- Social Media
- Active Citizenship
- Good Giving
- Corporate Responsibility
- Be Fearless
Guest blogger Abbas Jaffer is a fellow at the Buxton Initiative, a Case Foundation partner organization.
There is a dire need to cut through the information glut on the internet today. In the time you take to blink, scores of blog posts (like this one), news updates, events, scholarly reports and other information goes live. The sheer magnitude of information available can be paralyzing, and as googling typically returns tens of thousands of results for a certain keyword, an alternative solution has been developed to keep up with new info on the web: the feed.
Syndication started in the mid-90s, with a group over at Apple developing something they called the Meta Content Framework: basically, a method by which to categorize and tag info on the internet for more logical search and retrieval of information. Today, the legacy of that work has led to widespread adoption of feeds as a way to publicize content updates to websites and follow news sources and organizations you care about.
I would liken the way a feed works to a pasta maker. What begins as gobs of dough goes through processing, and comes out as something more clearly definable as pasta, like fusilli or penne. In the same way, a feed takes the content on a website or section of a website like ‘events.’ It slices, dices, and delivers updates of that part of the website. So instead of having to slog through entire articles or entries on a webpage before seeing the older ones, the feed is syndicated, or automatically creates summaries of new content. Here are the most popular formats:
- RSS – Real Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary – the overwhelming majority of sites use this format, leading to many using RSS as a synonym for feeds in general.
- Atom – A newer standard developed starting in 2003, this alternative to RSS has open-source roots and a more detailed markup of feed content.
A feed does not live on formats alone: you need an interpreter for these formats, commonly known as a feed reader. Readers bring all of the information from the feeds into one location, so a one-stop shop for all of the different web info that you want to be regularly updated on. A few popular services:
- Google Reader – From the folks who brought you Gmail and, well, Google, is this simple and intuitive way to stay up to date with news and websites.
- Netvibes – A reader that creates a personalized homepage of “widgets,” which are feeds of your choice presented in boxes for a more visual layout.
- Bloglines - Another reader that is extremely popular and highly customizeable.
Feeds are steadily increasingly in popularity, and more and more people are apt to subscribe to a feed than navigate to a specific webpage on a regular basis. For your work, this means that whenever there are campaign/event/news updates you want to share with current or potential supporters, an alternative to sending an e-mail blast could be establishing a feed for these updates. Using a service like FeedBurner or IceRocket, it is quick to create a feed of your site updates that others can subscribe to and republish on their sites.
Embrace the feed – It is useful, flexible, and will help you reach an even wider audience for your causes.
Below is a video on how to use Google Reader, which is helpful in understanding feeds/readers.