A story and then some useful information:

Last year on my birthday I got an unusual phone call from a former coworker. Though she and I have stayed in touch through the occasional email–we haven’t really been good about being up to date on everything going on so it was a surprise to see her name on my id.

But instead of an off-key chorus of the usual song, she was calling with a research proposition. Could I drop everything and do some work for her? You bet–let’s add another log to the fire. 🙂

So we charged through a research project culminating in a big project for her in an important building in the nation’s capital. Not sure which building but it was filmed and I got watch the snippets with her in it later (she thoughtfully sent me the times at which she spoke so I didn’t have to watch all 3 hours). As time has rolled on, whenever I see something on her topic of interest in my feeds or around the intertubes, I shoot her an email and a link.

In a chat we had recently, she asked where it was I find all of this information? My RSS feeds, I responded. Anything something involving her key search terms crosses my headlines, I just automatically hit forward and her email address. And because I see a wide variety of resources, this means I usually have something to her several times a month.

(Transition to “Information Portion of the Blog Post)

So why does this matter? Because the information is out there as she develops her knowledge base on this subject. But she, like many people, isn’t using RSS or may not be using it effectively.

So…what is RSS? The official words are (I believe) “Really Simple Syndication” but a more accurate phrase is probably “Read Stuff Simply.” I will borrow the Common Craft video on Intro to RSS because I think it’s probably one of the best descriptions one can find out there:

Obviously, the majority of my readers already access this blog through RSS feeds that go into Bloglines, Google Reader or another type of aggregator. But how many of your coworkers are similarly inclined? How many of your friends or patrons? When was the last time you mentioned reading something and someone was surprised how much information you were aware of? I fully accuse myself of being a feed junkie–I feel like a walking sniplet some days.

When to suggest RSS? Hopefully before someone feels overloaded–but overload is a good point. Another time is when it applies to a hobby or research project. In a perfect world, I would set up a specific feed for said friend in the above story and filter all the things she’s looking for her way. It’s something I may suggest if we actually talk on the phone again. David Rothman and other medical librarians have talked at length about setting up educational feeds for doctors that the library staff manages for them.

But it’s something to pass casually on as well. Don’t assume people know about RSS and Readers–many people may have only heard vaguely of them and written them off as too technical or unnecessary when they “only check 5-10 blogs.” I recently had a conversation with a really hip septuagenarian about various blogs and she said, “Oh, I just can’t add anything else that I have to check every day.” My ears perked up at that–wasn’t she using a Reader? She was thrilled to hear of a tool that would collect her blogs in one place whenever they updated so she didn’t have to go to each individual site. I talked her through the basics of Google Reader (sans computer, we were at a knitting shop) and, hopefully she navigated it successfully when she got home. I was relatively confident on her behalf.

A few people may not like having a separate RSS Reader but they would like to get feeds in their email. A handful of you do access my blog that way also. If a blog or site has a feed but doesn’t have a “subscribe via email” –it doesn’t mean you’re left out, just that you need a different tool. One like RSS Fwd. Keep in mind that this works best with lower volume and fewer feeds, otherwise unfiltered email can get overwhelmed very easily. This might be a better option for a new baby blog to family members but not necessarily for all new recipes on recipezaar.com (usually 1000+ a week).

But consider suggesting to that coworker who is into Harley motorcycles, quilting, the latest tech gadgets, or fly fishing that they look at RSS. Talk to people you know who have a huge list of bookmarks/favorited–often many of those can be pulled into readers so nothing is missed. Recommend to the student or local historian with an ongoing project that a feed might be set up for their area of research. Print out this blog post and hand it to someone who wonders how you’ve already heard the news that’s in the latest professional journal making the rounds. It could be an added value service your patrons would really appreciate or the gateway you always wanted to a community revolving around your hobby.