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Published December 1, 2013 | Multidisciplinary

Using Web Syndication to Stay Informed About Information Technology

Whether it's to follow the news on specific topics or to stay abreast of developments in education, a subscription to a Web feed is a must for those who want to remain leading edge.

What is Web syndication?

Let's start by putting the record straight regarding the term "syndication".

You may remember seeing the word a few years ago, next to comic strips like Peanuts or Garfield on the comics page of your favorite newspaper. That use of the concept of syndication was a copyright agent's sale of broadcasting rights so that local newspapers could publish daily comic strips.

Content syndication on the web was inspired by this content delivery strategy. It delivers recently posted content from a site to other sites or content aggregators. This is done using an automated flow of information.

Syndication and Copyright

Be aware, however, that text, images, sound and video which are described through a Web feed may be protected by copyright. Before reproducing content you have accessed via an RSS feed, you must mention the author and the source of the content, noting permissions for reuse or distribution.

Atom or RSS Feed?

To obtain up-to-date syndicated web content, locate and click one of the icons usually indicating an RSS feed, such as the letters RSS, Atom or XML.

Different icons indicating a site's RSS feed.

Different icons indicating a site's RSS feed.

In the illustration above of the The RSS Feed for Vitrine Technologie Éducation, the title serves as a link to access the resource.

In the illustration above of the The RSS Feed for Vitrine Technologie Éducation, the title serves as a link to access the resource.

  • The acronym RSS dates from 2002 and stands for Really Simple Syndication.
  • Atom is the name given in 2003 to develop an alternative format content syndication project.
  • XML means a computer generic markup language, the Extensible Markup Language

Information from these feeds is in the form of small text files which are produced and updated automatically. There are three types of metadata describing the latest content available on site, including:

  1. title
  2. description
  3. link to the resource

Content Aggregators

To handle multiple RSS feeds, there is software, as well as applications for mobile devices and browser extensions, that can receive and process information from several feeds at a single location. These aggregators are often already integrated into the new monitoring tools available on the web. The Wikipedia entry on aggregators has an impressive list of references leading to many of these resources.

For many of these tools, such as Netvibes, Feedly or Scoop.it, you just have to add the address of the RSS Feed in the space provided within the interface to receive their web feed. The aggregator instantly connects to the source site that you have subscribed to. To subscribe from the original website for RSS / ATOM feeds you can do one of the following steps:

  1. Locate the feed icon and then click it.
  2. Select and copy the address from your web browser, and then paste it directly into the tool that can manage this feed.

It is also possible to create web feeds for sites that are private like Flickr or YouTube or for targeted research. Try RSS-Bridge, a simple tool for those who want to create their own feeds but are not familiar with coding data.

For the more adventurous who want to create a Twitter RSS feed to follow a particular account, favorites, lists of subscribers or simple searches, I suggest following the method proposed on the site GitHub. In less than twenty minutes, I generated four Twitter feeds which I added to an aggregator.

An Excellent Way to Stay Leading Edge

When monitoring IT on a large number of sites, step one is determining the online media and experts that one absolutely wants to follow. The use of syndication is one of the strategies used to collect information. For example, Vitrine technologie-éducation has compiled all the feeds from the IT partners in the college network on the page http://www.netvibes.com/vteducation.

The Netvibes page where the Vitrine technologie-éducation team has compiled all feeds from ICT partners in the college network.

The Netvibes page where the Vitrine technologie-éducation team has compiled all feeds from ICT partners in the college network.

It goes without saying that if I visited each of these sites daily, I would lose a lot of time. Since this one page is a summary of news resources available, I can browse only those that seem most relevant to me.

If you want to know more about information monitoring in education and your French is up to the challenge, take a look at the VTÉ lab report: La veille collaborative, différentes avenues (Different Methods for Collaborative Monitoring). Feel free to leave comments below about your own experiences with content syndication!

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