Rediscovering Auto-Discoverable RSS Feeds
Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 24 August 2011
Supporting the Scientific Communications Sector
I came across a good example of rapid innovation on Twitter last night. A few days ago Jo Brodie (@JoBrodie) a science information officer and Diabetes UK & Public Engagement Co-ordinator, tweeted that she was:
Seriously drooling at LSHTM’s website. They have RSS feeds for each category of job vacancy. I love them. https://jobs.lshtm.ac.uk/RSS/
As I’ve an interest in ways in which RSS feeds can be used beyond simply news updates I asked:
It turns out that Jo was unaware of the benefits of auto-discoverable RSS feeds. However Tony Hirst responded by pointing out that he had similar interests in aggregating structured information provided as RSS feeds in similar areas:
Tony went on to add that:
but expressed his frustrations at the lack of support for auto-discoverable feeds:
failing to understand why the majority of medical/science charity/org websites fail to syndicate jobs and news feeds via rss…
which led to the following discussion:
Despite such difficulties earlier this morning Tony has announced how he had taken a set of links listed in a post on Where London science communicators might work and used this to provide a Scraped and autodetected feeds resource of organisations working in the UK scientific communications community.
How is UK HE Doing?
I’ve described how a developer can make use of a feed of structured information across a community which can be used to provide benefits across the sector. As Tony put it, people looking for jobs aren’t going to continually revisit a job’s page which is updated infrequently, but aggregating job information across a sector can provide a continually updated resource which should be worth revisiting.
Jo had commented that “many [of the Web sites] are small charities who have a job opening as a rare event with a press release ;)“. The situation is clearly different for UK University Web sites who will have well-established Web teams and good levels of technical expertise. But are UK Universities making use of auto-discoverable RSS feeds? In a recent post on Autodiscoverable Feeds and UK HEIs (Again…) Tony pointed out a wide range of possible uses for autodiscoverable RSS feeds:
As ever, most universities don’t seem to be supporting autodiscoverable feeds (neither are many councils…), so here are a few thoughts about what feeds you might link to, and why…
- news feeds: the canonical example. News feeds can be used to pipe news around various university websites, and also syndicate content to any local press or hyperlocal news sites. If every UK HEI published a news feed that was autodiscoverable as such, it would be trivial to set up a UK universities aggregated newswire.
- research announcements: I was told that one reason for putting out press releases was simply to build up an institutional memory/archive of notable events. Many universities run research newsletters that remark on awarded grants. How about a “funded research” feed from each university detailing grant awards and other research funding. Again, at a national level, this could be aggregated to provide a research funding newswire, as well as contribtuing data to local archives of research funding success.
- jobs: if every UK HEI published a jobs/vacancies RSS feed, it would trivial to build an aggregator and let people roll their own versions of jobs.ac.uk.
- events: universities contribute a lot to local culture through public talks and exhibitions. Make it easy for the local press and hyperlocal news sites to syndicate this info, and add events to their own aggregated “what’s on” calendars. (And as well as RSS, give ‘em an iCal feed for your events.)
- YouTube uploads: you might was well add an autodiscoverable feed to your university’s recent uploads on YouTube. If nothing else, it contributes an informal ownership link to the web for folk who care about things like that.
- your university Twitter feed: if you’ve got one. I noticed Glasgow Caledonian linked to their Twitter feed through an autodiscoverable link on their university homepage.
- tenders: there’s a whole load of work going on in gov at the moment regarding transparency as it relates to procurement and tendering. So why not get open with your procurement and tendering data, and increase the chances of SMEs finding out what you’re tendering around. If the applications have to go through a particular process, no problem: link to the appropriate landing page in each feed item.
- energy data: releasing this data may well become a requirement in the not so far off future, so why not get ahead of the game, e.g. as Lincoln are starting to do (Lincoln U energy data)? If everyone was publishing energy data feeds, I’m sure DevCSI hackday folk would quickly roll together something like the aggregating service built by college student @issyl0 out of a Rewired State hack that pulls together UK gov department energy data: GovSpark
- XCRI-CAP course marketing data feeds: JISC is giving away shed loads of cash to support this, so pull your finger out and get the thing published.
- location data: got a KML feed yet? If not, why not? e.g. Innovations in Campus Mapping
Tony’s assertion that “most universities don’t seem to be supporting autodiscoverable feeds” is supported by the evidence from his UK HE Feed Autodiscovery app which trawls through UK HEI home pages. This currently reports that only ~38% of UK University home pages have auto-discoverable RSS feeds.
Why are the majority of UK Universities failing to add a single element in the University home page for each RSS feed they would like to make auto-discoverable? In order to find an answer to this I have created a SurveyMonkey form in which I am inviting those who manage institutional Web sites to help provide a better understanding of the reasons for the low usage. I hope this will help to identify barriers and ways in which such barriers can be addressed in order that the vision of discovery of a whole set of useful resources across the sector which Tony has described can be implemented.
To summarise this post in a more Twitter-friendly format:
Why don’t more Unis provide auto-discoverable RSS feeds? Give your reasons at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/auto-discoverable-rss-feeds