Here’s a test: Take a look at the bookmarks of your favorite websites and blog sites, and tell me how often you browse them? If your answer is not often enough, allow me to let you in on a little secret – it’s called “RSS” in geekspeak, and “newsfeeds” in English.
If you’d like to have the information you want or need at your fingertips, you no longer have to go looking for it. Instead, you can have it delivered to you via what is known as a ‘newsfeed reader’ or ‘feed aggregator’. A newsfeed reader is like an email inbox or website that holds all the newsfeeds to which you subscribe. And before you say, “Information overload! Not another Internet thingy”, let me share with you the power of the newsfeed reader.
Imagine the following scenario: You’re browsing the Internet and come across an excellent article on a research and development website. The website appears to be authored by an expert on issues that are of interest to you. You bookmark the site on delicious.com and plan to return to it in two weeks. However, other priorities soon relegate all such plans to the backburner. While the bookmark on delicious.com lets you share useful sites with colleagues and partners, how can you keep track of new articles and updates without having to visit the individual sites?
The technology that underlies newsfeeds, Really Simple Syndication (RSS), lets you subscribe to web content. Once you’re subscribed to a feed, a reader, also called aggregator, looks for new content at intervals and retrieves updates. So, instead of having information ‘pushed’ to you by email or other media, you decide the websites from which you’d like to receive updates.
All you need to do is:
- sign up for a free reader from Google, Bloglines or Newsgator (there are many more, and some can be customized to suit different tastes),
- go to a website or blog site you like and subscribe by clicking on the RSS icon (if available),
- enjoy reading the updates at your leisure.
Looking for an introduction to RSS and how it can help your work? Here’s a simple slideshow on Syndication of online content created by our colleagues at Bioversity International
What are the benefits to you as a scientist?
- Your choice: you pick the newsfeeds you want to receive, thereby controlling the flow of information coming your way. In effect, you build your own little online newspaper.
- Flexibility: you are the master of your newsfeed reader. So you can scan the headlines for interesting news items; view several content streams from various sites; and add or remove feeds as you like.
- De-clutter your email inbox. Yay!
In a nutshell, newsfeed readers allow you to manage your collection of favorite information sources and, ultimately, your attention.
So, why are we focusing on newsfeeds as social media? Here comes the sharing part …
Using feeds for sharing
Newsfeeds can be shared with like-minded individuals so they, in turn, can use and share them with others.
The research and development work carried out in the CGIAR does not progress in isolation. It involves communications among colleagues, peers, experts, national partners and students. We cannot deny that we are unofficial communicators and, sometimes, experts whom people rely on.
As communicators, content to which you subscribe can be used to populate other communications media such as your newsletters, Twitter account, and basically any other social media tool that you’re linked to. If you’re a closet techie and need to know how it works, RSS liberates Web-based content from format by packaging it in such a way that it can be shared and republished on other websites and newsreader services.
As experts, the newsfeeds to which you subscribe could be of immense value to your colleagues, partners and anyone else looking for some guidance.
Newsfeeds are probably the easiest and fastest way to facilitate the exchange of information. The format can travel very far. If you include a newsfeed subscription option on your website, it will make it easier for people to follow you and build loyalty over time. Many CGIAR Center websites already have this, which is great, but how about including the newsfeeds to which you subscribe on your website?
Why put newsfeeds from other sources on your website?
- Establish your expertise. Offering selected newsfeeds from external sources via your website will only add to its popularity as the website of choice when someone needs a selection of trustworthy sources on specific topics. As an expert in your field, what you know is influenced by your networks and contacts. Your circle establishes your credibility. As a content selector, you offer your audience (networks) content that is relevant and quality-controlled.
- Enable value-added information services. Newsfeeds can be shared extensively. Your selected content can be aggregated by other people to read, re-use and store on multiple devices. People can take the content and create valuable information out of it. And if you’re concerned about intellectual property rights, your newsfeeds will attribute the source of all content.
- Create a participatory, collaborative Web presence. When a group of partners who already have their own websites come together for a joint initiative, feeds from existing sources can be selected and aggregated to create a space for a truly shared voice on the Web.
End-user, communicator, expert, maven, whichever hat you’re wearing, it appears newsfeeds may solve many communication challenges. Whether you want to keep updated on website content, populate other communication channels or establish your role as an expert, newsfeeds make content really simple to syndicate.
Till next time…
Thanks to Antonella Pastore for the valuable discussions over coffee on the use of newsfeeds and for giving up ‘deejay’ in favour of ‘maven’.
- Topic-specific newsfeeds on CIMMYT’s BLOG: http://blog.cimmyt.org
- CGxchange 2.0 Newsfeeds Aggregator at http://www.cgxchange.org/home/newsfeeds under the Science and Agriculture tab and the Blogs from CGIAR Centers and Programs tab
- Global Forest Information Service (GFIS) www.gfis.net (IUFRO, FAO, CIFOR and ICRAF), aggregates different types of information and serves them through a portal
- Agrifeeds facilitated by FAO: http://www.agrifeeds.org
- Global Voices Online