Thursday, April 05, 2018

RSS Keeps Plunking Along

David Whelan has a very good post up that revisits the current usage and role of RSS feed readers.

I think he's got it right when he says that RSS isn't dead; it's simply sitting within the underlying nuts-and-bolts of the internet.

I hadn't considered my own views on RSS technology in quite some time. So I had a recently had a loooong look back and pulled out my Top 10 Uses of RSS Feeds in Law Firms, just to compare. (That post is now unbelievably 12 years old!)

This list was written for tech savvy law librarians as much as anyone. And, interestingly, not nearly as much has changed when it comes to higher-end usage of RSS feeds as I would have expected. Almost all of those top-10 items are still 'doable' today. Some of the marketing items, perhaps, could (and have been) abused by spammers; but in terms of watching the web in an informative way, all of the current awareness aspects still stand.

For any information professional today, I still advise becoming a feed reader super user. Why? Well, as David points out, it's not good enough to rely on a pre-packaged news app or social media for monitoring. As a power user, you just can't fine tune those tools to extract the specialized alerts that you need to do your job. For law librarians, specifically, it's your job to know about things first and to help your lawyers become informed about their areas of expertise as efficiently as possible. RSS can deliver that functionality like few internet technologies; so it's foolish to not become better acquainted.

RSS feeds are still widely available on the majority of websites. Because of WordPress' dominance in the CMS market, simply tacking /feed/ onto the URL for a website homepage or category sub-page will often yield a monitorable feed. I say that because there continues to be far more feeds available today than most people acknowledge.

RSS technology never took off the way many early adopters anticipated. As an older web technology, it wasn't uncommon to hear the critics say, "it never became simple enough for the common user."

That's an excuse, of course. It's an excuse for why RSS Reader usage never took off. It's an excuse for why Google chose to extract itself from an unprofitable business line (Google Reader). And it's an excuse for why some publishers choose not to allow their resources to be 'monitored' by RSS for fear of scraping.

BUT... it's not an excuse for law librarians and other information professionals. Technical competence is part of the training/skillset. When no one else in your organization is willing to jump into the nuts and bolts understanding a technology, or willing to invest in themselves to find ways to strategically monitor critical information, that's the role you want. That's the role you jump into.

I still believe that using an RSS reader can be helpful. Is it for everyone? No. But either is a scalpel.

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