RSS: Real Sports Syndication?

Way to go ESPN! This is just another example of RSS working its way into the mainstream. now has RSS feeds.

ESPN is calling their feeds “News Feeds” in order to demystify some of the tech jargon. The link above takes you to a page with the list of available feeds, as well as a very good explanation of what RSS is and how to use it. There are even links to several of the more popular aggregators, including FeedDemon and Bloglines. I may have to borrow from this very simple explantion when I teach my upcoming RSS class.

As more popular, mainstream sites like this get on board with news feeds, RSS will begin to be used by more people. Perhaps then RSS will hit it big, as described by Read/Write Web:

When RSS hits it big, it’ll be because ‘normal’ people start using it – your Mom and Dad, Frank from Marketing, Jessie from Payroll, Dave from the local dairy. They won’t be bloggers. They won’t be interested in writing or podcasting or anything like that. All they’ll want to do is track news and trends that are relevant to them.

So What Is RSS Anyway?

Several folks have been posting today about simplifying the RSS jargon. I agree that simplifying the names for the technology might make things a little easier. I am teaching a class on RSS for a second time, and this discussion of nomenclature reminds me that I need to check all of my handouts and workshop materials. I imagine there are places where the alphabet soup of RSS is not very consistent.

I’m teaching this class again because I believe that if we really want our users to get on board with the idea of RSS, we really must reach out and try to teach them how it works. LibrarianInBlack writes:

….educate your users, but even before that, start with your staff. If the frontline staff don’t know what it is and how to use it, then it’s not going much of anywhere (beyond the pretty visions of dancing RSS feeds in your head).

I taught a class on RSS a few months ago. While it was open to the entire university community, all twelve attendees were staff members. I walked them through how to find appropriate feeds, and also showed them how to use three different aggregators. After the workshop, several thanked me and thought the class was interesting. From what I gathered, though, they were not necessarily sold on the idea. Many folks are still tied to bookmarks and email lists.

In teaching the class, I hoped to get people excited about subscribing to our feeds. Whether it be the News Blog, the Business Blog, or the Reference Blog, I had hoped that the class would spark some interest in syndicating our library sites. Unfortunately, I actually may have shot myself in the foot regarding this issue. A while back I found a script that would send out email notifications when a post is published on our Reference Blog. Because folks now get an email of the post, they have no need for RSS. I have been asked several times to set the same script up for our News Blog, which has a much larger readership. There are several issues to deal with there, but for the time being I have been able to put this off.

Hopefully, my next class on RSS will be a little better. Time will only tell, but perhaps I can refine my sales pitch to win a few people over.

How to Use FeedDemon

Nick Bradbury, the author of FeedDemon, writes a helpful post of How I Use FeedDemon. I find it particularly helpful to see how the creator of a particular software is taking advantage of all the features.

I have been using FeedDemon for several months now. However, only recently have I been using FeedDemon on a more exclusive basis. For several months I tried several RSS aggregators such as Sharpreader and NewsDesk. Both products work pretty well, and the price is right (free). However, because they require the Microsoft .Net Framework to run, both products can be particularly taxing on system resources.

For a while I switched back and forth between FeedDemon and Bloglines. It seems that several bloggers in the library community prefer Bloglines, so I have been giving it a try. I appreciate the fact that Bloglines is extremely portable, as you simply need a computer with a browser to access your feeds. On the other hand, FeedDemon (and other client-based aggregators) requires you to have the computer on which the client is installed to read the your feeds. Obviously, this can pose a problem if you want to read your feeds but are visiting your inlaws (and if you are like me and are sans laptop).

Bloglines is the obvious remedy to this particular problem, as it is web-based and can be accessed from anywhere. This is what I see as the main advantage to the (currently free) service. However, where Bloglines lets me down is in how configurable or customizable the service is. Bloglines does allow you to configure options such as sorting order, posting length, and how links are opened, but that is about it. In contrast, FeedDemon has multiple ways to change how you view and read your feeds.

The huge amount of customization available in FeedDemon is its primary advantage, but it can also be one of it’s biggest weaknesses. The level of customization available and all of the various menus and wizards can be a little intmidating or overwhelming. I have always been one to tinker, and FeedDemon definitely allows me to do that. Unfortunately, because there is so much to tinker with in FeedDemon, I sometimes spend more time configuring the software than reading my feeds. That is why a Nick Bradbury’s post is so useful. It sometimes helps to see how others tinker with their setup to their liking. Thanks for the tips Nick, and for a great piece of software.

On another note, it looks like Nick is getting a little closer to releasing version 1.5, as 1.5 RC2 is available to paying customers. I haven’t downloaded it yet, but I am looking forward to getting under the hood and tinkering with it.

Opera Promotes Deal With .edu’s

Opera just launched a deal that will allow academic institutions a free site license for the browser. The details of the offer are available here.

The browser is being pitched as a much safer alternative to Internet Explorer. However, Opera believes there are other reasons to choose it’s browser:

“Opera is the ideal browser for the university environment,” says Jon von Tetzchner, CEO, Opera Software. “Opera’s user-friendly features, accessibility options for the disabled, and cross-platform and customization capabilities make life easier for students to manage their various study needs. Opera is fully standards compliant and offers extensive administration possibilities for network configuration, providing flexibility to system administrators as they make Opera a part of their university network.”

This really is a great marketing plan, and is an ideal mechanism to increase market share of the browser. Some universities have recently banned the use of Internet Explorer on public computers and are pushing users to use Firefox. Part of the push for using alternative browsers has been fueled by the Department of Homeland Security’s recommendation Firefox is gaining a little on IE, and with a move like this, Opera might be close behind.

I am a big supporter of using alternative browsers to IE, and have been using Firefox for some time. Unfortunately, my web surfing with other browsers has not been without problems. Each day I come across a new database, web site, or other page that will not function properly when using Firefox. This is not Firefox’s problem, as it is a standards compliant browser. However, there continue to be tons of pages that are not written to compliance, and therefore do not work properly with anything except Internet Explorer. According to some, IE is on the way out.

We currently have Firefox as an option at my library, although it is buried several levels deep in the Start Menu. In talking with our systems department, they hesitate to add the shortcut to Firefox on the desktop. The main reason is it is not guaranteed to work with Blackboard.

On a different note, I was encouraged last week when helping a student. He had come in for some business research help, and I openened up Firefox and started searching multiple databases. I did a similar search in Business Source Premier, Business & Industry, and TableBase. After about five minutes, he asked, “This is sort of off-topic, but are you using Firefox?” I told him I was and he asked why. Once I showed him the tabbed browsing, he was sold.