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RSS, Part II: Why your library web site needs a feed

RSS iconI am assuming that, by now, you have a RSS reader/aggretator of your own and you now understand why RSS has begun to control information flow on the Web.  Because of RSS, many people don’t even have to go to actual web sites any more.  And many don’t.  When you can get all your favorite stuff served up to you on a metaphorical bed tray with a rose in a crystal vase, why bother going to the grocery store and cooking?

You might think that RSS is still only in the realm of early adopters and geeks.  Sorry, folks, it hit the mainstream long ago.  How do we know that?  At least a couple of worldly clues: firstly, NPR used to hide their RSS feeds at the bottom of the page.  They now are in prime viewing territory in the “Services” sidebar (and there are a lot more shows/topics that have feeds than before).  Secondly (and maybe this was the biggest wake-up call for me), Ebay created feeds for buyers, sellers and searches.  Want to know if that vintage lunchbox comes up for auction?  Don’t keep checking Ebay; get the RSS feed of the search delivered to you daily.

Maybe not everyone uses a feed reader or even knows what RSS is yet.  But that doesn’t mean people aren’t using it!  If you use services like iGoogle or MyYahoo, chances are very high that you are getting newsbytes, horoscopes or other information using RSS.  It might not be labeled as RSS or have any cute orange icons…but I can practically guarantee that RSS is the technology behind those services.  Information distributed by RSS can be shaped by third-party applications into many shapes and forms. Portal sites like these excel at it.

Back to what I mentioned earlier–RSS enables people to not have to visit a web site. Granted, I’m a geek.  But I started to think about this a bit as I was writing.  I currently subscribe to over 100 different feeds.  And I tried hard to remember the last time I visited any web site on a regular basis (not including those that I work on for OPLIN, and Facebook…yes, I do Facebook.  No, I don’t want to be poked.)  I couldn’t.  I realized that, if a web site doesn’t have an RSS feed, it’s probably not on my radar.  I doubt I’m alone in this.  I’m busy, and trying to keep up with the flow of information coming out of both the library and technology-related industries every day.  If a site can’t make it convenient for me to keep up, I can’t afford the time.  And time is the true currency of the Web.

So, you’re a geek who subscribes to a ridiculous number of feeds.  What does this mean to me, Laura?

  1. Get a feed for your site, and for all of the areas of your site that update frequently.  Don’t give people like me (or who use portal services like MyYahoo) another excuse NOT to get your content.
  2. If you have a dynamically-generated web site (run from a database on the back end), then your system may already have the ability to generate a feed built in.  [OPLIN PLUG:  Looking to upgrade to a new, dynamically-generated, 21st century web site for free?  Contact me at meanlaura@oplin.org.]  If you don’t, or are running an older generation static site (see plug, above), you still have some options.  Check out services like Page2RSS.  They can automatically generate a feed for a given page.  It’s not perfect, but better than nothing by a long ways.
  3. Check out this article:  Reasons Why Your Site Needs to Publish a News Feed (note the copyright is 4 years old…hint hint.)
  4. Don’t do anything that updates regularly on your site?  Are you sure?  Do you generate lists of new books or magazines, or new DVDs?  Events?  Storytimes?  All great and useful RSS fodder.