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    Commentary – RSS & Blog Readers

    Discussion of the Tools: RSS and Blog Readers

    RSS is the most important tool of social software that you never heard of.  Indeed, RSS is the glue that holds social software together.  The acronym stands for Really Simple Syndication.  RSS allows one to subscribe to content generated by a blog, a wiki, or nearly any other type of social software tools.  That content, when created, is automatically delivered to the subscriber.  The content could be text, images, audio or video.  It could be a Google search.  It could be the editorials from your favorite newspaper.   In short, RSS allows one to automate the process of keeping up with a collection of web resources that have frequently updated content.

    Suppose you follow a number of blogs.  To follow them, you would have to visit their websites on a regular basis.  Some of them would have new content—blog posts.  Others would not.  Some you’re not sure of.  Did you read that post or not?  All of this takes scarce time.  Alternatively, if the blogs have an RSS feed, and most of them do, you could subscribe using a blog (or feed) reader, sometimes called an aggregator.  A blog reader is software that allows you to subscribe to multiple RSS feeds.  To monitor the feeds, you simply open the blog reader and it tells you which feeds have new content and what that content is.  Additionally, clicking on the link brings the content to you.  Blog readers leverage your efforts, allowing you to follow many more feeds than you otherwise would.  Blog readers come in two varieties: client-based, which reside on your computer, and web-based.  Probably the most popular of the latter are GoogleReader (www.google.com/reader) and  Bloglines (www.bloglines.com).  The choice of the types is a matter of personal preference.  If you’re a serious reader of blogs, blog reading software is a must.  It makes reading blogs more efficient, and makes it possible to follow far more blogs regularly than could be done without it.

    In my courses, I ask students to subscribe to a blog on the subject of the course.  Each student finds and reads a different blog, adding different views to class discussion.  I also ask students to subscribe to newsfeeds from different media outlets.

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