Sunday, November 16, 2008

RSS - Take Out or Delivery?

I like an analogy to get me started - that's just the way my mind works. So when I was researching for this weeks blog on RSS (Real Simple Sindication), I came up with an analogy to explain RSS to myself. Gaining information these days is like ordering a pizza - will that be pick it up, or delivery? Random browsing of your favourite webspaces is like getting in your car and driving across town to pick up your pizza. Using an RSS Feed is like having the delivery person come to your door with your meal (information) hot and ready - all you have to do is open the box (or in this case, click on the text) and your meal is served. The orange RSS button is the speed dial to your favourite restaurant. It's so simple (Real Simple, actually), a monkey could do it. So, why aren't more people using it? After all, Will Richardson called RSS "the new killer App for educators" and he urged teachers to start using it "this minute."

I googled "I don't use RSS" (I know I'm not being very academic here, but I just wanted a quick inkling) and I came up with 2400 hits. Now, isn't that interesting? A quick browse came up with the following reasons:

  • Don't know what it is, or how to use it.
  • Don't want to use another web-tool, or add more stuff to their computer.
  • Don't like the experience, or feel a need.
  • Don't want to change, using their bookmarks is working for them.

    On closer examination, I found a thoughtful response to the question: Stephen Brooks wrote a Blog entry entitled Why I Don't Use RSS. Brooks explains, "I might not WANT to know that there’s a new post at YesButNoButYes (like there is every couple of hours) right when it happens - I want to drift by and soak up a couple of days’ worth when I feel like it. And second, there’s a bit of a treasure-hunter style thrill when I check blogs that are updated less frequently . . . and find a new post - it would have been less “exciting” to have it pop up in my Google Reader."

    Hmm, a treasure-hunter. I'm thinking this blogger is the 'pick-up' sort of person. He appreciates the journey as much as getting to the destination. As a teacher-librarian, I have to respect that, and I appreciate seeing a different point of view. Not everyone needs or wants their information 'hot and ready'. Not all of my colleagues will be familiar with RSS Feeds/Readers, and not all of them will care to use them. Same with my students. I can't assume RSS will be important to all of them. That being said, I think it is our job to inform people about the benefits of RSS so they can decide for themselves.

    Informing Teachers ('the Oprah way')

    How to explain RSS the Oprah way by Stephanie Quilao (found at describes what RSS is, how to get it, and why you need it. Quilao has used excellent graphics and describes RSS in a warm-fuzzy, make-your-life-better sort of way. Her entry would appeal to many of the women I taught with last year (mostly fans of Oprah, not technology).

    RSS Feeds for Elementary Students (found at lists several sites appropriate for Feeds for younger students. My favourites from this list include:
  • CBBC Newsround -Frontpage
  • Science Buzz--science
  • Why Files--science
  • Cybils --literature/books
  • Discovery Channel Headlines--science news
  • Nova Science Now --science news
  • Wands and Worlds--fantasy book reviews

  • This blogger's advice is to be selective, "you can have too many feeds, [and] don't want adult news feeds coming in from CNN, ABC, CBS, etc..." This is a good reminder to pass on to our staff. RSS Feeds should help students control the flow of information, not create an overwhelming flood of it. After all, we don't want to order too many pizzas, just a healthy amount.

    RSS: Bringing What's New to You, by Traci Gardner (found at provides excellent examples of how teachers can use RSS with students. This is one of the most professional pages for teachers that I discovered - use this with teachers who are more comfortable with technology (it goes beyond an Oprah-like explanation). Gardner's suggestion for having students subscribe to a homework blog is one that might just meet with parent-approval!

    My Personal Experience with RSS

    When David Loertscher was presenting in Winnipeg last year, he wanted to make sure that we left the workshop with a practical skill; something that we could take back and use in our daily lives. He had us create i-google pages, a blog for our school library, and taught us how to subscribe to the blog using the RSS Feed. I found the experience interesting. It was easy to set everything up, but less easy to use it. At that time, I didn't read enough blogs to make use of the Feed, so I didn't have an authentic purpose for using RSS. Since taking this course, however, I tried again. I revisited my i-google page, but found it was one extra site to log into, and I discovered it was more time-consuming than time-saving. What did work for me was using the Bloglines right on my blog. I was checking my blog daily anyway, so I didn't feel a need to go elsewhere for the same information. I must say, I do love the ease of following everyone's blogs from my page. I suppose you could say my choice of RSS Reader is purely economical.

      Final Thoughts

      If we introduce RSS to our staff and students, we are providing them with a tool that will help them to have their information delivered to their door. I know of several excited little information-seekers that I taught last year who would love this Web tool. They would be over the moon to see information arriving on their doorstep, and would quickly set about subscribing to every site available. They would likely have a competition to see who could get the most Feeds. For students/staff on the other side of the spectrum, who are reluctant to use RSS, I would suggest that you challenge them to a two-week RSS trial - if they connect to sites that are truly meaningful to them, then they will see the benefits of RSS right away. Perhaps we could get the excited students on-board and have them create commercials highlighting the benefits of using this amazing little technology. Perhaps they could lead the 'RSS Two Week Challenge' - go team!


      Carol said...

      Hi Carol,

      Thanks for posting your list of RSS feeds for elementary students!

      Enjoyed the 'RSS the Oprah way' explanation.

      carol t

      Joanne de Groot said...

      Hi Carol,

      I have my iGoogle page set up as one of my homepages on my whenever I log into my browser, iGoogle starts up and I can quickly see what's new. I have found that eliminates the feeling that I have one more place to check. That said, your solution of using the RSS through your blog is a good you think you will continue to check these feeds even after the course is over? Will you continue blogging here?

      Carol N. said...

      I think I would use this blog once I'm back in the school to post any activities that we do with Web 2.0. I started a personal blog that I will likely turn to after the class (I've been neglecting it).

      Jan said...

      I like the bloglines feature of being right on my blog too, quick and easy!

      Jo-Anne Gibson said...

      I'm hoping to challenge my staff to give RSS feeds a try. I think your pizza analogy and "Oprah" description might be my way of opening the dialogue with my staff. Thanks,

      p.s. Thanks Joanne for the tip.