A New Way to Look at News with RSS

Summary: This article will outline how a new breed of Internet technologies may change the way we view and manage "news" on a day-to-day basis. Through a technology called RSS and a not-so-new tool called a "News Aggregator" or "Newsreader", we may see an increase in the efficiency of managing Internet-based news and information- allowing people to be more informed and productive.

If you're new to RSS, you might read this first: "What is RSS? What Does it Mean to Syndicate a Site?". There is a link at the bottom of the article back to this article.

The News Comes to You

Soon after 9/11, I signed up for CNN's Breaking News Email Alerts. For months afterward, I felt a certain pride in having access to the news as it happened. It gave me an informed feeling- like I was a step ahead of others by way of the news coming to me.

Since that time, I've started to think about news a little differently. Especially since discovering Weblogs, I view news not as the news produced for the masses by network TV or the Drudge Report, but as a personalized and infinitely customizable experience- an experience that I can manage.

To me, the meaning of the word "news" has changed significantly. When my friend Anthony updates his Weblog- that is news to me. When a new discussion has been posted on my favorite online community- that's news. When the minutes from a recent meeting have been posted to an Intranet site- it's news. When world events occur- news news news. Virtually anything in my life that I want to know about regularly could be "news".

News Quickly Overwhelms

Of course, people can only take in so much news before being overwhelmed. However, I think the reason we are feeling overwhelmed is that we don't have good tools for managing the disparate and inconsistent Internet news sources.

Right now, most Internet users are receiving news 2 ways: email and web sites-bought fraught with problems:

    Email: The first and foremost problem is spam- unwanted email is making the email experience unusable for many. Secondly, email is only archived at a personal level. You can't rely on a message in email being archived anywhere but your own computer. This forces us to place particular importance on managing email- even as it gets more unmanageable.

    Websites: One of the inherent problems with web sites is that you actually have to visit them to get information. Being proactive is something that takes time and devotion- which can easily falter when time is short. Further, the spectacular range of design, styles and content presentation makes the experience more interesting but less efficient and usable. Of course, there are email updates from websites that can help, but after all, it's still email.

OK, back to my point about the meaning of the word "news" changing and how I now think of news any information I've chosen to receive about my interests. The big question is: how can someone manage all the information?

A Best Case Scenario for Managing News

    A News Tool: You have a single tool that you use for all your incoming news called a "Newsreader", (which is not a new tool). Whenever you want to check news, you open the newsreader (a program on your computer like an email program) and you can see immediately which news sources have been updated since you checked last. If you're interested, you can go directly to the source or just read the news directly from the newsreader. Each time you read the news, the newsreader remembers what you've read- so you only see fresh content. It might look like this:

    Newsreader Snap copy.gif

    The Enabling Technology: You need to be able to add news sources to the newsreader- which requires a standard format. It's called a "feed"- like the news site is feeding your newsreader the news. This way, you can go to your favorite online community, Weblog, Intranet, traditional news site, or any site and easily add that site's "feed" to your newsreader. You'll find the feeds using buttons like this:

    Syndicate copy.gif
    or: xml.gif

These two elements combine to allow you to customize and manage *your* news on an ongoing basis. Using a newsreader, you can choose what news you want to receive without email or spam and without proactively visiting websites. The news come to you.

The scenario above isn't speculation- it is real.

There are newsreaders you can download for free and the enabling technology is called RSS (Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary). The Weblog movement is being built on the use of these tools and the utility may move far beyond weblogs to become a resource for managing news of all sorts.

Like any new technology, RSS and newsreaders have significant hurdles to overcome before they're ready for prime time. But, I think standards will emerge and we could see them become new and very usable resource for managing information and news overload.

If you feel overwhelmed, or want to experience managing news via a newsreader and RSS, check out my recent entry "What is RSS? What Does it Mean to Syndicate a Site?".