Overcoming Information Overload

I imagine that most people who’ve been using the internet for a while have at some point suffered from “Information Overload”. Andrew Sackville, at his inaugural lecture mentioned wilfing – surfing the web without any real purpose – and that can be a problem too. In fact I spent most of my time at University in one of these two states. Visiting the BBC News website every twenty minutes is a sure sign that you’re suffering. I’m here to tell you that there is a way to escape getting trapped by the internet like this and the answer is RSS.

RSS lets websites, bloggers and content producers provide a constantly updated feed of information for interested parties to subscribe to. It’s been around for years but it’s really starting to gain momentum and with Firefox or Internet Explorer 7 it’s built right into the browser – just look for the little orange feed icon in the address bar or elsewhere on the page. Most large websites and virtually all blogs provide feeds and over the coming weeks and months more and more services offered by Edge Hill will have RSS feeds available.

There’s many ways of subscribing to a feed – if you have Firefox or IE7 just click on the feed icon to get started. Subscribed feeds show up like bookmarks that update themselves. The LTD blog mentioned an add-on for Groupwise which integrates RSS and ways to add RSS to WebCT. You can also get standalone software that installs on your PC and sits in the background checking for updates.

I prefer to keep track of my feeds online using Google Reader (other web-based feed readers are available). The major advantage of online services such as this is that it follows you to whichever PC you’re logged in on – you can even read your feeds through a mobile phone. Google Reader lists your subscribed feeds down the left and shows the content of them on the right. You can “star” interesting articles so you know to come back to them later or share them with other people (either through a web page or, predictably, via RSS!). Google Reader has allowed me to spend less time wilfing and more time reading articles that are actually interesting.

If you’re wanting to give a news reader a try and want some feeds to test then check out some of the feeds related to Edge Hill:

As I said, even more services will provide RSS feeds in the near future – one of the first will be the Edge Hill jobs website – and RSS will be used behind the scenes for many sites so there’s no getting away from it!

Technology terminology is stupid. RSS (which may or may not stand for “Really Simple Syndication” depending on who you speak to) is just one name for this idea. You may also hear them referred to as Atom, news feeds, feeds, XML feeds and probably many other names. In most cases, it’s not worth worrying – news readers are generally compatible with all formats and most websites and web browsers have standardised on the orange feed icon – that’s the one we’ll be putting on our websites!

2 replies on “Overcoming Information Overload”

  1. To follow on from Mike’s post…

    The introduction of RSS for Edge Hill’s web services will not only allow us to push content out to our users but also increase the functionaility within the site. By using RSS technology we can feed information into our internal pages thus decreasing the amount of updating we’re required to do to keep all users (in all areas of the site) up to date.

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