I’ve been on a bit of an evangelistic bent on campus recently, extolling, if not the virtues, the overwhelming presence of “Syndication” feeds (nee, RSS ).

Basically, that evangelism boils down to:

  • Look, ‘blogs’ are getting a great deal of press. This is something you should know about.
    (“Blog” was Merriam-Webster word of the year for 2004. “Blog” made the Time Magazine Person of the Year issue, and the Pew Internet & American Life Project issued a report that: “By the end of 2004 blogs had established themselves as a key part of online culture… Blog readership shoots up 58% in 2004 6 million Americans get news and information fed to them through RSS aggregators…”)
  • Blogs most often provide an alternative means of publishing, commonly referred to as a “RSS” or “Syndication” feed
  • RSS and other Syndication formats are becoming an alternative way for you to get your content published (or more, meta-information about your content published)
  • The browsers are beginning to support RSS built-in - Firefox has “Live bookmarks” - the next version of Safari will have RSS support. And we’ll soon be hearing from the IE Team about RSS support in IE7

I usually summarize (okay, ramble on) with the fact that RSS/Syndication formats are beginning to change the way that people get content and information - at that point I usually give a personal example, showing my collection of Syndication feeds and mentioning the fact that RSS has completely changed the way I access content.

We had an Engineering webmasters meeting yesterday, and RSS was one of the topics.

Our core web services folks culled together a great little presentation on “republishing content” - whether that’s using shared databases, rss/syndication feeds from other sources, or using web services. I then rambled for a moment, showing the client side of RSS via an aggregator, and my collection of feeds.

Well, at that point I lose people. Mostly because I’m an Information Junkie, and like a lot of people running RSS aggregators I keep up (or try to keep up) with a fair number of feeds (in my case, it’s 200+, almost all technology, but a little bit of Photography, Baseball, and Business news). I think the impression I gave was that publishing RSS is only for the Information Junkies, belied by the responses to my “are you using RSS feeds? why not?” question. The responses came back as “I really have work to do, I can’t keep up with all that”. Which is a bit of a (valid) indictment toward the Information Junkies - well, me.

(by the way, 200 is nothing, try Robert Scoble’s ~1300, he’s given talks on how to do this, but that’s still too much for me)

The discussion shifted a bit to “why does this matter for webmasters?” and the person doing the shifting, mentioned that RSS is great, because it allows you to aggregate other sources (say, a University News feed) into your web pages - in effect, it gives you a chance to build information “portals” - selecting and choosing feeds that would be relevant to your audience.

Well, at that point I disagreed a bit. I tried to mention (okay ramble) on that point, saying that really wasn’t the idea - the idea is that you publish your own Syndication feeds, and allow your visitors the ability to aggregate the feeds that they want. In my fateful disagreement, I made the mistake of correlating that “information portal” with the idea of a collections editor, saying that we don’t have to be in that role, we don’t have to be the editors and arbiters of the content, take out the middleman in this.

Well, unfortunately that was misconstrued - through every great fault of my own. And some commentary about the need for content editors and content review entered the conversation, which really has nothing to do with RSS, and everything to do with having a workflow (automated or not) for managing content (I have some comments on editors and content review coming up in the next blog post).

I guess my point, when it’s all said and done, was that website producers should be producing RSS alternatives for content, and that’s more important than trying to focus on building portals or hubs for other producers of RSS content. It’s not hard to create these feeds (that really needs to be a subject for a post). Even if you aren’t publishing “news content” or “marketing content”- even an Syndication feed of recently updated pages would be extremely useful. RSS and its cousins provide a standards (at least a de facto standard)-based way of doing that. A list of recently updated pages would be fantastic for Academic sites.

Even if RSS is for the Information Junkies (the comment was made that I’m the RSS aggregator for Engineering System Admins - they wait for me to read it and tell folks about it :-) - which it’s not, at least not from the growing trendlines - but even if it is, you want a way to get your information into sources of information that folks like me read. Robert Scoble at Microsoft recently opined on the topic in similar ways (from a marketing perspective).

At the end of the day, my tech evangelism should probably be more along the lines of the St. Francis of Assisi suggestion for non-technical evangelism: - “preach the truth continuously, if necessary use words” Time for some more tools, perhaps ;-)