I would be willing to bet there are three teachers at my school who know what RSS is — the two IT‘s and me. My colleagues are intelligent, capable teachers, but like many teachers, they are neophytes when it comes to certain aspects of technology. As far as I know, I’m the only teacher blogger at my school. A few other teachers are beginning to use wikis after my presentation, but my wiki usage is most extensive. I’m not bragging; I have simply had more exposure to blogs and wikis than they have. I have been writing online, in some form or other, for nearly six years now.
Lorelle recently posted about RSS feeds via e-mail; she quoted a statistic from FeedBlitz which indicated that only 11% of web users use RSS aggregators (link). I’m not sure where this statistic comes from, as the most recent study I could find with a similar statistic dates to October 2005, which is ancient in ‘net terms (pdf). However, I think it is safe to say, judging by my personal experience, that lots of people use RSS, but don’t realize they are doing so. They use My Yahoo, My MSN, Google Personalized Homepages, or a similar homepage to collect their favorite websites, bookmarks, games, news sites, weather, and more. All of this is dependent on RSS.
When I gave my presentation on using blogs and wikis in classroom to the faculty at my school, our IT was giving a presentation on RSS. I was really excited because I think teachers can really benefit from using RSS aggregators. When I asked faculty members about his presentation (which, unfortunately, ran concurrently with mine, so I couldn’t attend it), they told me he told them about Google Personalized Homepages. They didn’t seem to have a clue what I meant when I mentioned RSS. It’s not his fault, as I’m sure he was measuring his audience and decided to do the most helpful thing he could for them.
I think teachers could save a lot of time if they used RSS aggregators to keep up with content on the web. Before I started using an RSS aggregator, I checked my favorite websites for updates every day, which can be time-consuming. As a result, I know that I followed fewer websites and probably missed out on some interesting information. An RSS aggregator allows you to gather all the websites you follow in one place, and it even tells you when they’ve been updated. News on Feeds has a list of web-based aggregators (same things as RSS aggregator, different term). I think the most popular aggregators on their list are Bloglines, Google Reader, and My Yahoo. Subscribing to an RSS feed using any one of these aggregators is really simple in Firefox: you simply click on the orange square in the right side of the location bar (address bar). You will be asked if you would like to use Bloglines, Google Reader, or My Yahoo to subscribe to the feed. You may need to login to your RSS aggregator if you haven’t already done so during your surfing session. In Internet Explorer 7, you will notice the same orange square near the address bar. If the website you are viewing has an RSS feed, you can subscribe to it using Microsoft’s feed reader. I don’t much like this option, as I think it’s a perfect demonstration of Microsoft’s propensity to make things more difficult for users who don’t want to use a Microsoft product to do something. My suggestion is to copy and paste the feed URL into your own favorite RSS aggregator, which is not as easy as Firefox.
When you login to your RSS aggregator, you can see a list of feeds you follow, and it will be easy to see any that have been updated with new stories or posts since you last logged in. My personal favorite feed reader is Bloglines. I have organized all the feeds I follow into folders labeled according to the types of blogs in that folder (for instance, Education is one of my folders). I don’t have to visit all 93 (!) feeds that I follow every day. I just visit Bloglines and look at the ones who have updated. Can you imagine how much time it would take to check 93 sites every day to see if they’ve been updated?
Most blogging software programs come bundled with RSS feeds, so you are probably publishing one, even if you don’t realize it. If you aren’t, you can easily create feeds for your blog or site by using Feedburner. I would suggest that you allow your users to read the full post or story in their feed reader. My husband won’t do this because he feels it cheats him out of website visits. I contend that if a user wants to visit your site to see the pretty template you made, then they will. If you force your reader to visit your site to finish reading what you’ve wrote, you might put some RSS readers off. Ultimately, it’s a decision you have to make, but you should ask yourself this question: Which is more important, accessibility to readers or hits on your website? If readers feel compelled to comment upon what you’ve written, they will visit your site to do so. I know how cool it is to see those high site statistics, but it’s also pretty cool to see the number of feed subscribers go up. One thing you know about your feed subscribers is that they are reading what you say. Visitors who Google something and wind up on your site, only to find the information they were looking for isn’t there (most likely because the majority of people don’t know how to search wisely) aren’t reading anything. Those site statistics can be misleading. In my opinion, what you really want to do is develop a loyal readership, and RSS feeds make that easier for some.
RSS also makes it really easy for you to find out what others are saying about your blog, business, or product. Technorati makes it easy for you to see if anyone new has linked to your site. Technorati runs on RSS. When you update your blog, you can use its tagging system to allow Technorati users who are looking for information to find your blog. For instance, at the bottom of this post, you will see one of my Technorati tags is “RSS.” This will enable Technorati users who are interested in reading about RSS to find this post easily. Of course, this will help you increase your readership, too.
RSS is a good thing. Try it out.