RSS feeds have been used for many years by information professionals to help manage the flow of information from both internal and external sources. Whilst RSS has provided a vehicle in which information professionals can bring together disparate information sources in one place, the technologies that are being used to manage RSS feeds haven't changed significantly in the last 10 years. In our information-rich workplaces, what does a feed reader need to do?
This is the question asked by Jack Vinson in his blog post "What does a feed reader need today?" The first thing to say about RSS readers is that – despite there being a huge number of feed readers to choose from – there still appears to be some functionality missing. This lack is the main focus of Jack's post and he discusses some interesting desired functionality, including the following:
- It has to work... consistently. This might seem obvious but a lot of people have been put off using RSS readers like Google Readers because they fail regularly. We have to some extent been spoiled in the modern era with mobile apps that just seem to work
- Offline capability. It seems odd to say readers should offer offline functionality, but occasionally people are disconnected from the web, and on these occasions it would be good to be able to read new RSS items
- Importance of the blog post. The idea of an inherent "importance" rating is an interesting idea, but difficult to implement. The idea is that an importance rating or scale would give individuals an idea about how much other people have said about the blog post. For example, an importance rating could measure how many comments it has generated, how many other bloggers have written about it, and how many times has it been mentioned or discussed on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google+
- Easily mobile. Making readers more mobile will be crucial to their ongoing success, not just reading items from mobile phones, but also in being able to share posts from readers to social networks
There are a number of other suggestions made, both in Jack's blog post and in the comments that accompany it. Whilst the suggestions are all very interesting and would make RSS even more valuable, there is an argument that the way we use the web and how we interact with other people today means RSS is no longer as valuable as it used to be. This is the subject of the latter half of Jack's post and makes for interesting reading.
In the 10 years since RSS has become mainstream, the way we communicate and interact with individuals has changed beyond recognition. So something we all need to consider is whether our reading habits and the methods by which we source information have moved beyond the use of RSS. RSS was touted as being instrumental in the rise and rise of blogging as a way of publishing content and finding content.
However, I'm certain that I no longer blog as much as I used to, and I'm sure other people are the same. In his post, Jack says that there doesn't seem to be as much interaction across blogs. It's true that people are writing in many more places (Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, Evernote etc). In fact Twitter seems to be the place to have conversations now rather then on blogs. That's not to say blogs don't have a place in both finding information and having discussions, but it would appear they're being used for more reflective posts, which individuals can comment on, rather then short conversations involving lots of individuals. In this context, does RSS have a role to play?
I'm a huge fan of RSS and I'm fairly certain we are going to be using it to source information and push information to other people for a while yet. And, in the interests of presenting a fair argument, I've included links below to a number of different resources, which discuss RSS and RSS readers.
James Mullan has worked in the legal sector since 2001. He is an advocate of social media tools and has been talking about how these tools can be used by information professionals and organisations since 2005. James is currently BIALL President and in 2009 won the Wildy-BIALL Law Librarian of the year award for his use of social media tools. Outside of work James is a keen runner and maintains his own blog called "The Running Librarian" Follow James on Twitter @jamesmullan6, friend him on Facebook, or connect with him on LinkedIn.