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Feeds – what you need to know

October 13, 2016

Well – at least some of what you should now.  A feed is a mechanism used to share something.  Information on the internet is made to be shared.  People contributing information to the internet want their information to be shared.  Sharing is a big deal, really more so for the purveyor of the information than the consumer.

Think about where you work.  Your school or business has news or events or announcements.  Your school or employer want that information to get to people.  It is a common for people to say things like “we push information to thousands of people”.  Or “Our communications reach hundreds”.

On the World Wide Web, a web feed (or news feed) is a data format used for providing users with frequently updated content.

What is really happening is a web site or a web page has the concept of a feed associated with it.   A feed is a way to register yourself to get notified when something changes, is announced or is new.  Posted, shared, tweeted, emailed.  Shouted from the roof top, ok, scratch the last one.

This thing jumped out at me today.  I was on a web site, reading about a change to some open source software and boom, up it came.  It wants me to subscribe to its feed!  Via email, rather than a feed reader.


And wait, just another 50 minutes later, while browsing another website about interesting things, I am greeted by a solicitation.    Along with a requirement of activating a message that will be pushed to the email address provided.  This is smart, since you do not want just any jackwagon using your email and signing you up for all kinds of pushes.  You need to say “yes, its me” by clicking the link sent to you from the feed generator.


Our new vendor has asked us, *what pages should have feeds?  In other words, what information, when posted, should be pushed out?  If the page has a feed on it, then you, the consumer of the page, have an option to say “hey, i was lucky this time to come across this amazing information, I may not be so lucky next time – if only there was a way to let me know this is here, that is was posted, tweeted or shared.  Alas – there is!  Register your the feed with your favorite feed reader – AKA news reader or simply reader.  I like Google News, for example, as a reader that I can customize and specify how the information should be displayed when it gets pushed to the reader.

A typical scenario of web-feed use might involve the following: a content provider publishes a feed link on its site which end users can register with an aggregator program (also called a feed reader or a news reader) running on their own machines

Another example is a software company like say Moodle, wants to push out its news to its users.  Every few days, I get information pushed to my email address.  I must have registered my email with moodle news once upon a time.

I was talking with my wife the other day about what their school is doing.  She said something like “the departments are using google docs to create stuff and the google cloud to store it and are announcing this arrangement to all the faculty from their web site.  I asked if there was a feed available for the staff to subscribe to, so they could have that info. pushed to them, rather than depending on the staff to *come to the site to get the content, and she said she though so.  Then she said they would send out email to everyone or text alerts.  Ah, progress – technological progress – information sharing progress, cloud progress, and a general understanding of the progress.

Web feeds have some advantages compared to receiving frequently published content via an email:

  • Users do not disclose their email address when subscribing to a feed and so are not increasing their exposure to threats associated with email: spam, viruses, phishing, and identity theft.
  • Users do not have to send an unsubscribe request to stop receiving news. They simply remove the feed from their aggregator.
  • The feed items are automatically sorted in that each feed URL has its own sets of entries (unlike an email box where messages must be sorted by user-defined rules and pattern matching).
  1. It makes it easier for users to keep track of our content…This is a very convenient way of staying up to date with the content of a large number of sites.
  2. It makes it easier for other websites to link to our content. Because RSS feeds can easily be read by computers, it’s also easy for webmasters to configure their sites so that the latest headlines from another site’s RSS feed are embedded into their own pages, and updated automatically.[1

I love that.  A good differentiation of using your email or a reader to subscribe to something.  Clearly the reader is a better choice for the reasons mentioned above.  And finally.  Software wants to connect to each other too.  Information and software want to connect and share, its how they get smarter and more relevant.  In our Moodle sphere, we have both sites and courses that have RSS blocks activated.  This allows the information from the provider to push into the moodle space.  Like in a block.



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