RSS + lateral thinking

If there is one bit of technology that I would urge every non-techie to get their head around, it’s RSS – ‘really simple syndication.’

This is a facility that most modern websites have added to them allowing visitors to take bits of content and use them in a variety of ways.

The most obvious use is that it can help you keep an eye on the content of your favourite websites. So if you follow a football team, read a particular columnist in your favourite newspaper and have a handful of blogs that you want to monitor, using Google Reader can help you read them – and share them with others.

If you look at this site, I’ve added a ‘Shared Memes‘ page that takes a feed from my Google Reader Shared Items RSS feed, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves yet.

Firstly, if you’re not familliar with how Google Reader works and what RSS is, this video will fix that for you:

OK. Got that? Good. Now, how can we use this in a flexible way to improve our websites?

Here are a few examples. Firstly, I’ve already mentioned a website that we’ve developed for Teresa Pearce MP recently. You’ll see that – on the Parliamentary Appearances page, I’ve taken a feed from the page that details Teresa’s work on They Work for You, and used Feedburner’s ‘Buzzboost’ feature to turn it into some HTML code that I can then embed in here site. Here’s a useful guide on how to do this.

Similarly, on a local website that I manage, I’ve used RSSMix to combine every feed from the What Do They Know website that is about any institution that responds to Freedom of Information Requests in the London Borough of Barnet, and then used Buzzboost (again) to add it to the site.

If you take a basic understanding of what RSS is, combine it with a bit of lateral thinking, you can have a website that updates itself all of the time with great content. And it’s not rocket science either…..


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