Monday, February 20, 2006

Really Simply Syndication

One of the most succinct summaries of the Internet experience I've ever seen is in Robert Scoble and Shel Israel's recent, and extremely popular, Naked Conversations. They speak of the movement from surfing to search engines to syndication.
Basically what this means is that the early years of the World Wide Web was all about surfing from one site to the next. I distinctly recall that era from about 1994 to 1998 when we were all fascinated with moving from one graphical site to another. Unfortunately, the sites were very often rarely updated. It got boring.
Then, Google introduced a search engine which transformed the way we used the Internet. Instead of just offering keyword searches, Google employed a complicated algorithm to render search results which were more relevant and useful. As the competition for search engines took hold, users had far better experiences in finding listings of information from the ever-growing list of web sites. Unfortunately, that information was still controlled by companies not users and didn't do a very good job of showing whether the search listing results were current or not.
Now a new technology called Really Simple Syndication is transforming our experience of the Internet yet again.  The bottom line is that instead of the user having to search through multiple web sites to see if anything has changed, notifications of those changes comes to the user through something called feeds. The user chooses which web sites and blogs she is interested in, then she subscribes to an automatic notification from that blog or web site (such as a news service).
Using a variety of tools (usually called aggregators), those notifications are pushed out from the owners of the sites to the user who can then read the changed or new information. Instead of the time-consuming experience of bookmarking a dozen sites and visiting each separately to see what's new, the user can open their aggregator and see information from, say, a hundred sites in the same amount of time. Clearly, this means that the user is far more efficient and better informed.
So, how do you get an aggregator and get involved? Some browsers like Firefox, Apple Safari and the soon-to-be-released Internet Explorer 7.0 all have RSS-feed tools built in. In addition, users can purchase add-ons for existing tools like Microsoft Outlook (my personal favourite) which automatically gathers and displays new feeds in exactly the same way we use email. You can easily see what you have read and what is new (bold). You can delete, file, or forward the information. What is different is that the RSS feeds don't have spam (at least not yet).
For now, it is likely that Pano Cap will wait for the Internet Explorer version upgrade. But those with notebook computers could, if they chose to do so, purchase something like the NewsGator Outlook Edition aggregator and begin subscribing to feeds related to their job duties.

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