Users may want your news more than your web page

It’s not easy staying in touch with your favourite web site — bookmarks, email newsletters, notification agents, search results, shared tags and the increasingly popular RSS (and Atom) syndication are some of the more common techniques. Each demands a certain amount of work to set up and recall to actually re-visit a choice location.

Not for profit and commercial interests employ strategic mixes of various attention grabbing approaches to stay on our mental radar. Of course some approaches such as publishing an email newsletter can be very effective but require significant resources. Other methods such as bookmarks depend on our individual organizing capabilities.

Tags and RSS/Atom are comparatively more recent web innovations that make it easier to stay in touch with specific interests. (There are also emerging services for identifying, locating, and researching specific individuals, but that’s for a future post.)

Two of the most popular tag sites are http://www.flickr.com and http://del.icio.us/. One of the better ways to think about these are ‘easy browsing’ locations. Find something you like and follow the tags. Alternatively, search the tags and see what they bring up.

Tags are also appearing on individual sites.  The more often a tag is applied, the larger the font for that tag. Follow the link for ‘browse all tags’ to see the complete list. When visiting a blog or photo gallery, the only tags visible are those used in the specific blog or gallery.

RSS/Atom syndication is taking a great leap forward. Both Firefox and the just released version of Internet Explorer 7 have built in capabilities for automatically identifying the availability of syndicated content. Inevitably, as more users upgrade Internet Explorer or use Firefox, they will check to see if a page of interest has a feed they can store in their browsers.

As with tags, RSS/Atom feeds are not only individual but can be shared. For example, we do a fair bit of work with health information providers so we use the built in capabilities of our Community Corner to collect and publicly display health news (http://www.itscooperative.com/community/blogs/feeds/default.aspx).

If you like our sources, you can visit each location and capture the feed yourself. Better yet, it may be easier to simply subscribe to the syndication of our display page using the capabilities of the newer browsers. Anything appearing on our site in this location now appears in your browser.

This growing capability to share content is critical to those whose business or mission is to produce, organize and distribute specialized information. You are our new librarians; our authoritative sources. With the growing volume, we need organized filters that help us stay in touch with the information we need to meet our responsibilities. Strategic use of syndication from trusted sources combines the skills of information organizers with smart use of technology to keep the user informed. If the user likes it, she will click through to the source.

Several years ago we advised funders to include a requirement that all public output from their grants be available for web access in HTML or in PDF format. The updated version of that advice is that any information produced for the public good should be accessible through syndication.

Note: for those who are using IE7, there’s a nice online tutorial for using the new feed manager feature located at: http://browsers.about.com/od/tipstutorials/ss/ie7_rss.htm

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About mielniczuk

Community, systems, design, collaboration, change, evidence, Intelligent Accountability(c)
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