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Library Hi Tech News Emerald Article: Online services for managing information feeds Mike Kmiec

Article information: To cite this document: Mike Kmiec, (2010),"Online services for managing information feeds", Library Hi Tech News, Vol. 27 Iss: 8 pp. 10 - 11 Permanent link to this document: Downloaded on: 04-06-2012 To copy this document: This document has been downloaded 872 times since 2010. *

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Online services for managing information feeds Mike Kmiec

For the library information professional, it is hardly news that the amount of information on the web continues to increase rapidly. The July 2010 version of the Netcraft Web Server Survey[1] has the number of active web sites worldwide steadily creeping toward 96,000,000. Managing this level of information has always been challenging, both in terms of the massive scope of what already exists, and in recognizing new information resources as they become available. With the advent of feed syndication of a site’s content in the late 1990s, this task became marginally easier. Using really simple syndication (RSS) or atom feeds, information consumers merely had to subscribe to a feed by incorporating it into a feed aggregator of their choice. By 2004, the Pew Internet and American Life Project claimed that 5 per cent of American internet users (around six million people) used feed aggregators or XML readers to access their information[2]. Aggregators brought all of the information into one location, but organization of that information has remained less than optimal. Six years later, many sites offer feeds, and their number continues to grow. News organizations, subscription databases, and real-time information sources like Twitter utilize feeds to disseminate their information more widely to readers, rather than relying solely on readers having to visit a web site. The information challenges grow. Several companies have stepped forward offering services to help organize feeds. The most interesting products in this space are delivered online, because of the advantage provided by readers’ not being tied to a piece of software on a single computer. Also, while a few could well be called portals – sites that incorporate not just feeds, but also widgets and functionality of various


description and utility – the focus here is on solutions devoted to the consumption of feeds. Bloglines Bloglines[3] is one of the more popular feed-reading services, possibly due to its time online – seven years at this point. Adding new feeds to Bloglines is straightforward, and simply entering or pasting a site’s feed URL adds it to a list of subscribed feeds. It also offers ‘‘Quick Picks’’ suggestions from Bloglines staff, and the choice of a subscription from the most popular – as chosen by other Bloglines members. There are also the list of ‘‘top 1,000’’ sources from which to pick, and a ‘‘recommendations’’ option. Reading items in Bloglines is straightforward as well, showing either a first paragraph ‘‘teaser’’ of the item, or the complete text, based on a setting within Bloglines’ options. Links connect to the full item, opening a new tab or window in the process. The user can also share items from Bloglines by email, or by publishing the item to their own Bloglines ‘‘Clip Blog’’, which can be made public. Because Bloglines was one of the earliest in this field, the look and feel of the service seems a bit dated today. The interface is primarily text-based and uses frames. The usability is not as intuitive as it could be, lacking some of the visual cues available elsewhere on the web. There is no way to search for a feed; instead the user must know what he or she wants to add, which makes it difficult to discover new content. Bloglines does offer a bookmarklet that can be added to a web browser in order to facilitate this process, but again, the user must know what he or she wants to add in order for this to be effective. The lack of ability to share items using services like Twitter or Facebook in favour of a proprietary ‘‘Clip

Blog’’ makes sharing more difficult. Determining how the recommendations functioned was difficult, and it appears that this works better for more mainstream (and easily identifiable) feeds. Bloglines does have a beta site that presumably addresses some of these issues, but unfortunately at the time of this writing, the site was not functioning. Google Reader First appearing in 2005, Google Reader[4] has the benefit of integration with the rest of the ‘‘Google Platform’’ – mail, calendar, documents, and so on. Google Reader, as a standalone service, offers the benefits of association with Google in terms of reliability, speed, and introduction of new functionality. Adding subscriptions to Google Reader can be accomplished by either direct entry of the feed URL, or by keyword searching. The latter brings up feeds either because the feed name references the search term, or the term appears within an item in the feed. A feature of Google Reader comes with ‘‘Explore’’, where recommended items and recommended sources of information are offered. Google recommends items based on ‘‘your past reading behaviour (including liking and starring), and global signals’’. Feeds are recommended in a similar fashion, based on ‘‘the feeds you are already subscribed to, as well as information from your web history, including your location’’. In both cases, personal information is protected by the Google privacy policy. Google Reader adds a bit more customization to arranging and reading feeds, allowing the user to sort subscriptions into folders according to any scheme the user finds appropriate. For each feed, the title of each item is

LIBRARY HI TECH NEWS Number 8 2010, pp. 10-11, # Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 0741-9058, DOI 10.1108/07419051011104240

shown, along with approximately the first sentence of the item. Clicking on this expands the item text, so the user can view more information. In this way more items from a feed can be shown at a glance, and screen real estate is maximized. Because the user can ‘‘star’’ items, they are saved for later reading, and the ability to ‘‘like’’ items enhances the ability to discover new recommendations. Items can be shared via email; with other users of Google Reader; or in Google Buzz, the company’s social platform. In terms of usability, Google Reader again reaps the benefit of being associated with Google resources in usability testing, as it is relatively easy to navigate. Without this ability, Google Reader might seem daunting because of the sheer volume of information presented. The ability to search feeds by keyword and the ‘‘explore’’ function are very useful for discovering new information sources. Sharing functionality is not ideal, as it only allows sharing within Reader (or Buzz) rather than other social networks. Because of the Google drive for innovation in its services, new features appear in Reader on a seemingly daily basis. Depending on the greater Google plan for social networking, the ability to share items beyond its own borders could be something that occurs sooner rather than later. Feedly Launched in 2008, Feedly[5] is a relative newcomer to the online feed reader market. Billed as a ‘‘magazinelike start page’’, Feedly provides a graphically pleasing way to read and organize feed subscriptions. It is slightly different from other readers in that it is not (strictly speaking) a web site; instead, there is a browser plug-in available for Firefox, Safari, and Chrome that generates ‘‘pages’’ on the fly based on the user’s settings and subscriptions. Feeds may be added to Feedly by entering ‘‘a topic, a web site URL, a feed URL, or a Twitter id’’ into a ‘‘discover new sources’’ field. This brings up a


variety of sources, along with reporting the number of other subscribers as well as how many items appear in the feed per week. Feedly also incorporates an ‘‘explore’’ feature, which is a topic-based search across several information sources: Feedly, Google,, YouTube, and Twitter. The topics referenced are the most popular ones of the service, also found on the Feedly ‘‘most popular’’ page, providing a unique way of seeing what sorts of things the Feedly community finds interesting. The design and usability of Feedly is quite advanced, with its self-professed magazine-like attributes. Combining images and text, the experience of information navigation seems far less daunting than in other online readers. As with other services, Feedly allows users the ability to organize their subscriptions by category, also using a ‘‘collapsing content’’ metaphor to make best use of screen space. It features a variety of keyboard shortcuts to help navigation as well. Users can save items for later reading, or recommend them to others. Presumably, this latter action increases the likelihood of an item appearing in ‘‘most popular’’. Items can be shared even further afield, with email, Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader/Buzz,, Evernote, Tumblr, and LinkedIn – to name just a few. This integration of other information sources beyond just feeds is one of the main strengths of Feedly. Because Feedly incorporates Flickr, YouTube, and Twitter searches based on a user’s categories, it can provide a wider view of the information landscape. Granted, this is dependant on the user categorizing items in a meaningful (and searchable) fashion, but if that structure is in place, these supporting searches enable discovery of valuable information. In order to use Feedly, the user needs to have a Google account – the service uses Google Reader as the basis for subscriptions and their management. It is important to note that other than Google Reader settings, the Feedly service has no

access to the user’s account. This does enable a good synchronicity between the accounts – for instance, an item saved for later in Feedly is marked the same in Google Reader, and vice versa. Subscriptions are shared between the two. This can come in handy if a searcher use a variety of computers, but only has the Feedly plugin enabled on some of them. Feedly, like Google, releases new features quite often, and is very responsive to the requests of customers for implementing changes to the service. The company is also developing a version of Feedly for Android and iPhone, so the ability to manage information can occur even when away from a computer. Conclusion While the number of information sources is unlikely to diminish in the coming years, RSS and atom feeds allow the potential to effectively organize it. The number of tools and services available to help organize feeds continues to increase, as does their functionality. Discovery of feeds by keyword, methods to suggest new information sources, and the ability to share items across a variety of networks means the tools are widening their view of the information landscape, offering more utility than ever before. NOTES 1. web-server-survey/ 2.¼1




Mike Kmiec (mike.kmiec@natlib.govt. nz) is Manager Service Development and Support, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, Wellington, New Zealand.


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