Blogs and RSS: What are They Good For?

Blogs and RSS: What are They Good For? by David Whelan Talk about an “old” technology that’s new again. Or at least it’s at the front of mind for awhile. The thing I like about Really Simple Syndication (RSS) is that it simplifies my research and monitoring of information. There is no one single avenue but the challenge is how to get the information to the “knower” and perhaps create knowledge. RSS makes the management of the information fire hose a bit easier. I was thinking today about the blogs which supplement my more direct news feeds.

I’m not a big fan of blogs as such. Like this one, they are often rehashes of news found elsewhere on the Internet or relatively narrow analyses or commentary.  Mine is almost entirely a personal (and censored) communication release, providing a relatively innocuous expulsion outlet for the churn of ideas in my head.

The reference to knowers comes from John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid’s book, The Social Life of Information:

Focusing on knowledge . . . turns attention toward knowers.   Increasingly, as the abundance of information overwhelms us all, we need not simply more information, but people to assimilate, understand, and make sense of it. (p. 121)

The blogs I lean towards are interesting aggregations themselves, of things I wouldn’t normally see – like LISNews or Slaw or Rob Hyndman‘s personal site, which all cover library, law, and technology information – where you’ve got someone else (or in the case of Slaw, a group) looking at a variety of topics.  These create the serendipity that you lose when you return over and over to the same sites, or even when you set a clipping service to monitor specific sources.

Other blogs are for those weird nooks and crannies that you might not otherwise come across – like Lifehacker – or that are fundamentally compulsive reading, like Stanley Bing’s management blog (for which What Would Machiavelli Do:  the Ends Justify the Meanness is required preliminary reading (and which the person who loaned me her copy said, “You know, it’s a joke, right?”!).

Unfortunately, parts of the legal world has embraced the rather twee blawg appellation for its blogs.  The ABA Journal is covering the top 100 blawgs (you can be one of the tens of tens who have voted!) as selected by their editors, and a Google search of the term actually leads to both blogs (or blawgs) and a blawg blog!

Fortunately, for the busy researcher, the knower, the being-in-meatspace, the RSS outputs of these files can now be juggled and merged to make them far more powerful than they are individually.  I often shrug it off as laziness, but in reality, a lot of useful information can be gathered by doing environmental scanning, merely noting headlines and captions, picking up new keywords or terms of art.  However, without RSS filtering and aggregation, without mature RSS readers, the scope of information flow would narrow to a soda straw or garden hose at best.

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