One of the greatest inventions ever for web browsing and following is the concept of an RSS feed. Depending upon your source, it’s short for Rich Site Summary or Really Simple Syndication. What’s in a name though? We know it as RSS and look for
on any webpage that we visit and like. Such a symbol indicates that the site owner is providing this feed so that you can follow updates on their website. On my work site, I an RSS Feed so that anyone can monitor any changes that I make to the site. For example, I announced my Olympics page and will be shortly broadcasting updates to my 100th Day of School and Black History Month resources. The advantage to subscribers is that they know what changes are happening on my site without actually visiting it and poking around to find out what’s new.
This blog, my wiki, my Diigo site, and my Delicious site also broadcast RSS feeds. I really like that because I don’t have to do anything. It’s generated by the host automatically. However, back at work, we don’t use a content management system and so the RSS feeds have to be created manually for them. It’s a matter of generating the RSS code (written in XML) and putting a reference to the feed in the actual webpage. It then gets broadcast to any browser that hits the site with the little feed icon appearing in their browser. Generating the RSS code is a snap. It only looks like this.
How hard could that be? I used to do the updates with the Notepad editor and then finally threw in the towel and registered a copy of FeedForAll. That made things so much easier but you still have to remember to create the updates and post it.
So, the announcement yesterday that Google Reader will now support updates without an RSS feed is really intriguing. The concept is so simple for the end user that you have one of those Homer Simpson d’oh moments. Google’s out crawling the web on a regular basis anyway so it just makes sense that they could find some way to let you know when a page has changed.
I’m really excited about the possibilities for this for school websites. Typically, the webmaster/mistress is a volunteer and manages to squeeze in updates to the staff list or the principal’s newsletter between supervisions, recess, conferencing, teaching, fund-raising, coaching, community involvement, etc. If you have an online visitor who complains that you aren’t providing RSS for them to follow changes, send them to the Google Reader. All that they have to do is enter the URL to the school in the “Add a Subscription” box and voila. If the site isn’t broadcasting RSS, Google Reader will offer to track changes for you.
For example, if you are interested in tracking my “Just for Fun” webpage, just enter the URL http://www.gecdsb.on.ca/d&g/fun.htm into the subscription box and let the reader create the feed for you!
Now, everyone can be broadcasting their changes to the world. It will remain to be seen how prolific these announcements will be. I’m sure this won’t apply to you but often I post and then proofread a couple of days later. If you’re not monitoring content, maybe you’ll be monitoring my editing!
The bottom line, though, is that your reader just became more powerful. If you’re reading and tracking websites, you now have another option. Just don’t let your list get out of control now that you can follow even more things than ever before.