What is all the RSS about?
17 March 2011 at 9:13 am
Being current with information need not be a hard task. There are simple tools, often free, that can make capturing information pertinent for Not for Profits fairly simple. That is where RSS feeds and feed readers are useful. Pro Bono Australia intern Judie Gade reports.
The amount of content being distributed via the internet can be daunting for organisations. Many have limited budgets, so it is important to have tools that can allow spending time on important activities, such as fundraising. However, keeping track of information pertinent to the organisation brand, and who is saying what, can be time consuming. Being current with information need not be a hard task. There are simple tools, often free, that can make capturing information pertinent to your organisation fairly simple. That is where RSS feeds and feed readers are useful. They offer speed of delivery, update your current topics of choice, keep your identity private, are flexible and do not use up bandwidth.
RSS feeds are only being utilised by a small portion of organisations. RSS means ‘Really Simple Syndication’ or ‘Rich Site Summary’ and it allows you to subscribe to internet content of your choosing. Although Twitter’s culture of information sharing has impacted on RSS feeds, it is in all likelihood that the people sharing information on Twitter received their information via RSS feeds initially.
Back in the early days of the internet, to keep information updated, people would do key word searches, click the links and then subscribe to the page, possibly having it delivered by email. However, this required clicking on individual links. There was little control in the information gathering and it was time consuming; people had to search for the information they required. However, what if the information came to you?
Beth Kanter, one of the internet’s most influential teachers of social media for Not for Profits, says RSS feeds allow organisations to ‘listen’ to what people are saying about content that is of value to them. In fact, Kanter says, it is an important skill to have. ‘Listening’ via feeds is one of the best tools for monitoring your organisation’s supporters, workers and opposition on the internet. You can do separate searches for different information, categorising it and keeping it all in one area. The feed sends you a summary of any new content and links to updated stories. Set the search criteria, for example “Your organisation” or “Jo Smith Your Organisation” and wait for the information to arrive. Once you receive information, you can disseminate what content is of value, what isn’t, which feeds should be subscribed to and fine tune your searches.
Firstly, you need a ‘feed reader’. Considering the type you need, think whether you are using it on one computer or several. For example, more people are using smaller net-books when away from the office desktop or laptop, so an online version might prove a better option. Do you use a ‘smartphone’ for accessing the internet? How will you be forwarding the information you gather, by email or on a web page?
There are a few ways of displaying your RSS feeds. You can download an application onto the desk top, such as Feed Demon or alternatively you can open a reader in a browser window such as Bloglines. Outlook 2007 onwards has a facility for RSS feeds which separates the feeds you subscribe to. So, the ones you find interesting, you can manually subscribe to and be sent to Outlook. This enables you to forward content to interested parties. It is a matter of scanning the summaries as they arrive and choosing your content.
Google Reader, a free application, connects the reader and websites you subscribe to. It also allows you to integrate other Google applications with the reader function. According to the Modern Life website, Bloglines is the web-based RSS feeder of choice for 20% of feed reader users. It also has a mobile application. Being web-based, Bloglines needs no installation and does not adhere to any particular platform, so can be used on both Windows and Mac. For people who prefer a desktop application, other feed readers include Newsgater and Netvibes. Feed Demon, a part of the Newsgator suite of applications, is a downloadable, free application for your desktop.
The differences between an online and desktop reader are an online reader will track what you have read and you can access this information from any computer. An offline reader will only allow updating from the computer the application is installed on. According to Adam Pash of lifehacker, desktop applications offer a speedier delivery of information plus you can refresh content to make sure content is current. Pash says Desktop applications are more ‘real time’ than their web-based counterparts plus they are kept in a separate area other than your browser window making it easier to see content rather than flicking between browser windows.
Choosing a feed reader can be trial and error. Some are simple by design and use, others are more hard-core and for users who are more tech savvy, allowing integration with social media such as Facebook and Twitter. Whichever application you use, either a separate desktop application or as a web-based feed reader, the importance of keeping current with information pertaining to your organisation and ‘listening’ to the internet talk that occurs is paramount to the direction, future planning and growth of any organisation.
Robin Morgan, feminist, award-winning poet and author of The Anatomy of Freedom, once said “Knowledge is power. Information is power.” With RSS feed readers information can also be free – and valuable.
www.idealware.org/blog/2009/09/how-amd-why-rss-is-alive-and-well How and Why RRS is alive and well
http://cam-blog.blogspot.com/2007/08/rss-what-is-it.html A simple explanation about how to set up a RSS feed and its benefits.
http://modernl.com/article/whos-using-what-for-rss Modern Life. Gives choices and an analysis of different feed readers.
http://webdeveloper.econsultant.com/rss-readers-windows-desktop/ List of 27 RSS Readers Windows Desktop by a web developer.
http://www.screencast.com/users/bethkanter/folders/Jing/media/7e8a1afb-0cf2-4c0c-a861-3d699a4824e8 How to set up Google Alerts by Beth Kanter.
Feed Demon: http://www.newsgator.com/individuals/feeddemon/default.aspx By Newsgator, this is a free reader.
Bloglines : http://www.bloglines.com/
Google Reader: http://www.google.com/reader/