

Blogging the news
As often as I find time for it, I go through athe unread news reports from my scrip. The ones that I find interresting will be published on Apinews. The actual posting process is performed using the magnificent blog extension for firefox, scribefire. This tool has made my Apinews life so much easier, and its template features is invaluable. The development of this extension is active, and I have actualy got one of my change request made in their latest version, and another one in their roadmap.

I extract the part that outlines the article (mostly the ingress, but sometimes other parts if the main subject is not about bees), and adds the headline. The headline and the ingress are sometimes going through minor edits, to fit in the new context. Mostly this means adding the name of the country and such to the title. At the bottom I publish the link to the news source. I never copy the full text of a news article.

Some statistics
During these two years, I have posted more than 600 news. A little less than one each day. The last year I had over 800 unique visitors. Some are just having a glance as they find it using google or other search engines, but many choose to make a visit a few times a week to stay updated.

The number of readers have been varying. A few months after my son’s birth in may 2007, the update rate was very slow, and I lost a lot of readers. Luckily many have come back, and we are almost back to the same level as before. With my improved routine I hope to keep up the publish rate I have at the moment.

This work takes some time, though, and once in a while it is hard to find time to do the work. If some of you find this work interresting and would like to participate in some way, please send me a mail (apinews at morkland.org – replace ” at ” with a @). If you have some time, and your english skills are about the same as mine – that is, not very high, but “good enough” – I would be glad to get some help performing this work.

One other way to help Apinews is to help me reach more readers. Please feel free to link to the site from your blog or home page. in addition to the obvious fact that your readers will see the link on your page, the score on google will improve, and thus more people will find the site when searching for beekeeping news on google.

I would also be very glad to get comments about how this service could improve. Please send any ideas to the address above.

Thanks to all the readers during the last two years!


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