Finally, you can go to specific pages you really like and find out what pages they like. For example, the National Library of Scotland "Likes" (in other words, links to) over 40 Facebook Pages on its own page, most related to Scotland and books. If you know of a Facebook Page that closely represents your specific interest, checking what pages it likes can bring you to undiscovered treasures.
Cleaned up your Likes list? Found new Pages to follow? The next step is getting all your Like information in one chunk.
Step 2: Invoke the Facebook API and get your Likes list
Invoke the Facebook API! doesn't have quite the same impact as Release the Kraken! but it's much more useful. Facebook has an API that lets programmers more easily interact with Facebook user information. It also makes it very easy to get your list of Likes. But you don't need a build a program to use the API.
You will need to get a developer account on Facebook, however, because you need an API access key.
Developers developers developers developers
Make sure you're logged in to Facebook and go to https://developers.facebook.com/. Click on Apps at the top of the page, then choose Register as a Developer. You may have to re-enter your password.
Facebook will then ask you to read and agree to a couple of policies. When you've done that, Facebook will ask for a phone number to verify your account via a number sent by text or phone call; your phone number will be added to your timeline but will not be visible to your friends according to Facebook.
Once you've done all that (whew!) Facebook will put you on the Developers Docs page at https://developers.facebook.com/docs/. The page where you really want to be, though, is https://developers.facebook.com/tools/explorer/. That's the Graph API Explorer, for which you need an access key.
Grab your keys and let's get going
Click on Get Access Token. Facebook will ask you which permissions to specify.
All you need are the basic permissions, so click Get Access Token and a huge letter and number string will appear in the Access Token window.
It'll look something like this:
Using your key to get your Likes list
The basic URL string to get your Likes list looks like this:
(As you can probably tell from the "me" part of the URL, you have to be logged into Facebook for this URL to work.)
Simply paste your access key to the end of the URL.
(Use your real access key, not my fake API key here.)
Paste this URL into your favorite Web browser. You'll get ... a huge mishmash of text.
But what a useful mishmash it's going to be!
Step 3: Extract the page ID numbers
Did you notice in the screenshot above there were some lines called "id"? Those are Page ID numbers. You need those to make Facebook Page RSS feeds. But we need to separate them out from the other information you've gotten.
There are scripts and other ways you can do this, but I'm giving you a way you can use even if you're not a programmer. Copy the contents of the Web page you just got (it's just a text file so you can get everything) and paste it into a text editor. You can use any text editor you like, though ideally it would have column selection and line sorting. Don't know of a good one? I recommend TEA Text Editor. It's free, open-source, and works in Linux, Windows, Mac, and even OS/2 if you're really old-school. You can get it at http://tea-editor.sourceforge.net/.
There's also an online tool called Text Mechanic at http://textmechanic.com/ that can do all of the heavy lifting for you. You're welcome to use whatever text tools you like but I'll walk you through all the steps with Text Mechanics since it's an Internet-based tool and everybody can use it.
Remove extra spaces
With Text Mechanic, I'm going to use the Remove Extra Spaces tool to get rid of all the extra spaces, then I'm going to select all the text, copy it, and open the Sort Text Lines tool.
Sort the text lines
By doing an alphabetical sort I'll get an alphabetical list of all the lines in my file, including a long list of Page ID numbers.
Get rid of Non-ID lines
The next thing to do is delete every line that isn't an ID line. (This is not a Text Mechanic function; instead it's you going through the file and highlighting/deleting unwanted sections.) There are also some very short ID numbers too. Those are page categories, not individual pages, so you can delete those as well.
Remove duplicate lines
After all the non-ID lines are deleted, the next step is to copy the lines you have left and use the "Remove Duplicate Lines" tool.
At this point you should have a list of lines that looks like this:
There's just one step left before you have a nice beautiful ID list.
Isolate the numbers
In Text Mechanic, open the Find and Replace Tool. It looks a little different because it has three panes. Paste your text in the bottom pane.
You're going to run the Find and Replace text tool twice. The first time, put "id": " in the Find this: pane, and nothing in the Replace with: pane, then click Find and Replace Text. That'll get rid of the stuff at the beginning of your number.
Now all you have left are quotes at the end. So the second time, put " in the Find this: pane, and nothing in the Replace with: pane, and click the Find and Replace Text button.
Voila! A list of numbers. I found that a few of the numbers I got had commas on the end, so I did one more search and replace to get rid of the commas. You may not have the same issue.
This list is the core of your personal Facebook Likes RSS feed list. Now all you need to do is turn this list of numbers into a list of RSS feeds. Nothing could be simpler.
Step 4: Put your URL list together
For this step you'll need a spreadsheet. It can be an online spreadsheet like Google Docs, or something offline. Excel works fine. For the purposes of this article I'm going to use Google Docs.
As you may remember from earlier in this article, there's a basic URL to which you affix a page id in order to make it into an RSS feed. And it's this:
Take that URL and copy it into column A of a new spreadsheet. Then duplicate it so it appears on each line.
Then take the number list you cleaned up with Text Mechanic and paste it into column B. Make sure that for each number in column B you've got a basic URL in column A. It should look like this:
You are now ready to use my second-favorite spreadsheet function: CONCATENATE. (Yes, I am enough of a nerd to have favorite spreadsheet functions.)
In column D of your spreadsheet, on the first row that has a base URL and a page number, enter the following:
CONCATENATE tells the spreadsheet to put the contents of two cells together in one cell. In this case, it's putting the base URL in column A together with the Page ID in column B, making you an RSS feed URL.
Click on the lower right corner of the CONCATENATE cell in column D and pull it down with your mouse to repeat the formula for every row that has a base URL and Page ID number. When you're done, you'll have a huge list of URLs.
So now you have a list of Facebook Page RSS feeds – possibly hundreds of them. What do you do now? Do you paste them one by one into an RSS feed reader? Absolutely not. You make an OPML file.
Step 5: Make an OPML file
OPML stands for Outline Processor Markup Language. It's a way to import and export RSS feeds. If you put all the URLs into an OPML file, it'd be simple to import them into an RSS feed reader. Fortunately there are many online tools for making OPML files.
I like the one at http://reader.feedshow.com/goodies/opml/OPMLBuilder-create-opml-from-rss-list.php. To make an OPML file, just copy the URLs in column D of your spreadsheet and paste them into the List of RSS feeds url (one per line): box, then click on Create OPML.
Your browser may prompt you to save the file generated, or it may show it in the window (it's an XML file.) In that case you will have to save the file.
Now you have a file that contains all your RSS feed URLs in a format that's easily usable by an RSS feed reader. The next step, naturally, is to import all these files into an RSS feed reader!
Step 6: Import the OPML into an RSS feed reader
As you probably noticed at the beginning of this article, showing an RSS feed in a regular Web browser usually doesn't do much good. Unless you have special add-ons, a browser generally does not show RSS feed content in a way that's easily readable by humans. For that you need an RSS feed reader.
Some readers are built-in to browsers, some are web-accessible, and some are desktop programs. When I wrote Information Trapping, I recommended desktop programs because the web-based RSS feed readers could not handle large numbers of feeds. In 2014 web-based RSS feed readers are much more robust and, I've found, handle large numbers of feeds without complaining. The only requirement for the RSS feed reader of your choice is that it be able to handle importing OPML files.
Until last year the RSS feed reader was Google Reader, but it's been shut down. In its wake several excellent Web-based RSS feed readers have popped up, including these options:
Digg Reader – http://digg.com/reader/ - My personal favorite. I've thrown hundreds of feeds at it and it just laughs. It's free and is integrated with several "read-it-later" services, including Pocket.
NewsBlur - http://newsblur.com/ - My second-favorite. I'd probably still be using it but I think my ridiculous number of feeds was a little much. I recommend this if you have a smaller number of feeds (less than 100.) Free and paid version.
The Old Reader - https://theoldreader.com – Has free and paid versions; note that the free version is only for accounts with less than 100 RSS feeds.
I'm going to use The Old Reader as the example for my feed imports.
After you've made an account and logged in, choose Import from the top right menu. The Old Reader will ask you to specify your OPML file. Choose the one you created in the last step. Once you've done that, your feeds will start importing.
Go get a sandwich. Depending on how many feeds you have this might take a while.
Welcome back. Enjoy your sandwich? What you have probably looks like this:
(You will find occasionally that you have a few invalid feeds here and there. That's normal; just unsubscribe from them. I also suggest you go through all your feeds once to find those which haven't been updated in at least two years. Get rid of them too.)
What do you have? You have a list of your fan pages, along with all the updates, in an RSS feed reader. Depending on which feed reader you're using, you may also have an easy way to save to a read-it-later service, share, or e-mail to friends. You've got a way to get all the updates, not just the ones Facebook thinks you should see.
Do you keep reading these pages on Facebook? Do you just delete them and look at only your friends' status updates?
I have left the Pages I've "Liked" on Facebook, and I keep looking at the Posts in my timeline. Sometimes I go a couple of days without reviewing the feeds in my RSS Feed reader and Page posts can have breaking news or current event information that I want. But I don't worry about missing any Page posts and I don't worry about directly visiting pages anymore. I've got what I need in my RSS Feed reader.
Keeping it fresh
Obviously you're going to keep liking pages as time goes by. New companies and causes will pop up that you'll want to follow as well.
You don't have to delete your old RSS feed list and generate a new one every time. Go back and look at the list of Likes you created with your API access key. Look for a line formatted like this:
Facebook puts the likes on your list in chronological order, with the newest ones first. That line has the date and the time that a page was liked. If you note when you made your last OPML file (or check the date stamp if you still have it) you can simply copy the text of all the likes made since that date, clean up the text to isolate the numbers as I've shown you in this article, and make yourself another, smaller OPML file to import into your RSS reader. You can keep up with the pages you like over time and it doesn't have to be a huge project.
Social media cannot be ignored. If you want to monitor the Internet for topic information you have to include it in your strategy. Generating RSS feeds from Facebook Pages will ensure you'll get more information from them than Facebook shares on your timeline – and you'll be able to do more with it, too!