Feedreaders

In the first lecture I talked about RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds and encouraged everyone to try out a dedicated feed reader. As you monitor more news feeds/waste more of your life on the web, a feedreader allows you to manage information more effectively.

RSS brings you a preview of updated content on a website or blog. You no longer have to remember or make the effort to visit a website, unless there is some new content which is of interest to you. Subscribers can skim read the headlines and select what is useful to them. They can do this when it is convenient for them. At the time you subscribe a feedreader will pick up all recent posts, so you have a historical view of a site which allows you to see something relevant, although it was posted a month ago.

RSS has an interesting effect on the temporal quality of websites.

As you would expect, news sites -the BBC, newspapers- have frequent updates to stories.

In the Web 2.0 space, where companies are looking for venture capital, or to be bought  out, there is a frenetic pace of posting. Upbeat predictions and analysts research (or ‘research’) notes attempt to influence investor perceptions. Stories can move rapidly from the blogosphere into mainstream media without being subject to much analysis or fact checking.

So far, so fast. But there are also a slower variants which benefit from RSS and these favour our purposes: research and analysis.

For example, there may be a specialist site which covers say, internet law, to which I subscribe. I might only check the feed once a month, but headlines for all the recent case law will be collected in one place and I can quickly ascertain which developments I want to follow up with a visit to the website.

RSS has the potential to make the publication of publicly funded research much more accessible. Government departments such as the Department of Health now have RSS feeds for their publications.

So, how do you get an RSS feed?

FeedDemon  for Windows is a dedicated application for reading and managing your RSS subscriptions.

Some browsers allow you to subscribe to news feeds (Firefox, for example). Browsers lack the features for managing large numbers of feeds offered by FeedDemon or NetNewsWire on the Mac. Yahoo, Google and Bloglines offer alternatives.

Your WordPress blog comes with an RSS feed built in. If you are looking at this site with Firefox, you will see the orange RSS icon displayed in the address bar. If you hit the icon you are offered a drop down menu to choose to subscribe with your preferred feedreader or Firefox Live bookmarks.

There are some limitations. Feed readers only pick up posts, not pages. Also, if a post is subsequently revised the reader will not alert you to the changes.

That said, compared to email, RSS and a feed reader offer a very non-intrusive way of keeping a group of subscribers informed.

FeedDemon is a free download from here

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