Monday, December 18, 2006

Why we need to adopt RSS

RSS (really simple syndication, among other definitions) is a tool that aggregates information from Web sites of your choosing and packages it for delivery to a specific subscriber. Rather than visiting Web sites looking for updates, an RSS reader bundles the information for you and delivers it to your desktop as new information becomes available. By visiting a single Web page, you can check your feeds as seldom or often as you wish, and you can see at a glance how much new information is available since the last time you checked.

RSS is particularly popular for monitoring news sites and blogs. Popular RSS feed aggregators include Bloglines, Feedburner, Google Reader and NewsGator, to name a few.

From the Web site SnapTech, seven good reasons why you should offer your content in feeds:
• RSS feeds syndicate your content and make it available to other news outlets, websites and blogs.
• By syndicating your content you can reach a much wider audience.
• Feeds are the perfect solution for time-sensitive information - like special travel packages, meeting notices or tech updates.
• RSS is a secure channel that can't be spammed.
• RSS feeds allow your subscribers to control the flow of information they receive. According to a recent study users trust marketers more when they can control the information they receive.
• RSS feeds are compiled according to the user's choices.
• RSS does not involve you in privacy issues- subscription is anonymous.

Wired magazine recently ran a feature about how the US Government is slowly adopting RSS technology on some of its Web sites. “RSS feeds are offered by agencies such as the U.S. State Department, NASA, the state of Delaware, the National Hurricane Center, a number of state legislatures, local governments and more. However, many foreign governments, including England, France and New Zealand, are way ahead of those in the United States when it comes to RSS.”

The article also observes, "In fact, a small but steadily growing stream of government agencies at the local, state and national levels are also implementing RSS as a natural way to disseminate information to their constituencies. And since almost all government information is useful to somebody, those responsible for informing the public see RSS as a perfect, and inexpensive, method for ensuring that people can get the knowledge they need without a lot of work."

An excellent site called RSS in Government provides a comprehensive list of government RSS feeds not only from the US but all over the world. You can tell at a glance that the Canadian government is painfully behind in adopting this technology.

It is my opinion that RSS is so easy to implement and so key to the new way that people are using the Internet to communicate that this should be one of the first areas that we delve into social media as an Agency. Currently, there are more than a hundred disappointed people subscribing to the empty RSS feed for our department, as offered on the official Government of Canada listing of departmental feeds. At the very least, we should be using RSS to push our newsroom products, but that's only the tip of the proverbial iceberg on the ways we can use RSS to get our information out to the public.

Can you think of any other ways we could or should be using RSS?