Twitter is great for learning about exciting new journal articles that are relavant to your field. I follow many scientists who are active on Twitter and have similar research interests to mine. The problem is that keeping up with my Twitter feed, and separating the signal from the noise, can be overwhelming.

What I want is an automated way to mine my Twitter feed for journal articles. I also don’t want to have to worry about hosting it myself, and I don’t want to have to code a complicated solution if I can avoid it (I do enough of that at work).

A half-way solution

The simplest, but least elegant, solution for me was to create a Twitter list of all the scientists I want to follow for paper recommendations. I then added a column in TweetDeck dedicated to that list, and I filtered it to only show tweets containing links. I tried to also filter the list to only see tweets containing “paper” OR “article,” but there appears to be a bug in TweetDeck causing boolean operators not to work, at least in this circumstance.

A better solution

I use RSS feeds heavily, so an ideal solution would convert my Twitter list to an RSS feed, then filter it to include only tweets containing links (and maybe even filter further to only include links to specific publisher websites). Unfortunately, I cannot find a service to convert a Twitter list to an RSS feed, but there are services that will convert individual user timelines to RSS feeds. This, combined with an RSS feed aggregator, yields a similar result.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Use TwitRSS.me to create an RSS feed for each person you want to follow. Simply type their username in the text box, click “Fetch RSS,” and copy the URL for the twitter feed. Even easier: the URLs are always of the form “https://twitrss.me/twitter_user_to_rss/?user={username},” so you don’t even have to go to the website to do this. Just copy this template, go to step 2, and change {username} for each user you want to follow.
  2. Use FeedKiller to aggregate the individual RSS feeds into a single feed. Unfortunately I cannot find a way to edit an existing aggregate feed, so if you ever want to add a new user you have to build the list again from scratch. I simply save all the TwitRSS.me links to a text file on my computer and then just cut-and-paste them all into FeedKiller each time the list changes. Note that you have to specify the number of items you want to fetch from each feed, with a max of 10. Give your aggregate feed a title, then click “build it!” This is important: make note of the ID at the end of the feed. The actual URL of your aggregate RSS feed is: http://feedkiller.com/files/inc.xml.php?id={ID}.

The missing part of the solution is filtering the feed. I have heard that FeedRinse is the best service for feed filtering, but it appears not to be working at the moment. They are promising a “2.0” upgrade at some point, but who knows when. I think that FeedRinse will also take care of Step 2 (i.e. it allows you to create an aggregate list and also filter it). I’ve signed up to be notified when the new FeedRinse is available, so I’ll update this post if and when I get the full solution working.

Update (12/17/2015)

Well, FeedRinse is still “under construction,” and I’m not holding my breath. I’ve have searched extensively but not found any RSS feed filtering service that actually works. I have also tried several times to make PubMed work for me, but I’ve been unhappy with the results. So I’m back to my old solution, which is to subscribe to the RSS feeds of all the journals I’m interested in and try to find time to sort through all of the articles I’m not interested in to find the few gems. However, I have also added two new strategies which I hope can replace my reliance on RSS feeds:

  1. I added a lot more scientists to my list in Twitter. I plan to keep track of all the papers I source via Twitter and the time I spend going through my Twitter feed, and compare that to my RSS feeds, to see which method is more efficient.
  2. I signed up for PubChase, which looks quite promising. I uploaded my entire Zotero library (~1000 publications), so it will be interesting to see how their automatic recommendations stack up against the papers I manually pull out of RSS and Twitter. I have also been signed up for SciReader (http://scireader.org/) for a while. While I usually find at least a few papers in the weekly e-mail digest, I’m frustrated and confused by their decision not to provide an RSS feed. Maybe if I complain enough they’ll change their minds.

Update (12/30/2015)

I recently discovered Nuzzel, which has made keeping up with publications via Twitter. Essentially, Nuzzel mines your Twitter feed for links and presents them in a nicely formatted list. You can sort by popularity or recentness (I prefer the latter). With Nuzzel, I now find that I only need a much smaller list of people I want to interact with at a personal level, which has greatly stemmed the tide of tweets, which in turn has made me feel less anxious about checking Twitter at every free moment lest I get buried in an avalanche of unread tweets.

PubChase’s recommendations have proven pretty good, but they don’t catch anywhere close to everything that I source from the journal RSS feeds. So for now I’ll continue to use RSS as my primary means of keeping up with the literature.

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