I’m not sure if this will be interesting to anyone else but myself, but the process I used to produce my linked movie list was fairly complicated, and for myself and, perhaps, others, might be useful as an idea of how to get things done on a Mac (although there may be similar tools available on Windows).
I started by compiling the list of movies I had seen last year. Luckily I had the foresight of trying to post about, and tag, all of them. So getting the starting point was as simple as clicking that link.
I wanted the list for my year-end (year-beginning, I suppose) post to have each title linked to it’s Internet Movie Database page. But when I contemplated doing a search for each one, by hand, and copying-and-pasting each URL, and writing out each link with all its tedious
a href="" and angle brackets and whatnot.
Now, I use TextExpander to save me steps when typing out common phrases, and especially when blogging and typing out links. Such genius. I’ve long used similar programs going way way back; they run in the background, and when they detect a specific key combination, the program automatically expands that into the actual phrase. For instance, if I typed
ahreff, TextExpander substitutes the code for a link, and moves the cursor to the right spot for me to type out the actual URL.
But that wasn’t gonna cut it for a list of 50 movies. Even saving me a few steps, it would take forever, and with the added pain of having to copy and paste from my browser into another program… no. There had to be a way to automate it.
If I were a programmer, or better at shell scripts or scripting languages like Perl or PHP, I would spend a small amount of time writing a program to do all this for me. Alas, I’m a power user, but not a programmer. I have written small shell scripts, but I thought this was beyond me, at least now.
I could conceptualize the basic process, which is the first step:
- Take list of names, one by one, and:
- convert the name into a search term, then
- use that search term to find the IMDB page
- copy that resulting URL, then
- construct the link text.
- And insert it around the movie title in a new text document.
- Repeat for each item in the list.
Luckily, I discovered that there’s a way to create a URL that will force Google to give it’s top hit for any search term, also known as “I’m feeling lucky”. I don’t remember where I saw it first, but this page describes the technique.
I thought that if I could figure out a way to insert the movie name into a Google “Lucky” URL, then having some way to automate opening up a bunch of those URLs would give me the list of IMDB addresses I needed.
Then it would just be a matter of creating the whole text that represents the linked movie name.
Not being a programmer, I still had an awesome tool to work with: Apple’s built-in Automator. It’s a GUI program where you drag and drop different modules representing each step of a workflow. It’s beautiful for repetitive actions, though it has its limits. And it was perfect for me. Or so I thought. It actually took two different Automator workflows to get what I needed.
First, I had to do a bunch of search-and-replace on the list of movie names. A URL doesn’t have spaces in it, so I replaced all the spaces with + signs, and took out all the other punctuation. When I tested the Automator workflow on a small sample, I realized that some movies were so popular that some other site, not the IMDB page, showed up as the first hit. So I explicitly added +imdb to each movie name, just to be sure. Then I turned each one into a link with another set of search-and-replaces.
Next step was to open the resulting list of links in Safari, and turn the first Automator action on it. This action had three steps:
Get Current Webpage from Safari -> Get Link URLs from Webpages -> New Safari Document.
This opened 50 new windows, in alphabetical order. Then I used the next workflow I’d figured out, which consisted of:
Get Current Webpage from Safari -> Copy to Clipboard (which copies the results of the previous action, or the IMDB address I needed) -> Set Contents of TextEdit Document (by appending) -> Run AppleScript (which was
tell application "Safari" to close the front window"– an important step for working back through the 50 windows) -> Loop 51 times.
I actually had to reverse-sort the original list, because once I did the second step, I had a list of addresses with no way to tell, without opening them in a browser again, which movie they represent. IMDB uses a string of numbers for their webpages, not something human-readable, like, say, Wikipedia. But using Wikipedia had it’s own problems, which I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader.
The final step took me a bit to come up with, but was pretty simple once I’d figured it out. Again, a programmer could write code that would string together each part of the link and spit out a fully-formed URL:
front-half-of-IMDB-link + Movie Title + closing-tag.
What I did, instead, was copying each list into a spreadsheet (I used Google’s free online one), each type to a column, then exported it as a text file. A quick search-and-replace to remove all the tabs from the tab-delimited list, and ta-da! I had my linked list.
I think, now, that I know enough to write a simple AppleScript to run each Automator workflow, but I’m not sure how to automate the final step. Still, it’s a significant savings in time and effort.
If you start noticing lots of linked lists on my blog, now you’ll know why.