THE INFORMATION FOOD CHAIN AND RSS SERVICES

Summary:

If you are interested in information then you need to know about RSS, a technology that enables more intelligent filtering and sorting of information than HTML.

The number of weblogs has grown from 100,000 two years ago to around 5 million today. RSS services provide the technology for an information food chain which harnesses the blog collective mind. Bloggers act as Web guides. Sites such as blogdex provide a broad overview of what is currently popular amongst the blog collective. Then we have de.licio.us which enables you to keep an annotated reference library based on your bookmarks, which can be shared with others. Bloglines is one site that assists in keeping up with it all, by collecting your feeds at one place. Alternatively you can try Findory, which provides a Personalised newspaper. Finally technorati enables you to keep track of the immediate conversation around your interests.

Enough information is provided about these services to get you started


All of the services described in this article can be used without creating your own web site or blog.

I've called it an 'information food chain' because information is produced, consumed, digested, manipulated, passed around, stored, retrieved and discarded. That's a life cycle sort of approach. There are also the nutritional and emotional comparisons. Like food, information can be junk, high quality, delicious (pun intended - see below), mood altering, etc.

I find it helpful to compare information, which is sometimes an abstraction, with something concrete like food. There might be too much hype around about information (information superhighway, information age, etc.) but information, like food, is very important to us.

If you are interested in information then you need to know about RSS.

RSS is information which travels around the Web that is structured in such a way that machines (computers and software) can read and manipulate it. RSS is a more intelligent sort of information container than the static, less flexible HTML information that has up until now has been predominant on the Web. HTML was designed to be simple and produce something to be read by people, rather than machines.

Computers can extract more useful information out of RSS than from HTML. Furthermore, when that information is passed around between machines then useful trends and statistics can be collated. Once the software has been developed all this work is done by the computers so the process is fast. Various sites, some of which are discussed here, process and redistribute RSS information and you can use these services for your benefit.

Some blog stats: (January 2005)

source: http://www.technorati.com/about/

RSS services which I have examined (there are more):

Look at it like an information food chain which harnesses the blog collective mind. What follows is first an overview of just some of the services, then followed by more detail about how to get started for yourself.

  1. Web guides
    Millions of bloggers explore the Web and offer guidance, opinion etc. (blog software to create your own blog is a separate topic, not covered here)
  2. Broad Overview
    blogdex gives a broad overview of what is currently popular amongst the blog collective - it tracks the most contagious information currently spreading in the weblog community
  3. Annotated references library
    de.licio.us - Keep a personal annotated reference library of favourite articles, sites and blogs. You store the information in categories of your choice. As well as a useful (indispensable?) personal resource, this can also be shared with others and / or fed to your own website in whole or organised by category.
  4. Keeping up with it all
    bloglines - Subscribing to RSS feeds of favourite blogs / sites through bloglines is a more focused and efficient way of keeping up with lots of information than visiting those same blogs and sites individually. More focused because the RSS feeds are all kept in one place. More efficient because the feeds are automatically updated so you know when a particular blog has a new post without actually visiting that blog.
  5. Personalised newspaper
    findory personalised news - Alternatively, create your own personalised news / web / blog paper at findory - just click on the items of interest and your homepage will progressively become more personalised - you can search as well as click and once again your homepage automatically changes to reflect your interests
  6. The immediate conversation
    technorati - what is the blogosphere saying about the information that interests you? While browsing any web page, click the Technorati This favelet and it will show you what bloggers are saying about that page right now

MORE DETAILS

If information is important to you then you need to utilise some of these RSS services. Here are some more details:

BLOGDEX

http://blogdex.net/

This tracks the most contagious information currently spreading in the weblog community. I still have this as my home page despite all the competition!

Why? Because it's broadening to discover what others are interested in, not just search for news / information based on my interests

DE.LICIO.US

http://del.icio.us/

del.icio.us is a social bookmarks manager. It allows you to easily add sites you like to your personal collection of links, to categorize those sites with keywords, and to share your collection not only between your own browsers and machines, but also with others.

For more details read http://del.icio.us/doc/about

Once setup it looks like this:
http://del.icio.us/billKerr for all my references
http://del.icio.us/billKerr/RSS for my current RSS references

BLOGLINES

http://www.bloglines.com/

For searching, subscribing, publishing and sharing news feeds, blogs, and rich Web content. I've used it to subscribe to blogs that interest me.

You can see my bloglines blogroll at:
http://www.bloglines.com/public/BillKerr
So, all my blog feeds are in the one place, which is far easier to read and keep track of. Note that the feature showing how many items are read / unread is not displayed at the URL, so the service is even more useful when I log on into my personal account.

FINDORY

http://findory.com/

I've had a play with this and it's good. But it's not really what I'm personally looking for. I think it's that same reason that I stated above in relation to blogdex - it's broadening to discover what others are interested in, not just search for news / information based on my interests

TECHNORATI

http://www.technorati.com/

I mainly use the Technorati favelet for the second of three uses suggested by technorati below - find an interesting page on the Web, then click the favelet to discover what bloggers are saying about that page right now.

I've pasted in some information from technorati below explaining what a favelet is and what theirs does.

Favelets (Beta)

Favelets (also known as Bookmarklets) are hyperlinks you can drag to your Links Toolbar that let you access Technorati from your browser, no matter what page you're viewing. Note: In some browsers, the Links Toolbar has another name. It's called "Favorites Bar" in IE/Mac, "Bookmarks Toolbar" in Firefox, and "Bookmarks Bar" in Safari.

You can use the Technorati This favelet in three ways:

  1. Select some text on any web page. Click the Technorati This favelet and it will search over 4.7 million weblogs for that text.
  2. While browsing any web page, click the Technorati This favelet and it will show you what bloggers are saying about that page right now.
  3. If the browser window is empty when you click the Technorati This favelet, it will ask you for a keyword or URL to search for.

CONCLUSION:

When I first heard about blogging it sounded a bit weird and possibly socially alienating. Nothing could be further from the truth. With the aid of RSS, blogging is one of the most connected and social activities available on the planet.

I now see the RSS services outlined above, particularly those offered by blogdex, de.licio.us and bloglines as essential to me as part of keeping up with what is happening in the world.

Bill Kerr, email: billkerr at gmail.com
Teacher,
Woodville High School,
South Australia

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